Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Scifi

I - Anomaly

Chapter I – Anomaly

“An odd, peculiar, or strange condition, situation, quality, etc.”

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Date: Friday, October 13, 2006

Location: Sarasota Square Mall, Sarasota, Florida

Age: 35 (Current)

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I

I was ready to leave, but there was nowhere for me to go.

Rose Centeno sat across from me at one of the many food court tables in the Sarasota Square Mall food court. A steel table painted white and not very well maintained. A simple push or pull across the tile floor would produce a screech loud enough to cause unwarranted attention. There could be no better euphemism for the current situation.

The moment of truth was finally upon us.

Rose shifted in her seat with visible discomfort. As well she should be. She woke me from a deep sleep with a phone call shortly after 7 AM to cancel our lunch date. She also took the liberty of ending our relationship in more words than probably necessary. Her reasons were cryptic and unsatisfying. Rose concluded the brief conversation by casually informing me there would be no reason for us to have further contact. I said some sarcastic thing and hung up on her. I needed that last word. I felt if she intended on ending our short but intense relationship with reasons I didn’t believe were her own, then she would have no choice but to do it face to face. She may have considered our lunch date canceled. I did not.

I arrived at the Sarasota Square Mall food court as originally planned. I watched Rose from afar like the scorned lover I was. I expected her to meet someone else or retreat into the ‘employee only’ management offices per her earlier excuse. She said something about an emergency meeting and the need to bring lunch with her. Come and see for yourself, she said after I challenged the authenticity of her explanation. Did she truly believe I wouldn’t call her bluff? Or did she know I would come expecting - or wanting - a showdown?

Rose confirmed her lies when she took a solitary seat in the food court with her meal. That’s when I made my move. I purchased one thin crust slice of dried out, over ‘heat lamped’ goodness that passed for Sbarro’s mushroom pizza and a small Dr. Pepper. I knew I wouldn’t be eating this meal. It was all for show. With the completed order sitting upon a florescent orange serving tray, I took an expected seat at the rickety steel table across from Ms. All High ’n Mighty Rose Centeno.

I dressed in an outfit Rose once expressed as sexy. Blue jeans, a white-collar shirt, and a black sports jacket. Foolishly, I believed the amalgamation might somehow help the situation and cause Rose to look upon me with more favor.

How wrong I was.

After some indifferent small talk, we got it on.

“What do you want?” She finally asked. I could barely comprehend the tone in her voice. I’d never heard such condescension from her lips before. Those tender lips that formed one of the most beautiful smiles I’d ever seen.

“I want to know what the hell happened to you. Everything was fine with you – with us - until a few weeks ago. Then you pulled a complete one eighty on me. Now you act like we’re complete strangers. What happened, Rose? Do you even remember the world we create when we’re together? Was that a lie too? Did I imagine the whole thing?”

“No, you didn’t,” she said begrudgingly. “Things change, Kevin. Dennis’ mother called me and pushed me to give him another chance.”

Pushed, indeed! I thought bitterly. Here it is. That cheating bastard’s old bag of a mother emotionally blackmailed her.

Dennis was Rose’s estranged husband. He thought himself a master manipulator. Shortly after they wed, Dennis cheated on her with his best man’s wife. Assuming Rose told the truth, his betrayal occurred a little over six months ago and five months before Rose and I met, although I didn’t know that at the time. Rose led me to believe their estrangement was much longer with a divorce in the near future. Divorce eventually became impending divorce, which eventually became a separation. Funny how lies work that way.

I looked down at the change from my lunch purchase. One quarter, two dimes, and three pennies were scattered about the surface of the serving tray. I picked up the quarter and began fiddling with it. Rose noticed amid the uncomfortable silence. She shook her head. Some things never change, it said. A nod toward the nervous habit I entertain when stress is nigh. She’d witnessed it from me several times before, usually during her tales of Dennis’ deception.

“He cheated on you,” I said, pointing out the obvious. “What makes you think he won’t do it again?”

“I don’t know. I cheated on him too.”

I felt my jaw drop and eyebrows rise simultaneously. “What? That was after the fact!” I slammed the quarter onto the tray. “He was already moved out and living with his new girlfriend, yeah?”

“I guess that makes him and me even.” Rose didn’t look up from the tray where the quarter now rested. She deliberately avoided eye contact with me. It’s one of her weaknesses. Even worse, it’s also one if mine. Rose turned thirty-eight years of age a few weeks back. It didn’t change the feeling as if I was conversing with a fickle high school teenager. One who didn’t have the wherewithal to handle a relationship, much less the willpower to keep her legs closed past the first date.

“Do you know how absurd that sounds?” I asked. :You said you loved me! What the fuck was that about? Another lie?”

“I only said that to make you feel better,” she said, her voice laced with disdain.

Another crack formed in my already broken heart. Pain bled out and began dripped deep within my chest. It felt worse than any pain I could remember. Anger began to set in. I knew this was all wrong. Anger typically isn’t the first step in my grieving process. It’s closer to the last. Whatever caused me to see angry red first in Rose’s case, I do not know. Something was different this time. Whatever the reason, the looming anger suggested coming events may not play out so well as anger and I don’t play so well together.

I picked up the quarter again and began doing the trick of flipping it over and across my knuckles and then back again. A simple trick I picked up in high school, when boredom ruled my world. Rose ignored the trick she once declared as, ’the fucking coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

My, my, how far have we come inside a day, Rose? What’s next? Seduce my ex-wife into your bed? She’d do it, you know. Key my Corvette and dump a pound of sugar into the gas tank? Who in the hell are you Rose Centeno? Who are you really?

“But I really loved you,” I said in a coarse whisper. I struggled to hold back tears I didn’t want her to see. My fists balled up in anger beneath the table. “And you lie to me? Did you tell me the truth about anything?”

Her eyes darted to meet mine for a moment. She flashed a weak smile. “I do think you’re an awesome dad.”

Awesome dad, I bitterly repeated in my head. The phrase had been one of her more frequent compliments in a series designed to placate my ego.

“You’ll make someone very happy someday,” she added. “It just won’t be me.” I felt my jaw drop again. Somewhere inside me, a dam burst. The tear streaming silently down my face was the overflow. Her cold and callous demeanor left me speechless.

Rose picked up her plate of pizza and walked away. She headed toward the glass door leading into the mall’s operations office where she worked, where I couldn’t follow.

I watched her go. I watched her walk away.

