At least I know you’ll get the jokes.
Elizabeth Peters slammed the door of the bar behind her. “I’ve done it,” she said, striding across the room to slump down in a stool. “And now I’d like some wine.”
Lizzy was a volur. That meant she traveled through time fixing problems that time travelers made in the time continuum.
“What did you do?” I asked. I’d been asleep when Lizzy left earlier, and so I didn’t know what her current mission was. My name was Catherine. I was trapped in the bar because if I left, I’d be dead. See, my boyfriend… Never mind. It was a long story. The point was, I couldn’t leave. So I got to travel through time, but I was stuck inside this bar. Which looked like a sports bar from the 1980s, even though Elegy claimed it could look like anything she wanted. Elegy was a goddess of Fate. She was unnaturally obsessed with the 1980s. In fact, right at that second, she was blaring “If You Leave,” by OMD over the bar’s speakers. I was having Molly Ringwald flashbacks. “Where are we? When are we?”
“I see you finally woke up,” said Lizzy. “How about that wine?” she asked Elegy.
Elegy was dancing behind the bar and lip-syncing the song with her eyes closed. She ignored Lizzy.
“I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” I said. “I was just getting bored listening to Elegy go on and on about Kellen’s meltdown the other day. I witnessed it, and she’s already told me the story three times. She started into it with you, and I couldn’t help yawning.”
Elegy stopped dancing. “I didn’t know you were bored listening to me talk about Kellen,” she said. “You could have said something.”
“I did say something,” I said.
“Oh, when did you do that?”
“Only about seven times. I distinctly remember telling you that I was getting really sick of hearing that story,” I said.
Elegy studied her fingernails. “Oh, right. I thought you were joking.”
If Elegy hadn’t saved my life, I might have hated her. She was ridiculously annoying.
Lizzy tapped her fingers against the bar. “Could I have a glass of wine now, please?”
“Wine?” said Elegy.
Lizzy raised her eyebrows. “Yes. I’ve saved Shakespeare, and now I’d like some—”
“What?!” I interrupted. “Shakespeare?”
Lizzy and Elegy both turned to me and nodded.
“Someone was trying to kill Shakespeare?” I asked. On the last time mission I was on, someone was trying to kill Hitler.
“No,” said Elegy. “Don’t be silly.” She turned to Lizzy. “I’m sorry. You can’t have any wine, because it didn’t work.”
“Well, then, how did you save him?” I asked Lizzy.
“Weren’t you listening?” said Elegy. “She didn’t save him. It didn’t work.”
“What do you mean, it didn’t work?” said Lizzy. “I distracted that dolt of a time traveler for over an hour.”
“It didn’t work,” said Elegy, “because he just went back to his own time, found a time portal, went to a different point in Shakespeare’s timeline and did it again.”
“Did what again?” I asked.
“I do not believe it.” Lizzy got up off the bar stool. “That idiot. He’s a university professor. He should know better.”
“Did what again?” I asked. Again.
“He outed Shakespeare,” Elegy told me.
“Outed?” I said.
“Isn’t that what they call it during your time?” Elegy said. “Came out of the closet?”
“Out of the…” I trailed off. “No way. Shakespeare was gay?”
“Yep,” said Elegy.
“He wasn’t gay exactly,” said Lizzy. “He was sort of…adventurous.”
“He can’t have been gay,” I said. I was completely floored by this. “I need a drink, Elegy.”
“Sure,” said Elegy. “Rum runner?”
“Please,” I said.
“Wait,” said Lizzy. “ She gets a drink?”
“She’s my sidekick,” said Elegy. “Sidekicks get drinks.”
I glared at her. “I am not your sidekick.”
Lizzy glared at me. “Aren’t you the lucky one?”
“Let’s get back to the point here,” I said. “Which is, ‘Shakespeare was gay?'”
Elegy scooped up some ice and began pouring rum and juice over it. “I thought everyone knew by your time period. They weren’t really suppressing it, then, I didn’t think.”
“I don’t believe it,” I said.
“Well, he wasn’t really gay,” said Lizzy.
“Please,” said Elegy. She poured my rum runner into a metal shaker glass and then back into my glass. “That sonnet about the summer’s day and the darling buds and whatnot? It’s written to a man.”
My jaw dropped. “Seriously?”
Elegy topped my drink with an umbrella and handed it to me. “Seriously.”
Lizzy eyed my drink. She didn’t look happy. “He had affairs with women. He was married. He had three children.”
“So he was bisexual?” I said. Did that make it easier to take? I really wasn’t sure.
“Oh please,” said Elegy. “He was trying to hide his proclivities. He was gay. He was through and through rainbow colored. He was a card-carrying friend of Dorothy.”
“Friend of what?” I said.
“If I’m going to have to talk to that professor again, I’m going to need a glass of wine,” Lizzy told Elegy. She shot me a glance. “And he did like women.”
I sipped at my drink. This was extraordinarily weird. Shakespeare gay? Romeo and Juliet written by a gay guy? Wait a second. I did kind of remember that Romeo had seemed awfully close to that Mercutio dude. “So I don’t get it,” I said. “If Shakespeare was gay, what’s the big deal about outing him?”
