As he threw back his head to laugh at his best friend Anthony’s joke with far more gusto than it merited, Lucas Schmidt had no inkling of the mindboggling turn his life would take in just a few short minutes. Unlike The Princess Bride’s Vizzini’s misuse of the word, this would be truly inconceivable to anyone who wasn’t a science fiction junkie.
The authorities investigating Lucas’s disappearance would never consider the truth. It wouldn’t occur to them, nor to his family. It would be considered only by fringe conspiracy theorists at whom the bulk of the world’s occupants would scoff with heavy derision if they chanced to utter their musings aloud.
Nor did Lucas realize how much the last words his father had said hours earlier would haunt his thoughts over the coming year, long after he’d forgotten Anthony’s lame pun. His year of personal growth, as he would come to think of it. Eventually.
Well, it would last a year in his own personal timeline, but the flow of time became a bit muddled when disorderly rifts in its fabric got involved.
“Lazy punk,” Dad had grumbled, only partially under his breath. “You’re never going to amount to anything if you don’t get an attitude adjustment.”
“I’ll get them tomorrow, I promise!” Lucas had casually thrown over his shoulder as he’d loped out the front door and broken into a jog toward the park. It wasn’t like the dandelions were going anywhere. If not tomorrow, then he’d yank them the next day if he could get away with avoiding it a little longer. Damned things grew year ’round in the Pacific Northwest, and Dad refused to use weedkillers on his yard.
Likewise, back home in his easy chair, waiting for the Times Square ball to drop and usher in the new year—the new millennium—Lucas’s father had no idea his son was about to undergo said attitude adjustment. Or how much he would come to regret that harsh criticism, imagining, for the next twenty years, that they’d been the last words he would ever say to his son.
Two other men who were about to become an integral part of Lucas’s coming year also had no clue that the phenomenon that would one day consume their lives was beginning thousands of miles from where they currently lived. In this moment, they were tweens who would have far more in common with Lucas’s little sister, Miranda, than with Lucas.
In fact, years down the road after they’d married and moved to this area, they would become good friends with Miranda, who would sometimes babysit their young son. Eventually, she would tell them the story of her beloved big brother’s disappearance in the park, decades earlier, on the Millennial New Year’s Eve.
* * * *
Oblivious to the vagarities of time and to the reality that he was about to embark on the most strenuous year-long, let’s-toughen-this-punk-up program his dad could have conceived, Lucas refilled his red Solo cup at one of the kegs.
Lucas winced and briefly considered dumping it. This was one more thing for Dad to be mad about when Lucas came home staggering after a few too many. He sighed and glanced over at the bonfire where his girlfriend, Allison, was laughing with her friends.
Fuck it. With any luck, Dad would be asleep by the time he got home. Lucas snorted, took a hefty swig, and hitched his head for Anthony to follow him toward some bushes where they wouldn’t be overheard. He’d had enough liquid courage now to broach a certain subject with his best friend.
“So…” Lucas cocked one eyebrow in a manner he hoped resembled an accompaniment to a sophisticated query but more likely was a good match for the involuntary smirk twitching at the corners of his mouth. “Who are you crushing on these days?”
Which was, at the same time, both a chicken-shit sidetrack from the subject he wanted to steer toward, and a dick move. It was a dick move because Lucas knew damned well that Anthony was crushing on Lucas’s girlfriend, Allison, but was a good enough friend not to make a play for her.
Anthony blinked, and his mouth flopped open, but no noise came out.
“Naw, fuck it.” Lucas waved a hand to dismiss his idiotic question. “I wanted to tell you about who I’m crushing on.”
“What?” Anthony continued his blink-fest. “What are you talking about? You’re dating Allison, for fuck’s sake.” Anthony’s words were said with the tone of one who couldn’t fathom how anyone who’d met her would not be worshiping every strawberry-blonde strand of hair on Allison’s head.
And Lucas did adore her. She was funny and smart as well as beautiful. But hell, he was seventeen. And…curious. Bi-curious and wondering what his best friend would think of that. Not that Lucas was likely to do anything about it anytime soon, or possibly ever, because, as Anthony had said, he was dating Allison.
“I know, I know. We’re not breaking up or anything.” Lucas swallowed then blurted, “But do you ever wonder what it’d be like to make out with another guy?”
Anthony stopped blinking and stared at him with widened eyes. Was he imagining Lucas was talking about the two of them?
Lucas rushed on. “I never did before, but shit, Mr. Gardener is fucking hot.” Mr. Gardener being a first-year English teacher at their high school whose clothes fit close enough to be tantalizing without being snug enough to overstep the bounds of acceptable teacher attire.
Anthony barked a laugh that rang with a tone of relief. “Fuck. Point, dude. Goals, right? Have the sex appeal to turn fucking everybody’s heads.”
This time when Lucas threw back his head to laugh, it was with far more sincerity than his earlier guffaw at Anthony’s already forgotten joke. He spread his arms and spun.
Everyone who’d brought one had turned on their flashlights, and they were waving them in the air like beacons beckoning in the new millennium. It must be getting close to countdown time.
Lucas stopped spinning to watch the high-spirited fun as one of the kids tapped another, yelled “Tag, you’re it!” and the group scattered in all directions as the tagged girl chased after them.
“Awesome.” Lucas turned to Anthony. “Wanna?”
Then without waiting for a reply, Lucas ran into the inky void, away from the bonfire. He yelled, “Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m…” He stumbled his next few steps as he hit an unexpected downward slope. “…the gingerbread man!” He finished the nursery rhyme with gusto then tripped and fell. “Ouch. Dammit!”
He stood and did a slow turn to reorientate himself. About the time he’d stumbled, the familiar buzz of his classmates’ chatter had stopped, and a rhythmic beat and hum of voices had replaced it, coming from a different direction before drawing to a sudden stop. Weird.