Fond memories of her flooded my consciousness. Only now, they were painful splinters embedded in my memory. Ones I couldn’t pick out. Time might eventually push them out but who could say how long that would take.

II

“Don’t we make a beautiful couple?” Rose asks. We look at ourselves in her foyer mirror. My face is next to hers as I hold her from behind. Her arms are atop mine. Her beautiful long brown hair brushes up against my short blonde locks. Her milk chocolate brown eyes twinkle. I smile. How I love her.

I blinked out the memory only to have it replaced by another.

We stand on an isolated section of Clearwater beach, holding hands as the salty gulf air blows. The lazy, fire orange Florida sun is setting over the Gulf of Mexico. Rose reveals to me as I kiss her naturally tan skin that this spot on the beach is her favorite place to go. She claims to have shared it with only one other person, her ex-husband, and he ‘never appreciated it.’

She said ‘ex-husband’, didn’t she? Only that wasn’t exactly right. There hadn’t yet been a divorce. One of many lies I wouldn’t discover until the end of the relationship drew closer.

Then there was the lovemaking. Sweet Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. What spectacular acts were they?

Lovemaking? My mind asked bitterly. That word would be an incorrect definition of those particular acts as remembered, yeah? After all, lovemaking requires love, doesn’t it? I’d have no choice but to remember those days and nights with Rose as straight forward ‘fucking’. According to Rose, love was never part of the equation. Still, when we were together in that way, the feelings, the emotions, the circumstances, I could never find the words to do a single one of them justice. We created our own private world and became lost there as we stared deep into each other’s eyes.

A long faded memory of the only other woman in my life who reached into me the way Rose had filled my mind. Becca Saccarelli, standing in her parent’s backyard on a chilly September night blows me a kiss and waves goodbye. I never saw her again after that night. That was fifteen years ago in 1991. After Becca was gone, I never thought I’d love another the way I did her. We were only together a month before her dictator parents split us apart. Becca and her soul capturing green eyes, telling me she loved me in ways words can never describe. It was magic. She was magic.

I smiled ever so slightly remembering the face of my one true soul mate. Rose’s image quickly wiped that memory away. I frowned. Anger began to rise once more. I looked into Rose’s eyes, night after night. Why did I not see her deception? Did I know all along and not want to admit it? Was she that good?

I didn’t know. I’d probably never know. She wouldn’t explain herself in the few attempts I made to extract an answer from Rose before this day.

I do have a theory and it is thus: Seduction.

I went underground after my divorce in 2003. I stayed away from members of the opposite sex. I felt if were to go out into the world and date so soon after my own marital demise, I would be apt to use some poor unsuspecting woman as a rebound in some weak attempt to bring myself pleasure at the cost of her emotions. Assuming I’d be capable of such a dastardly deed. Maybe I never tried believing the guilt would eat me up.

Then in 2006, it would be my bad luck that my first foray into a new relationship would involve a woman seducing me into her bed to make her self feel better. Now she’s tossing me away like a worthless old paint can.

This is my reward for practicing and continued belief in chivalry.

III

I sat at the table ins shock. Tears rolled down my face after Rose disappeared into the mall administrative offices. I dropped the quarter I’d been squeezing the life out of onto the table and buried my face in my hands. Behind them, I felt my teeth clench in anger. I acknowledged the cracking sound in my jaw as my teeth ground against one another. Pulsing blood rushed through the veins in my neck. The force brought flashes of dull white light from my peripheral vision.

I sat up straight. My mortal remains flopped over and onto the food court table. Its uneven legs provided a loud screeeech as it moved out of position. The coins on the lunch tray bounced out of their places. The quarter on the table jumped once. It decided to undertake the additional measure of falling off the table and onto the dirty tiled floor.

“Fuck,” I muttered. Out of all those coins, it had to be the quarter to fall. It was really the only coin worth keeping. I rocked back and forth while listened to the dull chunk of the table’s uneven legs as they hit the floor.

I was so ready to leave. Still, there was nowhere to go.

’You know what needs to be done here,’ a voice in my head proposed. A voice not my own. It was that of my father, speaking to me from deep within my mind. ‘If you go somewhere, that pig bitch should go too. Go to your car. You know what’s out there in the trunk. You brought it with you for this very thing! She’ll get that message loud and clear.’

The tone of that old bastard’s voice made me shiver. Goose bumps crawled up the base of my spine. I’d not heard that voice in some fifteen years. Even now, as an adult, it horrified me.

‘What exactly with that accomplish? Huh?’ Another voice replied. I closed my eyes as I pressed my forehead on the cold steel table. I was now a living embodiment of a cartoon character in moral dilemma. On my left shoulder, the proverbial red devil stood with his bent pitchfork. His goal is instant gratification at any cost. A more than apt construct of the father I once knew. On the right, the white angel with her archetypal glowing halo warns me of the consequences, differentiating between right and wrong. She is the obvious paradigm of my mother. The arguing constructs were my parents, the set of people in a child’s life from which they learn their sense of right and wrong.

I leaned over the side of the table to pick up the fallen quarter. As I sat up, I witnessed the most spectacular red headed women hurriedly walking along side the food court with another fellow. I thought I’d seen her lingering in the food court earlier as I stood in line at Sbarro’s Pizza contemplating what to say to Rose.

I chuckled as she and her companion disappeared from sight. Lucky bastard.

My father’s voice called out of the depths of my psyche, ’You stupid fuck up. Pretty or not, she’s still a selfish cunt. If you were lucky enough to get near her, she would use you the same way Rose did. Like your ex-wife did, and all your other little whore girlfriends going back to that Christina Buchanan girl; the little girl who stole your cherry.’

I looked back toward the glass door in which Rose retreated. The foreboding big black letters spelling MANAGMENT meant I couldn’t follow. No matter what little fantasy played out in my head, Rose wouldn’t reappear out that door and fall into my arms at the 11th hour claiming she was so sorry and we would live happily ever after.

‘Here’s an idea, you dumb ass child: Go to your car, do what you need to do there and give Ms. All-High-and-Mighty a choice. Maybe this time she’ll do as you want.’

Even though she wasn’t there, I could feel my mother’s disapproving look.

‘Go ahead Kevin; end up in jail if it suits you!’

‘Jail?’ The ugly voice of my father broke out in laughter. How I had hated his laugh. A phony bellow would roll out of his mouth at the most simple of things. It made me sick to hear it again. ’Fuck you, communist pig bitch. Where we’ll take Ms. All-High-and-Mighty, there won’t be any way to follow or come back.

