The next few weeks proved to be a torment to both Carrie and Mr Thornton.
As though determined to prove himself over her, Mr Thornton spoke to her only when he had to and never looked at her unless absolutely necessary. Carrie did her work to the best of her ability and left, breathing a sigh of relief each day to leave his stifling presence behind her and yet even moments after she had left, looking forward to seeing him again the next day.
Mr Thornton took every opportunity to visit the house, showing Mrs Hale the utmost care and concern during his visits and often bringing her gifts of fresh fruit or flowers.
Again, he rarely spoke to Carrie or even looked at her while he was there but he seemed to go out of his way to be solicitous to Margaret.
It broke her heart.
As expected, poor Bessy Higgins died and Mr Higgins became a frequent visitor to the house as he talked with Mr Hale about his grief and many other matters.
Carrie’s torment continued and some days she wondered if she was doing the right thing by staying in Milton, but without her own money she had little choice. She often spoke to her aunt when she was alone, though sadly her aunt could no longer offer her the wisdom that she had shown when she was alive.
Carrie was lying on her bed crying again, a frequent occurrence these days though she usually managed to do so in the privacy of her room, when Margaret came in unexpectedly one day and sighed. She sat down next to Carrie.
“Will you not tell me what troubles you so?” she asked. “Every day I see you looking more and more miserable and I only wish there was something I could do to help you.”
“There is nothing anyone can do.” Carrie said.
“How do you know unless you tell me?”
Carrie didn’t reply.
“Is it your family?”
“I do miss them,” she confessed. Lately she had often been getting their picture out of her purse and staring at it. Truth be told it wasn’t so much them that she missed, but the familiar. Everything was different here, so backwards! Her only solace during her predicament had been Mr Thornton, and now even he seemed to hate her. “But it is not that.” She swallowed and looked at Margaret. “There is someone I like very much but I cannot have him.”
“He does not love you?” Margaret asked.
“No, I believe he does, but he is not mine to have.”
“I’m sorry,” Margaret put her arms around the other girls shoulder, assuming that the man she loved was betrothed to another. It wasn’t uncommon for men to marry for money, forsaking the women they loved in the process.
“It’s not your fault,” Carrie said.
“Perhaps not, but you have been so good to my family and especially my mother, that it pains me to think of you being unhappy, no matter what the cause.”
Carrie wiped her eyes and tried to smile.
Margaret smiled back.
“I thought for a time that you might like Mr Thornton.”
Carrie’s eyes shot to Margaret’s, as though she had been caught.
“It is Mr Thornton? But he is not engaged, is he?”
“No, not exactly. It’s complicated.”
“I’m sure, but… well does someone else have a prior claim on him?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
“Someone we know?”
This was getting a little too close for comfort so she didn’t answer.
“Well, you are far too good for the likes of him, anyway,” Margaret said, trying to comfort her in some small way.
“You still don’t like Mr Thornton then?” Carrie asked, for surely Margaret should be warming to him by now.
“I do not dislike him, but I do not particularly like him either. He has been very kind to my mother, and I know how much Father values his lessons with Mr Thornton. For those reasons I am pleasant to him but I cannot claim to like him.”
“Because he is a manufacturer?”
“No, because he is rather rough. His ways are not our ways and I find them very unappealing.”
Carrie sighed, for it was starting to seem that she had no hope of getting Margaret to ever like Mr Thornton.
The next week Carrie saw a poster for a circus that was coming to Milton and her eye was caught by one of the other attractions that would be there, namely psychic readings by Lilith.
Her Aunt Imelda had loved psychics and had believed in them, through she admitted that many were charlatans.
Despite having no luck wishing herself home, Carrie was unable to forget the letter Aunt Immy had written and how she spoke about the earrings giving Carrie her hearts desire. Was it possible that something mystical was happening here?
Or was this all just one big long dream, in which case she really should throw herself at Mr Thornton, for no harm could come from a dream. She resolved to go and see the psychic while the circus was in town. It might be a waste of time but if there was even the slightest hope of understanding what was happening to her, she would take it.
The day before the circus arrived in town, Frederick came to see his mother and the whole house went into lockdown. Carrie was basically the only one allowed out to work and then only so that she could pick anything else they needed on her way home. She also went around Mr Hales pupils explaining that he was ill and would not be able to give them their lessons this week.
That seemed to keep most people away and Carrie spent much of the time reading on her own so as to give the family time alone.
On the third day of his visit, Carrie decided to go straight to the circus from work, thinking that it would be quieter in the afternoon and that she might have longer to speak with Lilith.
Lilith worked from a small tent outside the main circus marquee and charged two pence per reading. In the event, her small tent was closed and a sign proclaimed it would not open for another two hours, so Carrie stood and waited.
“Won’t open for a while, love” a young lady said she she passed. “You’d best come back later.”
“I’m happy to wait, thank you.”
“Something important, is it”
“But you won’t tell me what it is,” the other woman guessed.
“No, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, we’re used to sceptics round ‘ere. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll she if we can’t get Lilith to see you a bit earlier.”
“Oh, I don’t want to put her to any trouble.”
“Don’t worry, Lilith always wants paying customers. Follow me, love.”
She led Carrie through the small wooden caravans and tents until she arrived at a caravan with ‘Lilith’s Psychic Readings’ painted on the side. The woman climbed into the rear of the caravan and Carrie paused, unwilling to enter without an invitation.
