Back To the Past - Jade Falconer
February, 2008 - ISBN 978-1-59426-795-6
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The journey began with a bus ride. A public television station had sent a packet of instructions, the first of which was to meet at an office building in western New York. Noah had slept with the thick sheaf of papers since it had arrived. He'd read it over at least ten times.
He still couldn't believe he'd been accepted to go on the historical reality program. Ever since a childhood vacation to Colonial Williamsburg, he'd been obsessed with history. He'd grown up in the heart of the city, gotten his first computer at the age of five, but all he wanted to do was experience life in the wilderness, without technology.
The bus pulled up across the street from the appointed meeting place, and he bounced down the steps with his small duffle bag. He hadn't packed much. The instructions had said not to, and Noah had them memorized.
Once inside, he got a chance to meet his fellow adventurers. They were to get their assignments and their wardrobe, along with further instructions. He didn't care what he was supposed to do. He didn't care if he ended up as a slave and had to chop wood all day long. He was chomping at the bit to start.
His name was called and he was handed a thick book and a large box. Along with his fellow travelers, he retreated to his previous seat to examine the items. Spontaneous conversation broke out as they all looked over what they had been given.
Noah opened his book and read the first page. "Noah Edwards, you are a landowner. Your family was granted a parcel of land by a wealthy man who was in their debt, and you have come to establish a settlement on it. You are the highest ranking member of the settlers, and your dwelling has been erected in advance of your arrival." Noah felt a shiver of excitement. He would have his own house! He read on. "In addition to the largest of the settlement houses, you have two servants, a young woman who will cook and clean for you, and your manservant. His duties will be to work your fields and any other task you choose to assign him. Yours is the only household able to afford a cow and a chicken coop upon arrival. Your fellow settlers may barter for some of your resources as they get established. Be smart about what you trade. Your male servant will reside in your home. The female servant, for propriety's sake, must live with a properly chaperoned family, your neighbors, the Bakers."
Noah looked up then and scanned the room. He wondered who his servants were. The instructions went on to explain that they would all depart in a van after they changed clothes, to a field where their covered wagons were waiting. It was then that he opened the box. It was filled with personal items: stockings, boots, shirts and trousers. There was a coarse satchel to pack them in. There was a bible and a small shaving kit; it even included a pocket watch.
"Now that everything has been distributed, please choose an outfit from your box. There are two dressing rooms where historical experts are on hand to instruct you with anything that isn't immediately obvious to you. When everyone is dressed and ready, we'll board the van and head out to the wagons."
Noah picked up his box and followed the other males to the dressing room on the left. He felt like bouncing up and down with excitement. When the door closed, he picked out an outfit and started to strip, with no trace of shyness.
After a few moments, a deep male voice came from beside him. "Excuse me, but you're tying that wrong."
Noah looked up. He'd been completely absorbed in what he was doing, and was startled for a moment. "Oh. Am I?" he asked, and then turned toward the other man. His eyes widened as he looked up. And up. He was tall. And shirtless. His shoulders were broad, and his arms were so big. Long, rich brown hair was tied back, a few strands escaping to brush his shoulders.
"Are you on the show?" Noah asked. Clearly, this man was changing his clothes, just as the rest of them were, so he wasn't an employee of the station.
The man nodded, extending a hand. "I'm Ethan. Apparently I'm to be a manservant." He grinned. "I guess all those hours in the gym will finally be put to a good use."
"A manservant? Well, small world. I'm supposed to have a manservant," he said breathlessly. "Um...can you help me with this?" he asked, giving up on the linen neckcloth he was attempting to tie.
"Of course," Ethan said, stepping closer. "Perhaps you're my new employer and this is good practice." He expertly tied the cloth, straightening it carefully.
Noah stared up into his brown eyes. He'd never seen a man as attractive as this one up close. He licked his lips nervously. "You said your name is Ethan?" he asked quietly. "That's my manservant's name."
Ethan's smile grew. "Well, what a coincidence," he bowed. "I'm happy to be of service to you, sir. May I know my employer's name?"
"Noah. But I guess you're supposed to call me Mister Edwards? I don't have a title or anything, but we get to live in the best house." He was already taking credit for providing such luxury to this man. He smirked at himself. "But don't worry. I'm sure I'll be a fair employer," he added with a wink. He needed to stop himself from flirting with this man. He was surely straight.
Ethan finally stepped back and began to pull on his own shirt. "I certainly hope so," he said solemnly. "Because I intend to be the very best manservant you've ever had," he added.
"Well, I have no doubt you will, since you'll be the only one I've ever had," he said. He sighed with disappointment as Ethan finished dressing. He pulled on his soft leather boots and looked at himself in the mirror. His brown hair was a little disheveled, and his slender frame looked overwhelmed in the voluminous shirt, but he liked the way the wool trousers snugly fit his long legs.
