“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Jesse complained as he raised his fist to his mouth and coughed again. “I don’t think anything should be down here. By which I mean, first of all, especially me.”
“Quit complaining,” Walt barked back at him. They were standing in the car wash’s basement, which had been locked off, apparently, the entire time Walt had worked there. Jesse could see why. Most of what was down there appeared to consist of mold and what looked like seaweed.
“I’m not complaining, I’m stating, bitch,” Jesse retorted. “And you expect me to sort through all this shit? There’s probably dead possums galore down here.”
“Then throw them out,” Walt responded disinterestedly. “I’ve got things to do. Do you think you could manage to sort through here and throw all this out so we can put a lab here, or do I have to babysit you?”
Jesse curled up his nose. Walt had been decent to him, respectful even, for about three weeks after they had destroyed Gus, wiped him off the face of the Earth – well, pretty much – but, as Jesse had suspected, it had gone as quickly as it had come, and Walt was back to treating Jesse like a disobedient student who hadn’t done well on his exams.
“You don’t need to be a dick,” Jesse replied. “You can say ‘please’, or something, at least. Jeez.” Walt rolled his eyes, as if Jesse’s mouth had opened yet no sounds had actually come out.
“Try and have it done by tonight,” he instructed.
“Tonight?” Jesse cried out. “I’ve got things to do!”
“Like, I had a date with Andrea…”
“Reschedule. You can see your little girlfriend some other time. She isn’t going anywhere.”
Jesse opened his mouth to reply that he wasn’t trying to dictate Walt’s love life, but he thought better of it. Maybe he’d start on it and be able to skip away long enough to get a shower, spend some time with Andrea, and then get back to this. Not as if anything he did was going to be right, of course, so he’d have to get a long enough nap to be able to handle the dressing-down he was going to end up with the next day.
Jesse threw up his hand.
“Fine,” he replied. “Go, go.”
When he’d heard Walt’s footsteps go up the stairs and disappear, Jesse slammed his fist against the nearest thing – which turned out to be part of an old tire. He briefly wondered whether he was going to end up with tetanus by having touched the thing.
“What… a fucking… dick!” he exclaimed. “I can’t even believe it. Jesse do this, Jesse do that – yeah well, bitch, it ain’t the 1800’s and slavery is illegal…” He kicked a tire. “Why is half this shit even under here? It’s a car wash, not a mechanic shop! And what was his bright idea, setting up a lab here anyway? We’ll all get diseases before we even finish our batch. How the hell do we disinfect this?”
He picked up a small trashcan, which was filled with some kind of green and black sludge, and tossed it over to the side.
“I guess this’ll be the ‘shit that needs to go’ pile,” he said to himself, putting his hands on his hips. “I feel like I’m on fucking Hoarders. For real.”
He considered that this basement had probably been developed to fit some kind of giant sewer monster at some point, until even that hadn’t wanted to stick around.
A smirk curled across his face as he imagined Jane complaining, “Jesse, you relate everything to comic books. Really? What are you, ten?” But she would have said it in that way of hers that showed she really found it cute and endearing, yet didn’t want to admit it.
Jesse sighed. It was unfair to still be hung up on Jane the way he was when he was dating Andrea. It wasn’t as if Andrea was lacking in any way – she was sweet, funny, and definitely hot. She had stuck by him even when he wasn’t sure he would have stuck by himself. She had made him become a better person.
But he couldn’t help closing his eyes sometimes and getting lost in memories, and wondering about what could have been, if only he hadn’t screwed it all up.
Not to mention that horrific plane crash – as much as he wanted to believe he hadn’t been responsible for that, that it’d just been an accident, he couldn’t chase the idea that he’d destroyed Donald Margolis’ whole life.
It was all fucked up. There wasn’t really any way it could be any worse. And yet, for the first time in this whole screwed-up year, things actually seemed relatively stable. Maybe that was even worse – when he wasn’t hitting the ground running for his life, Jesse was stuck thinking about all that had happened.
Trying to figure out exactly what he’d change if he could. What he’d take back if he could.
Jesse picked up a stack of old Playboys – how the hell had they gotten down there? – and, after a quick perusal, realized that none of them were worth saving. It wasn’t as if most of the girls in those centerfolds particularly looked like the girls he tended to date anyway. Sleep with, potentially, but date, no.
He threw them into the junk pile as well.
After that, a pile of molded cardboard joined the pile, along with an old stack of rather off-smelling air fresheners.
And it still looked as if the job was only about a fifth of the way done.