“Well,” said Elegy, “during Elizabethan England, it wasn’t exactly a good idea to be open about such things. Our time traveling friend has made it so that Shakespeare gets put in jail for sodomy and that half of his plays don’t get written or performed and that the ones that are already written get burned in a huge bonfire in the center of London.”
“Oh,” I said. I drank some more of my rum runner. Elegy was very good at mixing drinks. “I guess that’s bad.”
“Are you kidding?” said Elegy. “Do you have any idea what kind of shape society would be in without Shakespeare?”
“There’s the time paradox too,” said Lizzy.
Time paradoxes happened because time travelers changed something, and then when it got to be time for them to go back in time to change it, they couldn’t, because it didn’t need to be changed anymore. That really threw all of time into panic mode. Houses floated and the sky turned funny colors. It was bad news. If Elegy and the volurs didn’t fix the paradoxes, then the fabric of time ripped apart. All in all, we were doing very important work in Elegy’s time-traveling bar.
“Yes, of course. The time paradox,” said Elegy.
“Which I’m not going to fix without wine,” said Lizzy. “I can’t talk to that professor again if I’m sober. It will drive me insane.”
“Maybe,” said Elegy, getting a wine glass, “there’s a way you could avoid talking to the professor at all.” She opened a wine bottle and poured some into the glass.
“And what would that be?”
Elegy took a sip of the wine.
Lizzy threw up her hands in disgust. “You have got to be kidding me.”
“I’ll give you the wine when we fix the problem, Lizzy,” said Elegy. “That’s the agreement we worked out, or don’t you remember? You’re the one who insisted that you didn’t get any wine until you were finished with the job. Something about rewards and motivation and—”
“Shut up.” Lizzy looked ready to strangle Elegy.
“Anyway,” said Elegy, “why don’t you just get Shakespeare and bring him back to the bar?”
“Here?” I said, getting excited.
“Sure,” said Elegy. “The bar can change appearance so that it looks like something out of the sixteenth century. The bar will translate whatever we say so that we all can understand each other. Why not?”
My eyes lit up. “I’m going to meet Shakespeare?!”
“No,” Lizzy said.
“No?” Elegy said.
“No?” I said. I was disappointed. I hadn’t gotten to meet Hitler—not that I really wanted to—and I was beginning to be a little annoyed with this whole time traveling thing. Sure, I got to go anywhere in time and space. But it kind of sucked that I never got to leave the bar.
“I know him,” said Lizzy, sighing. “Just forget whatever I said about rewards and motivation and give me a goddamned drink, Elegy. This is not shaping up to be a great day.”
“Lizzy, you told me never to listen to you whenever you insisted I give you a drink,” said Elegy. “And what do you mean, you know him?”
Lizzy stalked across the bar and threw herself down on a couch next to the pool table. “I’m from the 1500s, okay? I witnessed a time paradox, and then I got snapped up to do volur work and fix the time continuum. But before that, I was just a regular serving wench at a tavern in London. And I knew William Shakespeare.”
I swiveled around on my bar stool to face her. “Whoa. That’s so much cooler than the 1980s.”
Elegy took another sip of wine. “You know him? Perfect. Then it will be easy to get him back here, won’t it?”
“Oh God,” said Lizzy. She rolled over so that her face was buried in the couch cushions. The next thing she said was muffled.
“What was that?” Elegy asked.
Lizzy lifted her head. “I said, ‘Fine.'”
“Great,” said Elegy. She drank some more wine.
“She’ll be back any minute,” Elegy was saying as she mixed me another rum runner, “and when she shows up, I don’t want you to be alarmed. The bar is going to look completely different, and you’re not going to hear Shakespeare talking in early modern English or anything. He’ll sound normal. Plus, there are some rules you have to follow if you’re meeting someone famous in history.”
“Rules?” I wondered if there were going to be a lot of them. I’d have to drink that rum runner slowly, or I’d get tipsy and forget all of them.
Elegy handed me my drink. “First of all, never mention anything from their lives.”
“Because maybe it hasn’t happened yet,” she said. “Or maybe it did happen, but it will seem odd that you know about it.”
I guessed that made sense. “What else?”
“Don’t act excited to see them. Treat them like a normal person.”
“But it’s Shakespeare , for God’s sake.”
Elegy ran a rag over the bar. “Just try to stay calm, please. And in the case of Shakespeare, never, under any circumstances, quote anything he wrote at him.”
“Everyone wants to do that,” Elegy said. “Don’t. It’s tacky.”
I rolled my eyes. I didn’t know much Shakespeare to quote at him anyway.
The door to the bar opened. I blinked, because the bar had changed. Instantly. Instead of the late twentieth century sports bar from before, it had become a Renaissance tavern. There were wooden chairs and tables set up on a stone floor. Instead of a cooler full of bottles, there were only barrels of beer and meade along the wall. Instead of stacks of glassware, there were metal tankards. I wasn’t sitting on a barstool anymore. Instead I was standing.
And speaking of me—my clothes had changed. I was totally wearing a full-on big skirt and white laced up corset-y thing. It made my boobs look huge. “I’m a bar wench,” I said softly. “Neat.”
“Well, that’s excellent,” said a male voice, “because I’m always out looking for new wenches.”
I looked in the direction of the door. Lizzy, also in Renaissance clothing, was standing next to William Shakespeare himself.