And what the actual fuck? “Hey assholes,” he yelled. Turn your flashlights back on!”
Lucas rotated as his eyes adjusted to only moonlight. Again, what the actual fuck? “Where the fuck did you guys go?” And seriously, had these been here all along… “What’s with the funky tents? This isn’t funny, assholes!”
He spun toward a grove of trees to his right and tripped and fell on his ass again as two men wearing little more than loincloths emerged holding torches, running toward him.
Oh, surely not. Lucas lifted his face to the sky and yelled again. “I told you guys I didn’t wanna drop acid. I’m gonna kill you fuckers!”
“Lucas?” One of the men called.
They were figments of his imagination, so of course they knew his name.
“Yeah, trip dude, what d’ya want?”
Whatever. Nothing he could do about it now, so he might as well go with the flow.
* * * *
Intriguing as Lucas’s little adventure is, this story isn’t about him, though we’ll see him again–and revisit the tail end of this scene from a different perspective. This tale is about those two men approaching Lucas, torches in hand, to guide him through his year of personal growth.
Nor is this story about that particular year any more than it’s about Lucas.
Confused yet? Never fear, all will become clear in good time.
Come, let’s leap forward about eleven years from Lucas’s drunken Millennial New Year’s Eve run through the park and take a hop, skip, and a jump through a handful of pertinent events in those two men’s lives and look for clues as we lead up to the real drama of this story.
🔽 🔼 Alternate POV Scene - Chapter 1 Opening Scene
Alternate POV Scene - Chapter 1 Opening Scene
Originally posted in my April, 2020 newsletter.
Told from Leo’s 3rd-person POV:
Chapter 1 – Meet-Cute
Leo Bailey stopped short outside the art gallery’s entrance and drew in a deep steadying breath. The snorts of his buddies—which they didn’t even attempt to suppress—grated on his already frayed nerves.
“I know, I know.” Leo ran his fingers through his short dirty-blond hair. “Just give me a minute to psych myself up.”
“What’s the worst that’ll happen?” Zack asked. “Mohawk boy will say ‘no.’ And, since he’s the featured artist at this showing, he’s not going to make a scene even if he turns out to be the kind of jerk who otherwise would have.”
“I know,” Leo repeated. “I just really…”
Leo sighed. He’d just really…been so drawn to this guy’s charisma, not to mention his adorable and smokin’ hot uniquely styled hair. And all those piercings. That sort of thing had never caught Leo’s attention before, so it was hard to pinpoint why he felt so invested in the outcome of this meetup.
“…like him.” Otis rolled his eyes as he finished Leo’s sentence. “Yeah, we got that impression when you couldn’t stop drooling every time you snuck a peek at dinner.”
Leo stiffened. “You don’t think he noticed do you?” If the sexy artist—Vincent Noland, according to the flyer hanging in the gallery’s window—had seen him gawking while they’d been wolfing down burgers at District 42…hell, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? Leo felt like a damned stalker, coming here to facilitate a supposedly casual, chance meetup with the guy and ask him out.
As if anyone wouldn’t take one look at the four of them with their military buzz cuts, jeans and camo T-shirts and not know they were out of place in the art gallery.
“Doesn’t matter.” Danny hitched his head at the door then yanked it open. “Come on.”
Leo straightened his shoulders and followed Danny through the entryway, with Otis and Zack on his heels.
“At our ten o’clock,” Danny said before showing the good sense to not make a beeline to the left where Vincent Noland stood chirpily chatting with a group of people who clearly belonged in this setting far better than he. Danny led them to a corner in the opposite direction.
“Let him approach us,” Danny said. “He’s probably making the rounds and at least saying ‘hi’ to everyone.”
Leo blew out a shaky breath. “Good idea.” Because a cold approach was beyond his capabilities tonight. He was never good at social niceties or asking people out, but tonight was twenty times worse than typical.
Why was he even bothering, anyway? Leo’s breath caught as his gaze traveled over a series of illustrations hanging beside them. Someone with the charm and grace, not to mention talent of Vincent Noland wasn’t likely to be interested in a tongue-tied discomfited man like Leo.
Otis cuffed Leo’s arm. “Stop it. He’ll take one look at you and say, ‘Hell yes, I want me some of that.’”
Leo’s face warmed as Zack piled on. “You won’t even have to ask him out. He’ll beat you to it.”
“In my dreams,” Leo muttered.
Leo sighed, and they meandered leisurely down the wall, checking out the artwork.
“This stuff is pretty good,” Danny said as they stood in front of a set of watercolors. “I mean, it’s cool, not like the same old paintings hanging in every museum.”
Their heads all bobbed in agreement. The drawings and paintings were brilliant. Minimalist, yet with so much expression and personality shining through in those seemingly casual strokes of the brush, pen, or pencil.
Leo glanced in the artist’s direction. Vincent was speaking to the young woman he’d been with at District 42. Hell, maybe she was his girlfriend, and he was straight. Just because he presented in a way that pinged Leo’s gaydar, didn’t make his gayness a foregone conclusion.
And Vincent didn’t look overly pleased as he shot a few derisive looks in Leo and company’s direction. Leo managed to keep his back straight, but on the inside, everything slumped. He turned and stared at the watercolors as if he were just another random person enjoying that evening’s art walk. As if he had the slightest clue what was or wasn’t considered quality art beyond his own personal preferences.
When Otis cuffed his biceps, Leo turned, and his eyes widened. The artist was walking toward them with a hardened glint shining in his eyes. All Leo’s hope—what little of it he’d had—flittered away. Vincent had probably recognized them from the restaurant, had noticed Leo’s interest, and was going to call him out for being a creepy stalker.
Vincent’s gaze zeroed in on Leo, then his step faltered, and the glint in his eyes softened briefly. He stopped a few feet away. “Good evening, gentlemen.” His chin raised. “I’m Vincent Noland, the artist featured here tonight. Can I answer any questions for you?”
