Chapter 7

Direction Chapter Eight

A Struggle

Completely deleting someone from existence seemed like a sound idea at the time. If a person is simply never born, is that the same as ending their life? But as Jeff laid in bed pondering this, looking around Chris’ previously occupied room, he knew he had made a mistake. He wasn’t exactly sure why, he didn’t really think it was remorse he felt – not completely at least – things just felt…off.

The sounds of water on porcelain could be heard through the thin wall separating the bedroom and bathroom. Riley excused herself from the bed a few moments ago and Jeff was left to his thoughts. He stood suddenly and began pacing the length of the room – which seemed to have doubled in size without Chris’ clutter – his heart rate was on a gradual incline. He could feel his chest tightening, his mind going blank with panic.

“Clothes.” He suddenly realized he wasn’t wearing any. Quickly scanning, he spotted jeans at the foot of the bed but no shirt. He checked the small dresser by the bed. Nope. The accordion doored closet along the opposite wall creaked open, he found a ratty black shirt of his amongst the densely packed clothes. “At least some things are the same.”

He hastily slipped the shirt on and turned to grab the bedroom door handle, the sound of the shower still filled the room. He looked down at his hand, quite still. Taking a breath he shot the door open, making a break for the stairs. He swung around the corner then jerked about a foot in the air.

“Jesus fuck…what are you doing here?” he blurted out, a side effect of his sudden shock.

There Morgana stood, looking up holding a spoon to her mouth and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked in her opposite hand, donning tight maroon sweat pants and a loose fitting Wicked shirt, hair pulled back. She slowly pulled the spoon out and curled her lips into her mouth to lap up the remaining chocolate.

“What’s the rush?” she said, still licking her lips. “Almost made me drop my precious ice cream!”

“Oh…” He started to piece it together. She must…live here? Quick, think. “I was going to run to the convenience store. Wanted to try and get there and back before Riley gets done.”

“Well, your fly’s down, and I sincerely hope you have underwear on. I’m not at a very flattering angle,” she said, her eyes darting between eye contact and something more southward. Jeff quickly turned to the side and pulled the zipper up. Morgana continued up the stairs past Jeff, and down the hallway to the little room. “Can you grab me a green tea? I’ll pay you back,” she called over her shoulder, looking back and flashing a quick spoon filled smile as she pushed the door shut with her foot.

He stood there, staring down the hallway at the door to his room…or her room? “What the fuck?” he murmured to himself. Should he make a break for it, maybe he should just change things back to how they were? Or just go grab a goddam green tea and see how this plays out? This whole fucking thing was happening because of one reason, and that reason was right inside the door to his back, in the shower, naked. “Maybe I should just stick around and see how it goes…can’t hurt. If this ends up being fucked I can just reset things, right?” Feeling convinced, he continued down the stairs and out the door.

It was a cool day, rust colored leaves littered the ground, a few still clinging to their branches. He looked around. “Fuck.” Chris’ familiar blue car was no where to be found. He couldn’t just go back in and ask if someone had a car. “Wait, do I have a car…or even a license for that matter?” When Chris was his main form of transportation he never bothered with such trivial things, like updating his I.D.

Digging around his pockets, first thing found was a wallet in its usual place containing his debit card, eight dollars, and a license with his expressionless face on it. “Jeffrey Vincent Glass. DOB: 01/18/84. Issued: 02/02/03. Expires: 01/19/07.” He slide the license back into the wallet. Continuing his inspection, he found his pocket knife and keys, also where they should be. There was one extra key on the ring that he didn’t recognize, with a Kia logo on it. There was a gold colored Kia Sephia with green doors off to his right, looking like someone just drove it four hundred miles through Hell this morning. “Yeah, that looks about right.”

As he walked over to the car he checked his last pocket. No phone, but there was a ticket stub to the AG Cinema for The Da Vinci Code, 10:45 p.m. showing. He stopped and looked at it, contemplating for a moment; then stuffed the ticket back in his pocket and got into the car, starting up the reluctant motor. The radio suddenly kicked on just loud enough to loosen his bowels, Into the Great Wide Open by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers began blaring through the speakers.

