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Chapter Ten

I couldn't help but keep glancing over at Brian as he drove north from my house towards the city, towards the state line, towards Kentucky and Carl and the Time Machine and the future and everything we were about to encounter. He'd catch me looking and he'd smile all cheesy and unsuspecting and in a way that he thought was reassuring because he thought that I was nervous or something. But really, I was more worried about how he'd get along after, how he'd end up picking up the pieces when life as he knew it fell apart.

Knowing the future, I realized, was a huge responsibility. Knowing how something was gonna turn out put this unspeakable pressure on you to make it stop before it could happen. Knowing without saying anything, just letting events take place because that's how it's supposed to be is a heavy burden, I realized, and I glanced at Meira in the mirror on the visor as she sat in the backseat, staring out the window at the passing fields and trees and buildings on either side of the road.

Maybe, I thought to myself, a Time Machine is a dangerous invention. Maybe a Time Machine isn't something we humans should take as lightly as we do in sci-fi stories and in our imaginations. I mean, think about it. Given the opportunity, how many things would we go back and change? How many of those things that we most desire to change in our past are the very things that molded and shaped us into who we are, the very things that make us strong? What if we changed all that and time just unraveled, like a knit sweater where one string pulls loose and the next thing you know it's all just coming undone, everything changing, shifting, falling into new places. What if we change one thing and everything that we've ever said and known and done and felt and thought becomes completely different? What if we change one thing and poof, we've never been born at all?

But the thought of how colossal time was, and how dangerous it was to alter it, it occurred to me that my future self was playing it awful loose, sending Meira back in time to tell me some message that could potentially rewrite all of history without so much as telling her why or what it would do if she told me what she had been sent to tell me. Why didn't I do it myself? I should have. Future-me sounds like a cavalier asshole with a huge ego to think that all of history was worth altering just for the sake of my future.


Unless there was some reason why I couldn't tell myself. Some reason I didn't know about.

Like maybe the Time Machine doesn't work to cure me.

Like maybe I'm dying anyway.

I caught Meira's eyes in the mirror and she smiled up at me, her eyes twinkling. I took a deep breath and ran my hands across my knees.

"So what year in the future are you from?" Brian asked conversationally.

Meira licked her teeth before answering, "2022."

"Eight years. Wow." Brian glanced at me. "Eight years."

"Yeah," I said.

"What's it like? Any flying cars?"

"They developed one but it's not on the market really," Meira shrugged. "To be honest, it's not really all that much different."

"What iOS does your phone operate on?" I asked.

"iOS?" Meira laughed. "Please."

I looked at Brian, then back at her. "What?"

"iOS is sooo -- well, 2015. In 2018 they rolled out iLife. It's a wrist band. Makes calls, is voice-operated primarily, has a pull-out screen that folds like it's made of cloth or something. It's pretty cool. Everyone uses them. They come in like 7 colors. We're on iLife 4.12."

"That sounds fucking insanely awesome," I said. "Like James Bond." I grinned, eager. "Dude, I cannot wait to get my hands on one of those."

"You should wait 'til they come out with the two. The first one annoyed the shit out of you. You broke like four of them out of sheer aggravation."

"Thanks for the tip," I said, grinning.

Brian took a deep breath and before he even opened his mouth I knew he was about to ask his question. I closed my eyes. "Meira... I understand if you can't tell me the answer to this but... my wife and I... are we... still together?"

Meira looked down at her knees, "You and Leighanne you mean?"

"Who else?" Brian asked.

Meira hesitated.

I glanced over at Brian. His knuckles were pale as he clutched the steering wheel. "I'm remarried?" he asked, voice a quiver. "What's - what's her name?"

Meira shrugged, "There's some things I can't tell y'all," she said.

