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I sat in the cab beside Brian, feeling like a child. The grime stuck to my face was itchy, and I rubbed it with the back of my hand absently, staring at my sneakers. I could feel Brian's eyes on me, but he didn't speak, and I didn't look up. The cab carried us through the noisy city streets, the only sound the honking, shouts, sirens, and din from outside, muffled by the thick windows of the cab.
When the car pulled up in front of our hotel, Brian reached through the little window and deposited a fifty dollar bill in the driver's palm before opening the door and dragging me out. It was a hearty tip, but Brian didn't wait for the change. His hand was wrapped around the waist of my shirt as he tugged me across the lobby to the elevator, as though I'd bolt away if he let go of me for even an instant.
My mind was reeling from the events of the past couple hours.
I'd never been afraid like that before. The sudden revelation that I could, maybe die that Amie had given me was terrifying. The idea was something I'd never considered. I'd just been in so many freak positions and gotten out that I'd assumed I was invincible, impossible to kill. I'd never given in to the idea that perhaps, despite the crazy recycles of my life, I was just as mortal as any one of the people whose lives I tried to save.
We reached the hotel room and Brian closed the door behind us, while I moved to the couch and sat down, knowing what was coming.
"I saw you," Brian said. He came into the living room and seated himself on the coffee table, looking into my face with a serious expression. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing, but ... I saw it, and now I want answers."
I looked up at him. "About what?"
"Nick, you took off after those thugs. You ran down that alley. There were gun shots, and then you came out, carrying that guy. What the hell happened? What got into you?"
"I- I didn't think. I just-" I stammered, searching for an answer.
"Why didn't you call the cops? Why did you go after them yourself? You could've been killed."
"Brian... I-" How could I tell him? I felt suddenly cold, and reached for the rubber band around my wrist and began snapping it loudly against the inside of my wrist, where the veins showed.
Brian reached for my hand and stopped the motion. The pain of the band cracking my skin subsided slowly. Brian's eyes bore into my own, and I knew he was searching for the sign that I was hiding something. I knew it was written all over my face.
"Please tell me the truth, Nick," he said. "Something's been bothering you and I want to help you. You're my best friend." He paused. "Did you know that guy?"
I shook my head.
"Then why did you risk your life instead of calling the police?" he asked.
"There... I... They..." I closed my eyes, my forehead screwing up. "There wasn't enough time."
"But they could've killed you," Brian said.
"No," I answered, "I mean, well, maybe. But - no, I don't know. They were going to kill him, and- I'm- I don't know if I can die, but I never thought I could until a couple weeks ago, and- well, I just... I couldn't turn a blind eye. Not knowing."
Brian looked confused. "What? Of course they could've killed you. They had guns, Nick."
"Guns have yet to kill me," I whispered.
"You've been shot at before?" he asked.
I nodded. "Yeah. Its kind of something you... tend to encounter... when you... save lives."
Brian leaned back. He'd been leaning closer and closer with each word, and like he'd suddenly realized he was too close, he pulled away. He seemed to be contemplating these words. Finally, he looked up at my face. "I'm going to be sorry for asking this, because I have a feeling it's gonna open a whole big can of worms, but... Nick, what do you mean saving lives?"
"Like... saving lives. You know, keeping people from being killed."
Brian nodded slowly. "But... how."
"I-" Here it was, the moment of truth. "I- Brian... I can... I can see time."
"See time?" He looked a little stunned by these strange words coming out of my mouth and he gave me a puzzled look. "What do you mean - you can see time? What does that mean?"
I looked at Brian's numbers, floating gracefully over his head and read them aloud: "Sixty-five, two, twenty-one, thirteen, fifty-eight...fifty-seven..."
"Your time," I said. "I can see your time."
Brian blinked absently into my eyes, then he laughed and stood up. "Jesus, Nick, you watch way too much Twilight Zone."
"Seeing time, huh? That's creative. So what? You can see how long people are gonna live or something?"
I nodded solemnly.
Brian laughed again and rubbed the back of his neck. He turned away and faced the wall, not looking at me. I let him process the concept a few moments before I spoke up. "I'm not joking Brian."
