Reset: Chapter 19: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (4)

img_6849-1

Even Nick started getting bored with the college life. “If I have to play another video game I’m going to shoot myself. Did we really waste this much time with those things?”

“Sad, isn’t it?” said Joe, not looking up from The Great Gatsby, the assigned reading from that afternoon’s English class.Cover of the book The Great Gatsby“All the things we could have done with that time . . .”

“Like study?”

“Learn an instrument, another language, date girls . . .”

Joe brandished his book. “Read, maybe?”

“That too.” Nick sat on the couch, wiggling his fingers. “My eyeballs are starting to bleed from all of it. My fingers, too. They feel like . . .”

“They should be holding a books?”

“Alright, alright!” Nick stood, pacing around the room. “I can take a hint. I’m not a total moron you know.”

Joe turned a page, his highlighter at the ready. “Never said you were.”

“No, but you implied it. We all know how powerful implications can be.” Nick picked up a textbook from his desk. “Take education, for example.”

 

“That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“I’m feeling philosophical tonight; hear me out.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 19: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (4)”

Reset: Chapter Nine: Sunday, September 2, 2001 (2)

img_6849-1

The day was classic New Hampshire fall, sunny and cool with only a few clouds dotting the sky, like sheep grazing in a field of blue. He thought about taking Nick’s advice and visiting Hollister’s one and only Catholic church, but after walking through the Lower Quad and up the small-hill as if on autopilot, he found himself on Main Street.

His heart ached with nostalgia as he walked by the stores and restaurants he used to frequent, places like Hollister House of Pizza, Phil’s Phelafels, and Smith’s, which served the best breakfast on the seacoast. Then there were bars like Schneider’s Tap and Molly O’Malley’s. Joe remembered stumbling out of Molly’s on his raucous twenty-first birthday and puking on the sidewalk. Nick and Jonesy had been pretty wasted, too, but Carlos hadn’t drunk a drop.

Without thinking, Joe’s feet took him to Farnham’s, Main Street’s one and only coffee-cum-ice cream shop. He had every intention of downing a three-scoop sundae, but standing in line and rubbing a hand on his newly flat stomach, opted for a coffee instead.

He slid into one of the white wrought-iron chairs at an empty table outside the store and idly watched the people going by. He had used to enjoy people-watching, especially the co-eds as they strolled or jogged up and down Main Street. Now, the only woman on his mind was Sandra. His thoughts turned inwards into the confused Mobius-strip of past and present tangling up his brain.

Everything felt strange, unstable. A soft compulsion guided him towards reenacting past events to the letter, like living an echo. Yet there seemed to be no obstacles to deviation, nor any repercussions.

The repercussions would come later, he mused, like little time bombs they were burying without thinking. Take Nick’s obsession with Amy Pappas. What if Nick, in trying to recapture his own lost dreams, ruined hers? What if Amy had been perfectly happy with her life before Nick turned back the hands of the universal clock? Maybe she too had children who were now winked out of existence. At least she wouldn’t know about them, but it didn’t make what Nick did any less wrong.

And what about Zack? Sure, he might go on to become a highly successful football player and do great things with his celebrity and wealth. But he could also end up having a miserable life. There were a million what-ifs, a parade of horribles about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Surely God wouldn’t stand for that. Surely–

The coffee burned his lips. He flinched and tried again, sipping gently. His thoughts turned back to the phone call with his mother. She had been so proud of him despite the fact that he had been at a party where alcohol was being served.

“You looked so heroic, Joey! Your father and I are so proud of you. Isn’t that right, Darren?” Joe heard his father yell something from the distance. “He’s trying to fix a bookshelf, Joey. He can’t talk. Your Aunt Gina is here, though. She wants to say hello. Let me hand her the phone.”

“Hi Joey!” said Aunt Gina. Joe feigned a choking cough to cover up his surprise. Aunt Gina died of stomach cancer in 2003.

I can’t do this, Joe thought as he sipped his coffee and looked down the hill towards campus. I am going to go mad.

“Yo! There he is!” someone yelled. Joe didn’t realize it was directed at him until he felt hands slapping him on his back and chest.

“There he is!” said Zack Henderson. He was with two other guys whom Joe recognized from last night’s party. They pulled over some chairs and sat down, Zack taking the seat opposite Joe’s. “Mind if we join you?”

Joe nodded, grateful for the distraction. “No, please! Um, how’s it going?”

Downtown Durham, New Hampshire

“Man,” said Zack, his eyes wide. He let out a heavy breath and rubbed his head. “Man. I mean, it’s crazy. I don’t even want to think about it.”

“He’s got a new lease on life,” said one Zack’s friends, a square-jawed white kid with short brown hair. “He’s a new man!”

Zack shook his head. “It’s not like that. I’m the same old me. I just feel weird.”

Joe straightened. “Weird?”

Zack waved a hand. “Nothing. I don’t know how I can thank you though, man. I don’t think I was ready to die.”

“He’s ready to play!” said Zack’s other friend, a hefty black kid with a broad nose and a bushy goatee. He slapped Zack on the shoulder. “Ain’t that right, dog?”

Zack smiled. “Ready to play. First game next Saturday. You coming?”

“Me?” said Joe. “Uh, yeah. Sure. I wasn’t planning on it, but I kind of guess I have to now.”

“That’s my boy! That’s my dog!” said the big guy, nearly knocking Joe over with a friendly pat on his back.