Danny nudged Leo. Couldn’t the guys see what was happening here? Why throw him under the bus? Leo cleared his throat. “Oh. Hi. I love your work.” He cast a jittery glance toward the watercolors. “Um…” Leo blinked as the glint altogether drained from Vincent’s now questioning eyes. “I…uh…don’t really know enough about art to come up with—”
Danny elbowed Leo. Again. Leo narrowed his gaze at him then turned back to Vincent. “Uh…do you have a favorite piece here?”
Vincent blinked and tilted his head as if Leo were some kind of puzzle to be solved.
Zack sighed and shook his head. “For fuck’s sake, Leo.” Then he turned pointedly to their group’s leader. “Danny?”
Danny rolled his eyes and looked at Vincent. “Leo here thinks you’re cute.” Leo froze. They really were going to throw him under the bus. Danny continued. “No. You’re—” he made air quotes “‘—oh-my-fucking-god-gorgeous-but-so-out-of-my-league.’” He shrugged. “Anyway, he needed three wingmen to come with him to get up the nerve to ask you out.” He rolled his eyes. Again. More of a deliberate than a reflexive expression. “And still failed.”
Vincent’s jaw dropped, and Leo’s hope rose. Because Vincent had obviously not seen that coming. He wasn’t pissed at them for tracking him to his art showing. He wasn’t pissed at all.
Still, Leo’s face heated. “Some fucking wingmen. Christ.” Leo made shooing motions with one hand, and Danny, Otis, and Zack slunk off toward another exhibit amid snorts of semi-suppressed laughter before detouring toward the young woman Vincent had been standing with, and who couldn’t have been any more obvious about the come-hither look she was leveling at Danny.
Leo’s face was probably flaming red, but he held Vincent’s direct gaze. Vincent grinned. An honest to goodness grin that reached his eyes, which no longer held the merest hint of the hard glint from earlier. Leo’s smile tweaked up.
“Sorry about that.” Leo shuffled his feet but pushed down his nerves and maintained that eye contact. He might as well go for broke… “I imagine you’re in a relationship anyway, and even if you weren’t…” Which was hardly going for broke. Leo needed to kick himself in the ass and show a little backbone.
Vincent shivered and cocked his head to the side. “I’m not in a relationship.” He paused briefly before melting Leo’s heart. “And I am—” he raked his gaze up and down Leo’s body, pausing pointedly at his groin, before meeting Leo’s gaze again “—Very. Very. Interested.”
🔽 🔼 Bonus Scene - Lucas's Return - Part 1
Bonus Scene - Lucas's Return - Part 1
Originally posted in my June, 2020 newsletter.
Told from Lucas’s 3rd-person POV:
When Are You? – Lucas’s Return – Part 1
After being propelled by Vinnie up a slight incline—which was how the terrain existed at this geographic spot in the distant past—Lucas stumbled as he came out the other side of the time portal. The ground leveled unexpectedly as he stepped through, and he pitched forward with a miscalculated step.
He blew out his breath with a loud “oomph” when a man—no, two men—each grabbed one of his arms and hauled him along about a dozen steps.
Lucas winced with an exaggeration worthy of a bad actor in a B-movie as the jarring chaos of the surrounding crowd reverberated through him. Unlike the calm scene he’d just left—orderly despite the large number of people involved—this “atmosphere” all but pummeled him with gale-force winds in a mighty thunderstorm drilling his scalp with stinging rain. But no, the actual weather was mild, and the sun was shining, although lower in the sky than it had been just moments (and yet thousands of years) ago.
He hunched, and all thoughts of what Vinnie had told him to do after he made it through flew from his head. The men who’d hauled him across the path let go, and Lucas wrapped his freed arms around his torso. The lorn feelings of abandonment that had overtaken the early days of his one-year-long stretch living in the cave with the Elk People rushed back.
A sob escaped him. Although he’d spent only one of his eighteen years with them, it had been a year of intense enlightenment, and now they felt as much like family as his birth family did.
Here in the present—future?—on this side of the time rift, his parents and sister thought he’d died twenty years ago. Twenty. Years. Ago.
He’d become a stranger in this present time. Lucas pressed his hands against his ears to block out the screaming that seemed to come from every direction.
Were they yelling because Leo and Vinnie Bailey had disappeared into thin air going through the portal in the opposite direction a few minutes before Lucas had come out? Or were they afraid of him? He was obviously unarmed, wearing nothing but the leather loincloth and foot coverings the Elk People had provided for him. Well, that and a single feather stuck in the short ponytail tied at the back of his head. With his pale blond hair, he didn’t actually look like the Native American his wardrobe implied.
And the bag. “Oh, yeah.” Lucas stared down at the soft leather carrier bag hanging around his neck. That’s what he was supposed to do—give that thing to some guy with red hair named Danny. Danny was one of three men—Leo’s Special Forces buddies—who’d helped Vinnie and Leo prepare for their journey.
Vinnie’d promised they would be waiting near the rift and would help Lucas. Lucas drew in a deep breath and lowered his hands. A man who fit the description he’d been given was staring intently at him.
“Dude,” Lucas said. “You Danny?”
The man didn’t even blink. “Yeah. You Lucas?”
Vinnie had said that although he and Leo had been taken off guard when they’d first seen Lucas on the other side, in hindsight he wouldn’t be surprised if Leo’s three Special Forces buddies had done additional research and might have figured out, or at least suspected, what had happened to Lucas and that they probably wouldn’t be shocked when Lucas popped out of the rift.
“Yeah.” Lucas pulled off the bag and shoved it at Danny.
“Stay back!” Danny’s voice boomed loud and unyielding.
Lucas jumped, but the order hadn’t been directed at him. The loose circle of hollering people around them was closing in…or trying to. Lucas squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in his hands but, no surprise, the cacophony didn’t lessen.
When he reopened his eyes, the rift had closed. Good riddance to it.