A small grin crept across my mouth. That curse-laden phrase was one of my father’s favorite insults. How I amazed some of my childhood friends when repeating the same phrase at the tender age of six after hearing it come from the lips of my father the night before.

’For crying out loud Kevin, you have a son who needs you! What of him?’

I started fiddling with the quarter again, thinking, contemplating, planning.

The white angel was correct. What would happen to my son? His mother had become a selfish, gold-digging, highly paid swinging whore over the last few years. Would she be his only role model if I were gone?

’He’s only six,’ my father suggested with crass carelessness. ’He’ll forget all about you in a few years. What good are you to him anyway? You’ll fuck up his life too.’

White angel persisted. ’Your precious ‘little man’ would be heartbroken without you. You are his rock. He comes to you when he can’t stand his mother. You KNOW THIS! Son, please don’t do this. It’s not worth it. She’s not worth it.’

I sighed as I doubtfully looked down at the quarter in the palm of my hand.

“And you, ’O Well Traveled Coin? What fine advice do you have for me this miserable Friday afternoon?”

The coin replied.

IV

I stared at the coin in sheer disbelief. What I was seeing was impossible.

It’s a fake. It has to be!

I looked up from the table. Doing so sent the steel chair back with an aching screeching noise. I scoped the activity around me in quick paranoid gestures. People bustled about from kiosk to kiosk in an attempt to decide what bad mall food to eat for lunch. Kiosk merchants filled orders as fast as they could. Random mall patrons walked idly. Some blabbered endlessly into their cell phones caring little about the annoyances they imposed on others with their louder-than-necessary voices. Others stopped to look inside any given store as they coveted things they knew they couldn’t afford.

I looked back down at the quarter. I wasn’t sure why I suddenly felt so paranoid. Was this some sort of practical joke? Would I catch giggling participants mocking my surprise thus leading to my eventual humiliation?

I stood up and looked around for the closest person. If someone else could verify what I was seeing then I would know I wasn’t hallucinating from stress or heartbreak.

A kiosk specializing in cell phones and cell phone accessories stood toward the middle of the food court. It was the kiosk closest to me. A young man sat behind the counter carelessly flipping through an issue of Rolling Stone. He would be the one to confirm my find.

I scooped up the rest of the loose change, shoved the coins into my back pocket, and walked carefully toward my destination.

“Do you see this?” I asked the scruffy looking kid sitting behind the kiosk counter. He looked to be nineteen, give or take. Even with his barely shaven face and tousled hair, he attempted to portray himself as a professional salesperson. It was probably the geeky glasses that helped pull of the charade.

His eyes moved away from the magazine and to the coin lying in my palm. After a brief moment, his eyes darted up to meet mine. “It’s a quarter?”

I narrowed my eyes at his sarcasm. “Thanks for stating the obvious, Sherlock. Look closer.”

He adjusted his glasses to compensate for an obvious case of far-sightedness and gave the quarter a closer read. He looked back to me in doubt. His face asked, are you putting me on?

“It’s a novelty coin?” He reached out to take the quarter for closer inspection. Instinctively, I pulled it away. I didn’t want him to have it. I didn’t want anyone to have it.

Beware of strangers who come as friends, as someone once told me.

He jerked his head back as if to say, Well excuse the piss out of me, friend. Summarily, he shrugged me off.

Why was I surprised? Of course he thought the coin wasn’t real. What were the odds of casually stumbling across a coin that shouldn’t yet exist? To wit, a United States Maryland state quarter stamped with the mint year of 2025. In addition, how odd was it the coin represented the state of Maryland, the same state in which I spent the first two decades of my life.

No, if this coin turned out to be real, it would be a find of epic proportion.

Maybe I didn’t need to leave after all. There might be somewhere else to go after all.

Forget Rose and storming into her office to settle the score. This thing here? This quarter insisting it comes from the year 2025? This is much more interesting!

“Hey man, is there anything else you need?” The kid shattered the assemblage of my thoughts. He held his arms out, suggesting if there was no further business to conduct then I should move along.

“No, forget it.” I hurried off to a corner seat at the far end of the sparsely crowded food court. I would be alone at this remote table. I could gawk in privacy. Closer observation and examination of the coin revealed no cheap plastic facsimile. It felt real in its texture, its weight, and its edging. As impossible as the situation may be, my gut feeling was resolute. I was holding a real quarter from the year 2025.

I rammed my fingers into my back pocket to withdraw the remaining coins. I wanted to check for additional future dated money. It came as no surprise they all fell within this year of 2006 or earlier. A check of the remaining bills in my wallet produced the same. This mysterious ‘FutureQuarter’ from 2025? It was the sole exception.

Every thought I had always seemed to come back to the same question. How did this coin find its way into 2006?

Could I attempt to track the coin back to the individual who last used it or lost it? There might mean meeting a bona fide time traveler. Oh, the questions I would have!

The loose change I carried originated from Sbarro’s Pizza courtesy the pimply faced kid working the cash register. I paid for lunch in cash and left the coin change on the serving tray. I stopped to realize the futility of the situation. In all likelihood, the coin has probably changed hands tens, hundreds, or thousands of times before today. Money changes hands so often. I frowned. Now what?

I stared out the skylight window embedded in the ceiling of the food court. I witnessed a freak flash of lightning among the puffy white cumulus clouds scattered across the blue Florida sky. I tightened my lips and squint my eyes in anticipation of the thunder that typically follows.

Nothing came.

As I returning to my default composure, I concluded that perhaps somewhere in the adjacent parking lot, a mercury vapor lamp lost control in its final throes of life.

I looked at the quarter again. I didn’t want to believe it could be a fake. After my miserable divorce and the heart stomping experience known as Rose Centeno, I really needed some new adventure to embark upon that wasn’t part of the doldrums my life had become over the last few years. Perhaps FutureQuarter was to be the doctor ordered adventure. The prescription? Locate the coin’s original owner. Find out what his story is.

The next obstacle in my quest would be credibility. Who would possibly believe my find or me? How could I prove the quarter was real? Doing so would bring me one step closer to answering the age-old question science fiction geeks have posed and theorized amongst one another since men could ask such questions. Is time travel possible?

The coin in my hand provided part of the answer, but sometimes answers invite more questions. Merely proving time travel exists would certainly pose other questions. For example, going back in time would most certainly create paradoxes. Everyone knows the primary paradox question: What happens if one goes back in time and kills his or her parents?