He didn’t look a thing like those paintings of him. In the paintings, he was all balding and sort of delicate looking. This Shakespeare had a full head of hair and was quite a sturdy man. He had broad shoulders, and he wore a loose white shirt with a pair of somewhat dirty breeches. His beard was wild and unkempt. His nose was a little crooked. He had bright eyes, though, and he was smiling. He winked at me. “You volunteering for some wenchery?”
It was William fucking Shakespeare. I couldn’t breathe, let alone speak.
He turned over his shoulder to look at Lizzy. “You won’t mind if she joins in, will you, Liz?”
Lizzy rolled her eyes and nudged him in the direction of one of the wooden tables. “Sit down, Will.”
Wait. Join in? Like… I glanced at Elegy. “I thought you said he was gay,” I whispered.
Elegy just shrugged. She sidled over to Shakespeare. “Can I get you a drink?”
Shakespeare rubbed his beard. “Well, I was on my way to meet someone before I ran into Lizzy here.”
“I had a heck of a time convincing him to come with me,” Lizzy said. “But I’ve got him here now, and I think I deserve some wine.” She gave Elegy a pointed look.
Elegy considered. “All right, all right, Lizzy. A glass of wine for you. And Will, was it?”
“Shakespeare,” said Shakespeare. “William Shakespeare. I’m a playwright. Well, I was until they closed the theaters because of the plague. I’ve been working on some sonnets recently. Anyway, you might have heard of me?”
Elegy smiled. “Don’t see too much theater myself.” She brought Lizzy some wine.
Lizzy took a sip, relief evident on her face.
“I wrote a little play called Titus Andronicus ?” said Shakespeare. “It’s great. It’s got severed hands, severed heads, tongues cut out, people baked in pies?”
My eyes widened. “I’ve never heard of that.” How many plays did Shakespeare write, anyway? That one sounded…disgusting.
Shakespeare’s shoulders slumped. “Yeah, I guess you wouldn’t have.”
“Don’t let it get to you,” I said. “I’m sure you’re going to be really famous one day.”
He chuckled. “You’re about as bad a liar as Lizzy is.” He turned to her. “I thought we were going someplace to be alone.”
Lizzy pressed her lips together in firm line. “Let’s just have a drink, Will.”
“I really am supposed to be meeting someone,” said Shakespeare.
“How about an ale?” asked Elegy. She didn’t wait for an answer, just bustled over to where the barrels were and filled up a tankard with some frothing liquid. “This person you were meeting, is he a…friend?”
Shakespeare stood up. “I don’t like your tone. What are you implying?”
Elegy went to him and thrust the tankard into his hands. “Nothing, nothing. You know, it’s just that if this friend of yours were, say, a very close friend to whom you were planning on writing 126 sonnets, you might try to be pretty discreet about that, you know? Because if people were to see you and this friend—”
“What have you heard?” Shakespeare slammed his drink down against the table. Liquid sloshed over the sides. He glared down at Elegy, fire in his eyes.
Wait a second. Hadn’t Elegy just broken one of her own rules right there? Five minutes ago, I could have sworn she was telling me never to mention anything from a famous person’s life. Especially something that hadn’t happened yet. I took a drink of rum runner, feeling annoyed. To add insult to injury, my rum runner had somehow morphed into a kind of spiced wine kind of drink. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t nearly as sweet as the rum runner had been. I set it down.
Elegy folded her arms over her chest. “Lizzy and I were just trying to protect you.”
“Protect me?” He raised his eyebrows.
“Look,” said Elegy, “it’s obvious that you’re in love with the guy. I think that’s fine, as far as it goes. But other people in your time period are not so open-minded. And I would hate for anything to happen to you or to your plays.”
“In love with…?” he trailed off in disgust.
Elegy sat down at the table, across from Shakespeare’s drink. “‘The master mistress of my passion’?” she said. “‘Since she pricked you out for women’s pleasure’?”
Hey! That was another rule. Never quote the famous person. Elegy said it was tacky. I glowered at her.
Shakespeare looked flabbergasted.
“What? Haven’t you written that one yet? Are you still in the phase where you’re trying to convince him to have kids?” Elegy asked.
Shakespeare sat down at the table. He picked up his drink and took a big gulp. Then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “It isn’t like that.” His voice was low. “We aren’t…” He took another drink. “I have a wife and children, for God’s sake.”
“Yes,” said Lizzy, “and of course you consider your marriage vows sacred.” She drained her wine glass.
Shakespeare glanced at her, surprised. “What is this, gang up on Will day?”
Lizzy didn’t answer.
Shakespeare turned back to Elegy. “And you. How do you know those things about my poems?”
“Oh, come on,” said Elegy. “You’re always writing about witches and fairies and sprites and things. Certainly—” She broke off, because Shakespeare looked extremely confused. “Well, you will write about those things. Someday. I hope.” She looked away for a second as if she was mentally checking something. Then she looked back at Shakespeare. “Yep. Safe. I haven’t ruined that.” She grinned. “I know things.”
Shakespeare sat back in his chair. “Things about my future?”
“Not the point,” said Elegy, looking flustered. “The point is, keep your boyfriend a secret.”
“What kind of woman are you?” He searched her face. “Are you a witch? Is that what you said?”
Elegy swept up Shakespeare’s tankard. “Refill?”
