Visits From A Man Named Nobody 83

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 83

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 // PT 60 // PT 61 // PT 62 // PT 63 // PT 64 // PT 65 // PT 66 // PT 67 // PT 68 // PT 69 // PT 70 // PT 71 // PT 72 // PT 73 // PT 74 // PT 75 // PT 76 // PT 77 // PT 78 // PT 79 // PT 80 // PT 81 // PT 82 //

A tear fell down her cheek.  “It hurt so much.”

Paul moved to her and wrapped her in his arms. “I’m sorry. I hate that this is happening to you. But don’t feel guilty. You don’t have to put yourself through pain.”

His voice cracked, but he managed to get it all out. They held each other there, unsure of how much time passed, until Dr. Feniker walked in. 

He smiled down at them. “It’s obvious the treatments are having an extreme effect. With only one treatment to go, I think the best thing to do is at least take a look at your scans to see if there’s been any impact.”

“What if there hasn’t been?” Paul asked. “She couldn’t possibly go through all of this again.”

Feniker grimaced. “I wish there was something I could say. For now, there are too many questions, and the answers won’t come until we see what’s going on. We’ve prepared the examination room for her MRI, and someone will be in soon. Once we get a look, we’ll at least know what we’re up against.”

“Does she have to do it now?” Paul asked. “Can’t she get some sleep?”

“I slept for hours. Once they gave me all that medicine, I fell asleep, and they went looking for you.” She pointed at his forehead, where the red mark from sleeping on it was probably still present. “Looks like you were getting some sleep, too, wherever you were.”

“I thought I’d only dozed off for a minute.”

Feniker coughed. He’d probably wondered if they had forgotten he was there.

“Looks like we’re as ready as we’re going to be,” his mother said. 

Feniker nodded. “A tech will be here shortly.” He left.

True to his word, for once, a tech arrived after another few moments. The slender woman brought a wheel chair with her. “Let’s get you into the examination room.”

She helped Paul get his mother situated on the wheel chair. Paul pushed the chair, following the tech to the lab. They hadn’t done any additional scans since his mother was diagnosed, but he felt comfortable helping to place her in the machine. The tech pointed to a waiting area, and Paul went and sat there, waiting for them to finish their work. 

Paul rested his head in a hand, rubbing at his temples with his thumb and middle finger. Please, let it be that the tumor is small enough. Please don’t put her through any more.  

Without anything else to do, Paul felt strangely comfortable each time he prayed. However, to his mind the prayer was over. As he waited, he was more or less thinking in God’s direction, and he wasn’t sure that counted. It would be pointless to try and work or rest. His thoughts kept jumping to his mother. 

After a while, Paul realized that it had been a long time. He figured he was just worried, so he checked his PID. Then he waited another hour. It wasn’t as if he could go to anyone to ask what was going on, but he started tracking the time. Another hour passed. By that point, Paul was willing to talk to the first person he could find. He stood up to do just that when the technician came through the door with his mother. 

“I’m so sorry for the wait,” she said. 

“What happened?” Paul asked. 

Her face scrunched up. “I don’t actually know. We tried to do the scan, but something must be wrong with our machines.”

“Machines?” 

“We have two, so we brought her to the second one, but whatever is going on is happening to both,” she explained. “We tried each machine at least three times, but we can’t get  … “ she paused as if thinking about how to explain her point. “We can’t get a clear reading.”

“So whatever is happening is affecting the reading?” Paul asked.

The technician shrugged.

“They must have put me in there a half-dozen times,” his mother said. “But after each time, they just asked me to do it again.”

Paul must have glared at the technician because she put up her hands defensively. “We were only trying to get a clear reading. But there’s nothing else we can do.  Maybe the scan was affected by what we gave her for her pain. Maybe it’s the machine. Either way, we know the fastest way to get results is to send her to another hospital. We’ve set up an appointment for you at another laboratory.”

“Are we heading there now?” Paul asked. It had already been 16 hours at this hospital. Nap or no nap, Paul knew his mother had to be exhausted.