Jesse stepped off to the side and looked down, finding himself gazing at an old, rusted lamp that looked as if it hadn’t been made any time after the 40’s. Grumbling, he leaned down and grabbed a hold of the handle, yanking.
“Goddamnit!” he cursed, finding it stuck. “I wish I had never partnered up with that dickhead.”
The next feeling Jesse had was the sensation of flying through the air and hitting the ground, hard.
Jesse slowly opened his eyes, trying to fight the feeling of pain that had taken some kind of iron grip on his head. He stared up at the ceiling, and quickly realized that there was something not quite right – it wasn’t the ceiling of the car wash’s basement, for sure, and hadn’t he been in the car wash before he had passed out?
He started to run through other possibilities for where he could be – it wasn’t the hospital, nor Mr. White’s condo (at least, he was pretty sure), but when it finally hit him, it seemed so obvious but yet utterly impossible.
It was his aunt’s house. That wasn’t so odd in and of itself, given that he did live there and all. But the paint job on the ceiling was the same way that it had been before he had moved out and they’d remodeled.
But that wasn’t possible.
He climbed out of his bed and looked around. Maybe he was just having some kind of really strange dream – that would explain it.
His phone rang, and he jumped. It took him a few lines of the ringtone – Ludacris’ “Area Codes” – for him to figure out where he’d stashed it; it was under his pillow for some reason.
“Hey,” he announced after he hit the “call” button. Badger’s voice answered.
“Hey man, listen, me and Combo are going out to blaze a few, what’s your plans tonight?”
Jesse blinked. He couldn’t have heard right.
“Did you not hear me, man? Me and Combo are going out. You in or not?”
“But wait, you said Combo?” Jesse inquired, trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
“Uh, yeah, did you mishear, man? Me and Combo are…”
“Yeah. No. I heard you. Uh, can I get back to you? I gotta do some stuff real quick.”
“Oh man, I must’ve caught you over Cayleigh’s again, didn’t I?”
“Yeah man, your hot blonde friend. Man, she is hot.”
He racked his brain to try and remember who the hell “Cayleigh” was, before he settled on it – Emilio’s neighbor. The girl who’s window he had been climbing out of the day Mr. White had spotted him and started this whole thing.
But he hadn’t talked to her since the two had started cooking together. It wasn’t as if they had been dating or something. It was just sex – fun, no strings attached sex.
This was all way, way too weird.
“Uh, listen. Badger. Is Combo with you?”
“Could I… uh, talk to him real quick?”
Maybe Badger had just had some really intense crystal. That would explain it. He was seeing things; after all, it had happened to Jesse before, and…
“Hey, Jesse, man.”
Jesse’s heart stopped in his chest.
“Listen, I’ll… uh, I gotta call you back,” Jesse said quickly.
“But I just got on…”
Jesse pressed the “call end” button and stood there, shaking. What the hell had that been?
Then it all started to come back:
The weird lamp. What he’d said.
I wish I had never partnered up with that dickhead.
“This can’t be for fucking real,” Jesse muttered. But how else could he explain the reverted house? Combo on the phone?
He stared at his cell phone in his hand and hit “0”.
“Uh… Hey, yeah,” he muttered. “Operator, uh, can you get me a number, it’s in Albuquerque?”
“Um… Gale Boetticher.”
“How is that spelled?”
“Um… G-A-L-E, I guess?”
“The last name.”
“…I have no idea. B-E-…D-…uh… He should be on Juan Tabo Boulevard.”
There was a pause.
“I have it here. Juan Tabo Boulevard, Gale Boetticher.”
That was odd. Hadn’t Mr. White said that Gale wasn’t in the phone book? Maybe this was all some weird kind of dream.
He pinched his arm.
“Is there anything else I can help you with, sir?”
He jerked out of it and wrote down the phone number, before swallowing and dialing it. This was all way, way too weird.
Jesse froze. It was that voice. His voice. Please don’t do this. You don’t need to do this.
“Uh… Um… Gale?” Jesse inquired. He tried to stop himself from shaking.
“This is Gale. Who’s speaking?”
“Uh… This is…”
“Are you selling something?” the voice was amused. “Is this the chemical company calling back?”
“Uh… Yeah… No… Listen, sorry, I think this was a…”
“Hello? You’re cutting out. Who’s this?”
“Uh, nobody. Sorry, wrong number.”
“…Okay. Well, um, have a nice day.”
Jesse hung up and dragged his hand over his face. What the hell? Had he actually somehow gotten his – had it been a wish? The lamp… had the lamp…
That was stupid. He wasn’t some little kid who believed in that kind of thing… but what other explanation was there for Combo and Gale being alive? For everything being different?