Brian bit his lips and I could see the faintest hint of tears in his eyes as he stared straight ahead as he drove on. And this was exactly the sort of thing that could make the time machine dangerous, I thought. Things like Meira telling Brian and me the future, things like Brian not wanting things to end with Leighanne. What if the wrong person got a hold of the machine and went back and stopped major historical events? Maniacally or not, they could fuck up a whole lot of lives - maybe even in an attempt to save a life, they could actually ruin millions more. And suddenly I went from being a disbeliever in the time machine to not only being a believer to questioning the ethics of the whole thing.

Where do you draw the line? I wondered. What things are okay to change and what things create a ripple effect that'll alter the course of everything? Whose lives was it okay to save and whose deaths were written indelibly in the history of mankind for a reason? Was mine one of them?

The rest of the ride to Kentucky was pretty quiet. When we got about an hour over the TN/KY border, Brian steered off the road to fill up the gas tank at a station overlooking the interstate. The exit had pretty much nothing else off it except farm land, a few cows, and a billboard for an adult bookstore. Brian shook his head in disapproval at the sign as he got out to pump the gas and Meira and I went into the little convenience store.

We were standing back by the drink coolers and I was debating between juice and chocolate milk when Meira asked, "So this is the first time we've met for you, right?"

"Mhm," I answered, opting for juice.

"What do you think of me?" she asked, "Do you like me?" She was wringing her hands in front of her, a nervous expression on her face. I couldn't help but laugh. "What? It's not funny, I'm serious," she said, pouting.

"You know how everything turns out," I said. "How do you no know if I like you or not?"

Her eyes were burning as they stared into mine, "Because there's something different about you. Something... something I can't explain. You aren't the Nick I know and..." she took a deep breath. "I just... a part of me has always been afraid of this, of what we're doing somehow changing you, making you... making you less you." She shifted foot to foot. "I'm just afraid if you don't like me now that you won't wanna... you know... end up with me." She shrugged. "I'm afraid you'll not come meet me the first time."

I shrugged, "But I already came for you or you wouldn't be here."

"A past you came for me. You're a new you. You have the power to rewrite it all."

"That is so confusing."

"Well? Do you?"

I stopped halfway to the front of the store by a display of small bags of chips. I picked up a couple bags of Cool Ranch Doritos and took a deep breath. "Yeah," I said. I said it the way a twelve year old boy commits to liking a girl on the playground by the swing set. I said it in a way that said I wasn't sure. I said it in a way that made her look more nervous than she had before I ever said a word.

"I don't know you," I said, my voice a little whiney. "I don't dislike you, Meira, but I don't know you yet. You said I did this to you? So you know what it's like, when you suddenly have someone that's in your life that loves you so completely but you don't even hardly know'em. You know what it's like to be on this end." I chewed on the inside of my lower lip a moment, thinking. "But I'm gonna get to know you when we meet and when I do... I'm gonna love you."

Meira's voice was quiet, "You already loved me when we met."

I took a deep breath. I didn't know how to fix it. I didn't think there was a way without a miracle occurring.

I paid for the drinks and chips and we went back out to the car. Brian was just finishing gassing up and was tapping the hose nozzle against the tank rim. He looked up as we came over and Meira climbed right into the car without a word. He glanced at her as the door closed behind her, then looked to me. "Everything... okay?" he asked.

I nodded and got into the car, too.

She was sitting in the backseat with a worried look on her face.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Yeah," she replied.

"It's not gonna change anything," I said.

"You don't know that," she answered.

I sighed. She was right. I didn't.

Brian got back into the front seat and rubbed his hands together, blowing between them to warm up. "G'Lord," he shuddered, "It's mighty cold out there, ain't it?" He looked over at me, and then back at Meira, then back at me. "Lil chilly in here, too," he muttered. He reached for his seatbelt and strapped himself in.

Meira looked over at me. "I'm afraid you don't know what you could lose," she said.

"So why didn't I come back and tell myself then, huh?" I asked. "If you're so worried I'm gonna mess it up, that I'm gonna lose you," I said, "Why give me the message at all? Why not just rig it all so you get me exactly the way you want? I'd never know the difference."

Brian was staring in the rearview mirror at her face, his eyebrows cinched together in concern.

Meira shook her head and looked back out the window.