JAKE SCHWINN had plenty of first-person, hands-on, defining-moment levels of experience with funerals. When it came to saying goodbye to the dead, he’d seen it all. Unfortunately. But this one felt different.
Looked the same: flowers, crying people, conservatively dressed funeral director. Even the rows of uniformed police officers, supporting one of their own in his time of need; been there, seen that. The mourners, mostly college students, wore somber faces.
Was the difference the person who had died or the people he had left behind? And what the hell was the matter with Jake today if he couldn’t even think of his best friend’s name? Had to refer to him as the person, the departed, his loved one?
But Geo’s name had always been powerful, just like the man himself. People would argue that at nineteen he wasn’t a man yet. Wrong. George Noble, or Geo, hadn’t been a kid, not really, since his mom died.
The speaker finished his talk and turned away from the podium. No applause. The church thought it disrupted the spirit. The bishop had spoken of Geo’s commitment to serve his church. That he’d just received his mission papers to serve in Brazil, that he was a righteous brother. Minus the gangster slang on the last bit.
The bishop spoke about eternal families and Heavenly Father’s promise that they would all be able to see Geo again. It gave comfort. That was the difference. Maybe.
At Grandpa Johnson’s funeral, Jake’d only thought of the past. At Grandma Sara’s, how there would be no future. And at Uncle Nik’s, Miss Karen’s, and Granddad Max’s, he’d just been angry. When his sister Eugenia had died, he felt denial and despair.
It was Jake’s turn to speak. It said so on the printed program. He stood up, feeling the theater-style seat flip up behind him, and took the necessary steps forward to look at the crowd, more than two hundred people packed into wooden pews and standing along the back wall. He began to sweat. His heart spun like a loose wheel, wobbling about his chest, ready to fall off its axle.
They didn’t approve of him standing before them. He wasn’t a member of their church. He was that “faggot” friend who’d corrupted Geo.
A mechanical buzz sounded as the podium rose, lifting the mike closer to Jake’s six-foot-four-inch height. Geo would start his talk with a joke: Gee, Bishop Oliver, how short are you? Except Geo wasn’t as tall as Jake. Hadn’t been as tall.
He cleared his throat and looked down at the open casket in front of the stage, then jerked his head away from the sight. He felt the moisture gather at the corner of his eyes. That would so help this situation. To look like an emotional drama queen in front of these people.
“Geo once explained to me about Heavenly Father. He said it was God’s other name. Like Santa Claus was really Kris Kringle. Of course that was when we were just kids. Fifteen or sixteen.” They might have smiled or chuckled at his attempt at humor, but he didn’t hear it. He zoned a bit, still talking but immersed in his memories.
“The last funeral I was at was for my Grandma Frankie. Geo, being a good friend, he was….” He stumbled over, paused at the word, so final. “Everyone’s friend, he came with me. And I got all crazy Texan, and he asked me what was wrong, and I said that the speakers had gotten it all wrong.”
“Grandma was Catholic and that priest didn’t know her from Eve. He asked me that day to speak at his funeral. I said he’d be seventy-five and his grandchildren would need to talk. That the people from his mission would travel across the world to speak on how he’d saved them.”
Jake’s voice broke. The bright lights of the Sacrament Hall blurred and elongated as he blinked back the tears. His chest ached, and he wanted to press his hand over his heart to keep it in place, make sure it didn’t become a projectile weapon as his body splintered from the pain. “He said he wasn’t going on his mission to save people.” Jake swallowed, sniffed as quietly as he could, and found a box of Kleenex pushed at his elbow. “Thanks.” Jake took a few and held them in his fist.
“He said he was going on a mission to share the gospel. And I said, ‘You can do that here.’ And he said, ‘I do do that here.’ He explained it was like sharing a musical talent, or art. He’d been given this amazing knowledge that made him happy, and he’d share it. Baptisms or not.”
He snorted at the memory, then swiped at his nose. “Then he was, ‘So will you do it?’”