Most of the noise blurred together as if the words had been lost in the roar of a rockslide, but one shrill and forceful phrase leaked through. “Who put you guys in charge? If you three won’t restrain that Neanderthal wannabe, I will!”
Lucas shivered. “Fuck this shit,” he muttered. He swayed as the turmoil in his mind coalesced, and suddenly just a few more hours on top of the year he’d spent in the past was just too much ask.
It went against his instructions from Vinnie and Leo, which were to stay with Danny and the other two, meet the police when they arrived, and explain the situation to them. But his mind zeroed in on a single goal as renewed strength coursed through his muscles, and just like that, not a bucking bull at the rodeo, nor a direct order from the pope in Vatican City, let alone the assholes surrounding him, could have kept him there another moment.
Not when home was just a few blocks away. He curled his fingers into tight fists and with a sudden jolt, he took off running at full speed.
“Hey wait!” Danny’s voice didn’t have that assertive ring like it’d had with the directive he’d aimed at the unruly people around the rift. He probably knew as well as Lucas did that the police could track him down without any trouble.
Knowing who Lucas was, no doubt Danny could send some of the cops who would soon be converging on the park to Lucas’s family home. Which was fine. They would have to investigate.
Lucas didn’t even try to listen for footsteps trailing him. Fuck ’em. Unless they were a current track star, he could outrun them. He virtually flew down the park path, which hadn’t existed here twenty years ago, through the parking lot, which had been a gravel patch back in the day, and then he turned toward home.
Out on the street, people were going about their lives as if nothing untoward was going on in their sleepy little town. As if two men—Vinnie and Leo Bailey—hadn’t just stepped through a tear in the fabric of time in search of their young son, Oscar, who’d been swallowed up by an appearance of that rift just a week earlier. And as if Lucas, who’d been assumed kidnapped and murdered twenty years ago (from their perspective) at the age of seventeen hadn’t just reappeared looking only a single year older than when he’d left them.
The cheerful laughter of children playing on backyard swing sets filtered through Lucas’s tumultuous thoughts, and a tentative smile curled his lips. The mouthwatering aroma of burgers or steaks sizzling on someone’s grill reminded him that he’d left his freshly filled midday meal plate untouched when the “alarm” had been raised that the rift had opened.
A car drove by as he rounded a corner, seemingly without taking notice of him running along dressed like a primitive native. Possibly because he’d also just passed a group of children dressed like pirates going on a treasure hunt, taking advantage of the mild late-afternoon weather. Apparently, such antics weren’t entirely out of place. Not at a quick glance, anyway.
After another turn, Lucas glanced back. Nobody was following him. He’d lost any assholes who might’ve tried.
Lucas turned the final corner and slowed to a walk. He drew in a shuddered breath, came to a stop, and stared. The house looked much as it had when he’d left. It had vinyl siding now, but it was the same color. The trees and bushes had matured.
A teen, maybe fifteen or sixteen, with strawberry-blond hair that reminded him of Allison, his girlfriend at the time of his disappearance, was mowing the front lawn. Lucas bit his lip and shook out his hands. He was pretty sure his parents still lived in the house, so the teen was probably some kid from the neighborhood they paid to mow the yard.
Leo and Vinnie Bailey had been good friends with Lucas’s l’il sis, Miranda. She wouldn’t be the braces-wearing twelve-year-old he remembered and would now be thirty-two. Miranda no longer lived at home, but Vinnie had said he’d gotten the impression from things she’d said over the years that her parents still lived in the house where she’d grown up.
A puppy in the front yard of the neighbor’s house yipped at him. It was the house where his best friend, Anthony, had lived. Did Anthony’s parents still live there?
Lucas blinked as a clearer awareness of his surroundings permeated his scattered thoughts. The lawn mower was now silent, and the teen, who also had that same unique shade of blue eyes as Allison, stood rooted in place, mouth agape, staring at Lucas.
A shiver skittered across Lucas’s skin as a transient thought that this could be his own son momentarily froze his brain, before the realization that this kid was five years too young for that to be possible filtered through, and he expelled a relieved breath. He had enough on his plate without acquiring responsibility for a kid just a few years younger than himself. Probably just as much of a little shit as he’d been, too.
The kid was obviously some kind of relation to Allison’s family, though. Allison would be thirty-seven now. So would Anthony. Lucas shivered again. His “crew” had grown up without him. He had no one to pour his heart out to anymore—nobody to bitch to about parents that didn’t understand him, or to share his hopes and dreams for his future.
Lucas jumped and turned to the source of the sharply spoken word, which seemed louder than it actually was in the stillness of the street. A man had come onto the front porch of Anthony’s old house.
In fact, was that Anthony? He was about the right age, and his appearance was consistent with what the teen whom Lucas remembered might have grown into.
The man looked forebodingly at Lucas before turning to the strawberry-blond teen and hooking a finger at the kid. “In the house. Now.”
Then the man—Anthony. Lucas was sure of it—strode down the front porch steps toward Lucas. He stopped about six feet away and narrowed his eyes. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Lucas blinked. “What?” Anthony had said his name. He’d recognized him. What the hell did Anthony think he was doing?
Two front doors opened. More than that, actually. The cutting severity of Anthony’s words carrying in the still, early evening air must’ve turned everyone’s heads, and subsequently spotting a teen on the sidewalk wearing nothing but a loincloth would get everyone out to gawk. But only two of those doors mattered.
Lucas’s breath hitched. A woman who looked suspiciously like Allison stepped out of the same house Anthony had emerged from, and Lucas’s parents came out onto their own front porch, their timeworn faces pinched full of suspicion, and their hair shot through with gray that hadn’t been there when Lucas had last seen them. The kid ignored Anthony’s directive and stood rooted next to the silent lawn mower. They all just stared at Lucas with brows scrunched in confusion and/or consternation.
