Penny was the only passenger left in arrivals, apart from a single taxi driver. He held a plaque with her maiden name printed in bold letters, Penny West. Surely that couldn’t be a coincidence? She wandered over to him.
“Hi there, my husband was due to collect me today, but he hasn’t showed. My maiden name was Penny West; are you waiting for me?”
“Dunno, luv, the sheet says to collect a Penny West and take her to Highgate, North London. Where are you headed?” he asked.
“I’m Dulwich, south of the river, sorry.” Penny turned to walk away.
“Wait, I’ll take you. There don’t seem to be any more passengers coming through. At least if I take you, I get a fare. Shall I take your case?”
“No, thanks, I can manage.” She followed the man to his large people carrier. He stowed her luggage and Penny climbed into a passenger seat.
“What address, luv?” the driver asked.
“The Firs, College Road, Dulwich Village, SE 21.”
Making herself comfortable, she pulled out her phone to check her messages. Maybe something had come up at work, but it was unusual for her daddy, David, to forget to collect her. Penny couldn’t help but feel anxious. Where the hell is his number? Going into her contacts list, every number appeared to be different. She spotted her sister Allie’s name and pressed dial.
“Hi, is Allie there?” she asked, thrown by the sound of a child’s voice answering the phone.
“Hey, Auntie! Did you buy me something from America?”
“Give me the phone, Lucy… Hi, you’re back! How was the flight? When did you land?”
“Allie?” she asked.
“Who is Lucy?” She waited for a reply that was a long time coming.
“Ha ha, you’re kidding right? She hasn’t changed that much in a week! By the way, the kids can’t wait to see you.”
Penny decided to ignore her sister’s comment. Being so jetlagged, she’d probably not grasped what Allie was saying. There was time enough to sort out who her sister’s visitor was later. “The flight was great until we hit some awful turbulence. I honestly thought we were going down at one point! Listen, Allie, has David contacted you? He was supposed to meet me and he hasn’t shown.”
“Who’s David?” her sister asked.
“Look, I am tired and worried about him. Don’t play funny games with me, all right?” she said irritably.
“Penny, have you been drinking?”
“Allie… what the fuck!”
“You sound weird, and you aren’t making much sense. Call me when you get home, okay? You can come around here for supper tonight if you’d like to.”
“I’ll call you later then, but if David gets in touch with you, please tell him to phone me!” She ended the call. Sometimes her sister irritated the hell out of her.
Resting against the seat, she pictured her homecoming. It had been too long since she’d seen her husband. Daddy. Warmth spread through her at the prospect of seeing him again. God, how she loved that man. Her eyelids dropped. Her last coherent thought was being cuddled in Daddy’s arms.
“We’re here, luv.”
The taxi driver woke her. Penny stretched and yawned. It would be good to slide into bed and sip a home-brewed cup of Earl Grey tea. She stepped out onto the gravel front and looked at her house. The old Victorian yellow-bricked house was her dream home. She had been so excited when it had come up for sale two and a half years ago. Since they had bought it, David and she had transformed it inside and out. She gazed at the front with a frown; was there something not quite right? The sash windows were in a bad state of repair; it didn’t make sense. Her eye was drawn to the front door, which was dark green and obviously needed some attention.
As she stared, an older woman came out. “Can I help you?” she called in a reedy voice.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Penny asked, walking toward her.
“Mrs. Cuthbertson… and you are?”
“Mrs. Forrester. This is my house,” she told the woman shortly.
“I’m sorry, dear, but you must have the wrong address. I own The Firs.”
“There has been some kind of a mistake on your part because I can assure you that I live here with my husband, David, and our dog,” she explained coldly.
Retreating, the woman hastened inside and slammed the front door.
Penny went to the doorbell and held her finger there. She could hear the shrill ringing echo from inside the hallway.
Eventually the woman opened the door again. “Go away, you madwoman!” she shrieked.