Shakespeare got up and went after her. “You must know what happens to witches.”
Elegy turned on him. “And you must know what happens to sodomites.”
Shakespeare blanched. “I’m not spending any more time here.” He started for the door.
“Wait!” said Elegy. “I’m just saying to be careful. There’s nothing wrong with a little butt sex between consenting adults…”
The door slammed.
Elegy made a face. “That didn’t go very well, did it?”
“Understatement of the year,” I said. “Why’d you bother giving me all those rules if you weren’t even going to follow them?”
“Butt sex?” said Lizzy.
“Oh, it probably translated into something less vulgar in Elizabethan,” Elegy snapped. She sank down in a chair at one of the tables. She got that faraway look in her eyes again, and I could tell she was reading the future again. “Shit.”
Lizzy and I looked at her expectantly.
“We’re going to have to try that again,” said Elegy. “It seems that I spooked Shakespeare so much that he broke off his affair with the guy from the sonnets, quit writing, and went back to Stratford to live out his days as footnote in history.”
“You did what?” said Lizzy.
“I’m sorry!” said Elegy. “I got carried away. It’s not every day you meet Big Gay Shakespeare.”
“He’s not even gay,” said Lizzy.
“He was kind of flirting with me,” I pointed out.
“Fine,” said Elegy. “It’s just that Big Bisexual Shakespeare doesn’t have quite the same ring.” She rested her elbows on the table and cupped her face. “On the bright side, since the bar is out of time, there’s no paradox.”
“Yeah, but there’s no Shakespeare either,” I said. “All we have is Titus Andronicus . Who ever heard of that anyway?”
“There’s a really awesome movie with Anthony Hopkins,” said Elegy. “We should watch it sometime. Except…damn. It doesn’t get made now, because no one ever reads Titus Andronicus. ”
“So I have to go get him again,” said Lizzy. She shook her head. “You have got to be kidding me.”
“I’ll fix it,” said Elegy. “All you have to do is get him here, and I’ll do the rest.”
“It would probably be better if you didn’t say much,” Lizzy said. She was pretty pissed off. I guess she didn’t much like Shakespeare. I wondered why. “Besides, it’s not like we can undo it, is it? So, the next time he sees me, he’s going to be considerably harder to convince to come along.”
“Why can’t you just go back to right before Lizzy brought him here and make it so that never happened?” I asked. Wasn’t that what we did? We fixed time?
“It would create two of me,” said Lizzy. “I’d split off into alternate timelines. But alternate timelines can’t exist, so there would be another paradox.”
“Why would it make two of you?”
“Look,” said Lizzy, “if I don’t get Shakespeare into the bar like I just did, then I can’t be in the bar right now, can I? So if I go back and mess with my own timeline like that, then there will be the me who just talked to Shakespeare and the me who went back in time and made it so that me never talked to Shakespeare. Both me and that other me can’t coexist.”
I made a face. “Is this why Kellen said he couldn’t cross his own timeline?”
“Exactly,” said Elegy.
I thought I got it. But it was all too confusing. Maybe it was just better to smile and nod. I smiled and nodded.
Elegy was thinking. “Maybe he wouldn’t come with you.” She thought some more. “What I’ll do is move the bar so that when he stalks out the door like he just did, he opens the door to the bar and comes right back in.”
“Well, that won’t make him suspicious that something weird is going on,” said Lizzy.
“Oh, whatever,” said Elegy. “This is the man who wrote that there were more things in heaven and earth than dreamt of in philosophy. He’ll get over it.” She took a deep breath. “All right, get ready, because the bar is moving now. Shakespeare’s going to walk back through that door in—”
The door opened. “What the hell?” said Shakespeare, turning around and looking behind himself, the way he’d come. He glanced at us, then glanced at the door he’d slammed behind himself. “How…?”
Elegy took him by the arm and led him inside the bar. “So it’s weird,” she said. “Get over it.” She dragged him to a seat and forced him into it. “You can’t quit writing, okay?”
Shakespeare looked from me to Lizzy to Elegy. “Am I dreaming?”
“Sure!” said Elegy. “If we shadows have offended—” she gestured to the three of us—”think but this and all is mended. That you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear.”
“That’s not bad,” Shakespeare muttered. “Do you have a pen?”
“I thought you said not to quote,” I said to Elegy.
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m breaking all the rules,” she told me. She turned back to Shakespeare. “The point is, you can’t let any of the things I said to you freak you out so much that you stop writing plays.”
“Not much point in writing plays right now, is there?” Shakespeare asked. “The plague closed down all the theaters, didn’t it?”
“It won’t last forever,” said Elegy. “It’s important that you write. People like your plays. A lot.”
“No, they don’t,” said Shakespeare.
“Okay,” said Elegy, “well, people will like your plays. In the future. For hundreds and hundreds of years. All the way up until the fiftieth century when people completely stop using words and just mind-beam into each other’s heads.”
“What?” I said.
“Oh, someday we’ll go there,” she said to me. “It will be very strange for you, probably. Language as you know it ceases to exist.”
Shakespeare just laughed. “You’re a crazy woman, or I’m dreaming you, or both. As if people would stop using words.”
Elegy folded her arms over her chest.
“And no one likes my plays,” said Shakespeare. “They aren’t going to last that long.”