“The appointment is in three days,” the technician said. “That way, the pain medication will have had time to leave her system. So if that’s what was affecting the scan, we’ll know it won’t this time.”

“How could her medication affect her treatment?” Paul asked.

“Sometimes different medications had an impact on the brain. It can cause MRI results to be hard to make out,” the technician answered, turning to look at Paul’s mother. “As long as you’re pain free, we can wait.”

“What if the pain comes back?” Paul asked. 

“You’re mother says the pain and other side effects are most severe the night of a treatment, so there’s a good chance to worst of it is over. We just want to get that scan done before the next treatment is supposed to happen.”

Paul looked at his mother, who shrugged. “You still feel better.”

She gave him a weak smile. “I’m just tired, and there really isn’t anything these people can do.”

Paul nodded. “So we can go home?”

“We just need to finish off the paperwork, and you’ll be on your way,” the technician said. “When you check out, you can pick up the referral for the new scan.”

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 77

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 77

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 // PT 60 // PT 61 // PT 62 // PT 63 // PT 64 // PT 65 // PT 66 // PT 67 // PT 68 // PT 69 // PT 70 // PT 71 // PT 72 // PT 73 // PT 74 // PT 75 // PT 76 //

Twenty-Three

March 27, 2038, 2:24 a.m. 

13 Years, 252 Days Ago

Paul wasn’t sure what woke him. He looked around from his bed. Did he hear that strange surge of electricity that accompanied an appearance of Nobody?

“Are you there?” 

Nobody didn’t usually just sit quietly, but Paul struggled to remember the last time he’d seen him. Nobody didn’t visit when Paul’s mom got diagnosed. He didn’t appear during the surgery. Maybe he finally gave up on Paul.

Paul wasn’t sure how he felt about that. While listening for a footstep or a soft word, he heard a distant coughing. That coughing quickly became a retching sound.

Paul launched out of the bed, throwing the comforter and sheets off his body. He was into his mother’s room and into the adjoining bathroom before the night air could nip at his bare calves and feet.

His mother was huddled over the toilet. Paul dropped to his knees and held gently rested his hands on her.

A stream of vomit erupted from her mouth. It could have been the stress of the moment, but Paul thought the yellow-green fluid poured out of her for a solid five seconds. It felt like it took for ever. 

His mother let out a few couches. “I’m .. .”

Another surge of sickness hit her. This time she only had a moment to take in a shuddering breath before another, longer attack struck. 

However long it really was, it felt like an eternity, and his mother had only managed a few inhalations through it all. 

Paul tried to keep the nervousness out of his voice and offer her words of love and encouragement, but she just kept on throwing up. Even as she began to weep from the pain and fear she had to have felt, she just couldn’t stop. 

She hadn’t even had that much to eat! There couldn’t have been much left in her stomach to force out. 

A fifth stream of bile flowed out of her, and finally, she managed a deep shuddering breath, and then another. 

Then the weeping resumed. She didn’t seem like she was going to be sick again, but she moaned.

“It’s hard.” It was barely more than a whisper. 

“It’s OK,” Paul replied. “I’m here.”

“Please give me strength.” 

Paul realized she was praying, so he just focused on holding her. He wasn’t sure if he did it intentionally, but his hand was on her back, and he couldn’t resist feeling her back expand and contract with each deep breath. 

She was halfway through one such breath when her body convulsed, and she leaned over the white, porcelain bowl. Nothing came out. There wasn’t anything left to come out, but her body still shook even as she coughed and hunched over.

“Please … “ It was one of only two words she could choke out. “God.”

Another round of hacks and full-body tremors struck her before her body seemed to be able to recover. By that time, she focused on her breathing. 

For some reason, Paul started counting his mother’s breaths. Each one seemed to be every bit as relieving as it was nerve-racking. Each one she offered made him hope she’d made it through, but it also made him wonder if it would be the last before another fit hit her. 

Five breaths passed. Ten breaths. 

“I’m going to call someone.” He should have called when this all started, but he didn’t want to leave her side.