Finally, Noah packed up the rest of his belongings in his sack just in time for everyone to go out to the van. He glanced at Ethan again. "Ready?" he asked, shouldering his bag.
"Yes, Mr. Edwards," Ethan answered with a smile. "But I should carry that for you," he added, taking Noah's pack and lifting it effortlessly with his own.
Noah chuckled as they climbed into the van. "I could get used to this." He crawled to the back, bench seat as it started to fill up. "Do you know anything about horses? I assume we'll be making the trip together, too, yes?"
Ethan nodded. "So I would assume. And yes, I grew up with horses. How about you? Do you ride?" he asked as he settled next to Noah.
Noah blushed. "No. I was on a pony once when I was a kid, but, no. I'm from the city. We didn't have horses on the lower West Side." He couldn't wait to immerse himself in this adventure. He wanted to see the wagon. He wanted to see the house. He wanted to get to know the rules, and Ethan.
It was a twenty-minute ride. Five covered wagons waited in a field, as well as a Range Rover with the camera crew.
"We're here," Noah said with quiet wonder in his voice. He opened the book and flipped through it. "Does it say how far we have to go in the wagons?" he asked.
Ethan shook his head. "No, but I'm assuming it's going to be at least a day or two. To give it some realism." He smiled over at Noah. "How did a city boy get involved in something like this?"
They started filing out. "I'm kind of a history nerd," he joked.
They all reassembled outside and another television station official began to instruct them. Maps were passed out, and it was explained that the camera crew would be following them. They were instructed to only pay attention to the cameras when directed to. The rest of the time they were to behave as if the camera wasn't there.
Noah was shown to his wagon, and Ethan was meant to follow. In a moment a young woman approached. She curtsied and giggled. "Hi, I'm Rebecca. I'm your maid, but I'm supposed to travel with the family I'm staying with."
Noah smiled at her. "Very good, Rebecca. See you at the settlement, then." He was just as happy to see her skip off to another wagon. He only hoped she could cook. Other than that, he was content to be alone with Ethan. He climbed up into the wagon.
Ethan watched her go, then turned to Noah. "She seems nice," he said, lifting their packs into the wagon. He sat next to Noah on the hard wooden bench.
"Hmm? Oh, yes," he said, looking over the reins. "That, one horse can really pull all of this?" he asked, looking back at the small prairie schooner.
"I suppose so," Ethan replied. "I'm sure the animal protection people would be all over the show if they were mistreating animals." He picked up the reins.
Noah felt instantly relieved.. He had been secretly hoping that the whole manservant thing extended to doing the driving. He spread the map over his knees. "It seems like we go straight west for about thirty miles, then turn northwest for about ten. There are some landmarks, and it looks like part of it is an actual road." He showed Ethan where he was looking on the map, and he realized that the rest of the wagons seemed to be waiting for them. He looked around at them. "Oh...well...seems we're in the lead."
Ethan grinned. "I guess we'd better get moving then! Don't want to hold up the whole show." He gave the reins a quick tug, getting the horse's attention, urging him on with a clicking sound. The horse grudgingly moved off.
Noah was beside himself with excitement. It was a beautiful day and riding across the countryside in a covered wagon really made it feel like they were in the past. There was nothing to do but talk, so he smiled at Ethan. "So what made you want to come on this adventure?" he asked.
"I'm a history professor, actually," Ethan responded. "I'm on sabbatical, and this is a research project for me." He grinned. "Not to mention great publicity for the university."
Noah was instantly impressed. "Oh. Well then, I hope you know all sorts of handy things that will help us get through this!" He beamed at him. "I feel well cared for already."
"I certainly hope so," Ethan agreed. "Though I suspect the knowing and the doing are a little different. But that's what I'm here for." He leaned closer. "And to serve you, apparently."
Noah's eyes widened slightly. "Lucky me," he said softly. He touched Ethan's arm, playfully squeezing a bicep. "I suppose you'll do," he teased back. He couldn't imagine that Ethan was really flirting with him, but it would be nice if he were. Even as excited as he was about the trip, and the settlement beyond, he could barely take his gaze off the other man. Though he wasn't traditionally handsome, Ethan was certainly attractive, especially when he smiled.
Ethan laughed, and urged the horse on faster. "So you said you're a history nerd. I can certainly relate to that. What do you do? Are you a student?"
"Yes, well, sort of. I went to college for a couple of years, but then I took some time off. I sort of started a computer consulting company and it got busy, but I'm going to go back to school eventually." He shrugged his shoulders. He didn't really have a passion for computers, but he was good at it.
Ethan nodded. "So is this," he waved his hand, indicating the wagon and the others, "Your favorite era of history? Is that why you decided to try out for the show?"
"I don't know that I really have a favorite. Of course I love revolutionary, civil war, all that, but I do like periods of history that aren't necessarily associated with violence. I mean, I know the settlers faced a lot of violence with the Native Americans, but I like it when not everything is about body counts and pistol technology, you know?" He colored slightly, thinking Ethan must find him very nerdy. But then if he was a professor of history, perhaps he shared Noah's passion.
