Visits From A Man Named Nobody 63

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 63

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Eighteen

November 20, 2036, 2:21 p.m. 

14 Years, 13 Days Ago

Paul felt truly excited to be approaching his home. He hadn’t seen his mother in quite a while. He couldn’t help looking out of the car window during each turn. A smile came on his face. He spoke with his mother here and there about life and how things were going, but he hand’t been home since Christmas the year before. He took a short flight to get most of the way, some 200 miles, and sent a message for a ride the rest of the way.

The vehicle he was in turned the corner, and the smile on Paul’s face melted in to shock. A black, four-door car sat in the driveway. Paul’s PID dinged, and he jumped a the noise. It was just the driver connecting with his unit to collect the fair for his ride from the airport. Paul slowly got out of the car in a daze. 

It was the same color, make, and model. Paul reached out and touched the car, scrambling to think about what it meant. Maybe it was just the same type of car. It wasn’t like there was only one black car in all the world.

He tired the rear door, surprised it opened. He leaned in, looking at the center console. There it was: the tiny dent he put in it when he hit it in frustration. It was the exact dent, and this was the exact car Nobody had used to drive Paul home.

“So I guess you like it.”

Paul jerked at the sound and knocked his head against the frame of the car. He spun around even as he rubbed his skull. “Where is he!?”

“Where is who?” His mother stood before him in a long, form-fitting pea coat. Some blue jeans peaked out from under the black overgarment. A few streaks of gray had started to creep into her black hair, which was loose around her head and shoulders. 

“Who’s car is this?” Paul asked.

She laughed. “It’s mine.” She cocked her head at him in confusion. “I’m glad you like it?” Her voice squeaked as if it were more of a question than a statement. 

“You bought this car?” Paul asked.

She nodded. 

“When?” 

She shrugged, “About six months ago.”

The math flew through Paul’s mind. “Did someone come to borrow it from you. He’d be about my height with black hair.”

Her face lit up with a bright smile. “What’s going on?” She reached into her pocked and produced a key. “I had this key made for you, so you could borrow it whenever you wanted.” She walked over and held it out to him. “But no one has come to borrow it. Who would?”

So he did steal it! Well, Nobody borrowed his mom’s car without asking. Sure he returned it, but it was stealing regardless of whether or not he gave it back.

Paul held the key staring at it in thought. Then he looked at his mom. “I don’t visit you enough; do I?”

“Come on inside,” she said. “I have some food ready.”

Paul followed her in, and they both removed their coats. Paul wore a university shirt. He wasn’t exactly all about school spirit, but his mom liked the idea of seeing him in a school shirt. His mother wore a simple blouse. It was black with a series of white specks that made the shirt look like a pattern of stars. 

Sure enough, there was a feast on the table even though it was several days before Thanksgiving.  He chuckled. “Your church friends coming over to eat, too?” He tried to keep his tone even, but he never felt comfortable around her church friends. They weren’t bossy or preachy. They were a lot like Jordan, or even Bill. But it wasn’t exactly easy to sit around a table full of people who seemed determined to talk about God in some way, shape, or form.

“They’ll be here for Thanksgiving, but not today. I wanted my son to myself.” She sat down at the table and offered a silent prayer before making a plate. 

Paul bent over and gave her a side hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’m glad to be home.”

He walked around the table and sat down across from her. 

“So you like the car, huh?” She stabbed her fork at a slice of ham. 

“Yeah.” She offered him the serving dish of meat, and he took it, gratefully plopping a few slices on his own plate before setting it down. 

They traded food as they spoke. 

“So did you notice the mileage change?” Paul asked.

She laughed. “I only pay attention to that stuff when I think it’s getting close to the time I need to change the oil.”

“What about the small dent on the back seat center console?” They’d finished filling their plates, and Paul set to cutting up his food.

“There’s a dent back there?” She took a bite of her own food, completely oblivious to the fact that someone took her car, drove it almost 200 miles,  and returned it.

“Yeah, I saw it when I was checking it out.” He also put it there, but he didn’t intend to say that. 

“The truth is I did buy it hoping you’d use it, which, yes, would mean I’d get to see you more.” She rolled her eyes as if he’d just caught her cheating in a board game. 

Paul let out a breath. “I’ll come visit more, but I wish you’d just say what you want.”

She took a bite, giving him a flat stare as she chewed and swallowed. “What I want is for you to want to come visit me more. I certainly don’t want you to show up on some regular basis just because you think you have to.”

“It’s not that,” Paul said. “I know I should visit more often, and I do want to. I just get caught up on work and other things.”

Her eyes glittered. “Do any of those other things have a name, maybe?”

“No.” This time he gave her the flat stare. 

“So no one since Stacy?” Her tone was as gentle as anyone could make it. She wasn’t trying to bring her up, just see if there was anyone new. 

Paul shook his head, trying to hide his frustration and shame. “Not me, but Jordan just got engaged.”

His mother dropped her knife and fork and clapped excitedly. “Oh that’s wonderful! Do you have a picture? What’s her name? How long have they been dating? What—“ she paused. “What’s wrong?”

She read his expression. Paul offered her a smile and worked at his PID, trying to find a picture of the three of them together.

“It’s OK.” He found a picture and sent it to her PID. 

“Ohhh, she’s beautiful! They look so happy!” She looked at him and narrowed her eyes. “So why does my son have that fake smile he uses when he wants everyone to believe he’s not angry about something.”

“I talked to them about it,” Paul said after swallowing another bite of food. “The truth is I was jealous about their relationship and how much time they were spending together. I felt left out, but we’ve worked it out.”

She stared at him.

“OK, so we don’t hang out like we used to,” Paul admitted. “But things are good in the lab, and I’m still his best man at the wedding.” He took another bite of food. “The truth is none of us really know how to act around each other, so we hang out every now and then, but we haven’t figured it all out yet. Honestly I still have to figure out how to be happy for them instead of thinking about how I’m losing out on two friends.”

