The anxiety and excitement in the auditorium were palpable and I pictured the slightest spark turning us into a big ball of dust. That cartoonish image amused me as I kept an eye out for Allison, while Chris and Janik searched for Steve. There were so many people that I had forgotten how big our graduating class was – somewhere around seven or eight-hundred.
“I bet I was a movie star with loads of cash and women,” Chris exclaimed.
Janik rolled his eyes. “More like circus clown juggling shiny balls.”
“I got some balls you can juggle,” Chris shot back and Janik laughed.
“I thought you ladies were going to keep that to yourselves,” Steve interjected from behind, surprising us all. “So what are we supposed do?”
“Beats me,” Janik said.
“Yeah, but the sooner they tell me who I was, the quicker I can get my hands on all that dough,” Chris exclaimed.
“You’re a moron,” Janik replied. “Ditch diggers don’t have any money. Besides, even if you passed along that hundred bucks to yourself, you wouldn’t be able to collect it until you’re an old man.”
“Thirty-years-old is like a million years from now,” Steve said.
“Yeah,” Chris wailed, “why the hell did they do that to us – it makes no sense?”
“What the hell are you looking for?” Janik asked, looking at me.
“Nothing,” I replied.
“Whatever, dude,” Steve snapped.
“Yeah, you’re whipped,” Chris finished.
“I am not.”
“Uh huh, did she get you a collar for that leash?” Chris joked and I couldn’t help but smile.
I wondered where Allison could be, but Mr. Clayton cut my search short.
“Alright everyone, settle down,” he began on stage. “I know this is a big day and you’re all excited, but we can’t get started until I lay down the ground rules.”
I glanced at Janik, who wiggled his eyebrows. He tried to act casual, but was probably more eager than any of us to find out who he was. Janik believed in karma and felt that because he came from a good family with a long line of success, his past lives would show the gradual progression of a soul moving up that ladder. In his mind, if he was a CEO or someone high up on the food chain in his most recent past life, then there would be no holding him back. The sky would be the limit and Janik had the desire to reach the stars.
Janik wasn’t alone as a lot of people held his karmic belief; however, the scientific data wasn’t there yet to support it. There were strong suggestions that the universe had a grand operational plan – one based on order, not chaos – but too many countries had been inconsistent in tracking palm prints over the last three centuries and there were too many blanks in life lines to confirm the theory with outright certainty.
However, if it were true, I always thought Steve would be the greatest beneficiary of that system. He wasn’t arrogant and didn’t expect much in life, but was smart and you just knew he would do really well in life. He was a rock in the mad rushing stream of life and I could always count on him.
Chris, on the other hand, wasn’t the brightest bulb in the pack, but never set out to hurt anyone, which you’d think would go a long way if the karmic theory were true. I hoped he wouldn’t be too disappointed to find out he spent time in the circus.
Personally, I daydreamed of being the president, a sports star or movie legend, but deep down I figured we were all just middle-managers of some sort trying to make a buck. I soon learned I wasn’t the only one with this sentiment.
“Here’s what we’re going to do, folks,” Mr. Clayton explained. “Just like last year when you were originally printed, you will find the appropriate line assigned to people with the last name that starts with yours.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Chris asked.
“Alphabetically,” Steve replied.
“Then why didn’t he just say that?”
“Once you step into the tent,” Mr. Clayton continued, “you will be printed to confirm you’re actually you—” A collective, nervous mumble of laughter shot up and died out just as quickly. “…And then the government attendant will hand you your sealed letter. Do not open your letter there. You are to exit the letter area and return to the middle of the auditorium where you are now. At that time, you can open the letter, if you want. Remember, this is not a game so there should be no horseplay with other people’s letters. I shouldn’t have to remind you, but tampering with someone else’s letter is a punishable offense and could jeopardize you receiving your full Past Lives Letter on Friday.”
“Come on,” Janik said. “Let’s get the show on the road.”
We all agreed but Mr. Clayton kept at it.
“Now, I know many of you may find this hard to believe, but when I was your age – yes, I know, that’s a difficult thing to imagine. But when I was sitting in the same place as you, I ripped open my letter and was quite surprised at what I found. The name before me was nothing special – it wasn’t one I recognized, but when I did the research, I discovered that I had once been a mechanic in the pit crew of race car team.”
“I wonder if he was a jerk back then too,” Chris sniped.
“The reason I’m telling you this, is to prepare you for what you are about to discover. Most of us – in fact, ninety-nine percent of us – were just ordinary people in our past lives. We weren’t kings or queens or presidents or military generals. Nope, we were the people in society that make society work. Keep that in mind as you open your letter and take great pride in who you were and what you did. Research the person’s past, but don’t get bogged down in letting that determine what you do in this life.”
The crowd started to get antsy and Mr. Clayton sensed it.
“One last thing: you may find that your oldest recordable life line is really not that old. Let’s say it’s from 100 years ago. That’s perfectly understandable and not as uncommon as you think. On average, a person living today will have three to four recordable past lives. So, if your oldest is from a more recent era, it simply means that the lives before went unrecorded or were lost in the data wars that happened a couple of hundred years ago. Keep that in mind today as you step into the tent.”
Mr. Clayton nodded and the mass shuffle began.
“Trenton!” a voice echoed. I turned to find Allison beaming with excitement.
“Where were you?” I asked.
“I got stuck with Becky. She’s convinced she was one of the one-percent.”
“Aren’t we all?”
“Come on, our lines are next to each other,” she said, dragging me. “Let’s meet here after we get our letters, okay?”