The shaky breath Lucas had drawn in at the sight of his much-older parents expelled sharply when Anthony repeated, “What. The. Hell. Do. You. Think. You’re. Doing?” Anthony’s jaw clenched tightly as he bit out the words then cocked his head toward Lucas’s parents. “The Schmidt’s have been through enough, and nobody is going to stand by while another punk tries to pull some kind scam on them.”
Lucas gasped. “Scam?” Another punk?
Then he took a jerky step back as realization hit him. Anthony had not been talking to him when he’d said Lucas’s name. He’d been talking to the kid.
And Anthony had immediately jumped to “scam” because he clearly recognized that Lucas looked too much like the friend he remembered for Lucas to be loitering in front of his old house for any purpose other than some kind of con.
Lucas’s shoulders slumped. Of course, nobody was going to jump straight to thinking, ‘Gee, maybe Lucas stumbled through a time warp or something, but hey, welcome home!’ He should have stayed in the park. Should’ve let the police process him, then they could have come here with fingerprint and DNA reports to break the news to his family in a more orderly and believable fashion.
Nobody was likely to accept who Lucas was without question, not considering how his apparent age didn’t match up with what they would expect.
Sirens—multiple sirens—arose in the distance, getting closer. Probably converging on the park.
Anthony cocked an eyebrow. “Those for you, by any chance?”
“Dude, don’t be a dick.” Lucas frowned as he threw Anthony’s favorite line from the old days at him. Anthony used to say that was the perfect measuring stick for whether or not to do or say something.
Anthony froze and blinked before his jaw re-tightened.
Lucas shrugged. Fuck it. He had nothing to lose at this point by telling the truth. “But yeah, the sirens are probably for me. At least partly. They’re heading to the park because some kind of rip in the fabric of time just reopened. Vinnie and Leo Bailey, the parents of Oscar, the kid who disappeared a week ago, just went through it looking for him. I was able to get back through in the other direction right before it closed.”
Anthony snorted. “Right. Seriously, ‘dude,’ what’s your angle.”
“Exactly!” Lucas raised his voice. “This is a pretty fucking elaborate conspiracy, don’t you think? And for what? What could my end-game possibly be if this is some multi-layered con?” He looked up at his parents. “Sorry about the F-bomb.” Turning back to Anthony, Lucas added, “They’re not gazillionaires. There’s no motive here.”
“I don’t need to know your motive. That isn’t what makes your ridiculous claim unbelievable.” Anthony’s face reddened. “You want to pretend you’re Lucas Schmidt? Fine. I’ve got a question only Lucas and I know the answer to. You think you can answer it?”
Lucas’s brows drew together. “No idea what that could be, but sure, hit me with it.”
“The night Lucas disappeared—about ten minutes before—”
“Don’t be a dick.” Lucas tensed because with that clue, he’d figured out what the question was.
“—Lucas told me he was crushing on a certain someone. No one was within hearing distance, and I’ve never told anybody. Who was it?”
Lucas lifted his chin. “You know, I forgive you for marrying my girlfriend because you named your kid after me. That’s kinda sweet. But that question is a dick move.”
Anthony’s cheek twitched. “You don’t know the answer, do you?”
“Of course I know the answer. That’s how I know the question is a dick move.” He cast a quick glance at his parents’ and Allison’s stony faces. “And I’d like to remind you that I was drunk at the time, remember?”
Lucas gritted his teeth. Why had he felt it necessary to add that last bit?
The answer was Mr. Gardener, their English teacher, and Lucas had said it in a jokey way, feeling out Anthony to see how he would react to Lucas being bi-curious—but Lucas had since learned from Vinnie and Leo that same-sex couples could marry now. Marry! Vinnie and Leo were a married couple, and Lucas’s sister Miranda had been their friend and had occasionally babysat Oscar for them.
“Just admit you don’t know.”
Lucas straightened his back. Mr. Gardener had been famous for working extreme vocabulary words into otherwise normal conversation. Quite a few had stuck in Lucas’s memory, so instead of directly answering, he said, “That confession about a crush was debacchate, as I said, but since I’m all about politesse, I’ll simply say you might have been prefestinate in casting judgment on me.”
Anthony stood stock-still and stared. The sirens were louder, had stopped moving, and the noise was coming from the direction of the park.
Lucas cleared his throat. “I might’ve misused those words, but I think that answers your question. Right?”
Allison’s eyes widened. Clearly, she knew who Lucas was channeling.
“Anthony?” Mom’s hand hovered at her throat. “Did that mean anything to you?”
“Lucky guess,” Anthony said. “There’s no way he can really be—”
“Check the back of his head.” Dad tapped the back of his own.
“That can be faked—”
“A unique scar on my scalp can be faked?” Lucas put his arms out, palms up. “You know what? Hell if I know. Probably can be. Are there even any photos of it? Damn, dude, how deep does this supposed conspiracy go?”
“What you’re saying makes no sense! You’re the same age Lucas was when he disappeared! And you might look a lot like him, but he didn’t have muscle tone like you have.”
“I’m not the same age. I’m three hundred and eighty-eight days older than I was.” He turned back to look at his parents. “I counted. And I was living with a hunter-gatherer tribe. Dad, you’ll be happy to know that weekends didn’t exist thousands of years ago. I worked all day long, every single freaking day. I am so not the same ‘never going to amount to anything if I don’t get an attitude adjustment lazy punk’ I was the day I stumbled through that rift.” Lucas’s voice hitched. “And I’m so damned sorry you spent twenty years thinking those were the last words you’d ever say to me. I felt awful about that every day, because I know I totally goaded you into saying that, and I know you only wanted me to be the best I could be.”
Dad’s wrinkled face crumpled, and a tear slid down Lucas’s cheek.
“Oh, for the love of God.” Anthony stalked up behind Lucas, pulled out the ponytail, and began parting Lucas’s hair, looking for the scar.