“I see.” His mother grabbed a roll and used it to scoop up some mashed potatoes. “It can be challenging when relationships change.”

“How did you do it?” Paul suddenly realized she had experience. One minute, he was living there and hanging out, the next he was at college.

“I have to accept that you’re your own person,” she said. “I have to remind myself that I know you love me, and then I have to appreciate the time I do get with you.”

“Even if you have to buy a car to try and get me to spend more time with you?” 

She smiled. “It’s completely fair to provide motivation for people to come see you. But that motivation isn’t obligation, and that’s the real trick. I don’t want to guilt trip you into spending time with me. I just want to make sure I give you plenty of reasons.”

Paul nodded. That made a kind of sense. 

… to be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 61

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 61

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In that moment, Paul reconsidered walking home. He shut his eyes, taking deep, slow breaths to try and reign his anger in. Lashing out wouldn’t do any good. 

“How do you know what I’m thinking and feeling?” Paul asked. 

Nobody didn’t answer. 

“I’m close to figuring out how you teleport,” Paul continued, “but that doesn’t explain how you always know.”

“You’re close to figuring out teleportation?” Nobody sounded more curious than nervous.

“Yeah,” Paul said. “I’m very close.”

“That would be impressive,” Nobody said. 

“And so all that’s left is to figure out how you’ve always known what I was thinking or feeling, and it’s not just that you’ve been in a similar situation or something like that. You’ve demonstrated knowledge of the actual thoughts in my head in the moments I was thinking them.”

“I can’t read your mind, Paul,” Nobody said. 

“Don’t lie to me!” Paul shouted. 

“I’m not lying, but wether or not you believe me is a choice you have to make,” Nobody replied. “But since I’m right about how you feel for Lidia, then consider where this path might lead.”

“We worked it out,” Paul said.

Nobody didn’t turn to look at Paul, but it was easy to see his head shake. “There isn’t some sort of group agreement one can make to control his own heart. If you resent him for dating her, and her for taking his friendship away, you’ll inevitably come to hate them both.”

“No I won’t,” Paul said. 

“If you say so,” Nobody said. 

“Jordan is my best friend,” Paul said. “We’ve been friends forever.”

“And now Lidia, a woman you suddenly want, is taking more of his time,” Nobody said.

“They’re getting married,” Paul said. “It’s not like we were never going to get married. But it’s  possible to have friends and be married. People do it all the time.”

“It is possible,” Nobody said, “if you’re willing to give up the idea that you own them.”

Paul sat in silence. He had always thought of the people in his life as his in a way. His mother. His friend. The man who should have been his father. 

“So people aren’t supposed to care about others,” Paul finally said.

Nobody let out an odd chuckle. “Christians are commanded to love their neighbors.”

“That’s all I want,” Paul said.

“No it isn’t,” Nobody said. “Consider this question, ‘What is love?’”

Paul sputtered for a few moments. “It’s love. It’s wanting to be around people.”

Nobody shook his head again. “In every reference to love in the Bible, every single one of them is tied to one of three things: Obedience, patience, and sacrifice. God the Father loved us so much, he gave his only son. God the Son, Jesus Christ, loved us so much he laid down his life for us, and he loved the Father so much he obeyed the commands of the Father. The one thing love is never about, is the individual. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. First Corinthians 13, Versus four to seven. Of course that first part was John.”

“Always the Bible,” Paul didn’t bother hiding the derision. 

“Of course,” Nobody said, “but is that definition so horrible? Think of your mother or Jordan. Aren’t they wonderful examples of that definition of love?”

“What’s Jordan giving up for me?” Paul was shocked the words came out of his mouth, but he couldn’t stop them from pouring out. “He’s leaving me. He’s probably leaving the project, and to top it all off he’s taking Lidia with him!”

“And the center of every one of those accusations is you,” Nobody said. “And if you continue thinking in that manner, you’ll only come to hate those two people, one who has ever been loyal and steadfast to you and the other who would support you if you thought of her as anything more than an object of lust.”

“So I’m doomed!” Paul said. “I’m just some wicked, selfish, angry man who is going to end up hating everyone. So why are you here? Why did you ever visit me? Why do you keep pestering me?”

“To show you that you don’t have to be doomed,” Nobody answered.

“I just have to obey a God who has no problems taking,” Paul said.

“He takes,” Nobody said, “and he gives. People tend to focus on the taking, but we wouldn’t have so many wonderful things unless He hadn’t given them first.”

… to be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 60

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 60

PT1 // PT 2 // PT 3 // PT 4 // PT 5 // PT 6 // PT 7 // PT 8 // PT 9 // PT 10 // PT 11 // PT 12 // PT 13 // PT 14 // PT 15 // PT 16 // PT 17 // PT 18 // PT 19 // PT 20 // PT 21 // PT 22 // PT 23 // PT 24 // PT 25 // PT 26 // PT 27 // PT 28 // PT 29 // PT 30 // PT 31 // PT 32 // PT 33 // PT 34 // PT 35 // PT 36 // PT 37 // PT 38 // PT 39 // PT 40 // PT 41 // PT 42 // PT 43 // PT 44 // PT 45 // PT 46 // PT 47 // PT 48 // PT 49 // PT 50 // PT 51 // PT 52 // PT 53 // PT 54 // PT 55 // PT 56 // PT 57 // PT 58 // PT 59 //

He left, trying to be as cheerful about it as he could be. As he wandered through the mall, he used his PID to request a ride. 

He made it to the exit and saw a car waiting. He took a moment to look around, failing to see anybody around. He knocked on the driver’s side window, intending to ask if the car was there for him. The PID indicated his ride was still a few minutes out, but the driver might not have taken the time to say he was there. 

The tinted window rolled down, revealing Nobody’s masked face. “I’ll take you home.”

Paul stood there, dumbfounded. It was strange to even consider. The man could immediately teleport wherever he wanted. Why would he own a car? What wasn’t strange was the fact that he was there. Nobody almost always seemed to appear when Paul was at his most angry or frustrated. It also happened to be when Paul least wanted Nobody around.

