I can remember sunrises and sunsets. I can remember how they made me feel, when the sky would change colors and everything was beautiful. I can remember her smile. The way it radiated and warmed the air around her. I can remember her laugh, the way it made me feel safe, because when she laughed it meant everything was okay. I can remember her in the summer in no sleeves, no shoes, running wild in the grass not a care in the world. I can remember her in the winter in puffy jackets and tight sweaters. I can remember her.
Sometimes it feels like I am barley holding on. Like time is slipping away from me. Sometimes it feels like time is like the sand on the beach, and I can pick it up, but it’s impossible to get a grip, it just falls through my fingers and I have to watch it blow away in the wind. I can look at a clock and see the second hand moving around telling me I’ve been holding my breath for more than a minute. I can hear a song playing and the second chorus coming lets me know my heads been underwater for just as long. I can feel it passing by, but it can’t feel me.
There are people in this world who live like tomorrow doesn’t exist, but I live knowing that it does, but not knowing when it’ll come. Is it possible to live the same moment for the rest of your life? Is it possible to get lost in a single second? I wish it was, because I would pick the second in time when I kissed Tobin Heath for the first time. I would pick the moment I fell in love with her. I would sacrifice the rest of the seconds in my life to live in just that one.
A knock came at the door, but it was muffled. I looked up through the water, the waves in the small bathtub had settled after I sunk underneath and allowed my head to fill with pressure as the water filled my ears and nose. I could hear Tobin on the other side of the door. Her voice was so sweet, she was sweet, she was everything.
“Chris, are you okay?”
She was calling to me, asking me a question. We had a rule in our house, if someone asked a question you had to answer it. This may seem like a strange rule to some of you, but it was effective and necessary in our house. When you’re losing your mind, you ask questions, and it’s just easier if someone gives you a straight answer, it keeps you from feeling insane, even if you are.
I couldn’t bring my body to rise out of the water. I wasn’t sure if I just didn’t have the strength physically, or if it was my mental state that was telling me I was happy there, under the water, where the world was distorted and the sounds were muted. But you see, her voice was carrying over it all, my empty thoughts, my strange feeling of bliss, her voice carried over it all.
I sat up, letting the water drain from my face. Running my hand over my nose, I willed myself to call out, “Yeah, I’m okay.” It was true, because I was alive, but it was a lie because I was empty.
I didn’t like telling Tobin about the times when I felt empty. I didn’t like her to be troubled over me. She spent so much of our lives together being concerned over me. She worried, that was just who she was. I tried my best to not let her worry, but it was hard. Sometimes she would see the faraway look in my eye and she would just know, I was lost again. It was okay, because I wouldn’t stay lost. I would always find my way home. I promised.
“I’m opening the door,” she said sweetly as the knob turned. She walked in with a kind smile on her face. “I have to go to work. Could you please get out of the tub?”
I wasn’t allowed to stay in the bath alone. I did that one time, I got lost in my head, and I let myself sink too far. Tobin had to rush to pull me out. After that she checked on me every few minutes and made me sing along to songs so she knew I was okay. I felt like a child, but it was fair, it was either that or I could never be alone.
Music was a reminder for us, a call. Tobin sang while she did chores in the house. She sang when I couldn’t see her, just so I knew she was still there. I sang when I was doing things, so she knew when the singing stopped she needed to come get me. If the music stopped, it meant we needed to be together, to touch each other, so I knew she was real. The music was only allowed to stop when I was wrapped in her arms. That was okay. I loved her voice. I loved everything about her.
I lifted myself from the white porcelain tub and let Tobin wrap me in a big fluffy towel.
“What are you listening to?” she asked drying my hair.
I looked down at my phone to the song playing, “Taylor Swift.”
“Her new album is really good.”
“I miss Turnpike,” I said giving her a smile.
She dried my ears, her face falling just a bit, “Baby...”
“Right,” I said shaking my head.
Her eyes were soft, kind, loving. “I have to get to work.”
“Okay,” I reached for the towel, wrapping it around myself.
She cupped my cheek, her hands were always so gentle, like she was afraid to break me. “I hate Fridays.”
A soft laugh left my lips, “Who hates Fridays?”
“Me,” she chuckled with me, her eyes crinkling, the wrinkles in the corner showing the stressed years. “I hate leaving before you.”
“It’s one day a week.” I pushed my head against her hand, trying to comfort her the best I could.
“Still, I don’t like it.” She huffed. Her watched beeped letting her know it was the top of the hour. “I have to go. The alarms are set on your phone.”
I nodded, “Thank you.”
“I’ll see you tonight,” she leaned in placing a gentle kiss to my lips, “I love you.”
I waited for my eyes to flicker open before responding. “And I love you.”
I started losing time my freshman year in college. I was diagnosed with Cognitive Cortical Dysplasia. It was a very complicated sounding name for what was a kind of a simple problem. To the doctors of this world, I perceived time differently, it caused my mind to think events happened closer or further back in time than they actually happened. I wasn’t upset by the diagnosis, this was something they could quantify, something they could write down in a book and give me some kind of pill. It explained my epileptic seizers, which I got another pill for. The only portion of it that burned me up was the second diagnosis I received in my junior year, which was Schizophrenic Delusions. I was given a third pill for this one, and assigned a physiatrist to help keep me in the right mind.
To them, all the things I remembered weren’t real, and I guess that was the hardest part. Try remembering something that was so real to you, only to find out it wasn’t real at all, at least not to anyone else. This can cause someone to be, well depressed, something my fourth pill was for. Luckily I lived in a world where most geniuses were insane, so I was still able to finish school, with the right cocktail or medication, and of course with Tobin.
My beautifully sweet Tobin. She never gave up on me even when she had reason to. She never stopped reminding me of what was real, here in this world. My Tobin, who moved across the country to be with me. Who quit her job and moved to a different city just to be closer to me when I got sick. My Tobin who had to borrow money, and beg for jobs just to make ends meet at our crappy apartment, one she only took because it was near campus. This was the woman I fell in love with, the one I wanted to give everything to, the one that gave up everything for me.
It’s a struggle I can see it in her eyes. I can see it when she has to remind me the band isn’t real, that everything in my head about her being a big rock star isn’t real. I know it hurts her to say it, I know somewhere deep inside she knows it could have all been real. I know she can sense it when she picks up a guitar and plays for a half empty bar, when she sings back-up in the house band for fifty bucks a night, then gets up the next day to work at the music store selling dreams to other people. I know she can feel the warmth of the stage lights that used to bathe her face. I know she can hear the banging of the drums. I know she can still see her friends surrounding her, making music, making a life for themselves. She gave it all up for me, to love me, to take care of me.
I resented myself most nights. Maybe that’s why I felt so at home underwater, maybe the resentment would turn into the courage to keep my head below. I took away the thing that made her Tobin, I took away the music, and now her life could be boiled down to a single bedroom apartment, a check every other Tuesday and a girlfriend who sometimes gets lost in a fantasy world where she was something more.
I don’t want Tobin to be more for me. I don’t care about the fancy things. Losing the penthouse apartment, and the nice car, none of that mattered to me. The only thing that mattered was Tobin’s potential, what she should have been. Her life was supposed to be big. It was supposed to be larger than the universe. Tobin Heath was supposed to inspire the world. She was supposed to make people happy, and sad, and feel like someone understood them. Her lyrics were meant to reach the ears of teenagers feeling alone. They were supposed to make adults feel like kids again. She was going to write love songs that inspired proposals. She was going to write anthems that told people to follow their dreams, and now all those songs, all those lyrics, they were stuck in a beat up old spiral notebook cramped in the back of her nightstand. Everything that made her who she was now laid in the back of some drawer, collecting dusting and turning yellow, as she waste away in a dead end job tuning guitars and teaching kids their first chords. I did that to her, and it was my job to fix it.
With all of it, she never scolds me, never rips away the hope that the life I dreamt of was real. I had doctors for that, and I know they tell her not to encourage me, but she wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. It’s hard to believe in time travel, but for her, she has so much faith in me, she never takes away the idea that I could be right, that all of it could be real. When I bring up the other worlds, the other versions of her and I, she gently reminds me of the world we are currently in, reminds me to live in the now, because even if it was real, my mind was too fragile to travel again and this world was good as long as we were together.
My mind may have been flawed. I may get lost sometimes, but I know one thing to be true. Time travel was real and it was up to me to set the timeline straight. It was my job to put myself back into my original timeline so Tobin could go back to hers. I had to go back to the day on the edge of the ridge, behind the rose bushes where I first spoke to her, where we fell in love. I had to go back and change it. I had to go back and give her the life she deserved.
The beeping on my phone always shocks me. It’s turned up to the max and starts off as just one beep, the shouts into the air with continuous alarm until I shut it off, then it goes again in five minutes. Tobin set the times for an hour before I have to leave for work, then again for twenty till, then again at the exact time I should be out of the house. After, as I walk down the street of the outskirts of LA, the alarm goes off in thirty minutes, that’s when I should reach the front door of the school. If Allie doesn’t see me within the next five minutes she goes looking.
This was my life, schedules and alarms. It didn’t bother me, not in the way it might bother other people. I didn’t mind that Tobin took my phone every night and made sure my alarms were set, and if I had to be somewhere special, she always set one as a reminder, then one on her phone so she could make sure that I remembered. I didn’t mind her and Allie texting each other that I was with one of them, both of them worried for my wellbeing, my whereabouts, making sure I didn’t get lost somewhere. I didn’t mind that my watched beeped every hour, and my phone went off on the half hour. I didn’t mind because I knew it was necessary.
There were times for me, when I would go off, vanishing into my own mind, going to the places in time when I was happy and healthy. An hour in real time could amount to days for me, days spent with Tobin lost in the sheets of our bed. I could stand there for two minutes in this world and be consumed by the image of her on stage. The mention of someone’s name could toss me into a memory of them that could last for days, but when I was finally shocked out, only a few seconds had past. I loved the memories, but I hated what they did to me.
Imagine sitting in an apartment with your best friend, drinking wine on a comfortable couch. In the background the love of your life is cooking dinner, and it smells like heaven. Imagine having a full conversation about your day, about your life, the one you spent with them. Then you look over your shoulder and the person you would sacrifice the world for is cheerful and happy and singing along to some faint song on the radio. Then she looks at you, her eyes are clear and joyful, her smile is big and bright, her hair is shinny like it was made of pure sunlight, and when she sings it has the power to pull you into the most comfortable state you’ve ever been in. Imagine the perfection in this world, spending an hour wrapped up in the stability that is everyone meeting their destiny, only to be pulled out of it with the sound something a kin to a fire alarm blaring, reminding you that it wasn’t real. And when you look for the smile, for those deep brown eyes you see they are bloodshot and desperate as she looks into the computer screen typing out a budget for the month. It rips your soul from your body, it balls it up like it was made of paper, then throws it out the window on a rainy day and it falls to the street, into the flowing gutter and is lost forever. Try climbing out of that.
I don’t mind the alarms. I don’t mind people popping in on me. I don’t mind the phone calls. I don’t mind any of it because it keeps me in this world, and as much as I wish I was in another, it’s better to stay present in this one then to get lost in the others.
“Hey, girly,” Allie said with a shining smile, she handed me an ice coffee. “How was your night?”
“It was good,” that was the best way to describe it.
I had a good night with Tobin. We had pizza and beer and watched a cheesy movie on Netflix. She kissed me in a way she hadn’t in a few weeks and I fell into her. We made love on the couch, and I was present, no images of tattooed arms or dark rooms. I let myself feel her in time, I let myself go with her instead of without her.
“We had pizza,” I smiled, keeping the rest of it to myself.
Allie and I walked into the building together, she was talking a mile a minute about her night. She and Nick went to the movies and had a disgusting dinner at a new place that just opened up. It was exciting to hear about their time together, it was exciting to know how much they adored each other. Their relationship was still new, only a few months now, but I could tell this one was going to last. Allie gave up a lot to keep track of me, she spent many nights in with me, watching me, when she could have been out with everyone else having a life. She deserved happiness, she deserved some peace with Nick, with the boy that could hold her attention and make her feel like she was floating. She deserved a real life.
Stopping at my lab door, Allie put a hand on my shoulder, “We’re still going tonight, right?”
I had to think for a second, there was something important I was supposed to remember, but what that thing was refused to make an appearance in my mind. I’m sure my eyebrows lowered, my cue that I couldn’t remember.
“Tobin’s singing tonight, at the bar,” She said a look of hope in her eyes as it clicked in my mind.
“Yes,” I cleared my throat, a little ashamed for not remembering something so important. “We need to be there by nine. I have an alarm set.”
“Me too,” Allie squeezed her hand down on my shoulder, it was her way of telling me to let myself off the hook, it was okay to forget as long as I remembered eventually. “I’ll come get you.”
The same smile I always give came across my lips, I tried to hide my shame and move on. “I’ll see you later, alligator.”
“We’ll see about that, sewer rat,” Allie winked, making us both laugh, then turned on her heels to head for her first class.
My lab was almost the same, though it felt empty without the two girls in at the table talking back and forth about their teenage lives. I never thought I could miss someone I had only known for a few weeks, but Mallory and Rose were missed. I used to take comfort in the emptiness of this place, in the echo of every slight sound, at the stretch of light as it beamed from wall to wall. I found myself feeling lonelier without their voices in the air, without them taking up space, filling this now hallow place with joy. Here in this world I had yet to earn my PHd, so I didn’t have interns. Besides it was hard to convince any young person to stake their grad school reputation on a crazy lady who would sometimes stare off into space for hours, and come to with a sadness in her eyes that could kill. So I was alone, aside from Nick, who lovingly checked on me when he could.
This was my life, and it was okay. At night when I sleep, I think about a single moment, and it forms into a dream. I think about the night in the apartment, after Tobin had recorded her first song in six months, Daphne Blue, the song that was destined to pull Turnpike back up the charts. I think about the argument, the one that changed my life. I should have said yes. To her proposal. I should have flown into her arms and let her squeeze me into her body until neither of us could breathe. I should have trusted her, said that I loved her, that I was ready to be all hers. I should have said yes that night.
What if I had? Would I still be there, in that fantasy world? Could I have stood living a life that wasn’t truly mine, but felt so real it should have been mine? I want it back. I want that moment back, the one when Tobin held my hand and told me to find my way home. I wish I could go back and scream at her to stop me from walking out. I want to shout at the top of my lungs for her to run after me. She was so sincere when she told me she wouldn’t stop me from leaving. The light in her eyes was so bright when she told me to find my way back. I should have went back. I want it back.
I’m not sure what I did all day. I could go a whole day working on my projects and not remember a single thing, but when the big alarm went off, the one that told me it was time to head home, I would open my eyes and have things written down, equations I didn’t even know existed. Maybe that was easier, getting lost in thought, maybe the solution would come to me while I was away.
I texted Tobin that I was going home. I texted her when I moved from place to place. It was easier that way, she worried less, and while her life focused on keeping me safe, my life was about giving her less to worry about. She was updated on almost everything I did, but we kept it simple in order to keep us from going insane. A simple ‘leaving work’ would do. Then when I got home, I would send a smiley face and a house emoji so she knew I was safe.
I wasn’t alone in the house that often. The first time she let me stay alone for more than an hour was the day she had to pull my head from under the water in the bathtub. I wasn’t under for more than and minute, but Tobin came home to a mess on the ground and panic as she lifted me out the tub, making sure I was still breathing. We agreed, after that, if I was home alone, I texted every thirty minutes and I wasn’t allowed to take a bath.
I don’t think anyone can love anyone the way she loves me. I don’t think I can love her the way she loves me. I don’t think the flower can love the sun the way she loves me.
Checking my watch, I had only a half hour before Allie would be here. I needed to change and get dressed. This was the first time Tobin was singing in public. She was the guitarist and back up singer for the house band at the bar she worked Thursday-Saturday. We would go and watch her play sometimes, sip whiskey and coke, and see the joy the music brought to the people in the bar. They only played for the first few hours, then the music turned to a DJ playing hit songs. Tobin stayed sometimes to be the DJ whenever the regular guy was sick. It was a good gig, as she referred to it, something that she could do rather easily and make some extra cash.
It was my fault that we needed the extra money. I made decent money at the school, but my insurance only covered a portion of my medication, and I had a therapy session every week that wasn’t covered at all. I tried to explain to Tobin that I didn’t need the medicine or the sessions but she would hear it. I don’t blame her. She went home for a week once, to visit her little brother, and I spent the whole time in the house with the curtains drawn. I was afraid to walk outside, I was afraid of the light. I wanted to stay in the dark, because when it was dark I would get memories, and when I was alone all I wanted was for Tobin to be with me, even if it was just in my mind. She never went home to the east coast again and never spent more than a few hours away from home. I went back on medication and we found a way to make it work. We fought for a steady life, but for her it was worth it, if I was functioning, it was worth it.
Allie had a key to my place, the knocks on the door weren’t enough to take me out of one of my memories, so she always just entered instead of waiting. She called from the living room, her voice cheerful as always. I shouted back that I was in the bedroom and she should come back.
“Damn, you look good,” she said leaning against the doorframe.
I turned and smiled, “It’s her first time singing. I want to look nice for her.”
“You might be too distracting,” she joked eyeing me up and down. “Hell, I’m distracted.”
“Whatever,” I chuckled, looking back to the full length mirror.
I was in a red tank top with a black fitted vest on top, and a jean skirt. It wasn’t something I normally wore, I didn’t like people looking at me, but this was a special occasion, and for the first time I didn’t care if people noticed me. I spent a long time trying not to be Tobin Heath’s girlfriend, that’s why we broke up to begin with, but in this world I was tired of being everything but. I wanted people to see me and know that I was hers. I wanted her to feel special, like a rock star.
The bar wasn’t far from the apartment, Tobin didn’t like to be more than a thirty minute walk away, something she could easily run in ten minutes if she had to get to me quickly. Summer was fading away, though in California that didn’t mean much, the air was still warm all around and it wouldn’t get chilly for a few more months. The streets were empty, most people still getting ready to go out, pre gaming with cheap liquor before going out to pretend like they had made more money than their crap jobs paid them. Allie and I walked down the street side by side.
“Is Nick coming tonight?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said with a huge smile plastered on her face. “He’s going to meet us there. He might be a little late.”
I watched as her eyes twinkled in the lights of the street lamps, “I like you two together.”
“Me too,” she responded, the smile on her face getting impossibly bigger. “He’s really great.”
“You two always seem to find each other,” I said absentmindedly.
Allie was okay with my slips in reality. She was one of the people in the world that actually believed me full heartedly. For her, the math was there, the technology was sound, and it could all be real. I had a single problem to solve, what would happen to my mind if I traveled again. It was something we talked about, what she thought would happen, mostly we agreed I would lose it completely, which meant it was too dangerous to risk. Sometimes she spent her off time looking over my math, trying to help me solve the equation my interns were working on it the past worlds. I tell her all the time I wished I would have stayed long enough for them to solve it, but I was risking Tobin’s life, risking her overdosing again, and I didn’t think I could handle losing her that way.
“How was work today?” she asked me, changing the subject from her budding relationship.
I shrugged, “I honestly don’t remember.”
“Did you lose time again?” it was such a strange question to be asked so casually.
There was no point in lying, it was safer to tell the truth, the people that cared for me needed to know when I had episodes, “Yeah. I went in the lab and then the next thing I knew my alarm went off telling me it was time to go home.”
“Chris, that’s six hours gone,” she sighed, pulling out her phone.
“No,” I put my hand on hers. “Please don’t tell Tobin.”
She gave me a sad look, “She needs to know.”
“And I’ll tell her,” pushing her hand down, I tried to convey my worry. “I don’t want her to think about that tonight. This is her first time singing. This night is about her. I promise I’ll tell her tomorrow.”
Letting out a puff or air, she put her phone in her pocket, “Fine, but I’ll be checking on you more often now.”
“I can handle that.” I grinned.
“We do this because we love you,” she reminded me the way she always did when she felt like she was being too much of a mom.
I bumped our shoulders together, “And I put up with it because I love you.”
We walked in the night air, letting silence fall, simply enjoying being next to each other. There were times when she needed to talk, fill the space, but there were times when the silence said more. The bar was just down the street, we could almost see the neon sign letting us know Tobin was close.
I could feel myself getting excited, the last time I saw Tobin play live on stage in this world was senior prom. The band was invited to play for an hour, something Tobin was hyped on for three weeks. They practice for hours after school, Allie and I sitting in the beat up couch in Kelley’s garage, watching them pluck away on their guitars until they had the perfect set list. That was a good time, all of them bright eyed, looking forward to the future, to everything it held.
\\\\ Nine Years Ago////
“I do,” I snuggled closer to her, even though her body temperature was through the roof from dancing around the hot garage all night. “I like watching you guys practice.”
“You’re a good girlfriend,” she chuckled, placing another kiss on my temple and squeezing me tighter.
I let my head rest on her shoulder, this was only the second break they took in the last three hours, it was nice to have her close. I could spend the rest of my life watching her sing, the microphone clinched in both hands, her feet moving to the beat. It was unbelievably warm for being such early spring in New Jersey, so the entire band was in shorts and t-shirts, Tobin barefoot, hair up, skin shining in the fluorescent lights. She smelled like Axe body spray and pizza, a combination that sounds gross, but was perfect to my teenage heart. I could breathe her in for days, never tiring. She was perfect.
The rest of the band was sitting in the various places in the garage, Emily and Kelley were playing foosball on the broken table in the corner, complaining about the rules as Abby tried to referee. Allie left the couch, claiming she was giving Tobin and me space, but really she wanted to get closer to Alyssa, her bi-curiosity flaring up in our senior year, having a crush on who she described as the most hard-bodied of our group. Too bad for her, Alyssa never let it go past friendship, which was a good thing it turned out, Allie liked boys and Alyssa would have just been heartbroken when she went back. The group had the perfect dynamic, nothing needed to change.
“What do you think about the slow song?” Tobin asked, always concerned about the music.
“I like it,” I said simply, pushing my nose into her neck so I could kiss her skin.
She giggled at my touch, “Do you like the song, or do you like me?”
“Both,” I shrugged, kissing her again. “We should take a break somewhere else.”
“Oh yeah?” she turned into me, capturing my lips. “What do you have in mind?”
I kissed her again, this time slipping in a little tongue, “Come with me and I’ll show you.”
We started to get off the couch when we were caught, “Hey, you two stay put!” Kelley called out, pointing us out to everyone in the room, “No one’s fucking in my house unless it’s me.”
“So no one’s fucking in your house?” Emily joked.
Tobin stood up, her long limbs making her look taller than she was. “This would be a better rule if you actually had a girlfriend.” She turned back to me, leaning down shadowing me with her body. “I’ll miss you.” She winked, then went in for a long kiss waiting for Kelley to shout at us again. “Okay, let’s get this going again, I want to nail that third song.”
Everyone groaned, as they headed back to their instruments and Allie came back to the couch. I just sat and watched Tobin move, watched her calves flex when she stepped, watched how her shirt clung to her torso, watching how her ass looked in her tight fitting jean shorts. I spent so much time watching her I could draw her from memory. I could pick each part of her body out in a line up. I could tell you exactly what she would look like in any piece of clothing. I was obsessed with her. Mostly I was obsessed with that smile, the one she looked back at me and gave with an accompanying equally as sexy wink. I spent my teenage years falling in love with the most amazing person in the world.
“There’s my girl,” Tobin shouted as she looked up and saw us approaching. “I was beginning to worry.”
“I told you I would make it,” I called out to her.
Allie put her hands in the air, “And I told you I would get her to you.”
“True,” Tobin chuckled, holding out her arms, “I should have trusted you.”
Before I could go into her arms, Allie was hugging her, both of them cracking up as she spun in a circle. After, Tobin turned to me with a sly smile, holding her arms slightly out, waiting on me. I had to pretend to be upset about not getting the first hug, but I could only last a few seconds, she just looked so inviting. I was right, when she wrapped her arms around me, I felt instantly safer, loved, cared for, at home. I was meant to be in her arms.
We moved into the bar, a dimly lit single room that didn’t seem like it could fit more than fifty people. The floors were cluttered with tables and chairs, as many as they could fit leaving little space to move around, but it was okay because people were there for the music. For the first few hours the bar was open, anyone that wandered in was there to sit and have a drink while good music played in the background. Sometimes the place was filled and people were forced to stand around and wait for a table to open up. Sometimes there were only empty chairs, with Allie and me in the back cheering on the band. I hoped tonight everyone would show up for Tobin.
It was early, the band didn’t go on for another fifteen minutes and Tobin wasn’t going to sing until the end of the show, so it was okay only six people were in the bar. We all trickled in and sat in the same seats we always did, first table on the left, right where we could see Tobin when she played guitar. I was one of the lucky ones, at least in my mind I was, I got to hand her water when they took a pause in between songs. She looked at me when she played. When girls saw her or whispered about her, pointing her out to their friends, it all got shut down because I was the one who got to stand up and kiss her whenever they took intermission. Tobin may not have been world famous, but there were some local girls who liked her, but she only focused on me.
“Are you nervous,” I asked after their first set.
Tobin came down to sit at our table, taking a drink from her bottle of water, “A little.”
“Don’t be.” I laid my hands flat on the top of her chest, “You were born to do this.”
Her head was down, but I could see that smile and I melted when she looked up through eyelashes, trying her hardest not to give away how she felt. “I hope you’re right.”
“I’m always right, Moose.” Placing my fingers gently under her chin I lifted her head and leaned forward to place a tender kiss on her lips. She didn’t need much, just a little reassurance that the stage was her home.
She put her arms around me for just a second, before heading to the stage to take her spot in the back, her guitar resting on her legs. I could see her breathing get a little faster, then the deep ones she took to calm herself down. I wished she would just look out at me, I know she would be calm if she would see me, just like when we were teenagers.
The band played four more songs and then it was almost the top of the hour, just enough time for Tobin to get two songs in. The bar was almost full, just a few empty seats, so it wasn’t standing room, but it was close enough to what she warranted. The lead singer stood up from the stool she was usually perched up on and took the microphone, looking back to Tobin.
“We have a special treat for you guys tonight,” she said in her sultry voice. “Tobin, the guitarist we all know and love, is going to close out the show for us.”
I didn’t expect the cheers to be so loud, after all they only really knew her as the background person, her voice only really heard when the chorus called for it. But still the crowd cheered and clapped as Tobin got up from her seat in the back and made her way to center stage.
“Hey, everyone,” Tobin spoke into the mic, taking a second to adjust the height to her long torso as she sat down. She looked out into the sea of people, and as if by magic, a smile came to her face and all the nervousness left her body. “I haven’t done this in a while.”
People hooted, like actually hooted.
Tobin grinned, taking her guitar and laying it in her lap, “I want to say thank you to the band for learning two of my songs, it means a lot.” She looked back at her friends, “Seriously you guys, thanks for letting me do this.”
They all nodded, the band loved Tobin almost as much as the members of Turnpike loved her. It was hard not to fall in love with who she was, with her soul, with the light she brought to the world. Tobin had a way about her that drew you closer and made you want to stay right there in front with your eyes glued to her. It was more than charisma, much like fire was more than light, but warmth and both a source of destruction and life all at once. She was a world, and even now, muted in this reality, people wanted to revolve around her.
She made sure the microphone was close enough that she didn’t have to strain when she sang, then she pressed her hand to the strings of her guitar, taking a breath. “This song is called Movement.”
In the background, the guitar started playing, and the drum came in soft with claps from the lead singer as she stood back and let Tobin speak into the mic with a little melody to her voice.
”I still watch you when you’re grovin’
As if though water from the bottom of a pool
You’re movin’ without movin’
And when you move, I’m moved
You are a call to motion
There all of you verb in perfect view
Like Jonah on the ocean
When you move, I’m moved
When you move
I’m put to mind of all that I want to be
When you move
I could never define all that you are to me
So move me, baby
Shake like the bough of a willow tree
You do it naturally
Move me baby”
“You are the rite of movement
It’s reasonin’ made lucid and cool
And though it’s no improvement
When you move, I move
You’re less Polunin leapin’
Or Fred Astaire in sequins
Honey, you, you’re Atlas in his sleepin’
And when you move, I’m moved”
When you move
I can recall something that’s gone from me
When you move
Honey, I’m put in awe of something’ flawed and free
So move me, baby
Shake like the bough of a willow tree
You do it naturally
Move me baby”
“Move like grey skies
Move like a bird of paradise
Move like an off sight come out at night”
I was taken out of my state of awe, with Allie resting her chin on my shoulder, “Damn,” she said in a breathless awe, “Your girl is amazing.”
“Yeah she is.”
She pushed out the chorus hitting notes half steps up, putting gravel at the end of lines, forcing you to either sit back or forward, but there was no sitting still when she sang.
As the song ended, the crowd went nuts, clapping, stomping their feet, calling her name out, whistling that high pitched whistle that threatened to burst you ear drums. Tobin’s smile filled her entire face, as she held her left hand up in thanks, her head low as she tried to hide away from the admiration she was getting. I wanted her to bask in it, she earned all the praise, she deserved to hold her head up and let the droplets of appreciation for her craft hit her and cleanse her soul of any idea that she was good enough, that this wasn’t who she was, what she was, everything that made her, every molecule of her body was made to be on stage, made to be adored, and she needed to know it.
“Thanks you guys,” she said with a light laugh, waiting for the crowd to calm down just enough for her to keep talking. It took almost a minute for everyone to settle down. “This last song, is for my girlfriend, Christen.” She grinned as the girls in the audience ‘awed’ at the notion. “It’s called In Your Arms.”
The electric guitar started picking at muted strings, and Tobin began to sing words I had never heard before. I thought I knew everything she had ever written, but this was new and beautiful.
“Never seen Mona Lisa up close
But I’ve seen perfection under your clothes
Yeah we fell in love and we built a home
Though we may never see the streets of Rome
And I hope it’s okay
‘Cause the unknown is on its way”
If I die in your arms
It's right where I'm supposed to be
You know I'm not afraid
As long as you're next to me
So tell me, will you hold me
When the curtains close
If I died in your arms
It's right where I'm supposed to be”
And just when she had you on a high, wanting to fall, she gave you the choice to come back down with soft words, you were allowed to feel a second of peace.
“Yeah we may never sleep under Northern Lights
But I've seen the stars flicker in your eyes
And I hope it's okay (it's okay)
'Cause the unknown is on its way”
“If I die in your arms
It's right where I'm supposed to be
You know I'm not afraid
As long as you're next to me
So tell me, will you hold me
When the curtains close
If I died in your arms
It's right where I'm supposed to be”
“Lay me down in the ground by my hometown garden
We, we never leave
But it feels like we've seen the whole world
A thousand tears, when the tears on your parents' roof
Forget my fears every time that I'm under you
All along, all I needed was you
So I swear, I'm not scared when it's over”
I waited at the edge of the stage as the band packed up and DJ came on. There wasn’t a single moment when Tobin wasn’t thanking someone for congratulating her on the performance. I could see the sparkle in her eyes, even from down below looking up, I could see how happy she was. It was a sparkle I hadn’t seen in a long time.
“Hey, sweetheart,” she said stepping down from stage, her beat up guitar case hitting her in the leg. “Did you like it?”
I threw my arms around her knocking us off balance, “I loved it. Everyone loved it. You were amazing.”
She dropped the case to put both arms around me, scooping me up so just my toes touched the ground. “Thank you so much. I love you.”
“I love you too,” my voice was muffled from pushing my face into her neck. “You have no idea.”
We headed towards the table with Allie and Nick, beers already ordered for the both of us. As usual we planned to spend at least the next hour sitting around talking and drinking, a way for Tobin to wind down after being on stage. The moment we sat down someone was tapping Tobin on the shoulder. She turned around, making us all look over at the tall woman standing behind her.
“That was amazing,” she said with a welcoming smile. “I didn’t know you sang.”
Tobin turned more in her seat, confused as to who the person was, “Yeah, I don’t normally.”
“You should,” she said with some insistence in her voice, “I’m Adriana and I’m in a band. We are looking for a lead singer.”
My hand instantly went to Tobin’s thigh making her smile at me.
“I don’t know if I’m looking to get in a band,” her eyes went wide. “Not as a singer anyway. That was kind of a onetime thing.”
The tall woman lowered her eyebrows, “How can that be a onetime thing? You turned this place upside down with two songs.”
“Yeah, Toby,” Allie chimed in. “You have to do that again.”
Her face fell a bit, “I don’t know…”
“Babe,” I gave her leg a gentle squeeze. “Just hear her out.”
“Yeah,” Adriana smiled brightly, “Can we at least buy you a drink?” she pointed over to two girl sitting at one of the round tables, “That’s Hope and Jane, we would love to talk to you, just one drink.”
Looking to me with hesitation in her eyes, I could tell she wanted to say no. I pressed my fingers into the muscles on her leg, nodding my eyes giving the best encouraging smile I could. She gave a closed lip smile, and then stood up, kissing the top of my head.
“Just one drink,” she told the woman, and headed towards the table.
I watched as she moved through the crowd, people were stopping her on the way, to say how much the enjoyed her performance. She was in her element, thanking people gracefully for admiring her. This Tobin may have been calmer, and shyer, but she still had the instinct to be a rock star, she just needed to remember.
The lunch room in our high school was one giant room with round tables placed in a block pattern. Every friend group had their own spot fitting as many as ten people at one table. There was a coveted spot, one that was handed to a junior by a senior on the last day of school. I always thought it was stupid, a lunch table passed down between the cool kids of the school. At least I thought it was dumb until I was sitting at the table.
I could see why the first cool kids ever sat there. The sun hit the table just right, so it was warm year round, but never shined in anyone’s eyes. It was in the corner to the left, a place where everyone could see it, even the tables in the back had a view. Sometimes people stood up on their tiptoes to get a glimpse at what was happening at the table.
Tobin was of course the one who was given the table, she even sat at it a few times when she was still junior, almost like her predecessors were feeling her out for the job. And what job was she interviewing for, of course, but the king of the school. It was always funny to me, thinking of her that way, she wasn’t the first female to hold to position, but she was the most beloved.
Tobin was a different kind of ruler, one that enjoyed spending time with her subjects. She knew people’s names, knew things they did and liked. She talked to people as she walked down the halls. Her senior year she transformed from the angry mean teenager, to a sweet, caring young adult. There were rumors of my changing her, the word going around was of me being magic. After all, Tobin went from saying snide comments to everyone who walked around, to giving freshman advice on how to get through school.
Maybe I was magic, maybe I’m the whole reason Tobin found her sweet side. I never thought about it, I just wanted to be on her arm, sitting at the table with all our friends.
By the time we took our seat at the table the first day of senior year, the band had become so much more than friends, we were family. Kelley had opened up to me over the summer. It was a fluke really, a chain of events that fell perfectly in place. The Naeher’s went on vacation for two weeks, the exact same time Allie’s family left, so I was alone. Emily broke her leg so she was stuck in the house for the summer and Abby was working for her uncle most of her days were spent filing papers for minimum wage. The only people left for two weeks were the energetic drummer and myself.
Before then, we didn’t have a lot to say to each other. Kelley was convinced I was stealing Tobin away, since she no longer wanted to hangout every day. She was resentful of the change seen in her best friend, worried it would make Tobin no longer want to be around her. Every time we talked she had a bad attitude, she never said anything horrible but she never said anything nice. I was okay with it, after all I wasn’t a huge fan of her and I didn’t care if we talked. But that summer, with the rest of the group gone, she called me up.
The first thing we did was get a pretzel at the mall. I remember it so distinctly, Kelley in her ripped jean shorts and faded band t-shirt. She was the poorest looking rich kid in the world. Her converse had holes in the toes, and the brim of her hat was curled up from her pushing on it so much. That was one of the things I kind of admired about her, she never flaunted her money even though her family was one of the wealthiest in town.
She met me at the mall, my mom dropped me off, and she drove in an old Toyota Corolla with a broken sound system she swore up and down she was going to fix. I was hesitant about meeting, part of me thought it was a prank, but Tobin assured me it was her way of building bridges, so I stood in the middle of the food court waiting for her to arrive.
\\\\Nine Years Ago////
“You don’t put mustard on your pretzels?”
I looked down at the salted baked dough in my hands, “No.”
Kelley smirked, “Are you even from Jersey?”
“I’ve lived here my whole life,” I answered even though I knew it was a snide remark to make me feel bad about myself.
We wondered around until we finished eating our snack, then in front of a Bath and Body Works, Kelley stopped in her tracks and shot me a look. “So you and Tobin are like together.”
“Yeah,” I snorted, confused by the statement, “We’ve been together for like five months.”
“I know,” she snapped, then began walking again. “I’m just saying, it’s serious.”
I had to take a few quick steps to catch up to her, “I think so.”
In her typical sporadic movements she went to the center of the pathway, looking down at the floors below. “You love her?”
“Yeah, I do,” I rested my arms on the wood banister.
“Do you think she loves you?” she pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, not pulling her eyes from where they were trained.
Swallowing hard, I tried to think of the best answer. “Yes.” Seemed like the simplest thing, after all Tobin and I did say it to each other after junior prom, but I wasn’t sure if everyone knew.
I could see her shoulders tighten, as she pushed off the barrier and started down the pathway once again. Confused, I stood for a few seconds just watching as her back pack bounced up and down before I jogged to follow her.
“Does it bother you that Tobin loves me?” I didn’t know where the question came from, but it felt like the right thing to ask.
Of course she laughed, giving a tight lipped smile, “Why would it bother me?”
“I don’t know,” she had this way of making me feel stupid. “It just seemed like it did.”
“Tobin and I are friends,” she said quickly, looking straight ahead. I thought it would be the last of it, but she open her mouth to speak again, this time it was low and breathy, not sounding like the girl I knew. "We are just friends."
It took a second for the idea to click in my mind. Why would Kelley be so upset over my relationship with Tobin? Why would she hate me so much?
“You guys will always be best friends,” I tested the waters.
“Alyssa’s her best friend,” she sounded smaller than normal, like all the arrogance had been sucked out of her, “That’s why she lives there and not with me.”
I knew that, “I didn’t know that.” I said to comfort her.
“It doesn’t matter,” she shouted, then started walking faster, turning into Spencer’s and moving towards all the silly sex stuff. “I just wanted to know.”
The store made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to show it, like it was a sign of this coolness that I needed to prove to her. “Can I ask you a question? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. But if the answer is yes, I’m not going to freak out or anything.”
She held up a birthday card with a picture of a guy with his pants unzipped, and you stick your finger in the hole where his penis should be. “What’s the question?” she wiggled her finger at me and smirked.
I blinked a few times trying to keep my composure, “Do you like Tobin, like, like-like her?”
I watched her eyebrows furrow, then something clicked in her eyes, then she set the card down and walked towards the lava lamps. The entire place was an assault on the senses, phallic objects and bright lights, mixed with noise makers, and toys that everyone touched. I wanted out of there, the only reason we were even in the store was so Kelley could catch me off guard, and now she was the one standing on the pole with one foot, trying to keep her balance. I could tell by the way her hands were shaking against the Rubik’s cube she was poorly solving.
“Kelley, if anyone understands liking Tobin, it’s me.” I tried to give a comforting smile, but she wasn’t looking at me. “I’ve liked her since the sixth grade.” I could see the confusion on her face. “Yeah, even when she was mean to me, I still liked her.” I followed her eyes up, locking for just a second, “She’s Tobin. She’s kind of hard not to like.”
“I don’t like Tobin,” her voice went low, but sounded sincere enough.
Following her to the posters, I tried to get her attention, but she wasn’t giving out any looks, “Why does our relationship bother you so much?”
“It does,” I snapped, getting increasingly more upset by the conversation.
She headed for the entrance, going out into walkway. I took a deep breath then followed her out.
