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Chapter Seventeen

"So where's this ass whoopin' you promised to bring me?" Brian taunted as he dribbled the ball around me and tossed it into the hoop, swishing the net in the dim street lamp light. He hooted and jogged after the ball as it bounced lamely to the side of the fenced in court, his breath visible in the air as he caught it and kicked it up into his arms. He grinned as she chucked it my way.

I caught the ball and tucked it under my arm, "I'm goin' easy on you, old man," I teased back. Truth be told, at that time in my life, Brian could've run circles around me and we both knew it. He was actually going pretty easy on me. I gave the ball a couple bounces. The sound of it hitting the tar below was satisfying, and the burn of the adrenaline from running had eased up some of the icy-fire in my veins from the withdrawals. I was thankful that I'd run into Brian in the hallway, even if he was beating me by a wide margin.

"Bring it, Carter," Brian chuckled and he swooped into a guard position as I dribbled about with the ball a few moments before rushing forward, turning to block him from snapping the ball away, and twisted in an attempt to push the ball into the net. He leaped up, seeming to climb the air the way he moved, and managed to swat the ball away from the net with the tips of his fingers, sending the thing rolling off under a bench that ran alongside the court.

I jogged over after it, oxygen piercing my lungs. It sucked being out of shape, I thought to myself, not being able to play ball or dance or go up and down stairs without puffing and huffin' like I was trying to blow down the houses of the three little pigs. I got to the bench and got the ball out from under and I tumbled onto the bench. "Oh Christ, time out," I called, "Shit. This was a mistake." I rolled onto my back across the bench, hugging the ball. "Oh yeah. There it is."

Brian laughed and came over and snagged the ball away and tossed it from where we were through the hoop. He grinned all cheesy at me. "Game," he announced, and he threw himself onto the bench beside me, laying down, too, so our heads met in the middle and we were staring up at the sky as the ball rolled to a stop across the court. We were in a city so the stars didn't so much show as the smog did and I stared up at the patterns of the swirls in the smoggy layer overhead, the city lights glowing off the clouds.

I took a deep breath.

"I missed this, Nick," Brian announced.

"Did you?" I asked.

"More than you know," he replied thickly.

We laid there in silence a few more moments before I said, "Brian. I'm sorry if I've hurt you."

He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry if I have hurt you," he replied.

"Can I tell ya somethin', Frick, without'cha thinkin' I'm crazy?" I asked, rolling a lil so I could look up at him.

"I already know you're crazy, Frack," he replied. His eyes were closed.

"Seriously, Bri?"

He rolled over and stared at me for a moment. "What's wrong, Nicky?" he asked, concern in his voice.

"I'm from the future."

Brian laughed and rolled over and closed his eyes.

"No really, Brian."

"Kevin said you were on about this earlier," he mumbled.

"No listen, Brian. In the year 2014, your friend Carl - you know, Carl from Kentucky, the scientist guy you know? You went to school with him?"

"Yeah I know Carl."

"He invented a time machine, Brian, and you helped me get to it and go to a different time 'cos in 2014 I'm dyin' from this liver disease 'cos I drank too much and --"

"You've got a vivid imagination boy," Brian laughed sadly, shaking his head. "Some powerful shit you're snorting these days, isn't it?" He sighed. "Nick. Please. We were having such a good night. Please don't ruin it like this."

"Brian... I swear to you I am not high, I didn't dream this, it's real."

He was quiet a long time. "Ok."

"Do you really believe me?" I asked him.

"No," he replied.

I wanted him to believe me so much. Some part of me had hoped I'd mention it to him and he'd reveal that he was actually Brian - my Brian, the one from the future. But that was just crazy. I wanted so much to make him believe, but I wasn't sure how.

We got up and he grabbed his basket ball and we headed upstairs to the hotel rooms again. Brian slid the key into the door slot. "Well... like I said, thanks fo the game, Nick," he said. He smiled and turned to look into the room. "Welcome home, right?" he laughed and started to move into the room.

"Welcome home you," I sang under my breath as I turned to go back to my own room.

Brian stopped dead and came back to the door just before it swung shut. He stared at me, squinting through the dark, "What'd you just sing?"

"Your song?" I said, stopping in the hall and glancing back.

Brian stared at me, a dumbfounded expression on his face. "But... ain't nobody has heard that yet," he said. His eyebrows cinched together.

I paused, racking my brain. It occurred to me that it was cold for June, that we were in Germany... when the hell had we been in Germany on the Never Gone tour? I tried to remember, but I wasn't sure. I'd spent the whole tour drunk, high, or both. When had Brian's CD come out? In 2006, I knew. But when? I stood there, a million questions going through my mind.

"Nick," Brian's voice was quiet, "How did you...?"

I looked up at him. "You yap at me all the time for singin' that at you. You think I'm makin' funna you but I'm not, I just can't hear the words welcome home without hearing the song." My mouth felt dry.

Brian stared at me.

"It was my birthday," I remembered. "The song came out on my birthday..." I stared down at my feet. "Shit, it's not even 2006 yet is it?"

Brian was still staring, his eyes wide.

"Carl was really off calculating where he was sending me," I muttered. I thought of Meira always saying she was early or late. "It must be hard to figure out where you're going I guess. Meira's always seeming to have trouble with timing, too." I shook my head. "He said it was June 2006."

Brian was still staring.

"What's today?" I asked.

"October 17, 2005," Brian choked the words.

"Well damn," I muttered. "We did overshoot that a tad bit, now didn't we?"