Sam, March 2020, Alternative Universe
I closed my eyes for a moment, it was one spilt second, the last thing I remembered was being thrown backwards as I watched the roof cave in but when I opened my eyes again I can feel warm water cascading around my body. I blink, trying to make sense of where I am or even how I got here.
I’m in a shower, looking around the familiar room I realise that I’m in my shower, not the one I shared this morning with Veronica but the one in my bathroom back in Claremont. The layout is how I remember it but the surroundings have changed slightly, my shampoo bottle has a completely different label on it but still the same brand that I’ve used for years and there’s a cake of soap instead of Roni’s fruity scented body wash.
The tiles look new, like the bathroom has been recently renovated, gone are the old cracked and chipped, faded brown tiles, in their place is new white tiles, making the room appear so much brighter. I know I haven’t been back here in a while but I’m sure Dad or Celeste would have mentioned they were giving my bathroom a makeover.
I reach for the tap, to turn the water off but stop when I see my own arm, it’s covered in tattoo’s, there’s not an inch of skin that’s isn’t inked and as my eyes travel from my arm, across my chest, to my other arm, I see it’s not just one one full sleeve of tattoo, I have two and a few on my chest but what disturbs me more than anything, my rabbit is completely gone, not just covered up, it doesn’t exist. Am I dreaming? This feels way too real to be a dream, I can actually feel the warm water on my skin, if this is a dream then it’s the most realistic one I’ve ever had.
Maybe I died but if I am dead then why would it bring me back here of all places? Haunting a bathroom?
I shut the water off and grab a towel that’s hanging on the rack, while drying myself off I have a look at my body in the mirror, hoping to not discover any more disturbing surprises like a lollypop tattooed onto my cock, I look down and breathe a sigh of relief when I see my own skin, not ink. I look back up at the mirror, it’s definitely me, although my face looks older and I’ve got a few strands of grey coming through on my sideburns.
I need to get to Veronica, I need to figure out what the hell is going on, she’s the only person I trust who won’t consider me crazy, I know it. I get dressed in the clothes that were on the vanity, a black t-shirt and jeans, good to know my taste in clothing is the same here, even if everything else is warped.
I open the door of the ensuite and walk into what was once my teenage bedroom, after I left for England I’d left it set up the same but in this reality, it too has had a makeover, my posters of bands and football are gone, replaced with a giant glass cabinet filled with trophies and medals. My eye’s scan over the trophies, reading the dates, Premier Cup championship 2002-03, well that one I know I achieved but the 2006-07 trophy for the Premier Cup floors me and it’s not the only one, there’s trophies dated all the way up to 2015. How can I have trophies for games played 10 years from now? Then I see the muscle car calendar hanging on my wall and I almost have a heart attack, how the fuck am I in 2020?
A loud, vibrating noise behind me has me jumping out of my skin, I turn around and find the vibrating is coming from a long, flat screen, I pick it up and discover it’s a phone of sorts and my caller is Lucas of all people. The phone is giving me two options on the screen, answer or decline, against all my better judgement I hit answer, hoping Lucas might just be able to provide me with some sort of understanding of what’s going on.
“Hello?” I say into the phone, not even sure I’m holding it right.
“Finally, I’ve been trying to call you for the last 20 minutes.” He says, sounding annoyed.
“Why are you calling me?” I ask him, wanting to know more importantly how he even got my number.
“To see if you need me to bring anything for tonight? I’ve got toilet paper” He sounds proud of his toilet paper too, like it’s some big achievement.
“Tonight?” We made plans to hang out? I’m actually friends with Lucas? And why would I need him to bring toilet paper to my house?
“Remember, we’re watching the replay of the game together tonight? We made the plans last week, don’t tell me you forgot already?” He says, chuckling to himself.
“I should have probably checked to see what Veronica is doing tonight.” She can explain to me how it is that Lucas and I became friends again.
“Veronica Kreslin?” He asks me with a hint of surprise in his voice. “You want to call up my ex from high school and find out what she’s doing tonight? I thought you got over this years ago mate.”
“Got over what exactly?” I ask him, getting pissed off that he still won’t recognise her as my girlfriend, referring to her only as his ex.
“That obsession you had for her, my nose still hurts occasionally from where you broke it too by the way.” He laughs heartily.