He walked out of his room and down the hall, into his bathroom. He was staring at the tub that had fallen through the ceiling – except it hadn’t. Not anymore. Here it was.
His phone rang. This time it was Jay-Z’s “Girls Girls Girls”. He let it ring out before calling his voicemail, to be greeted by an exuberant female voice.
“Hi, Jesse, it’s Cay-Cay. Was wondering what you’re doing this weekend. I haven’t seen you in, like, forever… You don’t go over my neighbor’s anymore! Did you guys have like some kind of falling out? Tots bummer if it’s true. Really wanna hear from you. Call me!” There was a loud kissing sound and then the end of the message.
Jesse blinked. This was all getting weirder and weirder.
He decided that the only way to fully make sense of whatever the hell he had managed to wander into would be to venture outside, and therefore with some reluctance he got dressed, made his way downstairs, and walked out to his garage, only to find his red MonteCarlo parked inside.
“Pretty sweet reality,” he declared, clasping his fingers together. “Sign me up.”
He didn’t know where he was driving to; it was just nice to be back in his old car, feeling the wind against his face and considering his old, carefree life.
It was perfect. Maybe he’d died and gone to heaven. He really didn’t care anymore.
Eventually, he had to stop at a gas station. A Sunoco.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a group of little girls selling Girl Scout cookies. He figured he might as well buy a few, on this perfect day. He fished in his pocket and found a crumpled up five and a one.
He’d have to go to the bank at some point.
“Hey, can I get one of the Thin Mints?” he inquired, handing over his five as one of the girls handed him a box.
“So, they always draw you in, too,” said a voice behind him.
Jesse turned, as if in a daze, and found himself starring at a slim girl with long, black hair.
Jesse’s jaw must have dropped, because Jane cocked her head to the side and looked at him oddly.
“Have we met before?” she asked, and he shook his head.
“Uh… I don’t know,” he stammered, “But you look really familiar.”
“Did you go to La Cueva?” she inquired with a smile. “Maybe we graduated together?”
“Nah,” Jesse replied, slowly regaining his composure, “I went to Wynne.”
She brushed it off.
“Ah, well, maybe I just have one of those faces,” she said and chuckled. “I’m Jane.” She extended her hand.
“I’m, uh, Jesse,” he replied, shaking it and trying not to linger too long. That would be creepy. Severely creepy. But he’d never dreamed he would be able to touch her again. He wished he could have held on all day. “Do you, uh, live around here?”
“Yeah, right over on the road back there. I’m a manager for a duplex. It’s pretty sweet. Pain in the ass sometimes, though. Keep getting tenants who seem normal on paper but then drive me up the wall.”
“So you uh… haven’t had any, like… regular tenants in a while?” Jesse asked, trying to figure out if this was… who would have taken his spot, maybe tried to steal Jane’s heart. At least, whoever it was seemed to be ineffective if Jane thought they drove her up the wall.
“Pretty much,” she replied. “You looking for a place to stay?”
“Well… Not quite,” Jesse managed, “I live in my aunt’s old house. Off of Margo. But I… Well, I guess I wanted to kind of ask you out.” Jane laughed.
“Okay. Smooth,” she teased. She tossed out a five to the lady from the Girl Scouts and received a box of Lemonades. Jane took a few steps away and, still holding on to the box, put her hands on her hips. “Do you have a phone number?”
Jesse grinned and reached into his pocket, pulling out his cell phone.
Jane shook her head and took the phone from him, typing in a number before handing it back to him.
“Can I call you tonight?” he asked. She gave him a cheeky grin.
“Sure. Let me know when you’re available. But don’t turn be creepy, or I won’t answer,” she told him, brushing her hair over her shoulder before walking away.
Jesse found himself staring after her, feeling as if he had seen a ghost – and in a way he had. This was Jane, but in a way, a different Jane. Not exactly the one he had met but not drastically changed, either. He could know things about her that she didn’t know about him – but he had never known enough. He could remember the examiner asking him questions and her father walking over, answering them, a silent accusation in the air that you killed her and you don’t even know something simple like her birthday.
But he hadn’t killed her. Because she wasn’t dead. She was living, breathing, laughing, seemingly without a care in the world. How the hell was this possible?
Maybe it didn’t matter how. Just that it was. That was good enough for right now.
As Jesse walked back into his house and took a seat on the couch, he started to think.
He would have to get a job eventually, he realized. Without the partnership with Mr. White, he wasn’t really that eager to go cooking on his own. That was a downside to this reality – way less cheddar.