Lucas knew the moment Anthony found it. Anthony froze, and he let out a soft gasp. He lightly scratched at it. “It’s not makeup,” Lucas said. “If my scar is part of that con you’re accusing me of,” Lucas said, “then planning it must’ve begun long enough ago for me to acquire an authentic scar.” Complete with staple dots surrounding the jagged gash in all the right places.
His parents crept down the front porch steps. “It’s there?” Mom asked.
Lucas missed Anthony’s non-verbal reply when he turned his face toward a single siren that was getting louder, apparently moving again, leaving the park and coming their way. When he looked back again, Mom was standing directly in front of him. She stared silently into his eyes as if studying his irises. She’d used to say he had the most beautiful pattern in his eyes. Her hand moved up to cover her mouth as if of its own volition and smothered a sob.
Lucas shook, reluctant to make the first move, lest it be misunderstood. Tears flowed freely down his face, and he choked. “I missed you every day. And not just when I was dreaming about your fried chicken every time I gnawed on a stringy squirrel or choked down that veggie-and-random-organs stew. I kept thinking about how you always said, ‘be careful, sweetie’ every time I left the house. You always said it like it really mattered to you, not like it was just a habit.” Lucas swallowed. “You said it in my thoughts every morning.”
Lucas’s mom opened her arms, and Lucas trembled and stepped into them. He buried his tear-streaked face in her neck and wrapped his arms around her while she patted his back and rocked. Fingers Lucas figured belonged to his dad sifted through his hair, searching for that unique scar.
“A cop car is coming down the road.” Anthony’s tone didn’t have the same sharp conviction it’d had earlier. It was more informative than accusatory. “You know they collected Lucas’s fingerprints off his stuff when he disappeared.”
Dad fingered the scar for a moment, then Lucas took a step away. “Good.” Lucas nodded idly as he watched the police vehicle approach. “They can run DNA tests, too.”
Lucas looked at his younger namesake and winked. “Your dad’s not really a total dick. He used to be pretty cool, and some of it’s still lurking under the surface.”
Anthony snorted. “Don’t be a dick. And if you’re the real Lucas Schmidt, you’re a bad influence who can stay away from my son.” The twinkle in Anthony’s eyes gave the lie to his words.
“Don’t be a dick yourself.” Lucas grinned. “You turned into an okay grownup despite my influence. And I’m sure you didn’t name the kid after me because I was such a loser.”
Anthony returned the grin and nodded. “Pass the scientific ID tests first, then don’t make me regret that name choice.”
“Dude, I just graduated from the most strenuous year-long let’s-toughen-this-kid-up program you could ever conceive.” Lucas smiled ear-to-ear as two police officers approached. “Bring it.”
🔽 🔼 Bonus Scene - Lucas's Return - Part 2
Bonus Scene - Lucas's Return - Part 2
Originally posted in my July, 2020 newsletter.
Told from Lucas’s 3rd-person POV:
When Are You? – Lucas’s Return – Part 2
“Discombobulated.” The word didn’t begin to describe how Lucas felt, but it was a start. No doubt that word equally summed up the feelings of everyone around him at the moment.
The social worker, Adam, who’d asked Lucas how he felt, nodded absently and took a sip of the tea he’d brought in with him. He passed a second cup to Lucas and grinned. The smile even appeared sincerely friendly, unlike the suspicious looks of the police, especially before they’d hauled in all kinds of witnesses who had surely collaborated the story Lucas had unswervingly given, and before they’d finally, fucking finally, compared his fingerprints to the twenty-year-old set as he’d repeatedly requested from his first minutes in custody. “Just want to go home, eh?”
“Yep.” Lucas hiked his chin. “You believe my story?”
Adam snorted a laugh. “Honestly? It’s hard to swallow, but all the evidence points to it being true, so yeah, I believe you.”
“Well, there were plenty of eyewitnesses. Plus, my fingerprints.”
Adam nodded again. “Fingerprints don’t lie. That archeologist is convincing, too. And eyewitnesses are swearing up and down the Baileys disappeared into thin air after deliberately running toward the…anomaly, and that minutes later, you popped out of that same empty space when by that time there was an entire circle of people around the anomaly, so no smoke and mirrors creating a special effect. Not only that, but someone in the park had recognized Vinnie and Leo Bailey and thought their presence there at the exact spot where their son had disappeared a week earlier was odd and maybe a bit suspicious and had started a Facebook live post recording the whole thing.”
“Dude, I have no idea what a whatchacallit ‘live post’ is.”
Adam blinked. “Facebook…oh, right. You disappeared New Year’s Eve 1999 before Facebook was developed. It’s social media, and it’s a very big thing.”
“I’m gonna be like everyone’s grandpa missing all the pop culture references.” Which would be the kiss of death to any hope of fitting in if he had to go back and finish high school, and surely he would have to—heck, he wanted to get his diploma and go to college. Although, the whole unintentional-time-traveler-spending-a-year-in-the-distant-past thing would probably make him popular regardless. Twenty years had gone by on this side of the rift, but only one year on the other side.
“Be sure to Google things like ‘Joe Exotic,’ ‘Severus Snape Funko Pop,’ ‘Megan Markle,’ ‘bullet journals,’ and ‘Hold the door!’
“Ug.” That pretty much summed up Lucas’s feelings on the topic and put him as firmly into Grandpa mode as “bah-humbug” would’ve done. At least he knew what ‘Google’ was, but apparently, it was a much bigger deal now than when he’d disappeared. “So when are they gonna cut me loose? I’m so hungry I could eat a cookbook.”
“Sorry. They should have gotten you something to eat. But to answer your question. You’re free to go now, but you’ll be expected to cooperate with various government agencies over the next few days. I’m just here to introduce myself, make sure you’re doing okay for now, and to let you know I’ll be in touch soon to help you navigate all the red tape of reintegrating into modern society.”