“Kelley, I don’t understand,” I shouted out to her. She was already about ten feet in front of me, and I was too upset to try and catch up to her. “Why do you hate me so much?”
Stopping in her tracks, she turned around, eyebrows lowered and nostrils flared. In an angry rush she came at me, stopping a step away. “You messed everything up. We were good, Tobin and I were good, then you came into the picture and now she’s always with you. It’s stupid.”
I was shocked, my eyes blinking rapidly as I processed. “She’s my girlfriend. We spend time together…”
“All the time,” her eyes rolled so hard I thought they would get stuck in the back of her head. “She doesn’t want to spend any more time with me…” her eyes went big, “Or the rest of the band.”
She was holding something in, I was sure I was right, so I asked again even though I was afraid of her blowing up on me, “Kelley… Do you like Tobin?”
“Shut up!” she leaned back, letting her body fall off balance before taking a step back. “That’s so dumb.” Her head was moving back and forth, her hands gripping the straps to her back pack. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I had never dealt with someone so unpredictable, it took a second before I was walking with her. “It’s okay if you have feelings for her…”
“No, it’s not,” the strain in her voice was giving her away. “Tobin and I are friends. The band is a family. She’s family.”
“But what if she’s more?” I tried to keep my voice calm, knowing she would spook easily. “It’s okay if she’s more to you.”
“Just shut up.” There was bench next to us, she went over and sat down, burying her face in her hands. “It’s not okay. I can’t like her. It’s just not possible.”
I didn’t know if I was supposed to sit next to her or give her space. I choose to sit on the other side of the bench, far enough away that I wasn’t crowding her, but close enough she knew I wasn’t leaving.
“She told me to look after you this week and next,” she sounded so small. Her face was red when she turned to look at me, her eyes wet. “She called me to make sure I took care of you while she was gone.”
“That’s why you called me up?” it was kind of comforting, knowing Tobin thought of me, and to know Kelley cared enough about her to hang out with someone she clearly had a problem with.
The black hat she was wearing was now in her lap, her hand going to smooth out her unruly hair. “I don’t hate you.” She said simply, looking out into space. “I just miss my friend.”
“I get it,” it was the easiest response.
“Please don’t tell Tobin about all of this,” her eyes searched my face.
I gave a half smile, “I won’t. I promise.”
“Not really,” I scratched my fingers into the fabric of the arm chair. “It’s not like Kelley and I ever talked about it again. We simply knew it and moved on. Sometimes though, I could see her face getting a little red when Tobin whispered in her ear. I noticed a lot more about their relationship.”
“So it was a secret?”
Flashing my eyes up, I adjusted in the seat, “I guess so, but it wasn’t a big deal. After college everything changed.”
“Did Kelley’s crush ever fade?”
“I don’t know she…” I swallowed hard, trying to settle the words in my mouth, “She died before we could ever talk about it again.”
“Do you feel guilty about it?”
I sunk lower in the arm chair, “No, yes, I don’t know.” Looking up I could see the emotionless of the blonde in front of me, she was always trying to study me, figure out what was going on, it was easier just to tell her. “I feel guilty over what happened, about what Kelley never got.”
“You’re talking about Alex?” she asked, flipping through her notes. “In this other world, Kelley is dating the doctor, Alex Morgan?”
“Yeah,” I confirmed. I hated talking about the worlds with her, she always made me feel a little nuts, even though she wasn’t meaning to. “In the other worlds Kelley and Alex are happy. I feel guilty that she never got to fall in love with someone else."
She nodded, and wrote something down in her notebook. “Why did you start this story off with the lunch room scene.”
“It’s just a memory.”
“It has to be more,” she laid her hands down flat on her notebook, a good indication she was about to get serious and expected me to do the same. “What happen in the lunch room, at the table that made you remember?”
I could feel my body heating up. It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about. It was a memory I didn’t want to replay. Sometimes my memories are only sounds, sometimes they’re pictures, scenes of a movie played out before my eyes. I think my favorites are the sounds, faint echoes of music, a guitar strumming or Tobin humming something absentmindedly. When I hear people tapping their fingers, I'm reminded of Kelley’s drum sticks hitting the coffee table in the music room, her lightly drumming and humming and just making noises. That's who she was, a noise maker by force, unable to completely sit still. Sometimes when Tobin is writing a song that no one will hear, she'll wrap her pencils against her notebook and get a look of wonder on her face. I think she remembers Kelley too, and not just the teenage spaz, but the adult Kelley that never came to be in this world.
Tobin’s sad sometimes, when I know she's thinking about the night she got the phone call. I was cooking diner and she was in the kitchen watching me, making sure my mind didn't wander and I accidentally cut my fingers. That's happened before. Her phone rang, a silly little song that had to be changed after that night. No one called anyone, most things were sent in text or said in person, a phone call was so intrusive, but her phone still rang and Abby’s name popped up and Tobin shrugged as she answered and her smile dropped as Abby explained that Kelley was gone.
That's the word that was used, gone. In my mind I was comfortable with that description, gone, it was simple yet elegant and gave me the notion that she could come back. In my mind, clouded though it maybe, I knew she could come back. Her soul was like a wave, and with a small gust of wind it would be brought back to shore. I was that wind. So while Tobin sobbed into my shirt, holding tight to me as she shook from pain and anger and grief, I planned.
I told everyone I was staying strong for the strongest person in my life, that's why I didn't cry. Truth was I couldn't cry, the medication made it impossible, funny thing about pills that make you happy they also make it very hard to be sad. But truth was even if I could cry, I wouldn't because this world, the messed up one I got myself into, I was going to get myself out and that meant the wild girl with freckles like constellations, she would be back. She was gone, but not for long, not forever.
“When seniors graduate at my school they spend the last night before the ceremony, locked in the lunch room. We spend the night talking and planning our futures. Our group sat around our lunch table, the one that connected us all, gave us a chance to see each other in the middle of the day when we all needed a little comfort.” I could feel my eyes watering as I spoke, my throat tight, like I had swallowed something hard. “Tobin and I didn’t tell anyone about her moving to Reno. She told me to keep it to myself, she wanted to enjoy the last few weeks with her friends before everyone got upset about her leaving. Before then, the plan had always been for the band to play at local bars now that they were eighteen. In the real world, that’s exactly what they did, it only took two years for them to get discovered. In this world, Tobin was ready to move because of me, because I knew if she didn’t we would break up, she would start using drugs and she would spend years in agony. But she didn’t know that.”
My eyes closed, trying to keep the tears on the inside. I hated crying. Even in the office that was a safe place, I hated crying. “That night, the band spent about an hour playing music, the whole class listened in and out, eating food, gathered around, some sitting away just nodding their heads to the sounds. No one knew it was their last performance, no one but me and Tobin, and I could see it in her eyes. I thought maybe I was the only one that could see how sad she was, but Alyssa recognized it almost instantly.
“She called her out after they put up their instruments and we were sitting around the circular table. Tobin couldn’t hold it in any longer, there was no way to hide it any longer. With a shaky voice, and a hand in my holding tight, she told everyone she loved that she was moving away a few days after graduation. Her sister found her a job in Reno and it would be ready before she was. She tried to explain how it would be a good thing, how she and I would be close and we could take care of each other, but Kelley didn’t want to hear it.
“The rest of the band took it well, all of them understanding of her feelings for me and her need to be close. But Kelley flew off the handle. To her this was the ultimate betrayal. She spent a whole year getting close to me, protecting me when Tobin couldn’t. We got so close we shared little secrets with each other. She would come to me for advice. She slept over my house, called my parents mom and dad while simultaneously hitting on my sisters. She was for all intents and purposes, one of the best friends I have ever had. And there I was taking away a piece of her.
“Of course she blamed me instantly. The conversation she and I had in the mall almost a full year ago came to my mind. Kelley had been with other girls, even held a girlfriend for a few months, but her eyes were always on Tobin. I could see her watching Tobin when they played, she almost always had an eye on her. It didn’t bother me, and we never talked about it, but I could see it and she knew I could. Her anger made Tobin furious, which only stoked the fires in Kelley, getting Tobin more upset. It took Abby and Alyssa separating them to quell the situation.
“That was the last time they spoke. In that stupid lunch room at the popular table. Their friendship hit the rocks, Kelley spending the night far away, Abby and Emily making sure she was okay. They didn’t speak at graduationand Kelley refused to see Tobin off at the airport. That made Tobin more upset, which caused her to close off. Then I got sick, and it became harder for Tobin to talk to anyone, she was too busy trying to take care of me. She spent two years not talking to one of her best friends and one day gets a phone call saying Kelley got high and drove her motorcycle into oncoming traffic. A phone call. That’s it. She was gone.”
I wiped my eyes, the tears burning my cheek as they flowed. I was wearing Tobin’s hoodie and it smelled like her so I held the sleeves close to my face. “I remember that day, in this world and the others. That was the day I had a test in Trig. Tobin called me that night to talk me out of panicking, and Kelley was with her. She shoved her big smiling face into the camera, taking up all the space and dominating the conversation. We laughed all night until I had to go to sleep. In the other worlds, Kelley was with Tobin that night. If I wouldn’t have changed it, if I would have let Tobin stay, Kelley would still be alive.”
“Christen,” she stopped my downward spiral, “I know it feels real to you, but it’s not, and Kelley’s death is not your fault.”
“But it is,” I cried, curling further into myself, “This is the only world where she dies. This is the only place where she’s gone. This is the only life that I don’t get to see her. I’m the reason she gone, but I’ll be the reason she comes back.”
“That’s time,” I looked up at the big clock on the wall, “Right?”
She sighed, “Yes, that’s time.”
I shot up from the seat, brushing down the soft fabric of the sweatshirt, “I’ll see you next week, Dr. Johnston.” Before she could answer I was opening up the front door looking out to Tobin sitting in the waiting room reading a magazine.
Looking up at the noise, Tobin saw the tears in my eyes, and got up to comfort me, “What happened? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I tried to smile, “Let’s go.”
“Tobin,” Julie came out the room and motioned her over.
Worried, Tobin walked over still looking at me. “What happened?”
“Just a tough session,” she explained. “Keep an extra close eye on her today.”
“Of course.” She nodded, “Thanks, Doc.”
Tobin was a rule follower especially when it came to me and my mental health. She made sure I took my medication at the exact prescribed time, in the exact manner I needed to take them. When I woke up, every day at seven in the morning, no matter what, Tobin had a half a glass of almond milk waiting, with my pills sitting on the kitchen counter. She watched me take them, making sure I swallowed. I didn’t blame her, the first couple of weeks were rough, I didn’t want to take them so I would just pretend, but she wasn’t falling for any more of my tricks. On the weekends she cooked breakfast and on weekdays she always checked to make sure I was making oatmeal or eating toast before she started her morning routine. I had to eat, no matter what, and she was always careful to make sure I did.
This morning was no different, she was cooking bacon and egg sandwiches as I strolled into our tiny kitchen and grabbed the glass from the counter, popping the four little pills into my mouth. She was quiet, yesterday was hard on her. I spent the rest of my day after therapy just sitting on the couch. I was determined to make sure she had a better day, that we had a better day.
I waited for her to speak, leaning against the linoleum counter staring out into the living/dining room of our one bedroom apartment. In a way I kind of enjoyed this setting more than the grand penthouse we once shared. This place was simple, just a beat up old navy blue couch and a dark brown coffee table with too many scratches and water rings. Both pieces we bought from friends, both pieces we swore we would fix up. The one window gave just enough light to brighten the room, it faced the kitchen shinning on the two person table we would eat dinner at whenever we tried to feel more connected.
I liked the space, with the white walls we weren’t allowed to paint. I liked the plain grey carpet, and the popcorn ceiling. I liked that it kept us close, even when we’re far away in our minds, we stayed close. Today was one of those days we needed to be close, I needed her even if I didn’t know how to express it.
“Have you talked to the band today?” I asked casually.
She looked back at me, looking down to the counter to make sure the pills were gone. “Jane texted me yesterday to make sure I was coming.”
“What time do you need to be there?” I perched up on the counter.
“I’m not sure I’m going to go,” I could hear the worry in her voice. “It’s just a lot of time to spend away from home, from you.”
“Moose,” I sighed trying to get her to look at me. “You can’t not go. This is your chance.”
“I don’t care,” her eyes never left the pan on the stove, the bacon sizzling inside, “I care about you being alone. They practice three times a week, for a few hours a piece. That’s a lot of time to be away.”
“It’s not that big of a deal…”
“You didn’t talk to me all day yesterday!” she snapped, flipping around and seeing the shocked look on my face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say it like that. I just…” she turned back around. “What if you have another episode like yesterday and you need me. I can’t be away for hours.”
My chest tightened at her words. How could I be angry at someone who loved me so much they were willing to blow every chance they had at outside happiness to make sure I was okay? There was no possible way to be angry at her, all of this was my doing. I jumped off the counter, putting my hands on her shoulders and resting my chin in the center of her back.
“I won’t let you do this,” I whispered into her spine. “Tobin, you’ve taken care of me for ten years. You’ve given up everything, I won’t let you give this up.”
She transferred the food onto a paper towel, taking a breath, before spinning around. “I can’t leave you.”
“Then don’t.” I said simply. “I’ll go with you to practice. Maybe one or two nights a week and the rest I will spend with Allie and Nick. That way I won’t be alone.”
I could see the cogs turning in her head as she thought through it, “I don’t know.”
“I do.” My hands went to her warm cheeks squeezing her face until she laughed. “Whatever it takes, we will figure this out. I don’t care what we have to do, you’re going to this practice. You need to be in a band. You belong front and center.”
She let her head fall to my shoulder, “I belong with you.”
“Well, I’m going to the practice today, so if you belong with me, you’d better be there.”
“Fine,” she smirked, looking up and leaning forward to kiss me. “They sent me a few songs, it’s a lot poppy-er than I’m used to.”
The morning was good, I made the choice to stay in a good mood, sometimes that’s all it took, making a conscious decision to be happy. It could have easily been listening to Tobin singing all the new songs she had to learn. It may have had something to do with her smiling when she told me the other bandmates’ girlfriends always came to practice so I was more than welcome. I could see the weight lift off her shoulders, it made it a lot easier to be happy.
The smelly bus ride didn’t even change our mood. We sat together, our arms linked, her headphones in as she tried her best to get the songs down. I may have been the only one on the bus that loved her humming, but that was okay. One day the world would love it and they could say they rode the bus with Tobin Heath.
It took two stops and a ten minute walk to get to the house on the outside of North LA, a little blue bungalow with a poorly maintained front yard. We could hear the music coming from the attached garage, guitars rhythmically strumming to a funky bass line. Tobin’s arm was hooked on mine and she held it tighter as she we approached. I kissed her cheek as we stopped in front of the roll up door, then she pounded her fist on the metal. The music stopped and we took a few steps back for the door to go up.
“Tobin!” Beautiful girl with dark brown hair stood by the controls to the door. “You made it.”
“Yeah,” she said with a soft voice, not confident around the group yet. “This is Christen.”
She ushered us inside, and starting point out the people in the room, “You know Adriana and Jane. Over there is Toya, AD’s girlfriend and Maddie, Janes girlfriend. My boyfriend isn’t here right now, but he’ll be around later.” She had a warm smile, mixed with bright piercing blue eyes. “I’m Hope by the way,” she directed at me. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too,” I said still clinging to Tobin’s arm.
Within a few seconds, the girl I just learned was named Toya came up to me and took my hand starting to pull me away from Tobin. “Come over here, this is where we sit and judge,” she laughed.
Tobin pulled her arm from mine and let me go forward. “This is a cool space.” She said looking around at the instruments sitting around the small room.
“It’s ours,” Hope said happily, “It could be yours too, if you want.”
“If you guys want me,” she responded sweetly.
“Dude,” Jane got up from the drum set and walked to the center of the room meeting Tobin, “We already know we want you.”
Shyly, Tobin pushed her hands into her pockets and shrugged, “Well, let’s see if we match.”
“Hell yeah!” Hope pumped her fist. “Did you listen to the songs?”
“Yeah, they’re amazing, some of them are a little out of my range…”
“We can fix that,” Jane said quickly, “Right Adie? We can take them down.”
Adriana tapped her hand on the bass guitar, “Yeah, dude that’s easy.”
“Anything you need,” Hope moved over to pick up the baby blue guitar on the stand, “What song were you most comfortable with?”
Tobin pulled her phone out of her pocket, clicking for a second, “This Love.”
“Let’s start with that one, then we can toy around with the others,” Adriana looked over the rest of the band as the nodded enthusiastically. “Sweet, let’s hit it.”
I sat down on the couch, trying to get settled. I looked over to the woman watching the conversation with as much curiosity as I was. Toya smiled each time Adriana said anything, the light gray of her eyes lighting up. She had almond brown skin making the lightness of her eyes pop, and curly brown hair dyed blonde at the ends. I looked over to Maddie who seemed like she would be more comfortable in a library. She was a little mousey, in an oversized hoodie, probably stolen from her girlfriend. She had strawberry blonde hair and dark blue eyes, that stayed on the band as they set up.
“They're so excited,” Toya said, finally looking over to me, “They’ve been talking about Tobin for two days.” She laughed, slapping her hand on my knee as if we were old friends. “They’ve been searching for a new lead singer for two months. They came home from the bar freaking out over her.”
“That’s great,” I responded, hiding how giddy I was to know the band wanted Tobin so much. “I’ve been waiting for Tobin to find a band.”
“Has she been in a band before?” Maddie asked in a gentle voice.
The pain associated with the memory made me grimace for a second, before I remembered this was a happy day. “In high school, but it’s been ten years.”
“The last singer was a pain,” the blonde said, flashing a look to her friend.
Toya rolled her eyes, “Don’t get me started on her.”
This was my chance to get in, be friends, make sure Tobin saw me happy and comfortable so she could settle into the music, “You’ll have to tell me the story.”
“Trust me girl,” she gave me a look, “If you and Tobin decide to stay with us, you will hear some stories.”
I chuckled, “I can’t wait.”
The band was set up. Hope to the left with her guitar sparkling in the light. Adriana’s natural wood bass was five strings with gold accents and boomed with she hit the lowest string, tuning it to the guitar. I watched as Jane bounced in the back of the band, my heart ached a bit remembering the way Kelley use to sit impatiently at her kit waiting for the other instruments to be ready. The pain floated away, as Tobin grabbed the mic, holding it in her left hand, and the long chord in her right. She looked over to me and smiled and all my nerves settled.
The guitar started, followed by the drums and bass. The sound was funkier than I was used to hearing and I could tell it was taking Tobin a second to get in rhythm, but by the time it was her turn to come in, she fell in as if she had been singing the song her entire life.
I was so high, I did not recognize
The fire burning in her eyes
The chaos that controlled my mind
Whispered goodbye as she got on a plane
Never to return again
But always in my heart
This love has taken its toll on me
She said goodbye too many times before
And her heart is breaking in front of me
I have no choice 'cause I won't say goodbye anymore, woah, woah, woah
“Damn,” Toya leaned over to me. “They were right.”
The room was captivated by her the way I always was. That was the power of Tobin, the magic she had, the mysterious influence she posed, she made you look at her. It reminded me of the days when she would sing in the parking lot, Emily strumming some simple song and Kelley beating on the hood of her car. People were happy when she moved, dancing while she sang. She had the ability to bring joy to everyone around her. She was joy, she was pure fun, she reminded you of your happiest memories, and there wasn’t a person on this planet that could say otherwise.
The song ended and the entire band looked awestruck. Tobin put the mic back on the stand and turned to see everyone. “How was that?”
“Dude,” Jane stood from her stool, pushing her blonde hair behind her ears, “That was…”
“Magic,” Adriana burst like she had been waiting to say it.
Hope moved closer, “You’re so awesome.”
“Thanks,” Tobin shrugged shyly.
The bass player walked over, “Did you learn Sugar? That’s like one of our hits, the old singer didn’t bring much life to it.”
“Yeah,” Tobin nodded, “It’s a little high, but I can try.”
Hope put a hand on her shoulder, “its funk, so you really have to hit it.”
Tobin smiled, “Let’s do it.” She walked up to the mic stripping off her jacket, going down to her simple plain white t-shirt and ripped black jeans. She looked over to me, and tossed the jacket giving me a wink as I caught it. “I might not get every word, but I’ll try.”
Jane laughed out loud as she sat down, “Dude, if you can bring even a little life to the song, we will change the words to whatever you want.”
When they said the song was funk, they were not kidding. It started off slow, but when Tobin started singing, the whole thing brightened up. Her words were staccato, hitting the ends with a tweak at the end of her voice, punctuating in a way that made you want her to say more.
The chorus was the most amazing part to me. I had never heard her hit notes that high for that long, for a second I wasn’t convinced it would work, but the longer she sang the more it was obvious, while she wasn’t exactly comfortable in that octave, she could sustain it in a sensual way that made it seem so effortless.
Won't you come and put it down on me
I'm right here, 'cause I need
Little love and little sympathy
Yeah you show me good loving
Make it alright
Need a little sweetness in my life
Won't you come and put it down on me”
The image of her as a teenager, then the suddenly it was her, but in the future. I could picture us here, Tobin barefoot and happy, singing with the band in the background egging her on as she moved. I could see her on stage with lights bathing her face. I could see the people screaming for her, reaching out to just touch her. I could see our future with this new band.
"Dude that was amazing." Jane shot up from her kit, tossing her sticks in the air and catching them.
Hope quickly took her guitar off her shoulders, "Seriously, the last chick could not move like that."
"She had half the life," Adriana continued. "I think I can speak for everyone, welcome to the band."
Tobin watched with wide eyes, "Really? I mean, you guys don't want to take a vote or something?"
"A vote?" Jane laughed, moving towards the center of the room, "Yeah, sure we can vote. Hope?”
"Hell yes!" the dark haired woman said with enthusiasm. "Adie?"
"Bro," she ran her hand over her curly mohawk, "You are officially the new lead singer of Midline. You know, if you want it."
"Midline? That's the band name?" Tobin grinned. She turned to look at me, "What do you think?"
Of course she was including me, Tobin knew no other way to function. "I say, where can I get a Midline t-shirt?"
As if they had been friends for the last ten years, the band all jumped over to Tobin engulfing her in a hug, talking about how much fun they were all going to have. It had been a long time since Tobin had something like this, I could see it in the way she smiled, she was happy to be back in a group. As much as the band at the bar loved her, they weren't her band, this group could be hers, and they could bring her back to high school before she had any worries.
"You have no idea what this means to them," Maddie told me. She got a serious look on her face despite the smile, "They've been looking for someone for months."
I could feel my chest tighten at the thought, "Tobin has been looking for years. I don't think she even realized it until now."
"Looks like we are about to be good friends," Toya threw and arm around my shoulders, "Welcome to the Midline fan club."
"Feels good,” I chuckled leaning into the side hug.
There are moments in time, seconds really, so fleeting like a bird in the distance as you drive in the opposite direction, moments in my life that seem like this world I'm in is the real world, the place I belong. I get the overwhelming feeling that I am meant to be this way, my mind mixed and cracking. I could feel it sitting in the garage, with new friends that felt kind of like old friends.
As I watched Tobin learn new songs, fitting the music to her voice, the band already collecting inside jokes, it felt like I had been there before, like I was remembering it more than I was witnessing. I could already see the group sitting on stage at a show, Tobin talking into the mic, her voice booming as hundreds of people listened in as if she had the one bit of knowledge that would improve their life. I could see Adriana making a joke and Jane throwing her sticks into the crowd. I already had the image of Hope singing, looking over to Tobin as they came into a harmony only they could hit. I could see the life as if I had already lived it, but it was only for a second, just a fleeting moment in my time.
We spent the majority of our Sunday in the garage, Tobin at the mic, trying to perfect the three songs the band said were their local hits. I sat on the couch with the rest of the girlfriends, laughing at the bands crazy antics and even giving some input when they asked about sound. I wanted to get lost in the moments, I wanted my mind to go back to all the days in Kelley's garage, the days spent listening to Turnpike perfect their sound and become the band they were supposed to be. I wanted to be transported back to the time, but my attention was kept by my new friends, and of course Tobin checking in on me every chance she got.
Before we knew it, the sun had set and we were saying goodnight as we headed down the street to catch the last bus out of the small town. Tobin's arm remained around me the entire bus ride as she hummed the new songs, looking down at lyrics. I snuggled close into her arm, taking in her warmth as we headed home.
“The group is really cool,” I said breaking our comfortable silence. “I like Toya and Maddie. They say Nico, Hope’s boyfriend, is really cool too.”
“Yeah?” she wasn’t really paying attention to me, lost in her own thoughts. “I’m glad you like them.”
I stretched up enough to kiss the corner of her mouth. Finally she turned and looked at me, smirking for a second before she kissed me for real. As I was settling back into her side, I looked up to see two young girls looking over at us, whispering and smiling to each other. They looked so young, the way Tobin and I were whenever we giggled at things, sharing a pair of headphones trying to be on the same page, private in a public place.
“Why are they looking at us?” Tobin asked in a hushed tone, her face still looking forward, trying to be inconspicuous.
Normally being watched would bother me, set off the anxious part of me that said everyone knew who I was and what I was struggling with, that little demon inside everyone with a nervous disorder that tells you to keep your hat low and walk quickly through a crowd, but this time it was kind of nice. I remembered all the comments on Tobin’s Instagram page, from the world where she was an icon. She gave hope to a lot of people trying to live a life similar to hers, it was kind of obvious why the two teens were looking at us.
I smiled, turning to plant another kiss on Tobin’s cheek. “We’re normal.”
“What?” she snorted, turning her head to me. “No, we’re not.”
“To them we are,” I said simply, “They’re what, maybe fourteen or fifteen. They’re together and we are older than them and clearly together. Normalcy.”
She shrugged, “Never thought about that before.”
Tobin grew up in a house that told her she wasn’t normal and did not allow her to be happy in the way she felt would bring her happiness. She had to escape the judging eyes of her parents who threatened to bring the wrath of their god down on her. After she ran away, it took a while, but she came to the conclusion that she was normal, the things she felt were okay. I don’t think she ever questioned it after that, the way she felt, maybe she didn’t need to because I was always there making sure she felt loved. Maybe she didn’t need to think about it because most of her friends were gay, they had this giant group of girls who liked girls always there reminding her that she was okay, but that’s not how it was for a lot of people.
When I thought about it, even in my original timeline, Tobin was the reason a lot of people felt safe in the world. The band always had a rainbow flag somewhere on stage with them. Abby was the only non queer person in the band and she fought harder than anyone to shut haters up, like literally getting into a fist fight with a girl in our senior class over something she said to Emily. In all the worlds, the band was this shinning beacon of gay normalcy. Tobin sang about women she loved. Her lyrics were gender specific and hid nothing about how she felt about the farer sex. We were even interviewed about our relationship and the impact it had on young teens still struggling to come out.
After the night on the ridge, me pulling Tobin from the edge of destruction and taking her away from the idea that she needed to be in some kind of camp to help her deal with homosexual thoughts, things seemed to just fall into place for her. Still, she might have been comfortable and settled, but the idea that she wasn’t out there making it okay for all of the other people in the world made me feel guilty. I was hiding her from the world, holding back her inspiration. But maybe now, with this new band with almost the same ratio of queer girls, out and proud and playing music about making love to soft skin, supple lips, and bright beautiful eyes, maybe the world would have it here in this present.
I looked over at the young couple, both of them smiling at me as I moved to rest my head on Tobin’s shoulder. They scooted together, both of them with one Airpod in an ear as they listened to something on a phone. I couldn’t help but think of Tobin and I on school trips, in the back of the bus, pressed as close to each other as we could get, feeling safe and secure in our little world.
"So you like the sound?" Tobin pushed her back against the kitchen counter, “Like really?"
"Of course," instantly my hands went to her hips, making sure she knew it was a heartfelt answer, "I think some of the songs are a little out of your range, but as soon as you can get them down it'll be amazing."
She nodded, still with a look of concern on her face, “It's more pop than I’m used to, but I kind of like it." Her head fell softly to my shoulder. "I'm excited."
"You know you're allowed to be excited?" I brushed my hand over the back of her neck. "It's okay to be happy about this.”
"I just..." she pushed her forehead down, “…feel guilty I guess. Being in a new band."
"Toby," I stroked her back, "It's been ten years, you can be happy about a new band. You’re not betraying anyone."
Her head popped up, I could see the redness in her eyes. She was probably holding back all of this for days. She was the type to keep things inside so not to worry me. For Tobin, she was the one who provided the care, she didn’t want to be the one who needed it. This was something we talked about a few years ago when I asked why she didn’t want to sing at the bar. She had her back to me doing one thing or another, but I could see her shoulders rise and fall as she tried to avoid the question. It took a little prodding for her to say that she didn’t want to be in a new band, she wanted to be in her band.
The idea smashed up my insides, turning them until I couldn’t think. She left her band for me, she lost her band for me, she lost one of her best friends for me. Moving on, that wasn’t something in her vocabulary, Tobin didn’t move on, she held onto pain, white knuckled it until she couldn’t stand it anymore. More often than not, my knight in dull armor needed me to peel her fingers away from the pain, hold her close for just enough time for her to catch her breath. Soon after, she was back to taking care of me, the job she assigned herself and would never falter.
"Baby," I let my thumb pass over her cheek, "Don't do this to yourself. This band is good, they like you and this is a good thing. Let yourself be happy."
"I'm trying.” A weak smile came across her lips before she tilted her head up and let out a loud breath of air. "This is dumb."
"Your feelings aren't dumb.” Her shirt was in my fist as I gave her a quick shake. "It's okay to be sad, but you have to be happy eventually."
"How long do I have to be sad?" she grinned.
I leaned forward to kiss her cheek, "Until after we take a bath."
"I didn't know that's what we were doing."
"Oh yeah," I winked, "So take your clothes off and meet me in the tub."
"Yes ma'am," she laughed as she started to pull her shirt over her head.
The water was warm, but Tobin was the reason my body was completely relaxed. My back was pressed to her front and she spent the first few minutes stroking my arms and scooping water over my head until my hair laid flat on my head. Finally when she was satisfied she had taken care of all my needs, even though this bath was for her, we settled into each other, resting with her arms wrapped around me.
"I could fall asleep like this,” she whispered into my shoulder, leaving a light kiss.
"Don't fall asleep," I hummed moving my head back so our cheeks were aligned. "If you sleep, then I'll sleep and we'll be in here forever."
"I wouldn't mind that," her arms tighten around me.
I let my eyes close, shutting out the soft light of the three candles burning on the counter, Tobin's added touch. The whole place smelled of coco and cinnamon sea salt. If there was one thing we let ourselves indulge in with our limited funds, it was supplies to keep us calm and relaxed. This was the first time we were in the tub together in a few months but my mind was still filled with ideas of the past.
"Stay awake," I pushed my back against her.
"How," she laughed, "It's so warm and cozy."
Reaching up to take her hand, I started to pull it down my belly until she caught the hint and did the work herself. Tobin never needed direction, she didn't need to be told, all she needed was a small hint I was in the mood and she took control. She was soft and gentle on the days I needed in, her hands delicate as pedals falling from a flowers stem, and tonight was one of those days.
I turned my head just enough for her to capture my lips, it was an awkward angle but worth the strain in my neck when she ran her tongue against mine. The easiest thing in the world was for me to open myself up to her and make sure she knew I wanted everything she was giving, because there wasn't a time when I didn't want her to make love to me.
Of all the memories of all the times, all the versions of Tobin I loved this one was the softest. It may have been from all her years of moving slow, of taking her time, carefully moving so I could feel each touch of her fingertips. Or it could have been that this Tobin's life shaped her into a careful lover, slow and methodical, cable of stretching out every pleasure with practice and patience. Whatever the combination of events that lead to her being this way, each time she kissed me in just the right way letting me know her head was just as in it as mine, my legs seemed to fall open awaiting her touch.
This time was no different, with her hand moving through the water, timidly touching between my legs with a single finger until I opened wider for her. Soon she was stroking through me, still gentle, with a little resistance from the water, but still with the ease that was starting to heat me up from the inside. Her other hand grazed my breast, first just a little, a question rather than a demand, until I pushed my chest into her hand, an answer that gave her permission to hold on, squeeze just enough to let my breath catch.
The kiss was still gentle as I moved my head to fall back on her shoulder. Her lips went to my neck for a bit, sucking lightly, not leaving a mark but making sure I knew she was there. Then I could feel her kissing my shoulder, sharp teeth sunk into the soft skin making me gasp. I could hear the small laugh escape, but the sound was muffled by her fingers finding my clit and starting to make wide circles, adding pressure that caused my knees to bend slightly.
She could pull an orgasm out of me in a matter of minutes that was her skill. Those fingers that raked over guitar strings, that could press chords crisp and clear with the grace and beauty of an angel, she knew how to use them but it didn't mean she had to. There were times when we were young in the front seat of her car, parked a block away from my house and ramped up from playing a game of chicken, her hand sliding up my thigh and mine going further up hers until one of us called it off. Each time we would stop, just five minutes before I had to be walking through my front door, and she would work the buttons of my pants, pushing her hand in as we shared a frenzied kiss. Those were the moments of quick lighting shocks through my body, her smiling against my lips feeling like a hero for releasing me before the clock struck. But these days were different. We lived in our house, on our time, and she could take as much of it as she wanted. This of course meant taking me to the edge, then pulling me back, acting as if she saved my life, only to push me back to that same edge, until I couldn’t take it anymore.
I could feel her working me up, licking my neck, sucking behind my ear until I was so close I could scream, then she would scale back the pressure and make me wait for another few minutes of her tweaking my nipples and nipping at my pulse point. It wasn't until I said her name in a breathless cry that she finally gave me what I wanted. With just a few pointed circles of her two fingers I was finally flying off the edge, with her as my wind in my sail guiding me down to the earth safely in her arms.
I was always safe in her arms, every second of the day, I was safe with her.
In my dream world I’m walking down a road, it’s a winding road with the seasons passing I as I pass by them. The snow from the mountains I use to vacation as a kid. The fall leaves of the Jersey trees as they change from bright green to orange. The flowers of the springs in the hills of California, blooming their bright pinks and yellows. The summer heat, the lines in the air as the world goes to the temperature right before it catches fire. I’m walking this road in sandals and a sun dress, my body chilling in the snow and sweating in the summer. I can feel myself being pulled forward.
In the distance is a bright light stemming from a dark spot in the distance. As I get closer the dark spot gets bigger and I can see it’s a building, and the lights are beams into the sky all different colors. I start walking faster, I want to get to this building, I want to be inside, because inside I can hear people cheering. I’ve never heard such a rumble before, never felt such a vibration at the bottom of my feet. I want to run, but my legs don’t seem to want to go that fast, they want to move slowly down the road.
Before I can get to the building I see Tobin, but she’s not the way I remember her. She’s not the rough and tumble girl from the past. She’s not the pristine healthy image of when we were happy. Her eyes aren’t sunk into her face, dark tattoos streaming across her thin arms. She not the safe haven I’ve come to accept as my Tobin. She’s different. Her hair is long down her back, her eyes bright and shinning in the summer light. Her arms are covered in colors, pictures of happy things. She’s a mix of everything I have seen with a white gold ring through her bottom lip and quarter of her head shaved. I can see her smile and I reach out for her. I want this image of her. I want to touch her, make her real.
Then I wake up.
Tobin walked me to work the last few days, the whole way humming new songs and talking about the new band. The air was getting cooler as fall approached and she was starting to wear light hoodies that clung to her frame, covering up her arms and the two tattoos she did have. I liked to run my finger in the crook of her elbow where my initials were blacked into her skin and kiss her right shoulder with the music notes from her favorite song. A part of me missed all the pictures, but the other part liked her bare skin, an expanse waiting for life to happen.
I spent most of my days staring at an equation on the whiteboard, trying to calculate my way through, only to give up each time Allie came to the lab to check on me. I even went to her lecture on Wednesday, needing to get away from the quiet and have some kind of human interaction. It was now Friday and I was annoyed with life and the symbols on the board that made no sense and yet all the sense in the world.
“Hey, chick” Allie popped her head in the door. “Whatcha up to?”
“Nothing,” I responded, throwing my pen down on the table, “Absolutely nothing.”
She came all the way in the lab, “Still stuck on the same thing?”
“It doesn’t make sense,” I scratched at my scalp, “It’ll take me forever to figure this out.”
“I think you’re thinking about it too much,” already at the table, she took my notebook and turned it towards her. “This is some next level stuff Chrissy, I mean, how in the world did you even come up with it?”
Leaning back in my chair, I put my hands behind my head, “That’s the thing, I didn’t.”
“Well, whomever thought of this, needs to be the one to solve it.” She pushed the notebook back to me.
I stopped it from falling off the edge, “I would have to hunt them down.”
Mallory and Rose were the two genius minds that came up with the equation that would serve to align my brain waves and connect all my misfiring neurons the next time I traveled. They were the ones who figured out the miscommunication and overstimulation of brain cells in the first place, it only served to reason they were the ones who could figure it out. In this world, they were somewhere on campus, probably being carefree juniors, not wanting to work for some grad student on her crazy project. I didn’t have much of a name in this world, so getting their help was out of the realm of possibility.
“This is for the brain thing right?” Allie walked around the room looking at equipment. “For your memories to be set straight?”
I followed her with my eyes, my body too tired to move with her, “Yeah, it’s supposed to restore my brain waves to their original formatting.”
“How?” she questioned, running her hand over the computer that was essentially my time machine. “I mean I get that you're misfiring, or whatever it’s called, but how will math fix it?”
“It’s not just math,” I leaned forward. We had never had this conversation. Most of the time when I talked about time travel, Allie just agreed with me. Maybe she was humoring me, her way of making me feel sane even though I clearly wasn’t, but we never got into the logistics of it. “I’ve just been focused on the equation, but I would still need a lot more.”
She turned quickly, eye wide with curiosity, “Like what?”
“Well, first I would need someone to program the enhancer to the new settings,” I said finally getting up from my chair. Then there’s the idea that my brain could melt if everything doesn’t line up just right. Or I could loose my memory all together. The equation is to realign my neurons once I return, but during the trip anything could happen.”
“So, you would need someone to map out your entire network? Navigate your brain.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I chuckled, pieces starting to fall in place in a way I had never thought of. “I would be able to control some of it from inside the time curve, but coming back would be tricky.” I opened my notebook and started to scribble. “In fact, I would need someone to navigate the time curve as well, or I could end up somewhere completely different…”
Allie leaned over the table looking at my notes, “So what’s the end goal? You want to end up back here, but without the memory lapses?”
“I want to end up where I belong.” I explained simply. The idea of it not being just that simple played in my mind and I stopped writing. “I’m honestly not sure where I belong. There are so many worlds and they get jumbled in my brain sometimes, but I know this isn’t it.”
“Why?” she sounded a little frustrated, “Why isn’t this your world? What’s so wrong with it?”
I never thought my need to leave this present would affect anyone in it. I put a hand on Allie’s shoulder, “There’s nothing wrong with this world, except Tobin.” I took a breath, “Allie, this isn’t where she belongs. This isn’t who she is supposed to be. Tobin is meant to inspire the world, she’s not meant to be in our crappy apartment setting alarms so I don’t get lost in my head. She was never meant to be this.”
“I don’t get it,” she said moving backwards, away from me, away from the idea, “Tobin is happy. She loves you. This other world, where you’re alone and she’s alone, that doesn’t make sense to me. You two not being together doesn’t make sense to me.”
“I know,” my voice was small, I have never thought about how Allie would feel about the world I thought I should have been in. “Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me either…”
“Maybe because it’s not real,” that was the first time she had ever said anything like that to me. I could see the desperation in her eyes, “Maybe that world isn’t real. I just don’t see a life where you and Tobin are not together. I don’t see why you would ever want to be without her. I can’t see you going to a life alone…”
“I won’t be alone,” I tried to smile, “I’ll have you.”
