Reset: Chapter 32: Sunday, September 9, 2001 (1)

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It was getting late, Joe was getting hungry, and he still couldn’t force his thoughts into any defined shape. Three thousand people were going to die in two days’ time and all his idiot friends could think about was getting rich and getting laid.

They’re the idiots, he thought bitterly, yet here I am, wandering campus like an answer would fall from the sky.

He found himself, once again, on the road that lead to the next town, outside a small Italian restaurant on the fringes of Hollister that Joe knew wouldn’t be open a year from now. He had circled downtown six or seven times by now, conspicuously avoiding the throngs of nighttime revelers who hooted and laughed and yelled obscenities at him, at passing cars, at each other. During one circuit he saw a very tall, very attractive girl in a miniskirt squatting down in the alley between two buildings to pee. In the future, this girl might have been his stockbroker, or his accountant, or the teacher of his children, but for now, she was just another party girl at a party school.

The thought had angered him, because it made him think of Jason, which in turn made him think about Nick. Nick made him think about Amy, who made him think about Gwendolyn, finally leading his thoughts to Sandra. And thoughts of Sandra brought him back to Jason, starting the cycle anew.

There was no question about what he had to do, he had thought at one time. But like a parasite worming its way into his body, Nick’s honeyed words burrowed into his mind like worms: Gwendolyn . . . she’s perfect for you . . . forget Jason . . . Not just Jason. Jason and three thousand other doomed souls. But hey! What did they matter next to his personal happiness!

He smacked his fist into the rough brick of the building behind him. The pain that followed was sharp and welcome. He left behind a small smear of blood as he lifted his hand, painting a world he didn’t belong in with a little piece himself.

God damn you Nick! Joe kicked his leg, venting his rage at a garbage can minding its own business by a telephone pole. It toppled with a bang, vomiting trash violently all over the road.

A window opened overhead with a sound like a sword being unsheathed. “The hell’s wrong with you, buddy? Want me to call the cops?”

“Sorry,” Joe muttered, ignoring the barrage of curses, too ashamed to look up at the speaker. He ducked his head and ran around the corner to the hill leading back up to Main Street.

It was cold; Joe rubbed his arms for warmth, wishing he had his jacket. September days were pleasant in New Hampshire, but September nights still had teeth.

Cold, hungry, tired, depressed, confused . . . Joe finally felt one-hundred percent like a teenager, all vestiges of wisdom and maturity sublimating into the chilly night.

9/11 . . . the thought of reliving that day, knowing it was going to happen, made Joe crazy. Crazier, he supposed, although at this point it was just a matter of degrees. If you’ve already lost most of your marbles, what difference did a few more really make?

But it was a moot point. All of it. There wasn’t anything he could do by himself. He had never felt so helpless, not even when Aunt Gina had died, or when he heard the final divorce decree, the judge tearing everything he had built for himself and his family to pieces. If God was really, there and had given him a chance to do good, He would surely be disappointed with His creation’s lack of conviction.

It was the knowing that was the worst part. Why couldn’t Nick have turned on The Machine without telling him about it? Being sent into the past without any advanced knowledge of the future actually did sound like paradise. Would his path have differed from what it had been the first time? Probably. Gwen’s had, hadn’t it?

I gave it the old college try, he thought, literally and figuratively. It made him smile for a second. And then, just like the teenager he had once again become, Joe sat down on the curb and wept, not caring about the partiers’ comments as they passed.

Chapter 31                                               Table of Contents                                             Chapter 33

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Reset: Chapter 24: Thursday, September 6, 2001 (5)

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Students in varying states of chemical enhancement poured in and out of downtown Hollister’s various establishments, scarfing down pizza, drinking from bottles hidden in brown paper bags, and generally causing commotion. Every once in a while the scent of cloves or cigarette smoke wafted by, and even marijuana. In short, it was the perfect place to get lost in.

“What’s this girl’s name, anyway?” Joe asked as they knifed towards Hollister House of Pizza, shoulder to bouncing shoulder with their peers.