Jake had joked back that, no, he wouldn’t marry Geo, but that type of humor wouldn’t be understood here. “‘Will you talk at my funeral?’ And I said absolutely not. I’d stand up here and bawl, and his family would pitch me off the stage.” He saw a few smiles this time. Either his idea appealed to them, or they understood how Geo would dig in and make him promise, determined, as always, to get his way.
“Geo was a great student. Not only because he got good grades; lots of people do that. But he liked school. Liked challenging himself and his teacher to make every class an opportunity to be better. He was a great example. Morally steadfast. He was a decent skateboarder, and he could kick your—” Jake caught the word and altered it with little disruption “—butt at Guitar Hero.”
Jake had written all that down and said it easily because it was prepared. The next came from his gut. “He didn’t agree with my choices.” He let that stand. Either people would understand or they wouldn’t. He didn’t say it for them. “But he didn’t judge me.” He closed his mouth, shifted his chin, trying to keep the tears back. “I was his friend and that friendship was unconditional, both ways.” Jake turned his head and blew his nose. He turned back to the mike.
“Geo died because of hate. Because someone put a condition on his further existence. You’re not allowed to live unless you live my way. They killed him thinking he was different.” Were you allowed to say gay in a place like this? “Geo was straight, he always did the right thing, and had a great capacity to give.
“Not because it was required of him. Not because it was easy or expected. But because he was happy. It felt right and good and made him happy.”
Tears dripped down Jake’s face, and he knew squelching them would make his face red and blotchy, but they made him vulnerable, so he locked them back. Locked them in. “He’s in that Celestial Kingdom he told me about, hunting down all the recent arrivals from Brazil, and teaching them how to be happy. I know it’s true because Geo wouldn’t settle for anything less. Stubborn.”
Jake folded his hands into fists, a slow curl inward. How to end this speech? The church said, “Amen.” Like they were finishing a prayer, and he couldn’t say it. He wasn’t a hypocrite. Jake believed in God and in heaven and that love was forever. He knew that love for him would be with a man, and God would not only understand, he would rejoice.
“For George.” He returned to his seat. He nodded to Officer Noble, Geo’s dad, or rather the grief-stricken, stone-faced man who had lost both a wife and a son. A man who had no one else to sit beside, hold him, grieve with him. The sight cut at Jake’s stomach, and he swallowed back the hysteria, the wail of longing for his best friend. He, at least, still had family, was still alive, and he’d keep reminding himself until the despair dissipated, until he could breathe again.
He knew why this funeral didn’t feel like the others. Geo had been murdered.
Monday, September 7.
OF COURSE the man had a name, but suffice it to say, names didn’t come into play when saving a life. At least not the first couple of times Peat Harris saved them.
Peat rammed the minivan into the side of the speeding truck. Once again the truck’s brakes were out, and it was about to slam into a wall. Major crunch and goodbye driver. The van absorbed the impact that the wall couldn’t.
The first time he’d saved the guy, Peat had prevented the brakes from being cut. But now he realized that hadn’t been the correct solution. The crime had to be committed so the perp could get his sunny day in prison. Or three to five years for attempted murder. Whichever.
As a Repeater, Peat relived the same day until he got it right. He wasn’t looking for perfection, wasn’t out to get the girl or to improve himself. He helped people, all kinds of people. Sometimes, like today, Seattle bankers.
The airbag exploded, smacking Peat in the arms and upper chest. Mental note to self: disconnect the airbag. The seat belt tightened painfully into his gut, and he kept his foot on the gas, spinning the truck and finally pushing them both into parked cars along the north side of the street. More air bags, and a few car alarms. Peat’s airbag started to deflate. He flicked open his knife and slashed it to hurry the process, released the seat belt, and tried to get out. His driver side door was mangled and he had to push with both feet to get it open. Or rather the minivan’s door. It wasn’t his vehicle. Something he hoped to avoid, explanation-wise. The door swung out and tilted down like a drunken, boneless body.
Peat’s arms hurt, and his chest hurt, but if he didn’t stop, his body wouldn’t figure out who hurt the most and award the prize of unconsciousness.
