THE MINE by John A. Heldt
In 2000, Joel Smith is a cocky, adventurous young man who sees the world as his playground. But when the college senior, days from graduation, enters an abandoned Montana mine, he discovers the price of reckless curiosity. He emerges in May 1941 with a cell phone he can't use, money he can't spend, and little but his wits to guide his way. Stuck in the age of Whirlaway, swing dancing, and a peacetime draft, Joel begins a new life as the nation drifts toward war. With the help of his 21-year-old trailblazing grandmother and her friends, he finds his place in a world he knew only from movies and books. But when an opportunity comes to return to the present, Joel must decide whether to leave his new love in the past or choose a course that will alter their lives forever. THE MINE follows a humbled man through a critical time in history as he adjusts to new surroundings and wrestles with the knowledge of things to come.
John A. Heldt is a reference librarian who lives and works in Montana. The former award-winning sportswriter and newspaper editor has loved reading and writing since writing book reports on baseball heroes in grade school. A graduate of both the University of Oregon and University of Iowa, he is an avid fisherman, sports fan, home brewer, and reader of thrillers and historical fiction. THE MINE is his first novel.
When most on the deck returned to the dance hall, Joel led Linda down a flight of stairs to a well-manicured lawn that ran thirty yards to the lake. Four deck lights provided enough illumination to walk to the water without falling in.
"You like the outdoors, don't you?" Linda asked.
"I overheard you talk with Tom at dinner. I don't think I've ever known a person who gets excited about glaciers and igneous rocks."
"They're pretty hot stuff. That's why I keep all my geology magazines in brown paper wrappers under the bed."
"You're funny – and pretty learned for someone who never attended college. Have you ever thought of going to school or doing something besides selling furniture?"
"You mean like joining the circus or working as a cabana boy? Yeah, I've thought about it. But there's something about ventilating mattresses that keeps me grounded."
"I see why Ginny likes you."
"Oh, yes. She said just yesterday that 'Joel Smith is the only man I've ever met who can make me laugh and think at the same time.'"
Wait till she meets Grandpa.
For the next fifteen minutes, Joel and Linda stood at the edge of the water, arm in arm, and watched dusk turn into night. Neither said more than a few words, but neither had to. Their silence was a source of comfort, not discontent.
The tranquility was broken a moment later, when two couples noisily emerged from the hall. One walked to a shiny black Ford parked near the front of a dirt lot. The other stayed on the deck and propped open an exit, allowing the upbeat sound of "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller to drift across the lawn and drown out a cricket philharmonic.
"You sure you don't want to dance?" Linda asked.
"I'm sure – and not just because I don't want to fall on my face. I'd rather stay out here with you."
"Really." Joel grabbed both of Linda's hands and looked at her face. "Why would you think otherwise?"
"Well, to be honest, I wasn't sure you even wanted to go out. I didn't exactly make the best first impression at Tom's graduation party. I had a little too much celebration," she said, staring at her feet. "And I've noticed you've become rather sweet on Grace."
"I wasn't sure about going out tonight, not at first. But I'm glad we did. You look stunning – breathtaking – and you've been perfect company. I could not have asked for a better date," he said. "As for Grace, I do like her. I like all of you. But I'm here with you now, not her, not anyone else, and I'm very happy to be here."
Joel meant it too. His feelings for Grace had not ebbed a bit, but for the first time in weeks he began to ask serious questions – questions he should have asked at the start. Did he and Grace actually have something? Or was he just a fool holding Paul McEwan's jacket until he returned on leave?
And what about his so-called consolation prize? She had no restrictions and came exactly as advertised: smart, pretty, honest, flawed, and unabashedly interested in the new kid in town. If nothing else, Linda deserved a fair shake and an open mind. The old saying about a bird in the hand began to gnaw.
Joel considered another thing as well. It felt good having a woman in his arms and in his life. It had been two months since he had enjoyed a similar moment with Jana, two months and fifty-nine years. Life as a monk was getting old.
"Are you OK?" Linda asked. She looked at him with soft, expressive eyes, eyes any man could get used to. "You look kind of lost."
He smiled and pulled her closer.
"I was," he said, "but not anymore."
Joel put a hand to Linda's face and took a long look at his Second Impression. He kissed her and, for a few splendid minutes, forgot why he was lost in the first place.