“‘So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,'” said Elegy. “Have you written that one yet? ‘So long lives this’? You knew it would last forever. That’s why you wrote it.”
Shakespeare’s eyes got wide. He got out of his chair. “You’re in my head. You’ve got to be.” He glared at Lizzy. “Although why you’re here, I don’t know.”
“I’m your guilty conscience,” she spat out.
Guilty conscience? Whoa, this was getting good. I sat down at a chair at the table, riveted.
Shakespeare rolled his eyes. “I never did a thing with you, Lizzy, that would make me feel guilty. Until I started feeling this unnatural love which you all seem to know so much about, there wasn’t much I did feel guilty about. Now everything’s confusing.”
“Hold on,” I said. “Love? Lizzy, does that mean that you and Shakespeare, you know…?”
She stuck her finger in my face. “You, shut up.”
“Oh. My. God,” I squealed. “That is so cool.”
“It is?” said Shakespeare. He eyed me. Then he looked at Elegy. “You aren’t kidding about people liking my work in the future are you?”
“I’m not,” said Elegy. “So you won’t stop writing, then? And you’ll make sure no one catches you fooling around with your boyfriend? Otherwise, things will get really screwed up.”
“Those sonnets too?” Shakespeare said. “I wasn’t planning on ever showing them to anyone. Some of them are really bad. Dreadful, in fact.”
“The sonnets too,” said Elegy.
“Hmm,” said Shakespeare. “Might I have some more of that ale you gave me before?”
“Sure,” said Elegy, getting up to fill up another tankard.
Shakespeare looked at me. “So, tell me, which one of my plays is the most popular?”
“ Hamlet ,” I said.
“Don’t say anything,” said Elegy, bringing back the tankard and setting it in front of Shakespeare.
“ Hamlet ?” he said, making a confused face.
“You haven’t written it yet,” said Elegy.
“But why would I call it Hamlet ?” said Shakespeare. “I have a son named Hamnet. What kind of idiot calls their most famous play something that sounds just like the name of his own son?”
Elegy cringed. “Look, it’s not a good idea for you to know too much about your future.”
“You might screw it up,” said Elegy. “You might go home now and start trying to write some play called Hamlet , and then the Hamlet we know never gets written, and all of time is changed forever. That’s very bad.”
Shakespeare considered. “I suppose you’re right.” He took a long drink out of his tankard. “But I’m famous, you say?”
“Oh, that is so like you,” said Lizzy. “It’s always all about you. You’re the most selfish asshole I ever met.” She got up and refilled her wine glass. “Is it all fixed then? Can we get rid of him?”
I was kind of enjoying talking to Shakespeare. This was a big deal for me. Why did Lizzy want him to leave already?
“Don’t be so rude, Lizzy,” said Shakespeare. “I haven’t finished my drink yet.”
Lizzy took a gulp of wine. “Rude? Oh, that’s rich, coming from you.”
“Lizzy,” said Elegy, “maybe you should lay off the wine a little right now.”
Lizzy took another big drink, giving Elegy a defiant look.
“I don’t know why you’re being such a cunt,” Shakespeare said to Lizzy. “When you convinced me to come here with you, you were being very friendly.”
“That’s only because I was trying to save you from the time traveler who was trying to tell the world you were gay,” said Lizzy.
“I’m not gay,” said Shakepeare. “You of all people should know that.”
What had happened between them? Where was my spiced wine drink? I wanted to sip it and watch this unfold. It was better than television.
“So that’s why you’re having sex with a man,” said Lizzy.
Shakespeare shook his head, tipping back his tankard for another drink. “Are you jealous, Lizzy. Is that it?”
“Oh no,” she said. “He can have you. I don’t want anything to do with you anymore.”
“That’s enough,” Shakespeare said. “One thing I never could stand about you was your prattling mouth. You never shut up.”
“ I never shut up?” Lizzy said. “You’re the writer. Always talking about whatever idea you’re working on, as if anyone really cares about any of it.”
Shakespeare gestured at Elegy and me. “They seem to think people care about my ideas. They seem to think people care a lot.”
“Yes, well, it’s fabulous that you’ll be leaving us with such a huge head. You thought highly enough of yourself before this.” Lizzy finished her wine.
“When I said stop talking, I meant it.” Shakespeare’s expression darkened.
“I’ll talk all I want.”
“I’ve warned you, Lizzy.”
“Get over yourself.”
Shakespeare’s hand shot out. His open palm collided with Lizzy’s cheek with a loud smacking sound. He’d just slapped her!
Elegy and I were both on our feet.
“That’s crossing the line,” Elegy said. “I know this time period isn’t big on women’s rights, but you can’t slap Lizzy in my bar. I think it’s time for you to leave.”
“Your bar?” said Shakespeare, standing up himself. “I know you don’t own the bar, little woman. You can’t make me leave if I don’t want to.”
“Can’t I?” asked Elegy.
“You’re just three women. What do you think you’re going to do? Scratch me to death?” Shakespeare laughed, scooping up his tankard and taking a drink.
“You shouldn’t hit people,” I said. “My boyfriend Richard hit me. He would have killed me if Elegy hadn’t stopped him. I’m not sure if I like you very much, Shakespeare.”
He clutched his heart in an exaggerated gesture. “You wound me to my core.”