Seattle’s monorail rattled a block away and tall, white buildings shadowed the street. Every viable square inch of the buildings had windows. All the white helped with the dreary, bleak, rainy days but the windows were beacons of hope. Hope for sun. Like today.
The driver sat, white-knuckled and red-faced in the blue truck like a patriotic statue. “Mister? Are you okay, mister?” Peat said.
The windows had broken as the body of the truck twisted and contoured around the minivan. Though the damage was extensive, American steel workers countrywide would be proud. The two fiberglass compacts the truck had pushed into were crumpled in shame.
Had Peat hit him too soon? Would the man know today that Peat had saved him? It sucked when he got his timing off. “Sir?”
“My brakes. They weren’t working.”
Not too early then. “Are you hurt?”
“Are you hurt? I saw you trying to stop, and I was hoping you wouldn’t.… Are you hurt?” Peat said.
The man turned his eyes toward Peat and blinked. “What?”
Peat surveyed the damage around him. He counted the cars involved and sniffed the air for a gas leak. The owner of the car alarm came running, his arms up and yelling. Yeah, good indication that the cops had been called. Hopefully the irate car owner had thought to ask for a paramedic as well. A matter of priorities.
He almost apologized, the proper course of action. His British parents would approve of being proper, polite. But he couldn’t promise to never do it again, and the housekeeper would say that meant he wasn’t really sorry.
Peat reached in and touched the man’s throat. It felt like modeling clay. Cold, smooth, gray. The man’s heart raced. Shock.
Peat didn’t have anything to help with that, no blanket or jacket. The temperature was in the eighties and for once the Seattle skies were clear of all clouds. “Mister, are you hurt?”
“I’m okay,” the driver said to himself. He flexed his hands on the steering wheel. “I’m okay.”
“Can you move your legs?”
“Yeah.” He looked as he said it to double-check.
Okay, so this had some real potential. Peat just needed to cinch that noose around the perp’s throat, and Peat would be on his way. “What’s wrong with your brakes?”
“They weren’t working. I tried to stop at that light back there. Ran right through it. Thank God I didn’t hit someone.” He released the steering wheel and ran a hand over his face. “Shit. I could have died.”
Peat could hear sirens. Time was up. He used his belligerent tone to push the issue. “You should take better care of your car. Shit. What’s it been, five years, since you had your brakes replaced?”
“No. I got new ones last month….” Peat could see the change in the man’s face, the raised eyebrows, the change in tone. Perhaps the idea, still vague, circled his subconscious. The firefighters were the first to arrive, hoping for a jaws-of-life situation. Not today, boys. Maybe tomorrow.
Until the clock struck twelve and it became Tuesday the 8th, Peat wouldn’t know if his actions today were successful. Midnight could come and, with a massive shift of time gears, it would be Monday. Still.
“Could it be foul play?” This part was hard. How much did you push and still stay out of the way? But the guy needed to get the rest of those clues without Peat spelling it out for him. That would mean answering questions, and Peat needed to get back to college, not testify at a trial.
The man looked at him again. He’d looked at his legs, flexing them. He’d looked at his truck, body shaking. He’d looked at the street they were on, thanking God. But when he looked at Peat, it was with an absent jerk of the eyes, not registering him. Until Peat said foul play.
Then he focused. “You saved my life.”
“That’s why I’m here.”
Tuesday, September 8
Four days later.
PEAT knew he was in the right place. His hands vibrated like tuning forks. They didn’t visibly shake but the fibers under his skin were alive with first sense.
He’d been relieved when Seattle had been a fairly quick turnaround and the day didn’t repeat. Monday went, and Tuesday started, and he answered a few police questions, mapped out his journey home and took in some shopping. But as midnight approached, his hands grew restless.
The skate park in this small city surprised him. Perhaps it was a Northwest thing. Skaters back home skated illegally, and signs of “No skateboarding” were vandalized. But here they had a clean, maintained-by-the-city, cement, metal, and wood park dedicated to skating.