With no parents, the killer is never born. So if the killer is never born, how did he go back in time to commit the act? If the killer doesn’t go back in time and kill his parents, then the parents meet, fall in love, and have their future time traveling murderer.

What would be the repercussions of that?

Any run of the mill science fiction author might explain it away by claiming that since the killer’s actions never happened, the whole thing resets right back to where everything belongs. Parents meet, child is born, and the cycle begins all over again. Writers know this as ‘The Reset Button’. It’s a cheap plot device bankrupting the end of many a great story.

I prefer the new or alternate timeline theories. For example, what happens to the current timeline if past events are changed? Does it cease to exist? Is the parricidal psychopath who went back in time to kill his parents ever able to come back to the world he left? Does it go on without him? In short, paradoxes such as these should make time travel all but impossible without the multi-universe theory. ‘FutureQuarter’ however, suggests different.

I looked over at the Sbarro’s Pizza kiosk in the center right of the food court. The hint of an early lunch rush began when I stepped in line behind three other people at Sbarro. I sighed as I attempted to remember them in detail. When waiting for service at a fast food kiosk in a busy mall, how often does one pay detailed attention to other patrons? Not very often, I’d venture, unless one is admiring an attractive member of the opposite sex. It’s a habit I’ve been guilty of in the past.

I closed my eyes and attempted to concentrate on the man directly in front of me. He’d been completely nondescript. Nothing about him stuck out or made him memorable even in some obscure way. Before Mr. Ordinary, a rather large woman stood, an all too common variable in the average mall going experience. Outside of disgust, I paid her no attention. The man standing before Ms. Roomy at the Sbarro counter I remembered best. He was tall and skinny with a notably dark complexion. I would place him in his mid-thirties. It wasn’t his physical attributes making him so impressive, but rather his unique tie. I’ve always fancied distinctive ties, admiring unique combinations of color, patterns, or designs. The man’s tie was off the chart cool. Either black or dark blue, the tie displayed off-white, grey, or light blue sequences of ones and zeros in sets of eight digits, also known as binary code. In the moment I first gazed upon the tie, I wondered what characters those sequences of binary numbers might translate to. Had I been able to see all of the sequences, I could have attempted an on-the-fly translation. Since I couldn’t see all the code progressions, I opted to later Google ‘binary ties’ and see what turned up.

You were never going to get that far, the far off voice of my father advised.

“Piss off,” I whispered. Matters that are more important were afoot.

I stood up and re-pocketed the loose change. I then decided to work my way back to the Sbarro’s kiosk with no idea of what to look for. How much time had passed since my purchase? Twenty minutes? A half an hour?

At present, eight people stood impatiently for service at Sbarro’s. The pimply faced kid at the cash register processed them as fast as he could. I had my doubts about that kid knowing anything about my unique possession, much less the three people who stood in line before me earlier that morning.

So many people passed through Sbarro’s. Any previous customer conducting business there this morning could be the coin’s previous owner. What if the coin passed through Sbarro’s last night or yesterday afternoon? I sighed at what should be a simple task. This new adventure quickly turned into a production of grand percentage. It brought with it the disillusion of reality; I would find no answers at Sbarro’s.

I glanced around the area one more time hoping for naught I might spot one or more of the folks who had been in line before me. Common sense rapidly intruded. Had a stranger walked up to me and asked if I had previously been in possession of a future dated coin, chances are I would walk away and not look back. Well, that might not be entirely accurate. Any normal person might react in such a manner, but not I. The kind of curiosity such a random question would invoke might warrant further investigation.

Knowing I was wasting time, I spent another half hour walking around the mall looking for Binary Tie Guy. I knew I could never find the other two people in line. However, the man wearing a tie that said, ‘look at me, I’m a geek,’ would stand out like a sore thumb.

The search proved fruitless. Binary Tie Guy was long gone.

The next step in my journey would involve the authentication of FutureQuarter. I knew exactly who could make that determination.

V

David DeMinte is the individual I consult when buying or trading in antique monies. The hobby is one of my guilty pleasures. He runs a small shop off McIntosh Road, a stones throw from the mall and conveniently on my way home. David deals mostly in coins, but keeps his eye open for paper money that occasionally comes his way. Specifically, dollar bills predating 1976 or silver certificates; bills printed with blue serial number ink versus the standard green.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, David is the typical grumpy old guy who tends to talk to himself. He often grumbles under his breath at how clueless his customers can sometimes be. He doesn’t hold back. It’s probably why I like him. Due to a war injury he’s always too happy to talk about, he walks with a cane and often smashes it into the floor while emphasizing whatever point or argument he is making.

I asked David to authenticate the 2025 quarter. He would know if it were phony or counterfeit. His demeanor of general irritation morphed into one of intrigue when I showed him the coin. I expected some kind of grunt followed by a dismissal of the coin as worthless. Instead, he seemed more interested in where I found it. The change in his attitude and line of questioning suggested there might be more to the quarter’s existence than meets the eye. I recounted for him the tale of how the quarter came into my possession.

“It’s a fake,” David finally said after examining the coin with a loupe. He punched his can into the floor following his declaration.

“What makes you say that?”

“Ha! Are you serious, boy? Puttin’ to one side that time travel is impossible, what you have here is a state quarter.” He looked up at me over his bifocals without moving his head. The explanation meant nothing to me.

“So?”

“So, the U.S. Mint didn’t start printin’ state quarters until 1999. Before that, the obverse of the quarter showed George Washington all the way back to 1932 with the standard eagle design on its ass end.” David paused. He looked off out the steel bar protected plate glass window that was the front of his shop. “The 1975 and the 1976 quarters were the exception. The flip side on those coins had the bi-centennial design. You know, the colonial drummer and the victory torch surrounded by thirteen stars…for the original thirteen colonies.”

I scoffed. “Yeah, thanks Dave, I knew that. I did manage to pass American history.”

David scoffed in return. He stared me down as he turned the FutureQuarter over to show its reverse side. “See here? This is the Maryland state quarter, showin’ the Liberty Dam.” Sure enough, an engraved replica of the dam and its name proudly protruded from the reverse side of the coin. My heart sank. “Besides, the state quarter program’ll end in 2009 after its ten year run. They’ll go back to the original design I reckon’. That’s how these coins become collectables, boy. And how I make money.” David grinned as he nodded in triumph. “Hold on, I wanna show you somethin’.” David hobbled into his office.