“Chris,” she gave the same weak smile. “I love you more than life, but I’m not delusional, my love isn’t enough. You need Tobin.” She flipped her hands in each other. “I’ve never wanted you to not fix your brain. I want you to be healthy and happy, and I’ll do anything you need so you can get to a place where you don’t have to be on medication and we don’t have to worry about you, but I think you should really rethink the idea of returning to a world without Tobin. I think, maybe you should rethink leaving. You’re happy here, she loves you here and you love her.”
“I know all this…”
“Have you even asked Tobin what she wants?” the strain in her voice made it clear she had been thinking about this but holding back. “The Tobin I know, she would do anything for you. She would give up her whole world for you…”
“Don’t you get it,” I tried to keep my composure. I didn’t want to yell, I just wanted her to understand the way I did. “She has given up her world for me, but she shouldn’t have to.”
Allie pressed her lips tightly together, blinking a few times before letting out a single breath. “But she wanted to and if you asked her to do it again, she would.”
“I know,” I repeated, because I did know, I knew all of this. “I’m not running from her,” I admitted. “I’m running from me.” I could feel the tears starting to form, “I need to figure this out. I need to be okay in my own mind. I need to go back to a real world, even if it hurts. I need Tobin to be everything she is supposed to be, even if it means without me. I have to solve this equation, it’s all I have left.”
Her eyes went wide, then softened as she quickly came to the conclusion that she needed to be a friend in this moment. Moving slowly, she came up and put an arm around me. “Okay, I get it. I’m sorry I got so worked up.”
“No, it’s okay,” I cried, trying to hold back.
She looked up at the whiteboard and smirked. “I think you’re going to need a whole team for that monster.”
“So you’re lending me your brain power?” I joked.
“Yeah, you’re going to need it.” She smirked pulling me closer. “I hate to break it to you sweetie, but this is next level, and you and I are not going to be able to solve it on our own. Not in this lifetime.”
“We have a gig,” Tobin was rushing around the apartment looking for something. “We have a gig on Saturday.”
I set my keys on the entry table, watching my panicked girlfriend as she picked things up off the tables, looking under, then setting them down frustrated. “Who has a gig?”
“The band,” she answered without looking at me, “We have a gig and I only know three songs.” She shuffled into the kitchen opening drawers then closing them again.
Following after her, I set a hand on her shoulder, “First, what are you looking for?”
“The key to my equipment box,” she tried to move, put stopped when she felt the resistance in my arm. “I need to get my mic out, my lucky mic.”
“Okay,” I gave a loving smile, knowing she was in full blown freak out mode. “The key is in the jewelry box on my dresser. You put it there for safe keeping.”
“Right,” a quick kiss landed on my cheek before she was rushing to the bedroom.
I was right behind her, she wasn’t done freaking out. “So a gig on Saturday, that’s exciting.”
“Or it’s scary,” she held the metal key up then moved around the room to the closet, taking out her equipment box, a big wood chest with a padlock on it. “I haven’t opened this in a while.”
She hadn’t opened it up in eight years. The last time she pulled the chest from the back of the closet was to get a guitar pick before we flew to New Jersey for Kelley’s funeral. I had seen her looking at it once, just standing there looking down at it pushed as far against the wall as she could get it. Then one time I heard her talking about maybe selling the contents, I was kind of eavesdropping on a conversation she was having with Nick while they cooked dinner for Allie and me. I wanted to tell her not to let go of the things in the box, but I didn’t want to bring it up until she was ready. She never sold anything, the box stayed untouched for eight years, until now.
Her hands were shaking as she opened the lock, the click of the lock make me jump a bit. The hinges creaked as she opened the lid and peered inside. There were some cords wrapped neatly, an amplifier and some small speakers, and large headphones. Guitar strings and picks were in the corner in their own separate space. Right next to it were two microphones, one Tobin used throughout her high school years, it was beat up with a dent at the top mesh. Next to it, still in the box was a gold mic.
As a graduation present, the band all came together and bought a top of the line cordless stage mic with a gold top. They gave it to Tobin in celebration of them being able to go off on their own and make music. She never used it, kept it in the box, promising one day she would be back in the band and she would use the mic with them. It’s strange to think how long it’s just been sitting there. I watched her eyes glance over it, her fingers hovering above the box, before she took out the old black one and shut the chest pushing it back towards the closet.
“I’m freaking out,” she didn’t acknowledge the old present. “It’s a twenty minute set, which means a minimum of five songs, and I only have two memorized, one I’m still iffy on.”
It seemed we were skipping over the chest in the closet so I went with the flow. “I’ve seen you hit songs in one day, so you’ll have to do that three times in two days, you can do that.”
“Can I?” she started gathering her wild hair into a high ponytail. “I’m not who I use to be…”
“Tobin Powell Heath.”
Frozen in her stance, she gave a blank stare.
I went up to her cupping her cheeks, “You are better than you use to be. You can do this.”
Her gaze softened, “Are you sure?”
“Of course.” I pulled her in for a kiss, making sure she relaxed into it.
Her eyes fluttered open as her breathing got easy, “I needed that.”
“Yeah, I know.” I grinned, letting my hands fall to her shoulders, “I know you. Now, let’s figure out these three songs.”
“Okay,” the confidence was back in her voice. “We have practice tonight for a few hours and then again tomorrow. I already called in for a stand-in guitar player for the bar band.” She started to move around the room, this time calmer. “Do you want to change before we leave?”
I laughed, shaking my head. It was her easy way of telling me I had to go with her that made me smile. Even if I didn’t want to, I could never leave her in this frantic state, she would probably drive everyone on the bus crazy, humming and tapping on her leg trying to get the songs down before she got to the garage. I would be the buffer between her and strangers for the next hour as we made our way across town.
The first concert Turnpike ever did was a house party. This wasn’t the first time they had ever performed but it was the first time doing more than one song. They formed the band in sophomore year after realizing that Tobin could sing. Emily and Alyssa already played guitar and piano and Kelley decided the drums couldn’t be that hard to figure out. It was just the four of them until a bleach blonde with a devil-may-care attitude showed up to school one day. Abby carried a bass guitar in a case longer than she was tall and walked into the band room. Tobin chased her down, begged her to come sit with them, and a few days later Skinny Cat was a thing.
Everyone knew they were a band, even before they played actual music. People would ask if they could join, girls flirting with them, trying to find their way into the group somehow. It was obvious they were going to be something within the school, Kelley already acted like she owned the place, which she kind of did because her parents paid for so much. They quickly took the attention off the other popular kids, the football players and cheerleaders, the typical thing people would drool over in a high school. Tobin was still a little shy, still needed time to adjust into who she was going to be, but it took nothing away from who she was.
I use to sit at the back table at lunch and watch the band as they did stupid things to make each other laugh. Allie and I always sat with people from the debate team. It was about six of us at the table next to the trashcans, discussing things from class and generally being as lame as possible. I sat with my back to the wall, mainly because at one point someone spilled chocolate milk down my favorite sweatshirt, and I knew it was on purpose, even though I couldn’t prove it. Another reason was so I didn’t have to turn around to see the other table with Tobin and her smile, still covered in metal, but even then made my dumb heart skip a beat.
I wanted to hate her so much, and I did, after all she was a total jerk, but she was so freaking cute it was impossible for my young, soon to realize I was totally gay, heart to resist her. She wore beat up black and white checkered slip on Vans and always had some kind of hole in every piece of clothing she wore. When she did show up for class and actually spoke, you could tell she was smart even if she didn’t care about class, choosing to write song lyrics instead of notes.
Whenever her anger was directed at me, most of it was because I was just kind of in the same places she was for some odd reason, her insults hurt, they stung really, and stayed with me for days, sometimes weeks. It was just the way she said things, like she was so sure they were true. She was so sure I would never be pretty. She was so sure no one would ever like me. She was so sure everyone hated me. She made me sure, so much so I carried it with me until the day she kissed me.
I honestly hated watching her and the fluttering feeling I got when she laughed. I hated watching her follow Abby with her eyes, everywhere she went Tobin looked. When they met she turned into a silly lap dog that would do anything to make her laugh. She spent the better part of sophomore year trying to impress the uncaring blonde with the red stripe in her hair. I spent the better part of the year hating Abby more than Tobin even though she didn’t do or say anything to me. Still I thought she was stuck up, but really she just didn’t care. But I cared, about her, about Tobin, about all of them.
At that age, that point in my sad life I would have done anything to be Abby. I would have given up everything I had to have Tobin track me with her eyes. I dreamed about it. I thought about it every second I could. I wanted to be carefree and have color in my hair and wear cool leather jackets. I wanted to be her because her life just seemed so… cool.
Now I just missed her.
I missed the entire band and every bit of joy they brought to my life. I didn’t see their first concert because I didn’t go to house parties, but I heard about it. The stories flew around school faster than any rumor. Skinny Cat was the coolest band and Tobin Heath was a certified god in human form. But a secret went around too. The way Tobin looked at Abby when they sang. The gossip that followed the excitement of the show was how much Tobin liked Abby, which lead to the young singer’s spiral into figuring out her sexuality. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if that rumor never started, if Tobin had the ability to control her eyes, I wonder if she would have been on the ridge that night, if we would have talked, if I would have changed the events, if I would be sitting in the garage of the new bands house, watching as Tobin tried to memorize a new song.
At least I was now the one Tobin tracked. I was the one she watched, and while I loved it, I loved being the center of her world, there’s a piece of me that longed for the days when I was the one obsessed with her. Maybe then she would be on stage with her best friends and I would be alone in the corner trying to have something close to a life. It seemed like everything had to line up in just the perfect way for us to be here tonight. I had screwed with the chain of events, messed with the flow of the universe, and I was being punished with fading thoughts and broken memories.
“You’re pushing too hard on the chorus.” Hope stated as the music stopped. “Just relax, you got this.”
“I feel like I’m stuttering over my words,” Tobin huffed, shoving her mic into the stand. “Just let me look at lyrics one more time.”
I stood up, putting my hand on her hers before she could click through her phone, “Moose, look at me.” I watched her face fall before she turned her eyes up to me. “You know the words.” I said gently, taking her phone from her hand. “Take a breath, get to the mic and just sing.”
Like a puppy she leaned forward pushing her head into mine letting our cheeks touch. Her chest rose, inflating for a few seconds before she let out the breath and reached to squeeze my hand. The anxiety she built up was started to float away and she gave a quick smile before turning to grab the lucky microphone to let the band know she was ready to go.
They counted off, Tobin with her head down until the four, then she popped up.
The music started and with all the confidence in the world she started to sing.
”So scared of breaking it
That you won't let it bend
And I wrote two hundred letters
I will never send
Sometimes these cuts are so much deeper than they seem
You'd rather cover up
I'd rather let them bleed
So let me be
And I'll set you free, Oh yeah”
“Wow, how’d you do that?” Maddie asked with her eyes glued to my girlfriend.
“When you’ve been together for as long as we have, you pick up a few tricks.” I said leaning back in the couch.
Toya turned her head to the left, “You flipped a switch, girl.” She looked back at me, “I’m not even into white girls, but I might have to steal her.”
I let out a loud laugh, “You can try.”
The song came out like a dream and as it ended you could see the light back in those honey brown eyes.
“Food time,” Maddie said with her hand to her stomach.
I looked down at my watch, it was past seven. We had been here for over three hours and now that my brain was directed towards food I could feel my stomach growling. “Yeah, what’s good around here?”
“Chinese,” the blonde said, popping out of her chair, “Let’s go to Golden Palace.”
I followed the other two as moved from our designated seating area to the center of the room with the band.
Toya tugged on the bottom of Adriana’s shirt, “Hey, we are getting food. Golden Palace.”
“Yes,” the bassist said in a happy cry, “Chinese good with everyone?”
“Like we have a choice,” Hoped joked, “T has spoken.”
“Yes I have,” Toya responded with a smug look. “Keep practicing, we’ll be back in a bit.”
I went over to Tobin and pecked her lips, “I know what you like.”
“Thanks, Squirrelly,” she grinned.
The three of us pushed open the big garage door, heading to the cars parked out in front, almost crashing into a tall man with jet black hair and light brown skin.
“Excuse me,” I said with a slight laugh, trying to move out the way of the walking brick wall. “I’m so sorry.”
“That’s just Nico,” Maddie waved her hand at the man, “You don’t have to apologize to him.”
He looked down with a charming smile and dark eyes. “You must be Christen,” he said with a thick Spanish accent.
“Yeah,” I said relaxing a bit. “You’re Hope’s boyfriend.”
“I like to think of myself more as an artist…”
“You’re about to be the artist formally known as Hope’s boyfriend if you don’t start showing up on time.” Hope walked out the garage half smiling but still trying to look serious.
“Mi Amor,” Nico said with open arms. “You know I try.”
“Uh huh,” she flashed a quick smile before kissing him, giggling into his lips. “They are getting food, can you go with them please?”
He sighed, “Don’t you miss me?”
“Not really,” she laughed.
“This is why I don’t show up on time,” he turned on his heels and headed for the car. “Come on ladies, before the love of my life makes me sadder.”
We followed the clearly dramatic man to the car sitting in the driveway, Maddie getting in the driver’s seat and Toya in front with Nico and I piled in the back.
The differences in the people riding in the car fascinated me. Maddie was the shy type, she seemed like she would hide behind Jane if they were in a crowd, kind of like I use to put Tobin between myself and a group to make myself feel safe. She was bubbly when she started to talk, interested in everything, and I needed to ask her what she did for a living. Then there was Toya, referred to as T, and she was nothing to mess with. She had an accent that could only be contributed to being raised somewhere north of LA and an attitude to match. But when you saw her with Adriana, she was soft and loving, and seemed to have the magic touch to calm her down. I had just met Nico but I could already tell he was the type that enjoyed attention, most artists were like that. He wore a leather jacket with gloves in the pockets. It was his motorcycle that I saw parked behind the car. He seemed like he would match Hope and her demanding nature perfectly.
We listened to music on the way to the restaurant, mostly songs I had never heard of, as Nico explained his new art show he was preparing for. The women chimed in with ideas and laughing at the crazy things he said. Most of what he said was in English but a good quarter of it was in Spanish and everyone just seemed to brush past it as if they knew exactly what he was saying. That was one of the things I loved about LA, most people understood what I considered to be the cities second language well enough to hold conversations.
“Where are you from?” I asked Nico as we all walked into the restaurant.
He shoved his phone in his pocket, “El Salvador, my parents immigrated here when I was twelve.”
“That’s awesome,” I nodded.
“Where are you from?” he looked down at me with questioning eyes, “That accent is not LA.”
I chuckled, I never thought I had an accent before, but maybe I did. “Tobin and I are from New Jersey.”
“How long have you two been together?” Maddie had flipped in line to face us.
I pretended to think even though I didn’t need to. “Ten years. We’ve been together since high school.”
“Oh my god,” Toya gasped her hand to her chest, “That’s such a long time.”
“Yeah, it’s been a while.” It had been more than a while, but I tried to play it cool. “How long have you and Adie been together?”
“Two years,” she answered with a roll of her eyes, “Don’t let her tell you it’s been less. She always tries to claim the first six months didn’t count, but they did.”
Maddie shook her head, “Why do you two make things difficult?”
“I’m not difficult,” she smirked. “She is.”
I looked over to Maddie, “What about you and Jane?”
She thought for a second, “Almost three years. Yeah, I guess it’ll be three in a few months.”
“That’s awesome,” I turned to the guy who was studying the menu posted overhead, “What about you and Hope?”
He hummed, “She has been torturing me por cuatro años, pero we’ve only been together for three.”
“Don’t ask him to elaborate,” Maddie leaned in and whispered. “They’re difficult too.”
I nodded in happy compliance, then looked up to the menu to figure out what to get myself and Tobin. We all sat around talking about our days, me explaining that I worked at UCLA and a little about my job, and me listening to them. Turns out Toya was a social worker for the city, Maddie was finishing her bachelors in history after taking a break to help family, and Nico was an artist with a good following in the art world of LA. The more we talked, the more comfortable I got.
Before I knew it, all of us were back in the car, warm containers of food sitting in the middle seat as we headed back to the house.
“I have to ask,” Toya said over the music, “You and Tobin have been together for ten years and you’re not married? Do you two not want to tie the knot?”
It was kind of a personal question, but for some reason I felt safe answering. “We technically are married, but we don’t really talk about it.”
“Que?” Nico clicked his phone off turning his head. “How can you be technically married?”
I wasn’t ashamed of my life, I just never had someone to explain it to. All my friends, and by that I mean, Allie and Nick, knew my situation, they were actively involved in this crazy world I had created. Trying to explain that I was sick, but not crazy, was a difficult, but in my mind they had to find out sometime. If this band was going to be Tobin’s new home, I was going to spend a lot of time with them, which meant I was bound to get lost in front of them or maybe even have a seizure. As much as I didn’t want to explain myself, it was inevitable.
“She and I got married when I was in college,” I started off slowly, easing into the hard parts. “She moved from Jersey to Reno to be closer to me when I got into Stanford. She was living with her sister at the time I had my first seizure. I was in the hospital for days. They wouldn’t tell her anything and she freaked out. When I was finally diagnosed with CCD, and we knew I would continue to have seizures, we decided to get married that way she could be there for me. Eventually she moved to LA. We didn’t have a wedding, we just went to the courthouse and signed the papers, it wasn’t a big deal. We don’t talk about it. The only time it comes up is if I have to go to the hospital, so we just say girlfriend until we know we are ready for a real wedding with our friends and family.”
There was silence for a bit and I started to feel a little overwhelmed, then Toya spoke up. “Damn girl that’s intense.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I shrugged, hoping to get out of talking about it.
“What’s CCD?” Maddie looked through the rearview mirror, “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it.”
That one sentence took away all the fear I had around explaining my diagnoses. “No, it’s cool. Cognitive Cortical Dysplasia, my brain doesn’t process time in the usual manner. Sometimes I can feel like hours are passing when it’s only been minutes, or the opposite, it’ll feel like five minutes have passed when it’s been like eight hours. And my memory is a little messed up temporally, events can feel closer or further in time than they are. It’s not really a big deal, Tobin does really well with keeping me on track, it just sucks because it causes seizures, but I’m on medication.”
“That’s why she watches you like that,” Toya commented, turning around to look at me with a heartwarming smile. “Tobin, she watches you like a hawk. I thought she was a little nuts at first, like overbearing or something, but she’s just checking on you.”
I nodded, swallowing hard. I didn’t know anyone noticed the way Tobin watched me. “Yeah, it can be a little intense sometimes, but she’s learned to spot the signs.”
“Jane has OCD,” Maddie blurted out, a little nervousness in her soft voice. “Sometimes it can be so bad she can’t leave the house, or we’ll spend an hour making sure all the appliances are unplugged and the light switches have been turned off.” She shrugged her mouth turning up into a half smile. “It’s not the same, but I don’t know, I guess I know what it’s like to watch someone, so, yeah.”
“We all kind of take turns making sure Jane isn’t losing it,” Toya chuckled, setting a hand on Maddie’s shoulder. “It takes a village. So we can watch you too, make sure nothing happens.”
I could feel my heart swelling in my chest. I have never been accepted so quickly in my life. It had only been a few days with this group and yet they were acting as if we had been together for a lifetime. “Thanks guys, it means so much. I know Tobin would be less tense knowing you guys are helping.”
“Of course, we got your back, girl.” Toya cheered, flipping back in her seat.
Nico reached a hand out softly touching mine. “Thanks for telling us.”
“Thanks for listening,” I responded in kind.
As if talking about mental health was as casual as talking about the weather the conversation took a turn to a happy note. We spent the rest of the ride with the group telling me about their crazy living situation. Everyone had a home in the little blue bungalow, which I was now learning was actually a three bedroom house with a basement. Somehow everyone ended up in there, from moving in with their significant other, to needing a place to sleep and never leaving. I wondered if maybe Tobin and I would somehow end up living in the walls. Just like we ended up in the same penthouse as Turnpike, it wouldn’t surprise me if we made our way across town, for the music.
“You seem uneasy.”
I turned looking over to the blonde sitting in front of her desk. Her hair was up in a ponytail and she was wearing a red button up with a navy blue blazer on top. It was a very professional look, something the Julie that I knew would never wear. Even in sessions with patients, the physiatrist from my present kept things casual, it’s what made it so easy to talk to her. I missed that Julie, the one that frustrated me with how perfect she was, the one that made me feel comfortable even when I didn’t want it. I spent so much time hating who she was because Alex loved her, and now she was gone, in her place a more serious version of her in a pair of slacks and black boots.
“I’m not.” I had been standing for the last twenty minutes, barley answering as she spoke, too busy looking at all the books on the shelves.
This Julie ended up in private practice with a nice shiny office with a waiting room where Tobin spent one hour every Saturday. The office, with it’s nice light grey couch to match its sea-foam green walls, and rustic décor was pleasant enough. Kind of made you feel warm, or maybe the temperature was turned up, I don’t know. I hunted down Dr. Julie Johnston whenever I left college and needed to find outside help. I found her on a mental health page, figured out she wasn’t treating drug addicted teens, not in this world, she was private practice costing me a cool two hundred dollars an hour.
“I’m actually in a pretty good mood.” I sat down on the couch with it’s uncomfortable cushions, something I always wanted to bring up but decided it was pointless.
I not so subtly poked into her personal life and figured out that this Julie had never met Alex. That could be the reason why she wasn’t the same person I knew, why she was a little colder when she spoke. Then I thought about the Julie in the first world I ended up in, the mess of a woman that was cheated on by Alex. Then I got a little uneasy at the thought of it all, seeing as the reason I left the world where I had Alex was because the girl I thought I loved turned out to be a lot wilder.
Maybe the Julie from my real world was dealing with that part of Alex too, the part that longed to be free. Or maybe, and this was a possibility, it was me, I wasn’t enough for her so she wandered off. Either way, I tried not to think about it in this office. I didn’t want Julie to think I was depressed, even if my file did say it.
“What has you in such a good mood?” she questioned, her eyes big and bright and bluer than the ocean.
My eyes went around the room one more time, it was hard to focus. “Tobin has a new band. Midline, that’s their name. It’s an all girl band, with some pretty awesome women who have equally as awesome girlfriends, one boyfriend. They have a gig, tonight actually.”
“That sounds great,” she wrote something down in her notebook. “So you’re excited for Tobin?”
“Yeah,” I said easy enough. How could I not be excited for her, this was the first time she was going to be on stage in front of a group singing with a band that knew her potential. “Also a little nervous.” I had no idea why I said that.
Her head cocked to the side, “Why nervous?”
“I just want this to go well,” I admitted, feeling a little tightness in my chest as I spoke. “I want this to work out. I need this to work out.”
“Why does it need to work?” she sat up a little in her chair. “What will happen if it doesn’t?”
My hands retracted into my jacket sleeves, “Tobin will be sad. I don’t want her to be sad.”
“She’s been sad before, what makes this time different?”
Now I couldn’t stop playing with my sleeves, picking at a thread that had come loose. How was I suddenly so anxious? “She’s been waiting a long time for a band, for a family. I don’t want it to go away. She’s so happy when she’s singing.”
“A family,” she scribbled something down.
“I know it’s not rational,” I said quickly, trying to talk my way out of having a break down. I could feel one coming on and I didn’t have time to break down. “Tobin is happiest in a band, with a group that understands her and the music. She’s happy on stage. I just want her to be happy.”
“It makes perfect sense.” The words were simple, and I would have been happy at that had she not added in more. “Have you ever thought about how much your happiness is tied into hers?”
I felt like jumping out of my skin. “We’ve been together for a long time. Everything we do is tied into each other.”
“True,” she nodded looking me in the eyes, “But have you tried being happy on your own?”
My mouth opened to refute the question, tell her she was insane, that it was stupid, but instead I settled on. “I can’t.” I heard her ask me why and my ears started to ring. “Tobin gave up everything for me. She gave up her band, her family, to help me. How can I be happy if she’s not?”
“You can’t punish yourself for the choices she made.” Laying her pen down in her lap, she gave a warm smile. “Tobin chose to do all those things, to move across country, to take care of you, she made those choices. If she’s unhappy, that’s not your fault…”
“It is…” I cried out, my head feeling ten times bigger. “I changed…”
“You didn’t,” now her voice was more forceful. “You didn’t change anything. Christen, this is your life, your real life.”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
“No, it doesn’t,” she took a breath waiting on my cue. “You can be happy. Even if Tobin is sad. Even if this new band doesn’t work out. Even if you don’t get that family you’re looking for. You can be happy. You can change your life by simply making a choice to be happy.”
I sniffled, trying to keep the tears from falling, “I can’t just choose it.”
“Yes, you can,” she smiled, leaning back. “Now it’ll take a lot of work, and your medication is important, but the most helpful thing you can do is make the choice. If you tell yourself to be positive, whenever you get in those down moods, you can start working yourself out of them. Maybe choosing to be positive will help keep you in the present, help you live this life.” She watched me shift in my seat, processing the heavy information. “Nothing will stop your depression, it will be a part of you, but you can combat it, maybe help soothe some of those low moments by looking towards a better future.”
“Yeah,” I ran my sleeve under my eyes catching the escaping tears. “Maybe.”
She smirked, the way I had known her to smirk back in my world. “It won’t happen overnight, but we can get there. This first thing I want you to do is to be happy about these new friends, not because Tobin is happy, but because you are happy. This is a good thing for you too.”
There was a chance she was right. My brain didn’t want to latch onto the idea, not yet. I could see the logic in it. That was one of the crappy things about being sick but also completely self-aware. I knew she was right but it didn’t stop me from trying to refuse. I moved my head in a semi-nod fashion, letting her now that I heard what she said but it was going to take time. She was sweet, and smart, and understood perfectly.
“Tell me about your new friends.”
I remember spending the entire thing in awe that I was even outside during a holiday. It was still a hard concept to wrap my head around, the fact that Tobin and I were a couple, that she loved me, that there was almost a one hundred percent chance that she and I would end up parked somewhere secluded with half our clothes off. It was like I was living a dream, or a movie, or something so unreal that the old me could never picture myself doing it.
You spend years trying to imagine yourself with someone, what it would be like to have them see you, and when they do it’s almost too much. I half expected to wake up and it all be a big fever dream, or maybe one day Tobin’s smile to just fall and she reveals it was all a cruel joke. Nothing like that ever happened, she continued to love me, and I continued to be in awe with her. That day we did end up parked behind a closed down warehouse with her hands roaming my body, teenagers trying to do something akin to good sex with the little knowledge we had. And after we were done, and still full of energy the way teenagers are, we decided to head to Emily’s house to hang out, picking up Allie on the way.
I expected to just sit around, maybe listen to them play music. This wasn’t Kelley’s garage with all their equipment but there were guitars, and when an instrument was around, Tobin had a tendency to make music, not that anyone minded. We piled out of the Jeep, my eyes were always wide when looking up at the mansions the richest families called homes. I knew my family had a nice house, it was nothing to sneeze at, my parents worked hard. But much like Kelley’s house, Emily’s seemed to eclipse the sun with its mass. The inside was gorgeously modern, in perfect harmony with all the clean lines of cement and wood of the outside.
It was quickly explained to me that Mr. Sonnet was an architect and designed the place himself, of course it was told to me with the slight attitude his daughter posed only when it came to talking about her parents who were never around. Today was no different, Emily had been in the house with only the housekeepers for the last two weeks and was more than happy to host the entire group. Back then I thought Emily’s life was amazing. She was rich, her parents were never there, and she could do whatever she wanted. And for the most part that may have been true, but I also figured out that it was kind of sad and it made me more grateful to have my parents around, no matter how overbearing they could be at times.
Still, I looked around like a little kid at a museum at the high ceilings and hanging globe light fixtures that matched so eloquently with the natural wood and rock of which the place was made. We were lead to a back room that was like living room, which confused me because we passed a living room to get to it, but I was informed that this room was specifically for guests while the other was just to look at. I don’t think I’ll ever understand rooms with no purpose, but then again, I don’t understand a lot about being sickeningly rich.
Music was played in the speakers hidden somewhere in the wall, I was assured the Bose sound system was one of the best and I should just relax. Even though I had been part of the group for over six months, I still didn’t feel like one of them. We had all hung out together, and Abby and Allie and I had become a three musketeer’s type of group. The three of us were more into shopping and how our hair looked, while the other four were more into doing tricks on their skateboards. Kelley and I had the moment in the mall where I figured out she had been crushing on my girlfriend for years, but we never talked about it again. Alyssa and I were always okay, but Emily and I had yet to find any sort of bond and I had yet to become anything within the group besides Tobin’s girlfriend. Even Allie had become the smart ass that always put Kelley in her place when she got too out of hand. It was tough to come out of my shell and really open up.
For an hour we all just sat around, I was comfortable in Tobin’s side, her arm around my shoulder, listening to her laugh as they all talked about school, moves, and music. I figured that would be the day, just sitting around, but then Kelley popped up from ottoman she had deemed her perch and ran towards the entrance. Everyone kind of ignored it because it was Kelley and she was prone to random outbursts and sometimes that involved running off for a while, but she made it back with her book bag in her hand.
“I brought us some stuff.” She gave a wicked smile.
She set the bag down and started rummaging through it. Again everyone kind of went on with their conversation until she held up a plastic bag with what I thought was some kind of spice, then I saw the small pieces of paper inside. My eyes went wide when I realized what exactly was about to happen.
“Let me roll,” Alyssa said holding out her hand, “My hands are more delicate than yours.”
Kelley groaned, then tossed the bag and papers over to her friend. She stuck her hands back in the bag on the ground and pulled out a lighter setting it on the glass table followed by a half finished Mountain Dew, which I first thought was part of smoking marijuana, but then figured out was just something for her to drink. The conversation went on as normal, no one seemed focused on Alyssa as she laid papers in her lap, sprinkling the crushed dried leaves down, and rolling them up sealing the whole thing with a lick. I was the only one who watched this process happen four times, before she put the bag in the center of the table, and reached for the lighter.
Tobin must have felt my energy, or it could have been the way my heart was beating out of my chest, because she finally acknowledge the whole situation. “You don’t have to smoke.” She said quietly into my ear.
I looked up at her, “I’ve just never done it before.”
“Yeah, I know,” she kissed my temple. “I didn’t start until after I left my parents’ house.”
I knew this about her, we had talked about it before. Tobin was in a good place now that she was free from her mother and father, but she was still stressed. After all she was seventeen and living with a new family while trying to deal with being gay, having a girlfriend, school work, and maintaining a high social status, all the while writing and performing music in hopes of being a famous musician someday. It may not have seemed like a big deal, and she always made it seem easy, but I knew how much she worried about everything. She started to smoke with her friends after having a mild panic attack when her mother tried to talk to her a few weeks after she left the house. Alyssa was the one to offer her a quick hit from a half smoked blunt after Tobin had refused so many times. It calmed her down instantly and after that she did it for anxiety, and sometimes just for a bit of fun. I never thought any less of her, after all weed was harmless, as long as it didn’t take over her life and she never let it.
Me on the other hand, I had stayed clear. I thought it was because I never wanted to be a pot head, that typical teenage burn out that giggled in class. I once watched a girl lick peanut butter out of one of the individual serving cups, it was in the middle of math and she had no shame. I had this overblown notion in my mind that I would end up like that if I smoked so I convinced myself I was staying away for good reason. The truth was, I wouldn’t know where to score weed even if I wanted to try it, and I was too much a loser to know anyone who knew anyone, so it was more like weed was staying away from me.
“You can just chill,” Tobin said sweetly.
“No,” I sat up, a little more fire in my eyes than the situation required, “I want to try.”
It was then, the blunt was puff puff passed to my thin fingers, and I held it up to my face, looking down at the burning end and then to the part you smoke. A part of me was proud, I was about to smoke weed with my girlfriend and her cool friends, but I was also scared out of my mind.
“Just inhale,” Allie said with gentle encouragement. This wasn’t her first time, she and Kelley had ‘burned’ a few times before while I was too busy with Tobin. She let out a little giggle, “Inhale and hold, you got this Chrissy.”
So I did I inhaled and tried to hold but ended up coughing up a storm, Tobin’s hand on my back as I tried to breathe again.
“It’s okay,” my girlfriend chuckled, soothing me the best she could, “Just take a second.”
I leaned into her watching as she effortlessly took a drag, holding the smoke for a few seconds before blowing the strong smelling cloud out into the air. The joint was passed around, everyone taking at least one hit, before it got back to me, now more than half gone but still intimidating. I didn’t want to be the only one who took just one hit, if you could even call it that, so I tried again, this time with more success.
Now, I’m not saying it’s instant but it was as close as it can get to someone telling you to chill the hell out and your brain just responding without issue. Soon enough I was sunk into Tobin’s side, my face half buried into her soft black t-shirt, inhaling the smell of weed smoke and fabric softener as she held an arm around me tight. I could feel my body relax, like physically feel my shoulders go down and the tension leave my brow, my face no longer contorted in worry but now turned into a smile and low hanging eye lids. I was comfortable. For the first time in my young life, I was comfortable.
“I’m just saying,” Kelley was now on her back on the footrest, her head hanging off the edge. “It doesn’t make sense. The Terminator goes back in time, leaves the technology to make a Terminator in the past and that’s what ends up making the Terminator. How? What was the original idea?”
How the topic got to this particular movie was beyond me. I was on my fourth drag from the third blunt being haphazardly passed from one person of another. I now had my head in Tobin’s lap, as she relaxed with both her arms draped on the back of the couch. I was focused on the snapback she wore backwards and her hair pushed behind her ears. In my mind I could see a different version of the girl I was laying contentedly with. I had this strange vision of her, at first I was a little freaked out, after all cannabis doesn’t cause hallucinations, and yet I was high and seeing this superimposed image of my girlfriend over the one I was physically feeling.
I could see her arms stretched out wide, she had such long limbs, it was sexy when they wrapped around you. The Tobin that I was seeing had faint tattoos, pictures of places and things inked into her skin. I could see her hair, longer with different colors in it, pinks and blues that she never had before. And when she looked down to smile at me, her perfect bottom lip, the one I dreamed about nibbling on, now had a gold loop thought it. Her eyes were still the same, still kind and sweet and the perfect color brown, a shade you could get lost in, like looking at the cracks in bark on a tree. I had to close my eyes for a second, before opening them and seeing my Tobin again, still young, no tattoos or anything extra.
Part of me missed the image, I felt a strange connection to the completely punk looking version of my sweet girlfriend. I kind of wanted her to have that lip ring, I could almost taste the metal against my tongue. I could picture running my hand through her hair, the colored strands falling in her face as she laughed. I wanted that version of her and I was about to say something before I was shocked out of my fantasy state.
“Chrissy, you’re a physics nerd,” Kelley said tossing a piece of popcorn at me, “What do you think?”
I turned, my cheek now against Tobin’s jeans. I had to take a second to remember what they were talking about. “I think the movie is right.”
“How could you?” Allie gasped, slowly sitting up. “You’re supposed to be my best friend. Agree with me.”
“I can’t, sorry,” I chuckled at the reaction. “I think time is linear. If you go back, whatever you do in the past will change the future, or the present, or whatever, it doesn’t matter. If you change one thing in the past it will affect the future.”
“No way, it’s a loop,” Allie was fighting the group on the idea, “Whatever you do in the past, your present accounts for the fact that you were always meant to go back in time, which means your future self in the past was always meant to be there.”
“No, no,” I waved my hand. “Then you would always have the idea of time travel, you’d live your life with the idea of time travel which would cloud your present shaping your future.”
“Exactly,” Allie laughed.
I sat up, “What?”
“Dudes, you’re both wrong.” Emily had been splayed out under the coffee table, looking up through the glass at the pile of food we had acquired over the hour we had been high. “It’s a spiral. If you go back in time you’ll be in a different timeline because you change something, obviously, but you’ll always end up back in the same place eventually. You’ll go through timelines, experience all that jazz, but you’ll have to end up back where you belong. Time will right itself.”
I looked down through the glass, “How do you know?”
“Because it makes sense if you think about it relatively.” She then paused to reach her hand around to the top of the table, taking a Ranch Dorito and popping it in her mouth, chewing for a few seconds as we all watched. Then finally she smiled and spoke up. “Think of reality as a fabric, right, we all live on this giant blanket that sits on our timeline. But time is infinite, continuous loop de loops that have no end. Whatever can happen, has, just like on a different loopy thing right next to ours. We right now are sitting on the reality fabric of our own timeline. When you bend time, i.e. change something in the past for whatever weird reason, you push that fabric down into a different timeline, essentially becoming a whole different person, though still yourself, which is fucking trippy, but whatever, you can’t stay that way, you have to get back to your timeline, because why? Reality is a fabric and you have to spring back into place, flatten the fabric again, or you’ll fuckup the universe and all that, probably creating a black hole and killing everyone, which would suck. So just like Hawking said in chronology protection conjecture, there is a cosmic mechanism that, you know, will like eventually right the fabric of reality causing you and whoever else to come back to your original timeline.”
Her arms fell flat on the ground out like some kind of carpet angel, then she started to giggle. “I have to pee," then she started to scramble to get up.
As I watched her walk towards the hall, still shock by the monolog, I called after her. “I’m going to invent time travel just to prove you wrong.”
“That would be hilarious!” she called back, then disappeared into the hallway.
I flipped to my back, looking up at a smirking Tobin, “I’m going to prove her wrong.”
“I believe in you,” Tobin chuckled, setting a warm hand on my stomach just under my shirt, “Just don’t create a timeline that you and I aren’t together.”
“Impossible,” I smiled up at her.
Sometimes I would go over to her house and hang out in a room that she called her shop. She liked to build guitars and amps. There was something about the electronics of it that made her happy. We would sit for hours and talk about everything under the sun while she soldered pieces and I chimed in on the math portions. She confided in me about her parents and how much she missed them which caused me to invite her to my house on Thursdays for family dinner. She became something like my sister, someone I could talk to without feeling like I was annoying them with all my science and math talk.
We bonded in a way that made me miss her desperately when I moved to California. I threatened to pack her in my suitcase and take her to Stanford. She would have done great, but she didn’t want to go to college. She wanted to play music, even though I took that dream from her when I took Tobin from New Jersey. I can feel my fingers hovering over my phone, wanting to call her sometimes. When I’m trying to figure out a problem, I want to be sitting next to her, the smell of melting solder and flux in the air. I want to listen to her humming some random tune as she works, but I couldn’t do that.
When Kelley died, Tobin and I went back for the funeral. We spent a week in New Jersey, staying at my parents’ house. It was hard to explain my illness, harder to explain Tobin and I got married without telling anyone. I knew my parents would be upset I kept things from them, but I never thought my friends would take it the way they did. Alyssa was pissed but she and Tobin had a drink and talked it out. Emily, on the other hand, decided it was the fuel she needed to light the silent fire within her. I could tell she blamed Kelley’s death on Tobin leaving, which was my fault. I remembered her telling me to go to school closer to home, apply to MIT or Yale, anything that kept me close, kept the family relatively together. I think she might have forgiven me for leaving if Tobin didn’t pack up and go too.
We stopped talking. Her final words to me were “just go back to California” as I tried to explain why Tobin and I did what we did. I never got to explain time travel to her, and it looked like I would probably never get that chance.
There was an energy at the concert, the room was packed to the edges with people, standing room only in a dive bar somewhere an hour outside of LA. We all drove together, the band piled into a panel van with their name spray painted on the side. I laughed as Jane slapped the side of "this baby" bragging about how great it was. I opted to ride in the car with the other girlfriends and Nico. Mostly because there were no seatbelts in the van, but also because I knew how important it was for the band to bond before the concert.
