“OK,” I said as I approached the intersection. “Where are we going?”
“Anywhere,” said Scott from behind me. “Just head north.”
I shrugged. “OK,” I said as I pulled into the right lane and onto the on-ramp. “What is it you want me to do?”
There was a long pause. Finally, Diane spoke.
“I want you to get me pregnant!”
I whipped my head around to look at her, causing the Jeep to swerve into the adjacent lane and provoking a blare of horns. I immediately swung back and swerved back into my lane.
“What?” I asked when I was back in control.
Diane had looked away. “We… we’ve been trying to get pregnant,” said Scott. “Well.. I’ve been trying to get her pregnant. She and Donna had agreed at some point that when one of them got pregnant the others would as well. Well… Donna is pregnant and we’ve been trying but… it isn’t happening.”
I felt uncomfortable. “So what is it you expect me to be able to do?”
“I want to be first!” said Diane suddenly. “You say you changed your car and everyone thinks you’ve always had it. You can change it so I was pregnant before she was!”
I grimaced. “Wait, when did I wind up back in the 1950’s? Is this really what you want?”
I heard a sigh. “Please Dale, don’t be judgmental. We had all talked about this before we graduated even.”
“We?” I asked. “Was Lisa in on this?”
There was an awkward silence. “Who’s Lisa?” asked Sara, finally.
“A friend of mine.” I said.
“More than a friend?” I heard the echo in her voice.
I sighed. “Yeah, she was. But not any more.”
“That had nothing to do with this!” Diane said angrily. “And that was your fault anyway! You’re the one who decided you didn’t want anything to do with anyone!”
I gritted my teeth. “Let’s not go back into this now, OK?”
“Fine!” said Diane, angrily. She paused. “You’re going to have to deal with this at some point you know.”
“I know!” I said, almost shouting. I turned to look at her. Sara was pointedly staring out the window, probably wondering what she had stepped into. I took a deep breath and looked back at the road. “OK. What is it you think I can do?”
“You changed what car you were driving,” said Scott, apparently eager to change the subject. “And everyone remembers it the way you say you changed it to. So, what else can you change?”
I honestly didn’t know how to answer that question. I wasn’t even sure what I had done. “I don’t know,” I said finally.
Scott sighed. “All this started almost a year ago. Can you… change things so that Diane is pregnant. About seven months. That puts her ahead of Donna. Do that, and we’ll believe you.”
I gave a short laugh. “If you remember it! You don’t remember my old car!” I paused. “Hell, I barely remember I owned the thing.”
Scott sighed. “Can you try?”
I sighed in return. “OK, I’ll see what I can do.” For a long time we drove in darkness, no one saying anything. I started thinking about Diane and about when I saw Donna, six months pregnant. It made me a bit uncomfortable; I had dated Donna for a while after all, but I kept picturing Diane looking the same way. It was the only thing I could think to do.
We were heading north towards Chattanooga. After a bit Diane suddenly spoke up. “I should have taken a bathroom break before we left the Vortex, can we stop at the next exit?”
“Sure!” I said. Almost as if it had appeared upon request, an exit sign suddenly loomed in my headlights. I took it and found myself in a Georgia pine forest, the empty road extending to the left and right. And I knew where I was.
“I know just the place to stop,” I said with a smile. I turned to the left and headed down the road.
A mile later I saw what I knew had to be there. A couple of fast food places, a BP station, and just down the road a strip mall with a crowded parking lot in front of a sign that said “Boot Scooters”.
I pulled into the parking lot and got out. The others got out as well. Scott was looking at the sign.
“Isn’t… isn’t this near Macon?”
“Yup.” I said, feeling strangely pleased with myself. “We’re down there now.”
“Ugh,” said Diane, struggling to get out of her side of the Jeep. “Scott, can you help me?” She staggered out, one hand under her protruding belly.
“I’m OK,” she said, staggering a bit before gaining her balance. “I’m….” There was a long pause. Her eyes widened. “Oh my God! I’m… I’m pregnant!”
“Congratulations!” I said, trying to repress a smile.
“I’m… Oh my God!” She kept repeating herself.
Sara turned to me, her eyes wide in shock. “Did you… Did you do that!”
“Yes… I think,” I said uncertainly. “Somehow?”
Scott was staring at me. “You can do this? Did this?”
“Yeah, I guess.” I looked at him. “If you didn’t believe me, why are you here? What would you have done?”
He looked away uncomfortably then looked at Diane. She shook her head.