He went into the back seat and buckled in as if Nobody were indeed the public driver  he’d requested. 

“You own a car?” Paul asked.

“I’m borrowing it,” Nobody said.

“The perfect and holy Nobody stole a car?” Paul challenged. 

Nobody, who hadn’t started driving yet, turned back in his seat. That opaque mask covered the flat stare, but Paul felt it just the same. “I didn’t steal this car. More importantly, I’ve never once said I was perfect. Anyone who says they’re without sin is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

The phrase felt like a Bible verse, which annoyed Paul even more.

“So what it is?” Paul asked. “What’s the little pearl of wisdom you plan to throw at me before you drop me off and vanish?”

Nobody turned back in his seat and began to drive. “Why don’t you tell Lidia how you feel?”

Paul shut his eyes. His anger surged, but he wanted to keep it under control. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Answer the question that I asked,” Nobody said.

“No!” Paul said. So much for keeping my anger in check. “You think you can just randomly appear and ask all these pointed questions, and I’ll just go through your imagined script without wanting answers of my own?”

Nobody didn’t say anything. 

“Why do you get to have all the answers you want, and I have to sit here and be interrogated?”

Nobody didn’t say anything.

“So you’ll ignore me unless I answer your questions?”

Nobody didn’t reply.

“Then pull over,” Paul said. “I’m done explaining myself to you.”

Not only did he refuse to say anything, he just kept driving. 

Paul’s rage flared, and he flung his fist into the center compartment nestled between the front seats and the back row of the car. By some miracle, he managed to pull the punch, but he still put a tiny ding in whatever material the compartment was made of.

“Let me out!” Paul roared.

The car pulled over. Paul stared at the door. What was he going to do, walk the rest of the way to his dorm? Maybe he could call for another ride? He glared at Nobody.

“Lidia and Jordan are happy,” Paul muttered, resting back in his seat. The car pulled off the side of the road and continued its journey.

“So,” Nobody said. “Don’t you think you could do more for Lidia?”

“I wouldn’t do that to Jordan, ever, and Lidia isn’t some sort of thing we can fight over. She could have kept trying to start a relationship with me. She didn’t.”

“Why not compete for her?” Nobody asked.

“I already said I wouldn’t do that to Jordan, even it if worked that way, and it doesn’t,” Paul said. 

“Why?”

“Because it’s wrong.”

“So there is a wrong,” Nobody said. 

Paul flung his arms in the air. “Of course there is!”

“Who decides what that is?” 

Paul rolled his head in disgust. There it was, his inevitable need to turn this into a conversation about God.

“Everybody knows there is a right and wrong,” Paul said. 

“But who decides what that is?” Nobody asked.

“You’d say God.” Paul didn’t bother hiding the sneer from his tone. “But people know what right and wrong is.”

“But where does that awareness come from?” Nobody asked. “If were were simply mammalian animals, we’d kill each other or worse just to satisfy our animalistic needs and wants. Some people stoop to those methods because their need seems so great to them they have no choice. So we do indeed have morality, but what is the source of that morality?”

Paul waited, frustrated at the logic. He thought years back about how Dorny would rant and rave at him for hours. There wasn’t any logic in what he said, just random thoughts filled with portions of the Bible even Paul knew were misquoted. Of course, thoughts of Dorny only led to thoughts about Bill, who also spoke with such reason and logic.

“You know the worst thing about your religion,” Paul muttered. “You all can’t get along yourselves. Some of you say this is what God wants, and others say this is what God wants.”

“When I want to understand what God wants, I turn to his Word.” Nobody said it so softly it was hard to hear under the engine of the car. 

“Yeah, but you can’t even agree on that!” Paul shouted. “And what does any of this have to do with Jordan and Lidia.”

“Everything,” Nobody said simply. “Everything comes down to a person choosing what master they want to satisfy. If you wanted Lidia, you could pursue her. She may refuse you, but that’s her choice.”
“I’ve already told you, I’m not going to try and take Lidia from Jordan. She’s not a thing to steal,” Paul said. 

“Then why do you covet her as if she were a thing?”

… to be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 59

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 59

PT1 // PT 2 // PT 3 // PT 4 // PT 5 // PT 6 // PT 7 // PT 8 // PT 9 // PT 10 // PT 11 // PT 12 // PT 13 // PT 14 // PT 15 // PT 16 // PT 17 // PT 18 // PT 19 // PT 20 // PT 21 // PT 22 // PT 23 // PT 24 // PT 25 // PT 26 // PT 27 // PT 28 // PT 29 // PT 30 // PT 31 // PT 32 // PT 33 // PT 34 // PT 35 // PT 36 // PT 37 // PT 38 // PT 39 // PT 40 // PT 41 // PT 42 // PT 43 // PT 44 // PT 45 // PT 46 // PT 47 // PT 48 // PT 49 // PT 50 // PT 51 // PT 52 // PT 53 // PT 54 // PT 55 // PT 56 // PT 57 // PT 58 //

That was the moment they decided to look remorseful. “But my hope is if you just remember when we are hanging out that there are three of us, then it won’t feel so … frustrating … when I’m around you two.”

“Maybe you’ll find someone,” Lidia said. Hearing it from her stung. “I have a few friends who … “

“You will not set me up on a date!” Paul didn’t bother trying to hide his frustration or annoyance. He took a breath in an effort to sound more calm. “Listen, you know what happened last time I had a girlfriend. I’m just not ready to try that again.” I don’t think I deserve to have anyone in my life, let alone someone like you.

He couldn’t shake the feeling he was going through some sort of cosmic punishment. The universe knew where he came from. It knew his background. It knew the monster he could be if he were given the chance. It actually did him a favor showing him that potential. Knowing he probably should’t be in a relationship didn’t do anything for the loneliness he felt. 

“Well, if you realize you’re ready, I’d like to help you try and find someone,” Lidia said. It was like being suffocated with a hug. 