Penny shoved past her into the house; she headed down the passage toward the large, sunny kitchen–breakfast room, except it wasn’t there. Standing stock still, she stared around at the small dark galley kitchen. Where was the bright new kitchen–breakfast room extension that she and David had added? They had turned the dingy Victorian galley into a glorious open space. This is not possible. It cannot be… Penny blinked. The room remained the same. Her heart began to hammer. Turning, she brushed past the older woman and backtracked to where she knew the living room to be.
Sun filtered into the gloomy room, catching the suspended dust motes that hung in the still air. Gone were her sleek grey walls and furnishings, replaced by lumpy old-fashioned furniture and an outdated television set. This was patently not her home.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered.
“Are you unwell, my dear?” the older woman asked gently.
“I-I think I might be, could I trouble you for a glass of water?” She began to shake.
“Not at all… Can I call someone for you? I’m afraid the taxi has left and your luggage is on the driveway.”
Penny looked through the dusty window; sure enough, the taxi was gone.
“I-I’ll call my sister. She lives nearby,” she explained.
“When did you cut your hair?” Penny asked as Allie hugged her.
“The bob, I mean it looks very smart, but I preferred it long,” Penny told her.
“Don’t be silly, I’ve worn it this way for years.” Allie reversed down the drive of the Victorian house. “I don’t understand; why would you think you lived here? Dulwich is miles away from us,” Allie asked, bewildered.
“I lived here with David. I don’t understand what is happening. I must be having a really bad dream, one of those realistic terror dreams. I read about them a while back. Yes, that’s it. I’ll wake up soon,” Penny muttered to herself.
“Look, I’m taking you home with me, there is something wrong. I’m not leaving you at your flat all alone while you are like this,” Allie said.
“Whatever, I’ll wake up soon,” she replied and closed her eyes.
They drove in silence through London at a crawl until Allie’s phone bleeped and she accepted the call.
“Hi, hon, where are you?” a male voice asked.
The man’s words triggered Penny’s memories. Honey, their beautiful golden retriever dog, named for her glorious coloured fur. Oh, David, where are you both?
“Not too long now, the traffic is a bitch at this time of day!” Allie replied.
“I picked the kids up like you asked. Shall I start supper?”
“Please, there’s last night’s shepherd’s pie in the fridge, heat that for the kids and we can have pasta later.” Penny listened to her sister; who was this guy? This was such a weird dream.
“How’s Penny?” he asked next.
“Um, fine but utterly exhausted. You’re on speaker, Jack,” Allie warned him.
“Ah, gotcha… Drive safe. See you soon!”
The bleep signalled the end of the call. Penny stared at her sister. “Who’s Jack?” she asked suspiciously.
“Don’t be silly, you know Jack. Did you bang your head in the turbulence on the plane?”
“Allie, where is Clare?” She was getting seriously concerned about her sister.
“Don’t play games with me. I’m jetlagged and worried about David. I don’t need you stressing me out any more than I already am, okay?”
“Me playing games… What about you? Who the hell is this David you keep going on about?” Allie snapped.
“Seriously? Clare is your partner, the love of your life, and David is my husband. Also can you please explain why the hell we are driving to North London?”
“She’s deluded,” Jack stated firmly.
“What do you mean?” Allie asked. She pulled back the duvet and climbed into bed.
“Not rational, unstable. Do you think something happened to her in the States?”
“You mean something bad?” Allie sat up.
“Could be,” Jack said as he stripped off and headed for the shower. “Her mental compass is way off, that’s for sure!” He threw the words over his shoulder.
Allie drew her knees up and hugged them. Could Penny have been molested or even raped? Some kind of event must have occurred to cause her to behave so strangely. All the talk of her husband David and a dog named Honey. Then there was her insistence that she lived in Dulwich. It had been so embarrassing placating the poor woman whose house Penny had invaded so rudely. What had happened over in America to bring her sweet sister home with such delusions?