“You deal with it. I wasn’t kidding when I said I needed a bathroom break. I’ll see you inside.” She headed towards the entrance, staggering occasionally from her unfamiliar balance.
Sara looked from me to Scott. “I’ll go with her, make sure she’s OK.” She nodded and followed after Diane.
Scott watched until they were both inside then turned back to me. He was trying to keep his expression neutral but I could see he was embarassed about something.
“What is it?” I asked.
He sighed and looked down. “We… me and Diane and Jeff and Donna.” He paused. “And Lisa.” He sighed. “We were worried about you. You disappear then show up with this fantastical story. What were we supposed to think. You half lost it when you and Lisa broke up, then this? We thought…” He trailed off.
I was becoming angry. “You thought I was crazy or something? You were just humoring me?”
He kept looking at the ground but nodded slowly. “Yeah. We… we were talking about an intervention. Jeff and Donna are at our place. And Lisa.” He looked up at me. “But this…” He waved towards the restaurant. “Us being here… Diane…” He shook his head again. “It’s weird, I know we’ve been expecting for months, but I also know that we weren’t until tonight.”
He looked at me for a long moment. “I’m glad it happened. I’m glad to know you weren’t crazy or lying or something. And…” he paused briefly. “And to be honest I’m kind of scared. What *can* you do?”
I was trying to hold it together but inwardly I was seething. “Have I *ever* lied to any of you!” I shouted. “Even Lisa? And she’s the last person who gets to accuse me of lying!”
Scott winced but looked back at me. “Have you ever even stopped to think about what you sounded like!” His voice was rising too. “You show up, start telling stories about places with no one in them then start saying you’re meeting people from other realities!” Now he was shouting too. “What did you expect us to think?””
“I just gave you a son!” I shouted back. “What more do you want from me?”
“A son?” He seemed taken aback. “It’s a boy?”
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s what I was thinking of so I’m sure that’s what it is.” I paused. “So, do you believe me now?”
He shook his head. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too,” came a voice behind me. “But can we take this somewhere besides a public parking lot?” I turned to see Trenton standing there.
“Oh,” I said, somehow not surprised. I half turned back. “Scott, this is Trenton. I’ve told you about him. Trenton? Scott. I’ve mentioned him to you too.”
Trenton shook his head, still glaring at me. “Yeah, hi.” He waved at Scott. “Let’s go inside. And I don’t know anyone here, so be careful what you say.”
I started to object but Dale glared at me again. Scott shrugged and started walking towards the entrance. Trenton followed and I, after a pause, followed.
We got into the restaurant, which looked exactly like I remembered except for the fact that there were people in it now, and got a large booth. We had just sat down when Diane and Sara emerged from the restrooms and Scott waved them over.
As they sat down Sara recognized him. “Trenton?”
He nodded. “Hi Sara. Haven’t seen you in a while.”
She glared at him. “Where’s Caleb?”
He shrugged. “Haven’t seen him in a while.” He pointed at the far side of the booth. “Sit down.”
As she was sitting he turned to me. “What the hell are you doing?”
I looked at him in surprise, spreading my hands. “What?”
He sighed. “I tell you to be careful. I tell you people are after you. And what do you do?” He waved at the rest of the table. “You invite all your friends along on a ride along the Road between realities. And get one of them pregnant. Nice job, idiot!”
I felt myself becoming angry again. “What? I told my friends. What did you expect me to do?”
“To keep your mouth shut?” He shook his head, then motioned towards Sara. “And I figured you had Lisa with her, not… her.” He shook his head then turned to her. “Where’s Caleb? With someone else. Guess you weren’t so much a ‘must be with’ as a ‘settle for’.”
“What?” Sara almost shouted. I echoed her. “Hey, what the hell?”
He looked at me. “What? You haven’t shifted to where she wants to sleep with you? I expected you would have figured it out by now.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Sara looked from him to me.
He smirked. “I didn’t expect you to be here. I figured Dale here was getting kinda horny and since the woman he really wants to be with cheated on him I assumed he had moved himself to where you wanted to be with him.”
Sara looked at me in shock. I shook my head.
“No!” I shouted, causing a few adjacent tables to look at us. “I wanted someone to talk to. Someone who knew what was going on. I didn’t… I wasn’t looking for that!”
He smiled and shrugged. “Yeah, right.”
I was about to replay when a waiter showed up, probably attracted by the noise. We all ordered something to drink and Diane insisted she needed an appetizer. Order in, the waiter left and I turned back to Trenton, but Sara interrupted me.