“Yo, easy!” said Zack. “That’s Gamiel. We call him Game. He’s a nose tackle. Don’t know his own strength. And that’s Quinn. He’s a backup QB.”

“Gentlemen,” said Joe, nodding at his new acquaintances.

“Hah!” said Quinn. “Gentlemen!”

“Don’t know how much we’re going to play,” said Zack. He shrugged.

“You’re going to play, dog!” said Game. “He’s good, yo. You should see him play. He’s good.”

“Starting as a freshman,” said Quinn, grinning. “Lucky bastard.”

“It ain’t luck,” said Game. “It’s skill. Skill and hard work. He’s good.”

“I’m sure you are,” said Joe. He had never really palled around with jocks before, typically viewing them all through the prism of the assholes he knew in high school. Yet his old preconceptions were steadily receding. He found that he liked these guys.

Zack looked at his watch. “Hey, we’re going to grab some dinner. You coming?”

Joe held up his cup of coffee. “This is dinner. But thanks.”

“Suit yourself, ,” said Zack. He stood, pointing at Joe with a serious cast to his face. “We’ll keep in touch, alright? And say hi to Nick for me.”

“Nick. Right.” He nodded his goodbye at Game and Quinn and watched them saunter down to Middleton Hall with the easy confidence that young men seemed to possess in abundance.

Joe laughed to himself. Technically, he fell in that category as well. So why did he feel as ancient as the sun in the sky? Continue reading Reset: Chapter Nine: Sunday, September 2, 2001 (2)”

Reset: Chapter Eight: Sunday, September 2, 2001 (1)

img_6849-1

Foster’s Daily Democrat and the NHU Courier used the same photo on their front pages, Joe and Nick flanking Zack Henderson as he rested his arms over their shoulders, angled oddly on account of Nick’s height. One of the partygoers, an overzealous junior named Marissa Bowen, happened to be the editor-in-chief of the Courier. She always carried a camera with her and had taken the picture and their statements. She had also called the Democrat so the story could get wider release. Marissa’s goal, based on the Courier’s headline “Frat Row Nearly Claims Another,” was to strike a blow against NHU’s Greek scene. She was surely disappointed when the Democrat’s feature, “Freshmen Save A Life,” echoed none of her scathing commentary. In both stories, Joe and Nick provided bromides about coincidence, being in the right place at the right time, and doing the right thing, although Nick couldn’t resist throwing in this particular bon mot: “It’s almost as if we were meant to be here.”

Joe could have strangled him.

* * *

Joe saw the headlines the next morning when Nick threw the papers onto Joe’s chest, waking him from his deep sleep on the bottom bunk.

“Look at that!” Nick yelled. “Front page news! Not the lead story, but good enough for rock n’ roll. Damn, we look good, even you!”

Joe sat up and blinked, looking at the newspapers. “What time is it?”

“Time for church,” said Nick. “I’m going with Amy.” He stripped down and wrapped himself in a towel, skinny as he ever was. “Make sure you call your parents.”

The headlines sank in after his third read. Joe tossed the papers on the floor. He had so much he wanted to say to Nick, things he should have said last night, but instead could only muster: “What happened to your hair?”

“What do you mean, ‘my hair’? That’s all you can talk about? My hair?”

Gone were Nick’s flowing black locks, in their place a short and very stylish hairdo. Almost too stylish, as in a decade or so ahead of its time.

Joe flopped back down, turning towards the wall. “Never mind.”

“Amy likes it short, alright? When she asked what the deal was with my hair, I told her I was getting it cut tomorrow.” He strode over to Joe’s bed and gave him a shake. “Things are working out,” he said excitedly. “We saved a life, right? Some good has come out of this already!”

Joe grunted.

“That’s all you can say? All that talk about wanting to do something bigger with your life and that’s all you got? I don’t get you sometimes.”

“You sure you’re not still on coke?” Joe said.

“What do you mean, ‘coke’? What’re you talking about?”

Joe shot upright, his shoulder smacking Nick in the nose.

Nick reared back, hand to his face. “Hey! Watch the schnoz alright?!” It wasn’t bleeding, though Nick, who did have a rather large nose, kept checking his fingers for blood.

“How’d you know it would work?” Joe asked.

“Why are you so mad?”

“Just answer me: How did you know The Machine would work?”

“We’re not in a courtroom, Matlock. It’s too early for this. Just calm the hell down, alright?”

“Answer me!”

With a sniff and one last swipe, Nick left his nose alone. “Sanjay said they’d tested it in short bursts, like five or ten seconds, alright? I already told you this!”

“Oh. So they went back to when The Machine still existed. Smart.”

“Of course they’re smart. They invented this. What’s your point?”

“Nothing,” said Joe. He flopped back down on the bed.

“I don’t get you sometimes. Maybe you need to come to church, get a little Jesus in your soul. Maybe that’s your problem.”

Nick waited for a reaction. Getting none, he left for the shower. When Nick returned to change into his suit they both stayed silent like feuding lovers. They might as well be married, Joe thought. He spent more time with Nick than he ever had with his wife. Ex-wife. It still stung to think of Sandra like that.

Nick left Joe still in bed, determined to stay there all day, but his plans were thwarted by the ringing of the phone.

He answered the call and proceeded to have a surreal conversation with his mother. Continue reading Reset: Chapter Eight: Sunday, September 2, 2001 (1)”