“Stop brooding, tomorrow’s another day, everything will work out. Penny will be fine, you’ll see,” Jack told her as he towelled himself dry. The bed dipped under his weight and she leant over to click the lamp off.
“Leave it,” he said gruffly, reaching for her.
“Jack, I don’t feel much like it tonight,” she complained softly. He pulled her onto his chest.
“Hey, trust me to know how to distract you, eh? Didn’t you agree that I was to be boss in the bedroom?” He nuzzled her neck and nipped at her earlobe.
The man knows my weak spots better than I do!
“Just relax, let me take care of you, hon. I’ll take your mind off your sister and make you forget everything but us.” His hands roamed her breasts, tweaking her burgeoning nipples, his mouth trailed after his fingers, grazing the rising buds.
He isn’t wrong…
An inadvertent moan escaped her lips as he worried her swollen nubbins with his teeth.
When she’d been in her final year at school she’d had a crush on Megan Smith, the captain of the netball team. Allie had honestly believed her sexual path was to be women, right up to the moment that she met Jack. His kindness and humour won her over and she agreed to date him. It didn’t take much to fall in love, with his handsome open face and easy grin. He was protective too, in a non-jealous way, being both thoughtful and supportive of her. She had accepted his offer of marriage without a qualm and had never regretted it.
Tom and Lucy had come along shortly after and they settled into a comfortable family life provided for by Jack’s work as a dentist. Allie ran their diary and daily life as a stay at home mum, fitting in family life while still earning a wage as an independent editor working online.
It had soon become apparent that Jack was dominant in the bedroom. Not that he was an actual dominant, like the heroes in the steamy BDSM books she liked to read; no, Jack just took charge in bed and Allie loved that side of him. He even spanked her on occasion but that was their little secret, something she would never share with another soul, because what woman in the twenty-first century liked to be spanked? To her mind only those into BDSM. She could never share those fantasies with Jack, he was way too nice to be a true dominant, and frankly Allie was unsure how she would cope with the type of men she liked to read about in books.
His fingers slipped between her thighs and found the heart of her need. She arched her hips to his touch. Her worries faded. She grew wet for him.
“Good girl,” he crooned. Pleasure fluttered low in her belly at his words. She so loved hearing him voice his approval. The combination of his heavy hands holding her thighs wide apart and Jack’s body weight anchoring her lower body caused growing tension at the apex of her thighs. She was close to combustion.
Soft swipes on her clit from his tongue roused her into a mindless puddle. Catching hold of his hair, she clung on and rode the rising tide his clever mouth evoked. “Uh uh, no coming yet,” his voice chided from below.
“Ja-ck!” she warbled in desperation.
Immediately he stopped attending to her and pulled himself up her body.
“You are so ready for me,” he growled and kissed her with lips slick with her own arousal, the scent musky. His hips shifted and she felt his cock seeking home.
Shifting slightly, she welcomed his entrance. One languorous thrust and he was seated, her muscles clenched around his girth. A slow rock of his hips and the glide of his cock connected her to him profoundly. The world receded, leaving the two of them joined as one.
“Jack,” she crooned.
He began to move, the thrust and retreat of his cock a delicious dance that never failed to bring her the greatest pleasure a man could bestow upon a woman. She surrendered herself, mind and body totally focused on the moment. Dizzying sensation flooded her senses as he rammed into her. A riptide tore through her body, curling her toes. She cried his name and held on to his bucking form. Giving a muffled shout, he rose above her, suspended by the powerful force of bliss, calling to her as he announced his own completion. She felt his cock swell, pulsing as he coated her quivering channel with hot seed.
Afterwards, Allie curled onto her side with Jack spooned protectively about her, and slept.
The following morning Jack offered to take the children to school. After everyone had left, Allie made a cup of tea and took it up to the spare room where her sister had stayed the night. She was surprised to find Penny up, with her suitcase open on the bed. Her sister stood silent and unusually still. She appeared to be holding something.