I stared at the FutureQuarter and sighed. So close, I thought with crushing disappointment. I felt like crawling into bed and staying there for the foreseeable future. So close. Damn!

David returned with another coin. “This here is a real Maryland state quarter. Sure, they look identical, but they aren’t.”

My heart continued to sink into the quarry of molasses that was my chest. I picked up David’s real quarter in my left hand and my FutureQuarter in the other so I could hold them up side by side. As if a subconscious magician waved his wand, my despair poofed away in a cloud of smoke. I smiled, reflecting the renewed feeling of purpose. These two coins were nothing alike. The real quarter didn’t have an etching of the Liberty dam. Instead, it was an engraving of the Maryland Statehouse surrounded by White Oak leaf clusters and the nickname, ’The Old Line State’.

“Look again Dave,” I suggested. I held out both coins with smug satisfaction. “The two designs are completely different.”

David froze in place. He didn’t bother to compare the two coins. His eyes remained affixed upon the FutureQuarter. “You jus’ made my point for me, boy. Whoever created that forgery there went to a great deal trouble to come up with that unique design.” He didn’t bother making eye contact with me. In fact, he looked worried, and covetous.

Does it? I thought. On the contrary my old friend, I think what we have here is a bona fide coin from another time. You’re body language speaks volumes.

David continued without eye contact. “It is a fine piece of work, I’ll give it that. I don’t suppose you’d want to sell it to me?”

Well, well, well. Your élan is showing, David.

“No fucking way, man! Imagine the kind of controversy I could stir up by scanning this and posting it on the Internet. The conspiracy nuts would have a field day with this.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” he replied with indifference, making no effort to return the coin to me. His inaction sparked an uncomfortable silence. David knew he should be returning the coin after my declination of his offer. My suspicion grew tenfold. David wanted this coin for himself. If he truly believed it to be a fake, there would be no reason for his delay.

“Can I have it back now, David? Please?”

David finally made eye contact. He slid the coin across the glass casing comprising the counter. “Get rid of it, Kevin. If you get caught with somethin’ like that, you could do time.”

I picked up the coin and pocketed it. “I seriously doubt that.”

“Counterfeitin’ U.S. currency is a federal offense. Fines, jail time, the cost of a shyster to fight the government. From what I know of you, you couldn’t handle time in the big house.”

“I appreciate the concern, but I didn’t counterfeit anything. It was given to me as change, all completely out of my control.”

David stood. His action made me nervous. He was an exceptionally tall fellow, maybe a foot taller than I was. If I clocked in at six foot two inches, then David easily over seven feet tall. Should he want my coin, he could take it from me without much of a fight, especially with that cane as a weapon. I backed away and moved toward the door. I was prepared to run for my car where I would have the advantage. The means to provide self-defense sat in a nook of my car’s trunk. Additionally, the speed of my 2002 Corvette versus David’s piece of shit circa 1977 Datsun would be no contest at all.

“True, you didn’t. I get that. Possessin’ it with intent to defraud, that is a crime.”

“Defraud? Defraud who? I don’t intend to do anything with it now, except maybe for putting it in my safe with all my other collectibles. And maybe do a little research on the Internet, “I said, changing my story. I wasn’t sure where David was going with this. “Maybe there is more ‘future money’ out there.”

David cringed at the suggestion. I wondered why. He seemed enamored with my future find even if his words said otherwise. He obviously knew something I didn’t and wasn’t going to go out of his way to share.

“Do whatever you have to do, boy,” he said with a sigh, resigning himself to a life without my FutureQuarter. “If I were you, I’d keep that coin out of sight. I might even destroy it, were I in yer shoes.”

Now I was the one cringing. What an odd thing to say. “Why destroy it?”

“It’d be the best thing to do. It’d be the right thing to do.” David turned and limped into the back of his shop. I could no longer see him. I distinctly heard David pick up the phone on the way out to my car. I looked back to look into his shop. Whom could he suddenly be calling? Was over my FutureQuarter?

I would get the answers to those questions sooner than I wanted.

Looking back, I regret my decision to involve David. He closed shop and left town in the days following my visit with FutureQuarter. No one in the rare coin circle has seen or heard from him since.

VI

I drove back to my house in Lakewood Ranch feeling relieved to be away from David,. The showdown with Rose completely slipped my mind. That errand would have to wait for another day, maybe. Transporting FutureQuarter to the protection of my closet safe was top priority. Access is only available with a key and a five-digit password.

With FutureQuarter secured, I spent an hour online searching the Internet with all kinds of terms. They included ‘money from the future’, ‘time travel’ and everything in between. The searches bore no fruit.

In semi-defeat, I flopped down on the sofa in my home office with the intention of taking a power nap. I needed one after Rose’s phone call from hell at seven this morning. Such nice things they are after a serious over working of the brain, twenty or thirty minutes of uninterrupted sleep to recharge. Sometimes during those naps, I would experience the most vivid and intense dreams. Some made sense. Some didn’t. Sometimes they were recurring, detailing a kind of second life I lived within my unconscious.

There would be no dream this afternoon.

Whatever I experienced wasn’t a natural phenomenon. For lack of a better description, a broadcast signal appeared inside my head. It was like watching a video quality TV signal with my eyes closed. The first images and sound I remember involved static, the kind one might see while turning an antenna knob in effort to fine-tune a UHF channel.

The static faded into the image of an older man appearing against a white backdrop. He was clearly Irish with his facial features and graying red hair. A white polo shirt with the name ‘MacKenzie’ emblazoned over the left breast pocket.

“Are we locked?” He asked someone off to his right. With a quick nod, he looked toward me, but not quite at me. The eye contact was imperfect, similar to a news broadcaster speaking at a camera.

“Hi Kevin, my name is Detective Connor MacKenzie. We don’t have much time, so I need you to listen to me, very carefully. This is going to be hard to accept, what I’m about to tell you. I need you to try your best to keep an open mind and do exactly as I tell you. You’ll not understand all of it, what I am about to say. I only ask you to trust me. Rest assured that everything you don’t understand will be explained to you at a later point in time, so that all of what’s about to happen makes sense. My team and I, we are the ‘good guys’, and where there are good guys, there are ‘bad guys.’ Right now, those bad guys are coming for you.