“You brought me here!” she said, anger clearly showing in her face. “Just so you could sleep with me?”
“No!” I said, again louder than I intended. “I didn’t think of you that way. I was just thinking about you as I was heading back to town because you were the only other person I had talked to about this!”
That seemed to hurt her more. “Oh? So there’s something wrong with me?”
“No!” I shouted, then looked around. “No. It’s just that… you were with Caleb… I don’t know…” I trailed off, shaking my head.
Trenton laughed then looked at Sara. “Nah, he wasn’t after you. Not yet anyway. If he was, you wouldn’t even question him.” He laughed. “Trust me. Ask Jessica.”
I turned back to him. “OK, fine. Let’s drop these distractions then. What the hell are you doing here? I can’t believe you just randomly showed up.”
He immediately turned serious, shaking his head. “No. I was following you.” He shrugged. “You’ve apparently obviously realized that you can do whatever you can imagine. So I wanted to see what you would do.” He shook his head. “You could have patched things up with your girlfriend. Instead, you get your best friend’s wife pregnant and drag your co-worker along. I can’t tell if you just haven’t figured this out yet or if you’re just an idiot.”
By this point everyone was staring at me. I shifted uncomfortably then looked back at him. “OK then. I guess I’ve proved that I can change things.” I glanced at Diane. “So what am I missing?”
He sighed. “I told you,” he said, talking slowly and enunciating carefully as if speaking to a child. “You and I and Caleb aren’t the only people who know how to do this sort of thing. If you do too much, it attracts the attention of others. And *they* aren’t always as willing to work with newcomers as I am.”
“Yeah, you said,” I said looking at him in annoyance. “The Men in Black or something will come after me.”
“You aren’t taking this seriously enough,” he replied. “But call them that if you like. There are people who work for governments, or corporations, or any kind of group with an agenda, that would love to have someone like you helping them make sure things work out the way they want. And they won’t just be after you. They’ll go after your friends.” He gestured around the table. “Or that ex-girlfriend of yours. What would you do if she was threatened?”
“Wait…” Scott interrupted. “There are other people who can do this? A lot of people?”
Trenton shrugged. “Yeah. A few thousand at least. Most of them don’t quite realize what they can do. Some of them get stuck in the Between like Dale here and Caleb discovered and never got back out. Some wander so far off that they leave our timestream completely and wind up in another. That’s what happened to your friend Nichole; she’s from somewhere a *long* ways off.”
“I can do that too?” I asked in surprise. “Change something that big.”
He sighed, leaned back and stared at the ceiling for a long moment, then looked back at me for a long moment.
“OK,” he said with a sigh. “OK. I give you everything. I tell you the whole deal. And you promise to keep your mouth shut and keep your changes low-key? I don’t want you attracting too much attention because that leads them to you and to us at the Vortex. OK?”
“Us?” I said.
He nodded. “Yeah.” He looked around the table then to Scott and Diane. “And if you two want to keep your friend safe, you will keep this quiet as well.” He turned to Sara. “And the same for you if you are still worried about Caleb.”
“You know where he is?” she asked. “Is he OK?”
Trenton waved a hand. “Yeah, he’s fine.” He smiled. “Better than you could imagine.”
He turned serious again. “I’m not kidding. Keep it to yourself.” He looked around the table. The four of us looked at each other, then nodded.
“May as well,” said Scott. “I suppose you could just make us forget that any of this had happened if we didn’t.”
He grimaced. “Yeah, well, it isn’t that easy. Not now.” He looked at me. “You ready for this.”
I felt an unexpected smile on my face. “Hit me.”
He hesitated, then nodded. “OK. Here it is.”
He took a long drink from his beer, took a deep breath, then leaned forward.
“OK, I’m not a teacher. I’m not a guru. I’m just a guy who discovered that he could do something most people couldn’t. Fortunately, I also figured out that if I could do it others could as well and so started looking out for them, both the ones like me who were keeping it low-key and the ones who were actually trying to change the world.” He shook his head. “Those are scary.”
“In what way?” asked Scott asked suddenly.
Trenton glanced over at him, annoyed at being interrupted. “How about the last election season for one. Wonder how that year-long mess came about? That’s what happens when a bunch of people like us are trying to change things on a big scale.”
Scott started to say something else, then stopped when Trenton held up a hand. “We’ll get there. Trust me.” He turned back to me.