It was only when she came around beside her that Allie realised Penny was holding a photograph and she was crying.
“Hey!” Allie said, concerned. “What’s wrong, tell me?”
Penny looked at her and held out a picture. Allie took it and gazed at the photograph. Penny dressed as a bride, clasping the arm of a darkly handsome groom. Confused, Allie studied the picture. “I don’t understand.”
“That was my wedding day. Look in my travel wallet,” Penny said.
Allie glanced over the case contents and spotted a brown leather wallet open on the top of the clothing. Picking it up, she rifled through the contents. The first thing she pulled out was a photo of herself, her arms wrapped about a woman she had never seen before. How weird. Flicking through the rest of the half dozen photographs caused her acute unease. The final picture actually made her throat constrict. She gurgled, giving a peculiar grunt. The photo was of herself and the unknown woman. Penny stood next to a dark-haired man, but in the centre of the group stood their deceased father, looking older than Allie had last seen him.
A hand on her shoulder made her jump. Allie frowned.
“Penny, surely you remember that Mum and Dad are both dead… I don’t understand how you have this?” She tapped the photograph.
“Dad is dead? No-o, he was alive when I left the UK!” her sister cried in distress.
Allie could see that Penny’s shock was genuine and pulled her into a hug.
“It’s okay. Calm down. I am sure your memory loss is only temporary.” Please let it be temporary.
“I don’t understand what’s happening!” Penny replied. “When I left for America, I was a married woman with a loving husband and we had a beautiful dog. I arrived home yesterday to find my world altered beyond all recognition. My beautiful house is now lived in by a stranger…” Penny’s voice cracked. She broke away from her sister and slumped onto the bed.
Allie stared down at the picture she held.
Moments passed. Taking a deep breath, she asked, “What else does your suitcase contain?”
“This lanyard states that you are Mrs. P. Forrester but your passport tells us you are Penny West. One is obviously wrong, and I have to say that passports don’t lie,” Allie stated firmly.
“But what about all the evidence to the contrary, my health insurance documents for instance? Then there are these emails to and from David, which I printed off while I was in the U.S.” Penny waved the photographs under Allie’s nose. “And these… You have to believe me, Allie! You have to!” Tears welled in her eyes.
Allie gathered her close, squeezing gently. “I know you wouldn’t lie to me. I-I just find this unbelievably… odd, and it-it’s difficult to get my head around, you know?”
“I really don’t care what you believe. All I know is that I have to find David.” Penny’s harsh tone cut Allie to the quick.
“I’m your sister. I know you better than anyone. I can tell when you’re telling a fib. I know you believe what you’re saying is true, but I can show you another hundred photos that show your life here with us, with no husband and no dog; just you, me, Jack, Lucy, and Tom.”
“I tell you, I am not making this stuff up!” Penny turned her back.
“Please don’t shut me out. I’m trying my best to understand what’s happened to you!” Allie remonstrated, handing her a tissue.
“There was some violent weather on the plane,” Penny muttered.
“What kind of weather?” Allie asked.
“Some turbulence which knocked out all the lights and plunged us into freefall… It was terrifying, but then as suddenly as it started the aircraft carried on as normal, but…”
Allie waited for Penny to complete the rest of the sentence but Penny seemed to have withdrawn into herself. “But…” she prompted.
“It’s kind of a crazy idea,” Penny mused. “What if I’ve swapped worlds or something?”
Allie was about to reply with ‘don’t be so silly,’ and quickly bit back the words. It was best to keep this situation non-confrontational. The last person she wanted to fall out with was her sister, especially now that their parents were both dead. It was important to her that she was on good terms with Penny. They’d always been so close; family was important to her.
Sunshine glinted off the metallic suitcase rim, reminding her it must be getting close to midday. She had a mammogram appointment at two o’clock and afterwards she needed to pick the children up from school.
“You’ve missed breakfast, so why don’t we grab a coffee and a sandwich then I’ll drive you home?” she suggested.
