Failing Upward Ch. 15

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Author note: Thanks to everyone for all the feedback. I’m sorry this story isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this story is hard to categorize since it blends sci fi, fantasy and romance. If it’s not for you, pass it by. Since the premise is about the process of finding out that Wes is jumping universes, saying this upfront uncovers a major plot device in the story.

If you find the story too difficult to follow at this point, wait until it’s completely posted, then read it in its entirety. I’m post one chapter per week and have only five more chapters to post after this until the end.

Thanks,

el

————–

Rotten food, paper towels, junk mail. All frozen. Shit. What was this? Last week’s chicken? Ruined my appetite. Bona Petite my ass. I felt like a homeless man, digging around in the two garbage cans by the back door covertly scavenging for my old jeans and shirt. It was the sand. It had to be. I opened the bag and emptied it on the ground before me. I dug around on my hands and knees searching. Sand, sand, I had to have the sand. At least it was cold enough that it didn’t stink, but my fingers turned to stiff ice sickles digging around. In the second can my numb fingers finally found my clothes in the very bottom trash-bag. I reached into the front pocket of my soiled old jeans and brought out a handful of sand, as white and sparkling as the snow around me, then put it back. The front and back pockets of my jeans had more than enough sand for my purposes. I tried not to dwell on where my clothes had been as I carefully rolled them up and put the trash back.

I crept through the mudroom door and slipped into the kitchen. I washed my hands first. My cold hands burned as the warm water poured over them. I dried them on a towel hooked to the cabinet and then began my quest. Now, trying to find the zip-lock baggies to put the sand in was next to impossible in this kitchen. There was more than twenty old wooden drawers every one of them stuck. By some miracle, I caught the silverware drawer before it fell to the floor. With each squeak, I tensed and looked up– certain I’d see Glenda come around the kitchen counter and ask what the hell I was doing in her kitchen. I found the baggies in the side of the linen drawer. I pulled one out tucked it in my pocket then ducked through the dining room, down the ante room and up the stairs. I needed sanctuary. I had to think. Could I do this? Could I get our lives back?

I had until Wednesday. I’d go to work tomorrow… maybe. At the least I should stop in and see Mr. Keller. At least as far as I knew my job at the flower shop was still there.

I went to the wastebasket by my desk and meticulously emptied the sand out of my pockets into the baggie. I sat cross-legged, leaning over the basket, careful not to spill any evidence on the floor. I felt kinda like a bad boy– like I was filling a baggie with some contraband substance and trying to keep it from my parents. My fingers were still stiff, cold, and shaky. I couldn’t get the fucking bag to seal. I tried again. Shit. I placed it between my legs and blew on my hands to warm them. There. At last… Yellow and blue do make green.

I held up the bag; it swung lazily like a pendulum, and the light from the old lamp on my desk made the sand sparkle hypnotically. So much trouble from something so simple. I drew myself up off the floor then I threw my old clothes under my bed. I put the baggie in my underwear drawer under my socks like a teenager hiding his stash from his mom.

I felt out-of-sync– like an old clock wound down, ticking off each second slower and slower. My arms and legs felt detached. The house was still.

I took my twelve-string Alvarez out of the guitar case and curled up on the cushions in the old bay window. I pressed my spine into the frame and ran one finger down the sheer curtains. Pulling them aside, I gazed down into the frozen garden below. It was easier for me to think playing my guitar. I turned back to my twelve-string. Memories of my lover’s bite on the very cushions I sat on now filled me. My head banging against the frame of this same window. I remembered the thorny vines below, and they haunted me. I closed my eyes; they waited, dormant and lonely below in the cold garden. I could feel their song through the strings. As my thumb caressed the smooth maple neck of my guitar, I connected with the other me– he was me. That Wes and I the same. The realization vibrated through me with the strings, our thoughts and our passions in tune. We both wanted the same things. Sid. The roses. Our old lives back. And the garden… the garden wanted us– called to us. I scratched my wrist where the thorn hid beneath my skin– where it hid beneath the other Wes’s skin as well. My face became hot, and my eyes misted. Christ. My cock was hard. How long had it been since we’d been down there?

Too long. It had been too long since we’d been down there.