A phrase that to his ears, even though they were only a few months older, sounded incredibly stupid now.
He had a chance to start over. He wouldn’t apply for any “this way to savings” mascot bullshit, but maybe a decent retail job, or a gas station where the manager was cool and let them take swigs from bottles that nobody had bought.
Before then, however, he just wanted to relish it. No blood on his hands. No dead friends. Which meant no more sleepless nights or nightmares, no more flashbacks, no more chills.
His life was going to be awesome. He could even reconnect with Jane, fall for her all over again, wrap his arms around her and keep her safe. Always protect her. Never let her relapse, never screw up again.
It was a gift he wasn’t sure he was worthy of, but was sure that he definitely intended to accept. He’d figure out the money. He’d scrape through some way. In a worst-case scenario, he could even beg off of his parents for a while, now that he was clean. Maybe they’d give him some money for food in the meantime.
He shook his head. He was not going to go run and plead from his parents. Even though it had been another world, another time, they had seriously screwed him over. They had never loved him unconditionally. He didn’t need that. What was the point of starting over if he was just going to make the same mistakes he had made the first time around?
Instead, he was going to make his new start a true one. He was going to woo Jane – again. This time, nothing would come between them. They would be happy together. They’d start a family. They would live together and have a terrific, terrifically boring life with a little tree in the yard and a few kids running around driving them both nuts.
And best of all, he’d wake up next to her every day and know that she’d still be breathing. That he could feel her heart beat against him, feel her breathe in and out. Little things he never would have hoped for before.
This was what he wanted. But he had to start now. He took out his cell phone and looked at the number, saw it on his screen and let his finger hover over the “call” button for a moment.
He was going to hear her voice. Her real voice, not a voicemail that was going to get cut off, not a distant memory.
He hit the button, heard it ring.
“Hey, uh, Jane. This is Jesse. From earlier today.”
“Oh, hey, Jesse. What are you up to? I’m just unloading some groceries.” She chuckled.
“Sounds like fun,” Jesse stammered. “Hey, listen, d’you want to see that uh,” he paused. What the hell was even out recently? He could only come up with one title. “Where the Wild Things Are? Tomorrow at four?”
“Yes… Yes I would.”
Jesse put his hand over Jane’s for a moment as he reached over to grab some more popcorn. He felt like she must have been able to hear his heart, pounding out of his chest, but she seemed happily engrossed by the film and pleasantly content with Jesse’s overtures.
It was weird to be back to just dating with a girl he had had sex with more than once. But there was something exciting about it, too, something sweet. Innocent.
When the movie was over, he dared to lean in to kiss her; she responded in kind, deepening it, tongue slowly slipping against his.
They parted and walked to the exit, silently exchanging looks.
“Would you like to…” Jesse started, “Go somewhere for dinner, maybe?”
“Sure,” Jane agreed, “I don’t have anywhere to be. What are you in the mood for?”
“How about Chinese?”
“Sounds good to me!”
Jesse drove the two of them to a blue building off the corner of Central, a place he had eaten at once or twice and which he knew to be relatively classy. The interior yielded a small marble statue with its own never-ending waterfall, and handouts on the tables with lists of traits accorded to people due to their birth year in the Chinese Zodiac.
Their waitress looked mildly familiar, a short girl with black hair who seemed to be about Jesse’s age.
“Jesse Pinkman, right?” she asked with a grin.
“Oh, hey,” Jesse replied.
“Maya. From Wynne,” she reminded him, and he snapped his fingers.
“Mr. White’s Chemistry class!” he said. “You sat in front of me.” She chuckled.
“Yeah, how could I forget you? It’s such a shame about Mr. White…” She paused, then continued, “Anyway, here’s your menus.” She handed them off to the two. “I’ll give you guys a few minutes. Any drinks?”
“I’ll just have a water,” Jane told her.
“A Coke?” Jesse inquired. Maya nodded and walked away.
“Seems like you know everybody,” Jane teased.
“God… Not in years. I’m surprised anyone remembers me from high school. I barely showed up.”
“I guess you must have been pretty memorable, though.” Jane swung her legs under the table and, when the drinks arrived, picked up her straw and placed it between her teeth, giving Jesse a teasing look. After she took a drink, she clasped her hands together and chuckled. “It’s the oddest thing. I feel as if I’ve met you before, too.”
“Maybe it’s fate,” Jesse offered, and Jane snorted.
“You don’t believe in it?” Jesse put his elbow on the table and leaned on his palm.