“Anyway, I did find some other people who could do the same things as me. Actually, I went looking for them and so I found them. I wasn’t the first one. We call ourselves ‘Travellers’ since we can travel places. There are probably still others out there that we don’t know about. I’d say about one in five thousand people actually have the ability to do this and only about one in five thousand of them ever do anything with it.”
“So it’s something genetic?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Can’t tell and we obviously haven’t gone talking to too many scientists about it. Some of us have been able to train others to do this, but not always. Can’t tell if the successes are just luck or because those people had the ability anyway and just needed training.”
He sighed. “Of course, we’ve never before run into someone who finds an Exit and immediately starts broadcasting it all over the Internet.” He glared at me for a minute. “Think before you do anything like that again, OK?”
He took another drink, then continued. “Now, we don’t create things. Not really. What we do is go to the place where what we want exists. When you first start it’s easiest to get there by taking a physical highway exit; your mind seems to easily interpret that as ‘I’m getting off at the exit that leads to the place where what I want exists’.”
I nodded slowly, understanding coming. “When I found that first Exit, I desperately needed a coffee and a bathroom. So I found one.”
He nodded with a smile. “Yeah, that was a basic change. But you for some reason didn’t quite make the full transition and wound up in the Between. Basically a frozen moment in time. No one was there to see it so time wasn’t passing.”
“Some kind of Schrodinger effect?” asked Scott.
Trenton shook his head. “I don’t know what that is, but it it makes sense to you, fine.”
“So how did… this happen?” Diane was still rubbing her belly as if she couldn’t believe it.
He shrugged. “I assume you mean besides unprotected sex?” She flushed and he laughed. “Easy, Dale here just pulled off at an Exit where you were pregnant. That’s really all there is to it.”
She frowned. “So… there’s another ‘me’ out there who is disappointed that she isn’t pregnant?”
“Not exactly.” He finished off his beer and waved the waitress over as he thought. She brought more drinks for us and by the time she left he had decided how to proceed.
“This is always the tricky part to explain and I’ve never come up with a good description. Basically think of a street. Or an Interstate. There are lots of lanes and they all go to the same place. But you can be in the left lane or the right lane. The same road, but a different part of it, OK?”
“I… guess?” I said. I wasn’t sure where he was going.
“OK,” he said, continuing. “Think of her not being pregnant as the left lane and her being pregnant as the right lane. All you did was change lanes. It’s the same road, the same ‘time-line’ if you want to call it, just a small detail has changed. And you’ll find that everyone else will not realize that anything has changed. When you go to work tomorrow all your co-workers will think you have been pregnant for months.”
“But we know!” said Sara suddenly. “Why won’t anyone else?”
He pointed at me. “You know because you were with him when he made the change. You were part of it. Now people like us,” he pointed to himself and again at me, “will notice a lot more. If something major changes we’ll wake up, look at the paper and go ‘wait, that’s wrong’.” He stopped and glared at me. “And *that* is why you have to be careful. I doubt anyone is keeping track of what kind of car you drive or if your friend is pregnant, but change something that makes the news and someone will start looking into it.”
He hesitated, then looked at Scott and Diane. “Of course, if one of your co-workers, or someone you know, happens to have the ability as well, then they *will* remember you as not being pregnant and will quickly figure out what is going on and who had to be the one who changed things. So be careful.”
I had been letting what he had said sink in and spoke up suddenly. “OK, what about Nichole then. I think I would have remembered this part of the country being called Hispaniola.”
He nodded. “Yeah, that’s the last thing. Remember how I was talking about changing lanes? That’s what happens when you get off of one road and onto another. Change things too far and you’re in a completely new reality. To everyone in your old reality you simply disappear and in the new one no one will know who you are. It isn’t like staying home where people will just remember things the way you created them.”
“What’s out there?” I asked, suddenly intrigued.
He shrugged. “Whatever you can imagine. Be careful though. You don’t want to go somewhere where you can’t survive and you don’t want to go so far you can’t find your way home.”
“So I can get anything or go anywhere I want, just by thinking about it and taking an Exit?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yeah, and after a while even the Exit won’t be needed. Just drive down the Road.”
“The Road?” I asked.
“Yep.” He stood up. “That’s what we call it.” He gestured at the table. “I figure you owe me for the beers. I’ll let all of you talk it out. See you back at the Vortex.” He gave a final nod and walked out the door.
The rest of us sat looking at each other for a long while. Sara was the first one to speak.