Riley turned off the water then reached out to grab a towel from the wrack on the wall. She dried herself off and stepped onto a shaggy yellow placemat, wrapping the towel around her as she dug her toes into the fluffy fibers. She grabbed another towel and leaned forward so her damp hair hung down, wrapped the towel around it, then corrected her posture and balanced it all on her head. Her post shower outfit was now complete as she exited the fog of the bathroom and entered the bedroom, the moisture rolling into the hallway like a White Snake video.

“I was thinking, since we both have off today we should head to the café in the city and…” she stopped, now realizing she was speaking to a vacant room. She grabbed her phone from the nightstand and typed out a message. “Hey, where u b?” Send. She stood waiting, holding the phone up in front of her with both hands, leaning on her left leg and resting her elbow on her hip.

Just then there was a short, loud buzz from the bottom of the bed. She spotted Jeff’s phone on the floor plugged into the wall and let out an audible sigh.

“Jeff, are you downstairs?” she called out.

Morgana opened her door. “He ran to the store, left a while ago so he should be back pretty soon.”

“Oh alright,” Riley replied, now poking her head into the hallway.

“You want me to message him, have him pick you up anything?” Morgana asked.

“No it’s alright, he forgot his phone here. I’ll just take some of whatever he gets,” she said through a smile.

Morgana grinned back, still holding her pint of ice cream, now scraping the bottom. “I should have had him grab some more Ben & Jerry’s,” she said, tilting the container and looking at it’s thoroughly bare inside. Riley laughed and turned back into her room.

Morgana walked down the hallway and leaned on the doorframe, warm mist still hanging on the air behind her. “You guys doing anything today?”

“I don’t know,” Riley replied as she leaned down, vigorously drying her damp hair. “That’s what I wanted to ask him about. I was thinking we could head into the city, go to the Kingsley and enjoy the cool weather! We haven’t gone there in so long, that used to be my spot.”

“Anywhere you can get a delicious coffee and some reading in sounds like a good day to me!”

“Exactly! I just had this weird dream about it, made me want to go today. I miss being in the city, I used to be able to just walk there.”

“Yeah, I love the city. What was your dream about?”

Riley pulled the damp towel off her head and tossed it onto the bed, then walked to the closet. “Well, Jeff and I were there, sitting outside…reading. That’s all I really remember from it, but the weird part was this other person that was there. It was just some guy, someone familiar but I don’t think it’s anyone I actually know. He was telling me to be careful? And the even weirder part is that I’ve been having lots of dreams lately with this same person in them.”

She found what she was looking for, dark blue jeans and an old Beatles t-shirt. She pulled them out of the closet and hung them on the inside bedroom door handle, then walked to the small dresser. “That was it, as much as I can remember at least. Pretty pointless as far as dreams go…helped me plan my day at least!” She grabbed plain, light blue colored underwear from the top drawer of the small dresser and pulled them on, letting the towel fall to the floor. She reached back in the drawer and grabbed a black bra, wrapped it around her waist so the clasps were in the front, hooked it, spun it around and pulled the straps up over her shoulders. “Ta-da!” she laughed.

“Of course you’d be planning your day in your sleep!” Morgana giggled. “It’s your only day off this week, that sounds like a pretty relaxing way to spend it. That’s interesting though – your dream – maybe Jeff remembers whatever time you were dreaming about?”

“A project manager’s work is never done,” she said through her shirt as she pulled it over her head. “And yeah, I’ll ask him about it. I have a dream book I usually write them down in, I’ll have to do that so I don’t forget.”

The front door bursted open and Jeff walked in, sipping a coffee and carrying a noisy plastic bag on his arm. He started up the stairs, noticing the open bathroom door. “Shit,” he thought. “She might still be free-lipping in the bedroom.” He stopped on the third step and called up, “Riley, are you…decent?”