“Of course not. There’s no such thing as fate. If there was, well, what would be the point of living? It’s like living in a movie. Somebody already wrote the end.” She shrugged. “If that’s life, you might as well stay home.”
Jesse considered it. Did that mean it had really happened? That there was more than one universe, more than one Jane, more than one him? That there was a world where he could be happy and he’d somehow stumbled into it?
He cut out of those thoughts long enough to order a fried rice dinner, while Jane opted for something called Fantasy Duck.
“I guess I can see your point,” Jesse ventured, then hesitated. “Do you believe there might be… I don’t know, like alternate dimensions?” Jane chuckled.
“What do you mean? Like… a world where everything’s opposite?” she asked. “Where I’m short,” she teased, “Or… the world’s totally made out of cheese, or something?” Jesse laughed too.
“No,” he replied, “I mean… like, do you ever think that if you’d made a different decision, your whole life would be different?”
Jane looked into her glass before taking another drink.
“Of course,” she said quietly.
“’Cause I feel like…” Jesse began. “I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I got a second chance.”
Jane smiled and put her hand over his.
“Well, you’d better take it then… shouldn’t you?” Her eyes shone with a mischievous glimmer, and Jesse’s heart raced.
“I think I’d better,” he agreed. It was all he could do to stop his jaw from dropping.
A second chance. Yeah, that was it. How had he gotten this second chance? How the hell did he even deserve it?
Maybe he didn’t deserve it, he told himself, but Jane sure did.
Maya returned with their food, placing each dish in front of them and tossing a few lines of banter back and forth with Jesse before disappearing into the back again.
“I think she likes you,” Jane teased. Jesse rolled his eyes.
“I think I like you,” he responded, and Jane mimed gagging herself.
“I think I’m going into sugar shock,” she said sarcastically, before picking up her chopsticks. “So,” she said, picking up a piece of duck, “What do you do for a living?”
“Uh, right now?”
“No, ten years ago.”
“Well,” Jesse said, scooping up some rice and piling it into his mouth, “Right now I’m kind of unemployed. But I want, well…” Second chance, he reminded himself. “I want to do something with art. I don’t know what, though. Just… it’s fun. I don’t know.”
“Well, I guess we have something in common, then. I work as a tattoo artist over at ABQ Ink. Pain in the ass sometimes but… but it pays okay. And like I said before I manage my dad’s apartments.”
Jesse swallowed hard.
“Your dad, huh? How’s he? I mean, uh, what’s he like?”
Jane cocked an eyebrow.
“He’s fine. Thanks for asking,” she teased, “He’s… a bit of a hardass. But he means well.”
“I’m sure he does,” Jesse replied. He looked down, trying not to let her see his expression. “I’m sure he loves you very much.”
Jane cocked her head to the side again, like she couldn’t quite figure him out.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” she said with a smile. “Overprotective parents. Gotta love ‘em, right?”
Jesse looked back at her, thinking to himself, He won’t lose you this time. And neither will I.
Jesse felt like he was some kind of old-school gentleman, as he pulled up in front of Jane’s duplex, even as he felt a pang of regret that it wasn’t his home and had, in fact, never been his home in this universe. But then, with that, was the relief that it wasn’t the place Jane had died.
He got out of the car and opened the door for Jane, leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to her lips. But it was short – somehow, he didn’t want to ruin this, didn’t want to press this. He wanted to draw it out, make it last.
“Tonight was fun,” she told him. “We have to do it again sometime.”
“We should. How about next Tuesday?” Jesse suggested. “We could go to dinner again. And maybe another movie?” His voice was hopeful, and Jane smiled.
“Sure. Sounds good to me. I’ll keep my schedule open.”
He watched her as she walked into the duplex, his breath settling as he reminded himself that here, now, she was okay, that her beautiful eyes hadn’t slipped shut.
He put his hands in his pockets and decided that, happy or not, there was something he had to do, as much as he didn’t want to. He had to find out whether Mr. White was okay in this world.
He drove, and when he was stopped, he tapped his fingers against the dashboard nervously. He wished that there was someone who he could talk to about this. But who would believe such a crazy tale as the one that had actually happened to Jesse? Everyone would try and lock him up in the loony bin, and he wasn’t entirely sure if he didn’t actually belong there. This didn’t happen to people. It just didn’t.
Mr. White’s house was up ahead. The house where he’d lived with his family, that was. Not the condo. If they’d never partnered up, Mr. White would have never needed the condo, right? So he’d walk in on Mr. White’s domestic bliss and probably some annoyance at being interrupted, and then he could go back on his way and continue courting Jane.
