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?”
“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)”