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March 19, 2027, 4:30 p.m.
18 Years, 363 Days Ago
Bill wasn’t anything like Paul’s father. Paul’s father was a tall, square man. Bill was a short, slender man. Bill was quiet. After ten minutes of sitting awkwardly in their living room, Bill hadn’t said much. Paul’s father was always laughing or shouting loudly. Paul’s father was tan with dark hair. Bill was pale with brown hair that was just a few shades away from blond.
It seemed to Paul that his mother couldn’t have done a better job of finding the complete opposite of his father.
The thing was, the guy wasn’t talking. They just sat around the living room snacking off a plate of cookies that was on the oval table between the sofa and the recliner.
“Why don’t you tell Paul about what you do for a living?” his mother asked.
Bill smiled, which might be the only thing that even remotely reminded Paul of his dad. “I’m not sure if that’s something that would interest him. Paul, what are your hobbies?”
They all went back to silently staring at each other.
I’m not doing a very good job of giving him a chance, Paul thought to himself.
It wasn’t for lack of want. He just didn’t have the first clue what to say. “I like video games.” Paul guessed at least answering the man’s questions was a start.
“First-person shooters, right?” Bill asked.
“Yeah.” Paul’s mother probably told him. But if Paul’s mother told him so much, what was there for Paul to say?
“Why don’t you show me?” Bill asked.
Paul’s posture straightened, and his head whipped around to his mother. “Can I?”
She laughed, and for some reason, she blushed. “Whatever you like. He’s here to get to know you. But maybe you can both be ready for dinner in a hour?”
“I wouldn’t miss your cooking for anything,” Bill said.
Paul thought he might get a cavity from how much sappy affection Bill laced into his statement, but his mother only turned a darker shade of red.
Wow! She really likes him.
Paul darted up the stairs. “Come on!”
He didn’t wait to see if Bill followed. He had permission to play video games, so he was going to play. He practically flew into his room and turned on his console. He turned on two controllers. Bill could play if he wanted.
Indeed, Bill showed up by the time console reached the home screen. He tucked up his tan slacks before sitting cross legged on the floor beside Paul, who’d pulled the chair from his desk to sit on.
“Oh,” Paul said. “Did you want my chair?”
“This is your room,” Bill said. “I’m fine here.”
Paul shrugged. They started the game. Paul focused on his side of the split screen and started moving his character around. It was a World War II game. The characters were American soldiers, and each level was a different mission that was at least based on an actual WW II battle.
“So, what do you do for a living?” Paul asked.
“It’s not terribly exciting, but I love it,” Bill answered. “The title is called a researcher.”
Paul immediately paused the game. “You’re a researcher!?”
Bill turned to look at him. “Mary said you showed an interest in science, but I didn’t think you’d find it that exciting.”
Paul dropped the controller and turned his chair toward him. His mom could have just told Paul what he did for a living. Then again, he hardly ever paid attention to her when she went on about Bill. But now that he knew this, he wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass.
“Are you a science researcher?”
Bill nodded and flashed that smile. Paul realized the man’s smile wasn’t like his father’s. Sure, they showed an equal number of teeth, but Bill’s smile didn’t seem so forced or smug.
“Applied or theoretical?” Paul asked.
Bill’s delicate eyebrows climbed up his forehead. “You really do like the field.”
“Theoretical, I’m afraid.”
“Why?” Paul asked. “Lots of great scientists were theoretical.”
Bill frowned in thought and nodded. “I’m not saying I don’t love my field. I just wish we could test some of the theories we’re considering.”
“How did my mom meet you?” Paul loved science, but he didn’t think his mother understood half of his homework.
“This may come as a surprise to you, but sometimes we scientists need coffee.” He smiled as he said it. It was like telling Paul he knew guys like Bill didn’t often run into women like Paul’s mother.
“I don’t honestly know how it led to a date,” Bill continued. “All I knew was that she was beautiful, and my plan was to keep her talking until she made it clear she didn’t want to talk anymore. We’ve been talking ever since.”
“About what?” Paul asked.
“Whatever keeps her talking to me.” Bill smiled again. “As long as she’s happy and talking and spending time with me, I don’t care what the subject is.”
“Wait, you just sat there and listened?” Paul asked.
“When a woman as pretty as your mom is talking to you, yes.” Bill laughed.
The laugh wasn’t bold and loud like Paul’s father used to do. It was a soft chuckle that sounded half embarrassed. “I talk about work now and then, but mostly just about how the day went. It’s not like theoretical physics is the most interesting subject.”
“Yes it is!” Paul got up and pushed the chair back just to make room to sit down on the floor with Bill. “How would one travel through space? How much energy would be required to demolecularise a person and reform him at another location?”
Bill looked stunned. “Wow, you’ve really put a lot of thought into this. Why teleportation?”
Paul nearly just blabbered on about Nobody. He only just managed to snap his jaw shut. He gave it another moment of thought before saying, “I just really believe it’s possible.”
“Fascinating.” Bill looked up as if he noticed something on the ceiling. Paul realized it was just Bill’s thinking face. “Well, it’s not the field I’m studying. I suppose I could find some articles and other published works in the area if you wanted to read them.”
“You’re awesome! This is so cool! I’m finally going to start really figuring it out!” Paul couldn’t stop himself.
“How long have you been thinking about this?”
“Aren’t you sixteen?”
“Wow!” Bill said that a lot. “You really did start young.”
… to be continued …