The red light was blinking on my answering machine. I'd turned my cell phone off after the fifth call I'd received from someone telling me how cool I was for what I'd done -- AJ had called twice in a forty-minute period. I couldn't help but feel hurt because the one person who I wanted to hear from most - Brian - hadn't called yet.
I hit the play button on the answering machine and started shifting through the mail I'd picked up at the post office as I half-heartedly listened to the messages, reaching up to erase them as soon as I realized they weren't important.
"This is Susan from Verizon Wireless, calling to confirm that the Blackberry World registered for account number ---" Beep.
"This message is for Nickolas. I'm calling from Lexus Motors about your recent purchase ---" Beep.
"Nick? It's Amie.
I looked up, almost dropping the mail.
"I saw the Times today. Um. I'm sorry I didn't call you before now. I'm not calling just because of the article. I've meant to call before now, I just haven't really known what to say. Look, um. I- I've done some research and stuff. I think I can answer some of your questions. At least a little bit. Um. So. Yeah. Give me a call. I'll be around. My cell number is---"
I scrambled for a pen and paper, reciting the numbers as she said them, but they got all disconbobulated in my head before I'd managed to fish a pen out of the junk drawer beside my the fridge. I hit the replay button on the machine and listened as her voice floated into the kitchen again.
"Nick? It's Amie. I saw the Times today..."
I wrote the number on my arm, like a tattoo, then stared at it. It was like a secret combination, a password, a key to answers.
I took a deep breath and reached for the phone, my finger poised over the numbers, shaking with excitement and nerves. My index finger hovered for a long minute that seemed like a century, and then I put the phone backdown on the cradle.
I stared at the number.
I was about to have all the answers I'd dreamt of having for decades and had never gotten, about to find out who - or what - I really was, and learn the secret behind the numbers that enabled me to experience life the way that I did.
It was odd.
Now that the opportunity was here to know, to be informed, I wasn't entirely sure that I wanted to know.
Knowing that I wasn't invincible had made me afraid to act in that alley the other day, I reminded myself. Would knowing the secret behind my life cycles make me broken in some other way? I was already dreading my birthday and I still had months to go.
But maybe Amie knew a way to stop it, to give me more time.
Maybe she didn't.
I felt confused and torn in a million different directions. I wished I had someone to talk to about all of it, but Claire was dead, Brian didn't believe me, and Amie, well, she was what I wanted to talk about, wasn't she?
I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote the number down on it incase it smudged during the day and stuck it with a magnet to my fridge before laying down on my sofa and staring up at the ceiling.
I dangled the arm with Amie's number written on it across my face so I could stare at the ink marks on my arm.
I must've fallen asleep.
I woke up to the sound of banging on my door.
"I'm coming," I called, groaning and struggling to sit up. The banging continued. It was a frenzied, panicked banging. "Jesus, hold your horses, I'm coming." I got to my feet, a bit wobbly from the sleep that had taken its toll on my muscles, and walked to the door, grasping furniture to balance myself with. "Jesus Christ, what the hell--" I yanked the door opened and froze.
Brian was standing on the other side, a backpack slung over one shoulder, wide-eyed but determined. He stared at me. "Hi."
"Hey." I stepped aside to let him come in.
Brian dropped the backpack by the door and walked into the apartment, looking around at the photos and paintings that I'd taken and drawn over the years. Images of places I'd been, things I'd seen. He glanced around the room, like he was seeing it for the first time. He turned to look at me, then pulled a copy of the Times - folded and smudged from use - out of the inside pocket of his jacket. He dropped it onto the counter next to where I was standing, but never peeled his eyes from me.
"I thought you were full of shit," he admitted. "I got mad because I thought God was taking away my best friend."
I wanted to say something cheesy like nothing could take me away from you but I resisted, letting him finish. Partially because I knew that wasn't true. Six months from now, I'd be gone.
"I don't understand it, I'm not even sure I believe it," he said.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled.
He took a deep breath. "I believe you, Nick."
I scratched my head.
"No, I do. I do."
Brian frowned, "You gotta understand where I'm coming from, don't you? How insane this all seems? But Nick, I know there's no way that you could just normally have saved that guy's life last week in the city AND do this if you weren't at least truly under the impression that what you told me was true. So, I may not believe IT, but I believe YOU."
"What does that mean, exactly?" I asked.
"It means I believe you think you see numbers."
"But you don't believe I DO see numbers?"
He hesitated. "I don't know what I believe."