Paul offered a fake smile. “Thanks, but I think I’ll know when I’m ready. When that time comes, I’d rather not make this mistake again.” He pointed at the two of them. “What we tried to do was have everything. And that’s not how it works.”

“Why not?” Jordan asked. 

“Because you can be in a relationship or a friendship, but you’re one person with only so much time,” Paul said. “Trying to let me tag along just puts more pressure on me and emphasizes the fact that you’re settling into a pretty serious relationship. Are you guys really thinking about getting married?”

They looked at each other. A lifelong friendship made it pretty easy to read Jordan’s expressions.

“You’re not just thinking, are you?” Paul asked. 

Lidia gave him a shy smile, but Jordan’s head sank. One wanted him to be happy and excited. The other knew how little Paul appreciated change. Paul couldn’t do anything to affect that smile though. 

“How long have you been engaged?” Paul asked.

“I asked her last night,” Jordan said.

“Isn’t that … “ Even as frustrated as Paul felt, he knew his question was rude. It didn’t stop him from asking it. “I didn’t think you’d get serious with a woman who wasn’t Christian.”

They looked at each other in that same guilt-ridden fashion. Oh.

Lidia looked at him. “Jordan was very up front about his beliefs. From the beginning he talked about how important his faith was and how it affects every decision. One of the things that I liked about him was that he was a man of conviction.”

Sure, he’s willing to dump you over a sky bully, but at least he’s up front about it. 

“Don’t look at me like that,” Jordan cut in sharply. “I’ve known you long enough to know when you’re mentally ripping someone apart, and I don’t deserve it. You’re trying to make it like we had some huge debate in the middle of our relationship. That’s not how it went.”

“The truth is I had questions,” Lidia explained. “Part of what helped us come closer together was how easy he was to talk to about God.”

“And now you’re a Christian, too.” Paul muttered.

“I was baptized last week,” she confirmed. “And no, it wasn’t some ultimatum to get married. I didn’t even know he was thinking of asking until he did last night. We’ve been growing together in faith, and our relationship grew stronger.”

“You were just using me as an intermediary tool for an argument,” Paul said.

“Dude!” Jordan said. “You’re mad, and you feel left out. We’ve treated you like a third wheel, but that doesn’t mean you have a right to be a jerk. We asked you out tonight to tell you the news. We know where we stand in regard to the faith. But we’ve been able to stay friends because we know how much we can count on each other, and I need to count on you now.”

Paul shut his eyes, trying to think about a friend who almost never asked him for anything. He reminded himself how often Jordan had sacrificed for him. He reminded himself that he was the one who wanted Lidia and Jordan to be together.

“Can I just be honest?” Paul asked. 

They looked at each other again. Then Lidia turned back and nodded. 

“I want to be happy for you, and a part of me is. Tonight just sort of went south. I know you’re happy together, and I want you to be, but I’m not in a place to celebrate right now. Can we maybe try this again later? I’m just still processing the fact that you two are doing this, and honestly I’m jealous. I need to get my mind right so I can actually be happy for you.”

Jordan smiled at him. “That’s fair, and I’m sorry tonight didn’t work out the way we planed.”

Paul stood. “I’m not exactly prone to letting things go like they should.” He held out a fist for Jordan to tap. As he did, Lidia added her hand.

“Oh!” She yanked her hand back. “Is that a ‘you two’ sort of thing? Did I interject.”

Paul laughed. “No, I’m just saying goodbye. You two should try and enjoy the evening. We’ll do this again when I’m not so resentful.” So maybe never.

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 57

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 57

PT1 // PT 2 // PT 3 // PT 4 // PT 5 // PT 6 // PT 7 // PT 8 // PT 9 // PT 10 // PT 11 // PT 12 // PT 13 // PT 14 // PT 15 // PT 16 // PT 17 // PT 18 // PT 19 // PT 20 // PT 21 // PT 22 // PT 23 // PT 24 // PT 25 // PT 26 // PT 27 // PT 28 // PT 29 // PT 30 // PT 31 // PT 32 // PT 33 // PT 34 // PT 35 // PT 36 // PT 37 // PT 38 // PT 39 // PT 40 // PT 41 // PT 42 // PT 43 // PT 44 // PT 45 // PT 46 // PT 47 // PT 48 // PT 49 // PT 50 // PT 51 // PT 52 // PT 53 // PT 54 // PT 55 // PT 56 //

Paul struggled through the rest of the conversation, attempting to politely contribute if he was asked, and they happened to actually give him enough time to speak. Despite displeasing Lidia tremendously, they left the shop without a puppy.

A part of Paul felt a strange impulse to buy a dog for her. He tried to dismiss the idea, understanding that he really just wanted to do something for her that Jordan wouldn’t, but his principles wouldn’t allow it. More importantly, his friendship with Jordan wouldn’t. 

The conversation wouldn’t really drop though. Each time one of them mentioned anything, the other would bring up the whole dog issue as if it were somehow related to the whatever they were talking about in that moment. 

“You guys want to eat?” Paul asked.

“I don’t know,” Lidia said, a strange snippiness to her tone. “I’m not sure it’s in the budget, and captain, commander of the dollar says we should think about things before we make decisions.”

“Well we could always just do whatever we want, and then when we can’t afford the things we really care about, like weddings, we won’t be able to because we spent money on things we want on an impulse rather than things we truly want,” Jordan said.

“Or we could eat because we’re hungry!” 

They both stopped at Paul’s outburst. “We could actually spend time and have fun together instead of either making doe-eyes at each other and forgetting I exist or arguing with each other and still forgetting I exist! I’ll pay for your food if you just promise to stop using me only to validate whatever idiotic passive aggressive argument you’re trying to win.”

“We’re not ignoring you!” Lidia said. 

“Dude, we’ve spoken to you this whole time,” Jordan said.

“And I am not passive aggressive!” Lidia said.

“You’ve spoken to me?” Paul asked.  “Other than asking if you’re hungry, what’s the last thing I said?”