“Just leave,” said Elegy.
“I’m finishing my drink,” said Shakespeare.
“I’m fine,” said Lizzy, still rubbing her jaw. “A slap’s nothing compared to what else he did to me. What he’s probably done to lots of women in London.”
“What did he do?” I asked Lizzy, still glaring at Shakespeare. I couldn’t believe the guy was such a jerk. And he was gay too. Well. Sort of.
Shakespeare slammed his drink down on the table and turned on Lizzy. “I didn’t do a damned thing to you.”
“Oh, you would say that, you self-important asshole,” Lizzy said.
Shakespeare lifted his hand again, but Elegy was next to him in a second, grabbing his wrist.
“I wouldn’t,” Elegy said. Her voice was ice.
Shakespeare shook Elegy off. “You were a bar wench, for God’s sake. You came on to me .”
Lizzy’s face was twisting. She looked like she might cry. “I loved you.”
“You knew I was married!”
“And that stuff you made me drink to get rid of the baby nearly killed me. I was in bed for a month. I lost so much blood.” Lizzy’s voice was pained and high-pitched.
My heart went out to her. He’d forced her to get rid of a child? In a nasty, dangerous way? I suddenly had a newfound appreciation for Roe v. Wade. I reached for her.
But Elegy was livid. “You did what?” Her eyes turned a strange, glowing white color. They beamed out from her face. And out of nowhere, a strong wind whipped through the bar, blowing her hair back from her face. She threw her arms out, and she was terrible and beautiful all at the same time, like an avenging angel or a…well, a goddess. Which I guessed she was. But she’d always seemed so pedestrian before. And kind of silly. Now, as I watched her, I found myself cringing away from her awful beauty, wishing I could hide.
Shakespeare was transfixed, gazing into her face, his eyes wide, his mouth open in terror.
“No one hurts my volurs that way,” said Elegy. Her voice had a strange echoey quality. It boomed throughout the bar. “You are wretched and pathetic. You don’t deserve to be saved. You don’t deserve my help. You insect. You rodent. You scum.” She brought her hands together in front of Shakespeare’s face. There was a bright flash, a loud crack.
The floor shook beneath my feet, and I fell back, hiding my eyes. When I looked up, Shakespeare was stumbling backwards, a dazed expression on his face.
The door to the bar blew open, and Shakespeare staggered through it.
It slammed shut after him.
And the bar was once again a 1980s sports bar. And “Hair of the Dog” by Nazareth was blaring through the speakers. Elegy brushed her hands together. She smiled at us. “Good riddance,” she muttered. “Let’s get out of here.”
Lizzy was on the floor like I was. We both got to our feet. One look at Lizzy’s expression let me know that she was just as stunned as me.
“Elegy—” began Lizzy.
“What? You want wine?” asked Elegy. “Coming right up.”
Lizzy and I exchanged a look. Cautiously, we approached the bar.
“What did you do to him?” I asked.
Elegy shrugged as she poured Lizzy some wine. “I scared him. I scared him a lot, I guess. There aren’t any more Shakespeare plays. He doesn’t write after that. He can hardly feed himself.”
Lizzy and I exchanged another look.
My rum runner was sitting unfinished on the bar. I guess it had turned back into a rum runner, instead of the spiced wine thing it had been before. I picked it up and took a sip. It was a little warm, but it still tasted good. Elegy had just changed history. That was bad. I thought.
“That isn’t a good thing, Elegy,” said Lizzy, confirming my thoughts. “That’s not Shakespeare’s fate, is it?”
Elegy shrugged. “It is now.”
“But won’t that…mess things up?” I asked.
Elegy got a shot glass and set it front of herself. “He’s a jerk. He doesn’t deserve to be the most famous author in the English language. He hurt Lizzy. He almost killed Lizzy. I don’t really have any sympathy for the prick.” She poured herself a shot of whiskey and downed it.
I stared into my drink. “So, it’s like when you messed up fate to save me from Richard. But you said you did that because you were lonely. Why’d you do this?”
Elegy refilled her shot glass. “I don’t know, okay? I just did. I don’t feel like talking about this anymore. Let’s go to the ’70s and pick up some Studio 54 rejects.”
“Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees was blaring over the bar’s speakers. Elegy had transformed the place into a disco. She was dancing in the middle of the floor with a bunch of guys who looked like they belonged in The Village People. We’d picked them up outside Studio 54. Elegy had just opened the door of the bar and yelled at the people who were waiting outside Studio 54 to come party in her bar instead. Not very many of them had come over. I guessed being in line at Studio 54 was cooler than actually getting to drink and dance somewhere.
Lizzy and I were nursing drinks in the darkness. We sat on bar stools, watching Elegy.
“Has she ever done anything like this before?” I asked Lizzy.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Lizzy. “But you know she can’t leave the bar because it’s a prison for her, don’t you? She’s sentenced to go around in time fixing messes as a punishment. So she must have done something wrong. Maybe it was something like that. Maybe she’s dangerous.”
“She doesn’t seem dangerous,” I said.
“I didn’t think she even really liked me,” said Lizzy. “I can’t believe she defended me like that. Usually, she strikes me as someone who doesn’t really care, you know?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Like she has no feelings.”
“I always figured it was because she was a Fate.”