Courting. It was a novel concept. But it’d be pretty neat. Maybe he could get her a bouquet of roses or something.
Jesse popped open the door and headed up the driveway. Mrs. White’s car was in the driveway, at least, he was pretty sure it was her car because he couldn’t remember Mr. White ever driving it.
He arrived at the door and knocked. It opened, and Mrs. White was standing there, holding her baby daughter in her arms. Jesse had actually never seen the baby before, and it was weird seeing her now.
Jesse managed a nervous smile. He hadn’t really looked forward to seeing Skyler White again, given how uncomfortable their first meeting had been. But none of that had happened, now.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
Jesse shivered, thinking of Gale’s words.
“Hi. Hey, sorry to bother you. Uh, I’m Jesse.” He awkwardly extended his hand before realizing she didn’t really have either one free. “Is your husband home?”
Mrs. White cocked an eyebrow and stepped back.
“Excuse me. Who are you?”
Jesse swallowed. Okay, so maybe not domestic bliss after all. Maybe the Whites had had more problems than he realized.
“Uh. I’m Jesse. I was in his class and … uh, well, I was back in the area and… I kind of wanted to stop by and say ‘hi’, I know I should have called first but…”
Mrs. White’s expression softened.
“So you hadn’t heard?”
Jesse’s heart dropped.
“My husband passed away a few months back. He had lung cancer.”
“I… I’d… uh, heard he was sick but I didn’t… I… didn’t know…” His hands shook. He didn’t want this. He didn’t believe it. Part of him thought that maybe she was just saying it to fuck with him, because he didn’t like him. Because Mr. White, dead, really and truly dead? That was impossible. “I thought… thought he was getting treatment. Chemo.”
Mrs. White shook her head.
“He refused it,” she mumbled. “Didn’t want to put the financial burden on us, he said.” She paused. “Do you want to… come in, or something?”
Jesse swallowed again.
“Uh. Sure. Okay.”
He stepped inside, so lost in Mr. White’s house that wasn’t his anymore.
“These friends of ours… they offered to pay for his treatment,” Mrs. White told him, “But he refused. Walt wouldn’t take a cent from them.” She shook her head again. “Stubborn pride.” She looked at Jesse again. “Did you two keep in touch? After you graduated, I mean?”
“I…” Jesse paused, wondering what she wanted to hear. What the truth even was in this world, this world that was good for him but nonexistent for Mr. White. He had suspected, dreaded this could be true but how was he supposed to figure it all out without him? “Yeah, we kept in touch. He kinda… he was kinda like…a mentor to me. After school. Taught me a lot but then… we kinda fell out of contact. I’m so sorry to hear what happened.” He paused, stared down at the ground, at the carpet. “If there’s anything I can do for you or your family… Anything at all. I mean, I don’t have much… But… whatever I have.” It was such a stilted request. He couldn’t help them, not really, not on the pittance he had now. But at least he’d shown her that her husband had touched someone, even in such a roundabout way.
That someone mourned him, too.
He left feeling lost, feeling confused. If only there was someone who would believe him. Someone to help him figure this out.
There was only one possibility. It was a longshot. But maybe it would work.
Jesse was really hoping that Jane wasn’t going to think that this was creepy. Which was in itself a longshot because if he was a chick, he would definitely think this was creepy. After all, he had foregone the age-old custom of calling and asking if he could come over and had opted, instead, to simply show up and knock on her door like a creeper.
He was also quite sure that whatever story he devised to explain what the hell was going on right now, she was very unlikely to believe it and very likely, instead, to call the men in the white coats on him.
That was a chance he had to take.
His fingers rapped against the door. Standing here, again (or was it for the first time? How did this sort of thing even work, exactly?) was chilling. He knew that if he looked inside, he would see the apartment Jane had never returned to, and that if he gazed next door… he couldn’t look next door.
But what was this reality, really? Just something he’d cooked up in a dream state to undo everything bad he had done? But if that was true, how was Mr. White dead? In an idealized world, he’d be alive. Alive and healthy, safe and happy. Maybe not up Jesse’s ass to the same degree as he was back in the normal world, but maybe… maybe he’d even stop by and see him sometimes. Not this. Not dead in a box, in the ground.
Jesse shook. His fingers twitched as he knocked again, a few times before the door opened and Jane was standing there, staring at him.
“Hey. You okay?” She asked, raising an eyebrow. “You know you can… call, right? 21st century and all?”
“I need help,” Jesse whispered.
“Uh, yeah, you probably do.”
“Please. I mean… You won’t believe me,” Jesse sputtered, “But… You’re the only person I can really go to.”