“Stephanie or something,” said Jonesy.

“Huh,” said Joe. “Steve and Stephanie.”

“Yeah, Steve and Stephanie, sitting in a tree,” said Nick. “You can serenade us later, Cyrano. Where are we going?”

“Who’s Cyrano?” asked Jonesy.

“Cyrano! You know! The guy with the nose?!” said Nick “Don’t they teach you kids anything anymore?”

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“What are you even talking about?” said Carlos, his surliness on full display.

“What does it matter, anyway? The point is that this is a bad idea.”

Joe sighed. “Since you couldn’t come up with anything better, I don’t want to hear it.”

“What do you mean, I couldn’t come up with anything better! My plan made a hell of a lot more sense than this, I can tell you that.”

In no mood to fight, Joe hung his head, hoping beyond hope that they would all just make it through the night alive. “Let’s just get a seat.”

Inside the pizza shop, Carlos scanned their environs, a sour twist to his mouth. “What seat?”

“We’ll stand somewhere,” said Joe. He pointed towards an empty spot near the pool table where some students were involved in a serious game, twenty dollar bills laid across the table’s edge. “Over by the wall.”

“There’s no room,” said Jonesy, standing on his tiptoes in a bid to look around the players.

“Is that Journey on the jukebox?” said Nick. “We’ve got to get out of here. I told you this was a terrible idea!”

“Again,” said Joe, “if you have a better suggestion, I’d love to know.”

“There was no Journey involved in my suggestion,” said Nick.

“What I want to know,” said Carlos, “is where those guys got all that money.”

“Your mom,” said Nick, before quickly raising his hands. “I’m sorry. That was a terrible joke. ‘Your mom’ jokes are not, nor have they ever been, funny.”

Jonesy laughed all the same.

“Whatever,” said Carlos, his crankiness ratcheting up a few levels. “Let’s go somewhere else. Nick’s right: this is a dumb idea.”

“Yeah, it’s much smarter to let yourself get cornered,” said Joe. He stepped into one of the three lines before the counter. “Tactical brilliance.”

“What are you standing there for?!” said Nick. “Don’t tell me you’re hungry.”

“It’s kind of rude to come to a restaurant and just stand here without ordering anything, isn’t it? You’re the one with a pizza place. You should know pizza etiquette.”

Jonesy turned to Nick, his face scrunched up with puzzlement. “There’s pizza etiquette?”

“Yeah,” said Nick, “Pay for your food and get the hell out. That’s the strategy.”

Tactically speaking, if you have no food to pay for, then what are you doing there in the first place?”

“He has a point,” said Carlos.

“Nobody asked you,” said Nick.

“I’m pretty hungry,” said Jonesy.

“Of course you are,” said Joe. “Look, I’ll pay. You guys just go sit down.” He waved a hand at the tables, all full.

“Again: where?” said Carlos.

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“You’re a pretty godawful general,” said Nick. “Patton my ass.”

Anger surged like vomit. Joe could understand Jonesy and Carlos acting like kids, because they were kids. But Nick? No matter how he looked or felt, his mind was still that of a grown man. He should know better.

Unless he was going native.

The thought was terrifying. Hadn’t he himself felt a little like a kid, his mind and body awash in a sea of late-teen hormones? Especially when he was around Gwendolyn. She had a way of making him feel once again like a hapless kid. But it was intoxicating; he had forgotten how good it felt to be young, how vital.

“Then we’ll sit outside,” said Joe. “Or stand. I don’t care. Just stick together, alright?”

“Sure,” said Carlos, blessedly taking the initiative and leading the others to the door. “Let’s go.”

Joe stood for just a few minutes, the line moving with agonizing slowness, when he heard Nick’s bellow soaring above the din. “Back off, alright! Just back off!”

The sound of the crowd changed in that way crowds did when they smelled the prospect of violence. The buzz grew sharper, quieter, a dagger in the hands of an assassin. His guts turned cold, Joe abandoned his place in line and, fighting the crowd, made his way outside. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 24: Thursday, September 6, 2001 (5)”