Brian turned and walked into my living room, his head hung. I followed, rubbing my eyes with sleep and waiting for him to speak again. I didn't want to push him, and other than things like I'm telling the truth! I wasn't sure what else to say.
"There's stuff about this that doesn't add up, that doesn't make sense," he confessed, "And that's the stuff keeping me from letting go and believing you. God, I feel ridiculous even saying that."
"Like what?" I asked.
He dropped onto the sofa and pulled one of the end pillows onto his lap, hugging it into his stomach. "Like your age. You said you'd been alive since the 1800s. Nick, that's impossible. I knew you when you were thirteen."
I crossed the room and sat on the window ledge. I could feel the sun, hot on my back, and a slight breeze coming through the screen. Brian was staring at me, concerned.
"Yeah, I was thirteen when we met."
"Okay, so how does thirteen equal the 1800s?" he asked.
"Because I turned thirteen on January 28, 1993."
"But on January 27, 1993, I was 29."
Brian stared at me.
"You just... became... thirteen?" he stammered.
"I go to bed 29, and wake up 13. The same way I normally go to bed and wake up not 22 but 23, or not 27 but 28. Except something happens at midnight, and instead of waking up 30, I wake up 13."
Brian seemed to be processing this information. I knew what his mind was doing - the math - and I knew what was coming. I felt sick and cold and hot all at once. He looked up at me, his eyes frightened, and I knew he'd gotten there. "So on January 28," he said slowly, letting the question die in his mouth.
"On January 28, 2010, I'll wake up 13."
"No." Brian shook his head. "No, thats impossible." A breath escaped him that could've been mistaken as a laugh.
"It happens every time," I said, impossible or not.
Brian's face was pale. He jumped up and rushed into the bathroom, the door not quite closing behind him. I could hear him retching into the toilet and I frowned. I hadn't meant to make him sick. I looked at my feet while Brian continued throwing up in the bathroom, and rubbed the carpet with my toe.
It took a long time before Brian came back out, a damp face cloth pressed to his mouth. "Can't you stop it?" he asked.
"I dunno," I confessed.
Brian looked like he was still somewhere between fully believing me, and thinking I was a nutter. He sat back down on the couch, the cloth clutched in his hands, and stared at me.
"I dunno what to say, Bri," I confessed. "I don't know much more about it all than what I've already told you. That's why I'm waiting for Amie to call. Or, I was. She left a message on my machine after she saw the Times article."
Brian looked confused. "Amie? That girl you met in New Hampshire?"
"What's she got to do with this?" he asked.
"She can see time too," I answered. "But she seems to know others like us, or something. Which I don't. I've never found anyone who can see time before. Amie's the first."
"Is this why you've been down lately?" Brian asked suddenly.
A lump rose in my throat as a mental image of Claire danced inside me. I looked at Brian and felt the rims of my eyes burn just a little with threatened tears. "There was this girl..."
"No. Her name was Claire."
"Claire?" Brian's eyebrows were pinched together, trying to follow me.
"Claire was... special. I loved her, treasured her, even. I met her in 1958. I saved her brother from a riptide."
He looked faintly skeptical, but at this point I felt like I couldn't stop.
"We were in love. Passionately in love."
"For seventeen years?" Brian whispered.
"Sixteen. I was 14 when we met."
"She died a couple weeks ago. I went to see her at the hospital, because I knew she was close."
Brian's face crumpled ever so slightly. I knew what he was imagining. If it had been Leighanne... I turned away, looking out the window. Finally he asked, "Couldn't you have saved her?"
"No," I said. "She was sick. Cancer." I felt a tear escape my eye - one, single tear - and run across my cheek to the laugh lines at my lip. It sat there a moment until I swiped it away with the back of my palm. I was thankful to be back-to Brian, so he couldn't see the tears leaking out of me. I stared at a great white cloud that was hanging over the parking garage across the street. "I was there," I added, "As she died."
"I'm sorry, Nick," Brian whispered.
"She was the only other one I've ever told about -- this."
"She must've been special," he said. "I wish I could've met her."
"You did. You just didn't know it," I answered. "She came to a couple shows. She- she claimed to be my grandmother." I sucked in a great gulp of oxygen and rubbed the tears off my face before turning to look at Brian. "It sounds funny," I confessed, "But... it was the hardest thing I'd ever done. Pretending she was nothing more than that to me. It was always hard, when she took on new roles in my life."
It seemed ludicrous, that was the word, not hard, because I'd looked at her and still desired her, still wanted her with all of my heart, yet could not have her. Despite the years and the age and the wrinkles and the fading hair and eyes, she'd always been - forever - my Claire.