Riley and Morgana looked at each other and chuckled. “Never!” she called back.

“Oh shit, yeah,” Jeff thought, “I guess that wouldn’t matter now.” He hesitated, then slowly continued up the stairs, looking down at each carpeted step, Chris flashed in his mind. Rounding the corner, he pulled some lemon candies and a green tea out of the bag, handing the tea to Morgana. Her face distorted in mock horror. “Oh my,” she jested at the candies, “I hope you got these by accident.”

“Yes! Those are probably mine,” Riley said as she walked over and grabbed the bag. She leaned in and kissed Jeff. “Thank you honey!”

He could feel his face heating up. “No…no problem,” he managed to get out. He could feel Morgana looking over at him, causing the weight of anxiety to push his gaze to the floor. He lifted his coffee to his face. “You got your tea,” he thought, “now get the fuck out of here.”

“We were just talking about you and I going to the Kingsley today. What do you think?” Riley asked as she popped a freshly freed lemon drop onto her tongue.

Jeff tensed up. The last time he was at that café Chris was still…around, and he had just discovered there was some weird fucking Doctor Who level shit going on. He’d rather not deal with that inevitable fucking guilt trip right now, but definitely has to get a better grip of what the hell was going on. What all has changed other than what he’s already seen? He should bring Chris back, he knew he should, but…he finally had her. “Sounds good to me.”

“Sweet!” Riley replied. “You’re free to join us,” she added as she turned to Morgana and worked on her next lemon fix.

Jeff looked back to his feet, single word thoughts now. “Fuck. Damn. Shit.” He just wanted some alone time with Riley; time to figure things out.

“I wish I could. I’m heading to the history museum today, meeting up with some old friends.”

“Nice,” escaped from Jeff’s mouth, a little too quickly.

“Cool, I love the history museum,” Riley chimed in seeming to pick up on Jeff’s transparent alleviation, her gaze sharpening on him.

“Yeah, me too,” Morgana replied as she opened her tea and began moving toward her room. “It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able go and see these friends. It’ll be nice to catch up.” She smiled then gracefully slipped back past her door. “You guys have fun at the café, grab me a muffin or something!” The door clicked shut.

Riley hit Jeff’s arm with the back of her hand. “Be more obvious!” she whispered. “Did you not want her to go?”

Jeff could feel burning on the back of his neck. He didn’t really know what to do, this was so fucking weird, all the while hoping that his nervous smile was at least slightly convincing. “I…I just wanted you all to myself.”

Riley giggled, unleashing a rush of infatuation through him. He’d never spoken with her like this, just the two of them. He had to keep his cool. What would Chris say? He was always so much better at this.

“So, what’s, um, how’s your day going?” He rolled his eyes so hard he almost fell over. “So fucking stupid,” he thought.

“Pretty good,” she said as she popped another lemon drop into her mouth.

They went in the room to prepare for the trip. Jeff’s old laptop, her copy of The Rum Diary, light jackets, a joint Jeff found in his back right pocket earlier; everything was grabbed and shoved into his black bag. “Wait, does Riley even smoke?” he thought. He’d never seen her partake so he always just assumed it wasn’t her thing.

He looked at her now as they headed through the front door, watching her hair hit the outside wind and explode with movement. His anxiety and mind began picking up steam. Jeff tossed her the keys when they got to the car. “You can drive.”

They made their way toward the city. “Hey babe, what’s wrong?” Riley asked as she looked over. “You’ve been staring out the window for like ten minutes. Something bothering you?”

The pavement was rushing by, he jolted back from his thoughts. “No, sorry, was just day dreaming.” The wind pounded against the meager car, Ziggy Stardust was lowly playing. He saw Chris making his way down the street they were on, his skin began to burn with angst and his eyes widened. As they drove by, a man resembling Chris continued on his way. “Hey, do you want to go somewhere else, other than the café?”

“Sure honey, where to?” she replied.

“I don’t know, wherever.”

She laughed, “I’m going to need you to be a little more specific.”