“You’ve stumbled upon an anomaly, specifically a quarter that doesn’t belong in your time of 2006. How it got there, we’re not exactly sure right now. But we’ve been working around the clock, so to speak, to fix this problem. We had hoped to recover it, the anomaly, without temporal contamination. That means we hoped its unique time stamp would remain unnoticed until we were able to recover it ourselves. As this wasn’t possible, you’ve consequently become involved in a delicate process that puts your life, and other aspects of it, in danger. When you wake up from this transmission, which you are receiving as a dream, there will be two agents entering your house. They will try to take you into custody. These agents, they are dangerous and not your friends. Nor are they there to help you, contrary to whatever they might say. They are part of a much bigger organization that is --”, he paused as if searching for the right words, “-- not very friendly. They have no qualms about making you disappear in their effort to recover the anomaly first. I am sending one of my best men to assist you. However, we have been unable to determine your exact recovery location. This is why you must allow them to capture you, those bad guys I speak of. I need you to go ahead and cooperate with them, short of surrendering the anomaly. Tell them you’ve hidden it, the coin, someplace off your property and agree to take them to it. It doesn’t matter where you lead them. What’s important is they make contact with their superiors via the communications device they are using. This transmission will lead us to your location where my associate will make contact with you and contain the situation. His name is Ryan Capcoseve, FCA number 17914011. He will address you by the code name we’ve assigned you, ‘Conundrum.’ At that time, he’ll provide further instructions.

“I cannot stress the importance of what I’ve just told you and what I need you to do. Again, explanation regarding all the unknown variables is coming forthwith, after Ryan makes contact with you. Good luck, Conundrum. I’ll wake you now. There may be some slight discomfort.”

A buzzing sound originating in an echo chamber swallowed my entire consciousness. Slight discomfort? Electroshock therapy would be a slight discomfort. Whatever MacKenzie did involved a searing pain in the lower back of my head as if someone took an ice pick and jammed it up in there. I shrieked back into consciousness and fell off the sofa.

VII

True to MacKenzie’s message, an older man and a younger woman both dressed in black suits entered my office. They approximated a scene out of the ‘Men In Black’ movie, although these two weren’t Will Smith and Linda Fiorentino. And I wasn’t laughing.

“Mr. Provance, I am Special Agent Jonas Buckley. This is Special Agent Samantha Waters.” He motioned toward his partner. “We’re with the United States Department of Homeland Security. I believe you have in your possession property that belongs to the United States government. A misprinted quarter, to be exact.”

There was silence as Buckley waited for me to reply. “So you just walk into my house without knocking?”

Buckley appeared taken aback. “I knocked several times, Mr. Provance. You didn’t answer. We then heard you cry out. Fearing for your safety, we entered the residence.”

Bullshit. Nice try though.

“Could I see some ID, please?” I asked. As if on cue, both agents flashed wallet badges with impressive looking credentials. Jonas Buckley and Samantha Waters, both registered agents with the DHS. In the process of obtaining their credentials, both of their jackets shifted open to reveal Glock 9mm handguns. I felt this was a deliberate move to send me a message. I glanced briefly at Buckley’s Glock. “It’s not here. I put it in my safe deposit box.”

Buckley stepped back. He gestured toward the front of the house. “Would you please accompany us to that location sir? It is a matter of national security we recover this item.”

I gave Buckley a dumbfounded look. “A misprinted quarter is a matter of national security?”

“Yes sir,” Buckley replied, matter of fact. “Would you please accompany us to its location? Your country would very much appreciate your cooperation.”

“Do I have a choice?”

Buckley planted his hand on his hip. His suit jacket pushed back casually revealing the Glock. “You always have a choice, Mr. Provance. I am confident you will make the correct one.”

“In the best interest of your country,” Waters added.

“Apparently.” I stood up carefully. Buckley stood to the side and gestured me to pass.

“We have a car waiting,” Waters said.

Of course you do. This is the George W. Bush administration; I’m sure the water boarding supplies in the trunk are standard equipment.

In reality, these two were far from legitimate DHS agents and probably didn’t answer to the U.S. government. I couldn’t imagine who they answered to. Detective MacKenzie’s ‘bad guys’ were probably more powerful than our current government.

Buckley led me to a gorgeous black Lexus parked in my driveway. Without haste, he sternly stashed me into the backseat, slammed the door shut, and climbed into the driver’s seat. “The location of the safe deposit box please, Mr. Provance”

Detective MacKenzie’s suggestion from my ‘dream’ involved finding a way to somehow stall these two until they made contact with their superiors. With this in mind, I decided the truth would be my best hope. I would take Buckley and Waters to a real safe deposit box in my name at a bank on the other side of town. I could think of no other way to buy time without looking like I was making a concerted effort to do so.

“Okay, at the intersection of University Parkway and Lockwood Ridge Road is a local bank called the Sarasota Credit Union. To get there --”

“I know where it is, thank you,” Buckley said, interrupting what would have been a lengthy discourse involving out-of-the-way directions.

In a continued effort to distract Buckley, I attempted several times to engage either agent in conversation. Unfortunately, neither of them displayed much interest in casual banter. Silence was the answer to every question I posed. Their anti-social behavior left me feeling completely helpless and more than nervous.

Not only did Buckley know exactly where he was going, he deliberately took the most direct route. Time began to run out with each passing mile. If Ryan Capcoseve was going to show up, he needed to do so within the next few minutes or my ass was going to have some serious explaining to do when Buckley and Water found only computer disks in my safe deposit box.

After an eternity and with only a few miles left until my fate became inevitability, a robotic chirp filled the air. It emanated from Waters’ direction. She reached into her suit jacket, withdrew a small cell phone like device, and flipped it open. A voice resounded from the device as Waters held it up. “Buckley, Waters, report.”

Waters answered, “Anomaly located. En route to--”

Complete pandemonium interrupted her reply.

Without warning, another car T-boned into the left side of Buckley’s Lexus. It flew off the side of the road and into a wide shallow ditch, front end first. The front of the Lexus folded into the ground as the rear lifted into the air. I waited with my eyes and teeth clenched shut for the Lexus to flip over ass end first.

Thankfully, it did not.

The rear of the car slammed into the Earth tires first. It put the Lexus on all four wheels. Before I could recover from the impact, two bright flashes of intense white light filled the car followed by the oddest low pitch sound. One flash originated from the driver’s seat, the other from the passenger side. Buckley and Waters fell unconscious where they sat. The left back door opened as I watched my captors fall prey to whatever happened. Whoever opened the door reached inside the backseat and yanked me out onto my feet. A man I estimated close to me in age held me up by my arms. Unlike Detective MacKenzie, he wore an open collar white dress shirt with no surname on either breast pocket.