I wanted to go outside to the garden, but I moved away from the window onto my bed instead. It was cold and hollow casino siteleri outside. Going there would solve nothing just fill a void. As I thought of Sid and moved my fingers over the frets, my head finally cleared. Wednesday I would try to go back to my universe, to my Sid, and if it didn’t work, I made up my mind that I would never try to slip into another reality again. It was too painful moving in and out of other lives.

I wondered what I’d be going back to… I worried about Sid. My uncle and Trent told me how hard it would be for Sid to deal with his new immortality and all that went with it. Not being able feel pain– that would be the hardest. Sometimes I thought it would be better if my brand of immortality granted me the gift of no pain, but I knew life would be flat. I thought about what my Sid gave up by taking the serum.

If I stayed here, the Sid in this time might make the same choice as my Sid had. I couldn’t stop myself from loving this Sid, but I could stop myself from making this Sid immortal.

Then there was Shackleton off destroying my life in another universe.

My mind whirled. I decided I’d wash the rest away the rest of the day one chord at a time.

——————

Tuesday morning there was no hiding. I hoped I could sneak out and avoid Glenda’s third-degree, but no such luck. I had Les’s car keys in hand when she caught me at the door.

She corralled me by pulling my coat and dragging me to the table. In a bathrobe and slippers, her hair was piled on top of her head, face freshly scrubbed, glowing.

“Get out in the kitchen and eat something! I’m making pancakes.”

I surrendered and sat down and watched her leaning over in her blue terrycloth bathrobe, testing the griddle with a drop of cold water. It popped and fizzled.

“Ready,” she said, pouring the batter then pointing to the counter. “Coffee’s ready, too. Have some.”

I got up, took a mug out of the cupboard and poured a steaming cup. I scratched my palm then hunted for the sugar.

I sat back down with a black cup of coffee.

“You must be desperate to avoid me if you’re sneaking off without a cup of coffee,” she observed, lifting the edge of one pancake, peeking underneath. “You can’t skirt this forever. You have to talk about it sometime.”

Not sure exactly what she was referring to, I shrugged and feigned indifference. I figured she was probably referring to my ordeal with Shackleton, but better to not jump to any conclusions– like maybe she knew I had the hots for Sid (m-m-m Sid, nice round ass, soft eyes, strong hands and those incredible flecks of freckles sprinkled across his shoulders– god I needed HIM!).

Then again, maybe she was just fishing for information and suspected that I’m not really Wes or–

“I know there’s nothing I can say– I can’t imagine what it must have been like being buried like that,” she said, systematically flipping over the pancakes one-by-one. “Or what happened with that man, Shackleton. You’ve been keeping too much to yourself, locked up in your room. I’m worried for you, Wes. Your body is here, but you’re still not with us. I keep looking for our Wes and every moment or two I’ll see him and then the sparkle dancing in your eyes fades. I want to see your eyes sparkle all the time again–“

“I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

She flopped each pancake off the griddle onto a red Fiesta platter. She set it on the table next to the syrup. I stared down at my reflection in my sunny yellow plate. Nope, no sparkle today.

“I don’t remember…” I said, the bright colored dinner plates not doing much for my appetite or appearance.

She stepped behind my chair then placed her hands on my shoulders, massaging my neck with her thumbs.

“I don’t believe you. Les buys it, but I don’t. You’ve always been one to avoid what’s unpleasant.”

I choked on my coffee– now that was the understatement of the year! “Unpleasant? Fuck!”

She pinched my side.

“Ouch!”

She wagged her finger at me then plopped pancakes on my plate and smothered them in syrup.

“Maybe it’s cool to swear like that around your friends, but not in front of me,” she scolded. “Wes?”

“Sorry.”

“You do remember,” she said firmly.

“Some,” I admitted, taking a small bite. “But not all.”

“What do you remember?”

“I’m not certain how long I was there, but I do remember being buried. I remember Shackleton throwing sand on me– the grit in my mouth. He wouldn’t talk to me just shoveling more and more sand on top of me. I remember not being able to move and how I itched. That sand was like little pieces of fiberglass rubbing through me. You know how wonderful it feels to be able to scratch now?” I automatically scratched my head, my arms, the top of my legs. “All I could do was dream and think. After awhile, I couldn’t tell what was a dream, my imagination from reality. I didn’t hope anymore.”

She put her arms around me and hugged me tight.