“So maybe she does have feelings. Maybe she does care.”
“Yeah, but erasing Shakespeare from the time continuum?” said Lizzy. “I didn’t like the guy. He was a jerk. But doing that affects way more than just Shakespeare, you know? It’s a big deal.”
She was right. I watched her, feeling a little worried. Lizzy got to leave the bar, but I didn’t. I was stuck with Elegy. All the time. For I didn’t know how long. Possibly forever. Was she mentally unstable? Would she do that glowy-eyed windy thing to me if I pissed her off? “Just think,” I said. “We’re the only people in this bar who have even heard of Romeo and Juliet .”
Lizzy sighed. “I’ve got to admit it. That’s kind of sad.”
Elegy danced over to us, drink in hand. I cowered, even though she was looking pretty amiable just then.
“What’s up, guys?” Elegy asked. “Why aren’t you living it up? It’s disco. Come on. Dance!”
Lizzy groaned. “I hate disco.”
Elegy took a step back. “Seriously? How can you hate disco? What’s not to love about disco?”
Lizzy heaved a huge sigh. “There’s no Shakespeare, but disco survives. I suppose this is some version of hell.”
Elegy’s jaw dropped. “Hey, I did that for you, you know.”
Lizzy got up off her bar stool. “How does it help me if Shakespeare doesn’t write any plays? He still screwed me over before I was a volur. It doesn’t fix anything.”
“It’s justice,” said Elegy. “I thought you’d be grateful. I can’t figure you humans out.”
“I can’t figure you out. First you’re saving this one—” Lizzy jerked her thumb at me—”from dying, then you’re messing with history. What is going on with you? You’re the instrument of destiny. I’ve heard you lecture about the importance of fate a gazillion times. You can’t just change everything because you think it’s not fair.”
Elegy smirked. “Who says I can’t? Who made that rule? I was a Fate. I made the rules. I got to decide what happened in people’s lives. And now, I’m traveling around in a bar that I can’t leave trying to help humans…” She trailed off in disgust. “You people are infecting me. That’s what’s going on. Every day it gets worse.” She turned around to face the dancing Studio 54 rejects. Abruptly, the music cut off , the disco ball disappeared, and the lights came up. “Closing time!” she yelled at them. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”
We were all silent as the people trooped out of the bar.
When they were gone, Elegy snapped her head back to glare at us. “You don’t like that I saved Catherine? Fine. I take it back.” She marched over to me and grabbed my collar. Pulling me off my barstool, she started to drag me towards the door of the bar. “I’ll throw her out into the world and fate will take care of her. Is that what you want?”
“No,” I said. “No, I’m fine with being alive. Lizzy’s sorry, Elegy. She didn’t mean it. Be as irrational as you want. We don’t mind. Who needs Shakespeare anyway?”
“Don’t be idiotic, Elegy,” said Lizzy. “You aren’t going to throw her out of the bar. I know who she is. He’ll be pissed when he finds out you saved her, but he’d be really pissed if he found out you saved her and then killed her.”
He? Who was Lizzy talking about? And what she mean, she knew who I was?
Elegy let go of me. “Who says I did it for him?”
Lizzy just shook her head and chuckled. “Shakespeare was a real prick, okay? But all men were like that to me back then. He wasn’t one of the worst. And I did care about him, you know? Maybe you can understand that, if you can’t understand anything else.”
“How could you care about a man who nearly poisoned you to death?” Elegy said.
“He was trying to help me,” said Lizzy. “If anyone had found out I was pregnant, I would have been ruined. I would have become a prostitute. I’d probably have contracted syphilis and gone insane.”
“You want me to fix it, don’t you?” said Elegy.
I help up a hand. “Hold on a second. Can we rewind this conversation? Who am I exactly?”
They ignored me.
“I wanted him to suffer, but not this much,” said Lizzy. “Not his art. And he was right. I knew he was married when I got involved with him. And back then, men didn’t get divorces unless they were Henry the Eighth. It was a hopeless situation.”
“I only wanted to help you,” said Elegy. “I thought you’d…”
“I do,” said Lizzy. “Actually, in your own way, it’s very sweet. Thank you for thinking of me by destroying my ex’s entire life.”
Elegy rolled her eyes. “When you put it like that, I guess it sounds psychotic.”
“Um,” I said, “about who I am. Am I someone important? Can we talk about that?”
“Forget about it, Cathy,” said Elegy. She squeezed her eyes shut, and as she did, the bar shifted and stretched until it was the Renaissance Tavern from before. The door blew open and Shakespeare hurtled inside. He landed on the floor with a grunt.
Warily, he gazed around him at the surroundings. “Does that door even lead to the outside anymore?” he asked. “Or am I trapped in this bar for all eternity, destined to be tortured for my indiscretions?”
I furrowed my brow. “You said whatever you did to him before scrambled his wits completely. You said he was like a vegetable.”
“Right,” said Elegy, “in the outside world, he would have been. But in the bar, he’s still out of time, so the consequences don’t take full effect.”
Sometimes, I really thought she just made up the rules to suit herself. She had an answer for everything.
Elegy stalked over to Shakespeare. She stood over him, her arms crossed. “You need to apologize to Lizzy.”