I thought the gig would be just a few people at a club maybe taken by surprise that there was live music, after all Midline wasn't famous and we were pretty far from what I thought was the music scene, but it was the exact opposite. Apparently this bar was known for scheduling up and coming bands and Midline had been trying to get a spot for almost a year. Their old lead singer left some sorrow in her wake as the moved through the bar scene so the band never got the call, but now with Tobin they were given a chance. A well-known band had dropped out and the twenty minute slot was theirs.
Tobin stood looking passed the stage as more and more people packed into the general area drinking from plastic cups and vaping as they waited for the first band to take the stage. The spot our band had was just okay according to Adriana, the third slot out of six, so everyone would still be kind of sober but drunk enough not to make a scene. The dream was to be number six, that's when managers and talent scouts were in the audience. But the crowd was large enough to make Tobin nervous.
"I've never played for so many people," she shoved her hands in the pockets of her black skinny jeans. "I didn't know there would be so many people." Her eyes were so wide I thought they would take over her face. I could see the sweat beginning to trickle down her temple, the hair on her arms standing up. She did a few jumps, bouncing on her toes.
"Don't worry about all the people," I ran my hands down her arms trying to warm her body. "Just go out and play your show."
She looked up with worry on her face, “Do you think they’ll like us?”
“Of course,” I chuckled, my hands going out to stop her from bouncing on her toes. “How could they not, you guys are amazing.”
The first band started to play a rough hardcore sound with squealing guitars and a male singer with a gravelly voice. Tobin turned to look at the crowd, they were all bobbing their heads to the beat the drummer kicked out. No one was getting hyped up, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves, enough to make Tobin more nervous.
“Is this the sound they’re looking for?” she started pulling at the hem of her t-shirt. “That’s not how we sound at all.”
“I don’t think they are looking for one particular sound.” Grabbing her hands, I cupped them in mine. She was going to stretch out her shirt and that would cause more anxiety. “Tobin, you need to calm down.”
The rest of the band seemed to be just as nervous, each of them curled around their significant other and talking low as worry poured over their faces. This was in stark contrast to the scene I was used to. Turnpike was all confidence, never worrying if people would enjoy their music, Tobin was always so sure what they had to say would be received and loved by every person in the audience, and for the most part she was right. Midline did have a more pop/r&b feel, not something a lot of rock people are looking for, but their lyrics were good, their sound was crisp, and Tobin knew how to light up a room.
The hands clasped in mine were clammy, I squeezed tight thinking of a way to calm her down, make her remember who she was, what she could do. “Come with me.”
I pulled her through the back stage area, gesturing to the rest of the band that we would be back in plenty of time for them to go through their prep. We headed for the back door that lead to the alley where we had parked. I saw the van, still packed with the equipment. We jumped into the front seat.
“What are we doing out here?” Tobin questioned, looking around in the alley, “Do you want to have sex, because I’m pretty sure this isn’t the most private place.”
“No,” I slapped my hand on her knee, “I want you to sing to me.”
She smirked, “Sing? Right now?”
“Yes,” I gave a quick confident nod. “Do you know why I fell in love with you?” she looked down, shaking her head as she started to toy with her fingers. My hand went out to touch her leg, “It was your voice. I’ve had a crush on you since the sixth grade. Even when you were such an asshole to me, even when you knocked my books out of my hand. I even had a crush on you when you told everyone I was secretly a boy.”
“Jesus, I was a horrible person,” she scoffed. “How in the world did you even end up with me?”
“That voice,” I said touching a finger to her chin guiding her face back up so we could see each other. “I heard you sing and everything that you’d ever done just seemed to melt away. You have this way about you, and when I was younger I didn’t know the name of it, but now I do. Tobin you’re a rock star, that’s who you were meant to be, that’s who you will be. You just need to sing, that’s it.” We smiled at each other, some of the worry leaving her face. “Sing to me, right now, just pick a song and sing it.”
Taking a breath I watched her eyebrows go together leaving that crease in the middle, “I don’t know. I’m not sure…”
“I’m sure.” I interrupted. I tighten my hand on her leg. “I have always been sure. This is who you are. Now, sing.”
Still hesitant, she started slow, lyrics to a Midline song, one she was still feeling a little nervous about. The more she sang, the more relaxed she felt, and by the second time the chorus came a smile was on her face. When she looked at me her eyes were so bright I thought she would light up the dark van. She rolled into a second song without thinking and I sat back and listened to the best sound in the world.
By the end of the set she was smiling ear to ear, even did a little dance in the seat. We looked at the clock, there were only fifteen minutes left in the other bands set which meant she needed to be backstage soon. A hand came to the window followed by Jane’s smiling face. The band was there to get the equipment so they could start setting up for their set. I was no longer worried about Tobin and the best part was, she was no longer worried about herself. She jumped out of the van, high fiving and talking about how amazing this was going to be, hyping everyone up as they grabbed their guitars from the back.
She reminded me of seventeen year old Tobin, jumping up and down as the band unloaded Alyssa’s SUV headed in to set up for prom. I could almost see her, young, dressed in a slacks and an under shirt. The image of the band popping into my mind, Kelley’s freckled face, laughing and drumming her sticks on the side of the car. I could feel a tightness in my chest as I remembered all of them together, the night they rocked our small high school and decided they were going to make it big. That was the first time they called themselves Turnpike, after Tobin suggested it sounded more grown up, and told everyone where they were from. I remembered laughing with Allie as they all joked around. I missed those days so much, but seeing Midline was almost enough to take the tinge of sadness from my heart.
The stage lights weren’t as bright as the ones custom made for Turnpike, but they were enough to show Tobin off. I had moved to the crowd with the others, standing to the side where we were still able to go backstage whenever the performance was done, but still in great view of the band. I could see Tobin was still a little nervous, it was the way she dragged the mic stand a little to the side, not wanting to be center stage just yet. She placed her beat-up micro phone in the stand, plugging in the house chord as the rest of the band got their instruments ready.
In my mind I knew this was it, a moment that could change this world forever. If they did well, Tobin could grow in confidence, find that thing inside herself that made her a rock star in the other worlds. Maybe if the crowd cheered for her, chanted her name, she would have the memories of being one of the most loved people in the world. If she sang with her heart and performed with her soul, maybe she would become a rock star again. Even if it was just in her mind.
If she failed, god I couldn’t bring my mind to think about it, but if she did fail, it would just drag her down. She had been beat down by this world so many times, music stripped from her like a parent ripping a toy from a child’s hands. She had been stomped to the ground with the idea that she could never be more than just a backup guitarist in a dive bar on the outskirts of LA. If the crowd turned against her, shouted at her to give up on the dream the she had such a loose grip on, I knew it would break her. That couldn’t happen, no matter what, she couldn’t fail.
“Hey everyone,” Her voice was a little shaky, but she cleared her throat and spoke again. “We are Midline and we are gonna play you a little music.” She gave a smile.
I looked around at the crowd and saw the eyes of the women in the crowd. They were all looking up at her the way most women looked up at her, with a curiosity. This was good, they needed to be curious about her, they needed to wonder what she had underneath that t-shirt and ripped jeans, because it meant she could surprise them when she finally opened her mouth to sing. This was part of being a singer, and it sucked, but I knew she could handle it. She would blow them away and their curiosity would turn from wondering what she looked like in a sports bra and boxer briefs, to what she sounded like leaning over an acoustic guitar singing directly to you in your bedroom. If anyone is wondering how that felt, it was the most spectacular thing in the world.
“How you feeling?” Toya took me out of my thoughts, a hand placed on my shoulder.
“Good,” I said with a slight smile. “I know they got this.”
She squeezed my shoulder, “Yes, they do. Don’t worry.”
I was about to tell her that I was going to worry no matter what, but the first note was struck and the room lit up with energy. I swear Tobin glows when she sings, like a halo of light surrounding her slender frame the moment music begins, like her body attracts musical notes and radiates them in a warm glow. She literally lights up the stage and the second she opened her mouth to sing, magic washed over the room.
Hearing her sing for the first time is much like the first time you tasted your favorite food. You get this sensation, something you can’t quite put your finger on, but something inside you knows, something in your body says, “yes this is it.” When she sang, something inside made you remember all the pleasures in life, it made all the good things you’ve ever experience pop in your mind and remind you that there is good in this world. Like that first scoop of chocolate ice cream, Tobin was the shinning beacon on top that told you this world was good, that the sun was still shinning, that the earth was still spinning, and goddammit we were still here and we could still love and make love and be happy. She was happiness, in the form of hips shaking and long arms held out to the crowd as they all tried to get a piece of her. She was goodness, in winks and smiles and high notes that made you want to jump on stage and hug her. This crowd was finally experiencing what I already knew. Tobin Heath was magic and nothing was better than her on stage singing and making you feel like the only person in the world.
The band could hardly get off stage while people were calling after them demanding an encore. I guess that’s why the coveted spot was at the tail end, you could go on for one more song, but there was another band right after them, so they promised to be back another time as they dragged their sweaty bodies back stage.
I waited, not so patiently, for the big smile to come behind the curtain, all confidence and music heroics as she came down from her high. She spotted me instantly as she always did, her arms going out wide to scoop me into a hug.
“You killed it,” I practically screamed into her. “That was your best performance ever.”
“Yeah?” She kissed into my neck. “Thank you baby. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“That was all you,” I pulled away just enough to plant a kiss on her lips.
She was so warm it made me wish we could stay like that for the next hour, but the band was all jumping around, hyped up on adrenaline and the magic of one of their best performances so there was no way to have more than a few seconds of alone time. Before I knew it we were dragged out to the bar and drinks were ordered, a table in the back found, and we were all gathered around, listening to the next act and talking about the future.
I loved my place under Tobin’s long arm slung over the back of the booth, I could stay there for the rest of my life. I could be warm and protected under her wing until the end of time. I was one shot of tequila and a beer in when my hand drifted to her thigh to rest comfortable. Suddenly I wasn’t afraid of the world or my past. My mind wasn’t on how familiar this all felt or the faces that I thought should have been surrounding me. I was taken away by the rowdy voices that were with me.
I was happy watching Jane bounce around and Maddie doing her best to keep her calm, both of them choosing not to drink so they could get us home. It was funny to study Toya and Adrianna’s relationship, the way they always seemed to disagree but still laugh about everything going on. And the way Hope pinched Nico’s chin and made kissy faces at him while he said random things in Spanish. All of it made me feel so comfortable, like maybe I was always meant to be there, in that bar, with that band, with Tobin, chuckling and sipping a Corona with a lime floating around in it. I had a dream for a second that maybe this was my life and that I didn’t need to fix it.
Just as the last band started to get on stage, a guy came around the table with a happy smile and a laid back attitude. He was talking to the table, things I couldn’t really hear, not with the loud noise of the house music. I saw him take out a sealed bag of chocolate, holding it up to the table and giving a wide grin. Adie shook his hand, in a strange fashion, that made me question what was really going on, but the bag was left on the table.
Little round pieces of what looked like dark cocoa beans in a neatly packed plastic bag. The gang all tore it open and ate one a piece and I reached over and took one. I analyzed it sitting between my fingers, looking delicious if not a little curious, but it didn’t matter, chocolate sounded good to my beer soaked tongue. I popped it in my mouth and crunched down. It was a delicious explosion of flavor and I instantly went in and grabbed two more and ate them.
“Maybe slow down a bit with those,” Tobin whispered in my ear.
I looked up to her with wide eyes, “Why, they’re really good, you should have one.”
“No, I don’t want to be messed up, I still have to get you home.” She kissed the top of my head, and looked back out to someone talking to her.
I waited for her to be done answering the question and pulled on her shirt forcing her to look over to me. “What do you mean messed up?”
“Babe,” her eyes got wide and she cracked a smile. “Those are edibles.” She took the bag and read at the back as my heart started to race. “They have an extremely high THC count. Like almost 20mg.” She looked back down with a laugh caught in her throat. “You’re about to be really high.”
I let my head fall, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Tobin laughed again squeezing my shoulders tight, “Don’t worry, I got you. Keep calm, it won’t kick in for another thirty minutes. I’ll get you through it.”
“I love you,” I looked up placing a kiss under her chin.
“Love you too, Squirrelly,” she said happily. “I’m actually kind of excited, I like high Christen, she’s funny.”
I sank closer into her, “Well, you’re about to get 20mg of her, so let’s go.”
I almost forgot how much fun it was to stumble into the house. I drank on the weekends, but it was never more than three beers, or two mixers, and a few sips from whatever Tobin was nursing during the night. I think she must have forgotten what it was like to be more than a little buzzed because she was giggling like a child as she pulled me into the apartment. I almost slammed into her as she yanked on my arms, cracking up as we fell into each other, but the laughter stopped as we kissed, deep, passionate, fueled by our mood and the liquid lubrication we both didn't realize we needed.
Unlike Tobin, there was something more coursing through my veins, so even though the kiss was doing something amazing to my body, the THC in my system was calling for more than just Tobin's mouth.
"I'm hungry," I spoke against her lips.
She pressed harder against me. “Yeah, me too," she growled, her hands wandering down my back to grab my ass, her hands were so firm they almost made me forget what I had just said.
"I want something sweet," I chuckled, trying, though not very hard, to pull away from her.
"Yeah," she kissed against my neck, "Me too."
I couldn't help the loud laugh that came up, she was tickling my neck, plus I knew what she was insinuating, and though it was sexy I was being literal about the something sweet. Much to her chagrin, I finally pulled away and moved towards the kitchen as she reached out for me, pouting as her hands missed my body.
"You want actual food," she sighed, following behind me, kicking off her shoes.
I started going through the cabinets, hunting for something, "Yeah, actual food, Moose." I turned my head and gave a quick smirk, "But later, I want exactly what’s on your mind."
"How do you know what's on my mind?" her left eyebrow went up at the same time a mischievous smirk appeared on her lips.
My eyes spotted the red box in the back of the cupboard, I grabbed in and held it up for her to see, "Trust me, I always know what's on your mind."
"I see brownies are on yours," she chuckled, bending over to rest her elbows on the counter.
"Yes brownies," I gave a large grin, "But also that ass, so don't fall asleep."
"Oh I'm awake," she stood up fast, moving to snake an arm around my waist and pull me in. "I will wait the recommended prep time, then you're all mine."
"Fair enough," I kissed her cheek.
A testament to my girlfriends unwavering patience, she watched me mix all the ingredients without much protest, only the occasional ass grab or boob groping she called necessary for making brownies, not that I was complaining. I was almost done, the oven preheating and the dark nonstick pan was prepped and ready to go. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t becoming increasingly more interested in the way Tobin was leaning on the counter her feet stretched out in front, her elbows leaning on the counter top, and her abs stretched, the delicious V-shape of her body outlined by her shirt.
"Jane says we have a following," she said casually, her phone screen lighting up her face. "Apparently our Instagram is blowing up. People are trying to figure out who I am."
"That's amazing," I replied as I poured the mixture into the pan. "You should have them tag you in the photos so people can start following you."
Her face was turned down to her phone, "I don't know. I want people to know the whole band, not just me."
"I know, but you're such a huge part," I moved over to her, the spatula in my hand, brownie mix still on it. I lightly touched it to her nose making her look up and smile. "Besides, not that I'm biased or anything, but you are the cutest lead singer in the whole world."
She thumbed the drop of mix off of her nose, licking her thumb and grinning, “Thanks, babe."
"Text Jane back and tell her to tag you," I said with as much authority as I could drum up. "It's time to get that cute face out there for the world to see."
“Yes, ma'am," she nodded, a big smile on her face.
I put the brownies in the oven checking my phone for the time, with every intention of setting an alarm but I could feel hands running my shirt, going up to cup my breast over my bra.
"Is this a new bra?" she questioned against my neck.
I purred into the embrace, "I got it a few weeks ago."
She spun me around, "I like it. It’s silky." She kissed me, pushing her tongue into my mouth, her hands now finding the back of the silky bra she liked and unhooking it. "How much time do we have?"
It took a second for my brain to process what she was talking about, then I remembered the baked goods I had put in the oven, "Twenty-five minutes."
"I can work with that," she had finished unhooking my bra and was now working on pulling my shirt over my head. "Let's get in bed."
"Nuh uh," my hands traveled to her chest, pushing lightly. "Right here."
I wasn't completely in control of my body whenever we got like this, I often channeled all the versions of me that I had been. I was the same person, liked the same things, but somehow the Christen from the other worlds was better at taking what she wanted, and I knew exactly what I wanted.
I tugged at the button on her jeans, my fingers fumbling just a bit as I tried to pop it free and pull the zipper down to tug the fabric off her hips. Tobin was a take charge kind of woman and I loved every second of it, but she also knew when to give up control and go with the flow I established. She let me push her against the counter as she kicked off her jeans and worked on pulling my bra from my shoulders.
No matter what world I was in, my fascination with her abs was always there. I was pushing my hands against hard muscles, her shirt coming up as my hands traveled to her chest to grab roughly at her breast. I could hear her breathing pick up and her heart was pounding in her chest. She may have been a little nervous despite the clear evidence she was completely turned on.
It had been a while since she and I were like this. We made love often, but it was usually soft and sweet with her guiding me through orgasms and me tugging her along with me. Normally we were tired and it was a quick antidote to the restlessness we often felt at the end of long day, a good way to tire our bodies out the way our minds were, a stepping stone to sleep. Sometimes sex served as a substitute for doing something else like laundry or going over finances. More often than not it was occupying a long movie or the third episode of a binged show, but still it was always at the same cadence, passionate, but safe, a way for Tobin to keep me in my mind.
When we were like this, both almost fully naked with my hand shoved down her tight pair of briefs finding that wet spot between her legs and my fingers spilt around her clit and stroking through her, sometimes I would lose myself. I would remember the Tobin that would take me in the backseat of her car or in the dressing room before a concert. I would slip into memories of her fucking me in the music room, melodies playing in the background blending in with my screams of her name. As much as I loved those thoughts, and as much as they got me through times in the shower when I was a little heated and she was nowhere to be found, I preferred to stay in my own mind, be present in the moment.
I didn't mind channeling the ‘other me’s. I could still stay in the moment while remembering the way I would make her come in the other world. So as I got on my knees, my fingers hooked in the elastic of her underwear, I let that version of me take over. As her briefs fell to the floor, I hooked her left leg over my shoulder, kissing the inside of her thigh, waiting for the moment I knew she was desperate for my touch. I knew my girl well, it had been ten years of studying her body and all the subtle movements she didn't know she made. Her fingers carded through my hair, stretching at my scalp as I kissed further up her leg, the distinctive arousing scent filling my nose making all my sense go crazy.
It wasn't until her fingers pushed a little further, her way of telling me to move closer without being too demanding. She wasn't a forceful lover, not unless I asked for it. She never pushed me to do one thing or another, but she was falling into the fraught state and her body made moves to find the release she longed for.
The first stroke was long with a flat tongue, getting the taste of her, the feel of her, finding that now swollen bud and logging away the way her hips twitched as I touched it. That would be for later, for now, I was focused on my tongue dipping slightly into her entrance making her push into me as much as her position allowed. Going down on a girl in this position took a little talent, not that I’m bragging, but you had to know how to keep her balanced while still getting the job done. It wasn't my favorite thing to do, but I did like that every time I opened my eyes it forced me to look up at her, watching her abs as they flexed. The other good thing is when she looked down and I could see the field of golden brown of her eyes, it spurned on my efforts to make her head fall back in pleasure.
Plus this was a great position to push my tongue all the way in and let her grind slowly on it, her hands getting tighter in my hair as she made sloppy movements. I could feel the wetness start to coat my chin, her uncountable need to come starting to pour out of her as she moved faster. But she wasn't going to come like this, no, she needed more, and I knew what it was. So I moved my mouth up licking through her folds and finding that spot that I filed it away and teased it with the tip of my tongue just long enough for my fingers to travel up her leg and find their way inside her, slick and wanting, waiting for me.
"Shit, Chris," she pulled me closer, her hands frantic in my hair, tangling as she rode my fingers. "Oh, god, yeah, like that."
I'm not cocky, at least I don't try to be, I'm just confident I know what I'm doing. I'm confident sucking her clit into my mouth and driving two fingers into her would make her hips jolt. I'm confident, swirling my tongue in tight circles and curling my fingers against that soft pillow spot inside her walls would make her push harder against me. And I am extremely confident that rubbing the tips of my fingers against that spot while making big deliberate circles with my tongue would make her head fall back and her body shake.
Tobin was strong, her body was mostly muscle so holding her up as she came was a job, but one I would apply for over and over again mbecause it was one of the best things in the world. She held on to my head, moving her hips, pushing herself against my tongue as she rode out her high, fisting at my hair as she spoke softly of how great it all was. I let her body have its natural reaction until she started to relax and her grip wasn't so tight. Then I ran my tongue lightly through her until that unique laugh that signaled she was satisfied slipped from her lips.
She pulled me up, spent a few precious seconds kissing herself off my lips, making sure I was pressed as close to her as she could get me. I would take a second for the recovery, then I was guaranteed that Tobin was going to do what she did best. Sometime during the heated undressing and kissing she got my pants off but left my panties on. I could feel her hands traveling down to my ass, cupping cheeks and letting her fingers trail under bottom hem, pulling them up to almost a thong as she kneaded her fingers into muscle. I thought we would stay in the kitchen but I could feel her pushing me towards the living room. My entire body caught fire as I went through all the possibilities but nothing could prepare me for what she had in mind.
Before I knew it the back of my legs hit the arm of the couch and she was pushing against me, neither of us able to control the frantic kisses as our tongues tangled with each other. I was ready to sit on the arm of the couch, let her fuck me that way, but, like I said, I wasn't prepared.
"I'll be right back," she kissed me one good time then disappeared down the hallway.
I stood there with the cold air against my body, making me shiver and my nipples harden without her body heat to keep me warm. I could hear her rummaging around for what would remain a mystery for another minute. I was going to call out, ask her what the hell, who leaves when their girlfriend is waiting to be thrown on the couch and pounded into the cushions, but I was surprised when she returned with the black straps of the object we hadn’t used in a while.
I could see a little water dripping from the tip of the purple dildo she was holding in her hand, apparently all the rummaging was her finding the toy, cleaning it, and getting it attached to her body as quick as her drunk brain would allow. She looked up at me, a nervous look on her face.
"Is this okay?"
I bit my bottom lip. I don't know what was more of a turn on, the actual thought of the act or her asking for permission so apprehensively, as if she knew it was a good idea but completely lost confidence the moment she remembered I would be on the receiving end of this foreign object.
“Yeah, baby," I cooed, raising one eyebrow. "That's good."
The corner of her mouth went up in a cocky smile as she pushed the appendage through the ring and walked over to me. She was kissing me in an instant, her way of getting rid of any pesky anxiousness she may have had before. She needed to be all confidence and arrogance when we go into it, she I was not above making sure she felt like the king of the world.
I pulled her in closer, wrapping my legs around her hips, the toy now hitting my belly, and I would normally laugh at how cold it was but I needed to make sure she knew she had my total trust and confidence. We kissed for a bit, her becoming more assured and bold as she got more and more turned on, the cockiness I was looking for bubbling to the surface. I was ready for her to pull my panties down and guide the tip of the toy to my entrance, but much to my surprise she pulled me away from the couch, her tongue still making magic in my mouth. Then I felt her hands on my hips, she was turning me around and before I could think, my back was pressed against her front and her mouth was against my neck kissing up to my ear.
"Is this way good?" she checked in one more time, my ever considerate girl, constantly concerned with my total happiness.
"Yes," I hissed, my hand going back to pull her into me. "Yes, baby, fuck me."
So she had me, I was now the desperate one, wanting her and waiting on her to make a move. Apparently that's all I needed to say before she was pushing me forward, bending me at the waist until I rested comfortably against the arm of the couch. Her hand ran against the round of my ass before pulling my panties down tossing them god knows where. I was already soaking, dripping for her, so she didn't need to do anything. Still I felt her fingers trail up, finding my entrance and tentatively pushing inside. I backed into her hand, letting out a long ragged breath, my walls clenching around her fingers. I had been waiting for that touch all night.
She stayed with just her fingers in me as I fucked back trying to get more from her. I knew it was working her up as much as it was me, after all she did slap down on my ass making me cry out and then laugh as she leaned forward and kissed the middle of my back. As much as she was demanding and dominant in that moment, she was still my caring Tobin and she still needed me to know she loved me.
The next moments were a bit of a blur, after the distinct sting of the head of the toy pushing against my entrance and Tobin's soothing hand on the small of my back, I let my mind go for a few seconds and came back to a delicious stretch and pressure building inside threatening to escape. I could feel her rocking against me, her front slapping against my ass as she found a rhythm all her own and I was a slave to follow.
My hands grasped at the fabric in front of me, needing something to do as her pace started to pick up. I could feel my throat getting a little hoarse as I cried out, but I couldn't hear myself, instead my ears were filled with her breathing and saying my name and telling me how amazing I was. All the feeling in my body was focused on her hands gripping my hips tightly as she pulled me in to meet each thrust of her paired with the building pressure inside me as I contracted against the dildo now pressing against my cervix, sliding against that spot inside that threaten to make me go limp, leaving my orgasm and body in the capable hands of the woman encouraging me to let go.
"Tobin, oh my god," I cried out as she pounded into me, her hips smashing into my ass cheeks. "I'm so close, baby."
I had no idea what came over me but my hand went to the tie in my hair letting the wild curls fall. I twisted them around my hand holding them back, luckily she got my hint pretty quickly and grabbed tight to the bundle of hair pulling my head back forcing my chin up and air to fill my lungs.
"You want it harder?" she asked in a voice I hadn’t heard in a long time, that dominant voice that made me do things like tell her to pull my hair.
"Yes, please," the plea escaped my lips faster than I could think, but it didn't matter because I wanted it harder and I knew she was the only one who could give it to me.
Her pace was relentless, thrusting into me faster and harder than before, now focusing her hips up where she knew my spot was. It didn’t take too long before it was all too much and the whole act, the pain of her pulling on my hair, the pleasure of her fucking me, the comfort of her hand still gripping firmly to my hip letting me know I was safe and she would never let go, all that mixed with that deep rumbled voice telling me to come, and I was falling over the edge letting go and she pulled me through, dragging my now limp and shaking body though a mind blowing, white light seeing orgasm that I needed so desperately.
She fell on top of me, her heavy body covering mine, the heat taking my body to a comfortable state. I could feel her breathing start to taper off as she kissed at my neck. "That was amazing." she said softly.
"You're telling me," I laughed.
We sat for a second catching our breaths, letting our bodies come down and the feeling to return to my legs. I could feel her moving, pulling out and getting more comfortable, when the thought occurred to me how much time had passed.
"Shit, the brownies," I called out almost pushing her off of me.
I ran to the kitchen pulling open the oven door and grabbing pan with a towel from the counter. I set the thoroughly cooked chocolate dessert on the stove top and poked at it with a fork hoping they were still good.
"How do they look?" Tobin strolled into the kitchen, resting her chin on my shoulder.
The fork came out clean and it wasn't hard to push it in so they were edible, at least the center was. "Maybe stay away from the edges."
"Well cut me up a piece," she kissed my shoulder and walked away.
I carefully cut up as much of the brownies as I could, placing them on paper towels. As I spun around, Tobin walked in with her robe on and mine in her hand. She sweetly placed mine on me, tying the tie, while getting lost in a timid kiss. We walked over to the couch, sitting down, curling into each other as we ate brownies and settled in for the night.
“Hey, girly," Allie was standing outside the door to the science building, waiting on me to arrive at work. "You look happy."
"I am happy," I said doing a little spin. "I had a wonderful weekend."
I spent my whole weekend with Tobin after a wonderful Saturday night that ended with us falling asleep on the couch, well more like passing out from drinking, some drugs on my part, and some mind blowing sex on both our parts. We had the whole Sunday to recover and that consisted of us sitting around, eating left over take-out and forcing each other to drink water so our hangovers would go away, and, of course, we found ourselves tangled in the sheets of our bed.
"How did Saturday go?" Allie questioned as we headed inside.
"Amazing, they did so well. The band's Instagram practically blew up after the show. Tobin is almost drowning in follow request."
"That's awesome,” she cheered along with my happy tone. "So what now?"
There was an ominous way she asked, as if she was asking some deeper than just what was next for the band or what we were going to get for lunch and I knew exactly what she was getting at. It had been something I thought about yesterday while my head was in Tobin's lap and my mouth was dry, and I was reminded of the first time I ever had a hangover and my girlfriend took care of me. The idea ran through my head as Tobin explained the band’s page had jumped from a few hundred followers to over a thousand in one night. The idea that maybe this was the best thing for her, for my new friends, for myself.
"You're asking if I still want to work on the equation." I pushed my back against the lab door and walked in. I could hear my friend following me, waiting on an answer to her question. "Truth is, I'm not sure."
"What do you mean?" she walked over to the table I had settled at. "You said the only reason you wanted to go back is for Tobin to live out her potential. Kind of sounds like she's capable of doing that right here in this world."
She was right. "If the band continues on the way they are then..."
"Then you won't have to leave," her words were rushed, almost like she had practiced them.
I sat down in the rolling black leather chair at my desk looking over to Allie, an apprehensive look on her face, one that didn’t match the flowing long sleeved blouse she had smartly tucked into her jeans. It was wild how she could look so casual yet so serious at the same time.
"Tobin and music aren’t the only reasons I have to go back," I let my back sink into the chair, my hands holding tight to the armrest. "In the other worlds... Kelley is…”
"Sweetheart, that's not your fault."
"You know everyone says that, but it doesn't make it true," my hand went up to push my hair from my face. "The day Kelley died, in the other world, one that I didn't let Tobin come with me to the west coast. That day, Tobin and Kelley Facetimed me, she was alive and well. In this world, without Tobin, she died. How is that not my fault?"
Her face tensed, she hadn't heard the full story before, the only person I felt comfortable enough to explain it to was Julie during a session. There was no way to tell the people I loved most that if I would have made one small choice, one of their best friends would still be alive. I couldn't live with the look on their faces, the one I knew Allie would have.
"No," she whispered, her eyes coming up to meet mine. "It's still not your fault. No matter what happened in those other worlds, Kelley's choices were her own. It was her choice to get on that bike, to do those drugs, to go over the speed limit, those were all her choices. Nothing you did had any effect on what she did, and the sooner you start believing that, the sooner you can move on."
"How am I supposed to move on?" I shot up from the chair, needing to move around as I spoke. "How in the world do you move on from something like that? How can I forget in this world Kelley is dead and in the other worlds she's alive? If I go back, I'll be in a world with Kelley alive..."
"Or you might end up in a world where Tobin's dead," she rushed out. "Or maybe I'll be dead. Or maybe you'll be on your death bed seeing as going back will probably crack your skull and fry your brain like an egg."
“Allie, I know all of this."
"Do you?" this time she moved so close to me I could smell her shampoo. "Do you know what you are risking on the off chance that you could save someone's life?"
I took a deep breath, "Yes, I do."
"Why?" she shook her head, her eyes closing. "I loved Kelley, I really did, but why are you risking your life on a chance?"
I shrugged, "She'd do the same for me."
////Eight Years Ago\\\\
The last time I spoke to Kelley O'Hara was in the parking lot of a Taco Bell on the north side of Morristown. My sisters and I had driven to what was considered the good Taco Bell in town, it had better service and for some reason we were all craving cheap quesadillas and frozen Baja Blasts. It was a warm summer in New Jersey, the kind that made you wish there were public pools or the shore wasn't so far away. I had a week before I was on a plane for California and I spent most of my day texting Tobin while she was getting settled at her sister’s house in Reno.
Most of our friend group had dissipated, at least from me, all of them a little upset with the whole moving situation but none as upset as Kelley. I had seen all of them here and there but I used the excuse of wanting to hang out with my family as a blocker from seeing them. The truth was I didn't want to talk to them, I was afraid. In my mind they blamed me for Tobin leaving, for the band ending, for their lives going in a direction they never anticipated. They were right, I was the reason their leader and lead signer moved across the country, I encouraged her. I didn't know why back then, why I would tell Tobin to move, all I knew was it was a good idea. Still having no explanation didn't play well with the group who talked about everything.
I was halfway done with my inexpensive meal when I saw the unmistakable peeling paint of Kelley's car. She pulled into the parking lot, skidding into a spot, the music blasting from the new sound system she installed, the muffler too loud to have passed inspection without a hundred being slipped to the Jersey State inspector. She climbed out in her jean cut offs and dirty slip on Vans, socks high on her legs, and shirt half tucked in. She looked like a mess, more than normal, and she tripped over a crack in the sidewalk as she made her way to the front door.
My sisters spotted her too and we all made a silent agreement to just ignore her, but it was broken when she looked up from pulling a few crumpled dollars out of her back pocket and finally checked to see where she was walking. Her eyes landed on me and her completely indifferent look fell to distain. I was hoping she would walk away, leave my sisters and I sitting on the hood of the car in the blazing summer heat, but she made a b-line for us.
"Hey!" she said loud enough for the whole parking lot to hear, not that there were many people standing around, but some stopped as they headed for their cars. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
I stopped my oldest sister from getting up to step in to speak for me. I hopped off the car and walked towards her, stopping just short, noticing she was swaying, trying to keep still. "Kelley, I'm not doing anything." I started weakly, then noticed how bloodshot her eyes were. "Are you drunk?"
"Shut up!" she scoffed, running her hand down her stomach, smoothing out some of the pressed-in wrinkles. "You think you're so damn smart." Her laugh came from deep inside, bubbling up as her thumbs hooked in the front pockets of her jeans. "You're not as good as you think, you know?”
She looked around, checking to see if anyone was watching the show. This was something she did in school whenever she did anything she thought needed an audience, which was everything. Kelley craved attention and she needed it more than food, more than air. Kelley O’Hara needed an audience to witness everything she did. Back then she was under the assumption everything she did was pure genius and should be witness by the world. She was made for the stage, for social media, for likes and comments, for the bright red dot on a recording device. Back in school there wasn’t much by the way of social media so Kelley made scenes, she made big elaborated shows for the real world to watch, and today I was staring.
Moving closer, I hoped she would lower her voice. I reached my hand out, "Kelley, you're drunk. Let us take you home."
"I don't need your help," she pulled away from me, her voice turning up to an octave I didn't know she could reach. She ran her hand under her nose, sniffing up one good time, before she straighten in her stance. "You think you're the greatest thing that ever happen to her, huh? You think you changed her?"
"Kelley," I lowered my head, knowing how hurtful she could be when she was angry. "Please, just let me drive you home, we can..."
"She cheated on you." The words came out fast, shocking me enough that I could see a look on her face, one that said she had the upper hand. Her back straightened, her eyes shooting from me to the people who were pretending not to listen but were obviously in this story and ready to hear the end. "Yeah, last summer, when she went on vacation with Lys' family. She slept with some random girl at the resort. She told me."
I took a step back, "You're lying." I shook my head, "You're just trying to hurt me."
"Yeah, you're right, I'm definitely trying to hurt you,” an evil smile appeared on her face. "But I'm not lying. Tobin told me when she got back from the trip. She got drunk with Lys and had sex with a girl on the beach at night. She made me promise not to tell you. She said she didn't want to hurt you, but I don't care anymore."
I could feel the judging eyes on us. My heart was racing. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because you're a loser freak who thinks she's so much better than everyone else and it's time someone put you in your place.” Striking blows like a typical teenage bully, Kelley was on a role and she knew how to finish it. “You think just because you suddenly got in with the cool group that you're cool. You're not. You're a fucking loser, Christen Press, and you always will be."
All the feeling left my body as I watched her smirk, looking around to see people whispering to each other. She had done exactly what she planned to do, rendered me speechless and unable to defend myself. My mouth was so dry it felt impossible to open. She laughed, turning on her heels and going to her car. Before she got in, she looked over at me flashing another quick evil smile then jumping in her car and speeding off. My sisters had to pull me away from the spot on the sidewalk to get me home.
I never had the courage to ask Tobin if it was true. By the time she called me that night she was in such a bad mood over her job I had no idea how to bring the subject up. I spent the rest of the summer hoping it was a lie. It was just Kelley trying to mess me up, she was just taking her anger out on me. Eventually I talked myself into the idea that there was no way it was true. I spent weeks going over the conversations I had with Tobin over that summer, trying to remember if there was ever a night when she got drunk and missed a nightly check in. To me, every night was perfect and Tobin checked in each time, falling asleep on the phone with me. I decided Kelley was lying and that was it.
I blocked Kelley on every form of social media, made sure she would never appear on any anything I was on. The only thing I knew how to do was to try an erase her from my life and I did the best I could. The more I pushed her from my life, the more I missed her. I started to miss the talks we shared, all the secrets she told me and no one else. I remembered sharing my biggest fear with her, the itching in the back of my mind that Tobin might not love me the way I loved her. One night, sitting with our feet dangling in the pool at her house, I told her how much I would hurt to lose Tobin, to be without her or to have her do something that would force me to leave. I told her the one thing that would make me give up on the love of my life was for her to cheat on me.
Kelley played my worst fears against me that day in the parking lot. She took all the secrets I told her and twisted them against me. If it was anyone else in the world that would make them hate them even more, but for some reason it made me love her more. It was simple in my mind, Kelley wanted to hurt me so much because she loved me too. It was a toxic kind of love, a zero sum that made her see me leaving her as loving her less so she ramped up her love so much it caused her to be a jerk. It was stupid, and dangerous, but that’s the way she loved, it was hard and confusing and most of all it hurt.
I remembered the real Kelley, the one from the other worlds, the one that would fly off a bar top just to stop some girl from hitting on me. I remembered being wrapped in her arms, crying on nights when Tobin was too high to take care of me. I remembered the type of love she could have, when she was okay, when she was happy, and the fact that she never got to become that Kelley. She never got to become the Kelley I would do anything for, the one that would do anything for me. So I never told anyone about that day, the last time we ever spoke, because I was determined for that not to be the last time, I was on a path to bring her back, and now I was questioning it.
I spent most of my week just staring at the equation on the board, trying to solve some pieces of it even if I wasn’t sure if I would need it. I wanted the option, even thought that sounded bad when I said it out loud. “I wanted the option to go save my friends life.” I felt like a monster. How was it even a question? How was I debating going back and telling Tobin to stay in Jersey, stay with Kelley, protect her from herself?
I knew there was more to it than that. I knew why I was so hesitant, and it wasn’t because I was sure Midline would be as famous as Turnpike. I was sure they would do something, maybe record a few albums. The band was good and Tobin was happy, hell I was happy. Was it selfish to want to stay in this world, where I had Tobin, I had my new friends, I had my best friend? Was it selfish to not want to use the machine again since there was a chance that it could be catastrophic for my neural network and destroy my brain?
I sat down, and wrote down some options and possibilities, things I could do. There was a simple solution. Go back, tell Tobin to stay with her friends, but never break up with her during college. But that could lead to us being unhappy. In the other world it was the time we spent apart that inspired anthems, Tobin writing her pain and singing them out for the world to hear. Then there was another answer, go back and break up with her, let it all play out the way it did in the first world I ended up in, after all, that world was amazing, besides Tobin being a drug addict, but she was clean and sober and learned to live with her diseases, so how hard could it be?
But either way, there was one giant problem. Going back would surely fry my brain. My network would have more missed connections, neurons misfiring causing more hallucinations, more lapses in time. No matter what I was going to be sick. And if I was sick, Tobin was going to give up the world to take care of me. And if I didn’t have the capacity to tell her not to, then she would give up the band to do whatever it took for us to be together, to be whole, even when I was missing in time, stuck in my head living out lives that didn’t happen. I was at least some semblance of okay in this world. I could function which meant Tobin could still have a life, a good one with the new band.