He turned to look at me, one eyebrow raised. "How long have you been able to do this?" he asked, concerned.
"Always," I answered.
"Since you were a child?"
"Well, since I was thirteen. I can't really remember anything before that."
He stared at me. "You're serious."
"Nick, we need to get you to a shrink," he said, shaking his head.
"No," I stood up, my muscles tense. "Look, Brian, I'm telling you this because I trust you not to tell anyone else. Not even AJ or Howie, okay? I know it's crazy, impossible, nuts, whatever adjective you wanna use, but I'm not making this up. I'm not crazy. I'm totally sane."
"Nick, you ran down a dark alley after a gang of thugs mugging some guy and bolted from the scene. You're trying to tell me you can see how long people have to live. You've been moping around here for weeks. I'm worried for you!"
"But you don't need to be," I said. "I'm not mental."
Brian's eyes were bright, afraid. "Nick--"
"I've been alive, as far as I can recall, since the 1800s, Brian. I've lived seventeen years of my life over and over and over and over again. I've seen a lot of shit, and I've only ever confided this into two people. Well, three, sort of."
Brian stared at me, his eyes wide.
"Brian, please. Let me explain it to you better." I motioned for Brian to sit down. He did, robotically, staring up at me, his face slowly paling. I sat down again, too. "I don't know why," I said, "But I can see numbers over peoples heads. The numbers show how long the person has left to live in years, days, hours, minutes and seconds. It counts down. Choices can change the numbers. Like if you genuinely decided to go jump off the balcony right now your numbers would change to reflect that. Therefore, I can save lives. If I see someone with low numbers and I can prevent them from meeting their appointment with death, I've altered the path and the numbers change and they live through their own death."
Brian looked perplexed, but he hadn't stood up, which encouraged me to continue talking.
"I've saved a lot of people. I have to bail the scene before I get credit for it, though, because... well, it would look weird if I was all over the place rescuing random people. wouldn't it?"
Brian nodded.
"So I do it silently, as anonymously as possible. I've saved fans and people I don't know, I've saved people I love and people I hate. There've been times when there's people I can do nothing to save, because of illnesses, like Howie's sister or AJ's grandmother. This is how I saved AJ, back in 2001," I added.
Brian looked like he was about to be sick.
"I've saved Leighanne and you before, too."
"Stopping you from leaving in the car, or boarding a plane, things like that."
Brian stared at his thumbs, twiddling in his lap.
"Do you believe me?" I asked, "Even just a little."
"Nick," he whispered, "You're asking me to believe something unbelievable."
"Yeah," I nodded, "Something impossible."
"Yeah," he said.
"But I need you to believe in me," I said.
Brian looked up at me, and was just about to say something, when the hotel room door opened and AJ, followed by Howie, came in. Howie was balancing four take-out styrofoam containers. "You missed a good meal, guys," AJ announced, patting his stomach. He beamed. Then, after the slightest pause, he glared at me. "What the fuck were you thinking doing that all back there?" he asked.
"I... wasn't," I said. I shrugged, "I just acted on impulse."
"That was frickin' sweet," AJ said, awed.
"I try," I answered.
Howie had pushed the fridge door open with his toe and was busy fitting the boxes into the fridge. "You're friggin' nuts," he announced, balancing the boxes and moving things around. He was silhouetted by the light of the fridge.
Brian was still sitting on the coffee table, looking stunned.
"Wasn't he insane, 'Rok?" AJ asked, slapping Brian on the back enthusiastically.
Brian nodded mechanically, "Yeah. Insane."
He stood up and walked away to the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
I frowned.
"What the hell is B-Rok's problem?" AJ questioned, looking at the door.
Howie came into the living room and followed AJ's gaze to the hotel room door, then looked back at me. "Did you have a fight?"
"No," I answered.
"Eh, ignore him," AJ said, waving a careless hand at the door Brian had just disappeared through, "He'll get over it. He's just got his panties in a bunch, you know?" He laughed.
"Yeah," I answered. "I guess so."