He surged to his feet and went to his mother’s room, grabbing her PID rather than leaving to retrieve his from the night stand by his own bed. Even then, he returned to find her over the bowl again, coughing when she wasn’t sobbing. 

“Please … God.”

Paul positioned himself next to her again. Whatever he missed was over just as quickly this time. 

“I need your face,” Paul said gently. He positioned the PID in front of his mother to activate the facial recognition and unlock the device. 

He tapped frantically, bringing up the emergency contact he had received from the hospital. 

The PID gave a few blinks before a woman’s holographic face appeared. “Oncology Emergency Support. How can I … Oh.”

Whatever illness was attacking Paul’s mother chose that moment to give a brutal example of what was going on.

“You said it would happen within hours,” Paul said. “And nothing said it would be this bad!”

He shook with anger, but his mother had most of his attention. Paul set the PID on the water tank as he tried to console his mother. 

“It’s been more than 24 hours?” 

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 70

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 70

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 // PT 60 // PT 61 // PT 62 // PT 63 // PT 64 // PT 65 // PT 66 // PT 67 // PT 68 // PT 69 //

He wandered over to the cafeteria and got some food. As he set his tray down and sat down, he considered conceding to his mother’s second request, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he ate mechanically, working to consume time more than calories. He used a knife to cut meat that tore readily enough. He slowly brought each bite to his mouth and chewed his food. After each bite, he took a small sip of his water. 

He managed to make a simple meat, vegetable, and bread meal last 45 minutes. He grabbed up some napkins and a pencil. Then he sat down to work over some formulas he’d been considering. The problem there was that he couldn’t really focus. He frustrated himself for  another 30 minutes trying to get his thoughts in order, but after that, he crumbled the napkins up and threw them away rather than even try to review the nonsense he was scribbling. 

He tried social media videos next. He watched a few informative videos, trading with some that promised guaranteed laughter. He didn’t so much as chuckle, and he couldn’t focus enough on the informative vids to get anything of value. The process of searching for something that might occupy his thoughts was somewhat useful, but he ultimately only spent another 15 minutes on that.

He looked around, realizing he’d been expecting Nobody to show up. There were plenty of places he could have secretly teleported to. And this sort of thing usually warranted at least a letter. Would he want to talk to Nobody if he did show up? His more recent visits have been much more accusatory than helpful. Nobody always had some angle that seemed to be more about forcing Paul to evaluate his motivations than anything else, but he still visited.

Had he grown tired of Paul? Had he finally given up? He thought about it as he wandered back to the waiting area. He watched his feet step on each white tile of the floor. Paul wasn’t sure if he cared whether or not Nobody had lost interest. The race to figure out how he used teleportation was done. The experiment was cancelled. Nobody’s visits might have been helpful when Paul was a kid, but they’d been more annoying as Paul grew older.

“Probably just tell me more about how we don’t have any say in things,” Paul muttered. 

He arrived to the waiting area. The doctor wasn’t there, so Paul sat down and tried to watch some television. It was some sort of soap opera. Five minutes ticked by, and Paul gave up trying to figure out the plot. He stood up, hoping to convince one of the staff members to change the channel, when the doctor stepped in.

Paul smiled and walked over to greet him. “How long until we can take her home?”

Something about the way the doctor’s lips turned downward caused Paul to stop short. 

“We got in, but once we saw the tumor and how it was placed, we realized it wasn’t safe to remove,” the doctor said.

Paul stared at the doctor even as questions ran through is mind. What did he mean safe? It was a tumor; how safe was it to leave it in there? What did it matter how it was placed in the brain?

“We’re planning to talk to the oncologist, but my thoughts are we need to do a round of chemotherapy to bring the size of the tumor down. That will make it easier to remove,” the doctor said.

“You’re leaving a tumor in my mom because it’s not easy to remove? I don’t care how hard it is; I want it out!” Paul’s voice grew louder as he spoke.