“Conundrum?”

“I guess so,” I said listlessly, still shaken from the crash.

“Yes or no, please!”

“Yes!” I snapped as I attempted to clear the cobwebs in my head. “Are you Ryan?”

“Capcoseve, Ryan. FCA #17914011. We need to get moving.” Ryan pulled me up the ditch’s incline as he briskly walked back toward the road.

I understood the reason for the severity of the accident when I reached the road. Ryan drove a tank sized black Hummer into Buckley’s Lexus. At a glance, it seemed the SUV took little to no damage from the ram job. Ryan paused and looked down toward the smoking Lexus.

“Hold on.” Ryan sprinted down to the wreck. He reached into the broken driver’s side door window and pulled something out of Buckley’s inner jacket pocket. Ryan pointed to the SUV. “Get in.” Ignoring the pain of my tensed muscles, I climbed into the passenger side of the SUV as Ryan darted back to the driver’s side. He tossed something into the back seat as he embarked. It wasn’t the object he took off Buckley. It was a small hand held device that looked like a futuristic Luger pistol.

“What the hell is that?” I asked. Ryan made a deliberate U-Turn. He sped away from the Lexus and the accident he caused. Other folks along the road were beginning to take note of what had happened. I had to assume for the moment Ryan didn’t know that Florida law enforcement frowns upon leaving the scene of an accident. Perhaps he did and simply didn’t care.

Ryan ignored my question. “Where is the anomaly?”

“You mean the FutureQuarter?”

“Yes. Do you still have it?”

“It’s back at my house, locked up in my safe.”

“That’s where we’re going. I have to get it back to Detective MacKenzie as soon as possible.”

“You mean the future.” I said as I looked directly at him.

Ryan sighed. “Something like that.”

“What do you mean ‘something like that’?” I felt entitled to some answers after enduring the last few hours. I made no qualm about letting Ryan know frustration and I had been constant companions for far too long. “Either it is, or it isn’t? I thought someone, namely you, would be providing some of these answers.”

“It is.” Ryan said. “The quarter originated from the year 2025. We’re not sure how or why it ended up in 2006. Incidents like this aren’t supposed to happen. The consequences could be disastrous on many levels.” Ryan reached into his pocket and withdrew the item he took off Buckley. It looked like a glass rod, about three inches long and as wide as one of those fat elementary school pencils. Diluted colors swirled hypnotically inside the glass. “This should tell us exactly where and when the unauthorized temporal incursion occurred and more importantly, who is responsible.”

“What is that? And what is that phaser looking thing in the back seat?” I asked again.

“This is a data storage device.” Ryan held up the glass rod. “It looks like glass, but it isn’t. It doesn’t break. It’s a HoloL…holographic technology.”

My head swam. “Ryan, holographic storage hasn’t been invented yet. The last thing I read on the Internet about it suggested it was decades away.”

Ryan belted out in laughter. “The Internet,” he said, amused. “I haven’t heard about that in the longest time.”

“You’re not from here, are you? And when I say here, I mean 2006.”

“No, I’m not. I can’t tell you when exactly, expect to say this car, your Internet, the things I am seeing, they’re all antiques that no longer exist where I’m from.”

“So that phaser in the back seat?”

“Yes, it’s a weapon. It’s called an Impüls.” The word came out as Im-poolse. “It’s an electromagnetic weapon that renders the target unconscious. In extreme cases, it can kill. We no longer use guns and bullets in my time. They’re archaic.”

Archaic, nice.

“So what about the dream message from earlier this afternoon? How was that done?”

“This afternoon,” Ryan mused, repeating my words with the hint of a smile. “Detective MacKenzie sent that transmission over two months ago. I was there.”

I knelt over and buried my face in my hands. I felt dizzy and overwhelmed. Open mind or not, the implications behind Ryan’s words were enormous.

Ryan glance over. “Are you okay? Do you need medical attention?”

“No, no. This is a lot to take in all at once.”

“I understand,” Ryan said, with some sympathy. “The message you received was sent from our base, FCA-1. I don’t fully understand the technology that makes it work, if that’s what you’re asking about. It takes a broadcast signal and converts it into frequencies the brain is able receive while in REM sleep. Do you know what that means?” I nodded. “The tricky part is directing that signal at the intended recipient. The Earth isn’t a stationary object. Compensating for its speed and movement can be problematic.”

I sat in awe of Ryan’s explanation. He also wasn’t asking for directions to my home. He appeared to know exactly where he was going. I wondered how much these FCA people knew about me. More importantly, how much did the ‘bad guys’ know?

After several minutes passed, I managed a new question. “You said FCA-1. What does FCA stand for? Where is this place?”

Ryan sighed again. “You have to understand something, Kevin. Some things I can tell you. Other things I can’t. It is all part of the Temporal Directives. You need to know only what you need to know.”

“Do you do this often?” I asked. “Time travel?”

“Sometimes, but not as often as you might think. We don’t call it ‘time travel.’ We call it temporal displacement. The division of the FCA I work for is the TDI Division, or Temporal Displacement Investigations. We’re like detectives that analyze and fix incidents like this one. Much of what I do is research. There needs to be a very carefully laid out mission plan with every variable accounted for before an authorized portal is opened.”

“Where is this portal?” I asked. Ryan flashed me a witty half-grin but didn’t answer. “You can’t tell me, can you?”

“No, I can’t.”

Ryan pulled into my driveway as I was about to protest. Instead, we disembarked in silence. Ryan holstered his Impüls. I led him into my house and promptly retrieved FutureQuarter from the safe in my office. Ryan walked gingerly through the living room. He studied and admired the various objects around him.

“This is so weird,” he said softly. “I feel like I’ve been here before.”

I laughed and met him in the living room. “That would be all but impossible. Anyways, here it is.” I held up the 2025 quarter. Ryan gently took it from me and examined it. When he took the coin from my fingers, I felt as if he were stretching an unseen rubber cord that began with the coin and ended with the fiber of my being.

“This is it,” he said, in approval. “I’ll deliver this to Detective MacKenzie personally. I think we’re done here.”

“What about those clowns pretending to be DHS agents?”