“So… if Caleb could do the same things that you and this Trenton says he can do, what happened to Caleb?” She looked at me questioningly. “Why didn’t he come back for me?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe he wound up in one of those places where things are completely different,” suggested Scott. “And he couldn’t find his way back home?”
She shook her head. “Trenton sounded like he knew something about him. I don’t think he’s lost.”
“Then what?” I asked. She didn’t reply, but I could see she was upset and thinking about something.
“Maybe you should undo… this.” Diane said suddenly. “I… I don’t want to get you into trouble.”
“No!” said Scott, turning to her. “No, we can’t!”
“But what if he’s right?” She was looking directly at him. “What if someone knows! What will happen then?”
Scott shook his head. “You heard what he said. One out of five thousand out of five thousand. How many people with this ability can there possibly be in Atlanta?”
“At least three,” she said. “Dale, Caleb, and Trenton. And Dale and Caleb even worked for the same company.”
“We drive a lot too,” I said, still trying to digest what I had learned. “It sound as if that makes it a lot more likely to occur.”
Scott kept shaking his head. “We can’t take that chance!”
Diane looked at him. “*We* aren’t taking it. Dale is!” She turned to face me. “What do you want to do?”
I sighed. “From what he said it sounded like anyone who knows you who has this ability will already be remembering you as both pregnant and non-pregnant. Undoing it now may make it worse.”
“Exactly!” Said Scott. “He leaned forward, placing a hand on her belly. “Please, baby! Let’s go through with this.”
She sighed and looked down, then nodded. He leaned back with a smile.
“Now,” he said, rubbing his hands together, “what else can we do?”
“I’m doing as little as possible!” I said. “Trenton here zeroed in on me almost immediately after I posted something. And someone wiped my phone, remember? Someone is already looking at or around me. I think I need to keep a low profile for a while and I can’t do that if I start making changes for everyone.”
Scott looked hurt. “Come on now!” he said. “Just a few changes! Think of how much better you can make thing! For you as well as us!”
“Earlier today you thought I was crazy. Now you want to take advantage of me?” I shook my head. “Let’s let things be for a week or so, see if anything shakes out, and *then* start talking about more changes. OK?”
He seemed to be angry but took a deep breath. “OK, OK. You’re right, I guess.” He sighed. “And you’ve already done something for us.” He looked at Diane again. “But do think about what you can do with this, OK?”
I nodded slowly. “OK, yeah. Sure.”
“Caleb found someone else, didn’t he.” Sara spoke up suddenly.
“What?” I asked at the sudden topic change.
“He found someone else. Or caused someone else to find him.” She shook her head. “I should have said ‘Yes’ to him.” She leaned forward, tears appearing in her eyes.
“Why didn’t you?” asked Diane. “Was it because of how he got the ring?”
She nodded. “Yeah. It felt too much like he had stolen it. I just… I just couldn’t take it.”
Diane tilted her head. “Couldn’t you have said yes anyway, but not taken the ring? Wouldn’t that have worked?”
“I don’t know!” Sara wailed. “I just… I just couldn’t.” She lowered her head to her hands. “I was so stupid.”
I was looking at her started thinking about her and Caleb. I barely knew Caleb, only ran across him at the office once or twice, but I had worked with Sara for a while. As I thought, I realized that I had never actually seen the two of them together.
Diane was still talking. “How long had you known Caleb?”
“About two years?” said Sara. “He helped me get the job there.”
“So… you started dating almost immediately?”
“Yeah.” She seemed confused. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“I don’t remember seeing you two together that much.” I said. “That’s why I was so surprised when you first told me about you two.”
She shrugged and shook her head. “We… he… thought it would cause problems at the company if everyone knew we were dating.”
“Why?” I asked. “It isn’t against any policy that I know of.”
She shook her head, then paused. “It wasn’t, but I thought, it just seemed…” Her brow furrowed as she tried to remember. “It made sense at the time.” She lowered her head.
I looked over at Diane and tilted my head towards Sara, an eyebrow raised. She nodded slowly. She had already figured out what I was just starting to realize.
(And this sequence was a lot better before the machine crashed and I lost it, damn it!)
“You and Caleb did a lot together?” I asked. She nodded, head still lowered.
“And went to the Vortex a lot?”
She nodded again. “Yeah, it was his favorite place.”
I glanced back at Diane who was now watching us both closely. Scott looked between us, apparently realizing from the change in tone that we were on to something but hadn’t caught up yet.