He was watching the trees move along the road, as if he was sitting still and the trees where the ones in motion. “The park, the one we used to go to when you first moved into the city.”

“Shit,” he thought, “did she live in the city…in this…version? Or did she move right in with me when she got her job here?”

“Oh, that sounds cool!” she replied. Jeff gave a low sigh of relief. “I’m going to stop at Tripp’s then, so I can still get my cappuccino fix.”

“Ha, alright.”

After their pitstop they pulled into the lot by the park, which was packed. Apparently every other person in the city had the same idea for how they’d like to spend their day off. Jeff stepped out, shut the door, and met Riley on the opposite side of the car. The wind lightly whistled through the trees, carrying the random chatter of the park and the smell of burning charcoal. She handed him a water she bought. “Can you put this in your bag?”

“Sure,” he replied, pulling the zipper open. As he dropped the bottle in he looked down and saw the joint on the bottom. “Oh yeah, look what I found.” He pulled it out – assuming his smoking habits wouldn’t have changed much whether Chris was here or not – and held it with his pointer finger and thumb like a jeweler inspecting a diamond.

“Oh, now I see why you wanted to come to the park,” she said smirking.

“Not necessarily, this is just an added benefit.” He’d been thinking the entire drive of what he wanted to try and say to her and the best he could come up with was “I need to tell you something.” What the fuck else was he going to say that didn’t make him sound like a complete lunatic? “Hey, I technically just got here. I also technically kind of murdered someone? Which is debatable, but it was supposed to be…romantic. I have some crazy cosmic gift I somehow never realized, and I’m fairly sure I’m abusing the hell out of it. Can you just tell me how long we’ve been together, and what all has happened in the meantime?” He shook away his thoughts and slid the joint upright into his pocket.

Riley gave a sideways smile and grabbed his arm. “Come on my little stoner.”

They walked along the outskirts of the park. Jeff was staring at Riley’s back, inspecting the way her shirt draped down, getting the occasional whiff of conditioner and perfume. What was he going to do? What could he do? There wasn’t a thing he could tell her that would make any goddamn sense of this, she just wouldn’t understand. He saw Chris up ahead, standing along the side of the path looking back at them. No, no it wasn’t him. He pulled the joint out of his pocket, unzipped the front of his bag and grabbed a lighter. “Hey,” he said, tapping her lightly on the back.

Riley slowed and looked over her shoulder, then turned and followed Jeff to the side of the path where he held the joint to his lips and quickly lit it. “Would you like any?” he said in a muffled voice while he held the smoke in his lungs, then lazily blew it straight up into the air, trying to the best of his effort to exhale his anxiety.

“The answer’s still no! Maybe on your birthday or something,” she said as she sat down on a mossy stump. “Also, I hope you brought some gum for that rank breath you’re about to have.”

He quickly rummaged through his bag. “Nope, my bad.” He took another drag and looked down at her, trying to muster up the courage to say something

“So, we’re good, right?” he finally muttered, taking a more roundabout approach.

“Huh?” she said looking up from the stump, her head tilted to the side like a curious little animal.

“We’ve been together for,” he paused, “how long now?” He tried to just play it off with a smile, she took the bait.

“Hmm, a little over a year now,” she replied.

That was hard for Jeff to hear, he wished it’d been a year for him. “Well,” he began, “I just want to know that you’re happy. I’ve never been good at this sort of thing, and I care about you a great deal. I’d do anything for you.”

“Yea, I know,” she said. “You tell me all the time. You’d know if I was unhappy, don’t worry.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure. I haven’t really been myself lately.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

Jeff realized he was saying too much, then he looked through the small clearing that led back to the path. Chris was heading toward them. Jeff started to sweat a little, he rubbed the inside of his arm across his eyes. There was no way this was Chris, he was wearing pajamas or something in the middle of the park. Probably some homeless man or something. He heard Riley scream and he opened his eyes. Chris was still there, and Jeff could do nothing about the fist now pushing hard into his face.


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