written by James Rada, Jr.
A serial fiction story for your enjoyment
7: The Love of Your Life
Jessica Weikert walked up next to Thomas Hamilton, who was standing in front of the Loys Station Covered Bridge staring at it.
“Who are you talking to?” she asked.
“I wish I knew.”
Thomas had met the old man on the bridge twice. The first time, Thomas had crossed the bridge at the old man’s suggestion months ago and wound up in the 1950s. This time, the man had said he could come back to 2023 if he crossed the bridge again.
It couldn’t be that simple. Thomas had crossed the bridge at least a hundred times over the past two months, and he was still in 1951. Something more was involved with getting home than simply walking across a historic covered bridge in Frederick County.
The problem was Thomas believed the old man. Fog covered the other side of Owens Creek while this side was bright and sunny, just as it had been when Thomas crossed to 1951. If he crossed now, Thomas could cross the bridge and be back in his house in a few minutes.
However, with Jessica standing at his side, he knew he couldn’t do it. It didn’t matter that she was engaged to marry George Kirkpatrick, the son of a store owner in Thurmont. Thomas didn’t want to leave her.
Jessica walked up to the bridge to get a better look at the man.
“You look familiar,” she said.
“And you are as beautiful as ever,” the man replied.
“Do I know you?”
The man smirked. Then he turned and walked back to the other side of the bridge. He faded into the fog until Jessica couldn’t see him.
She turned to Thomas. “What was that all about?”
Thomas scratched his head. “I am not really sure.” He paused. “Jessica, do you want to marry George? Do you love him?”
Jessica said nothing. She just frowned. “He’s a good man and will make a good husband.”
That hadn’t answered either of Thomas’ questions. “Do you want to marry him? Do you love him?”
“No,” she said forcefully, as if she was being made to admit something she didn’t want to.
Thomas closed his eyes and sighed.
“Then why are you going to do it?” he asked.
They sat down there next to the road and talked for the next two hours. It got tense at times, but they had a deeply personal conversation. Thomas probed for why she was going to marry George, but only came up with that she wanted to please her father. Thomas also suspected it might be that she didn’t see another option. She wasn’t going to inherit the farm. John Weikert would leave that to his son, not his oldest daughter, who had proven herself capable at running it. Thomas told Jessica about Paula, and how she had hurt him by breaking up with him using a text message, which led to a side conversation about what smartphones and text messages were. It also led to Thomas telling Jessica about Loys Station Covered Bridge and the first time he met the old man.
“That doesn’t make sense,” she said when he finished telling the story.
He nodded. “I didn’t say it did, but it’s what happened.”
“You mean, if I walk across that bridge, I’ll be 70 years in the future?”
“It doesn’t work all the time. Believe me, I tried. All I know, is that it seems to have something to do with the bridge, the fog, and the old man.”
“Well, you’re the only person this has happened to, right?”
Thomas drew back, caught off guard. “I don’t know.”
“So why didn’t you go back if you had the chance?”
Thomas looked down at the ground. Then he reached over and took her hand. When he looked up he said, “Because home is where you are.”
They married in 1952. John Weikert wasn’t pleased that his daughter chose a farm hand over a successful merchant, but he understood being in love, and he respected Thomas.
Jessica and Thomas married on Loys Station Covered Bridge on a sunny day without a fog bank in sight. No one understood why they wanted to marry on the bridge rather than a church. They knew why, and that was enough.
Over the decades, they had five children, three boys and two girls. Thomas stopped visiting the bridge as his work and family duties took over. He wasn’t sure why he had even continued visiting the bridge after he married. Did he want to see the old man again and thank him? He certainly wasn’t thinking about going across the bridge. He was hesitant to cross it, in even the best weather. He didn’t want to chance losing his family.
At some point, Thomas realized his life was overlapping when he saw his parents walking along Main Street in Thurmont one afternoon, holding the hands of a toddler. He recognized his parents from pictures he had seen of them when they were younger. It took him a moment longer to register that the toddler was him.
Thomas stared at the little boy with the curly brown hair and wondered if he should introduce himself. He decided against it. Not only would his parents think him crazy, but revealing himself might change his future (or past; he wasn’t sure how that worked). He only knew that he loved his life and didn’t want to risk changing it.
The doctors diagnosed Jessica with breast cancer in 2018. She fought it as best she could, but in the end, whether it was the drugs or the disease, she seemed to wither away right before him.
As he sat beside her bed, clutching her hand in his, she whispered, “It’s not over, Thomas. It’s just beginning.”
He wanted to believe her. He wanted to share her faith in an afterlife, but staring at her on the bed, he just couldn’t.
“You don’t see it, do you?” she asked.
She smiled. “Sometimes you can be so blind, but I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“I know, and we will continue loving each other.” She coughed. It was a raspy sound. She lifted a frail hand and pointed to the water pitcher.
Thomas grabbed the pitcher and filled the glass. When he brought it to his wife, her eyes were closed.
“Here’s your water, Jessica.”
She didn’t stir. He stroked her cheek and then felt at her neck for a pulse. There wasn’t one.
His children told him that the funeral had been large because so many people wanted to say goodbye to their mother. Thomas had barely noticed. He had stared at the casket and felt the growing emptiness inside him.
The children did what they could to help him, and they did, but not in the ways they thought. He could see his Jessica in all their faces, and if it didn’t make him forget that she was gone, it brought him comfort that she was still around in some way.
It took months, but eventually, he started coming out of his grief. He would remember Jessica and then put that memory in a box in his mind. It was something he would be able to look back on, but it wouldn’t be ever present.
He was watching the Weather Channel one morning when he noticed the date: February 4, 2023. That date nagged at him. He knew it wasn’t one of the children’s or grandchildren’s birthdays. It definitely wasn’t his anniversary. He had never once forgotten that day.
His eyes widened. He hurried to his truck. His kids had been asking him to stop driving, but he wasn’t ready to give it up yet.
He drove out to the Loys Station Bridge Park. He climbed out of his car and walked to the bridge. Then he saw himself running down Old Frederick Road.
It’s not over, Thomas. It’s just beginning.
He walked up to himself, who was staring through the bridge at the clear skies beyond. Thomas was tempted to walk across the bridge to see Jessica again. He knew she was walking along the road just on the other side. That wasn’t what happened, though, and he would see her again.
“Hello, Thomas,” he said to his younger self.
Yes, the love of your life awaits you across the bridge.