“You told us about the two times you met Trenton down there. Anything happen any other time?”
She shook her head. “No… nothing. I…” She stopped and looked up, confused. “I… don’t really remember many other things there.”
“Do you remember what you ordered?” Diane asked. “Or what other places you went? What else you did?” Scott had looked at her as she spoke and I suddenly saw his eyes widen as he realized what we were saying. His head snapped around towards Sara.
I could see the confusion on her face. “I don’t… We… I can’t…” Her head snapped up, eyes wide. “I *didn’t*! That bastard! That god-dammed fucking bastard! I’ll rip his face off! What a shit!”
She had been shouting and the restaurant was looking at us. She took a deep breath and turned to me, face red and still shaking. “You! You knew this, didn’t you! You knew what he did!”
“No!” I said, raising my hands. “Hell, I didn’t know what any of this was until recently. But something didn’t sound right, and I really *didn’t* remember ever seeing you two together. Then, when Trenton mentioned how we could remember things the way they were before…” I trailed off, holding up my hands.
Diane nodded, reaching a hand out for Sara. “As soon as Dale said he had never seen you two together I knew what must have happened. Dale’s too good at details to miss something like that.”
Sara was shaking her head, now crying openly. “I can’t believe… I can’t believe he did that to me!” She grimaced. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Diane took Sara’s hands in hers as she cried silently. The waitress came to see what was going on but Scott waved her away, and the two of us looked awkwardly at each other.
After several minutes Sara gave out a heavy sigh and sat up. She blew her nose loudly on a napkin, wiped her eyes, and turned to me.
“Thank you,” she said, quietly.
“Um… you’re welcome?” I said, somewhat surprised. “…Why?”
“Because I remember now,” she said. “I remember what happened. And you, all of you,” she turned to Diane and Scott and nodded at them, “helped me to remember.”
“What happened?” asked Diane, gently. “If you feel like talking about it.”
Sara frowned for a moment, closed her eyes, then sighed. “Yeah, it’s fine. It’ll help with all this.” She waved her hands in the air.
She took a deep breath then continued. “I wasn’t dating Caleb when this started. I just happened to be at the office one day when he came in and had to tell me about the strange exit he found. Sort of like you did the other day.” She gestured towards me.
“Anyway, I didn’t think much about it then. A few days later he shows up with this backpack full of stuff and wants to show it to me. He says we should go down to that Mexican place just down the road from the office.”
“El Toreodors,” I said.
She nodded. “Yeah, there.” She let out a snorting laugh. “I thought of it as an after work beer with a co-worker. He apparently thought it was a date.”
“Wait…” interrupted Scott. “I thought you said he helped you get the job.”
“Seriously?” she said. There was a pause as confusion crossed her face. “Yeah, I did say that, didn’t I?” She shook her head then looked back at me. “You have no idea how badly this has messed me up. It’s like I remember two completely different things, as if they both happened. It’s just that one happened first, if that makes sense.”
I nodded slowly. “Yeah, I get it. I think.”
She took another deep breath then continued. “He showed me a bunch of crap he had brought back. It looked like he had raided a K-Mart or something. Tried to give me some of it.” She laughed.
“Anyway, a few day’s later he asks me out again. Says he’s figured out what he had found and wanted to explain it to me. I agreed and met him downtown at the Vortex. That’s when I first met Trenton and he basically said the same thing he just did to you.”
“Really?” asked Scott. “You could have mentioned that earlier!”
“I didn’t *know* it earlier!” Sara almost wailed. “I didn’t remember until… whatever you did.”
“So what happened?” asked Diane, after glancing sharply at Scott.
Sara winced. “After that dinner we got ready to leave. Caleb invited me up to his place and I turned him down. He got really angry, you know how guys get sometimes.” Diane nodded. “Anyway, he started off with how I was turning him down after he introduced me to this great new world. Then he said he could have me any time he wanted. That got me worried, so I just left and went back to my car. I had my gun in my purse so I wasn’t too concerned, but I wanted to get away from him.”
“You carry a gun?” Scott seemed surprised by that.
“Yeah,” she said, seeming surprised by the question. “We all do. I’m sure Dale has one too.”
“Dale?” he turned to stare at me.
I shrugged. “I drive around with a car full of drugs. I have to be ready on the off chance someone decides they want them for themselves.”
He gave me a disturbed look. “Really?”
I nodded. “Scott, we live in Georgia. In Atlanta. Two-thirds of the people you meet probably have a gun in their car.”