“Sure, but will you still hang out with me if you were royalty?”
“No, but I’ll be sure to give you a big tip for your services.”
“It’s good to know the queen,” I replied and stepped away.
My line moved a little faster than Allison’s and she gave me a sympathetic wave before I stepped into the tent. The setup was similar to last time and I stuck my hands in the palm print machine. The same warm, wrapping experience took place and the attendant confirmed I was, in fact, Trenton Locke. I wanted to tell them it didn’t matter because I had no intention of opening my letter, but I refrained.
The government girl smiled and handed over a folded piece of paper. I accepted it casually and returned the grin, unable to resist joining the festive mood. If this was just the appetizer, what the heck was Friday going to be like when we got the whole enchilada?
Anyway, I left the letter area examining the paper clutched in my sweaty hand. It was folded in three sections and was made of a heavy bond – I guess that made it official or something. I had to laugh at the wax seal and thought of Shakespeare.
A small part of me was curious and I held it up to the light, but the thick paper did its job. It would be so easy to rip it open and get it over with, but the rational part of my brain stopped me. I had already gone through this decision making process and wasn’t going to betray the conclusion I had reached. Besides, I felt it in my gut and my dad always told me to go with my gut.
And then for some reason I thought of my mother and wondered who she was. She had never told me. In fact, I don’t think she ever told my dad either. She was private that way and I always found that peculiar, but nonetheless, respectable.
I shook off the thought and found the guys. I could tell Janik was trying to assess it all, while Chris was disappointed. He must not have been a movie mogul, after all. On the other end of the spectrum, Steve had a slight grin.
“So what’s the deal … who were you guys?” I asked.
“I was a ski instructor in Wyoming – what the hell’s in Wyoming?” Janik exclaimed.
“Dude, that’s cool. I’ve always wanted to ski,” Chris replied, obviously recovering from his failed movie career. “I was an insurance salesman in Canada – not bad, right?”
“What about you, Steve,” I asked. “What’s with the shit-eating grin?”
“I was a sports broadcaster in Argentina,” he revealed. “I guess that explains why I got an A in Spanish.”
“It doesn’t work that way, dumb ass,” Janik barked, still reeling from his discovery.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Steve replied, still grinning and turned to me. “I can’t believe you’re not going to open yours.”
“Yeah, what’s with that?” Janik sniped and grabbed the letter from my hand.
“Give it back, asshole,” I said forcefully.
“They’re going to throw your snow-powdered ass in jail,” Steve added.
“Come on, man, let’s find out who you were,” Janik continued. “What’s the big deal anyway? I mean, you’re not like Matt. At least he has a good excuse.”
I tried to grab it, but Janik was too quick.
“Give it back,” I insisted and reached again.
Just then a suggestive cough erupted and we turned to find Mrs. Chigusa eyeing us.
“Now you boys know this is not the time or place to be joking around,” she said sharply.
Janik nodded sheepishly and handed the letter back.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Chigusa,” Janik said. “We were just messing with each other.”
“That’s what I thought,” she replied and calmly walked away.
“Dude, you’re lucky it wasn’t Clayton,” Chris exclaimed.
“Whatever,” Janik snapped.
“What’s all the excitement about?” Allison asked, joining us.
“Oh god,” Janik exclaimed, rolling his eyes. “Let’s leave the love birds to themselves before I throw up.”
“Don’t leave on my account,” Allison said, eagerly giving it back.
Steve grinned and started to go with Janik when Chris asked, “You up for a pick-up game or do you have to work?”
“Sorry, man, gotta make some cash to support the lady,” I joked.
“Let’s go, Chris, lunch is definitely coming up now,” Janik said, mimicking the vomiting motion and they left.
“So,” I began, “should I start by polishing your shoes or doing the laundry?”
Allison thought about going along with the charade, but was too anxious to reveal who she was. “Have you ever been to St. Petersburg?”
“I’ve been to Florida, but we went to Miami not St. Petersburg.”
“The other St. Petersburg.”
I had to think about it for a second. “You mean in Russia?”
“So you were Russian, huh?”
“Apparently, and you’ll never guess what I was.”
“I wish ... I was a private investigator!”
“I don’t believe it,” I said and she handed over the letter. The display was pretty simple. In fact, it was rather plain; a complete one-eighty from the big hullabaloo surrounding its release.
In medium-sized, blue print, an inch from the top was Allison’s full name. Below that was her date of birth and Tracer identifier – a sequence of numbers and letters. Just below that were several lines that read:
Oldest Known Print: Aleksey Mikhail Bogdasarov
Date of Birth: March 7, 2059
Date of Death: June 12, 2109
Registry: Moscow, Russian Federation
Last Known Occupation: Investigator, Private
Last Known Residence: St. Petersburg, Russia
Below this information were copies of Aleksey’s and Allison’s palm prints side-by-side.
“Would you ever have thought?” Allison asked.
“Not in a million years. There must be something wrong with the database. You know how those Russians are.”
She ignored the joke and continued, “I wonder why I only lived fifty years, though?”
“Who knows, maybe you were killed in a gunfight or got lost in the snow and froze to death.”
“I’ll just have to put Aleksey’s talents to good use and investigate, won’t I?”
“I’m sure you will,” I said. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
“I can’t. I told Becky I would get coffee with her.”
“Okay, then I’ll see you tonight after work?”
“You bet.” She looked around and was about to kiss my cheek, but spotted Mr. Clayton. She squeezed my hand instead. I smiled and made my way to the door – my unopened letter still clutched in my sweaty palm.