“I broke your nose?” Is it bad that I feel proud of myself, even though I never actually did it?
“Yeah you did, when you caught me cheating on her with that girl from Sydney, how can you not remember?” He asks me as if he’s remembering it fondly. “It was Christmas, 1999, you came home from England, we went out for drinks, I hooked up with that skank and you unleashed on me, calling me a handful of names before right hooking my nose and not speaking to me until we saw each other at Alex’s funeral, in 2005.”
“Alex, shit.” I was with him just moments earlier in the tube station, he can’t be dead, he’s getting married this weekend.
“Yep, I think about him often, first holiday out of Australia and he gets killed in a terrorist attack.” Lucas says. Is that what happened today? Was it a terrorist attack? “So, tonight?”
“I really need to find Veronica so whatever plans we had, I’m going to have to cancel.” Not that I give two shits about dipping out on Lucas.
“This better not end with me getting punched again Sam, I haven’t stepped out on another woman since you roughed me up.” He sounds scared of me and I like that, cocky Lucas finally got was coming for him.
“You deserved it.” That I know is true.
“Well we’ve both grown up since then, it’s now water under the bridge.” He says tensely, like he’s afraid of getting me offside. “I’m now a twice divorced man and you’re living back with your dad so I’d say we’re even.”
I live with my dad? Surely he’s got that wrong, although the trophy cabinet suggests otherwise but how could I be living with Dad? Where’s my bunny girl?
“Is Veronica still in London?” I ask him, trying to figure out where she is and how I can get to her, looking around the room I see no resemblance of her in my life, the photo’s I had displayed of us together are missing from my shelf, there’s only the one of Lucas, Roni and I taken at year 11 camp, still in it’s original frame which would be impossible because I saw Lucas smash that frame against my wall the night of Roni’s 18th party.
“Not according to her Facebook, which she’s made public for anyone to stalk, silly woman.” He comments. “She’s a teacher at Claremont High it seems and lives with her sister, Bridget.”
Why does this all sound so familiar to me? Veronica teaching at Claremont and living with Bridget? I’ve heard all of this before but none of it ever happened in my reality but it did in Veronica’s, I remember how she told me all about her life before she got sent back, which tells me exactly where I am, her alternative world.
“I have to see her Lucas.” She’s my only way home, back to my own world, I feel it.
“I don’t have any way of getting in contact with her Sam, she’s had my number blocked for years and I doubt she’d answer either one of us if we message her on Facebook , although why she hates you, I’ll never know.” He says sadly. I know why she hates me, she thinks I turned a blind eye to her boyfriend’s cheating, she thinks I enabled him and she has every right to hate me for the part I played. “I would like to tell her how sorry I was that I hurt her and how much I regret it though.”
“You should tell her that because she deserves to hear it.” I know that this Veronica has carried a lot of that pain around with her, it affected her entire life, causing her to run from any chance of love. Denying her of that long, awaited apology is just keeping her suffering in this pattern of never letting anyone else in.
“Alright, new plan, tonight we find Veronica, I apologise to her and you, finally, tell her how you feel.” He suggests, unaware that I’ve spent the last year and a half writing letters to my Veronica, unloading all my feelings. I have no intention of telling this Veronica how I felt about her but I do want to explain how she too could have that same happiness, like my Bunny girl has, if she just opened her heart up to the opportunity.
I end the call with Lucas and it takes me a good few minutes to figure out how to use this phone, it’s all touch screen, which is awesome and everything is so brightly coloured. I locate my contacts list, scroll through, looking for Veronica’s name, it’s not there but I find Bridget’s, I hit the number and it rings twice before she answers.
“I must have won the lottery, I got toilet paper and Sam Lions is calling me.” She answers, sounding very upbeat. What the hell is everyone’s obsession with toilet paper in this reality? “What’s happening stranger?”
Stranger? I hate this reality even more if I’m a stranger to one of my best friends and an outcast from my girlfriend’s life.
“I’m in Claremont, living back with my dad.” That I know.
“Oh yeah, I heard through Amber that you moved back here a few months ago to look after your sick father.” She says sadly, giving me more insight into how I came to be back in Claremont. My dad’s sick? Shit, I hope it’s not serious.