“I think I have some canlı casino idea what it’s like to be insane,” I said, resting my head back against her robe, closing my eyes. Then I heard someone else behind me, and my skin sparked in pinpricks, and my eyes flew open; I spun to see my uncle listening intently. I don’t know how long he’d been standing there, or how much he’d heard. I sensed it wasn’t long. He smiled sadly at me then walked to the table and quietly sat down across from me.

“What about before?” he asked. “What do you recall?”

“With Shackleton? I don’t remember. Nothing at all. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I want to remember what happened, or what he did to me so please don’t make me try to remember…”

I swished my coffee around in my cup, struggling not to cry. I frowned down, and the sunny yellow plate mocked me. Glenda pulled up a chair and sat down next to me, her knees touching mine. With that simple touch, I felt her kindness more keenly than her soft words.

“I know what he did to me,” my uncle began, “and I hoped you were spared that but this loss of memory…”

“We don’t want to force this on you,” she said. “Maybe it’s best you don’t remember, but we want to know where he kept you. All these years and we’ve never found where Shackleton lives– where he hides. If you know, your uncle would end all this forever. He’d never bother any of us again.”

I had a good idea how he would end it. Pretty similar to Glenda’s solution before– only a bit more permanent and grisly. Not a comforting thought especially when I pondered that same fate could be mine by Shackleton’s hand– or worse it could be the fate of someone I loved.

I hesitated. I knew where he’d taken me before– to the Community, but this was a different time and place. Shackleton took the other Wes somewhere. I doubted he took me to somewhere sterile like the Community. This was all so confusing, not knowing where my life began here.

“I don’t know where,” I said honestly. “My guess is somewhere near where he buried me.”

“We’ve searched for years there. How he can keep where he hides a secret, I don’t know.”

With no one to stop Shackleton, he probably preformed horrific acts on me. Judging from my condition before Shackleton buried me and my past experience with Shackleton, I thought my uncle’s suspicions were right. I just didn’t want to think about the hell Wes in my universe was living through now. That Wes knew where Shackleton took me. All the more reason for me to try to switch back. If we could, then he could tell Uncle Dan and then maybe they could stop Shackleton– at least in one universe.

Maybe I should try to remember. What if I could never go back?

“I don’t know. It’s all a blank, but I have nightmares. I’m not sure what is real anymore.”

Glenda reached out, thumb brushing a tear off my cheek. Transfused in the touch was love and protection. No malice. As her finger left, I still felt it there, a calming reminder.

“Wes, look at me,” he ordered, and I raised my eyes to his. I felt them pierce through me. “Tell me. Who are you?”

“I was Wesley Grant. I hope I still am.”

He reached over and grabbed my hand and in one instant I knew what he knew– that I wasn’t his Wes. I stared into his eyes. We understood each other.

“I need to go see Mr. Keller. I need to go to the greenhouse. I have to see that some things haven’t changed,” I admitted.

Glenda frowned, looking from me to my uncle. She studied both our faces. She knew some silent words had passed between us. She just didn’t know what.

“Eat,” she said, pointing at my pancakes. She hesitated, deciding what was the best action to take. “It’s time for me to wake your brother.” Glenda started for the door, tightening the belt of her bathrobe, then turned.

Uncle Dan waited for her to leave the kitchen, then asked: “Is there anything else you need to tell me?”

“Yes, but–” I concentrated on my plate. “I don’t know where to begin.”

“Go visit Mr. Keller, but when you get home tonight we’ll talk, just you and I.”

I nodded, and then he left me alone in the old kitchen to finish my pancakes and think.

——————

The sign on the front of the store said “Help Wanted.” I had to admit I was a little pissed that they’d try to replace me at the flower shop. I’d always figured I was pretty indispensable. I sucked it up and opened the door. Probably needed to hire two people to replace me. I’d thought about calling first to let Mr. Keller know I was coming in– maybe if I had Mr. Keller might have taken down that stupid sign. Mr. Keller was standing at the front counter on the phone when I walked up the steps. He turned as he heard the door ring.

His face glowed when he saw me. Change jingled in his pocket with his free hand and with the other he cupped the phone. I’d never seen him get off the phone so fast. Next I knew I was in this crushing bear hug my legs swinging around and around as he spun me. I felt his belly jiggle kaçak casino as he laughed. His smock smelled of Cuban cigars and Sea Breeze. He set me down with a kiss on the cheek. Guess I didn’t have to worry about any stupid Help Wanted sign.

Alan walked up the steps from the back greenhouse.

