For those of you following along, here’s the latest piece I’m sharing of my work in progress.
Closing my eyes made the experience feel more familiar, even if I knew I was sitting back on Jeannine’s friend’s couch and not in a lab. I appreciated Dr. Stanger’s voice, strangely comforting even after everything I’d put him through. Without seizures anymore, we weren’t sure if this would work. I should have been more nervous about the hand-built EEG machine than my own capacity for out of control neuron activity, but I didn’t think the doctor would have subjected me to anything that could hurt me. Even if he’d gone through a terrible ordeal on my account.
“Just relax, Jack,” he said, and it occurred to me that I didn’t know why he cared to do all of this for us. Was he interested in inventing a time machine? Wanted to prove himself correct? Was he actually insane?
I considered ripping the wires off of my head, held to my scalp with some kind of hair product instead of the medical putty I was used to. This was reckless, dangerous. What was I thinking? I should jump up and get out of here, explain to my parents that I’ve been stupid and desperate. They’ll have to get over it at some point.
I opened my eyes but was no longer in the posh living room. I coughed, waving at the dust in the air. Something was in my hands, warm where I held it but colder where I hadn’t heated it with my body temperature. I tried to focus, get my bearings.
“Hey, Jacqueline, where did you go just then?”
Lucas. It was Lucas talking to me, holding himself up on one brace while he held a small box in his other hand. A small smudge of grease sat splotched on his cheek, and his jagged bangs rattled as he opened the box, revealing a pile of virgin rivets.
“I was just thinking,” I said, for wont of a lie.
“About what,” he asked. I saw that we were in the old bank. The car I’d driven away to my mother’s farm house sat in the middle of the room, the frame sitting on cinder blocks, surrounded by lots of smaller pieces. I looked at the assortment of metal and understood how it all fit together. I’d drawn much of this configuration down in my bedroom in New Jersey, training myself for the moment when I could put it to use.
My moment had come.
Lucas stepped closer to me, put his free hand on mine, which rested on the counter. “What’s going on in there,” he asked again.
I leaned into him and kissed him, inhaling car grease, the nutty smell of old dust, and the soap he used when he bathed. He seemed shocked at first, and then returned the kiss to me. A blast of warmth coursed through me, and finally, I pulled away, wiping the smudge off his cheek. Lucas held onto me.
“I didn’t think you’d ever do that,” he said. He looked straight at me, still up close to my face.
“I wanted to,” I said. “I want to again.”
We kissed again, and I didn’t think about anything except how his lips felt, the sense of him holding me, and the feelings exploding inside me. The world nudged its way back into my consciousness. We were in some kind of fight for the town and people’s lives. We needed to make progress, and this was a distraction.
“We have to get back to this,” I said, walking over to the car. I noticed again that I was holding something. Examining the thing in my palm, I saw it was the screwdriver from the box in the sewer. Was this another one or the same from before?
“I know,” he said, handing me a curved piece of metal. The blankness in my brain fell away, replaced by knowledge. This was my design, and I knew where it went. I crouched down and screwed it into place under the carriage. Its sister hung on the other side. I was grateful that all I could see from down here were his shoes.
“Are you hiding under there,” I heard him ask.
“I’m working,” I said. But yes, I was hiding, and that was my business. I asked Lucas for a few more of my devices, and he obliged. Tubing for a smokescreen, wiring for a ham radio. Under the car, I cried without noise, thinking about what only I knew would happen to him and the other underground members. My body betrayed me, and my nose filled up. I sniffled reflexively and gave myself away.
“Okay, come out of there,” Lucas said.
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
“You are so headstrong. I just want to talk to you.”
“You can talk to me fine from there.” I didn’t care if I was childish. I focused on tightening bolts and screws with a pair of pliers on the ground. They were heavy, and my arms started shaking with muscle failure. In so many ways I was difference as Jacqueline.
I heard a clatter, and Lucas crashed to the ground, his face in an odd half-grimace, half-smile.
“I like seeing you when I talk to you.” His hair fell over his face, and I saw he’d torn his shirt at the elbow.
“You are a ridiculous person,” I said.
“Are you calling me a cripple?”
“Most certainly not. I’m saying you’re ridiculous. I think that’s self-explanatory.”
“First you kiss me and then you won’t look at me,” he said. “What’s going on, Jacqueline?”
“Can we please discuss this later? I need the oil pan.”
He laid there, continuing to look at me.
“Do you need help getting up?”
Lucas frowned. “Sometimes you really are insufferable, Jacqueline.” And then he stood up, slid the hunk of metal to me, and left out the back door of the bank.
At least he’d given me some space to cry. I didn’t want to be in someone else’s body, after months readjusting to mine. I wasn’t sure what any of this made me, even as I felt such a strong pull to fix situations that I suspected were at least partly my fault. I was drawn to Lucas but I also worried that what we were doing was wrong. Sanjay would disagree with me, but he wasn’t here to talk about it, either.
I crawled out from under the car, wiped my eyes on a mostly clean rag, and went in search of Lucas. Perhaps this part of town was safe from Traver’s gang, as they hadn’t found the car by the time we finished building it. Still, I whispered Lucas’ name instead of shouting. He called back to me, and I followed the sound.
He was up in a tree, probably thirty feet high. His crutches were propped against the roots.
“What are you doing up there?”
“What do I ever do up here,” he asked. “Come up.”
He had much better upper body strength than I did, but I was light and apparently nimble. I made sure my feet and hands were well planted before taking any new step, but I winced as the sharp bark broke through my forearms.
“Such sensitive skin,” Lucas said, inspecting me. He leaned in again.
“Wait,” I said.
“Must you do everything backwards,” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“The man is supposed to lead, like in dancing.”
“Well, that’s an old-fashioned way to see it,” I said, before I remembered we weren’t in the 1980s. Of course this was his opinion. “Look, I like you. I just have fears.”
“Because of our predicament?”
No. “Exactly,” I said, lying. Because I’m really a boy like you and I’m from many years from now and have time traveled to this place and somehow fallen for you and I don’t understand a bit about any of it.
“Well, that’s a good point. But I fancy you and I can’t change that.”
“I wouldn’t want my own space if I didn’t like you back.” This time when he leaned in to kiss me, I didn’t push him away. It was brief. He sat back, panting ever so slightly.
“I better stop before I fall out of a tree again.”