“What about yourself, I heard you’re living with Veronica?” I ask, desperately wanting to confirm what Lucas said.
“Yes and no.” She answers coyly, not giving anything away. My brain starts racing, Veronica told me once that Bridget was married in this reality.
“How’s your wife?” Maybe that will get her to open up to me.
“Carol and I split up six months ago, that’s why I’m living with Veronica but it’s only temporary, until I find a place of my own.” She admits and I fist bump in the air, having the answer I needed, this will make my next move a bit easier.
“We should all catch up tonight? I was talking to Lucas and he said he wants to apologise in person to Veronica” Come on Bridgy, take the bait.
“I don’t know Sam, Veronica is pretty selective with who she has in her flat and by selective I mean that it’s just our friend Kate.” I can hear the wariness in her voice, like she knows she’d be pushing Veronica’s boundaries if she invites me over. “Although I’m sure there’s some choice words she’d like to throw at Puke-as, after what he did to her.”
“Now doesn’t that sound entertaining? A front row seat to the Lucas Stephenson take down?” I try my best to entice her.
“Actually, that does sound like it would be fun.” She laughs. In the background I can hear her opening a car door, there’s a scurry of bags being thrown then closing the door a moment later. “What do I get out of this though?”
“What would you want?” I ask, surprised by her boldness
“You know that red haired woman I see you tagged in photo’s with on Facebook, the one with the cool tattoos and the tongue piecing?” She asks, red hair and tattoos could only mean Shay, but tongue piercing? That’s new.
“Shayla? Yeah, what about her?”
“I want her number, in exchange for a night in the company of my sister.” She barters, in all seriousness.
“I just want to talk to her Bridge, I’m not looking to shag her.” I make that extremely clear but all it does is fuel Bridget’s laughter.
“You’re a glorified fuck boy Samual, this is what you do.” I don’t know what a fuck boy is but that didn’t sound like a term I wanted to be associated with at all.
“I’m a changed man.” Who ever I am in this reality, I’m sure it’s nothing like who I am in mine now.
“Sure sure.” She giggles with disbelief. “I’ll text you my address.”
We end the call, I put my phone and what appears to be my car keys in my pocket and I wander out of my room and down the stairs in search of my father who I find sitting in the same armchair we’ve owned since we moved her, nice to see one thing never changed but from the look of how badly he’s hunched over, I’d say he has.
“Are you alright?” I ask him, trying hard to hide the alarm in my tone. Bridget indicated that he was sick and that I moved home to take care of him. I hate the thought of my Dad being sick, especially if it’s anything like Ed had, where he needed round the clock care.
“Just a bit stiff, waiting for my arthritis meds to kick in, then you’ll see me running marathons again.” He jokes, looking up from his book. Shit, I thought I aged fast, he looks like the life was drained out of him. “You heading out?”
“Ah yeah, I was going to see Veronica but I can cancel if you’re not well.” I don’t want to leave him here all alone if he’s in pain.
“I’m fine Sam, I’ve got my book to keep me entertained.” He assures me with a smile. “You go see your friend, Valery was it?”
“Veronica, she’s an old friend from school actually.” It feels bizarre just saying it like that, ‘old friend from school’. I look around the room for photos, little tell tails of how Dad’s life panned out but there’s only the ones of him and I, no Celeste or any other inkling that he remarried. “Are you sure though Dad, I don’t want you to feel lonely.”
“Lonely? Until you moved back in I had everyday here by myself, I’m the best company I’ve ever had, I tell myself the funniest joke, that always get a laugh and I don’t have to mind my manners, I can drop a fart and not care because no one’s around.” He chuckles to himself like this is the best situation for him but I know how happy he is with Celeste, she brings out a side to him that I haven’t seen since Mum died.
My phone buzzes in my pocket and I pull it out to see there’s a text on the screen from Bridget, saying that Veronica was in a car accident and was taken to Claremont hospital. Shit, the accident, how could I remember everything else from the past and forget the one thing that brought her to me?
I quickly type back that I’ll meet her at the hospital and race out the door.
I’m nervous, why am I so nervous? I know this girl, inside and out and yet my stomach was doing somersaults as I paced around the hospital waiting room. Bridget on the other hand was sitting in a chair, phone in hand, not a care in the world. I wanted to scream at her, shake her down, her sister had just been brought in from a car accident and she was more interested in her fucking phone, this wasn’t the Bridget I knew at all.