Jordan opened his mouth to answer and then stopped. 

“And you!” Paul pointed a finger.” You literally just told me to ask captain commander if it’s in the budget. Was that a direct argument or statement?”

Lidia at least had the dignity to drop her head. 

“Have either of you asked me a question that didn’t in some way involve me backing you up in some sort of point you were making?” Paul asked again.

Neither of them said anything. 

“You two wanna make out? Fine, just don’t ask me to watch. You wanna argue? I guess you can if that’s what you want, but don’t ask me to watch or take sides. Me, I actually want to eat, so I’m going to.” Paul stormed away, for once not really caring if the couple followed him or not. 

Had it really come this far? Did he really prefer not being around them? If it meant not having to watch them either fawn over each other or fight each other, yes. 

Paul picked a restaurant to eat at and got in line. He managed to get up to the counter and order before his friends found him.

“We’re sorry,” Jordan said. 

Lidia flung her arms around him, and it was all Paul could do to keep from screaming. He wanted to be angry. No matter how much he hated resenting his friends and being angry, he wanted it. It didn’t even make any sense, but it was true. But Jordan saying sorry? And Lidia, holding herself against him.

He shrugged her off. She looked taken aback. He wasn’t sure she’d make that face if he’d hit her. 

“It’s OK,” Paul said. “I’m just frustrated, and I don’t want you getting out of it with a nice hug and a few words.”

She looked at Jordan for some reason. “I’m sorry. I just … it’s how I apologize.” 

“You didn’t really do anything to me,” Paul said. 

“How long have we basically ignored you?” Jordan asked. 

Lidia glanced from Jordan to Paul and back to Jordan again. 

“What is going on?” Paul asked.

“I don’t understand you,” Lidia said. 

The words strangely felt like a knife. A part of him, a part he tried very hard to bury, wanted nothing more than for her to understand him.

“You just don’t know him well enough yet,” Jordan said before turning his attention to Paul. “We didn’t do it on purpose, but somewhere in the last few months, we just sort of focused on each other.”

“We don’t want to forget you!” Lidia said. 

Paul shook his head. “I get it. I didn’t exactly hang out with Jordan a lot when I had a girlfriend.” 

Admitting as much gave him a dose of humility. 

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 53

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 53

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Sixteen

May 14, 2036, 4:31 p.m. 

14 Years, 202 Days Ago

Paul and Jordan sat talking in the school cafeteria. They’d just done the fourth successful test of the vacuum field. This time, they created the field without any casing. The blue orb formed and maintained its shape just like they hoped, but they didn’t have any idea how to connect one field to the other without running into the same problem they’d been trying to avoid. 

Paul listened to Jordan while he ate a bite of something that was either meatloaf of Salisbury steak. It was warm and filling regardless.

“Why don’t we try forming two fields to start?”

It was a good idea. “We can try that,” Paul replied after swallowing his food. Jordan shoved some food in his mouth while Paul continued. “Let’s do them close together in a large container. That way, if they connect on their own, we minimize risk.”

Jordan nodded. 

“I don’t really think they’ll just randomly connect. I feel like there is something that connects them that we haven’t figured out yet,” Paul said. “But when we test this next phase, we should test various patterns.”

“Like what?” Even with his mouth half full, Jordan could’t help but ask the question.

“We don’t know if the fields generate each other when you pick a destination or not. Do they have to be formed and then connected, or does the destination cause the second field to form?”

Jordan shrugged at Paul’s thoughts. 

“Hey?” 

The word drew Paul’s attention to a young woman who’d somehow managed to walk right up to his left side without him noticing. Then again, when Paul put his focus on anything, he tended to forget everything else. How long had she been standing there?

Even as he pondered the question, he realized he knew her.

“Oh! Hey, Lidia!”

She smiled at him. She had a pretty smile that accented a narrow face. “I think you forgot,” she said.

“Forgot what?” Then it hit him. “OH! Right! Um.” He was supposed to help her study for her test. “Why don’t you sit here?” He moved over to give her room to sit. “Do you have your notes on you? Maybe I can run grab my notes.”

“I have my notes.” She sat down, causing a long black strand of hair to tumble over her eye. “I was just hoping you’d sort of quiz me and tell me if I’m wrong.” 

“Yeah, we can do that,” Paul said.

“We?” Jordan asked. “I was, um, about to go.”

“You don’t have anywhere to be.” Paul said.

Jordan gave him a suffering look. “Can I talk to you over there for a minute?”

“Over there?” Paul asked. “What’s —“

“Just come here,” Jordan said. He sounded like Paul had left all the equipment out and left Jordan to put it away again. 

“We’ll be back,” Paul told Lidia. He still wasn’t sure why they were walking away in the moment.

They made it a few steps away, and Jordan stopped. 

“Why are you leading her on?” Jordan asked.

“What?” Paul replied. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Jordan rolled his eyes. “Listen, man. I know you have more experience than me, but isn’t it kind of obvious Lidia thought ‘help me study’ was code for ‘take me out?’”

Paul thought for a second. That couldn’t be right. “She brought her notes though. She just wants to study.”

Jordan rubbed his temples with a thumb and index finger. “She probably just wanted the excuse, especially since it looks like you stood her up.”

“I can’t stand someone up when it wasn’t a date,” Paul said.

“Did you say you’d meet her?”

“Yeah.”

“And you forgot.”

“Well, yeah.”

“Even if it wasn’t a date, you left her hanging, but I think she likes you,” Jordan said.

Paul looked at her. Slender and small, she seemed focused on her books. “Naw.” He drew out the word to accent his doubt. 

“Just because you don’t see how pretty she is doesn’t mean she’s not interested in you,” Jordan said.

“So you think she’s pretty,” Paul said. Ohhh!

“Anyone not named Paul who looks at her for five minutes would see she’s cute, but you’re avoiding her. She sits next to you in two classes and has sat with us for lunch more times than I can remember.”