So the final answer, the one I dreaded, the one that made me cry in my office alone. I could go back to that fateful night at Kelley’s house. I could never go to the ridge, never speak to Tobin. I could just let it play out the way my real world was, with Tobin as a famous, yet extremely mean rock star and me alone with my cat, who wasn’t in this world if anyone is trying to figure that one out, I never got Acer in this world. I knew why Tobin was so mean in the other world, why she acted the way she did. In that world, the real world Tobin never ran away, she was sent to a conversion camp where evil people told her there were demons inside her making her gay and all she had to do was pray and they would magically go away. Tobin never escaped that fate and it hardened her sweet soul, turning it sour and rotting her from the inside out. She got into drugs because of that and ten years later she was Tobin Heath, rock star, drug addict, and sad.
It occurred to me that I could go back and tell Tobin to run away but never accept the kiss good night, never get into a relationship with her, and maybe she would be okay. I could go back and tell Abby to take care of her. I could go back and do so many things that set Tobin on the right path, one that ended in stardom, and me alone. But then, my brain, it would still be messed up and who would take care of me then. I guess it didn’t matter, as long as Tobin was okay and Kelley was alive, it didn’t really matter where or how I ended up.
All of this floated around in my messed up mind as I stared at the whiteboard with the equation written in black dry erase marker. I spent almost a full week trying to decide what to do. I spent days trying to gain the courage to go back and fix this world, breaking myself and leaving the love of my life.
The inside of the bungalow was much larger than the plain exterior led you to believe. I had followed Maddie inside, heading to the kitchen to pull more beer from the fridge inside to load up the fridge in the garage. I was happy to do some kind of work, after all the band and everyone had been incredibly accommodating over the week as Tobin and I showed up almost every day for practice.
Midline was invited to play again on Saturday, this time in the fifth spot, just one away from the coveted closing slot. The following the band started to collect over the week led the managers of the club to call them back on Tuesday and promise them the better slot. Apparently people were asking for the band, looking for the group that rocked the stage with their blend of pop, RnB, and rock. Apparently Tobin had made a huge impact, her social media now filled with thirsty girls trying to figure out the next place she would show up. It was all good, mostly because the band was making noise in the music scene, and also because I knew none of those girls meant a thing to my Tobin.
It was late in the Thursday night, Tobin had taken off from the bar for the week; she needed to learn a few more songs for the weekend. She was a few beers in and already chuckling at everything the rest of the band was saying. I was happy, just Maddie and I getting food and brining the performers whatever they needed. Nico and Toya were both working until later in the night so it was up to me and the younger girl to take care of the crazy musicians as they pushed through the night perfecting their sound.
I was pulling Heinekens from the fridge door as my counterpart tucked Coronas under her arm. "So, do you think the band will get scouted this weekend?"
"I hope," she said with a little shrug. "I don't want to jinx them."
"Yeah me either," I laughed lightly. "I just want it to work out, you know. They are working so hard."
She closed the fridge door as we both stood up straight, "I've never seen them practice so much. I know it's because they want Tobin to be prepared, but I think it's also because they are enjoying themselves. The last singer gave them so much trouble, they almost dreaded practice. With Tobin, they all look forward to it."
"That's good because all she does is talk about the next time they will practice."
We walked into the garage, with Tobin sitting at the drums and Jane at the mic. They both smiled up at us as they tried to play one of their songs, Jane missing almost every note as the other three cracked up. We set the beers in the fridge and I grabbed a green bottle cracking the top and waiting off to the side for the crazy song to end.
"I think that went well," Jane grinned as they ended.
"I think there's a reason you're a percussionist," Adrianna joked.
Tobin did a quick classic 'ba dum dum, crash' that drummers do after a punchline, making everyone laugh even more. She got up from the kit as Hope threw her pick at her.
"Thank you for the beer," she said sweetly, kissing my cheek.
I ran a hand down her arm, "Of course. Anything else you need?"
"No babe," she gave a cheesy grin, "We should probably wrap up in a bit or we'll miss the bus."
"Why don't you guys just stay here?" Hope said.
We both turned to look at her, Tobin spoke for the both of us. "In the house?"
"Yeah, why not?" she said as if it was the simplest solution. "We have the other bedroom all ready and we have extra stuff like toothbrushes and sleep clothes. You two can stay here and we can get up early tomorrow and practice a little more."
Tobin looked over to me, "What do you think, Squirrelly?"
"I mean, it would be easier,” I answered simply. "I'm down if you are."
Tobin spun around, beer in the air, "We are staying the night." The band cheered as she walked back over to the practice space.
I moved back to line up with Maddie, "It's almost like they had it planned."
She laughed, "They probably did. Honestly they've been talking about convincing you two to move in to the house."
I let my head fall back in laughter, it was typical of every band to want Tobin as close as possible. "I think we have a little ways before we give up our apartment."
"Trust me, one day you two will end up here too," she said in a sing song voice. "We all end up here eventually."
We went back in the kitchen, throwing pizza bagels on a tray ready to put in the oven. The four musicians would be at it all night now and in an hour they would be complaining about how hungry they were, so to get ahead of it we decided to make a pile of junk food for them to come into the house.
Maddie was talking to me but it was hard to concentrate. My thoughts were on the idea of moving into the bungalow, living with the band the way Tobin was meant to live with her old band before I stole her away. I kept flashing in and out of the apartment of the other world, the one I shared with just Tobin but seemed like the whole band lived there, seeing as they spent almost every waking second with us. I could hear the other girl talking, but for some reason I couldn't focus on what she was saying, her words seemed to blur with the words of the past, the other worlds.
"Chris, are you okay?"
I looked up to a pair of piercing blue eyes and tried to smile, "Yeah Lex, I'm good."
"Lex?" she questioned, forcing me to refocus.
I was about to speak but my mouth wasn't responding and suddenly I could feel my body falling to the floor. I heard Maddie yell for Tobin, a desperate cry mixed with a scream, one that was almost ear shattering. I could hear Tobin yelling back to roll me on my side. Even with my thoughts blurred I realized what was happening. I was having a seizure and this one didn't feel normal.
The path to happiness is a rocky one. I think I heard that somewhere, or I may have been getting that one wrong. I've quoted a lot in this, I can't get it all right every single time.
My path to happiness was a cobblestone road, not a brick one, and it wasn't yellow. I wasn't Dorothy lost in Oz, a twister throwing me into a new world. I may have been in a new place, with the people from my dreams, but I did it to myself, I created my Oz, and there was no ruby slippers that would bring me back.
There's no place like home.
Cold and lonely home.
Part of me was happy in this dream place, all the seasons around me. It was a predictable place. I knew what to expect each and every time I ended up here. I knew I would travel through spring and summer, the warm air blowing my hair back, the smell of fresh flowers in the air. I knew I would make it to fall, shivering a little as I approached winter. I knew I would see Tobin, I knew I would see the giant building with the lights. I was safe here, and I knew if I wanted to, I could stay here forever.
I walked down the winding path, my sandals clapping against the stones as I passed by the summer season and headed into fall. I had done it a hundred times before, letting the comfort settle over me, the worries of the real world disappearing into the air. I walked down the road the fall season passing by, I was expecting to see winter, the snow of the east coast falling on me, but instead I stopped to see someone.
A girl sat on a park bench, her legs stuck out in front of her as she sunk into place, her head down looking at a phone screen. She was wearing black joggers, a pair of bright white Nikes on her feet, a hoodie covering her body, the only visible sign she was a woman was the long brown hair sticking out from where her hood covered her head.
"Hello," I called out, trying to get her attention. Who was this woman?
Her hand left her phone to push the hood from her head. It was Tobin, the one from this dream world, with the lip ring and a quarter of her head shaved. The version of Tobin that I didn’t remember yet somehow felt so familiar to me.
"Tobin, what are you doing here?" I approached slowly waiting for her to make a move. “You’re usually further up in this world.”
She pushed her phone into her front pocket and stood up, "I'm waiting on you."
"On me?" I questioned as I got to the bench.
"Yeah, you silly." she patted the seat next to her indicating that I should take a seat. "Come on, I won't bite, unless you ask."
She may not have looked like my Tobin, but her sense of humor was definitely the same. I took a seat leaving some space between us, not sure if I was allowed to touch her even though my entire body was calling to wrap around her. All the other times in this world, she was an ethereal figure, something that I couldn’t reach, and we never spoke. I was shocking to have her so close, to be able to hear her voice, letting it comfort me the way it did in the real world.
"How long have you been here?" I asked.
She hummed for a second, "Feels like forever."
My heart jumped, a stitch of pain. "That's not fair."
"Why?" she turned to look at me with kind eyes.
I could feel myself starting tear up, "You shouldn't have to wait that long... Not for me."
"I don't understand," her eyes were so kind, the same as the Tobin that took care of me, always gentle when I needed it the most. She gave a soft smile, "Why wouldn't I wait for you?"
I shook my head, looking down to my legs, trying to keep my tears at bay, "I'm not worth it."
“Oh, Squirrelly," her hand went to mine pulling my fingers apart to lace hers in. "I would wait a million forevers for you."
I could feel the tears starting to make their way down my cheeks, falling making tiny wet spots on my clothes. Her hand tightened on mine as I wept silently. Her hands felt so right in mine. I wanted to hold them forever. I wanted to stay on the park bench, looking out to the changing leaves, holding her warm hand. I could spend the rest of my life just like that with her.
"Why are you so sad?" she questioned.
Looking over to her I answered, "Because I miss you." I wasn’t sure why I said that. I missed Tobin, but she wasn’t the real Tobin, none of the versions in my mind were the real Tobin. Still, I missed her, I missed every single thing about her.
"Well, you can fix that," she smiled softly, "Just come back."
I shook my head, "I don't know how."
"Of course you do," she flipped completely on the bench, facing me, her legs crossed in front of her. "You just need to remember who you are and who your family is."
"Yeah, silly, you're family,” she said everything so softly like the answers were obvious. "You've been at this by yourself for so long, maybe it's time you found your family.”
I wanted to question more, figure out exactly what and who she meant, but she was up and stretching before my eyes, her arms out looking so inviting. I was up in an instant wrapping my arms around her torso and feeling her lean into me. I took in her scent, the same one I remembered, the tough guy body soap, simple laundry detergent and a spicy cologne, the perfect smell. She was so warm, her hoodie the perfect softness against my skin. She held me so tight I thought I would pop, but that was okay, I wanted her to smash me into her body, I wanted to be one with her, I wanted to stay.
I knew that I couldn’t stay. This was a dream world, a place that I could feel safe while my brain rebooted. I remembered having a seizure, falling to the ground, Tobin rushing to me screaming for someone to call 9-1-1. I knew what happened, and I knew this was my brain figuring out a way to keep me safe until I was ready to wake up. I needed to wake up, the real Tobin would be there, worried and waiting. Even though I wanted to stay like this forever, held close to this dream Tobin, I needed to go back to the real thing. It was time to wake up.
"I miss you so much." I said into her shirt.
"I miss you too," she held a little tighter. "I'm waiting for you. Come home."
I could hear the faint beeping of the monitors, the smell of disinfect wafted up my nose as I took a deep breath and opened my eyes. I knew I was in the hospital, I had been in several more times than I can count, but it still didn’t help with the shock. Before I could think of anything, Tobin was holding my hand calling out for a nurse to come to my room. I could hear Tobin speaking as she held my hand close to her, brushing her chapped lips against my knuckles, breathing out something soothing.
The nurse came in and checked on me, writing things down on a clipboard and letting me know the doctor would be in as soon as they could. All I could do was nod, it was all I really needed to do, Tobin was giving answers for me. We had been through this so many times, it was routine for her to speak for me as I regain my facilities. Then, like every other time she offered me water in those thick plastic cups and helped me sit up on the uncomfortable bed. Here we were again.
I looked out the window, trying to see some of the scenery. I wasn’t in my normal hospital, which meant I wouldn’t be seeing my normal doctor. I hated seeing new doctors, having to explain my condition, trying to convince them the mark of Schizophrenic Delusions didn’t mean that I wasn’t capable of making my own decisions. Most doctors saw the diagnosis and quickly made the choice to up my medication and send me on my way. I was already getting frustrated just thinking about it.
“Mrs. Press,” a woman in a white coat flew into the room like she was surfing on a wave, then looked up at me with the bluest eyes I have ever seen. “I’m Dr. Morgan, I’ll be your attending neurologist.”
“Alex,” I said under my breath.
She cocked her head to the side, her bright smile lighting up the room. “Yeah, how’d you know.”
There was the real answer and the acceptable answer. “We went to school together. Stanford, we had biology together.”
“Get out of here,” she chuckled, that melodic laugh that always made me feel better.
A weak smile appeared on my face. She didn’t remember me, not that she should, to her I was just another face in the crowd. It wasn’t her fault that to me she was one of my best friends. Tobin spoke up for the both of us, taking over as was natural for her, asking if I was going to be okay.
“There’s a reason I’m the one on your case,” Alex said holding up a manila folder. She took some scans out of the folder and put them up on the light box in the room. “We did an MRI when you were admitted. I have never seen scans like this. Your brain is fascinating.”
I looked up at the scans, my brain was indeed fascinating, and I knew why. Part of me wanted to tell her, let her know that I was a time traveler and what she was looking at was all the worlds of my past shoved into a brain that didn’t have space for it all and therefore misfired and caused seizures like the one that brought me here. The other part of me wanted to watch Alex work, she was beautiful when she was figuring out a mystery.
“You have so many neural networks, it almost like looking at multiple scans laid on top of each other. I mean, I don’t even know how to describe it.” She turned around, her hands going into her coat pockets. “The most interesting thing is some of the pathways are restricted.”
“They’re severed,” I corrected, sitting back into the pillows on the bed. “They don’t connect, it’s what causes my CCD.”
Alex’s eyes got wide, “No, they are not severed, the connections are just smaller than normal, like a thin string compared to a thick piece of yarn. When you think, the neurons fire, on normal connections it’s an easy path, but in your brain, they struggle to get through the thinner pathway, that’s what causes your seizures.” She looked down at my chart picking it up and flipping the papers over. “It’s probably what’s causing your delusions too.”
“You don’t think she has CCD or Schizophrenia?” Tobin’s voice was so hopeful it almost broke my heart.
“I’m not sure just yet,” she set the chart down and turned back to the scans. “I have a theory, and it’s just a theory for now, so please don’t get too excited, but I think there is a way to make these connections stronger, open the pathways so your neural sequence can start to regulate itself.” She turned back to me, the smile even wider. “The crazy thing is, all these restricted connections are in the memory portions of the brain. I know you have CCD that distorts time, but do your memories become distorted too?”
“All the time,” Tobin answered for me again. “She remembers things that didn’t happen or remembers them the wrong way. Do you think you can fix that?”
Alex shrugged, “I think I could, given time.”
Looking over to me with giant hopeful eyes, Tobin squeezed my hand bringing it to her lips to place a gentle kiss on my fingertips. She looked back to the doctor, “So what now? What’s the next step? What do we have to do?”
“For now,” she took a breath, “And I know it’s going to suck, but I want to up your seizure medication. Because your neural network is so fragile, I’m afraid another grand mal seizure would do irreparable damage.”
Nodding and looking between me and Alex, Tobin answered. “So a higher dose of the Felbatol and Topamax then we can start figuring out how to fix her memories.”
“That’s my recommendation,” she answered.
Tobin turned to me, ready to speak when her phone started to ring. She pulled it from her jacket pocket looking at the screen, “It’s the band, they’ve been calling and texting for hour trying to get a status update.”
“Take it,” I squeezed her hand. “Let them know not to worry.”
“Okay,” she stood up, then leaned over to kiss my forehead. “I’ll be right back.”
I waited for her to leave the room, the phone going to her ear, the hope in her voice to carry over as the door closed behind her. I waited for her to be gone before I let my face fall and the tears start to roll down my cheek.
“Lex,” I said without thinking. “I need to talk to you. I need to talk to Alex, not Dr. Morgan.”
She looked shocked, then straighten in her stance, “Okay.”
“I can’t go on more medication,” my hands went up to wipe the tears coming down my face. “That stuff makes me feel so numb and I can’t think while I’m on it.” I took a breath, knowing what I was about to say would just make her think I was insane, but I needed to say it. “I know you don’t know me, not the way I know you, but there was a world that I loved you, a world that we were best friends, a world that we would do anything for each other, so I need to tell you something, and I need you to believe me, because if one more person tells me I’m crazy, I swear I will officially go insane.”
Without hesitation, she shoved her hands in the pockets of her perfectly white coat, closing it a little around her as she took a step forward her legs hitting the bottom of the bed. She looked me in the eye and nodded. “Okay, go on.”
Something inside told me I could trust this Alex the way I trusted all the other versions of her. So I spoke up.
“I invented time travel, it’s complicated, but it has to do with brain waves and neural connectors. All the restricted connections you’re seeing on my scans are the other worlds I have been too, the memories of other lives. They are severed because I went back in time several times, creating new versions of myself, forcing my brain to download all the information of these new worlds and they formed new connections in the memory center of my brain. The last time I traveled, I discovered that my brain didn’t have to capacity to hold all the information and therefore the connections to past worlds was severed. Sometimes my memories are triggered causing misfires, which causes my seizures.” I took a shaky breath, flicking my eyes up to meet a surprisingly calm Alex. “That’s pretty much it.”
She pulled her bottom lip into her mouth, her eyes going up and to the left, her thinking face. Pausing for a second, then looking down at me she smiled, “Okay.”
“That’s it? Just okay?”
“Yeah,” she shrugged. “I don’t have a better answer for what’s going on in your head, so why not. I’ll believe you, for now, because I think you have something else you want to say, and it seems important.”
“It is,” I scooted myself up in bed, leaning forward. “Do you think you can figure out how to restore my neural network?”
She nodded with a small smile, “Yeah I do, but it’ll take time. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never even heard of anyone attempting something like this. I’ll be the first which means it could take years.”
My head popped up, “How many?”
Alex laughed, shaking her head, “I don’t know.”
“How about five?” I watched her eyes go wide. “If you have five years, could you figure this out?”
“Shit, I don’t know,” she laughed again, now starting to move around the room. “Probably, I mean, I have no idea.”
“If you knew all this information five years ago, do you think you would be able to figure it out? I mean if you had a team, not of doctors, but of other scientists.”
I could tell she was getting excited but didn’t want to show it, “I don’t know, maybe if I had a team, maybe…”
“Maybe if you had a physicist, a mechanical engineer, a brilliant young mathematician, and an electrical engineer.”
She chuckled, going to sit on the window seal. Her head was down for a second, but when she picked it up to look at me, I could swear she recognized me. She had that determined look on her face, the one I knew so very well. Alex had an idea, a plan. “What are we even talking about right now?”
“I’m talking about you.” I said happily. “I’m talking about you being one of the best neurologists I have ever met. I’m talking about you having time to figure out how to map my brain and figure out how to restore my pathways. I’m talking about a machine that will set everything in my head back. I’m talking about an equation that restores my timeline, a vacuum to pull me back home. I’m talking about a psychiatrist to guide me, and…” finally it all clicked in my mind. A smile creeped to my face. “And a sound engineer that understands waves and knows how to find the right frequency.”
A tear rolled down my cheek as the words from my dream state echoed in my mind. “I’m talking about my family.”
Alex studied me, her brow crinkling as she tried to make sense of it all. “I don’t understand.”
“You will,” I spoke softly, knowing this was a lot for the moment, for our first meeting. “Just please, don’t up my medication. Tell my wife that I don’t need a higher dose. And discharge me.”
“Mrs. Press,” she paused. “Christen. I don’t think you should be discharged.”
“Alex, please trust me,” I pleaded, needing to get a positive answer before Tobin returned. “Please. I promise this will all make sense, just let me go.”
Her nostrils flared, her breathing getting heavy. I could see the wheels in her head turning, coming up with an answer, and finally her eyes flickered as she settled. “Fine. I don’t know why, but I trust you. I’ll have the nurse write up the paperwork. But I want you to come back and see me in a week. Do we have a deal?”
“Yes, thank you,” my voice was strained. “One more thing, what would someone have to tell you to convince you of time travel.”
She chuckled, a breathy laugh, “I don’t know. I guess they would have to tell me about my future. Tell me about work and life. Maybe tell me if I’ll fall in love.”
“Are you in love right now?” I asked partly because I needed to know, and because I wanted to know.
She shrugged, “No, and I’ve never really been in love.” She gave a quick wink, “So I guess there’s no convincing me. See you in a week.”
The ride home was silent despite the noise of the city, the teenagers on the bus debating on the newest social outcry, the sound of the engine humming, the rain hitting the windows, music playing loudly from the headphones of the guy sitting in front of us, the silence was still deafening. Tobin sat beside me, the size of the seats forcing her leg to touch mine, but she might as well have been a mile away. She kept her face forward, not even her eyes flickering over to see me. I wanted to lean into her, have her arm around me, keep me safe, but that wasn’t a possibility.
She helped me down the slippery steps of the bus, taking my hand and making sure I kept my balance, but she let go the moment both feet were on the ground. We walked with our hoods up, the view of each other blocked by the thick fabric. I could see her white sneakers out in front of me, she was a half-step ahead, the way she walked when she was angry and trying to stay away from me, but didn’t have the heart to leave me alone. She even held the entry door open for me, waited for me to pass by, and walked behind me on the stairs to the apartment floor. Tobin was polite, she was a knight in this day and age, always sure that I was taken care of even if she was clearly too upset to speak.
I loved this about her, and I hated it. I wish she would just talk, tell me what’s wrong instead of carrying on in silence until the problem becomes so big it’s uncontrollable. Most days it was good to give her space, let her sit at the kitchen table typing on the computer or sit with headphones on as she played a game on her phone. Our apartment was small, there wasn’t much space for someone to be alone, so I would take a bath, and even when I thought she was so mad that she didn’t care, she would start singing, letting me know she was still there, still loved me, still cared.
In the apartment, she tossed her bag into the corner. While I was in the hospital, passed out for over twelve hours, Allie brought Tobin her overnight bag, something she packed in case she had to spend a lot of time in the hospital with me. It belonged in the entry closet, not in the corner with her shoes kicked into it, but that’s where it sat as she made her way to the kitchen, taking a beer from the fridge and cracking it open. She took out her phone and started to scroll. I had enough.
“Tobin, you need to talk to me.”
Not looking away from her screen, one shoulder went up weakly, “Why?”
“Because we need to talk about this,” I made my move towards the kitchen, but not in her space. “I know you’re upset…”
“What do I have to be upset about?” her hand went down on the counter, her phone slapping against the laminate top. “The doctor recommends upping you medication, and finding a solution for your memory problems, for your seizures, and everything else. I leave for five minutes to tell our friends that you’re okay, and when I come back, you’ve convinced this doctor to discharge you. What is there to talk about? You make all these choices without me.”
“It’s my choice, Tobin.” My voice was higher than it should be, after all she had a right to be upset. Taking a breath I tried to settle. “I don’t want to up my meds, I can’t think on them. I need to think.”
“No you don’t,” the anger rushed out of me. “You don’t understand because it’s not happening to you. This is my brain, my memories, my life, everything is happening to me.”
She straightened her back, a hurt look coming to her face, “And it’s not a factor in my life? None of this affects me at all?”
“That’s not what I’m saying,” I needed to calm down. The only way to reach her was with calm words. “Tobin… Babe, just listen to me. I know what I need to do, and I can only do this if my mind is clear and it won’t be if I’m on a higher dose.”
Lowering her head, she pushed her hands in her pockets, “This better not be about time travel. We’ve already been through this, Chris.”
It was true, we had already been through this several times. The last time I ended up in the hospital I told Tobin about a plan to go back in time and set things right despite what would happen to me. She made me promise to drop the subject and never bring it up again. It was more important to her that I was healthy than if she was famous. All Tobin has ever wanted was for us to be happy, for my mind to be clear and good, and here I was taking away the one shred of hope she had trading it out for an idea that she knew could possible kill me. She had the right to be pissed, but there was no other way.
“Alex can fix my brain,” I said simply. “She just needs the time.”
“Exactly, so give her time.”
“No, babe, she doesn’t need more time, she needs the time. I am the only person who can give her the time. I’m the only person who can give everyone the time.”
She shook her head, “I don’t understand.”
“Allie and I have been going through this during work and I didn’t understand any of it until now.” I took a few steps closer, I needed to feel her, even if she wasn’t ready to feel me. “Whenever I have a seizure I go to this world while my mind resets, it’s strange and I have no idea what most of it represents, but I see you there, not the way you are now, but all the different combinations of ‘you’s I’ve seen. The last time I was there, you told me to remember who I was and who my family is. Just the other day, Allie told me the equation to set my brain waves was something that would take a lifetime to solve. It all clicked, there with Alex in the hospital when she said it would take time for her to map my neural network. Everyone needs time, and I’m not talking about a few years, I’m talking about lifetimes. They all need the time to devote their lives to the solution, and I’m the only person who can give them that.”
The sigh she gave came from deep inside, it had the power to take all the enthusiasm from the world. “Christen, that doesn’t make any sense.”
“But it does,” rushing forward, I grabbed a sheet of paper and pen from the counter and started to write. “Think about it, my best friend is one of the best mechanical engineers in the country, her boyfriend is an expert on black holes and vacuums. My machine works on one principle, sending brainwaves through a vacuum that distorts time much like a black hole, in order to send them back in time.” I wrote down the names and the problems, “Who else is better to make a machine that creates a controlled vacuum? Then, my interns from the other world, one of them was pretty much posing as a physicist because she should have been a mathematician, she came up with the equation, so who better to solve it.” I scribbled Rose’s name down, then the next two. “Alex is a neurologist, but not just any neurologist, she specializes in neural networks. Neurons are like electrical conductors, always firing at each other, so in order to map an electrical/neural network it’s going to take a team with a neurologist and an electrical engineer, that’s where Mallory comes into play.”
I had her hooked, she stepped closer looking down at the paper, her eyes doing the flicking back and forth thing that said she was trying to solve a puzzle. “Okay, so what happens after that? I mean, are they all you need?”
“No,” I said in a happy tone. “I need JJ, she’s the only one who can make sense of my memories. After Alex figures out how to map them and how to expand my restricted pathways, someone is going to need to tell her what memory belongs where. When I wake up, I’ll have all my memories, but in the right order and all for the right world.” I was writing down everything, all the people I needed. “And last but not least, I need and expert on waves and time. There’s only one person who understands time travel and how waves work, Emily.”
Tobin took a step back, her face turned in a frown. She leaned her back against the counter, reaching for her beer and taking a swig. “I guess you don’t need me.”
“What?” I looked up to see her eyes full of sadness.
She shrugged, “You need everyone but me.”
“Baby,” going over to her, I reached out and pulled her hand into mine. “Of course I need you. Tobin, you’re my anchor.” I reached up to push the hair from her face, making her look up at me, those big brown eyes starting to water. “I have been to a lot of worlds and in every single one of them we were connected. Every single time I was drawn to you, pulled to you, forced by something in nature to find you.”
“But you said, your real world, we weren’t together.” She sniffled, a tear escaping down her cheek.
And that’s when it finally made perfect sense, everything. I thought I had invented time travel for Alex, to make her love me the way I loved her, but that wasn’t true. I lived a life with Alex, and still I was drawn to Tobin, needing her in a way I have never needed anyone. The happiest I have ever been was with Tobin, even now when my mind is a mess, the only thing that brings me back, that makes me smile, that gives me a purpose is her. I should have realized it long ago, with the way she makes me feel, with the way she holds tight to me, with the amount of love I have for her, I was always meant to be with her.
“I don’t know what happened,” I started off slow, this was hard to explain. “I don’t know how I ended up in that world, the one without you, but I know it wasn’t real. I don’t think there is a world where you and I don’t end up together.”
She pressed her cheek into my palm, “What if you’re wrong? What if you end up somewhere worse and we aren’t together? Chris, I don’t know how to live without you.”
“You told me once, and I’m not sure if it was you, or just a dream, but you told me that you would wait a million forevers for me.” I could feel her hand squeeze in mind. “I promise you, we are meant to be together, and if I end up in a world without you, I will spend the rest of time figuring out how to get back to you.” Tears started to flow down my cheeks as I moved to press my body into hers. “Tobin, you’re my home. Now and for a million forevers.”
Life hurts. There are days when it seems unbearable, impossible to get through. There are days when the sun doesn’t shine, nights when the stars don’t twinkle. It’s enough to make someone wish it was all over. But then, there are days when everything is so wonderful it seems impossible to not go on. There are times when the sun is shining so bright it almost seems ridiculous that there was ever darkness.
In my world, the one I lived in before I decided to change my timeline, my whole life, to fix the things I thought were broken, my life was dark, so much it almost felt like I was drowning in the blackness of my despair. I had this itching in the back of my mind, like that feeling you get with something accidentally touches the back of your throat and you spend the next hour in minor discomfort, that’s how I spent all of my life, in minor discomfort.
When I was young, I thought it was because I was so different, then I thought it was other people were so mean. As I got older I came to the conclusion it was because I wasn’t loved the way I was meant to be, but I didn’t have the ability to love the way someone was meant to, so how could anyone love me. I became convinced that when I finally found that person, that aching feeling in the back of my mind would just magically go away, and it did, sort of.
There was Alex, she walked into my life and for millisecond my heart stopped beating and the pain went away. That dull pain in my head disappeared, and if only I could get her to love me like I loved her, it would stay away. I convinced myself of this so much for long that I invented time travel. I solved a mystery of the universe in order to get a girl to love me. And to some, this might seem crazy, and to others it might seem like the perfect solution to a complicated problem, but I can now say, having gone through everything, this was a mistake.
Time travel was a mistake.
Everything I have done was a mistake, because that throbbing in my skull wasn’t really gone. Alex was pain killer, she wasn’t a permeant solution, just a temporary fix for a very serious problem. I was sad, depressed, on the verge of tears every second of the day and it was for one reason only. I was missing love. And before you guess, before you assume it was Tobin and her love I was missing, I’m going to tell you that you’re wrong.
Tobin has always been an extremely important factor in my life, but the love I was missing was from myself. I had no idea how to love myself, I had no idea where to even begin. In my search for time, for the security of another person standing beside me, I learned a lesson. It took much longer than I care to admit, took too many worlds, too many lives, too much time to figure out that I am amazing. Not to brag, but I am smart and funny. I am a great friend and an even better girlfriend. I take care of the people around me and I let them take care of me. I am beautiful inside and out. And most of all, I am lovable. And now that I know that, I’m no longer afraid.
I was so afraid to return home to that sad life spent half alone and half wishing I was alone. I was afraid to go back to the darkness, to the pool of anger and self-hatred. I was so afraid to be alone, not because I love Tobin so much, but because I love me too much to be that way again. I’ve known what it’s like to be loved by the best person in the world, and I know what it’s like to love myself and I never want to go back.
As I sat in the hospital bed after my seizure waiting for Tobin to come back in the room, anxiously waiting to explain I was choosing to go back in time again, at great risk, I figured something out. I was never meant to be in that dark place, in the sad world with all it’s sad things. I was always meant to be happy and healthy and in love. I haven’t figured out what happened, what went wrong for me to end up there, but I know I was never supposed to be there. Making the choice to go back was much easier once I knew I was returning to a better world. I had faith in my family, that they would solve this great problem, and when I opened my eyes, I would be okay.
I had to have faith, I mean, what the hell else did I have.
After a few days of Allie, Nick and I standing around the machine, inputting numbers and running simulations we had something figured out.
The time machine wasn’t exactly the safest thing to use, in its original state if I were to hook my mind back up we ran the risk of my neural network fracturing in an unrepairable way. So what were we to do? After all I didn’t have much of a choice, even if Tobin didn’t see it that way, I had to go back, fix all the things I broke, solve the equation and restore myself back to my real world, our real world. What we came up with was simplistic but it would work.
It was a controlled burn in a way, like when someone sets fire the brush in the woods making room for new growth, that’s essentially what we had to do to my brain. I was going back in time to my friends, key points in their lives when they were most likely able to accept the concept of time travel. In order to do this the machine needed a control containment field, something Nick and Allie figured out over pizza and six pack of Bud Light. The concept was to give me just enough time to talk to each of my friends, and control the rate of decay within my living brain. Nick made a vacuum which would not only stop the rapid fracture of my network, but contain my memories for future use.
So I would be able to jump back, spend an hour persuading my friends that I was a time traveler from the future and I needed them to give up a portion of their lives to develop a piece of a machine that would completely restore my memories without my brain melting. The containment field would stop me from gaining new memories each time I jumped. It would stop me from downloading the new past that I created, thus slowing the decay of my neural network. It almost downright crude when you thought about the elegant solution we could have come up with given more time, but it was what we had in the moment. Nick would need more time to come up with something that could hold my memories in place long enough to organize them before I returned to my future self.
It was a great plan, it would keep me alive as I moved through time the only thing that sucked was I wouldn’t be able to tell if everything I was doing was actually working. I wouldn’t be able to monitor the progress of each jump or each person I jumped to because I wouldn’t be able to download any memories. I was putting all my faith in the first person I was jumping to. I was relying on my best friend to not only believe me, but to continue the work without my past self knowing, and to push everyone else to do the same. It was a lot to put on one person, but if anyone could handle the pressure it was Allie.
“You sure about this?” Allie was over at the time machine inputting the dates I needed to go back to. “It’s a lot of jumps, Chrissy, you might get lost.”
“I won’t get lost. I’ll spend one hour in each point in time, I’ll set my watch each time I arrive.”
“You’re taking a huge risk,” Nick said offhand as he worked on programming the machine.
I smirked, “I’m taking a chance on you.”
He looked up at me, “That’s true, I’m confident in the math, so it’s not really a risk.”
We all laughed, well almost all of us, Tobin was sitting on the lab table swinging her legs back and forth, her face twisted in worry. I took the few steps to her, resting my hands on her knees forcing her to look up at me.
“You okay, Moose?” I whispered.
“No,” she pouted, looking back down. “What if you do get lost? What if you can’t come back? What happens if you get stuck in the past?”
“I can’t get stuck in the past,” I explained. “Besides, if I do, then I’ll spend the rest of my life convincing you to love me.”
The corner of her mouth went up in a controlled smile, “It wouldn’t be hard. I’ve loved you for over ten years.”
“And I promise we will have a hundred more.” Reaching up I cupped her cheek, making sure she was looking me in the eye. “This is going to fix everything and we can be together.”
“I just don’t want to be without you.” She said so softly it was almost impossible to hear.
I leaned in placing a gentle kiss on her lips, “I promise you’ll never have to.”
“Ready when you are, girly,” Allie called out.
I went in for another kiss, this one pushing against her lips trying with all my might to show her how much I loved her. I knew what she was thinking, I knew it felt like I was abandoning her, leaving her to go find another version of her. If I could stay with this Tobin, this sweet loving version of her, I would, but I knew in my heart this same Tobin was out there waiting on me to come back. As the kiss broke, I touched her cheek, running my thumb under her eye, wiping away a single tear. I knew she wasn’t going to be okay, but I had to trust that where I was going, she was going to be there waiting.
Tobin held tight to my hand I got ready. “What happens if it doesn’t work?”
“Then you’ll know in a few seconds when I wake up here.” I answered. I felt her grip tighten, her worries radiating through her hand in mine. “It’s okay, Moose, everything is okay.”
She just nodded, unable to speak. I wanted to stay and comfort her, take time to make sure she was okay, but I knew in my head it was now or never. I looked over to Allie and nodded.
“I’m your first stop,” Allie asked with a sweet smile
“I know exactly what to say to you.” I told her. I turned to Tobin and watched her anxious eyes get bigger as she waited. There was no more time, I had to do it now or I never would. I looked over to my best friend. “Okay, hit it.”
\\\\\13 Years Ago: Allie’s Bedroom////
I looked up, seeing myself in a mirror, I was definitely thirteen again, with my puffy hair tied back and my kitten t-shirt. I forgot I was a kitten girl at this age, I had kittens on everything. No wonder people laughed at me, but at the same time, kittens are cool so the rest of the people can shove it, but that’s off track.
When you’re young, you always think what’s happening to you is the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. When you’re eight and you trip in the lunch room spilling your food all over yourself and everyone points and laughs, that the worst thing that has ever happened to you in your young life, and there is no possible way in can go even further downhill, but it does. When you’re twelve and the popular girl smacks the books out of your hands and everyone laughs, you’re convinced this is it, the absolute bottom of embarrassment and nothing could make you feel more like a hideous loser freak, but after it happens ten times and everyone laughs at you twenty times, you start to get used to it. You shouldn’t have to, but you do, and it’s better when you have a best friend by your side.
Allie was always there to pick up the books and help me put them in my locker, always telling me that it would be okay. And when I was eight and tripped in the lunch room covering my sparkly unicorn shirt in cream corn, Allie was there. She helped me to the bathroom and gave me her sweater to cover my shirt. Allie was there each time my feelings were hurt, each time I thought I could never crawl out of the hole of mortification. She was there each time, never failing to pick me up, dust me off, and let me know that it would all be okay eventually. She was my rock before I even knew I needed one, and I could only hope beyond hope, she would be one more time.
I was getting use to waking up in bathrooms, after all it’s a good place to be alone, and I wasn’t sure how I looked when my eyes finally opened so it was better for me to be alone and have a few minutes of composure. Steading myself the best I could, I turned and opened the door, heading down the carpeted hallway of the Long house, the distinctive sounds of a Disney soundtrack playing in the last bedroom on the right. This was going to be weird.
I pushed open the door to see the long blonde hair of my best friend.
“Do you think everyone is going to make fun of me?” Allie didn’t turn to look at me, too busy running her tongue over her new braces. “I mean, more than they do now.” She had a lisp, it would eventually go away, but for now it sounded like she was saying everything with her tongue between her teeth.
“Probably,” which was the same answer I gave when I was thirteen and Allie had the same reaction.
“Tobin Heath has braces.” She flipped around and gave a weak smile.
I tried to remember what I said last time, but it’s not like it really mattered. “Tobin Heath is also a god among mortals.”
Allie stood, shocked face, then settled with a nod, “I guess that’s true.”
As much as I would love to sit around and talk about teenage things with my teenage best friend, I had a job to do. I watched her through the mirror, still studying the metal attached to her teeth, and remembering that we spent a few hours discussing braces and how it would make her look better eventually, I knew I had to start talking or I would be sucked in. After taking a quick breath for courage I blurted out the one sentence I knew would grab Allie’s attention.
“Hannah Montana gets canceled.”
“You monster!” She spun around so fast I could feel the wind from her hair. She rushed forward, “You take that back.”
“I can’t,” I took a step back and tried not to shake at the wild look in her eyes. “Listen, I don’t want it to be true as much as you, but I have to tell you, the show gets canceled but Miley Cyrus stays famous, puts out a ton of music and is genuinely an American icon.”
She settled a bit in her anger, “I guess that’s good. I mean who doesn’t love Miley, right?” she started to turn back around, before looking over to me, “Wait, how do you know all this?”
“I’m going to tell you something, and I need you to trust me.”
I started pacing around the room, between the full sized bed with Hannah Montana blanket and the pink chair with a bunch of flared legs jeans laid across it. This room was so 2007 it almost hurt. My eyes started flickering around the room, trying to focus on something. I saw the Avril Lavigne poster and the image popped in my mind of Allie and me trying to dye black and red streaks in our hair and wearing our dads’ ties over t-shirts. I wanted to laugh, maybe just sit down and be thirteen again, but I only had an hour.
“I’m from the future,” I told her, my hands flipping over in each other. “I’ve time traveled from thirteen years in the future.”
She stood in her spot for a second, a look of confusion on her face. I thought she was going to laugh in my face, but I should have known my best friend better than that. “Okay, so if you’re from the future, then prove it.”
“I thought I did, with the Hannah Montana thing.”
“I mean, you could be lying,” she said simply, in true Allie fashion. “I mean why would Disney Channel cancel one of their best shows?” she looked me up and down one good time. “No offense, but you look exactly the same, so how in the world did you even travel in time. And, where’s the Christen from this time?”