“Where is home?” Penny asked.
“Your flat, remember, in Southwood Road? You bought it with your share of our parents’ estate.”
“No. I told you nothing here makes sense. Forget the sandwich, let’s go and see this place where I supposedly live,” Penny answered belligerently.
Allie nodded, defeated. She’d run out of platitudes.
It was all Penny could do to keep it together around her sister. Her world had transformed into some kind of living nightmare, and Allie, the one person she’d always relied upon to be on her side, didn’t believe her, and that cut deep.
At least the red brick house was Victorian, and possessed some character. Flat four was located up on the first floor. It consisted of a square living room that overlooked the front of the house, and two bedrooms that overlooked the back garden. It had a small neat kitchen and a walk-in shower room. Furnished with good solid but outdated furniture that Penny guessed came from second-hand shops, the flat appeared homey with small touches Penny recognised as the kind of additions she might make here herself. Soft, warm-toned cushions scattered along a tired-looking couch picked out similar colours in the heavy curtains. An original drawing of a London park in soft ochre pastels hung on the wall above. Penny could tell someone had made the best of the space, but this apartment wasn’t hers.
“I’ll put the suitcase in your room,” Allie said.
“Okay.” There was nothing left to say. She just wanted her sister gone so she could sleep off this nightmare until it was over, and David came to fetch her. After some awkward false starts in conversation, Allie finally left with promises to call later.
She shoved her case into the corner of the bedroom, stripped off her clothes, and climbed into bed. Awaking some hours later, she went to use the bathroom. Noting it was dark, Penny dove back into bed.
Next time she woke it was light. Disappointed to find herself still in the same small apartment bedroom, she checked her phone for messages. There were two from Allie, but still no word from her daddy.
Padding through to the kitchen, she filled a glass of water and hunted through the cupboards looking for something to eat. She found a couple of unopened packets of chocolate chip cookies. Eating five, she wandered back to bed and scrolled through her phone, still nothing. What the fuck was David playing at? She’d been in this mess for two whole days now, and still no call from her husband.
“Where the hell are you!” she cried into the silence. A dog barked somewhere outside. She’d never felt so alone.
Pulling the duvet over her head, she curled onto her side. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy… tears came unbidden, the pain of loss too harsh to bear. Sleep, I need to sleep, when I wake my daddy will be here.
Sunlight blinded her when next her eyes opened. Checking the phone beside her on the bed, Penny saw it was out of charge. She leapt up and rummaged through her case; she found her phone charger and plugged it in. What if David had tried to call her? Stupid, stupid woman!
Eating yet more cookies, she made herself a mug of Earl Grey tea then ran to check her phone for messages; nothing from David. More messages from Allie.
Quickly she texted her sister stating that she was fine in order to keep her happy. Collecting her tea, she moved into the small living room and sat on the couch. Three days now and still she was here. Sipping her tea, she flicked on the TV, letting the news roll over her. The world seemed to be as fucked up as ever.
Stomping into the kitchen, she flung the remains of her tea into the sink. Where the hell was David!
Yanking open the cupboard that held a new packet of cookies, she grabbed it and tore it open with her teeth. She swung around too fast and the corner of the cupboard door caught her with a sharp blow to the side of her head. Tears of pain filled her eyes.
“Shit! Fuck! Damn!” she screamed. “Yeah, I just swore blue murder. Come on, Daddy, spank me!”
She lashed out with her foot and kicked the bottom of the sink unit. Pain exploded in her toes. Hopping about the room she cussed repeatedly, screaming insults at her daddy. Finally she collapsed in a heap on the floor. Sobbing piteously until she had no tears left, Penny dragged her sorry self into the bedroom and crawled back into bed.
Unable to sleep because her head ached and her toes hurt meant she had time to think. She faced the fact that this separation from David was real. No amount of sleep was going to bring her husband back. This wasn’t some fleeting nightmare.