“About time you decided to show up…” he whined, throwing me an empty watering can. “Make yourself useful and give the plants on the front room floor a drink.”

I caught the can then set it down then leaped into Alan’s arms and planted a sloppy kiss on his lips.

“Hi to you too!” I winked.

I’d never seen Alan blush before.

It was almost like being home.

——————-

I wasn’t in much of a hurry to get home and talk to Uncle Dan so I took my time getting home. I drove by my old house, which was still intact and untouched by fire. Obviously it never was my house– I could just make out colorful red and blue swing-set over the six-foot privacy fence surrounding the yard. A tri-cycle was left haphazardly in the driveway, ready to be crushed by the white mini-van parked in front of it. The lawn had yellow patches.

Next I drove by Lynn’s apartment. It looked the same– a familiar old Ford truck was parked in her driveway instead of her white Intrepid. The curtains were replaced by shades in the front window. Alan came out the door and went to his truck.

As for my parent’s house– it wasn’t there. Nothing remained. A modular home stood in its place all symmetrical and plastic with pointed corners and neat square juniper shrubs lining the drive.

I hadn’t wanted to know what life was like for Wes here, but I’d skirted around the painful memory of my family. They were still gone, Mom, Dad and Karen. Our family home erased. I lived with my aunt and uncle now.

This ride down memory lane made my stomach churn and my throat tighten. Nothing felt real. None of this. What I sought was the familiar; what I found was foreign. For a few fleeting moments at work, I felt myself. Now, it was washed with the uncanny feeling that I didn’t belong in my own skin.

I thought about tomorrow night and what I hoped would happen on stage and prayed that bit of sand would work.

Soon I found the car driving itself down Sid’s street. His Cutlass was there, not a speck of salt on it all clean and waxed, chrome glinting in the setting sun. I smiled and hummed. That was the Sid I knew– his car was a polished and shiny extension of his psyche. I drove around the block on autopilot, finding myself back where I came from and romancing thoughts of Sid with his hands between my legs with me sprawled out in those comfy white vinyl backseat of his. Mechanically I pulled into his drive way. I could have called my turning the steering wheel happenstance; I knew better. I sat in Les’s car for the longest time, swearing under my breath for even being in Sid’s driveway. I still felt sick to my stomach, but I didn’t leave, cursing my weakness. I could blame the pain in the pit of my gut on reliving the past or maybe on skipping lunch or maybe even on those pancakes this morning. I pressed my forehead against the steering-wheel then decided to punctuate my idiocy with a bit of self-loathing, banging my forehead against the wheel chanting, ‘stupid, stupid, stupid’ when suddenly the god damned car alarm malfunctioned. I sat up and fumbled for the keys in the ignition to turn the thing off. Can’t find the button… fucking fabulous, I thought.

Why am I even trying? I should just go see Sid. I threw my hands up in the air and gave in. I grabbed the handle and started to open the door when the alarm turned itself off. Quickly my brain reminded my dick what a fatal mistake it might be for me to get out of the car. But it was too late– as I slammed the door and put the car into reverse, Sid sauntered out.

He knocked on the driver’s window, and I jumped. I had hoped I could back the car out and pretend I hadn’t seen him. Now I was screwed. Or maybe he was screwed. I smiled to myself. Screw, screw, screw. Not an unpleasant thought. So I put the car in park, left it running and rolled down the window. I tried to look cool. I kinda slid my body closer to the window, flopped one wrist over the steering wheel while I adjusted the rearview mirror with my other hand, checking myself in it. My unavailing nonchalant ‘I could give a fuck’ aura wasn’t cutting it.

“Are you going to come in or not?” he asked, and I turned my head and looked at him: The rich gold of the setting sun caught Sid’s eyes. God, they looked perfect. I looked back up into the rearview mirror. Not smart. Not smart to look in his eyes. Sid cleared his throat and my eyes slid back in his direction. His hands were shoved deep in his pockets, and he bounced up and down to keep warm.

“Well? Are you getting out?” he repeated. I could see the breath puff out of his mouth. Great lips. Why did he have to look so damned handsome in that old stained suede jacket?

“Not!” I blurted. “Not! Not getting out!”

My heart hammered clear up to my throat. I ached to feel something real. Sid was my touchstone, my center. I knew I had the power to make or break that same heart that was clamoring inside my chest. But I had to do what was best for Sid’s heart too.

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