I forgot how crazy smart she was. “The time machine I invented uses brainwaves, it transfers my consciousness from the future into the past, so I am the Christen from this time, just with the brain of the future.”
She thought for a second, her lips pressing together as she processed. “Okay, so tell me something else from the future.”
“Okay,” I tried to think of something that would shock her. “Oh, okay, yeah, they make like fifty of those Fast and Furious movies.”
“Fifty!” her mouth fell open.
“Okay so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s more like nine and I think they are working on number ten now.”
Her eyebrows knitted together, “But why?”
“I don’t know,” I laughed, “I guess people love them.”
“That’s stupid,” she cracked a smile. Studying me for another second, it was like she accepted everything and was ready to move on. “Well, that’s not something someone would make up, so I guess you are from the future, but why are you here? Why come back to now? Aren’t you like grown up and married and can do whatever you want? Why in the world would you come back to be miserable in middle school?”
As easy as that we were getting down to business. “I am grown up, and I’m technically married, but I can’t do whatever I want because I’m sick.”
“Oh no,” she moved closer to me. “Is it really bad?”
“Kind of,” I didn’t want to tell her all of it, she would focus too much on the bad parts, I knew that much about thirteen year old Allie. “It’s my fault, I messed up with time travel and now my mind is kind of fractured. I need your help.”
She snorted, “Me, what can I do?”
And this is where I started breaking rules of time travel, but I didn’t have a choice. “In the future you become a mechanical engineer.”
A smile appeared on her face, “Really?”
“Yeah, dude,” I can start to feel my heart racing. “We go to college and I become a physicist and you become an engineer and we work at the same place.” And now for the hard part. “But like I said, I invent time travel and it fractures my mind. And now I need you to help me put it back together.”
“Allie, I love you more than anyone else. You’re my best friend in the whole world, you’ve always been and you always will be. Your life is going to be amazing. When we go back to school, people are going to make fun of you for having braces, but it’s okay because you are so beautiful and in a few years everyone is going to figure that out.” I watched the shy smile appear on her face. “If you keep going the way you are now, everything is going to work out so well. But I’m asking you to derail it, just a little. Full disclosure, I don’t know what kind of effect it will have on you.”
She took a step back, resting her back against her dresser, “You want me to derail my life?”
“Yes,” I whispered, the courage to ask was starting to leave me. “In the future, my mind is such a mess, I can’t figure out how to save myself. I need you to help me. I need you to save me.”
The worried look on her face reminded me of all the times Allie had to worry about me, past present and future. She spent a lifetime worrying about me, and now I was asking her to do more.
Her breathing was a little shallow, “What do you need me to do?”
My chest tightened, “I need you to focus your studies now in middle school. I need you to focus on math, mechanics, and engineering.” I lowered my head, trying to summon up some kind of bravery. “I need you to build a machine. One that’s capable of taking scrambled brainwaves and send them all in the right direction. This machine is the only thing that can piece my mind back together. If I don’t get it, when I return to the future, I’ll be in a catatonic state. I know that’s a lot to place on you…”
“Yeah, I mean, right.” She stood straight, “I… Of course, I want to, I mean, Chris, you’re my best friend, I would do anything for you, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”
“I have that,” I said quickly, going over to the desk in the corner. I flipped open a notebook and started to write. “You, the future you, thought you might do this so she gave me something.” I felt her move over behind me.
She placed her hand down on the sheet on paper, “What is this? I’ve never seen math like this?”
“It’s the basics of time travel, mixed with what the future you thinks is the start of the memory machine.” I wrote down the last of the equation, turning to see her awestruck by the numbers. “Allie said if I left you with this, you’d figure it out.”
“I mean she… I was right.” Her finger ran over the paper. “This is so elegant.”
“The first equation is from a mathematician I know, or will know, but the rest is all you.”
She looked up at me and smiled, “I do this?”
“Yes, and this is with only a few weeks with the problem,” I said with relief. “Imagine what you can do with thirteen years.”
“I guess you’re right,” she sat down in the desk chair grabbing the notebook and started to read over it. “I can do this, I can figure this out.” Her face still read confusion. “I just don’t understand why you would come back to now. Why not when I’m in college, and I actually know what half of this means?”
Slowly I made my way over to the bed and sat down. “That’s the other thing I need you to do. I’m going to tell you about the future because I need you to make sure something happens.” I looked down at my watch, the timer going down leaving me with less time than I wanted. “I only have forty minutes left so I need you to just trust me.”
Setting the notebook back on the desk, Allie leaned forward with a serious look, “Okay, what’s up?”
Of course she was ready to listen, she has always been my sounding board. “In three years, Kelley O’Hara is going to throw a going away party for Johnathan Haze. I need you to make sure I go to that party, no matter what I say, you have to convince me to go to the party.”
“What’s so important about Johnathan Haze’s going away party?”
“It’s not the party, it’s what happens at the party,” I explain, nervous to tell the younger version of my friend about the life changing moment. “I go out to the back yard, out to the ridge overlooking the town, and I talk to Tobin Heath.”
She stood up, “What? Why would you talk to her? She’s so awful.”
“Right now she is,” I stood up with her. “But in the future she’s not. In the future Tobin is amazing and I’m in love with her.”
Those bright blue eyes got so wide I thought they would never stop growing. “You’re lying.” Her hands went to the top of her head as her jaw dropped at me shaking my head. “First of all, you’re gay?”
“Right, yes I am.” I’ve been out for so long I almost forgot there was a time when Allie wasn’t in on one of my biggest secrets. “When we are sixteen, I talk to Tobin and we fall in love, and we have a life together, a life I need to get back to, so I need you to make sure I go to the party and go out to the ridge.” Stepping forward, I continued. “Allie, this is extremely important. There’s a world in which I don’t fall in love with Tobin, and I still can’t figure out how that happened because I know in my heart she and I are meant to be together.”
“How many worlds have you been to?” she asked with a spark in her eyes.
“More than I care to mention, but we are best friends in all of them.” We smiled together. “Listen, my whole plan, you building the machine, my brain getting fixed, it kind of hinges on me meeting Tobin at that party.”
Shaking her head, she was talking with her hands moving around. “But why Tobin? I mean, she’s so wretched. Why does it have to be her?”
“I know she sucks right now,” I chuckled, thinking back to a time when I couldn’t see myself with Tobin. “But trust me, she becomes amazing. We just need to give her a few years to bake, she’s an unfinished cookie.” A smile spread across my face, “Allie when she becomes who she is supposed to be, she lights up the whole world. No one can take their eyes off her.”
We stayed in silence for a couple of minutes, I watched as she moved around the room muttering to herself. It was a lot to take in, especially for a thirteen year old who was currently dealing with the worst thing a teenager could deal with, oncoming hormones and braces. This very day in the real timeline Allie and I did what we always did, sat around listening to the new Hannah Montana CD, talked about boys, and then ate Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwiches her mom brought home.
Thirteen was a complicated time, still is now that I am sitting in my slightly sweaty body, this was the time my mom explained what ‘changes’ I was going to go through, one of them requiring a Lady Speed Stick to rectify. I was still coming to grips with a lot of things, like my crush on a certain wretched girl, something I wouldn’t be able to talk about for another two years. I was also settling into the idea that I was always going to be a lame loser with only one friend and how that was okay.
For Allie it was a bit different. Yes she had a brand new set of metal braces which would be a key point the cool kids laughed at in school, but she was also coming into her own. This was the year she would start to grow boobs, which totally wasn’t fair because mine wouldn’t be here until I was almost sixteen, and even then, they were not impressive. Still, we were coming out of the little kid with dolls and kitten t-shirt stage and going into the more serious phase of our lives. I don’t think Allie cried more in her life than she did this year, and here I was dropping a bomb.
Much to her credit, while she was whispering and hashing out her feelings while pacing back and forth between a desk with one of those old orange Apple computers and a dresser that still had Lisa Frank stickers on the front, she was handling all of this pretty well. Allie had always been my rock, it’s the main reason I choose to come to her first.
“Okay, so let’s go over this one more time.” She was still pacing, her hands out in front of her, fingers wide as she shook them up and down. “You want me to invent a machine that restores your brain waves and have it done in thirteen years.”
“Yes, but you’re going to have help soon,” I answered, though it wasn’t really a question. “I’m going to jump again and start telling all the other people, but it’ll be further in the future, your future, my past.”
She moved her head like she was weighing what I was saying. “I get that. I can do that. I can figure that out with enough time. What I don’t get is the Tobin Heath part. I just can’t see you and her together. You’re so great and she’s so not great.”
“I know,” I chuckled, there was a time when I felt the exact same way. “We do get together and we fall in love, like epic love story kind of love, like I’m risking my whole life traveling in time to make sure we fall in love, that kind of love.”
She snorted, covering her mouth to hide her braces. Then her face got serious, like she was seeing something wonderful, yet mysterious all at the same time. “This is all real, huh? Like all of it?”
“Yeah, dude,” I nod.
“Shit.” That was probably the first time she’d ever said it with so much conviction. We had been experimenting with cursing for a few months now, always subtle and under our breath, but if any moment required a strong unflinching curse, it was right now. “So, three years, Kelley O’Hara’s party for Johnathan, I have to make sure you go out to a ridge and talk to Tobin freaking Heath so you guys can fall in love and you can go back to the future and your brain not be all messed up.”
“That pretty much sums it up.” I shoved my hands into my pockets, nervous for the next question, “Will you do it?”
She stopped moving and faced me, “Yeah, I’d do anything for you.”
I ran up and threw my arms around her. I held her tight, feeling her arms go around me holding me closer. I shouldn’t have worried about Allie. She’s always been the one person I could count on. As we let go I could feel myself starting to cry, which was okay, because she was starting to cry as well. We both reached up to wipe away our own tears, pretending they weren’t streaming down our cheeks.
“Can I ask you another future question?”
I took a deep soothing breath, “Of course.”
She took a breath of her own. “Do I fall in love?”
“Yes,” I smiled, laughing a little as our eyes met. “You meet a boy and he’s beautiful and smart and funny. He’s the nicest guy in the whole world and he treats you like the most precious gem.”
“Good,” she said absolutely, chuckling a little. “Don’t tell me his name or when. I want it to be a surprise.”
“Okay, I’ll leave it a mystery.” I told her. Looking down at my watch I could see the timer was down to the last fifteen minutes. “I’m almost out of time.”
“What happens now?” she looked a little panicked.
I held my hands out to take her, “My brain waves will hop to the next point in time. If everything goes right, I’ll be with Emily Sonnett in her house.”
“Seriously, you’re friends with Emily Sonnett?”
“We’re friends with Em, Kells, Lys, Abs and Toby.” I said with a little smile.
“Trippy,” she chuckled, “What happens to you, like the present you? Will you remember all of this, should I remind you?”
“No, I won’t remember this. I’ll kind of just wake up. I’ll have faint memories, like maybe I dreamt it, but I probably won’t talk about it, and I don’t need to remember. I’m messing up the timeline by telling you, I don’t want to break it by letting my past self know what I know.” We went over to sit on the edge of the bed. “I won’t get the idea for time travel for another couple of years. But when I do, I’ll dedicate my life to it. After I talk to Emily she’ll know about it too, and she’ll help you with the machine.”
“I don’t get it,” Allie said. “How can she help me?”
“Trust me, we’re both going to figure out Emily is a genius, and you’re going to need her.”
She looked like she wasn’t completely convinced, but nodded anyway. “So now what do we do?”
“I still have a few minutes.” I told her. “I really miss sitting in your room talking.”
“Okay!” she clapped her hands together excitedly. “What do you want to talk about?”
The thought had occurred to me, maybe I wouldn’t go to the party and never meet Tobin. It was this sharp pain in my chest, like my heart was ready to break. There was a good chance it all never happened, after all I had been in a world without her. I knew I was risking a lot on a thirteen year old to remember we had to be at a party in three years. Part of me wanted to go back to a later time in mine and Allie’s life but she insisted it be when we were thirteen. Apparently that was a time in Allie’s life when she was most likely to believe me, which I guess was true, fourteen and fifteen were complicated years for the both of us. We were too busy worrying about starting the two big things in a teenage girl’s life: periods and high school. It was going to be easy if the idea was always in the back of her mind, planted and waiting.
The scariest part of it all was, I would wake up after the party, after talking and falling for Tobin, so I had to have faith that everything would work out the way it was meant to. I couldn’t go back to the party, I had already been there and going back to a time when my waves were already transferred would cause major damage to my young developing brain, so I had to count on Allie to make sure I made it and I fell in love. I knew she could do it, that’s why even though I was nervous, I wasn’t completely afraid to make the next jump.
I opened my eyes and this time I wasn’t in a bathroom, which was rare, but also kind of nice. I was in the empty hallway of Emily’s house. The whole place was dimly lit with soft yellow pot lights in the ceiling. I never understood how anyone could walk around with such little lighting, but I would learn in a few years that Emily’s mom was usually drunk so the lights would mess with her migraines.
I met her parents just one time, it was a random day, I went to Emily’s house just to hang out and talk through some random ideas we were having. I always just walked in, normally it was only Emily and a few housekeepers I was on a first name basis with, so no one cared when I arrived unannounced. That day I opened the door calling out for my friend, when a tall man with perfectly groomed hair and beard came around the corner questioning who I was. I quickly explained myself, only to have Emily come around the corner and tell her father that I was her friend and we were going to the back room to hang out. He just nodded; he didn’t seem to care much about me or Emily for that matter.
A few hours later we were headed to the kitchen to make something to eat and her mom was standing in the middle of the Italian marble floors with almost full glass of wine in her hand looking out the sliding glass door that lead to the backyard. Emily told me to ignore her, just move on, she would eventually go away, so I did as I was told. She was stunning, the type of beauty that makes you question your own face. Long natural blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, a little bloodshot, but still amazing. She stood for a while, just looking, not paying a single bit of attention to us, then suddenly she turned and blinked a few times like she was clearing dust from her eyes. The only thing she said was to watch our carbs, then she was off walking through the house as if she hadn’t been staring into space for five minutes. Emily never spoke about it and I wouldn’t find out why until later in our friendship. Her life was complicated and she was private, it was something we kind of shared.
I didn’t hold my life back from anyone, it was just that no one really asked, besides Tobin. The rest of the group never talked about their home lives, so I figured that’s why they didn’t ask about mine. I would eventually figure out I had the most normal childhood of them all. Abby moved to Jersey because her dad was caught insider trading and pretty much had to flee New York. Kelley’s parents were high powered lawyers and made most of their money defending shady clients, which always made me a little afraid to go to her house, and it cleared up why they were so rich. Alyssa parents seemed normal, real estate developers, but when you dug deep you found out they may have done some illegal things on the properties they owned. I mean, it was Jersey, it’s was pretty typical for people to be into some not so legal things. My parents were normal, which meant I was normal and so were my sisters. We were loved, taken care of, we ate dinner at the table at least twice a week; that was almost unheard of in this part of the state. So I kept my wonderful life to myself and I never questioned their horrible lives knowing they were like mansions with a cracking foundation.
I took a second to adjust to the new body. I was now seventeen and while I was so much better than when I was thirteen, it still took a little for me to get my bearing in this world. As soon as I could focus, I continued my journey down the hall to Emily’s room. I pushed opened the door hearing the soft music playing in the background.
She and I had a kind of ritual when we hung out. I would come over, she would already be piecing together some new guitar or amp that she was building. I would grab her phone and choose a playlist to put on the Bluetooth speakers and we would sit around and talk about everything under the sun. Most of the time our conversations went to new discoveries in the science world, occasionally breaking for me to do some math with her. As great as Emily was with everything else, math always stumped her. There was a point in time when I thought maybe she only wanted me around to help her with equations, but our friendship became too close for that to be the case.
She looked up from the desk and smiled. “I think I’ve figured out the acoustics on this one.”
The moment I saw her face I had to take a second to breathe. I forgot how much I missed her, how great it was to hear her voice. It took her giving me a strange look to snap out of my daze and walk over to the bench and remember what she was working on.
“What did you have to do?” I questioned as I made my way into the room.
Looking back to her work she answered, “Increase the sound port. You were right, there wasn’t enough air.”
Surprisingly I remembered everything she was talking about. It had been over six years since I built a speaker or an amp and I could still recall all the lingo like it happened yesterday.
I plopped down in the leather desk chair, leaning back and watching Emily as she drew out new plans on a sheet of graph paper. A part of me wanted to just sit and talk. The last time we spoke in real life, she was telling me to leave her alone. It was understandable, Kelley was gone and it was arguably my fault. There had been so many days when I wanted to reach out to her, just talk through problems like we use to, and I had that chance right now.
“Can I ask you a question?” Emily said out of the blue.
I sat up a little straighter, “Of course.”
She didn’t speak for a bit, choosing to continue drawing out the plans. Without stopping what she was doing she finally spoke. “How did you know that Tobin liked you, and that you liked her back?”
Was today this day? I remembered it, I had no idea how to answer the question when I was seventeen. I think I said something to the tune of, ‘she told me’ and ‘I just knew’ which are both stupid answers and made Emily clam up and not talk to me about relationships ever again. In the past I didn’t think it was significant, but now I knew better, now I knew what she was getting at.
“Why do you ask?” I decided on a different course this time.
She shrugged, looking down at her pencil as it moved across the paper. “I think I might like someone, but I’m not sure.”
She was so shy. Even though Emily was the same age as the rest of us, we all saw her as the baby of the group. She was short and quiet, and always seemed to need someone to take care of her even if she would never admit it. After Turnpike made it big, she would come into a bigger personality, but it was only with close friends and family, leaving all the crazy antics to Kelley and Tobin.
“Well, with Tobin, it wasn’t really too difficult,” I had to make sure I still sounded seventeen, but also to be sure she didn’t close off again. “Honestly she just kind of told me, but I think I could tell after talking for a while. Whenever we first spoke she seemed really angry, but after we had been at it for an hour she relaxed, smiled a lot more, made jokes. I think that’s when I kind of had a hint of her liking me. Then she took me home and kissed me, so I kind of knew for sure.”
“Makes sense,” she said softly. “How did you know you liked her?”
“Oh man, that means I have to confess something to you.” This made her look over to me. I chuckled a bit, trying to lighten the secret I hadn’t told anyone before, at least not in this timeline. “I’ve kind had a crush on Tobin since middle school. I know she was angry and terrible back then, but I couldn’t help myself. She just clouded my mind, I couldn’t think of anything else but her. I would be in class doing fine and she would stroll in all cool and uncaring and I would lose track of every thought I had. It took a while, but I figured out it was because I liked her, no matter how horrible she was back then.”
She smirked, looking back to her work. “I love Tobin, but she was kind of a monster in middle school.”
“True,” I laughed with her. “But still, she’s been a dream boat since birth, and the heart wants what it wants.”
“I guess that’s true,” her lips pressed together like she wanted to speak, but she just started drawing again.
I didn’t have a lot of time in this place, but it was killing me not knowing who she was talking about, so I could spare a few minutes figuring out the mystery I never solved. “Em, who’s the girl?”
She shrugged. I swear this band and their avoidance techniques were the worst. I pressed on again. “You can tell me. I wouldn’t tell anyone.” She didn’t say anything. So I tried one more time vowing to leave it alone if she didn’t respond. “Em, I promise I will never tell anyone anything you tell me. You can trust me.”
Her pencil stopped, her eyes looking over at me. She set her drawing to the side. “Okay, but seriously, this has to stay with us no matter what.”
“Cross my heart.” I made a little x over my chest, then sat forward anxious for the answer.
She squirmed in her seat for a second, pulling on her long sleeves as she contemplated really revealing the answer. Finally she lowered her head and looked up at me through eyelashes. “It’s Lindsay.”
“HORAN?!” I shot forward, then caught myself. Sitting back in the chair, I tried again. “Lindsay Horan?”
“Yeah,” her brow furrowed, worry coming over her face. “It’s stupid. I’m stupid.”
“No, no.” I leaned forward grabbing her anxious hands, stopping them from pulling on her shirt. “Emily, it’s not stupid. Lindsay is great, I mean, the amount that I know about her. How did this happen? Like, how did you come to have feelings for her?”
“She plays guitar,” she said in a shy voice. “We have the same music class, we sit next to each other. We started to talk, she showed me a few things, and I taught her some stuff. Now we text sometimes.”
“Sometimes? What’s the frequency of these texts?” I asked now caught up in high school drama.
Emily turned and grabbed her phone, unlocking it and handing it over. I clicked into the texts and on the thread with Lindsay.
“Dude, this isn’t sometimes.” I scrolled through what looked like hundreds of messages. “Emily, you two are like talking.” I looked back at the phone trying to get some context. The conversation was pretty generic, the getting to know you stuff, then my eyes fell on one message. “She called you cutie.” I scrolled a bit more. “Emily Ann Sonnet, she says ‘goodnight cutie’ to you every single night.”
“I know,” she said under her breath.
I handed the phone back to her, “Dude, she likes you. Go for it.”
Looking up with a shy smile she answered, “Really? You think so?”
“Yes, I think so.” I grinned.
I sat back in my chair, as Emily turned back to her work. We weren’t going to talk about her love life again today, she would be too shy to do so. It was time to bring up the hard stuff, and I had no idea how it was going to do it. Maybe it was like ripping a band-aide off, just do it quickly?
“Em, I need to talk to you about something insane.” I started off, even ripping off a band-aide took a tiny bit of prep work. “I know it’s going to sound like I’m a crazy person, but I need you to trust me.”
She casually turned her head. “Are you trying to tell me you’re from the future?”
“What the fuck?” I sat forward in my chair. “How in the…”
“Your watch is counting down,” she pointed over to my timer. “And you talk differently. And sit differently. But you’re still you. Plus, the way you described Tobin…” she gave an airy laugh. “This Christen would have no way of expressing how she feels like that. Besides you and I have been talking about the principles of time travel for a few months now. I guess that means you did figure it out.”
I was floored, and I would have fallen to the ground and passed out, but somewhere in the back of my mind I knew Emily would figure it out. How could she not? One of the things we talked about on our days together was time travel. Emily was one of the only people in that enjoyed talking about things like this, she even inspired some of the breakthroughs I had when I got older.
“You’re a genius,” I chuckled, sitting back and looking up at her in shock.
“Maybe,” she shrugged, turning back in her seat so she could face me. “What are you doing here, now?”
“I need your help, Em,” I explained, watching her eyes get wide with wonder. “I messed up big time, and I need you to help me fix it.”
She nodded, “What do you need me to do?”
I had a plan and part of it was to avoid seeing Tobin. I know that sounds crazy. Why have a time machine if you’re not going to go back to the best times in your life and be with the best person in the world? The truth was I didn’t think I could handle seeing Tobin. I didn’t think I could stand kissing her. I knew if I did, I wouldn’t want to stop. I would spend the full hour in each world wrapped around her, being as close to her as I could. I would ruin the entire plan just to have a second with her. I knew I would derail my entire life if it meant spending time with her.
There as a chance this plan wouldn’t work. There was a chance Allie wouldn’t have persuaded me to go to the party or I would’ve found myself on the ridge but at the wrong time. There was a chance the Tobin I knew and loved wasn’t ready to be loved yet and she would scream at me and push me into the bushes, like she did in the sad timeline. I was taking a chance on everything, and if I stopped to see Tobin, even if it was just for a second, even if it was before she knew me, if I could just see her walk down the halls of the school being the perfect version of herself, I would spend the rest of my life in that time. I could spend all of time just being around her.
So I couldn’t see Tobin, even if my heart cried out for her, even if my body ached for her, I just couldn’t do it. She was my end goal and I had to trust that everything would work out the way I planned, which meant when I woke up to the present, she would be there and I could spend the rest of my life with her.
I opened my eyes to see the sun shining down on a perfectly kept lawn. It took me a second so focus on where I was. This was only the second time I wasn’t waking up in a bathroom and the first time I was outside. I closed my eyes, needing a little time to stop the dots appearing in front of them. There was a piece of me that didn’t want to make this particular trip, but the longer I thought about it, the more I knew it needed to happened.
As I got myself together, I opened my eyes and looked over to the beat up Toyota rolling down the driveway. Tobin stuck her head out the passenger’s window and waved making a funny face. If I wasn’t still a little dazed, maybe I would have called out for her, told her to come back so I could hug her. But my brain was still getting settled in my eighteen year old body, and therefore as if I was on autopilot I did the same thing I did in real time, laugh and wave until Tobin crawled back in Kelley’s car and they drove off.
Looking around, I remembered the porch I was sitting on. Abby’s house was kind of like mine. They lived in the nice part of town, on the right side of the tracks, but not up in the hills like the rest of the rich people. Abby’s family was just well-off, not crazy stupid rich, so her house was a little more comfortable. It was cookie cutter, painted a dull beige like the rest of the street, but it always smelled like fresh flowers in the summer and cinnamon cookies in the winter. I guess that’s why Abby always vaped cinnamon flavored juices, it reminded her of home.
Today was another ordinary Saturday afternoon the summer before I left for college. Abby and I had plans to go to the mall and hang out, but we were detoured by Tobin and Kelley showing up and showing off on their longboards. It happened a lot, not that I cared, I could watch her ride down street with her hair blowing in the wind all day and night. Most of the time during the spring and summer they came by when they knew we had plans. I’m pretty sure it was Tobin’s way of telling me she missed me without having to say the actual words. She loved me, and I knew it, but she wasn’t very good at expressing herself, not just yet. But soon she would be able to write poetry about it, soon she would write songs about how she longed to be with me. For now I would take her showing up in her skinny jeans and sneakers with holes in the toes. I would take random kisses on the forehead and the way she held my hand, I would take whatever she would give me.
“Those two losers gone?” Abby asked as she walked out the house shoving a wallet into her back pocket.
I looked up and smiled, “Yeah, apparently they are going to the skate park, but something tells me they will end up at the mall.”
“She follows you,” she chuckled, turning to lock the door. “She just wants to be around you.”
“I want to be around her too,” I grinned.
Like all the other days, we got into her car, a red Honda Civic she named Chip because of its peeling paint. She turned on the radio hitting play on a random playlist of the latest rock hits with some pop mixed in and we were off for the fifteen minutes it took to get to the mall.
This part of the makeshift mission wasn’t a hard part, after all I didn’t really need to convince Abby of anything. I wasn’t there to tell her I was from the future, she didn’t need to know. I was here for a different reason. This whole mission was selfish in a way, I was asking my friends to change a piece of their lives in order to help me fix my broken mind, but that’s not what I was asking Abby, I was going to ask her something even more selfish.
Abby was the type of girl that you wanted to be. She just always had this way about her. She moved from New York City and she screamed city kid with everything she did and everything she was. When she walked she never looked up, never took notice of the things, at least that’s what she had you believe. In reality she understood and saw everything around her but kept it to herself. When she spoke it was always with the tone that made you feel like maybe she didn’t care about what she was talking about, it took an expert to figure out the subjects she did care about and the ones that meant nothing. It took me a while to figure out her role in the band, how she took care of everyone else, I knew she was the one to trust with this.
We were in Hot Topic, looking through all the band shirts, trying to find something cool, while a group of boys talked back and forth, trying to get the courage to come over and talk to us. Eventually those boys would come over and ask if we wanted to get ice cream and Abby would say yes because she liked to torture me. We would spend twenty minutes listening to them try to impress us before Tobin and Kelley showed up and stole us away.
If I had it my way, I would have let the day roll on, it wasn’t a significant day, but it was nice enough and getting hit on was always kind of flattering, but I needed to talk to Abby and I couldn’t explain things with two boys talking about all the cool concerts they were going to over the summer, so I made a stank face at them making sure they knew to back off.
“You scared the boys off,” Abby said with a little frown.
“Trust me, we don’t want to talk to them,” I scoffed, waving my hand. “Have you thought about what you’re going to do after summer ends?”
She looked at me confused, “No, not really. I mean there’s college, but I don’t want to do that.”
“Yeah, college,” I moved around the clothes rack and started searching aimlessly through.
“Not all of us are going to California,” she teased, grabbing a pair of socks and tossing them at me.
I swatted the flying object, “I already feel bad about leaving you guys.”
“Don’t feel bad, Chrissy, it’s all good.” She said sweetly, the same thing she told me the day I told her I got accepted to Stanford. “You are a genius, you should probably go to college and do something great, not sit around Morristown, New Jersey and get a job in the mall.”
“It’s not that,” I was trying to ease into the subject. “I’m just going to miss you guys.” I took a breath. “Tobin offered to come to the west coast, but I told her to stay.”
She moved around the shirt racks and into my space, “Why would you do that? Tobin wants to go to Cali with you.”
“She wants to go to Reno, then to Cali later,” I told her with a light laugh. “But she needs to stay here with you guys. I love that girl more than anything, but I can live without her for a little while, you guys need her.”
“For what?” she rolled her eyes. “Tobin Heath is a menace.”
I laughed out loud, shaking my head. “Yes she is, but she’s our menace and we love her.”
“True,” she shrugged. “But I don’t get it. Why make her stay if she’s trying to get closer to you?”
I had to find a way to explain this without telling her about the future, or about me. “The band needs her. You guys are too good to not try to make it.”
“You think so?” she started back through the store, moving like the subject wasn’t a big deal, but I knew it was.
“I think you guys can make it, but that’ll only happen if Tobin is here with you.” I followed her around the dark store touching things as we weaved through the crowded aisles. “It’s important she stays here, and that you look after her.”
She studied a bobble head on a self for a few seconds. “I always look after her.”
“Abby,” I said in a serious voice, making her look at me. “You need to watch her closely.”
Her eyebrows knitted together, her hands dropping to her sides, “What’s going on?”
I could feel the pressure behind my eyes, I didn’t want to cry in a fucking Hot Topic, but it felt like that was exactly what was about to happen.
“Abby, I love her, you know that, you know that I love her so much it’s almost insane.”
She took my hand lacing her fingers in mine, “Of course I know. Chris, what’s happening?”
“I’m going to hurt her, not now, not for a while, but one day I will hurt her.” Now the tears were started to stream down my face. “She won’t know what to do. You know her. You know the way she closes herself off. You know she’ll keep it all inside, but you can’t let her do that.” I was sobbing in the back area of an emo clothing store. “Abby, please keep her out of trouble. Don’t let her do drugs, don’t let her get mixed up in that world. Tobin has an addictive personality and she’ll get hurt. Whatever happens, however you feel about me, please do me this one favor and make sure she doesn’t do drugs.”
Her eyes flickered up and down, trying to figure out what was going on. She squeezed tight to my hand, and as if it was all just okay she wrapped her arms around my neck and held me close.
“I don’t know what’s going on or why you’re telling me this, but I trust you.” She spoke gently into my shirt. “I’ll take care of her, I promise.”
In the world, the real one, I broke up with Tobin after I left for college. This time in her life inspired so many songs and sparked a whole movement. As much as it pained me to say Tobin needed to get her heartbroken in order to become who she was, without our break up she would have never written the songs that were the inspiration for a millions. Turnpike’s first real album had twelve song, three of them were in the top five in the charts and they were about how I broke her heart.
I can remember laying on my bed, my headphones on, hot tears coming down my cheeks, the kind that are impossible to blink away, listening to the lyrics “You don’t understand why she don’t love you / But you don’t understand yourself” knowing she was wondering why I didn’t love her, wondering what she did wrong, how she lost me, it smashed my heart into a thousand tiny pieces. I questioned every day why we weren’t together. She would text me good morning and my fingers would hover over the call button. I wanted to see her face, hear her voice, but I knew it was for the best, for both of us. I knew it was the only way for her to go to New York and make the band into something to be treasured. I knew it was the only way I was going to find my purpose in this life, being someone other than Tobin Heath’s girlfriend, even though now it was the only title I coveted. It’s what had to be, so it must be now.
I knew my young soul would shrink so small without Tobin’s next to it. I knew I would feel empty, but I also knew there would be a day in a random ice cream shop in LA when I would lock eyes with the girl of my dreams and everything would be right with the world. I knew there would be a day when I would get lost in her one more time and that would lead to the rest of our lives. The only thing I needed to change about that was to give Tobin a little bit of her freedom back. I needed to stop her from almost destroying her life with drugs and alcohol, and I knew Abby was the only person that could help her.
We wiped our eyes, Abby had started to cry with me, but now we both knew we were too cool to cry at the mall, so we got it together. We walked in silence for a while, just enjoying each other’s company, I only had a few minutes left and I didn’t want to ruin what we had. Out in the distance I saw two girls with long lanky arms jumping around on benches and playing in the kids play area. I wanted to run to her, grab Tobin and kiss her one more time, but I could hear my watch beep, and before I could call out, make her look up at me so I could see her smile, I was pulled back through, ready for the next jump.
I woke up in another bathroom. This one in the student center at Stanford, the one with the Starbucks. I knew exactly where I was because there was graffiti on the stall door, “For a good time, avoid Astronomy with Dr. Higgins.” It always made me laugh. I used to pick that stall, I don’t know if I was conscious of it, but it seemed like every time I wanted Starbucks, which was every time before I had my chemistry lab, I would head to the bathroom and pick the third one in the row, and chuckle to myself over the message. I didn’t have Astronomy, and I had no idea who Dr. Higgins was, but it still made me laugh.
I pulled myself out of the bathroom, my vision a little blurry, which was understandable, this was my fourth jump, and my brain was still trying to hold it self together. I got myself together and walked out of the room, my back pack slung over my shoulder. I picked this point in time for one reason only and I saw that reason standing in the back of a very long coffee line, staring down at her phone looking exactly how I remembered. I went over and stood in line behind her. In my head I knew she would be the hardest to convince. We didn’t know each other yet, so I was given the impossible task of trying to sway a complete stranger into believing that I was a time traveler and I needed help.
I remembered what Alex said to me in the last world, about how she had never been in love. It was odd to think Alex somehow missed talking to Julie. In my mind it couldn’t have been something I did, but maybe it was. Maybe the butterfly effect was as real as the theorist described and somehow with Tobin coming with me to the west coast and my seizures starting, Alex missed her chance to meet Julie. I think I quelled the guilt I felt over it with the thought that Alex would never truly be happy without Kelley, but then again, Kelley being gone from that world was my fault as well, so the guilt was still there, lesser and hidden in the back of my mind, but there nonetheless.
This was my chance to rectify the situation, not with Julie, but with Kelley and Alex. This was my chance to fix one thing I broke. Maybe she and Julie would still meet, maybe they would still have their relationship that would lead to heartbreak whenever Alex fell in love with Kelley, but that was out of my hands. If their paths were meant to cross and they were meant to share something, then maybe that’s just how it was supposed to be. I didn’t have super powers, only the ability to travel in time.
I was waiting in line, growing a little impatient with the fact that Alex never even turned to look at me, but then again, that was typical of her. The girl I was once fully in love with had a tendency to be in her own world, especially when she was reading an article. I didn’t have a choice, I had to pull a move some sleazy guy in a bar pulled on me; I stumbled into her.
“I am so sorry,” I sad, reaching out to steady her. “I lost my balance. Are you okay?”
Her eyes were just as blue as I remembered, “Yeah, I’m okay.”
I waited a second to see if she was going to say something, then I remembered Alex wasn’t the type of girl who talked to you, she was the type that waited to see if you were bold enough to talk to her.
“You’re Alex, right?” Great opening line.
She turned a little in her stance, “Yeah.”
“I sit behind you in Biology,” I tried to act as casual as I could. “The professor is always grilling you.”
“I know right,” her eyes sparked, she was interested. Alex enjoyed when you remembered things about her. “I think it’s because I’m pre-med. I was warned he liked to try and stump pre-med students.”
“That’s kind of crazy,” I chuckled lightly. “Glad I’m not pre-med, I guess.” I pointed up to the line moving forward. We stepped in unison, Alex standing a little sideways, showing a little curiosity. “I’m a physics major, I’m kind of bad at biology.”
“I couldn’t even being to think about being a physics major,” her head fell back, her eyes rolling. “It’s so much math. I hate math.”
“Aw, math isn’t too bad,” I knew I was flirting, but that was the best way to get her attention, and it was working because she was looking at me with those same eyes she did in the world when we dated. “It’s easier than remembering the phases of cell, or whatever the heck they’re talking about in that class.”
She giggled, holding her hand to her chest in a loving way. “You mean the cell cycle.”
“That’s what I said,” I flashed a big grin. I knew Alex, I dated her for six years, well I had memories of dating her for six years. I’ve seen her flirt before, and I’ve seen the type of girls she liked, so I knew what to do. “I’m Christen by the way.”
She bit her bottom lip, a clear sign she was interested, “Nice to meet you, Christen.”
We chatted for a while, Alex explaining why she wanted to be a doctor. I knew the whole story, I had heard it several times, but I didn’t mind listening to it again. Alex liked mysteries, she was always trying to solve problems or figure one thing or another out. Ever since she was a little kid she enjoyed investigating and coming up with theories. Then her father got sick and those games she use to play were suddenly very serious.
Alex was fourteen when her father was diagnosed with early onset dementia. He started to forget things, then he started to do things that could cause him harm and he needed to be monitored almost twenty-four hours a day. For one reason or another, Alex took it upon herself to be one of his main caretakers. She was so young, yet she was drawn to help him in a way that the rest of her family seemed to shy away from. To her sisters and her mother, the disease was scary, the strongest man in their lives started to fade away, it shocked them and cause them to move further away. Alex never took it to heart, whenever she got older she figured it was because she was meant to be a doctor while the rest of her family just didn’t have the same calling.
Her father was alive now as we were speaking and he would stay alive for another three years. In the middle of grad school he would pass away and Alex and I would go to Diamond Bar and attend his funeral. In the world where she and I were together, I would hold her hand the entire hour and half plane ride to San Francisco and listen to her sister talk the entire ride from the airport to her home town. In that world she didn’t speak more than a few words, and she didn’t cry until we were back at the apartment and she finally had the chance to break down. In the other world, Julie would be the one to take her. I had no idea who was holding her hand in the last world.
As we finally hit the counter, she started to order and I offered to pay. She was heading to the library to study, and I technically had a class, but we walked side by side down the empty hall.
“Can I ask you kind of a strange question?” I asked.
She nodded, sipping her Frappuccino through the green straw. “Sure.”
“Do you believe in time travel?”
She kind of laughed, then looked over at me to see is I was serious. “I mean, I guess in theory, but I don’t think it’ll ever be possible.”
That was a legitimate answer, I could work with that. “What if I told you it was real? What if I told you I found a way to travel in time?”
“I would question what they put in your latte,” She chuckled looking at me through the corner of her eye.
“Okay, I get it. But what if it was true?” I wanted to see if past her would have the same reaction as the future doctor I met. “What would I have to tell you to persuade you?”
She chewed on the tip of her straw, the way she did when she was trying to figure something out. I forgot how much I really missed the little things she did.
“I guess you’d have to tell me something about the future, something no one else would know.”
I nodded, “What if I can do you one better? What if I can tell you something about your past and something about your future?”
“I’d probably think you were some kind of crazy stalker, but you’re cute enough I think I can suspend my skepticism and entertain you.”
I blushed, no matter how much I knew Alex an I weren’t mean tot be together it still felt nice to know she was interested in me, “Very scientific of you.”
“I thought so,” she winked. “So tell me one thing from my past.”
“Okay, and don’t think I’m a crazy stalker,” I said lightly. “When you were twelve you had a boyfriend. His name was Bobby and you two went to a school dance for your first real date. He was so nervous to dance with you he threw up all over your dress, the purple one your mom bought you a couple days prior. You had to call your mom to come get you because you were so embarrassed. You cried the whole car ride home and you never spoke to Bobby again.”
She stopped in her tracks, looking over at me with huge peering eyes. “How in the world did you know that?”
I stopped a few steps ahead of her, “You tell me, in two years you and I sit on my bed and you tell me the story.”