Shakespeare sat up. He peered around Elegy at Lizzy. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Truthfully, I think I really like men better than women. I’m not sure I’m as good at being in love with them.”
“Ha!” said Elegy. “I knew he was gay. Didn’t I tell you he was gay?”
“I’m okay,” said Lizzy. “You didn’t damage me permanently.”
Shakespeare swallowed. “I know the world isn’t always fair to women. I mean to write about it someday.”
“You will,” said Elegy. “Now get the hell out of here and have a fabulous life.” She knelt next to him and placed her fingers on his forehead. They glowed. “That should undo any damage I did before.”
Shakespeare blinked hard and shied away from her hand. He looked at the door. He looked back at Elegy. “I can go? Really? I won’t just walk back into this bar if I open that door?”
“You can go,” said Elegy.
He got to his feet and went to the door. His hand on the doorknob, he looked back at Lizzy. “I really am sorry.”
She nodded. “It’s okay, Will. It’s really okay.”
He swung the door open and left the bar.
It was quiet.
Lizzy dragged her toe against the floor, not looking at any one. I looked from Elegy to Lizzy and then down at my fingernails, which seemed easier to look at than anything else.
Elegy snapped her fingers and the bar shifted back to its regular sports bar set up. She started humming to herself as she bustled behind the bar. “So,” she said, “who wants a drink? A drink will make everything better.”
I really didn’t think that was true, but Elegy sure said it enough.
“Can I have one of those rum runner things you’re always making Cathy?” Lizzy asked.
“Of course,” said Elegy. She began to bustle around behind the bar, making the drink. She seemed overly cheerful, even for Elegy. “You’re going to love this drink. It’s going to be your favorite from here on out, I can just tell.”
Lizzy snorted, settling into a stool in front of the bar. “Are you just saying that, or can you see my future?”
Elegy smiled. “Not in the bar, I can’t. The bar’s out of time. I have no idea what goes on here. Only what happens on earth. So…it’s just a prediction. I’m trying to lighten the mood.”
Sure. Because if she was going to be a crazy, glowing, wrathful goddess at any second, it was nice to know she went back to kooky bartender at a second’s notice. Did I want to be stuck here? Did I have any choice, really?
“How about you, sidekick?” Elegy asked me.
“I think I’d just like a coffee, actually,” I said. I sat down next to Lizzy.
Elegy stuck out her lower lip at me. “Boring.”
Lizzy jabbed me in the side playfully. “Yeah, come on, live a little, Cathy. Have a real drink.”
I gaped at them. Two seconds ago, everything was all doom and gloom and crazy excitement, and now we were just pretending none of that had happened, huh? Fine. Whatever. “Maybe you could put a little liquor in the coffee.”
“That’s my girl,” said Elegy. She finished Lizzy’s drink and slid it down the bar to her.
Lizzy stirred it with its straw thoughtfully. “It was weird to see him again.”
“Shakespeare?” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “I always thought that if I saw him, I wouldn’t be able to take it. I really did love him, you know. But I guess that’s the thing about exes. They’re always larger than life in your memory. Then when you see them in real life, they’re just human-sized.”
“Are they?” asked Elegy. She was brewing my coffee. She looked up from the coffee maker to give Lizzy a sincere stare, as if she really wanted the answer. Did Elegy have exes? Could goddesses of fate really date? She didn’t love Kellen. Was there someone else she loved?
“Yeah,” said Lizzy. “They are.” She turned to me. “Don’t you think so?”
I shrugged. “I don’t have very many exes, I guess. Just Richard. He almost killed me, so if I saw him again—”
“You won’t,” Elegy interrupted. “I swear that you will never see him again. I promise.”
I guess she was trying to reassure me. But I wasn’t sure that I was completely okay with being trapped in this bar for eternity. I wasn’t sure at all. However, I had absolutely no idea how to get out. If what Elegy said was true, the minute I left the bar, the Fates would see to it that I died, since I was supposed to be dead. But was living in this place, unstuck from time really that much better than being dead? What kind of life could I have here? I’d asked before if I could date. Elegy hadn’t really answered me. I glanced sidelong at Lizzy. She wasn’t much better off, I guessed. She could go out and fix time paradoxes, but her life was stopped as well. Once she’d been a bar wench who’d loved Shakespeare. Once, she’d nearly had a child. Now… “So, Lizzy, you’re a volur, right?”
She looked at me like I was an idiot. “I thought we’d already established that.”
“Does that mean you’re, like, dead? I mean, do you age?” I asked.
Lizzy shrugged. “I don’t really know.”
Elegy brought me my spiked coffee. “Not in the bar, she doesn’t. There’s no time here.”
Huh. So I guessed that meant I didn’t age either. Weird. “Can you, like, get pregnant if you’re a volur?”
Lizzy chuckled. “Getting pregnant requires having sex with a guy, Cathy. And in case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lack of men in this bar.”
“What about another volur?” I asked. “If you were both together—”
“Not in the bar,” said Elegy. She sounded bitter, suddenly. “You can’t get pregnant in the bar. Not if you’re a volur, a sidekick, or a goddess of fate. There’s just no way to have a relationship here.”
“Oh,” I said. I gazed down into my coffee.
“Bottoms up, girls,” Elegy said. Her cheerfulness sounded even more forced. “There’s nothing like a drink for what ails you.”
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