That was one thing Lucas would miss about his year spent living in a society thousands of years old: superfluous crap like government red tape. The whole pop culture conversation had highlighted another stark difference: modern society was materialistic, obsessed with famous people and collecting junk, not to mention wasteful energy consumption—because damn, maybe he’d just grown used to living in a cave, but could this room be any more brightly lit?
“Awesome,” Lucas said. “Are my parents here waiting for me?” They’d seemed fairly convinced he really was their long-lost son even before the police had arrived.
“They sure are.” Adam stood and slid the plastic bag he’d brought across the table. “Your sister picked up clothes for you, and your parents were out there advocating for you the entire time.”
“Yeah? Thanks.” Lucas opened the bag and froze. This wasn’t just a pile of some random freshly purchased clothes that might fit him better than the jail-issued garb he’d been given when the police had decided to confiscate his loincloth and leather foot coverings.
These were Lucas’s own clothes from twenty years ago. His parents had kept them. He didn’t know whether to be ecstatic at the level of love that represented, broken-hearted at how sad it was that they’d never been able to fully let go and move on with their lives, or outraged at the unfairness and randomness of the whole ordeal. He swallowed the lump in his throat. Probably a mix of all three.
Lucas had cherished the black Nirvana T-shirt lying atop his favorite worn Levis. He shook his head and sighed as he ran a hand over the soft cotton. Clearly, he hadn’t fully shaken the materialistic tendencies he’d just dismissed.
The fabric of the T-shirt was far more worn that it’d been when he’d first run through that time rift. Maybe his little sister, Miranda, had worn it in the interim? The twelve-year-old he remembered was thirty-two now and no longer spending long afternoons lying on a canopy bed with her headphones on listening to TLC belt out “No Scrubs,” while she gazed dreamily at her “fairy lights,” AKA an old set of Christmas lights she’d strung from the poles.
Adam turned to face the door while Lucas quickly changed into his old clothes. Soft as they were, he still tugged and fussed, trying to get comfortable. He’d gotten used to being mostly naked all the time.
Lucas straightened his shoulders, gulped, and followed Adam out the door. The old Lucas probably would have said something snarky to the loitering cops as he and Adam marched down the hall. The new Lucas just lifted his chin in silent rebellion and could understand why they wouldn’t have believed his story right off the bat.
More people stood in the police station’s lobby as Lucas and Adam entered the large, open room than just his parents and a young woman who looked too much like an older version of his li’l sis to be anyone else. Immediately, cameras flashed and reporters tossed out questions, echoing a streak of lightning and rolling thunder outside the glass entryway the media crews were blocking.
Lucas didn’t answer the questions aloud. His focus was on the wide smiling faces of his family as he beamed back at them. But one question about what he wanted to do now that he was back in 2020 bounced around in his mind, and he pictured himself, his parents, and Miranda taking that trip to Disneyland that had been promised for the summer of 2000. That, and a week somewhere warm, lying in the sun on soft sand while listening to ocean waves lapping the beach.
After that, he would happily come through on his promise to Dad that he was no longer the do-nothing teenager who’d accidentally left them. But surely a week or two on holiday with his family wasn’t too much to ask.
🔽 🔼 Bonus Scene - Lucas's Return - Part 3
Bonus Scene - Lucas's Return - Part 3
Originally posted in my November, 2020 newsletter.
Told from Lucas’s 3rd-person POV:
When Are You? – Lucas’s Return – Part 3
Lucas sighed and shoved aside some of the clutter on the bedside table so he could put down his video game controller. He flopped back against the headboard. Hard to believe how much he’d been into gaming just a little over a year ago.
A year in his personal timeline anyway. He’d just gotten Gran Turismo 2 for Christmas and spent the week before his drunken New Year’s Eve run through a time rift declaring the game to be the best thing ever to come out of Japan.
Young and dumb. Those were apt words to describe himself before spending a single year in the distant past with a hunter-gatherer tribe while twenty years passed by on this side of the rift, here in this era into which he’d been born.
Young and dumb. Kinda like Lucas-the-Second (as Lucas thought of his namesake, his former best friend, Anthony, and former girlfriend, Allison’s, sixteen-year-old son). Lucas-the-Second also sighed, though Lucas doubted it had anything to do with the disastrous state of his bedroom or weariness with the mindless distraction of the video game.
More likely Lucas-the-Second was getting vexed because Lucas didn’t have the same kind of interest in doing mindless teenager crap that he’d erroneously thought he missed. Also, the shine on Lucas’s celebrity and his notoriety were starting to dim, but Lucas-the-Second didn’t seem particularly shallow—thank goodness for a few true friends—so that probably didn’t have anything to do with it.
Lucas-the-Second wasn’t actually dumb. He was a good student. He was just naive, like Lucas had been. Before.
He was also sorta cute. Lucas stilled when a slight shuffling noise in the hall outside Lucas-the-Second’s bedroom door drew his attention, and a slow, fearless grin stretched across his face as he turned to Lucas-the-Second.
“So…” Lucas executed a double eyebrow flash. “You ever fool around with another guy?”
Lucas-the-Second’s eyes widened like a skittish colt, though he didn’t actually shift away from Lucas, so maybe more like a slightly-wary colt.
He who’d been the true purpose of Lucas’s inquiry—Anthony—spluttered from the doorway. “Jesus, Lucas. Really?”
“What?” Lucas-the-Second blinked as his father stepped into the room. “Me?”
Anthony shook his head and pointed a finger at Lucas. “I know damned well you knew I was out here.”
Lucas smirked. “You grow up to be a homophobe?”
“You know I’m not. I just know you. Remember? I wouldn’t want you dating my daughter, if I had one, either.”
Lucas opened his mouth to ask if his wife Allison had been telling him tales of her and Lucas’s time together back when they’d been young and dumb together, but Anthony pointed that all-knowing finger at him again.