“And never once asked me out.” Paul said.

“That time she talked about going to the game,” Jordan said. 

“She doesn’t even like basket ball.”

“The new movie that came out,” Jordan said.

“That was the night of Beta Test One.”

“And whenever she asked for help studying?”

“She has finals,” Paul’s voice went up an octave.”

… to be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 51

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 51

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“That’s a different problem, but repenting before God is only the highest form of repentance. You sought forgiveness from Stacy, which, apparently, she gave, at least to some degree.”

The car continued along the freeway as Paul considered what his mother said. Was that what he was after? He didn’t think so. “I wasn’t after forgiveness, Mom.”

“You were probably trying to be punished because you know what you did was wrong.” Her already normally soft voice was whisper quiet. She was sad about something. It was probably because Paul wanted punishment.

“I think people should pay for what they do,” Paul said. “I think they should get what they deserve.”

“I sincerely hope not,” his mother replied. “I want to give mercy, and I want to receive mercy. I know exactly what I deserve, and that’s why mercy is so wonderful.”

“You deserve to be happy!” The comment came out in a sort of muttered growl.

“And I don’t deserve to be punished for letting your father do what he did to us?” Paul’s head jerked at the question, which came out much more like an accusation.

“You were the victim!”

“And yet I let him do as much to you.”

Paul shut his eyes and took a deep breath. He hadn’t forgotten how he’d treated her as a child. He did whatever he wanted and expected her to let him. Then he got angry at her for giving him exactly what he wanted. It never made any sense. It only got better when he and Jordan became friends. 

“That’s not the same,” Paul said.

“It can’t be both ways, Paul. We either all get everything we deserve, or we all need mercy. But I’m of the opinion that if everyone got exactly what they deserve, we’d all be in a great deal of agony. And before you make some crass extreme counterargument, I acknowledge that some people are far more evil than others, but that’s not my point.”

“There is no one who is good,” Paul said.

“That’s,” she paused in shock. “That’s exactly right. Have you been reading the Bible?”

He’d never even considered telling her before this moment. It never came up. “I read the whole thing around the time he was arrested.” Paul refused to speak his name, and he’d die a million times over before he acknowledged that man as his father. 

Not that it worked. He was literally just like him, and he deserved exactly what that man got. 

A memory flashed in Paul’s mind. It was the night of Nobody’s first visit. The bastard had passed out drunk, and a bottle had tipped over. Paul set it right to be positive the alcoholic wouldn’t trip and hurt himself.

“Paul, are you there?” He’d been years away in the past and hadn’t heard his mother.

“Sorry,” he said. “I zoned out for a second.”

“I was asking why you read the Bible then?” 

That answer would lead to a lot of other questions. Paul had eluded to Nobody once or twice, but he’d never told the whole story. As he thought, he figured he should have lied to his mother, saying he’d read the Bible after he got close to Bill, but he couldn’t bring himself to lie to his mother or about Bill.

“I was looking for answers.” That was at least a part of the truth. “I didn’t find any. I read the whole thing. I think I’ve read it two or three times, but I don’t believe any of it.”

“Because of what happened to Bill.” She said it as gently as she could given her tone, but talking about Bill was always a way to get Paul angry. 

“Yes.” Maybe by being curt, she’d know to change the subject.

“We can’t accept just part of the Word,” she emphasized the capital. “It’s all true. It’s true that he’s sovereign. It’s true that he’s loving. It’s true that he’s the righteous judge, and it’s true that he calls us when it’s our time. We don’t get to pick when, and, to be honest, I don’t know that we’d ever accept the explanation even if he bothered to give it to us.”

“That part is for certain,” Paul muttered. 

“I’m going to ask about this girl now to shift the subject.”

Paul laughed. She could have just done it.

“I’m not doing it because I’m afraid or unwilling to debate or discuss this with you,” she explained. “I doing it because I’m trying to be patient. You’ve been patient, hearing what I’ve had to say. I think any more on this subject would just be an argument neither of us wants.”

“Yeah,” Paul admitted.

“I imagine Stacy is willing to allow you this chance to change,” his mother said. 

“But why? If I’m capable of doing what I did tonight, what else am I capable of?” And there it was. The last part of his question came out in whine of agony. He was a monster. He should be locked up before he hurt anyone. He wouldn’t be sorry if a bolt of lightning struck him down.  He needed to be punished. He needed to be stopped before he became that man.

“We’re all capable of horrible things, Paul,” his mother said. He couldn’t know for certain without activating the holographic feature of his PID, but he thought he heard a smile in her voice. “But you’re every bit as capable of becoming a kind, loving, patient man. If she’s ever willing to talk to you, maybe ask her why she was so willing to give you such precious gift as her own body. Why was she willing to be your girlfriend? I imagine it’s because she saw the man you could be, the other man you could be. I just wish you’d focus on becoming that man instead of avoiding the other.”

Paul glanced out the window as he ran a hand down his face to dry his tears. He caught the exit to his school from the corner of his eye, but he needed to admit something to his mother. “I’m so afraid of being him.”

“But if you focus on him, so that’s your target,” she said. “You have so many better options to focus on.” 

“Bill is the only better option I have, maybe Jordan or his dad,” Paul said. “I don’t know about so many other options.”

“I do,” his mother replied. “You’ve read the Bible. You have Enoch and Noah, Moses and David, the apostles and, most importantly, Jesus.”

“I thought you were changing the subject.” Paul muttered.

“I did, for an entire minute.” She sounded pleased at her quip. “And before you argue about it for the sake of arguing, go back and look at just one of those people. Would it really be so bad to be like them?”

Paul opened his mouth to say, “yes,” but that lie wouldn’t form on his lips either.

“Then there’s Paul,” his mother said. “Now there’s a case I think you could study. You could ask yourself why he called himself the foremost sinner, and yet he was still chosen to be an apostle to the Gentiles.”

Paul didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t either start an argument or get more Bible references. His contemplative moment turned into a period of silence.