“Are you coming?” the woman called, so Carrie mounted the wooden steps and found the woman she had been speaking with was the only one in there and she was seated at a table.
“I am. Sit yourself down and let’s see what we can do you you.”
Carrie sat opposite her and Lilith reached out and took her hand, then closed her eyes.
“You are a long way from home,” she said.
Well, Carrie’s accent was proof of that.
“But it’s more than just distance, you have come from much further away. You feel lost, though you are exactly where you are supposed to be.”
Lilith suddenly opened her eyes and dropped Carrie hand as though she’d been scolded.
“Why are you here?” Lilith asked, her tone sharp.
“I want you to contact someone for me, someone who is dead.”
“You think this person has the answers you seek?”
“How do you know I’m seeking answers?”
“Because everyone who comes to see me wants answers, but I cannot contact the dead, I can only see the past and the future.”
“So what do you see in my future?” Carrie asked. Lilith’s sudden withdrawal when she touched her hand was worrying.
“I saw…” Lilith licked her lips. “I saw a family. You will have many children and die an old lady.”
“Oh, don’t talk bollocks!” Carrie snapped. “I know you saw something and I know it wasn’t pleasant.”
“People who come to me don’t want the truth, they want reassurance.”
“Well I don’t,” Carrie assured her. “I need to know if I’m ever going to get home.”
“No,” Lilith said with surety. “The place you call home is not something I recognise, but I know you are destined never to see it again.”
“Because you made a choice, you asked fate to change the hand that you had been dealt and fate intervened. Your destiny has changed, but Fate does not offer second chances. In fact I have only once heard of fate being harnessed in such a way, and it takes some very powerful mojo to do it. Way out of my league.”
“Okay.” Carrie took some deep calming breaths and tried to blink back the tears she felt. “Okay, so if I am stuck here. I need to know if I made the right decision about something.”
Lilith’s expression turned compassionate.
“No,” she said softly. “In refusing him you have condemned yourself and those around you to misery.”
“Why should I believe you?” Carrie asked.
“You have no reason to trust me, but then I have no reason to lie.”
Carrie looked into the eyes of the woman opposite her and could see no signs of deception.
“And what would have happened if I’d said yes?” Carrie asked, her voice soft and fearful.
“That is not as clear but, though different to what fate had planned, it will be happy, possibly happier than fate originally intended.”
“And what about Margaret? If I had said yes, what would have happened to her?”
“She would have married a politician.”
“But is she happy?”
“She would have been, yes.”
“What have I done?” Carrie felt her tears spill over.
Lilith reached out again and took her hand, but this time to offer comfort.
“The fact that I can see anything of an alternate future means that you still have time. It is not too late.”
“I must offer you a word of caution though. Be truthful, absolutely truthful about everything. If you try and hide who you really are, your marriage will be built on lies and distrust is the only possible outcome.”
“He’ll think I’m crazy though.”
“Perhaps, but do you really have so little faith in him?”
Carrie sniffed and got her handkerchief out to wipe her eyes.
Lilith nodded and got up to make some tea. Carrie got her purse out.
“No, just tell me the truth about where you’re from,” Lilith said. “I have never seen any place like it before.”
“Well…” She thought she might as well get some practice in now. Besides, what did it matter if Lilith thought she was crazy, she was probably never going to see her again. “I’m from the future.”
Lilith stared at her for a long time before she slowly nodded.
“Aye, I believe you are.” She smiled. “And how did you come to be here?”
“I’m not quite sure. I think… My aunt died and left me some earrings that she said would give me my hearts desire, that’s all I can think it is.”
“Those earrings?” Lilith asked about the ones she was wearing.
“May I?” Lilith reached out to touch them so Carrie took one earring off and handed it to her. Lilith inhaled sharply as she touched it. “Powerful magic indeed.” She handed it back and returned to the table with a tea pot and two cups.
“But they can’t get me back home?” Carrie asked, putting her earring back on.
“No. Like I said, no matter how powerful a witch is, fate can only be altered once, you can’t reverse what’s been done.”
“The thing is,” Carrie began, cupping her tea cup in her hands and staring into it’s depths. “Where I’m from, this universe isn’t real. The life I’m living, the people I’m meeting, they’re characters from a novel, just an invented story. How can I be living in fiction?”
“Is it fiction?” Lilith asked. “My Mam used to say that the possibilities of the mind were endless. If we could dream it, then it was true.”
Carrie thought about the the theory of multiple dimensions and suddenly wished she’d paid more attention to those physics documentaries. Was it possible that just dreaming something could create it? There was no denying that she seemed to be living her life here so it must be possible. Did that mean that somewhere out there, Harry Potter was real too?
She smiled at the thought but quickly sobered up again.
“What of my family?” she asked. “Back home, I mean. Will they… Will they miss me?”
“I don’t know,” Lilith answered truthfully. “Maybe when you left they forgot about you, as though you never existed in that world… or maybe they don’t know what happened to you, and maybe they’re searching.”
“But there’s nothing I can do for them, is there?”
“No, love. For better or worse, you’re hear now. You’d best make the most of it.”
Carrie nodded and sipped her tea.
“Thank you, you’ve been, a big help.”
“It’s nice to use me gift for someone who really wants help for a change,” Lilith smiled. “Now, drink up and then go and see about putting your mistake right, before anyone else suffers for it.”