“It’s too close to the hippocampus,” the doctor said. “One wrong move, and we could affect her memory. One mistake, and she forgets you and everyone else.”

“Then don’t make any wrong moves!” Paul loomed over the doctor. 

“There are no right moves, Mr. Autumn,” the twig of a man had no problem staring Paul in the eyes. “The tissue has wrapped around the tumor like a sort of blanket. The only way to get to it is to cut the tissue, which would have consequences. That’s why we need to reduce its size so that we can move tissue.”

“What if your blanket just folds over it more?” Even though the doctor didn’t respond to Paul’s height and tone of voice, he still kept shouting.

“Then the chemotherapy might still just kill the tumor anyway.” The louder Paul got, the softer the doctor’s voice became. “It’s not the immediate fix you wanted, but it is the right thing to do. Of course the oncologist will provide more data, and maybe an even better option will present itself, but surgery isn’t an option right now.”

Paul stumbled back like he’d been punched. The room spun, and it was hard for him to keep his breath. “No.” Paul practically gasped the word.

He reached over and grabbed a chair and somehow managed to fall into it. 

“You’re mother is in recovery.” Doctor Feniker remained where he’d been, clearly giving Paul space. “You can go in and be with her, but she’ll probably be sleeping for a while more. I’ll meet with the oncologist, and we’ll present you both with your options. I’m sorry this couldn’t be over as quickly as you’d like, but there’s still hope.”

Hope? In what universe did Paul ever have any real hope?

… to be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 68

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 68

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 // PT 60 // PT 61 // PT 62 // PT 63 // PT 64 // PT 65 // PT 66 // PT 67 //

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there, but she eventually wrapped him in her arms, whispering, “We don’t ever get a say in when we die, but that only makes it that much more important to use the time we’re given. I’m sorry you’re scared.”

A derisive burst of laughter exploded from Paul. He looked at her with an expression that had to convey his shock.  “You have a tumor, and you’re telling me you’re sorry!”

She smiled at him. Her tears were gone. She was just his mom again. “I’m not afraid. I don’t want to leave you. I don’t want this to be the end, and that’s honestly a bit hard to explain. I love you, but if this is my time, I’m going to a place without pain or hurt, anger or sorrow. While I’m on this earth, I have work to do, but death isn’t the end, it’s the beginning of an eternity of joy and peace.”

“How can you possibly know that?” Paul wanted to imagine she was just putting on a brave face. He could see her lips tremble. He could see the unshed tears in her eyes, but she held it all together with a strength he couldn’t begin to imagine.

His mother took a deep breath. “If one believes in God, they believe in his promises. My faith isn’t based on blind ideology. When I met Bill, I had questions. I had so many questions. When we lost Bill, I was angry for a short time, but for those who really look, the truth is there. I feel more sadness for those who refuse to believe than anything else.”

“But you’re … “ he couldn’t bring himself to say, “dying.” 

She must have understood what he meant. She stood and then helped him up, saying, “We’re all going to die. There’s no science or power that can stop death, and I know that statement could cause some debate with you, so please just hold on to the part that matters. If everyone is going to die, then living in fear of that seems silly. Instead, I put a great deal of thought into what happens after death. My faith allows me to look at death with a strange excitement. I’m not exactly going to do anything to expedite my passing, but I know I have something wonderful to look forward to. I’m just not sure my work here is done, so I endure this life, thankful for the blessings it’s brought.”

He stared at her in bewilderment. Is this what Bill thought as he died in that accident? 

“Well I don’t want to let you go,” he said. “So I’d rather talk about options.”

She laughed, and it was a pure, amused sound. There wasn’t a hint of resentment or frustration in it. “The truth is there’s nothing you can do. The doctors are going to remove it, and we’ll hope that does the trick.”

“So I’ll stay with you,” Paul said. “Whatever you need, I’ll make sure you get it.”

She smiled and wrapped her arms around him again. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

The end of Chapter 19.

… To be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 63

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 63

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 // PT 60 // PT 61 // PT 62 //

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

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 // PT 60 //

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

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 //

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 …