“That’s not possible,” she walked over to the window, setting her drink down on the ledge. “That’s just not possible.”
“Lex,” I took a tentative step towards her. “It’s true, and I hate to tell you this way, I wish I had more time, but I only have thirty-five minutes and I have other things I need to tell you.” I watched her nod, even with rapidly blinking eyes she let me know she understood. “My name is Christen Press, you and I become extremely good friends. I invented a way to transfer my brainwaves through space and time and input them into my younger body. I’ve done this several times but I failed to calculate how my brain would react to this process. Every time I travel I wake up in a new timeline and my brain gets a rush of information about the past that I changed. This rush, or download as I call it, has triggered new neural pathways to form in my brain, causing the old ones to become restricted. Now this has caused me to have seizures because of misfires in my brain. I come to you in the future when you’re a neurologist and you come up with a plan to widen the restricted pathways allowing all my neural network to connect and my seizures to stop. The only problem was you needed time to work out a solution, so we agreed that I would travel back in time and give you that time. I came back to the past to see you right now, before you become a doctor, before you go down paths in your life that aren’t right for you, before you study cardiology, before you fall in love with neurology. I came back because future you thinks you can figure out this problem before I have another grand mal seizure that could leave me in a catatonic state, or kill me.”
A look of despair came across her face and she leaned against the wall, her knees started to give out and she sunk down to the floor. She was looking straight ahead, her eyes not fixated on anything. Mumbling to herself for a bit, she finally looked up at me, still wide eyed and confused.
“That was a lot.” She said in a soft voice.
“I know.” I went to sit cross legged in front of her. “I’m sorry, but I only have an hour in this time and I needed to get it all out.”
“If you only have an hour, why’d you spend twenty minutes flirting with me?”
“Honestly,” I shrugged giving a shy smile, “I just missed talking to you. Like I said, you and I become really good friends, even roommates.” I was deliberately leaving out the lovers part, it was easier this way. “It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to talk to you. I screwed up my last timeline and we didn’t meet. I missed you Lex.”
The corner of her mouth raised for a second, “Are you just fucking with me, or is this real?”
“This is real,” I leaned forward and looked in her eyes. “I’m telling you the truth. I need your help.”
We locked eyes for a few seconds, and as she stared back at me, I could almost swear she knew me, like our past was as much a part of her as it was me. She ended it with another soft smile, then let her head fall back against the wall and gave a little laugh.
“So explain it again.”
I spent the next fifteen minutes telling Alex everything I knew about my disease and how it worked in my brain. She eventually got a notepad out and started taking some notes. I told her about the other trips, about how I told the other members of the group about the problem and what their part in fixing it was. We took a few minutes to talk about what the future version of her told me about connecting pathways, not that I was much help, most of the doctor stuff just confused me. We shared a few knowing looks and a funny story about how we met in another world, but my time was close to being up.
“Your best friend Allie knows about all of this, but you won’t know about any of it until when?” she asked setting her notepad down in her lap.
“Allie knows everything and so does Emily, they have been working on the machine and some of the math for a few years now.” I summed up quickly. “And in three minutes I will forget this ever happened and just wonder why I’m sitting on the ground with a beautiful girl.”
“Sounds kind of miserable,” She said simply.
I nodded, “It can be, but the beautiful girl part is not bad.” I watched her blush. “I can’t believe it was this easy to convince you, the future you thought it would be much harder.”
“Really?” she perked up. “What did she… I, say?”
“She told me that I needed to somehow get you to believe in love.” I watched her eyes go wide, she was curious. “I will tell you one thing only. You do fall in love and she’s amazing. She’s out of her mind crazy insane but perfect and you seem to bring the absolute best out of her. She loves you so fiercely. You two are extremely happy together.”
She huffed, “You’re not going to tell me her name?”
“Nope, I said I would tell you one thing from your future, and that was it.” I looked down at my watch. I only had half a minute left. “I can’t wait to be your friend Alex. You’re one of the most important people in my life.”
A calm acceptance came over her face. “I guess I’ll see you in a few years.”
“See you then.” Before I could say anything else, my watched beeped and my time with Alex had ended.
I had two more jumps, this next one would be the easiest. In the real future, UCLA put on an expo for the science departments. It was their way of getting more people interested in the subjects they thought were losing young minds. It was true, more people were interested in finance and ways to make money and less and less people were giving a single shit about space, the earth, and other subjects that were in desperate need of bright minds. I was in grad school by the time this expo went on. I followed Allie and Alex to LA and attended UCLA as a grad student while also working as a teacher’s assistant. This meant I was a shining example of a female in the sciences and I was required to be at the expo.
In real time, I kind of just stood around and handed out pamphlets about the physics program. As much as I could I snuck off to visit the engineering booth and waste time with Allie, occasionally going to the medical booth and trying my best to flirt with Alex while she texted Julie, who was currently at Princeton finishing up her last year of her Masters Degree. This time I had another idea.
Nick was at this expo, a young undergrad wanting to join the physics department next year. We met in real life, he was one of the unlucky few who had a mediocre encounter with me and my poor pamphlet handing out skills. I think we might have said a few words to each other, but it was more meaningful to him because he actually remembered while I could not recall the interaction. This was an easy spot to run into him and talk to him about the vacuum needed to create the time machine. I needed him to create a steadier field for the memory machine, one that could stabilize the waves coming back giving Julie enough time to organize my neurons into coherent thoughts and memories. The good thing about this was that I was in my first year of grad school and I was preparing my ideas about time travel, I wasn’t far from figuring out the beginnings of the technology. This would make it easy to take the transition from my past self to my future self.
One of the best parts of this expo was two freshman geniuses walking around ready to make a choice on their path in life. We looked it up in the sign in logs for that day, Rose and Mallory’s names were on the sheets. They signed up for lectures in physics and astronomy, obviously enjoying the physics portion more because both of them would become my interns in four years when I had my doctorate and they were entering grad school. This meant I could make one jump and talk to three key people in the plan. It would be easy to persuade the two young and eager women to believe in time travel, I was armed with Mallory’s equation and the knowledge that they were hungry for big projects that would make a difference in the world. Unlike some of the other people in the plan, they fully believed in time travel, they just needed a little math to push them over the edge, capture their attention and lead them down the path they were meant to be on.
I woke up in the south side bathroom. Another freaking bathroom. It was almost like my destiny was to spend as much time in bathrooms as possible. It was the best place to wake up, but honestly, I wish it wasn’t so, I don’t know, embarrassing. Not that using the bathroom is embarrassing, I mean everyone does it, but still, you spend too much time in a stall in a public restroom people might start to think things. I’m off track again.
I made my way out and headed towards the physics booth, ready to spend a little time pretending I cared about the pamphlets and waiting for a chance to talk to Nick. According to his memory he would be there right around the time I was transferred back and I wouldn’t have to wait too long before he showed up. I saw the booth, which was just a table with a couple of nerds standing behind it in polo shirts struggling to keep eye contact with anyone that passed. These were my people, they made me laugh and were also really cool guys who were a little socially awkward.
Pushing my way through the crowd, I was looking around, seeing if I could spot Nick, or Rose and Mallory, but my eyes landed on someone who didn’t look like they belonged at a science expo. I stopped in my tracks my eyes going wide at the rock star, in her ripped skinny jeans, white t-shirt and flipped up orange snapback. She was looking around the room, her eyes a little wild as she searched all the faces in the crowd. I started to take a step towards her, my whole body needing to be near her when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I spun around to see Allie with a worried look.
“She’s here,” I said looking back at the girl in the middle of the crowd. “Tobin’s here.”
Allie pulled on my shoulder, “Are you Christen, or are you Christen?”
I turned back to my friend, “I’m Christen, future Christen.” I turned around to see Tobin still searching the room. “Allie, she’s here. How? She looks so good.”
“She texted me a few minutes ago,” Allie answered, still pulling at my shoulder. “She’s looking for you. She flew into LA an hour ago.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off Tobin, she was like a ghost, or an eclipse, I knew I wasn’t supposed to look, but I couldn’t stop. “She’s too early. She’s not supposed to come to LA for another year.”
“I know, and that’s why you need to come with me,” she pulled harder forcing me to move.
Allie was the only person who knew when I would be me putting the plan in order. She wasn’t going to be present for most of it, she wasn’t even supposed to be present for this moment, but she came just in time, stopping me from going to Tobin and latching on to her so tight I would never let go.
“I don’t understand,” I shook my head, now standing in the corner away from Tobin’s view. “She’s early. In the real timeline she doesn’t come to LA until my second year of grad school. We meet in an ice cream shop, we go back to her car and, well, you know.” I turned around to see if I could see her again. “She shouldn’t be here.”
“I think I figured out what happened,” Allie said in a calm voice. “In the timeline you go back to see Abby right? You tell her to make sure Tobin doesn’t do drugs, to keep her on the straight and narrow. Well, that’s exactly what she did.”
I looked back to my friend taking out my phone and typing in the band name. Articles popped up about the new rock band blowing up the music scene. Turnpike was here to sign a contract, they were making it to the big time a year before the other timelines.
“Without drugs Tobin focuses on music and they get signed sooner.” I pushed my phone back in my pocket. “In my timeline, it takes another year for them to really get it together and get discovered, but I guess with a clear head they do it faster. It makes sense, after all the band spends a lot of time making sure Tobin and Kelley are sober enough to perform.”
“And you have to factor in Emily,” Allie said, helping me piece everything together. “She knows about time travel, about what happens with the band. It wouldn’t take much for her to figure out how to push the band on a faster track to fame, she is a genius after all.”
I nodded, still shocked by the whole thing. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. So she’s here, a year early, for me.”
“Not for you,” Allie poked her finger into my chest, “She’s here for present Christen. If you go over there now as you are, you’re almost guaranteed to mess it up somehow.”
I lowered my eyebrows, “I won’t mess it up. I just want to see her, for a second.”
“You don’t have a second, Chris,” she grabbed my arm holding my wrist up to my eyes. “You have already wasted fifteen minutes and you still need to find the two interns and the waves guy.”
“Nick,” I said, forgetting that Allie had no idea who he was. The only thing I told her about her future boyfriend was that he was a scientist. I didn’t want her to know who Nick was or who he was to her. She needed a little mystery in her future. “Okay, I’m back on mission, but you have to make sure Tobin doesn’t leave, present me needs to meet up with her.”
She scoffed, “Trust me, that girl isn’t leaving this school until she sees you. She promised you she’d make it to LA and now she’s here.” Allie smiled as I did. “Now go finish the mission, you have one more jump after this one right?”
“Yeah, just one more.”
“Go do your thing, I’ll make sure to find present you after you jump and point you in the direction of your girl.”
I could feel the blush on my cheeks, “Thanks Al, you’re the best friend anyone could ask for.”
“Oh, I know,” She winked.
In my head I knew the only choice I had was to continue with the plan. Allie was right, that Tobin was here to see her Christen and that wasn’t me, at least not yet. It wouldn’t be fair for me to go to her. It didn’t feel right when I was with her in the other world. She was expecting things out of me that I couldn’t give. I guess that’s how I ended up in so much trouble to being with. If I could go back and do it again, I would stay in that world. I was happy in that world. I was afraid for only a single moment, afraid of what I could have been with her so I ran away, but if I had it all to do one more time, I would hold tight and never let go.
It seemed like every version of Tobin had something to be desired. I should have guessed, she was always Tobin no matter how much I changed, she still had the same soul, the same heart, the same creative mind. It was the drugs that took her from the wonderful version of the woman who took care of me when I was sick, to the walking carcass in the world with Alex. But here in this world I didn’t have any memories of how she was, if she was the same Tobin I was in love with. I could see her, standing tall, looking healthy the way she did when she was sober, and I could guess she was okay, she was happy, but I had no way of knowing for sure.
I could feel my body turning towards her. I wanted to take away the worry I could see on her face. I wanted to run my thumb over the crinkle in her brow, smooth it out and make her smile. I knew it was wrong, I knew I should leave her alone, but I needed her. The truth was, I had only been apart from her for a few hours, but it felt like lifetimes and I was desperate to feel her next to me. I pushed my way through the crowd, starting to rush over to her when her name was called out of nowhere. I was almost convinced it was me who called out, but she looked the opposite direction and I could see Allie waving her over. My best friend was saving me again, taking the opportunity out of my hands, knowing I wouldn’t be strong enough to hold back.
Standing there, looking at Allie smile, even from this far away, I could see the look in her eyes, it was somewhere between a friendly greeting and a warning. The greeting was for Tobin and the warning was for me. I nodded then turned to continue on my journey. I had to remember I was almost done. I needed to complete this and then I would get to see her for real. I would get to see my Tobin and I would be hers, truly hers.
I was running out of time, most of the hour spent debating with myself. I only had a half hour to find two energetic eighteen year olds and then Nick. I looked around, checking each group of people making sure no one was blended into the crowd. Eventually I spotted the two girls walking away from the geology table and headed towards astronomy when I cut them off.
“You’re Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle,” It was a statement, not a question. I didn’t have time to be coy and coax them into the idea. “My name is Christen Press and I’m part of the physics department. I need to speak to the both of you about something very important.” I reached in my pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper quickly scribbling down something and handing it over.
Mallory, the bolder of the two reached out and took it. She looked at the writing like it was magic. “What kind of math is this?” she held to over for her friend to see. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“It’s yours,” I said simply, watching them both study the paper. “I know this sounds kind of insane, but I invented a way to travel in time. It has to do with brain waves and transferring my consciousness from the future to my past self. You two are my interns in the future and together we tried to fix the problem of fracturing neurons upon the return of the waves to the present. This equation is as far as we got before my mind started to splinter.”
Rose looked up at me with narrowed eyes, “You’re telling me you’re from the future, and this is a future math equation that we come up with?”
I gave one confirming nod, “That’s what I’m telling you.”
The both looked at each other. “Cool.” They spoke in unison.
“I would say prove it, but this equation,” Mallory slapped the paper in her hand. “I can’t even think of something close to this.”
“We have so many questions,” Rose perked up.
I lifted my hand up to look at my watch, the numbers were steadily counting down. “I only had an hour in this time, I’m going to jump again in fifteen minutes. I’m sorry I wasted time on something else. I only really have time to give you the equation. I have to find a guy named Nick, he’s an expert in vacuums….”
“Nick Langley?” Rose asked.
“Yeah, do you know him?”
“Sure, he’s in my American History class,” she shrugged as if she didn’t make the biggest contribution to fixing my screw up. “He’s probably over at the physics booth, he never really shuts up about joining the physics department. It’s kind of annoying.”
“Thank you so much,” I cheered, looking around to locate the booth. “Okay, so my friend Allie will have a lot more information about this. I’m still technically a year or so away from discovering time travel, but Allie knows everything. After I jump again, I won’t remember this conversation, I’ll go back to being my present self and I won’t know you two.”
“So it’s a secret time travel conspiracy?” Mallory asked, eyes wide as saucers.
I shrugged a shoulder, “Yeah I guess you could say that.”
They looked back each other, “Cool!”
“I knew you two would be perfect for this,” I laughed as they grinned over the information. “Listen, Mallory, I know physics sounds cool, but you need to go to the math department. Advance Mathematics is calling your name. I think with a little bit of time with number based minds like your own, you’ll figure out this equation.” I watched as she nodded like a little kid given strict instructions by a parent. “Rose, you stick with Physics. You were the one who solved the timer issue. You gave me the ability to return to the present at a set time. Like me, Lady Physics will be your calling.” She nodded the same way as her counterpart. “I have to go. It was so great to see you two, and I’ll see you again in a few years. Be nice to present Christen, she’s still a little nervous.”
“You got it,” Mallory said with a big smile, then looked over to Rose giving the thumbs up.
The quickest I had ever done it, I told someone about time travel and was on my way to get one of the last parts of the solution.
I had this feeling in the back of my head, I wanted to go find Tobin. There was some kind of fear inside me that thought maybe this would be the last chance I got to see her. I looked down at my watch, I only had ten minutes left. There was no way I was going to be able to track her down and find Nick. I was already going to have to give Nick the least amount of time, which was not good. I wanted to see Tobin, but I needed to see Nick more.
I sent a silent prayer to the gods that all of this was going to work and headed towards the Physics booth. True to life, Nick was standing over the table reading over some of the posted material, looking as awkward as he normally did. I didn’t have time to explain much, but the good thing about this was, I knew Nick, I knew he would accept the theory without question.
“Hey,” I said standing almost shoulder to shoulder with him. “You’re Nick.”
He adjusted his gold rimmed circle glasses, “Yeah, um, who are you?”
“I’m Christen, I’m part of the physics department, well I’m a grad student and a TA.” I said simply. I watched him start to struggle to find something else to say, he was still so shy. “Do you think time travel is possible?”
He looked a little taken back, then he pushed his hands into his front pockets, “Yes. I mean, theoretically it’s possible, with a vacuum in space and maybe a small enough object.”
“What about if it was brain waves sent back in time?” In the real world he and I discussed this for over two years. I would go into his lab while he typed in numbers and I would throw a theory his way and he would either confirm or disprove what I was thinking. I was going to have to have the same conversation in five minutes.
Shifting a bit as he thought he finally answered. “I guess if it was sent to a direct replica of the host brain, then I could see that. I mean, waves are more likely to survive in an extreme vacuum.”
“And do you think, if you can send the waves back in a vacuum and bring them back to present time, do you think you could suspend them in the same vacuum?”
“Suspend them?” he chuckled a little adjust his glasses again. “Like hold them in one place? For what purpose?”
This was the Nick I knew, smart and curious. “Organization. Theoretically if brain waves went to the past to the younger version of the host, and that person changed the past it would change the future, therefore when they returned to the present, coming with their original brainwaves would be new waves that held all the information of events that occurred from when the host changed the past all the way to present time. So if you could suspend them and read them, you could organize them before letting them reenter to the host brain.”
He took a step back, “It kind of sounds like this is more than a theory.”
My watched beeped. I only had a minute left. “Do you think you could suspend brainwaves in a vacuum?” I asked with urgency.
“Yes, but it would be more of a containment field, it would require a massive amount of energy.” He answered sounding frazzled.
“Don’t worry, I’ve taken care of that.” I looked down at my watch, I was out of time. “In thirty seconds I won’t remember this conversation, but I will know the basics of time travel. You have to ask me about time travel.”
He took a deep breath and I could tell he was still thinking about it, trying to figure out if he believed anything I was saying. I was starting to lose hope when finally he smiled and gave a quick nod. “Okay. I don’t know why, but for some reason I trust you.”
Relief washed over me, in that moment I could almost cry, I couldn’t believe he was coming through in this way. I looked down at the numbers as they began to dwindle down to the last few seconds. I flicked my eyes up to him and smiled back, “Oh and Nick,” I laughed under my breath. “Ask me about my friend Allie.”
“So that’s it?”
“That’s all the memories?”
Christen sat up in the arm chair, her legs falling from the ottoman. “Yes, that’s all the memories. I mean, it’s not every memory I’ve ever had in my entire life, but that’s the basics.”
Julie chuckled, writing a few things down on the legal pad in her lap. “Okay, I’m just checking. I’m the one that has to organize your life. I don’t want to make any mistakes because you’re leaving something out.”
“JJ, I’m not leaving anything out.” She stood up and stretched her arms and legs.
The last jump Christen made in her timeline was to the person she trusted to take all the memories in her mind and arrange them into coherent thoughts and ideas. The purpose of restoring her life back to it’s original timeline wasn’t so she could forget what happened in the other lives, it was to make sure they all lined up the way they were meant to. She didn’t want memories of one world mixing with the ones from another and for that she needed an expert in trauma and memory recovery. Lucky for her she knew just the person.
Julie sat back in her chair and watched as Christen walked around the room looking at all the certificates hanging on the wall. She had only known her for a few hours, but somehow felt connected to her. “So you still have no idea how you ended up in that first world, the one without Tobin?”
“No,” Christen stopped at the medical degree, an off white paper in a dark wood frame. “The more I think about it, the more I think it was a trap.”
“A trap?” she looked down at her notes. Throughout their session Julie had the idea to write down a diagnosis of delusions, before deciding to wait it out until the whole thing was said and done. She had written down one thing, paranoia, not in the normal sense of the word, but in a lighter way. She believed Christen thought the world may have been working against her, even though it was clear, if all this was indeed true, Christen was the only one who was causing any problems in every life she lived.
Her eyes still glued to the wall, Christen elaborated, “I think I was trapped in that life. It just didn’t feel real.” Finally she turned around, now leaning against the only empty space on the wall. “My whole life, that one at least, I always felt like something was off. I could never place the feeling, it was as if I was supposed to be doing something else but I was stuck doing what I was doing.”
“So you invented time travel?”
“No,” she answered, then paused to think. “I invented time travel for Alex.”
“But the first thing you did whenever you perfected the process, well, kind of perfected it, you went to Tobin.” She watched as the young genius started to shift in her stance. This was a sign she was rethinking things. “Why would you go back to that one single point in time and talk to Tobin? Why not do what you did the second time you used the machine and go to college and find Alex? It just seems to me like you needed to go back to that time.”
Christen pushed herself up from the wall, “I went back to confront Tobin. She was my childhood bully. She made me feel like I was nothing and I carried that moment around with me the rest of my life. I had to go back, tell her off and get my confidence back.”
Julie nodded, that same nod all phycologist do when they are about to challenge your way of thinking. “I don’t think that was the case, Christen.” She looked over at the clock on the wall. “We only have about twenty minutes left before you make the final jump. I’m going to put forward an idea and I want you to really think about it before you give an answer.”
Feeling more uncomfortable by the second, Christen nervously moved back to her spot in the arm chair across from the doctor. She sat back, trying to ground herself in the moment, restrain her mind from jumping to a conclusion, restrain her body from popping up from the seat a second time.
Waiting until her patient was ready, Julie sat up straight and spoke. “What if, the first time you traveled, wasn’t the first time at all.” She paused, looking to see Christen try to settle on the idea. “This is my theory. Given the facts you’ve told me, in the beginning you had no control over the amount of time you spent in the past. In that world you didn’t have interns and it was only with Rose’s contribution you figured out how to set a timer. So, in theory you could have traveled back in time for an unforeseeable amount of time. What if you went back in time and somehow became trapped in your sixteen year old self and the reason why that world always made you feel so awkward and uncomfortable is because you were your twenty-six year old self, somehow trapped in your own mind.” She paused to let Christen take in all the information.
“I…” she cleared her throat. “I don’t know.”
“Now hear me out,” Julie added. “What if the whole reason you invented time travel wasn’t to get Alex to fall in love with you, but because you wanted to go back and fix something you broke, like say, maybe the moment on the ridge when you and Tobin fell in love.”
Christen started to take short shallow breaths. Her heart was pounding in her chest. It felt like someone had hands over her ears and were pushing as hard as they could. She could feel her fingers digging into the fabric of the chair, but she couldn’t stop it. She didn’t have control of her body.
“I know it’s difficult to think about,” Julie was using a calming voice, noticing the other woman was on the verge of a panic attack. “I’m still not sure I understand all of it myself, but it makes more sense. You have a feeling that world wasn’t where you were meant to me. You have a feeling that Tobin is who you are supposed to be with, yet there’s a world where you hate her guts, yet still love her. It makes more sense for you to go back for her then it does for you to go back and confront her in order to get Alex.” She wasn’t sure if she was making sense, but for her patient’s sake she had to lay it all out. “Christen, I think you went back and time and fixed your timeline.”
Popping up from the chair, unable to keep herself still she started to pace the room. “No that can’t be. Why would I? How could I? I couldn’t have….” She shoved her fingers into her hair, cupping her head and she moved back and forth. “That can’t be true. It just can’t be.”
“Why?” the question was said with conviction.
“Because,” Christen croaked. Her hands were shaking against her skull vibrating her brain, shaking her memories. “If that was true it would mean…” she looked over to the doctor. Pressure was building behind her eyes as her brain made the final connection. “It would mean the second world, was my real world.”
\\\\ 10 Years Ago: Kelley O’Hara’s House ////
She looked around at the backyard. This was the place she remembered, the swimming pool lit with LED’s as the night fell over the small town in Central New Jersey. She remembered the music blasting in the house and all the kids yelling about something. The place was loud, way too loud to have a real conversation. Everyone at the party would wake up hoarse after screaming over each other and the rest of the party noises.
Just like before, Christen spent most of her time in the corners of the room, watching as her best friend made her rounds at the party. Somehow without warning Allie had gone from science geek to kind of popular, depending on who you were talking to. Christen had a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with her best friend going up a cup size over the summer. She looked down at her own chest, it was still flat, she still had a year before she grew something close to a chest.
None of that mattered, she wasn’t here to relive the party or how strange she felt with a red solo cup full of stale beer feeling oddly heavy in her hand. She was in no shape to think about the older boy that stared at her for a little too long. She wasn’t someone who was stared at, not unless she had something on her face or spilled on her shirt. She was the girl everyone ignored, everyone except one person, the person she came back to see.
In real life she was twenty-six and lived a happy life with the woman of her dreams. Her life was something out of a movie. She went to bed in a penthouse apartment in Los Angeles and woke up to a rock star in her bed. Her professional life was taking off, hell she had invented a way to travel in time, to relive a part of your life. There wasn’t much more anyone could ask for. So why would she come back to this time, when she was sixteen and awkward? Why would anyone want to recreate their most uncomfortable years? It had something to do with her perfect relationship feeling like it was falling apart.
For the last three days she had been in a long drawn out fight with her girlfriend. They were arguing over their future and what it held for the both of them. Being the live-in girlfriend of one of the most famous people in the world came with its own set of troubles. She couldn’t complain about the money or the endless amount of famous people that wanted to be her friends. She couldn’t complain about the rest of the band, all of them were like her family. She only had one thing to really complain about and according to her lovely girlfriend it wasn’t that big of a deal.
This woman she loved, the one she would do anything for, she had one problem, something she couldn’t or wouldn’t overcome. There was a tiny monster inside of her and every now and again it would rear it’s ugly head and set into motion a chain of events that led to things being broken in their home. Sometimes this monster would pop out of its cage and take over the sweet loving girl she wanted to spend her life with. The days when she would come home and the monster would be waiting for her in the living room, glossy eyed and ready to lie, Christen contemplated why she even stayed.
How in the world was one problem so bad it made her want to walk out on the best person she knew? That was the question she continued to ask herself. She spent hours thinking of an answer. She talked it out with all the people in her life, and somehow each time she would be talked into staying. After all she loved Tobin, she just hated the monster.
She hated the empty translucent orange pill bottles scattered over the kitchen counter. She hated the way the most loving and warm smile would turn to a half grin whenever she was so high she had no control over her facial muscles. She hated the days of not knowing where Tobin was or if she was alive. She hated going to pick her up from drug houses and bailing her out of jail. She hated the visits to hospitals and the NDA’s that had to be signed by anyone who saw Tobin in her drugged out state.
To her, that wasn’t Tobin; that was the monster. She loved Tobin. She loved almost everything about her. Almost everything.
But there was a version of her that was perfect. There was a Tobin that she loved every single part of, and that version was sitting on the ridge of a hillside house just waiting to be discovered and loved.
Christen looked out at the mess of shrubbery standing between her and the woman she loved. Her hands were shaking. She was nervous despite knowing just how this would play out. She didn’t want to change anything, the moment was perfect on its own, the single point in her life that made her the happiest she’s ever been. Still she moved on shaking legs as she approached the destination.
Just as she was about to move the branches back, an idea came into her mind. How long did she have? After all, she didn’t want to suddenly get sent back to her time leaving Tobin with some confused version of herself. She had no idea what would happen when her consciousness was sent back. For all she knew, she could pass out and Tobin would be stuck panicking trying to figure out what to do. No offense to the love of her life, but Tobin, especially a sixteen year old Tobin was not prepared to try and revive a passed out person.
Her hand was out to move the branches out the way, she almost turned back, maybe take time to solve the problem, but she felt someone touch her fingertips. A spark rushed through her body, her skin on fire at the hand touching hers, then she felt that hand grab her wrist and pull her through the bushes.
“What the hell are you doing out here?” Tobin said squeezing her wrist. “Are you spying on me?”
“No,” Christen panicked, her mind going blank as the girl she once knew looked at her with disgust. “I’m just getting some fresh air.”
“Well leave!” She threw her hand down, forcing Christen to lose her balance, “This is where I am and I don’t want some loser messing up my good time.”
“I’m… I’m not…” she stuttered over her own words. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go.
Tobin had a fire in her eyes. In a split second she released all the anger she had inside. “You better get the fuck outta here, you loser freak.” She was spitting as she talked, moving so close to Christen she could feel the droplets on her face. “I hate you, everyone hates you. I thought you knew that. I have no idea who invited you to this party, or if you snuck in, but no one wants you here. No one wants you anywhere.”
There she was full force, on fire, burning with hate and anger and able to say the worst things imaginable. “You wanna know why everyone hates you? First of all you’re the worst person to be in class with. You think you’re so fucking smart, but you’re not, you’re just a loser who sucks up to the teachers.” She was striking blows, showing no signs of stopping. “And you’re not even good to look at. I mean come on look at this stupid shirt, and those shoes, and those hideous glasses. How in the world did you even get dressed, did the freak loser closet throw up on you?” she cackled, on fire now with her insults. She went for the final blow, the stab in the chest, the knockout punch. “This world would be so much better if you weren’t alive. Everyone’s lives would be richer if you fell off this cliff.”
And with those vicious words Tobin reached both her hands and shoved Christen so hard she fell into the bushes. She stood for a few seconds looking down at her victim, a brief look of guilt in her eyes, before she made her way off the ridge and back to the party.
There she was, tears burning her eyes, thorns piercing into her skin, Christen sat in the bushes for over five minutes. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go. This was supposed to be the moment she fell in love, the moment she and Tobin learned they were meant to be together, but instead she was eviscerated by the harshest words she had ever heard. This was coming from the biggest punching bag in the school. Never in her life had she ever heard Tobin say words like that to anyone. How could her sweet, innocent Tobin say those kinds of things? How did everything fall apart so quickly?
“Are you okay?” a deep voice called out.
Christen scrambled to pull herself from the bushes, but the thorns were attached to the knitted yarn of her sweater. “I’m fine,” she cried out.
A boy came out of the bushes and looked down at her with a kind smile. “You don’t look fine.” He held out his hands offering to help her up. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” she answered, running her now dirty and slightly bloody hand across her face. “I had a bad run in with Tobin Heath.”
He looked shocked, “She did this to you? I knew she could be mean, but I never thought she could do something like this.”
Christen nodded, taking a few deep breaths to control her crying. “I don’t know what got into her. I guess she was just extra angry tonight.” She stuck a finger through the new hole in her sweater. “It’s okay. I can always go back and fix it.”
“Your sweater?” the boy chuckled, pulling a leaf from the knitted fabric. “You might be better off just buying a new one. Unless this one is special.”
“No not the sweater.” She said looking down at her watch. “I’m talking about the moment. This moment, I can fix it.” She looked up through her thick rimmed glasses. “Never mind it doesn’t matter. Thank you for your help.”
He gave another kind smile, “No problem. I was just out here getting some air. The house is filled with weed smoke and BO, I needed to get a little fresh Jersey air.”
“It isn’t much better,” she laughed at him taking a deep breath. “But I know what you mean.”
“I saw you in there,” he said simply, “Looked like you weren’t having as much fun as the others.”
Now she remembered the boy, he was the same one that was staring at her. Her body stiffened, “Um, no. I’m not much of a party person.”
“Me either,” he lowered his head looking through eyelashes. “I’m much more of a one on one type of person. Guess I’m lucky I got to meet someone as beautiful as you.”
Her blood ran cold. Suddenly everything he was doing went from nice to strange. Who came outside at a party and wandered this far from the house? She looked him up and down, he was okay looking, though clearly older with a few mustache hairs on his upper lip and something resembling a beard poking through on his chin. Then she thought about where they were, he had to have seen Tobin leave. It took a while to get down to the ridge, so he must have been waiting around for her to be alone. Maybe his plan was to come out here for Tobin but now she was the one alone with him.
She started to freak out. “I should go find my friend.”
“Why?” he reached out to grab her wrist, then quickly loosened his grip without letting go. “I just mean, your friend has to be in there at the party. I thought you wanted to stay out here, get some fresh air.”
“I’m bleeding,” she said not breaking eye contact with him. “I need to go home and she drove me here, so…”
“I can drive you home,” He pulled on her wrist.
“No,” she said quickly yanking her arm. “Let me go.”
“What’s your problem?” His eyes turned dark, “I’m just trying to be nice.”
She yanked at her arm again, but he was too strong. “I don’t need you to be nice. Let me go!”
Before she could say anything else, he let go of her arm, only to use his dominant hand to punch her in the face. She stumbled back unable to control her footing, she fell into the bush, her head slamming into the rock buried in the ground.
“You stupid bitch!” he snarled. “Stay in the fucking bushes for all I care. You’re fucking ugly anyway.”
He left the same way he came and Christen stayed laughing in the shrubs. She started to cry again, this time from relief. In her head she knew that could have gone worse. She wasn’t strong enough to fight him and if he wanted to he could have done anything to her. They were alone and the music in the house was so loud no one would have heard her scream. He was clearly out there looking for girls alone and he found her battered and bruised. Even though she knew it wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t right, she still thanked the universe all she got was punched in the face.
She got up from the bush, touching the back of her head, feeling the blood coming from the bottom of her skull. That could have been worse too, another inch down and she could have hit her neck, maybe even been paralyzed. All in all she was in one piece, not okay, but standing. She just needed to figure out what the hell she was doing out in the bushes in the first place.
“It wasn’t real,” she said, the cries racking through her body. “I created it. I went back in time because Tobin and I were in a fight. I went back to see her whenever we first fell in love, but I messed it up, I hesitated and she was so angry.” Pulling her face away from her palms she looked up at her friend. “I did this JJ, I messed it all up. I thought I could fix it, back then on the ridge, I told myself I could go back in time and fix it, do it over again, but there was a boy, and he punched me, I fell and I hit my head on a rock.”
She reached back trying to find the knot on the back of her head, but nothing was there. In this timeline she did everything right. Just like before, like her real life, she spent hours on the ridge talking to Tobin and they fell in love. That other version of her, the sad lonely one she hated, that girl had a scar at the base of her skull where she smacked it on a sharp rock. It must have been the blow to the face and the hit to the back of her head, it was enough to trap her mind in her younger body.
That night she remembered all the symptoms, the double vision, the dizziness, she had a concussion. The chill of the air against her skin as she walked home, she could never forget how that felt. It was almost like her body forgot where she was and on pure instinct she pushed herself the miles from the rich part of town, down to her house. She slipped inside and laid down on her bed. Her mom came to check on her, she must have looked a wreck because the next thing she knew she was in the hospital getting scans.
Press Charges, that term was thrown around a lot that night, but Christen couldn’t remember who the boy was or why she was even out there on the ridge getting screamed at by Tobin Heath and pushed into a thorn bush. She couldn’t remember a thing. The doctor’s told her it was normal after receiving a blow to the head and she fell into docile acceptance.
Maybe she should have pushed the issue. She was only sixteen at the time, a scared confused teenager, so maybe she couldn’t push the issue. Looking back on it now, knowing what really happened, the pain of it all racked through her body shaking her to her core. Maybe if she would have tried harder, not let her parents take her out of school and away from all the people she knew, maybe she would have remembered.
For ten years she was trapped in her head. A single moment in time that kept her memories buried in her brain, but still pushing against all she was, commanding her to do the one thing that could get her back to her real life.
“Somehow,” Christen sobbed, sitting back in the chair, her arms wrapped over the side. “My memories of the future, or my entire life went dormant.”
“You had your whole life in your head, just trapped inside.” Julie confirmed with a tranquil voice. “That’s the reason you were given all those diagnosis when you were younger. Christen you weren’t depressed, or anxious, or any of that, or maybe you were, but your real condition didn’t help it. This whole time you’ve had yourself in your own head. In a way you’ve been guiding yourself to this moment, only it was buried so deep you started to fill in blanks with random facts like being in love with Alex and making a time machine for her.”
All of it was too much to handle in the moment. How was she supposed to process that kind of information? She looked up at the clock, there was only ten minutes left, there was no way she was going to be able to sort through it all and make any kind of sense.
“What do you think will happen now?” Christen asked. “Do you think I’ll wake up in my real life, the one with Tobin being a drug addict?”
Taking a long pause, Julie thought about what she was going to say next. “I don’t know what you’ll wake up to. If you do end up in a world where Tobin is on drugs, what are you going to do?”
If this was any other time, any other person, maybe her answer would have been different, but she had been through it all and that question was an easy one to answer. “I’ll help her get sober. I’m not using the time machine to fix her. I’ve messed everything up. I’ve lived a life without her and I never want to do it again.”
“What happens if you wake up in a world where you two never got together?”
She smiled at that question, “Then I’ll go find her and make her see she’s my soulmate.” She chuckled a little to herself. “But I don’t think that’ll happen. We’re meant to be together. If I’m sure about anything in all these worlds, I’m sure about our love.”
“Sounds good to me,” Julie smiled, relaxing into her seat. “We have ten minutes left. Is there any other memories you think are crucial? If so tell me now before you jump. The next time you wake up, you’ll be home.”
“Yeah, I have just one more,” she said happily. “It’s not really a memory, so much as it’s something I did. I made another jump between here and UCLA.”
Her interested sparked, Julie took out her pen ready to write. “Where’d you go?”
“To see Tobin.”
She wasn’t supposed to, it was against the rules she made up for herself, but she couldn’t help herself. Rules were meant to be broken, after all she had broken all the rules of time and space, so why not one she made up. Before she made the first jump, while Tobin was pouting over on the lab table, Christen felt a pull on her heart. Watching Tobin worry about their future, about being in a world without each other, this made Christen think of a plan. At the end, if everything worked out she would make one last jump and see the woman she loved. Everything had to go perfectly for it to work, but she had faith.
It was a strange concept to her, faith. In all the years they were together, she heard Tobin talk about it a few times, but it never really resonated with her. Tobin had faith in her friends, in the music, in God, and she could live without any proof it would be okay. That was the point of faith, she explained, believing without proof. For Tobin it was easy to have faith things would work out, but it was harder for Christen.
She lived her entire life with numbers and rules. In her world there were theories and they were tested and either proven right or wrong. She didn’t have to have faith in anything because she could proof everything. So that day, before she made the jumps to fix her timeline, she decided to have faith, in her friends, in the universe, in Tobin. Without anyone else knowing, she told Allie to set one jump before she would make the last one to Julie, she wanted to go back ten years ago, only this time past the time on the ridge and to the moment Tobin walked her to her front door.
In real life, they spent over three hours talking. It started off with science, Christen explaining relativity and how she was going to find a way to invent time travel. In the new timeline, the one she hoped was close to her real life, she had this conversation, only it went a little differently than the second time she one back in time.
\\\\ 10 Years Ago: The Ridge: New Timeline ////
“I don’t know,” she blushed under the gaze of the bright eyes looking at her. “I just have this feeling, you know. Have you ever gotten a feeling that you were meant to do something?”
“Yeah,” she answered shyly, her head lowering a bit. “You promise not to laugh?”
“I would never laugh at you,” she reassured.
Tobin pressed her lips together, her hands flipping inside each other. “I think I’m meant to be a singer. I know the band just started to play, but I think we are really great, and I don’t know, I just think we are supposed to make it big, you know.”
Christen gave a wide smile. “I think you guys are going to make it. I’ve only heard you play once, but it was really amazing. You’re a really good singer.”
“Thanks,” she said, her cheeks turning slightly red. “I think you’re going to invent time travel.”
She chuckled lightly, “Thanks.”