She looked at him and widened her eyes.
“But I only just met you.”
He knew it would sound insane, but the truth was really the only option he had at this point.
“In this life, yeah. But… before… we were close. Really close.”
Jane cocked her head to the side.
“You’re telling me we were… close… and I’ll assume that’s a euphemism… in a past life?”
“Not exactly… a different… It’s this. It’s all this but… it’s different and I…”
“Why don’t you come in? Sit down, get some air. I’ll get you a glass of water, all right?”
Jesse sighed. Jane probably thought he was a complete psycho. Why was she inviting him in, then? Wasn’t she worried he would kill her or something?
Or maybe she knew. Maybe some part of her just knew. Even if she didn’t want to admit it to herself, maybe there was some flash of realization, of dream or memory, that knew that Jesse loved her. That she might have loved him once, too.
Had she? He had never been sure.
“So what, is this like that episode of The Crow where Eric and Shelly had been together in a past life?”
Jesse raised an eyebrow and smiled.
“Hey, you saw that show too? That was bad-ass, y’know, I mean, there’d always be that part every episode where Eric would hop on his motorcycle and they’d play the title theme and it’d just be like… bad-ass…” He paused. “Uhh… Sorry. Off-topic, I guess.”
“Take a seat,” Jane said again. She gestured for him to sit on her couch. He sat, then gazed around curiously. “Well, given how you’re looking at this, I’ll take a stab that you weren’t in here in your… past life. So where?” She leaned in, breathed next to Jesse’s ear. “Where were we… close?”
Jesse was distracted from his aim as he smiled.
“In my bed. That’s where we would… I didn’t have one when I moved in because I… didn’t have anything. I’d gotten kicked out of my house and… uh, well, I bought a bed.” He laughed nervously. “And we tried it out.”
Jane slipped her pinky into her mouth.
“Sure you’re not just telling tales? Making things up? You might sound a little on the crazy side… just warning you.”
“I know,” Jesse whispered, “But it’s all true. I wish there was a way to prove it, but I can’t. But you’re the only one who can still help me figure this out. So please, just… Jane, I know you don’t know me, I mean, really know me. But you’re my only hope at figuring this out.”
“Listen, Jesse?” She leaned against the wall and looked at him. “This is some of the weirdest shit I’ve ever heard. But you know what? Honestly, I have fuck-all else to do today, and I’m actually a bit curious to see how this pans out. So I’m in.” She reached over and picked up the remote, lazily flicking through the channels before half-heartedly settling on the news. “So where do you think we should start?”
Jesse didn’t quite hear her. He was staring ahead at the screen.
“Turn that up… Jane, please!” he pleaded, and with a look at him, she did.
“Another tragedy in the gang violence plaguing Albuquerque… Twenty-one year old Andrea Cantillo and her six year old son, Brock, were found dead in their home this morning. Investigators are saying it looks like a gang initiation killing, but would not offer any additional comment at this time.”
Jesse’s jaw dropped, and he stared.
“That’s just depressing,” Jane said quietly, before looking and spotting Jesse’s distress. “You don’t… did you know her?”
Jesse nodded, eyes wide and gulping. His hands were sweaty.
“I… dated her. I… her son, I… Jeez… This can’t be real, Jane. I can’t… choose.”
“What do you mean, choose?” Jane asked him. “Are you… wait. Alright… Let me get this straight. You still think… Okay, so there’s this other world out there – so says you – were you with… both of us in the other world? But why…” Jane thumbed at her chin. “Unless… If she’s dead in this one, then you think that I…?”
Jesse looked at her with tears in her eyes.
“Then in the other one, I’m…”
Jane considered it. She looked back and forth between the TV and Jesse.
“This is crazy, Jesse. You’re a few cards short of a battle deck. But… Hey.” She reached out and took his hand, squeezed it. “I think I know a way to help. If this is real – and hell, you know I’m not saying it is… Then I think I know where we can find out more about it.” She grabbed the remote with her other hand and shut off the TV.
“Where are we going?”
“We’ll see.” She walked towards the door. Almost under her breath, she added, “This ought to be interesting.”
Jane had driven for twenty-five minutes and had just pulled into a little cul-de-sac that had perfect hedges when Jesse asked again where they were going. Again, she didn’t answer, opting instead to pull into a parking spot in front of some house, open the car doors and lead Jesse on to the porch.
Jesse had expected her to knock, but instead she pulled a key from her pocket and placed it in the door, turning it and only then knocking a few times before opening it. She stepped into a living room, pulling Jesse alongside her.