Ryan held up the quarter. “They don’t want you. They want this. They’ll be coming after me now that I’m in possession of it.”

“And what about me?” I was suddenly alarmed Ryan was going to leave without answering any of the hundreds of questions I had. “What do I do now? Pretend like none of this ever happened? Do you just leave while I’m left to wonder why all of this happened?”

Ryan frowned. “I wish you hadn’t said that.”

“Why?”

“You’re not going to be able to just walk away from this, are you?”

It was an honest question. I would have to give an honest answer. “No, I don’t think I can.”

“Yeah, I figured as much. I’m sorry, Kevin. I wish I didn’t have to do this.” Ryan reached into a pouch on the side of his belt. It looked long enough to hold a mini flashlight. From it, he produced a small pen like object. It was too thick to be a flashlight and too long to be a laser pointer. For reasons I couldn’t explain, it gave me the creeps.

Dread washed over me at the sight of it. “What the hell is that?” I whispered.

“This device is called a Löschen,” (lo-shen) “It has the ability to erase short term memories. Between seven and twelve hours. Anything longer and the procedure becomes more complicated, and dangerous.”

I barely heard Ryan’s explanation. My focus was on the long, thin, stainless steel pen light he held. I knew in my heart of hearts I’d seen Ryan’s device before.

“I promise, I won’t tell a soul,” I pleaded in panic. I never moved my eyes away from the device he held. A shiver went down my spine. It sent chills throughout my body at the sight of it.

In an act of sympathy, Ryan placed his free hand on my shoulder. “I believe you, Kevin. I really do. I’m not concerned about you letting something slip. I’m more concerned what sitting on this knowledge could do to you. You wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone about what’s happened here today. You’d be carrying around the events of this day with no place to turn your feelings but inward. That’s the real potential for damage to you. With the state of mind you’re in right now, I believe it would do you more harm than good.”

A crack in the dam holding my unconscious memories formed. It leaked out a few drops of an incident from my life I had long forgotten. Flashes of someone holding a Löschen toward me danced around my subconscious not ready to come fully forward. Those flashes revolved around a summer morning in 1989, when I lived in Maryland. I had gone hiking around the Liberty Reservoir. The area became foggy during my hike, unnaturally foggy. There were also three people arguing in the distance. I called out to them. The next thing I remembered was some old German guy driving me to the hospital. He claimed to have found me passed on one of the jutted landmasses of the reservoir, the small islands that appear during the summer drought and the low water levels. All of this happened seventeen years ago. I was never able to remember what happened to me that morning.

Until now.

The appearance of Ryan’s Löschen began to chip away at the cement block holding back those lost memories. Flashes of things and places I have no conscious memory of came and went through my mind’s eye.

“It doesn‘t work like that, what you’re proposing,” I whispered, not taking my eyes off Ryan’s device. I was struggling to concentrate on the here and now, and failing. “Short term memories become long term through repetitive thought. It isn’t a bank or section that can be erased.”

“Yes that’s true, to a degree,” Ryan said cautiously. “I’m no scientist, but as it was explained to me, the process involves synapses development and how memories are stored. In the short term, those synapses are alterable, which makes memories committed to long term through repetition seem like a dream. Like most dreams, the brain eventually dismisses them as such. This all happens long before the subject wakes up from the procedure.”

I was appalled, yet simultaneously bewildered in wonder. “Where do you get these things?” I nodded at the Löschen, and the Impüls weapon holstered on the other side of his belt. “Some future version of Radio Shack? Did we invent them in the future?” Ryan didn’t answer straight away. “What?” I asked, with impatience.

“Let’s just say they belong to another culture.”

“They’re alien?”

“No, not in so many ways. They might appear alien to you, as you aren’t familiar with the when I’m from. So many things are different in my time. Using ’alien’ to describe extraterrestrials? No, not completely.”

“That’s cryptic. You’re saying ‘yes and no’.”

Ryan paused to look off. “Yes. Correct.”

I looked at Ryan with suspicion. He looked back and met my stare. “What time period did you say you were from originally? You must have your own original timeline when you’re not… working.”

“I became involved with the FCA when I was twelve, in 2083.”

“So, exactly how old are you now?”

Ryan sighed. He glanced upward to calculate some figures in his head. “Linearly speaking, meaning if you counted the years from my birthday to the current time index in 2095, I should be almost twenty-four. In reality, due to the amount of time I spend in temporal displacement, I’m closer to thirty-two.”

“That’s fucked up,” I said softly.

Ryan shrugged with indifference. “I don’t want to have to do this.” Ryan held out the Löschen. “To be honest, part of me is inclined to believe I shouldn’t. I dunno. That, and something about all this seems so damned familiar.”

“What does that mean?”

Ryan shook his head. “Never mind. Look, I know you’re suffering, and as I said before, your sitting on the events of this morning might not be the best thing for you.”

How the hell does he know I’m suffering? I frowned. Something else was going on here. My deepest instincts told me I needed to go forward with Ryan. I needed to solidify my position so he would have no choice in the matter.

I held my head down in faux defeat. “Could I ask something of you, before you…you know, have to make a decision about me? It might help me to come to terms with…all this,” I said waving my arm around the space between us.

“You can ask. I make no promises.”

“Could I see the quarter again?”

Ryan appeared conflicted. One could say part of his mission included the security of the captured ‘anomaly’. Releasing it to anyone but Detective MacKenzie until its safe return to the time of its origin would be a calculated risk. “Yeah, I guess so. For a minute. No more.”

“Thank you…so…much,” I said. With apparent caution, Ryan handed me the quarter. I held it, examined it, stroked it, and rubbed my fingers all over it. Ryan watched me closely as if I might attempt to run off with it.

Ryan held out his hand. “Okay. Time’s up.”

“Is it?” I asked. My eyes never left the quarter. “You travel through time. How can time ever truly be up?”

Before Ryan could answer, I slid the quarter in my mouth. The fingerprint oil I used to grease up the coin made the effort of swallowing it easier. Ryan’s eyes widened in disbelief as his mouth opened just wide enough to inhale in surprise. “I don’t understand, Kevin. Why would you do that? I don’t get it,” he asked, calmly. Before I could come up with a snappy answer, Ryan leaped across the distance between us and slammed me against the wall. “WHY DID YOU DO THAT?

“Because it can’t end here, like this,” I said. “Now you have to take me with you. Wherever you go now, I go too. It’s as simple as that.”

I now had somewhere to go. I was ready to leave.

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