“I’ll leave you to think on it now, but I hope you will,” his mother said. “We didn’t name you after the apostle, but you seem to focus on the punishments people deserved. It would do you some good to see the value of what mercy can do.”

“Ok,” Paul said.

“Thank you.”

Wait? Did she take that as a promise to look into it? “Mom —”

“I’m sure you’re near the school now, and you should see if Stacy is willing to talk to you,” his mother said.

“Mom, I —”

“I’ll talk to you later. I love you always, my son.”

She hung up. That was a dirty trick! She hung up before he could explain he was only acknowledging that he’d heard her. He shook his head. He didn’t actually promise her anything, and she knew it. He wasn’t obligated to study any of that stuff.

The car indeed pulled off the exit and started to pull around to one of the campus’s entrances. 

… to be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 44

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 44

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Paul and Jordan arrived at the Sigma Alpha Sigma sorority house more than an hour after the party’s scheduled start time. Paul didn’t really know the rules of a party, but he felt certain that showing up at the start time was considered uncool.  The four-story building seemed to be jumping with music. It was an effort not to stare at it. They weren’t the sort of people to be invited to these sorts of places. 

“I don’t think I’m going to go in,” Jordan said.

“What?” Paul asked. “Why not?”

Jordan gave him a flat look. 

“What good is it being all religious if you’re never going to have fun?” Paul asked.

Jordan jabbed a thumb at the sorority house. “What they’re doing in there might seem like fun, and maybe some of them are great people, but the majority?” Jordan shrugged. “Dude, they’re in there to get drunk and get laid. It’s not about actual fun; it’s about gratification.”

“Maybe I need a little gratification.” Paul said. 

Jordan gave him a look of pity, which bothered Paul.

“Dude you can do or not do whatever you want, but don’t get all judgmental on me,” Paul said.

Jordan closed his eyes as if Paul had just called him a name. He took a deep breath. “Fair enough. You have a right to do what you want, and I know you like Stacy. Just, just be careful, ok?”

“You’re really not coming in?” Paul asked.

Jordan shook his head. “It’s not about not having fun. I think all those people in there think they’re having a great time. But tomorrow half of them will be hungover, and another percentage will walk to their dorms in shame, regretting the fun they thought they were having. Go in there and take Stacy out on a real date. Get to know her.”

“That would be really great,” Paul said smiling and raising his eyebrows. 

“Not that way!” Jordan said. “Sure, she’s pretty, but what do you like about her?”

“You just said she’s pretty,” Paul replied.

“Lot’s of girls are pretty,” Jordan said.

“Not as pretty as her.” Paul smiled again. “If you’re not coming, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Jordan returned the smile. “OK.” He at least made an effort to hide his disapproval, which Paul supposed was something. 

Paul turned around and looked at the door. He had no interest in the drinking, but he wanted Stacy. Maybe it was shallow, but was there anything wrong with a man wanting a woman? How did relationships really start without physical attraction anyway?

Paul climbed up the three stone steps to the building’s large oak door. He pressed the doorbell and waited. The already ear-bursting volume of the music seemed to triple when the door opened revealing a short brunette wearing a sleek black pullover dress. 

She was smiling when she opened the door, but one glance at Paul caused her to frown. “Um … “ 

She jerked and looked at her PID.  The invitation link must have pinged her device. She shrugged as she glanced at the notification. “Come on in.”

Paul walked in. He hardly got both feet inside without having to push through the crowd. Was it legal to have this many people in one place? Paul turned sideways to maneuver past two dancing women and had to pull one kissing couple apart to get by. They only grunted, pulling away from each other for the second it took to let Paul past. Paul had never understood the cliche “bull in a China shop” until that moment.

“Woooo!” A male student, who wasn’t wearing a shirt, passed by with a clear plastic cup full of some drink or another. “Welcome to the party!”

Beer splashed on Paul’s face before he even knew what was happening. Paul could hardly see. He sputtered and tried to wipe his face. 

“Dude! Don’t waste it!” the student said chuckling. “Respect the brew, man!” The cup only had about another centimeter in it, but the man tossed it back and let out another wail, walking away.

Paul was preoccupied with trying to get the alcohol out of his eyes. 

“Not really used to this kind of scene are you?” Even despite the amused derision, Paul knew Stacy’s voice.

He took another moment to use what used to be a nice button-up shirt to wipe up his face. However angry he was, he was that much more determined to talk to her.

“Worth it if I get to see you.” He gave what he hoped was a winning smile. 

She laughed and shook her head. “Flattery got my attention,” she said. “But what got you in the door was how nice you were.”

“Nice?” It was strange. Paul had to basically shout to be heard, but he doubted anyone outside a one-foot radius could hear him. 

“When you helped that cafeteria worker,” Stacy said. 

“That?” Paul asked. “I was just cleaning up a mess.”

“You didn’t have to,” she said. 

“I didn’t have to throw my food all over the place either, but I did. Well, we already discussed whose fault that is,” Paul replied.

Stacy frowned at him. Her brown stare grew harsh. Why? Didn’t he just compliment her.

“So what, you’re just going to stare at me and tell me I’m pretty?” Her tone frosted over. It was almost like she was a different person. 

“Well,” Paul thought for a moment. Something Jordan said before he left seemed to echo in his mind. “Look,” he said after another second of thought. “What I want is to get to know you. Yeah, you’re pretty, and I bet a lot of guys are into you. Yes, I’m one of those guys, but I’m not just after you for, well, you know.”

She gave him a skeptical look, but she seemed to be at least calming down. “You want a drink?”

He shook his head. “I don’t drink.”

Her lip quirked in what might have been a smirk. “You don’t drink.”

“No,” he said. 

She shrugged, but her posture seemed to shift again. Did he just pass some sort of test? “Come on,” she said. “I’ll show you where you can clean your face and maybe find another shirt.”

She grabbed his hand and proceeded to guide him up the large spiral staircase that lead out of the main floor where the bulk of the partygoers were frolicking.