They looked up at each other holding eye contact for a second before looking away and sharing a light laugh. Christen looked over to the edge of the cliff, the lights of the houses below were starting to light up the small town. This was the first time she was ever seeing a view like this, and maybe it wasn’t as spectacular as all the other views in the world, but seeing it with Tobin was making it the best view in the world.
When they first sat down she could feel her heart racing, she had to be completely conscious of everything she was doing. She was aware of how long and deep her breaths were and how many times she was blinking. Towards the middle of the conversation she was suddenly fully aware of her hands and how she really wanted to reach out and take Tobin’s fidgeting hands in hers. There was this feeling creeping up inside, she longed to soothe the anxious girl in front of her, let her know they were okay out here in their own little world.
“Can I tell you something?” Tobin asked in an airy voice, her head down looking everywhere but Christen.
The new nervous version of the once confident girl made Christen strangely happy inside. “You can tell me anything.”
Looking up through eyelashes Tobin tried to smile, but quickly hid it. “It’s just, I feel really bad about how I’ve treated you in the past…”
“Tobin, we’ve already talked about that…”
“No, just listen,” she reached and placed her fingers in Christen palm, she was about to pull away, put she could feel a gentle squeeze letting her know that contact was okay, more than okay, it was wanted. Tobin took a deep breath. “I have to get this out or I’ll never be okay. I’ve been really messed up for a long time, and I know that’s no excuse for hurting you, but that’s all I’ve got right now. I was such a monster to you and I know I’ll regret it for the rest of my life, and I know it because I’ve…” she looked up into the shining field of green peering back at her. “I’ve never felt so… safe and happy in my life.”
The words made Christen tighten her hand, it was a twitch that turned into a tight squeeze as her body stiffened at the thought. She was about to respond but it looked like Tobin had more to say and she wasn’t about to interrupt such a confession.
“Christen, I have felt better with you for these last couple of hours than I have ever felt in my entire life, and I know that’s crazy, because we’ve just really started to get to know each other, but that’s how I feel, and I don’t know, I just…” she smiled again, all her teeth bright white against the blue bands. “I just wanted to say that.”
Fire ran through her body, coming from the warm hand placed in hers and making its way up her arm and radiating through her. She never thought a nervous set of shaky words could ever make her feel so magical.
“I…” her head dropped, her own anxieties plaguing her one more time. She needed to find the courage. It was a second hand coming to cup their already joined ones that told her it was time to be brave. “I feel the exact same way. And yeah, it’s a little crazy, but it feels right.”
“Good,” Tobin let out a shaking breath. They sat in silence for a little bit before Tobin got the courage to speak. “Can I, I mean, do you maybe need a ride home? I can take you, I have my Jeep.”
Her heart now beating faster, Christen nodded, “Yeah, I’ll text Allie and let her know.”
Tobin hopped up in one jump, the reached her hand out to grab hold of Christen’s and pull her up. When they were face to face Christen could hear her heart pounding against her chest, she prayed Tobin couldn’t hear it too. They walked side by side, their hands brushing together a few times. Tobin was talking a bit, babbling really, about the house and the party, but Christen was too busy hoping one of the times her knuckles touched the back of Tobin’s hand she would just grab hold.
It was halfway down the crowded driveway that Christen got her wish. After what felt like the millionth time their hands grazed each other’s, Tobin flipped her hand around and laced her fingers into Christen’s. They didn’t talk about it, Tobin didn’t even skip a beat in her rambling, they just held hands and walked until they reached the Jeep.
As they got in the car, Tobin took the AUX chord and plugged it into her phone, putting on some light music. Christen just smiled, trying not to look like an awkward loser as they pulled out and headed down the street.
In her mind she knew the town and its streets well, but it seemed so different now. The lamp post seemed brighter than ever and the air crisper as it came through the open windows. Sure they were on the rich part of town where landscapers came and trimmed all the flowering bushes into neat little boxes, but they didn’t seem so ordinary anymore. The whole street, with its painted white lines on the black tarmac and the cement sidewalks with children’s drawings chalked into them, they all seemed great in a way.
So maybe she was seeing everything in a different kind of light, like a filter had been lifted. Was that cliché? Was she now a typical high school teenage girl who could visualize a better world now that someone was sitting next to her, making her heart slam in her chest? Maybe she was, and maybe it didn’t matter. For now what mattered was how Tobin’s hair kind of blew in the wind as she drove. What mattered was the way her voice carried in the car as she sang softly to the music. Christen could feel herself becoming the lyrics to that all too ordinary love song and she was loving every second of it.
She sat enjoying the drive, loving that smell of the Jersey air, somehow smelling way better coming through the window of a beat up Jeep Liberty. So maybe there was a secret to life, one she was just figuring out now. Maybe it wasn’t about where you were, but who you’re with. She made a choice as they turned down her street, she didn’t care where she was as long as she was with Tobin.
They parked in the driveway of her house and Christen could feel herself getting a little sad. They had been together for a few hours and yet it didn’t seem long enough. Her brain went off like lightning trying to find a way to prolong the night, but it was Tobin who spoke first.
“Is it okay if I walk you to the door?” She asked in a small voice.
With a quick nod Christen answered, “Yes, that would be great.”
They walked slowly up the short path to the front porch, the moon hanging high in the sky lighting their way. Christen could see Tobin pulling a stick of gum from her pocket and quickly popping it into her mouth to chew it. She could feel what was going to happen next and she wished she had gum or a mint or anything in her pocket, but she was just going to have to hope her breath was good enough.
As the approached the top step Tobin spoke up. “Do you want to do this again sometime? Not the party, but the talking?” She shook her head, getting flustered. “What I mean is, do you want to maybe go out with me sometime?”
“I would,” she could feel her body heating up. “I would love that.”
“Good,” she gave another sparkling smile.
Christen had to admit, watching her look down at her shoes, swinging her foot a little as she tried to think of something to say, it was really getting to her, in the best of ways. For as long as she knew the girl standing in front of her, she had never seen her in this state. Tobin was always confident, almost cocky about everything she did, but here now, with her hands shoved in her back pockets and her head down letting her long hair fall into her face, there was no doubt she was the cutest Christen had ever seen her.
After half a minute of internal self-encouragement, Tobin finally looked up. “Um, is it okay if I kiss you?”
Christen knew this was coming, she had time to think about it, still all she could do was nod. Slowly, Tobin moved closer, leaving only a small gap between them. Christen squeezed her fist together, not really sure what to do with her hands, she waited for Tobin to make the move. With a quick in breath they closed the gap and their lips were touching.
She had always imagined her first kiss to be fireworks, at least that’s what all the stories said, but it wasn’t. The kiss wasn’t loud explosions and people cheering, a thousand angels singing in harmony, it was something better. It was soothing, calming, relaxing in a way that took away all negative thoughts. She was no longer nervous, no longer worried about anything. It didn’t last long, but it was long enough for her to be sure. She was no longer alone in this world, no longer a single vessel floating in an endless ocean. She had something now, something she never had before, safety and security, a partner. She and Tobin would be there for each other from now on.
“Wow.” Tobin said as she leaned back. “That was…”
“Amazing,” Christen finished her sentence.
“Yeah,” Tobin agreed in an airy voice. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way.”
“Me either.” Her smile took over her face. There was no way not to look excited, happy, falling for this amazing girl in front of her.
Tobin looked up with wide eyes, “Seriously, it’s kind of freaking me out.”
“Why?” Christen asked a little worried.
“Because, I’ve just never…” She smiled, wide and beautiful and perfect. “I’ve never felt so peaceful. Is that stupid to say, should I be holding this all in?”
“Don’t hold it in,” Christen chuckled, her hand moving without a thought, going to hold Tobin’s. “You don’t have to hold anything in, not anymore, not with me.”
As if someone cast a bravery spell on her, Tobin reached her hand up to cup Christen cheek. She closed her eyes and leaned forward for another gentle kiss. They pressed their lips together, still as timidly as the first time, but with so much more behind it. As they parted, they took a second to gaze into each other’s eyes before Tobin laughed sweetly and took a step back.
“I should probably go before I make a fool out of myself.” She was back to her worried ways, her hands going to her back pockets to find home. “I really like you, Chris, and I want to see you again, soon.”
“I like you too,” she assured her.
Tobin walked backwards down the three steps of the porch and slowly stepped back towards the driveway. “I’ll text you when I get back… And, I’ll call you tomorrow, I promise.”
Leaning against the column in front of the steps Christen smiled and waved. “I’m looking forward to it.”
With one last lingering look, Tobin spun around and started to walk around to the driver’s side of the car.
>>This was the moment I wanted to go back to. This was the moment I had to have faith in.<<
Shocked, Tobin spun back around and looked up at her, “Yeah?
Her body a little shaky from the jump, Christen ran down the steps, jetting across the yard and crashing into Tobin throwing her arms around her neck, pulling her in for a tight hug. She could feel Tobin hugging back, though a little uneasily, which was understandable.
Christen pulled away. “I just explained time travel to you,” she said as a fact, but also as a question.
Confused by the sudden change in demeanor, Tobin snorted. “Yeah, like an hour ago.”
She couldn’t help the smile that came to her face. This was her Tobin, the one she was madly in love with. “I did it, Moose, I figured it out.” She closed her eyes as the pressure began to build, she was going to cry, but she needed to hold off enough to explain everything. “I don’t have a lot of time, I only set the timer for ten minutes, but I needed to come back. I needed to tell you something.”
“What are you talking about?” Tobin questioned, her face starting to contort.
“Listen to me,” she said softly, not wanting to freak her out. “I made a time machine, it worked similar to how I explained in an hour ago. I figured out how to transfer my future brainwaves to my now body.”
She chuckled, “No way, you’re lying.”
Christen couldn’t help but smile when Tobin did, it was so infectious. “I would never lie to you, Moose.”
Tobin took a step back, her body hitting her Jeep, a serious look coming across her face. “You’re trying to tell me you’re from the future? You right now?”
“Yes,” she said hoping she wouldn’t have to waist precious time trying to convince her. She hoped Tobin would feel the way she did in this moment in real life, like everything was possible as long as they were together. “I need to tell you something important.””
Looking up, still clearly confused, Tobin nodded. “Something from the future?”
“Yes, from the future,” she took a breath. She could feel the pressure building behind her eyes, she took a shaking breath, “I know you might be scared, but please, you don’t have to be afraid, not of me, not ever. Tobin, you never have to be afraid for the rest of your life because I’m here, I’m with you, I will never leave.”
“Okay…” her chest inflated, and she looked like a puppy lost in the rain, looking up for someone to save her. She looked at Christen the same way she did on the ridge, like she was the only person in the world that could make everything okay.
Just like before, Christen was there to save her, to bring her back from the edge and keep her safe. She tried to smile, tried to stay calm in the moment. “You need to make sure you go to Alyssa’s house, do not go home.” Those big brown eyes got even wider at the words. It was instinct that made Christen place a hand in the middle of her chest, the same thing she did to calm Tobin down in the future and it seemed to be working. Tobin looked down at the hand on her, took a deep breath then gazed back up at Christen as if she held all the answers to the universe.
“You cannot go back home,” Christen repeated, tapping her fingers on her rising chest. “If you go they will throw you in a van and take you away. They will take you to a place that will hurt you.” She stepped forward, again her body was moving without her mind giving orders. “Tobin they will take away your light. You have this fire inside you, and that horrible place will extinguish it.” She looked up passion filling her eyes. “I’ve been to a world where you go back home, and the camp counselors get you, and you’re never the same. Please, promise me you’ll stay away.”
Tobin leaned back against the Jeep, her face turning red, tears starting to form in her eyes. “I don’t understand…” her breaths were rapid, her hands shaking.
“Baby…” Christen cupped her hands on the warm cheeks of the terrified girl, “I need you to catch your breath for me. I need you to settle down, because I don’t have a lot of time. I came back to make sure nothing bad ever happens to you. I came back to make sure you were safe and happy.”
There was no calming the wreck of a girl, no stopping her heart from beating so hard Christen could feel her pulse in her neck as her hands slipped down. There was no other choice, she did the only thing she knew how to do, her hand went under Tobin’s chin, pulling her head up as she leaned in and kissed her.
Tobin leaned into the kiss, taking a breath and kissing harder, her hands going around Christen’s waist and pulling her in. She held her closer, letting all her anxiety slip away, letting the kiss calm her. As they broke apart she looked into the field of green and instantly knew it was all okay.
“How are you feeling?” Christen asked with an airy voice, a smile coming to her face.
With a slight nod and her hands grabbing tighter to the slender hips, Tobin answered, “I’m scared.”
“I know,” she ran a thumb across Tobin’s cheek, catching the tear as it escaped. “But I promise everything will be okay.” She gave a loving look, “Promise me you’ll go to Alyssa’s house tonight. Ask her family to take you in.”
“Will they?” she questioned.
Christen placed her hand back on Tobin’s chest. She could feel the heart below her hand start to beat faster, she pushed a little harder, knowing the pressure had a calming effect on Tobin. “Yes, they will take you in and help you go to court and fight for emancipation. And I will be with you every step of the way.”
Tobin took in a sharp breath, “You know this for sure? You know they’ll let me stay with them.”
“I know it for sure.” She watched relief wash over Tobin’s face. “Now promise me you’ll go to them.”
With a quick nod, Tobin spoke, “I promise.”
The next thing she contemplated not telling her, but for some reason she had to make sure Tobin had confidence in herself, in her music. “No matter what happens, keeping singing. Don’t ever give up on your music, because one day you’re going to inspire millions.”
A proud look came over her, then melted into a shy smile. “Are you for real?”
“Look at me,” Christen grinned. “I would never lie to you Moose.”
“Why do you keep calling me that?” she asked with a little laugh.
Christen chuckled to herself a thought coming to her mind, “I guess I Back to the Future’d myself.” She said with a smile. This must have been where the nickname came from in the first place. One day she was going to know the story of where it originated, but for now in this timeline the reign of never using Tobin’s name had started. “I’ll explain it one day.”
As simple as she hoped it would be, Tobin had fallen into an easy acceptance of what she was being told. There was a look in her eyes, the same one Christen knew she had, they were in love and they both knew it.
“There are going to be times in your life when it all seems impossible, when it all seems like it’s falling apart, but I need you to never give up, not on yourself, not on us, not on your family.” She was trying her best to hold back all her emotions, “Even when times are hard, and you feel like you’re crashing, never give up, hold on forever.”
Tobin node franticly, holding tight to her, “What about you?” She cried, her voice shaking. “What happens to you? Are you going to be okay?”
“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “This is one of my last jumps and I don’t know my future.”
“Aren’t you scared?
“Not when I have you,” she flashed a smile, leaning in for one more timid kiss. “I’m never afraid when I have you. Even when we’re far from each other, I’m never afraid.”
Looking down to her watch Christen knew she was almost out of time. This journey was the quickest one, only ten minutes compared to the hour in the other times and the six hours she gave herself to tell her story to Julie. As much as she wished she could stay forever, go through this life again, she had to leave.
“I only have a minute left,” she cried, the tears now rolling down her cheeks. “I miss you so much and I can’t wait to see you again.”
Tobin’s eyes went big with panic, “Wait, you have to go? Why?”
“It’s how it works.” She said wiping away her tears. “I won’t remember any of this in a minute after this consciousness leaves, so you’ll have to keep this to yourself until… well for ten years.”
“Ten years!” Tobin laughed, “Are we together in ten years?”
“Not to ruin your timeline, but yes, we are.” Then that feeling in the back of her mind came back, and she knew exactly what she had to do. “In ten years, when we are twenty-six you’re going to want to ask me a question.” She could feel herself being pulled, with only a few seconds left. “I wasn’t ready in the other timelines, but I am so ready now. I’m ready for my life with you. Don’t be afraid, Moose. I promise I’ll say…”
There’s a light in this world some people might miss it, but it’s there. It’s bright, lighting up the whole world. It makes you feel warm and loved. It makes you feel safe and wanted. Some might see it sometimes, some might see it all the time, and some might never get to see it. But the light is always there, waiting for you to come bask in its glory.
Hope. That’s all anyone needs. To live their best life. To bring themselves out of the darkness and into the warm light of the sun. Hope. With just a little hope the world can be changed, a life can be changed.
“She should be waking up.”
“I think I can see her eyes fluttering.”
Christen could hear the voices and she knew who they were, but her eyes were still closed. She was still stuck in the blackness of her own mind. She did a check of herself there in the darkness, making sure she could wiggle her fingers and toes. She pressed her tongue against the roof of her mouth and squeezed her eyes tighter. Without doing anything else she was sure that she was indeed herself, fully intact. She was sitting in a chair, her arms resting in her lap, her back against the rest, her head feeling remarkably light.
“Open your eyes, Chris.”
That was Alex’s voice. She could pick that out over the noisiest of crowds. Then there was a hand on hers, by the feel of it, Alex was holding her hand.
“Come on, open your eyes, Chrissy.”
She opened her mouth, it was a little dry. “I don’t want to.” Her throat felt harsh like she had been screaming for an hour and just know talking in a softer tone.
“Why?” Alex questioned.
“I’m afraid.” That was a logical answer. She may have felt a little calm, but her mind felt busy, she felt like there was something she couldn’t look at.
“It’ll be okay,” Alex said gently. “Just open your eyes.”
She couldn’t stay like this forever, in the darkness of her mind, still in the chair, frozen in a single moment of insecurity. With a heavy breath, she finally opened her eyes, letting herself focus on the room. She was in her lab, and it looked exactly how she remembered.
Alex moved in front of her, holding up a light and flashing it in her eyes.
Christen held up her hand. “Come on, babe. I’m blind now.”
“Babe, huh?” Alex chuckled, “You’ll have to explain that one.”
It was like a flash flood. The memories came rolling in one by one. But it wasn’t like before, like the bolt of lightning that almost made her pass out. She wasn’t suddenly on the floor unable to control her body, it was gentle, easy. She could remember all the worlds she had been in, she could remember the details of all the lives she had lived, and now she could remember what she was doing here.
She stood up slowly and looked around her lab. Allie and Nick were sitting over by the computer, his arm around her waist as the both gave loving smiles. She looked over to see Mallory and Rose almost bouncing up and down as they watched her, like she was a baby taking its first steps. She turned to see Julie looking rather pleased with herself, but still soft and caring as she’s ever been. Then Emily, still shy, sitting off in the corner, waiting for something to happen.
“Did it work?” Christen asked, spinning around, a little too fast, as she had to steady herself on the lab table.
Alex was there quickly to catch her. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” she laughed at herself. “Did it work, Lex?”
Helping Christen stand up straight, Alex shrugged. “You tell us.”
Right, she was the only person who could say if she had all her memories, if the machine her team built fixed the neural pathways in her brain. She thought for a second, trying to get a sense of everything, a feel for her new mind, her new fully restored memories.
“It worked,” she said her head falling and a tear escaping down her cheek.
She could see all the worlds, the one she had built, the ones that came around her and engulfed her. The different versions of all her friends played in her mind. There was a piece of her that didn’t want to believe it, didn’t want to think that this was it, her home, but somehow she knew. Maybe it was the way everyone was looking at her, the kindness behind their stares, or maybe it was the way her heart swelled as she spun slowly to see everyone, but there was no doubt. After months of being trapped in places that didn’t feel right, after living her life again without the people that made it whole, Christen knew she was she was finally home.
“Thank you.” She looked up at all her friends.
What else could she say to all of them, the people that gave up pieces of themselves to save her. Thank you didn’t see like enough, and maybe would never be enough, that was okay. If they could sacrifice their paths in life to help her, she could spend the rest of hers making up for it. One day she would find a way to repay all of them. But for now all she could say was how grateful she was to have each and everyone of them in her life.
“Thank you all, so much. I can’t believe you all did this for me. I can’t ever thank you guys enough.” The tears were starting to escape now.
“Don’t go crying,” Allie said rushing over to her friend. “If you cry, I’ll cry and I don’t want to mess up my makeup.”
Christen threw her arms around her best friend bringing her in close. “I’ll try not to.” She said into her neck. “Thank you, so much. I know I really messed up your life…”
“No, sweetie,” Allie said as she pulled back just enough for them to look at each other. “You didn’t ruin anything. My life was perfect because of you. I love you, so much.”
“I love you too,” she went in for another tight hug.
After they let go, Christen took another look around the room, at her friends, her family, everyone who sacrificed for her. She had so much she needed to say, so much she needed to thank them all for individually. She had her life back and it was all because of them believing in her, and in themselves.
Ready to make the rounds and make sure each other them knew how much she loved them, she opened her mouth to speak, but was distracted by the door creaking open. She turned to see Kelley poking her head through.
“Hey, nerds,” she said in the calm voice. “I don’t know what you guys are doing in here, but if you don’t hurry the hell up, we are going to be late for our own concert.”
Without warning Christen ran over to the door, swinging it open fully and engulfing Kelley in a tight hug. “I missed you so much, Pooper.” She said burying her face in her friend’s neck. “Don’t you ever go away ever again.”
“Wow, I love you too, Chrissy,” Kelley laughed hugging her back. “But I’m not going anywhere.”
Christen pulled away after giving her a kiss on the cheek, “You better not.”
Then it occurred to her, if Kelley was here, if she was talking about a concert that meant….
She gave one more tight hug before pushing away and rushing through the room, pulling open the door and looking down the hall. She could see the group all standing at the end of the walk way, laughing about one thing or another, and there she was. Tobin was making a joke, pushing Alyssa’s shoulder as they laughed. Christen’s heart slammed against her chest as she saw her, alive, happy, and healthy.
It wasn’t the Tobin she remembered from any of the worlds, and yet it was all of them combined. She was smiling that bright white smile, the white gold hoop pierced through her bottom lip. When she laughed, her head thrown back, her long dark brown hair with its slight beach wave moving as she did, the quarter of the left side of her head shaved. She ran a tattooed hand through her hair, then pushed it back into her leather jacket, the one with the smiley face upside down on the back. This wasn’t the Tobin that Christen had fantasized about in the sad world, or the one that she fell for in the second world. This wasn’t the one she was afraid of in a world where she loved Alex, and it wasn’t the sweet innocent caretaker of her last world. No, this tall specimen in front of her was everything she had been looking for in all those others, the ones that pale in comparison to the goddess standing just out of reach.
But was she out of reach, this rock star, this ethereal being that shines light and goodness into the world? Christen watched her for just a second, taking the time to remember all the other versions of the love of her life, thanking whomever was listening that she got to see all the ways Tobin could have turned out, being even more thankful that she was home to the one she loved the most. Those other Tobins, even the ones that made her afraid to breathe, the ones messed up and limbing around, they gave her an understanding and appreciation for the real Tobin. There wouldn’t be a second where she didn’t love all the others. But this one, the real one, her Tobin was the best, and no she wasn’t out of reach.
“Tobin!” she yelled, running down the hall as fast as she could. There wasn’t a chance for the other woman to even focus before Christen was launching in the air. She wasn’t afraid, she had faith, Tobin would catch her.
Tobin’s arms opened just in time to grab and hold Christen into her. She laughed loudly as she squeezed their bodies together, feeling her girlfriend laugh with her. “Hey, Squirrelly,” she said in a cheerful voice. “Miss me already?”
“Always,” Christen said letting herself be placed on solid ground. Her arms were on Tobin’s shoulders, her fingers laced behind her neck. “I always miss you, Moose. I love you so much.”
Tobin gave that big perfect smile, “Love you too, babe.” She pulled her in for another hug, not sure want prompted so much emotion but knowing her girlfriend was going to need another hug. “I hate to ruin an amazing moment, but we are going to be late.”
Christen pulled away, wiping a tear from her eyes. “Right, the concert, yeah, let’s go. I’m ready.” Then a memory flashed in her mind. She could almost see the young sixteen year old nervous Tobin standing in front of her, the one who stood confused in the driveway, the one that trusted everything Christen was telling her. She remembered what they said that night, and she could only hope Tobin remembered too.
With wide hopeful eyes, Christen looked up at the rock star, “The first night we talked.” Her hands were shaking, hoping it was all real, that the girl in front of her had the same memory, “I told you in ten years, you would want to ask me a question…”
“Is this it?” The singer said with an excited look. “Is this finally it? I’ve been waiting.”
Excitedly, Tobin reached behind her neck, undoing her chain and pulling it from her shirt. She slid the three silver rings off of the linked chain, fumbling with them looking up at Christen and grinning, before her head went back down, a serious look appearing on her face. Her fingers scrambled for a second, before a faint click and a huge smile came across her face.
“Got it,” she said happily, then held the thing up to reveal a Celtic knot ring, intricately designed as a puzzle ring. “I’ve been wearing this every single day for seven months. I wanted to have it with me just in case. I never wanted the moment to come and I wasn’t ready, because you said you’d be ready. I know it’s not what you thought, but I didn’t want you to know what it was until now.”
“It’s perfect,” Christen fighting back tears. Somewhere in her memory she remembered the day Tobin got the necklace and she always wondered what it was but never got a straight answer from her girlfriend. “You’ve been waiting seven months.”
“I’ve been waiting a lot longer than that,” Tobin shrugged. “You said in ten years when we are twenty-six, but you never said a specific time.”
Her hands went out to cup the smiling cheeks of the woman she loved. “I’m so sorry Moose, I guess I could have given you a better time frame.”
“Nah, it’s all good,” she chuckled, “I’d wait forever for you.” As Christen’s hands left her face, she held the ring up a little higher, “You ready?”
Christen nodded, this time she did know what to say. “I’ve been ready for ten years.”
Tobin went down to one knee, holding the ring up. She was about to talk, but she heard squealing and looked down to see Kelley and Nick trying to stop Alex and Allie from making a scene. She shook her head laughing a little at her family being so dramatic, then got back down to the task at hand, the thing she had been waiting to do since she first fell in love.
“Christen AnneMarie Press,” she took one deep breath, “Will you marry me?”
“Yes!” she screamed, holding out her hand, shaking as Tobin put the ring on her finger. Before Tobin could get to her feet all the way Christen was hugging her so tight she thought they would be smashed together and become one person. That would be okay, she thought, they could become one person.
Everyone in the hall started to cheer, hugging each other as they watched the newly engaged couple embrace.
Christen pulled away just enough to connect their lips kissing her like she hadn’t done it in years. There was something so much more in this kiss, like everything was finally lined up they way it was meant to, like the stars had finally found their place in the sky. She left her last world kissing her girlfriend and was now happy to enter this one kissing her fiancée.
It felt like their first kiss on the front porch of her house. It wasn’t fireworks or loud clapping, besides her family making noises, it was something more. In that kiss she felt calm, for the first time since she started this journey she was safe and she knew she would never have to worry again. She was finally home, in Tobin’s arms, where she was meant to be.
There was a beep that echoed in the hallway and everyone looked around. Kelley held up her watch. “The concert!”
“Shit, we gotta go!” Tobin shouted. She looked over to Christen softening her eyes. “Come on, I’ll kiss you a hell of a lot more after the concert.”
Christen laughed, “You promise?”
“I would never lie to you, Squirrelly.”
Everyone piled into the limos and began to talk back and forth about the concert. Christen sat as close to Tobin as she could, pressed into her side, a heavy arm wrapped around her shoulders. She could hear everyone chattering away but she snuggled closer and laid her head on Tobin’s shoulder, enjoying the ride.
She stared out the window, at the streets of the city she loved. She could see the people walking around outside, the same as they had been in the other worlds. They were all far away, out of reach, and yet in touch with everything around them. Maybe in the morning she could take a walk around town, see the city through these new clear eyes. Maybe Tobin could be there with her, after she woke up, so maybe the walk would have to wait until late afternoon.
The limo came to a stop, the driver letting them know they had finally arrived. Everyone climbed out, Christen being the last person to step out. She looked up at the stadium, as tall as she could see with lights beaming out the top. It was her dream, the place she could never get to. Tobin reached out her hand, a warm smile on her face, and Christen noticed, this was the Tobin she imagined in that dream place. She was this perfect mixture between the badass rocker she had grown to be and that anxious teen from ten years ago. Christen had a quick fantasy of waking up next to her, snapping herself out of it with the knowledge that she would have that chance in the morning, after they fell asleep in their bed in their apartment.
Backstage she could hear the crowd rumbling outside. The band pushed their way through the halls, all of them practically bouncing as they headed for the dressing room. Christen was happy following just behind, loving the looks Tobin gave, turning every few seconds as if she was checking to make sure Christen was still there. As if she would ever leave.
It was all a rush of lights and sounds. The halls were filled with technicians running around trying to get everything set up. They dodged boxes of equipment and stands of instruments. They were headed into the dressing room about to get ready for stage. As they crashed into the room, Christen saw a tall girl standing in the corner.
“Sorry we’re late, T,” Tobin said as she pulled the girl in for a hug. “Christen made me propose to her.”
“Made you?” the girl turned around, Tierna looked over to Christen. “What did you make her to do?”
“Nothing,” Christen chuckled, moving over to slap Tobin on the shoulder, then brought Tierna in for a hug. “She chose to propose.” She held out her hand so the younger woman could see the ring.
“That’s an infinity knot,” Tierna stated, “That means you two will be together for eternity.” She looked up at Christen and made a face, “You sure you want to spend that much time with her?”
Christen spun around to see her fiancée digging through a jar of Skittles, picking out the red ones. Tobin looked up and gave a silly tight lipped smile, the popped a few Skittles in her mouth. Shaking her head Christen nodded, “Yeah, pretty sure.”
“Hey, let’s get it together,” Kelley called out, “All non-band members exit the dressing room. You’re all too distracting.”
“I can’t believe you’re kicking me out,” Alex protested as her girlfriend pushed her towards the door.
“It’s a compliment, babe,” Kelley assured her. “I can’t see you or I’ll want to kiss you.”
As Christen headed towards the door, she stopped in front of the pink haired bass player and pulled her into a hug. “Thank you for looking after her.”
Abby hugged her back, “Always.” As she pulled back she gave her a little wink.
The rest of the group headed down the hall towards the stage and the screaming fans. Christen stopped a few feet away from the door, looking at herself in the shiny metal doors of an elevator. This was the first time she was getting a look at herself, the real her. Her hair was tied back and tamed in a ponytail but the curls were threatening to escape. Her makeup was done perfectly, the way she did in the second world, smoky eyes and glossed lips. She was standing tall in her skinny jeans and black combat boots. And like before, her shirt wasn’t her own. She could remember this morning when she took the band t-shirt from Tobin’s drawer, holding it up to her nose to take in the scent before tossing it on.
Her hand went up to admire the new silver ring on her finger and that’s when she saw the other new thing, a tattoo on the inside her arm, “There’s no time left to wait, I promise you I will not leave.” A lyric from a song Tobin wrote a long time ago. Words from a conversation had long ago and stuck with Christen even though she only had a distant memory. A song Tobin wrote about a girl from the future coming to her and tell her to never give up, to fight for her life, for their love, for their life together. Tobin had to keep that conversation to herself for ten years, the only way she could get it out was to the sound of guitar and drums and her voice carried over, through the years, to make perfect sense to a lost soul looking for its mate.
Was she different in this world? She had memories of her real past, dreams of nights with everyone. She could still picture the ghost of her past, the ones that she had changed. The memories of this Tobin, the one that was pulled away from the horrors that haunted her in the other worlds. This Tobin didn’t struggle like the others.
In this world they broke up when Christen went to college, and Tobin was pulled towards the world of drugs and alcohol, but Abby was there to pull her back, to keep her together. There was nothing to stop her addictive mind, nothing to keep the demons at bay, only this time they were channeled into something more. The band held her together with one incepted thought in the mind of the young singer; they were going to make it. This makeshift band of underachiever New Jersey skate kids, they were going to be something. It was a promise made to her and she was determined to make it real. Tobin was lit with a fire inside that forced her to make her dreams come true. A simple sentence from the past, telling her that her words would inspire millions made Tobin focused like there was a fight coming, and she was ready to throw punches to make it to the top. There was no other way in her mind. So with the focus of a bloodhound catching a scent, and the backing of her best friends, Tobin kept her mind clear and launched the band to the peak of success.
It was that mindset, the knowing of the future that lead the young rocker to California the day of the expo. Tobin knew something no one else did. She knew something Christen only had a hint of. Tobin knew they were destined to be together. She knew because years ago the love of her life traveled through time just to tell her to never give up. Fresh off her success, a young and healthy Tobin fought her way to California, fought her way to her girl, never giving up, just the way she promised.
All the emotions of their past flooded Christen’s senses, making her want to run back into the room and hold Tobin even closer than before. She wanted to hold onto the sixteen year old version of her that cried the night they met. She wanted to put her arms around the nineteen year old that accepted their break up, had her heart crushed only to hold on to hope of the future. She wanted to hug the twenty-two year old who found her and made sure they fell back into each other. She wanted to be wrapped up in the one that wrote a hundred anthems about their love. She wanted to be permanently in the arms of the woman that waited a million forevers for her. But she had forever, she reminded herself as she looked at the black ink on her skin, she had the rest of her life.
Christen turned to head down the hall of the stadium, reflecting on her life and the time spent away in the other worlds. She felt an arm around her shoulder, Alex was leaning against her as they walked.
“So you called me babe,” Alex said with a cheeky grin. “Did you go to a world where we were together?”
A blush coming to her cheeks, Christen shrugged, “Possibly.”
Alex cracked up, “That’s amazing. You know I’ve always said if I didn’t love Kelley so much, you and I would be a thing.”
“Possibly,” Christen repeated with another shrugged.
Leaning close, Alex whispered, “Did we bang?”
“Oh god, Lex,” she whined moving away from her.
“That’s a yes!” the hyper doctor called after her.
She was about to yell something back when she looked just ahead and saw a group of girls standing outside of the stage entrance. Christen ran up to them.
“Chrissy,” Jane said moving past the rest of the band. “We heard, congrats dude, she finally did it.”
Holding up her hand, the new silver ring looking better and better on her finger. “Yeah, she finally did it.” She looked at the band surrounding her. “She wore it around her neck for half a year.”
“That’s Toby for you,” Adrianna said.
Hope let out a laugh, “Always waiting until the last minute.”
Christen looked up at the new face in the band. As her memory set, she realized it wasn’t a new face to her.
“That’s really cool though,” Lindsay said happily. “It’s really romantic.”
“Guess you’re next, eh Lins?” Jane joked, slamming her hand down on the singers shoulder.
Lindsay shook her head, “Don’t give me any ideas.”
As quick as they surrounded her, Christen was watching as the band headed to the stage. She could picture the moment Turnpike met up with a well-known LA based band. It was in a dark bar the all girl group had been selling out for over a month and Tobin wanted to go listen to them play. They were good, great even, if it wasn’t for the lead singer who seemed to have a serious attitude about everything. They had to let the angry girl go, afraid they would lose fans and interest, but lucky the girlfriend of one of the most famous guitarists had a hidden singing talent, and Lindsay joined the group, completing them and their sound. Six months later and the foursome was being signed to Turnpike’s label and given the opening slot for the concert.
Christen watched from behind the stage curtain as the crowd roared for the women stepping into their places. They were set up exactly as they were in the other world, looking even more confident with their new singer.
“What’s going on LA?!” Lindsay shouted into the mic. She held her hands up as the thousands of people cheered. “We are Midline and we are going to play you a couple songs.”
The music boomed over the chants of the people. It seemed like everyone was as excited to see the locals as they were to be playing. Most of the people even sang along to the lyrics as Christen’s favorite Midline song started. Somehow the song sounded even better with Lindsay’s mid alto voice, though Christen would always remember Tobin struggling to hit all the high notes.
In a way she always knew the three girls would always be in her life. She knew the two girls and tall guy standing on the other side of the stage, looking through the curtain waving at her were always going to be her friends. Maddy, Toya, and Nico motioned that they were going to head down to the crowd to watch Midline play and Christen nodded. She was going to stay back stage for now, enjoy the sound as she waited for the headliners, happy that everyone she had a strong connection to were a part of her life.
Midline was coming off stage, the crowd hyped up and ready for the headliner. Christen hugged each of them as they moved past and made way for Turnpike to take their rightful place. As each member of the five person New Jersey rock band made their way out the crowd got louder and louder. Soon it was just Tobin waiting behind the stage, listening to chants of the band’s name.
“You better get out there,” Christen told her.
Tobin turned her head to catch a glimpse of the restless audience. “Eh, they can’t wait another minute.” She reached down and took her fiancée’s hand. “Thank you.”
“For what?” she questioned.
With a gentle squeeze Tobin held just a little tighter. “I know what you did, with the time machine. I may not know the whole story, but I know you made sure this all happened. So thank you so much for making sure we made it. And thank you for loving me, I don’t think I could have done anything without you.” She pulled their hands up, placing a kiss on Christen’s finger tips. “You’re my whole world.”
Trying to keep herself from crying another time Christen cracked a smile, “The whole thing? There’s not a little sliver of anything else?”
“Nope,” Tobin grinned back. “It’s all you.”
She could feel it, the tears were starting to form. To keep herself from crying Christen surged forward capturing Tobin’s lips in a searing kiss. Her arms flew around the singers neck pulling them as close as possible. She wanted to stay that way forever, lost in a kiss with the love of her life, but she could hear all the people who longed to see Tobin and she couldn’t make them wait. After all, she had forever with the amazing rock star.
Pulling back, Christen blinked away the few tears that managed to escape. “Get out there.” She said with a light chuckle. “The world is waiting for you.”
“Will you be waiting when I get back?” Tobin asked, those big brown eyes filled with hope.
Christen went in for another quick kiss, speaking against the soft lips on her, “I’ll always wait for you.”
Tobin spun around and headed for the stage, turning around to give a quick wink before running towards her mic stand, the golden microphone shinning under the stage lights. Christen didn’t think the fans could get any louder, but as soon as they saw Tobin it was like the sound doubled. It confirmed what she had been saying this whole time, that girl was meant to be a star, she was born for the stage.
“So, what’s the verdict?”
Spinning on her heels, Christen quickly smiled at her best friend. “What verdict?”
“Which life is better?” she took a few steps towards the curtain peaking her head out to see the crowd.
“I don’t think one was better than the other,” she answered truthfully. “I think they all just taught me different things.”
Allie faced her, raising an eyebrow, “What did they teach you?”
Thinking for a second, then going to sit on an equipment box, Christen finally replied. “That I need to have faith, in my friends, in my family, in the universe.” Holding up her left hand she gazed at the infinity knot in cast silver. “In my fiancée.”
“That’s a pretty good lesson.” Allie said bumping their shoulders together. “So let me ask you this, Christen Press. If you could go back in time a change something, would you?”
“Honestly,” she paused, leaning against her best friend, looking out to where the lights of the stage shined through to the back room. “I don’t think I’d change a single thing.”
So yeah, that's it. I had a blast writing this, even on the days I suffered trying to get words out. I hope everyone enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing. Thank you again to my beta, seriously you're a life saver and I'm so glad we are friends. Thank you to my wife who listened to me rant incessantly about the chapters, recapping until her ears bled. Thank you to everyone who liked and commented.
I write simply because I love it, and I wish to bring something into this world that brings joy. If this brought you joy, or comfort or anything else than I've done my job. Thank you for reading.
Don't give up Riley. Chase Her.
>> As promised: The Song List
Kids – One Republic
Annie – SafetySuit
Never Say Never – The Fray
Lonely – Colony House
Daphne Blue – The Band Camino
Renegades – X Ambassadors
Life In The Pain – SafetySuit
Crash - SafetySuit
This Love – Maroon 5
Sugar – Maroon 5
Misery – Maroon 5
Lose Control – Colony House
No Other Way – Jack Johnson
Move – Hozier
In Your Arms – Illenium and X Ambassadors
Quotes in Part III:
Miracle – Paramore
Dirty Sunshine – Lillix
Things I’ll Never Say –Avril Lavigne
We Went For A Ride – Fefe Dobson
I Don’t Wanna Love You Anymore – Lany
Chandelier – Sia