"I know what you mean," Ethan nodded. "I always hated history lessons that were all about the battles and numbers. The people. That's what makes history come alive for me. And now we're going to know, just a little, what it was like!" His enthusiasm was evident in his tone.
Noah felt instantly comfortable with Ethan. They talked for the entire journey. When they finally reached the settlement, everyone was tired from the long trip. But Noah felt a renewed sense of excitement when he spotted the houses and picked out his own.
It was larger than the other three buildings. It had two big rooms and a loft. There was also a small paddock and stable in the yard, a chicken coop, and a cow munching on fresh hay.
The entire community pitched in to unload the wagons, lending a hand to each other after their own burdens were safely stowed away. The two other families who had horses asked Noah's permission to stable their animals in his shelter.
It was long after dark when they finally had a quick meal and settled in for the night. Noah noticed that there was only one bed. He closed the door and looked at Ethan. "Um...does the book say anything about this?" he asked, taking a seat at the small table to riffle through the pages.
Ethan came over to where Noah was sitting and leaned over his shoulder to read. "I'm sure the manservant is supposed to be close by," he mused, and glanced around. "Perhaps in the loft?" he asked, pointing up.
"Is there a bed up there?" Noah asked, looking up, then stood, brushing against Ethan's shoulder. He turned away abruptly and climbed up the ladder to the loft, peeking over the edge. "Oh," he looked down at Ethan, still standing on the main floor. "It's not much. More like a pallet than a bed, really."
Ethan shrugged. "I'm sure it will be fine. I can sleep anywhere. It's one of my many talents." He flashed a grin up at Noah.
Noah pouted, wondering about his other many talents, and started to climb down. "But that's like you getting the top bunk," he said with mock-petulance. "I suppose I should take my rightful place in the big luxurious bed, since I'm the lord and master, after all." He grinned and rolled his eyes as he stepped to floor again, before suppressing a yawn. "I hardly did anything today, and I'm exhausted."
"It's the fresh country air," Ethan declared. "Early to bed and early to rise and all that."
Noah nodded. "Yes, yes. I suppose we'll be up at dawn sorting things out." He smiled. "Um, I guess, thanks for everything." He gave Ethan a wave, then slipped off to his room. There was no door to it, so he just started to undress for bed. When he got his shirt off, he popped his head out the doorway. "Oh...we're not supposed to pray at night or anything, are we? I mean, I know the whole church on Sunday thing is mandatory..."
Ethan already had his shirt off and was starting on his pants. "I hope not," he said. "Because I don't think I could manage it."
Noah pulled one of his boots off, hopping on one foot as he stood in the doorway. "I think the Sunday service is some ridiculous length of time, though. Like three hours or something. Will I get in trouble if I fall asleep? I'll bet it would be historically accurate." He grinned as he balanced on the other foot to pull off the other boot.
Ethan laughed. "Your manservant will be there to discreetly nudge you awake." He watched Noah for a moment. "Would you like some help?" he asked.
Noah stood, stocking feet on the rough, cold wood floor. He looked down at himself, half-dressed as he was. "Um, I don't think you have to be a valet, too, do you?" He wasn't sure about the nightgown. It seemed kind of thin.
Ethan was silent for a moment, then said, "I'll be whatever you need me to be."
Noah looked at the other man. He looked like some sort of Greek statue of a god or a warrior in the low candlelight. "That might be a tall order," he said quietly.
"I'm up for anything," Ethan said seriously, looking into Noah's eyes. "Just say the word, Mr. Edwards."
Noah's mouth was suddenly dry. "Can I, um...I need to say something off the historical record, and I hope it doesn't upset you, but since we'll be in such close quarters, I think it's only fair. I'm gay. So, now you know I might be interpreting things you say totally wrong. Anyway, I just thought I should tell you. You know, it's not like I intended to come out all over the place. Or have it, have any impact on you or the show." He had to put his hand over his mouth to stop himself from babbling any more than he already had.
Ethan regarded Noah with a steady gaze. "I kind of figured that out," he said, after a moment.
Noah felt a weird mixture of relief and disappointment. "Oh. Okay, well, I just thought you should know," he said quietly. "Um, see you in the morning, I guess."
"Sweet dreams," Ethan said, before turning away to climb the ladder to the loft. He paused once to look back at Noah, but didn't speak, then continued to the top.
Noah sighed and took off the coarse trousers, then the soft cotton boxer-like garment that protected his skin. He pulled the loose nightgown over his head and slipped between the plain cotton sheets. All in all, he was happy with the day. It was exciting and he was looking forward to so many things. As long as Ethan was friendly, it was better than he'd hoped for, really. He blew out the candle and almost instantly fell asleep.