He shook his head. “Yeah, I guess. I just never realized you had one.”
“You never went shooting with me and Lisa?”
That seemed to shock him. “Lisa carries a gun too?”
I nodded. “Yeah, she’s actually a lot better at it than I am.”
“Guys?” said Diane, looking between us. “Can we get back to this?”
“Sorry.” I said, glancing over at Sara. “Go ahead.”
She took a deep breath. “OK. Anyway, I got in my car and left. I was driving home, thinking about how maybe I should switch offices, when I suddenly decided I was in love with Caleb.”
“Just like that?” asked Diane.
She nodded. “Yeah, just like that.” Tears appeared in her eyes again. “It made total sense at the time. I didn’t even question it until, well, now.”
“So what happened.”
She lowered her head again. “I drove to his place and spent the night with him. I didn’t even question it. Not until now anyway. We… I spent the next couple of weeks with him.”
“Then what happened?”
She shrugged. “One day when I got home from work he wasn’t there.” She shook her head. “When I went back to his place he wasn’t there. I couldn’t get in touch with him. After a day or so I just went back home. That’s when… that’s when I came to the conclusion that he had left me because I had turned him down when he asked me to marry him. He didn’t. He just disappeared.” She shook her head and started crying again. “He did this to me! Why!”
Diane and Scott both looked at me. I felt sick to my stomach. I could have done the same thing. Hell, I had thought about it. “Yeah,” I said finally. “I realized I could do that. When Trenton said something earlier about wondering why Sara was here and not Lisa… I realized I could get Lisa back. But it didn’t seem right. I just… couldn’t.”
“So why did you bring me into this!” Sara looked up at me, almost spitting the words out.
“What?” I was taken aback. “You called me! I didn’t do anything!”
“Oh, so I just happened to call a co-worker I’ve barely interacted with just as he’s running into some major shit?”
“No!” I said. “I wasn’t trying to… I didn’t…” I stopped. “Look, if I was trying to act like Caleb I wouldn’t take you out with my friends and tell you exactly what I was doing. That would kinda defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?”
“Unless that’s your plan? To make yourself look innocent?”
Scott laughed cynically. “Trust me, Dale doesn’t think that far ahead.”
“Hey!” I said.
He shrugged. “Just telling it like it is. You can set up a gaming campaign in more detail than I could ever have the patience for, but when it comes to yourself you couldn’t make a decent decision if your life depended on it.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean!” I said, getting angry.
“You know what, and who, I’m talking about,” he said. “Remember why we met with you tonight.”
I glared at him. “You wanted me to get your wife pregnant. Since you couldn’t apparently.”
I saw him flush in anger at that. He started to stand up, then thought better of it. He drew a deep breath then let it out in a long sigh.
“OK,” He said. I could see he was still angry but he was trying to calm down. “You’re right. That was uncalled for.” He looked over at Sara, who was now looking from one to the other of us wide-eyed. “Trust me, Dale wouldn’t have deliberately done something like that. If anything,” he glanced at me, “if anything he was probably thinking about all of this and who knew about it and probably thought of talking to you. That may have been enough to trigger you calling him.”
“What? You’re saying he can do this by accident? You think what Caleb did to me was an *accident*!”
“No, no!” he said. “OK, Caleb no. Yes. No. Wait…” He paused, trying to straighten out his thoughts. “It sounds like Caleb was deliberate. I think Dale didn’t do anything. At least nothing deliberate.”
She held his gaze for a moment, then let out her breath. “OK, OK. I guess you’re right. It wouldn’t make sense to do to me what you just helped me realize someone else had done to me. That’s really bad timing. And I’m a bit upset and on the edge right now.”
“Yeah,” I said, trying to get my own self back under control. “We’re all getting on edge.” I looked up at Scott. “Sorry.”
“Yeah,” he said in return. “It happens.” He looked over at Diane. “Your chance to get in an insult or two while we’re at it.”
She shook her head uncomfortably. “I’ll pass. I think we’ve had enough emotions for one evening.” She patted her stomach. “I probably shouldn’t get too excited anyway.”
Scott looked surprised for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” He looked around. “Maybe we should get out of here.”
We waved the waitress back over. She looked at us with a carefully neutral expression as we paid our bills and I noted a few other curious looks as we left the restaurant. We got back into the car and I pulled back out onto the highway.
We drove in silence for a while. “Where should we go now?” I finally asked.