Sucking in a shuddering breath, she rose from the bed and fetched her shoulder travel bag to retrieve her passport. She read her name, Penelope Jayne West. Flat 4, 200 Southwood Road, Highgate. An idea occurred to her and crossing to her case she studied the luggage label, but it stated the same address. Dragging her case up onto the bed, she searched through the contents until she found what she was looking for, her medical insurance forms.
“Mrs. P. J. Forrester, The Firs,” she read the first part of her address out loud. A thought occurred; her suitcase was made from titanium, which might explain why everything inside it remained the same while everything external that she had with her inside the cabin of the plane, such as her phone, had altered. This confirmed it for her. As crazy as it sounded, she must have switched into some kind of alternative dimension. She googled other dimensions on her laptop and read several articles on the subject before opening a website that quoted something by Professor Steven Hawkins.
The idea is that according to Quantum Theory, the universe doesn’t have just a unique, single history. Instead, the universe has every single possible history, each with its own probability.
Closing the computer, Penny pondered what she’d learned. “I’m in an entirely different place, another reality.” Saying those words out loud gave them power and meaning. A rush of sudden panic caused her to quake. Her head felt as though her brain had split. She dropped onto the bed in a daze.
After some time had passed, she rose, and went to brew more tea. She needed to think. Who could she contact? If she spoke to a doctor he would mark her down as delusional, perhaps even mentally ill. If she went to someone science based, and actually managed to convince them she was from another dimension, another life, but then what? They’d not help her return. Surely they’d want to simply study her? Maybe even lock her up in some sort of secret science-based prison.
It was clear to her she was completely alone in this. She must set aside her self-pity. She needed to build a plan of action.
Two hours later Penny was showered and dressed. A pad of paper on her lap and pen in hand, she made a list of everyone she knew who had known David. She had a purpose now. It was time to find her husband.
The first person to try to contact was her mother-in-law. Could she remember the telephone number? Recalling it, she hurriedly wrote the number onto her notepad. She hoped it was correct in this weird alternate world.
Concocting a story that her mother-in-law might believe took a few precious moments. Recalling that David had lived in Oxford with his paternal grandmother while he was at Oxford University, she recalled David had mentioned knowing several Mikes when he was there. It didn’t take her long to invent a plausible tale to spin with David’s mother. She remembered his mother had taken a job at the Ritz in London after her husband, David’s father, had been killed when David was only two. Apparently he’d been knocked over by a car when cycling to work on a foggy day. Mrs. Forrester had met her second husband, an American, while working behind reception at the famous London hotel. David had been adopted by his stepfather and grew up in the States, returning to Britain for his University education, after which he’d remained in England.
Taking a mouthful of tea to steady her nerves, she dialled America.
“Mrs. Hunter, hi, you don’t know me, but my brother, Mike, was at University with your son, David. Sadly my brother has died. I need to contact David about the funeral. Do you have an email address or contact number for him?” How weird it was talking to her mother-in-law like she was a stranger.
“I am sorry to hear such sad news. Hold on and I’ll fetch you David’s details.”
Penny finished the call with a sense of excitement. The fact she carried David’s parents’ telephone number in her head correctly was all the evidence she needed to prove that she had switched worlds, dimensions, whatever. She bounced on the couch.
Next on her to-do list was Penny’s workplace. She emailed Ameeba and told them she was taking a leave of absence. Their answer explained that she had ten weeks paid vacation owing; she’d never taken more than the odd day from work before. Her reply was that she was taking the whole ten weeks beginning tomorrow.
The rest of her day was spent on the laptop that she had found in the desk in the second bedroom. Searching for information on David Forrester, it took her less than five minutes to work out the other Penny’s login password, an amalgamation of the names Tom, Lucy, and Jack. Her research revealed David worked for a hedge fund in the Square Mile. Her daddy always did have a head for business, but a hedge fund? She now had a contact, a place to go and meet him, but how to begin? A sense of purpose filled her. She was going to get her daddy back.