Closing my eyes made the experience feel more familiar, even if I knew I was sitting back on Jeannine’s rich friend’s couch and not in a lab. Dr. Dorfman’s voice was strangely comforting even with all of the guilt because of everything I’d put him through. Without seizures anymore, he wasn’t sure if this would work. Sitting still made me almost miss all the years of pills and needles and brain scans, but not really. Maybe 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 as revenge.
We’d had a long discussion about trying to send me somewhere. Dorfpoodle wanted to have witnesses present who agreed that time travel was at least a possibility. I wanted to see if I could time jump without my own seizures, and I was desperate to see Lucas again. Alive. I prayed to nobody in particular. Please give me time to fix what was so screwed up back there.
“Relax, Jack,” he said. 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? Wanting to prove himself correct? Was he actually delusional? Why were these questions only now just popping into my head?
I considered ripping off the wires, held to my scalp with some kind of hair product instead of the medical putty I was used to. This was crazy. What was I thinking? I should 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. Maybe I’ll super enjoy juvenile detention.
I felt an uncomfortable tingle all over my body and heard a low hum in my ears, and then figured I was getting a shock. Oh no.
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 just a couple of inches away, where I hadn’t heated it with my touch. I tried to 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 metal box in his other hand. He had a small splotch of grease on his cheek, and his jagged bangs shook as he opened the box, revealing a pile of virgin rivets.
“I was just thinking,” I said, lying. Which I was getting good at, shazam!
“About what,” he asked. We were in the abandoned bank. The car I’d driven away to my mother’s farm house sat in the middle of the room, the hybrid frame sitting on cinder blocks, surrounded by lots of smaller pieces and scraps. 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 Ohio, playing around with car ideas. I hadn’t realized it was a kind of training for the time when I could put it to use.
My moment had come.
Lucas stepped closer to me, putting his free hand on mine, which rested on the counter. “What’s going on in there,” he asked again, quietly, in a sexy tone.
I leaned into him and kissed him, inhaling car grease, the nutty smell of old dust, and the soap he used when he bathed. The same soap I’d used when his father had discovered me in the compost pile.
I caught him off guard at first, and then he returned the kiss to me. A blast of warmth went through me, much nicer than electricity, and I pushed harder into him. He tasted delicious and warm. Finally I pulled away to get a breath, and I wiped the smudge of grease off his cheek with a rag from the work bench.
“I didn’t think you’d ever do that,” he said. He looked straight at me, still up close to my face. Was this our first kiss? I needed to figure out the date, or at least the season, but the windows were shuttered.
“I wanted to,” I said. “I want to again.” I was lightheaded.
We drew together and kissed deeper this time, and I didn’t think about anything except how his lips felt, the sense of him holding me, and the explosion inside me. The world nudged its way back into my consciousness, whatever consciousness meant at that point. We were in a fight over the town and people’s lives. Right. We needed to make progress, and this was a distraction. Stop it with the kissing.
“We have to get back to this,” I said, staggering over to the car. I noticed again that I was holding something. Examining the thing in my palm, I saw it was the strange screwdriver from the box in the sewer. Was this another one or the same from before? I mean, later? Oh my god, Time, you’re ridiculous.
“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. Set a scrape plate underneath to protect the nonstandard wires. 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. I’d been planning to come back, I’d convinced myself all of this was real, and now here I was and I had to make everything better. I really really was here.
“Okay, come out from under there,” Lucas said.
“Don’t tell me what to do.” It was a reflex, I’m sorry I snapped at you.
“You are so headstrong. I just want to talk to you.”
“You can talk to me fine from there.” So what 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 different as Jacqueline, and I liked that. But okay, I wasn’t a big fan of muscle fatigue.
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. I’m not ready. I thought I was ready but I’m not.
“Do you need help getting up?”
“Sometimes you really are insufferable, Jacqueline.” And then he stood up, slid the hunk of metal over to me, and left out the back door of the bank. Well, let’s just add being a jackass to the list of reasons to sob.
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. But I did, too. 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 doing. 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, and looked around the room. The last time I was here the car had tires and was ready to use, but didn’t have a HAM radio, for sure. So was I earlier or later than the day we roared out of here to Jacqueline’s mother’s house? But more weird, if I was only just now coming back to put in a radio, how were the wires already in place? That didn’t make any sense.
I went in search of Lucas. I whispered his name instead of shouting in case one of Traver’s people was nearby. He called back to me, and I followed the sound.
He was up in a tree, probably thirty feet off the ground. His crutches were propped against the roots. He clearly had not learned his lesson from the last go round.
“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 the skin on my forearms.
“So sensitive,” Lucas said, inspecting me. He leaned in to kiss me.
“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?”
“Exactly,” I said, lying. Because I’m really a boy like you, or at least I used to be, or I am when I’m in another place and time but here I am from the frigging future and oh by the way I’ve completely 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 really like you.” At least this was mostly true.
This time when he leaned in to kiss me, I didn’t push him away. But it was less intense than before, mostly because I had to put some of my energy into balancing myself on a knobby branch. He sat back, staring intently at me.
“I better quit before I fall out of a tree again.”