There was a sound of footsteps, and an older man with graying hair entered the room. Jesse’s heart stopped; he recognized him instantly. Jane’s father. Donald Margolis.
“Hi, Dad,” Jane said, gesturing. “This is Jesse. Can we use the library? And do you have anything good in the fridge?”
“Jane, I was under the impression that you had your own home. One, in fact where I let you live rent-free.”
“Yeah, but we need to use the library,” Jane replied with a smile. “You didn’t throw out those old books Mom had, did you? The ones with the… weird stuff?”
“You mean her anthropology textbooks?” Donald asked. “No. They’re still up there. Why do you need them?”
“There’s a thing,” Jane told him, before walking forward and disappearing into the next room. Jesse heard a refrigerator door open and when she returned, she was holding a box of donuts. “Thanks for the donuts.”
“You’re… welcome,” Donald told her dryly.
“Come on, let’s go upstairs,” Jane said, grabbing Jesse’s arm.
“Uh, hi,” Jesse said, waving to Donald as he was pulled. Admittedly, this was less awkward than the way that he had met her father before… but not by much.
He followed Jane up a flight of stairs and through a door that led to what Jane had called “the library” but could also be summed up as some sort of study or computer room. There was a laptop in it – he assumed it belonged to Donald – and two full bookcases filled to overflowing with different kinds of books.
“Now,” Jane said, “I’m not saying I believe you. But… if I did. There’s some kinda stuff here that seems to be up that alley. I mean… people believed it. My mom studied this kinda stuff for her thesis.”
“What’s a thesis?” Jesse inquired, but Jane didn’t answer. She was busy picking up books and busily flipping through them.
“So what happened? Did something actually come to you and, you know, offer you three wishes or something?”
“No. It wasn’t the goddamned genie from Aladdin. I just… I said it, and then BOOM! It… it happened.”
Jane scratched her head.
“Well, what did you wish for?” she inquired. Jesse let out a sigh. The fact that she was actually accepting his bizarre-yet-true story was unlikely enough that he hadn’t taken a second to consider what he would actually tell her if she asked this. He couldn’t tell her all about Mr. White, about what they had been like… Hell, even speaking the man’s name seemed too painful now, too raw considering that in this world he didn’t even live and breathe anymore, that he was shut tight and sleeping inside a coffin.
“I… There was this guy I knew. And a lot of bad shit came out of me knowing him. So… I… wished I never met him again,” Jesse explained. “But… so much… I mean… God, Jane, he’s dead. I found out he’s dead.”
Jane put the book she was looking through back on the shelf and looked at him.
“Are you sure this isn’t some kinda… psychological coping mechanism? I mean, maybe… you found out he’s dead… and…” she lowered her voice, made it softer. “And then your ex and her son, too. And you decided… there had to be another world out there. Another one where they’re alive if only you can get back to it.”
Jesse shook his head.
“Okay, on some level, that makes sense,” he admitted, “And, like… I’m pretty sure that it happens. That people summon up shit that they’re… like… aliens or something or they totally lose their memory because their family died, or something. But how would I come up with a whole life where I knew you…” He paused, but was unable to stop himself from continuing, “Where I loved you… If I had never met you before I ran into you the other day?”
“Jesse,” Jane started. “The brain… well, I wasn’t a Psych major during my… exceedingly brief stay in college, but it can do crazy things in crazy circumstances. Stockholm Syndrome. Schizophrenia. The mind… can make all kinds of things real that aren’t.”
Jesse stepped forward, reaching out his hands to take both of Jane’s in his.
“I know… it sounds crazy. I know that it can’t be true. But part of you… I have to trust that part of you knows that I’m telling the truth. That part of you just knows, or is at least… can at least give me the benefit of the doubt. Can you give me that Jane, please?”
Jane sighed and looked at him. He was afraid she would shake off his hands, tell him again that he was nuts, or even worse call for her dad and have him throw Jesse down the stairs or out the window or something.
“You know, Jesse,” she said instead. “I’m honestly not all that convinced. But... I also like you. There’s something about you I like. So… I’m willing to take this crazy little ride with you, and if I get to see reality get warped, well, I suppose that’s worth the price of admission.”
Jesse stared at her.
“Sure,” Jane told him. “My life gets boring now that I’m clean. Guess I need something to keep me occupied. ‘My anti-drug’.” She laughed. “Guess we better get reading, right?” She picked another book off the shelf and handed it to him. “You better pull your weight, or I’ll kick your ass.” Jesse opened the book and got to work. They had to figure this out somehow. There had to be an answer.