One night Peter flies up to Maine. It’s a whim. He’s bored, he’s tired of not knowing who he is, and one of the only clear memories he has is a lighthouse – and when you think lighthouses you think Maine, right? – but none of them look like the one he remembers. The beaches here are different too. Darker sand, clearer water. Cleaner. Less tourist-y, he thinks. He stops at a diner to eat crab cakes and chowder before he flying back home.
After that he starts spending all his days off exploring other cities, other landscapes, just to see if it jogs anything loose. Sparks any kind of memory. He flies up and down the coast, stopping here and there, wandering the cities, picturesque little towns. He finds he likes Philly a bit, and Boston a lot. Freetown, Baltimore, Dahlonega, DC. Raleigh, Rochester, Richmond. And they’re all different, all interesting, but not his.
He spends weeks doing this. And then one day he flies home to his apartment, and when he gets there he just looks at it. At the pieces of second-hand furniture he’s picked up piecemeal here and there – a small wooden table and folding chair, alarmingly furry couch. The rundown walls of peeling plaster, splintered windows, the door that sometimes locks and he really needs to fix, except so far he hasn’t kept anything here worth stealing. The fridge is filled with takeout and the occasional rotten vegetable.
This isn’t a life, he realizes suddenly. Life isn’t coming home to a rattrap after you’ve flown up and down the East Coast looking for something that might not even exist. Life isn’t dodging your co-workers’ questions and turning down dates and hoping that no one notices you but maybe that someone remembers you.
Peter gets a little paranoid sometimes. Mostly late at night when he’s all hepped up on caffeine and watching Dark Angel reruns, but that doesn’t change the fact that it happens. There’s some pretty sound evidence that he should be paranoid, really. This isn’t normal, you know, to be able to fly and heal, to be super-strong and blast energy from your hands. What if he was made? What if he was experimented on? He’s not – there’s a good chance he’s not even human.
He starts to think. Over-think. Worry. What was he doing handcuffed in a cargo container? Why doesn’t he remember anything? It doesn’t make sense. He wants to be found, but he doesn’t. He wants a family, but he doesn’t know if he has one. He doesn’t know if that’s who could be looking for him.
Peter starts to think that maybe he should get on with his life. With the life he has now, he means, instead of the one he images exists. It’s not as if he doesn’t like who he is right now. He’s dependable, funny, sensitive, cute – or so the girls at work tell him, and considering they flirt like nobody’s business, he’s inclined to believe them. And you know what? He likes the coffee shop, he likes the people he works with. Maybe he should take a couple of management classes. Buy some real furniture. Get a hobby that doesn’t involve flying and looking for his potentially non-existent former life. Just… move on.
He doesn’t want to.
But maybe he should.
He does make a list of things he should do. Things he needs. First, he’d have to find someone to make him an ID, some paperwork. Good stuff, because even though flying out of the country isn’t ever going to be a problem, he still might want to go to college or get a decent apartment or get married, even. You need paperwork for that.
Second is a past. He thinks about all the times at work he’s dodged questions about where he’s from and what his family is like. He thinks about what he would make up – probably something tragic, just so people won’t ask more questions. An Army brat, maybe, who moved everywhere when he was younger, lived in twenty different places by the time he was twelve. Then his father died, and his mom couldn’t settle down. Used to take little Peter all sorts of places. His mom died a few years back. Cancer. He was an only child, no close friends, no relatives. He skipped a lot of school when he was younger because he wasn’t really interested, and he got his GED – and he should do that, now that he thinks about it – and settled down here because it was how far the money in his pocket took him.
It’s painful but possible and no one will ask why Peter is so quiet sometimes.
Peter takes every Tuesday and Wednesday off because they’re the slowest days at the café and Peter doesn’t do so well when he’s got time on his hands.
This week he decides he’s going to New York. The Big Apple. The place where dreams are made and crushed and fortunes are lost and won. Or maybe that’s Vegas. Whatever. New York has plenty of glitter if you know where to look.
Pete drops down on one of the islands and rides the subway to somewhere in Manhattan. He wanders the streets here and there, and even though he doesn’t recognize anything he knows this place means something to him. He can feel that he’s been here before, that he knows this street, he knows these people – not any of them specifically, just the general crush of them, the grind across the sidewalks and streets. The blood in his temples is beating, steadily licking away at his self-control. It’s like a word on the tip of his tongue, standing on the edge of a cliff and not quite knowing if he’ll fly this time too.
He ends up in front of a restaurant – something Italian, rich and understated, red all along the inside, with wood panels and soft lighting, and he knows, he knows what he wants to order without going inside, without glancing at the menu. This place makes the best orecchiette with garbanzo sauce and grana padano ever, and he – it…
Someone says his name.
And they’re calling him, Peter knows, not someone in the crowd around him. Peter knows because he can hear it in the tone of his voice, as clear as day – relief, desperation, guilt, love. A fragile kind of happiness that hurts so much you’d almost rather not have it.
It’s not his life flashing before his eyes. It’s not as if he suddenly knows who he is, all the places he’s been, all the things he’s done. Nothing unlocks. The pieces don’t fall into place to suddenly form Peter.
But he knows those eyes.
“Nathan,” he says. “Nathan.”