“Don’t ever go there.”
Lucas snickered, and Lucas-the-Second’s face scrunched the way teens thinking about their parents and sex in the same thought tended to do.
“Don’t be preposterous.” Lucas put up his hands in mocking surrender. “I would never.”
Anthony shook his head and muttered something unintelligible as he turned and headed out.
Lucas-the-Second mimicked Lucas’s earlier snicker, a sound which would surely not ingratiate him with Anthony. “I’m not into it, but I can set you up with some guys at school who would be.”
“Yeah?” Lucas had been kidding around with the comment, but he was still bi-curious.
“Sure.” Lucas-the-Second shrugged. “I’ll point them out to you at lunch on Monday.”
🔽 🔼 Bonus Scene - Lucas's Return - Part 4
Bonus Scene - Lucas's Return - Part 4
Originally posted in my December, 2020 newsletter.
Told from Lucas’s 3rd-person POV:
“Hey, Future Boy!”
Lucas jumped as the explosive taunt cut through the general hum of between-classes hallway chatter like a piercing horn on a foggy night. That cringeworthy voice had been getting on Lucas’s last nerve since it had made his skin crawl on the first day of his second round of senior year—second round due to his first attempt having been cut short when he’d stumbled through a rift in time to spend a year in the distant past while twenty years passed by here in the era he’d been born to.
“Hey, dumbass.” Not the best come-back Lucas had ever used, but he was satisfied that his delivery of the words was satisfactorily uncaring. No need to display his true feelings and make it obvious he would cheerfully watch the dumbass in question dragged off in manacles to live out his life in a horror-film inspired dungeon.
“I’m confused, Future Boy.”
Lucas rolled his eyes. No shit, and not only because Lucas had traveled to the past, not the future, but Lucas didn’t rise to the bait. Of course, that didn’t prevent Dumbass Dan from elaborating anyway.
“Do you expect us to actually believe you were glacier climbing during the ice age or something?”
One of the toadies in Dumbass Dan’s entourage snickered. “He thinks he’s the ghost of Christmas past.”
It was hard to be less informed—to put it kindly—than Dumbass Dan, but this particular fool was in the running. Neither of their comments warranted the dignity of a reply.
Lucas didn’t even try to suppress his snort. He tuned them out, which was easy to do since he was heading to the cafeteria, and the annoying but otherwise harmless parade of hecklers was turning down a different hallway to their next classes.
Other than Dan and his not-so-merry band of ignorant conspiracy theorists, everyone else believed the cadre of scientists and engineers who’d authenticated the vast supply of tangible evidence supporting the fact that Lucas was telling the truth about what had happened to him. To most of the student body, he was famous…or perhaps infamous.
“Ignore those idiots.” Lucas-the-Second caught up and flashed a grin at him. “Focus on Marc Hubbard instead.”
“Remember?” Lucas-the-Second waggled his eyebrows. “I told you I would set you up with a guy at lunch today.”
A shiver of Lucas-wasn’t-quite-sure-what rippled across his skin. This was happening. He was finally going to take a step toward satisfying a curiosity that had teased his thoughts for a couple years now.
But would this be a salve to satisfy an itch or would it fan the little candle flame of his attraction to men into a bonfire to rival the one at the New Year’s Eve party at the park the night he’d begun his fateful journey through time?
“Okay.” Lucas swallowed. “Cool.”
“Don’t be nervous, man. I’ve already felt him out about you. He’s interested.”
“Yeah?” That was so high school, but then again, this was high school. Would he ever fit in among his contemporary peers again? Spending a year being treated as an adult expected to contribute a full day of hard work to earn his keep had drastically affected his perspective. “Cool,” Lucas repeated.
“And in case it matters to you, since, you know, you’re a year older than the rest of the seniors now, he just turned eighteen.”
“Cool.” Lucas was like a broken record. Nerves? He took a deep breath to calm them.
He squared his shoulders as he and Lucas-the-Second entered the cafeteria. There were so many more students in the school now than there’d been twenty years ago. Both the district boundaries and the school building had expanded.
Lucas had been pulled in so many directions since his return—he was an anthropologists’ and archeologists’ wet dream—learning who was who at school beyond a small circle of friends hadn’t been a top priority. Today, he regretted that. Which one of these young men was Marc Hubbard?
The food line seemed to take forever, but eventually Lucas-the-Second steered them purposely toward a table in a back corner. A young man with wavy brown hair and intense hazel eyes smiled as he watched their approach.
The young man stood as they got closer. He wore army-green pants and a snow-white Henley shirt that hugged a fairly muscular torso. What did he do, play football or weight lift or something?
Lucas gulped as his mind wandered to what it would feel like to be chest-to-chest, held in those strong arms, and his face heated. A hunger that wouldn’t be assuaged by the burger, veggies, and bag of pretzels on his tray churned in his belly. Who’d have thought he’d be attracted to a jock? Or that a jock would choose him?
Lucas-the-Second, apparently, since he’d set this up.
“Hey,” Marc said as the Lucases pulled into place across from him.
“Hey.” Lucas lifted his chin in greeting.
“Just to make things official,” Lucas-the-Second said as he nodded to each of them, “Marc, Lucas-the-Second.”
Lucas blinked. “What? No. You’re Lucas-the-Second. I’m just Lucas.”
“I was here first.”
“Pretty sure I was here years before you were even born.”
“Nobody currently at this school ever met you before the beginning of this semester.”
“Dude, you were literally named after me. That’s the definition of being ‘the-second.’”
Marc snickered, and Lucas finally picked up on Lucas-the-Second’s shit-eating grin. Dude was just messing with him.
“Dude.” Lucas shook his head then turned to Marc. “Anyway, nice to meet you.”
“Same. So…” Mark grinned. “…do you have plans for Friday night?”
A slow smile spread across Lucas’s face as he picked up his small bottle of milk with a steady hand. “I hope so.”