“Well, everyone’s car is still at the Vortex,” said Scott from the back seat. “And Jeff, Donna, and Lisa are still at our apartment. Assuming they’re still waiting on us.”
“And I kinda guess I need to get home,” said Sara. “Though I’m not sure I really want to be alone right now.” She looked over at me. “Not that kind of ‘not being alone’.”
“Hey!” I said. “I’m not doing anything.”
“We’ve got a sofa,” said Scott. “You’re free to crash on it if you just want a place for tonight.”
“Thanks,” she said. “I’ll think about it.”
We drove a bit further. I had been thinking about where I needed to go when I saw an exit sign ahead. An idea occurred to me.
“Hang on,” I said to no one in particular. “I’m going to try something.”
I heard an intake of breath from Sara and an “Oh God!” from the back seat, but I was concentrating on my thoughts. I knew exactly where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be there. I held that thought as I took the exit, looped around the curve and pulled to a stop at the red light at the end of the ramp.
“What?” Sara asked. “Where are we?”
“14th street,” said Diane from behind me. “How did we get here?”
“I told you I had an idea,” I said, turning right at the light and heading for the Station. “Looks like it worked.”
“You can just go anywhere!” Sara said a bit too loudly. “That’s… how?”
“I don’t know, exactly,” I said as I pulled off the main road and into the entrance. “I just decided this was where I wanted to be, took the exit and… here we are.” I swung into the parking garage and headed back towards the elevator entrance to Diane and Scott’s apartment.
“Wait!” said Scott suddenly from the back seat. “Our cars are still at the Vortex!”
“Are they?” I said with a smile. I saw the parking space I knew would be there just beside the elevator, pulled into it, and killed the engine.
“Yes, we…” he stopped. Sara gasped and I heard Diane let out a short laugh. I was parked between their cars; Sara’s on the right and Diane and Scott’s on the left.
“Now you’re starting to scare me,” said Scott in a quiet, even voice. “You don’t need to show off.”
My smile faded. “I just wanted to see if I could do it.”
“Don’t!” he said. “That’s…” he trailed off.
“I caused your wife to become seven months pregnant,” I said. I had expected a different reaction. “Moving your car should seem trivial compared to that.”
“Is there a limit to what you can do?” Sara asked, staring at me.
“I don’t know.” I said. “I’m almost afraid to try.”
“Remember what Trenton said,” said Scott as he got out of the car. “You don’t want to do anything big enough to attract attention from anyone.”
“Yeah, I remember,” I said as I got out. “But literally no one would have noticed a car moving from one parking lot to another.”
“How about a car going from Macon to Atlanta in five minutes. Does your company have GPS trackers on you or something?”
“No,” I said. As soon as I did though I remembered the box Trenton had pulled from under my old car. I immediately knelt down and looked under the Jeep. I didn’t see anything suspicious, but if it was hidden I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell it apart from a normal part of the Jeep.
“What?” asked Diane, getting out with the aid of Scott.
“Nothing,” I said. “Just suddenly getting paranoid.” With that in mind, I pulled my bag out of the back, then opened the glove box and pulled out the Glock, still in its case. Scott was walking to the elevator with Diane and didn’t notice, but Sara saw me and nodded slightly.
We caught up with them at the elevator. “What are we going to tell the others?” I asked.
“The truth?” suggested Diane.
I shook my head. “Keep low, remember? The three of you already know what is going on. We don’t need two more.”
“Three,” said Scott.
“Oh yeah, Lisa,” I said. “Why did you have to bring her into this?”
“Because we were worried about you,” he replied. “We didn’t know any of this was actually real then. We thought… maybe if you could talk to her and get some closure out of it.”
“Closure?” I said, incredulously. “Closure? You thought *that* was what all this was about?”
He sighed and looked to Diane, then back to me. “After you left last time we, all of us, talked about it. We thought your talking about ‘alternate worlds’ was just you rationalizing some world where Lisa and you were still together. You know, instead of talking to her.”
“You know,” I said, turning around and walking back towards the car. “I don’t have to listen to this.” I opened the door, stopped, and turned back to see the three of them still looking at me. “And I can do that ‘alternate worlds’ stuff and if I had wanted to create a world where she and I were still together I would be in one. But I’m not Caleb.” I aimed that last comment at Sara. I opened the door and got in. “Tell them… tell them whatever the hell you want.” Scott yelled something and started towards the car, but I backed out and peeled out of the garage and away.