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Chapter Eighteen

Brian's bed was littered with empty Mountain Dew bottles, M&M wrappers, and chip sacks. He sat cross-legged, leaning against the headboard with a pillow across his lap, and I laid across the end on my back, chip crumbs on my chest, my fingers all greasy. Outside, the sun was coming up over the city, turning the smog orange and purple. Brian was staring out at it. "I can't believe this," he said, shaking his head.

I'd just finished describing the time machine to him.

He took the last sip out of the bottle of Dew he was holding and tossed it into the pile of empties we'd gone through already. "It's just one of them things, you know? You joke about it, and you see movies about it, and you think about how cool it'd be if it existed, but you don't ever really believe that - that it could really be, you know?" he asked. He leaned back, looked up at the ceiling, "Damn... damn."


"So what all happens in the future?" he asked, "Are you allowed to tell me?"

"I dunno, I don't know if there's like rules or anything. I don't think so. Well." I paused. "Maybe. Meira says sometimes that she can't tell us things."

"Who is Meira?" Brian asked.

I took a deep breath. "Meira's this... this girl. She's from even my future. She said she came back from --- I think she said 2022. In the year she came from, she's my wife and I sent her back to me to tell me to come back here, but she couldn't tell me why."

"Your wife?" Brian sounded incredulous, "You get married? Way to go, Nicky." Brian grinned.

"I know, even in 2014 I ain't thinkin' bout gettin' no married and yet... there she is. She showed up on Aaron's birthday just as my liver was gettin' real bad and --" I shook my head. "I dunno, I ain't ever seen her before then, and she showed up a couple times, then one day she comes in my hospital room like a month after I first met her and she informs me she has a message and I see she's got my gramma's rings on -- and she reluctantly tells me who she is and I didn't believe her. Then you called. And you've got the time machine and you want me to go cos you think I'ma be healed in the future."

"Are you?"

"Am I what?"

"Healed? In the future?"

I thought about what he was saying. "No I mean you thought I was going to the future and that they would heal me there."

Brian bit his lip. "Are you dying?"

I nodded. "Unless I can fix this all now."

Brian blinked and looked away.

"It'd be nice," I said, "To fix it all and wake up in the future better," I mused. "To have never gone through all the shit like I've been... there's so much shit I've always said I'd undo if I could turn back time."

"Me too," Brian agreed, nodding. "But it kinda feels like we're undoing some of it right now," he added, looking pointedly at me.

I nodded. "This was something I wanted to fix, too," I replied, waving at the space between us.

Brian smiled.

"You know even when I treat you like shit you're still my best friend, Brian," I said, "And I'm sorry, deep down."

"Me too," Brian answered.

"I know," I replied. And I did because Brian showed up at the hospital when I was sick, after Meira brought me there from the club at Aaron's party. He got in his car and he drove so fast he got a speeding ticket somewhere south of Nashville. He got from Atlanta to the hospital within four hours, and when he came in the door he'd had that wild look of fear, of desperation, that only people who are at the hospital for someone they care about can wear and that look had turned into guilt, a guilt that only comes when you realize how afraid you were to lose someone that you'd taken for granted as years had passed by.

"So. Do we make it to twenty years?" Brian asked.

"Yeah," I said, nodding, "We do. The best damn way possible, too," I added, thinking of how great it was standing on the boulevard with the star to be added to the Walk of Fame. I thought about how warm the sun felt and the tears that threatened to burn my eyes out even after I bragged I wasn't gonna cry and how AJ had slid me the fifty bucks I won discreetly behind Kevin when he did start crying before he even started his speech... I thought about how good it was to have Kevin back in the band and how it'd felt like coming home and being reborn somehow, like a second chance.

Like I had now.

"It's really great," I said. "The 20th."

Brian smiled. "So we're all still friends then."

"We are," I nodded.

"So Kevin doesn't really leave the band like he's saying he's going to?" Brian was hopeful. "Kevin's there? At the 20th?"

My throat burned. "Well," I said. "Hopefully... Hopefully he won't leave this time."

Brian's eyebrows ducked in concern, "You mean... you mean he's not there? How can that possibly count as a 20th anniversary without Kevin?"

"Well... he's there, it's just... he's back," I answered. I wasn't sure how much was too much to tell Brian, but his face was so concerned I rambled on, "We did a couple albums without him. A couple tours. I needed some time to clean up, you know, because that's why he left. Because of me. And I took alla that time to realize I was treating myself like shit and I got a heart problem and --" I rubbed my chest. I probably already had that, I thought, remembering how tight my chest had felt playing ball.

Brian's eyes were wide.

"But he comes back, though," I said.

"But if we do a CD... who does all the stuff Kevin usually does? Who handled all the contracts and the business planning and the production research and all the stuff Kevin usually does?" he looked concerned.

I licked my lips. "Well.. me," I answered.

Brian laughed.

"What? I did. I learned a lot about the business. I had to without Kevin there."

"You're not joking," Brian's eyes turned from laughter to surprise. "You did?"

"Yeah. Don't sound so surprised."

"Well I am so surprised," Brian said. "Impressed maybe is more the word."

"We did pretty good, considering," I said, still feeling a little defensive.

Brian puckered out his lower lip, "Sounds like you really grew up a lot when Kevin left."

"Yeah," I nodded, "It was like when a kid has to leave his dad and go learn how to be a man himself, kinda. Before, I kinda leaned on Kev too much, always expected him to clean up my shit after me, but then he left and there wasn't nobody there to clean up my shit and I had to do it myself and it was kinda sink or swim. I grew up a lot cos of that." I paused. The words kinda sinking into my brain.

I bit my lips.

What would happen if I stopped Kevin from leaving? I wondered. When would I learn to grow up? Would I still learn all the shit about production that I'd learned before? Would I ever have the motivation to clean up?

I pushed the thoughts out of my head. It hurt too much when he walked away, I told myself. I'd stop him this time and I'd just... I'd make myself do those things anyways. I'd make myself grow up even with Kevin there and we'd all be happier because we'd never have been a fractured mess like we'd been for those Kevin-less years.

After all, this was my second chance. This was how I was gonna make things right for the future. This is what the message was all about, wasn't it? Making it all right?