Finally a doctor comes out and calls Bridget’s name, they talk in hushed tones out of earshot but at no stage does Bridget look concerned for Veronica’s well being, if anything she looks relieved by what the doctor is telling her. When the doctor leaves Bridget rushes back over to me.
“She’s alright, she hit her head and was out for about 5 minutes but the doctor said she’s fine.” She tells me gleefully, like she’s describing the plot on some TV show. “They’re keeping her over night though so I’m just going to go in and see her and I’ll come get you if she says wants to see you too.”
“Alright.” I watch Bridget walk away, she isn’t gone long though, 20 minutes at the most which surprises me, when Veronica broke her leg, Bridget never left her side but this Bridget doesn’t seem to have that same compassion from her sister.
“She’s waiting for you.” Bridge says as she heads towards the exit. “Room 412.”
I knocked on Veronica’s door before entering, I felt like I’d already intruded enough on her life today, gaining her permission to enter was the least I could do. She has stitches on the side of her head, holding together the red, raw gash that she sustained from the accident. Her blonde hair was shorter than she has it now, cut just under her ears and she had frown lines around her mouth but she still looked beautiful, she always would to me.
“Hey Bun..Gorgeous.” I greet her, reminding myself that she’s not my Veronica, she has no idea of the history we’ve shared together.
“Hi Sam.” She says, giving me a small, polite smile, she looks past me, worried. “Lucas isn’t with you is he?”
“No Roni, I came alone, although Lucas did want to see you today, he wants to apologise in person, for how he treated you.” I explain and she rolls her eyes.
“He’s had twenty years to apologise to me, I just don’t think it would change anything now.” She says sadly, looking away from me. I feel so bad for this woman, she’s so closed off., she never got over what he did to her and she let it dictate her whole adult life.
“Have you ever been in love Veronica?” I ask her, I think I know the answer already but there’s a small part of me that’s hoping she gave someone a chance to show her how she deserved to be treated.
“I don’t believe in love Sam.” She tells me, looking back at where I’m standing in the door way to her hospital room, I venture in further, taking the seat that is beside her bed. “Have you?” She asks me.
“I am in love with the most incredible woman.” Just thinking about my Bunny girl makes me smile. “She adds light to my darkness and takes away my pain, she’s my soulmate.”
“Soulmate.” She scoffs, as if the notion is ridiculous. “You don’t believe in that bullshit do you?”
“I guess when you open your heart to love then concepts, which once seemed corny, become somewhat meaningful.” I try my best to explain to the cynical Veronica of this reality. “I know you’ve carried a lot of pain around for years, you think if you never let anyone get close to you then you won’t get hurt but ultimately that’s just causing you more pain.”
“You think I’m in pain?” She questions me, her face turning to stone as she stares me down.
“I know you are, I know you better than you think, you’ve spent twenty years running from any chance of happiness, any time someone gets comfortable in your life you pull the rug out from underneath them and send them packing but it doesn’t have to be that way, you fall down, you dust yourself off and you try again.”
“Why do you care if I’m not giving love a chance?” She asks me, sceptical of my interest in her non existent love life.
“Because you deserve better, if you don’t believe in love then please believe in that.” I take her hand in mine and run my thumb over the top of it, she looks down at our hands and I know she can feel it too, that spark between us, it’s always there.
“Can I give you some advice?” She says, looking up from our hands and locking eyes with me.
“Don’t break her heart because a fracture never heals fully.” She closes her eyes and I take that as my cue to leave but just as I’m pulling my hand away she stops me, holding on tighter than before. “Please stay, I want to hear more about your girl.”
“I don’t want to bother you if you’re tired.” The accident clearly knocked her around.
“I’m tired but I’m also happy to see you, it’s been way too long since we caught up.” She says sleepily.
So we talked, I told her about my life, playing for United and how happy I was to have my girl to come home to and she talked to me about her long career in teaching, how much she wishes she had travelled but never found the confidence to just get on a plane and go. After she fell asleep, I rested my head down on the bed beside her, I closed my eyes for a moment, one split second but when I opened them again I was the one in a hospital bed and Veronica was in a chair, by my side, head resting on the bed as she held my hand.