… to be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 42

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 42

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Thirteen

Oct. 14, 2032, 2:31 p.m. 

16 Years, 89 Days Ago

“Why are you so excited about this?” Jordan asked.

They were walking across the square at Carnegie from the lab to the cafeteria for some food. The sun was starting to hide behind some of the large, square buildings, proving that they skipped lunch.

“Because it means we’re close!” Paul said. There was no containing his excitement.

“Let me get this straight,” Jordan said. “We create a spatial vacuum. That pressure causes the water in the air to collect into a puddle, and that somehow means we’re close.”

“Yes,” Paul said confidently. Of course, he had seen that effect.

Each time Nobody had visited, there was always an inexplicable bit of water. Their experiments over the years had produced the same effect. Paul’s theory of teleportation involved creating a vacuum between where the person is and where he needed to be. That vacuum caused the very moisture in the air to condense. 

“I’m glad one of us is excited,” Jordan muttered.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Paul asked. 

The cafeteria came into view, and they each increased their pace without saying anything. Paul’s stomach rumbled. Had they skipped breakfast? 

“Paul, we created a true vacuum, which isn’t even anything new,” Jordan said. “We’ve been working for years, and all we’ve done is create a different shape of a vacuum tube.”

Paul snatched the handle of the cafeteria’s door and cocked an eyebrow at his friend. “You’re strangely sullen.”

“I’m just hungry,” Jordan said.

“Now I know you’re upset,” Paul said. “You lie about what you’re mad about, and I start wondering if it’s the end times.”

Jordan looked away in shame. “I just don’t know how we’re going to create a pocket vacuum that spans the planet without, well, destroying it.”

Ok, so that was an actual issue. Creating a vacuum between one area and another would make movement between the two much easier, but that vacuum would require the obliteration of everything in the vacuum. 

“We’ll figure it out.” Paul followed his friend inside. 

A data monitor on the wall drew Paul’s attention. Oh, Paul thought. So we skipped a few meals.  

The screen showed the date as Oct. 14, 2032. They’d apparently worked through dinner last night. They’d also missed breakfast and lunch. 

“And you’re strangely optimistic,” Jordan grumbled. “I just don’t get why you’re so excited by this when it looks so much like a dead end.”

They practically flew around the buffet line, snatching whatever they could get their hands on. Each time Paul saw a different piece of food, his stomach seemed to demand more and more. 

“I told you where the idea came from right?” Paul whispered. 

His friend and mother were the only two people who had any idea. They knew Paul had seen someone teleport, but they didn’t know anything else about Nobody. They certainly didn’t know how often and for how long the stranger had been visiting Paul.

Jordan nodded as he dumped half a tin of mixed vegetables onto his plate.

Paul took the other half. “Well, when I saw it … “ Paul emphasized the word it to ensure his friend knew what he was talking about. “ … there was a puddle.”

Jordan’s face screwed into a look of bewilderment. “But how? How did he travel from one end of the vacuum to the other without, well, destroying the planet?”

Paul shrugged. They made their way to the cashier to pay for their food. “What if we don’t create one vacuum?”

Jordan looked away long enough to pay for his food. “What good would that do?”

Paul stepped up in line and held out his PID.  He passed his wrist over a scanner, and the device instantly connected the cafeteria’s account to Paul’s, transferring the necessary funds. 

“What if the trick is creating two vacuums, one at location X and the other at location Y, and then connecting those two vacuums … somehow.” Paul was thinking out loud more than explaining anything. 

… To be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 40

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 40

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Apparently, Jordan didn’t mean dinner. Dinner would have been some pizza or burgers, but the place Paul was in demanded a dress jacket. The three of them sat at a small circular table underneath a private chandelier. A waiter came by now and then to check on them using an accent Paul was pretty sure was fake, but not in an obnoxious way.

Paul used an oddly small fork to pick through the meat and vegetables on his plate. “This is a bit more exorbitant than I was thinking.” He smiled, hoping his friend would understand the comment wasn’t a complaint.

“I saved all year for this, but not a ton, just a couple hundred,” Jordan said.

“It’s very kind of you, Jordan,” Mary said. 

“I figured you must have cooked a thousand meals for me over the years.” Jordan smiled. “It’ll be weird being so far away from our parents, so I just wanted to do something to say thank you.” 

His eyes widened as Paul’s mother looked around, probably for Jordan’s family. “I already took my folks out,” he said quickly. “I know it would have been nice for all of us to eat together, but I wanted time with just my folks, and I wanted time with just you two.”

“All of us could never have been together,” Paul muttered. The comment had all the bitterness the words implied. They just fell out of Paul’s mouth, but they were true. He didn’t want to ruin the mood, but he did it just the same.

“I still miss him.” His mother almost whispered the comment.

“I’m sorry.” Jordan spoke as if he were the one who brought Bill up.

“I don’t know what to do.” Again, Paul was only thinking out loud, but the thoughts had been brewing in his head for months. “I can’t think straight. I know I’m supposed to move on. I know I’m supposed to go back to the project. I know life is supposed to keep going, but I don’t know how to do that because all I can think about is the way life was supposed to be.” 

By the time he finished speaking, tears were flowing down his face. How had this happened? Why was he in the middle of some fancy restaurant crying his eyes out like some baby?

Two hands, one from his friend and the other from his mother, gently touched Paul’s back. Paul shot up from his chair and darted out. He had to escape. He didn’t want to deal with it, certainly not in public. It was all Paul could do to resist shouting at them. No matter how stupid the thoughts were, they kept flooding into his mind.

They were over Bill’s death so easily! They all moved on as if Bill never existed! Then they talk about him like a few words would make any difference. 

If Paul hadn’t rushed out of the restaurant, he’d have shouted until he got kicked out. He burst past the waiting area and a confused employee who shouted at him not to run. He flew through the doors and turned into the first place he could find. 

It turned out to be a dead-end alley. Of course … 

Nobody stood there, waiting. 

… to be continued …