Peat tipped the cab driver. It had been a short ride from the bus stop, but the cabbie had been full of useful information, and he hadn’t taken offense to Peat’s sudden, “Stop. Stop here.”
Never before had his first sense been so precise. This Repeat had been like that, though. When Tuesday happened for the second time he woke up knowing he was going to Boise. Not a, gee I think Idaho is my next stop, which he got on occasion, but a sharp conviction of what came next. Most Repeats were blind fumblings along the chicken coop floor.
The minor psychic ability, or heightened sixth sense came first in his decision making. When he used it, it was his only sense, his first sense. It muted sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell.
Peat walked into the park with his backpack on one shoulder. A skater did a complicated twist midair and landed with a stuttered smack on a ramp.
The boarder stopped at the top of the tall U-shaped ramp and yawned, puffing out white steam and rolling his shoulders. A white cloud in September? Go fig. California never got this cold. And though it rained in Seattle, it didn’t feel like it would snow before November. Of course maybe Idaho got snow by Halloween.
A fence separated a warehouse alley and the park’s basketball court. Peat leaned against the chain-link fence, his ankles crossed, his shoulders pressed back, enjoying the view of the sexy skater.
The blond pushed his long bangs out of his eyes and looked over at Peat. Peat nodded once in greeting, not expecting a response. His gay little life didn’t make every other man gay.
He realized the guy was about his own age, twenty to twenty-five. Even from this distance the man’s eyes looked intense. Dark. In sharp contrast to his golden skin and sun-lightened hair.
Hello, Mr. Hottie, something’s come up, and I need a helping hand. Stand over here with your board and look sexy. Peat’s heart did a dance in his chest.
The skater flipped the board, planted his feet as it headed down the ramp and sailed at a dizzying speed straight at Peat. Aggressive and intimidating, his kind of man. Peat maintained his ground, and the guy did a sharp turn to skate past, then did a board-wheelie or whatever it was called to come back.
Surely Peat had time to flirt, be himself, until he found his next damsel or dude in distress. What would a little extended eye contact with a man whose very presence made him smile and warmed his blood harm?
Peat just smiled and nodded. He felt his dick stir in appreciation, and he resisted the urge to adjust.
“Just got into town,” Peat said.
“Do you board?”
“I’m thinking about learning.” Oh yeah, he was thinking about it. About the tight ass on display as he moved with his board, about the masculine, arousing scent of sweat and the heady drug of laughter as they joked around.
The guy smirked and gave Peat the once-over. He had this slightly crooked, adorable grin. Ah, his heart would be reading more into that look for many days to come. “Get a board, and I’ll show you the basics.”
Without waiting for a reply, the hottie serpentined back toward the U ramp. The first gunshot pushed him off his board. The second gunshot knocked him down to a knee. The board rolled to a stop against a metal rail.
Peat just stood there. What? What was happening? Neither his body nor his mind could process it. The edgy dullness of shock flushed his skin. No warning. No sign.
He’d seen more than his fair share in the three years since he became a Repeater. He’d seen the results of death, a few times self-induced. He’d seen sickness and despair. Human depravity. Houston, two Repeats ago, had been the worst. But this?
Please say this isn’t my next Repeat. But please God, let me fix this if it is. No more Houstons. No more letting the right thing happen because it was destiny.
Peat felt the guy’s pockets for a cell phone. He didn’t remember walking from the fence, only shaking loose from his trance as he knelt. He pulled out a shirt from his bag and pressed it to a wound. The guy grasped Peat’s hand. Peat didn’t speak, not even to hush the gasping pleas for help. He couldn’t speak. Couldn’t think. Knew he should get them out of firing range. Knew he should get help, the police, something. React, do.
The hand in Peat’s went slack and the ragged breathing stilled as the guy died a fourth time. Four Tuesdays. It had taken Peat two days to get here and the initial day before it repeated. How many more before Peat found the right combination of events? How many more before he stopped the loss of this beautiful, young life?
Tuesday, September 8
Sixty-two days later.
PEAT would take that Seattle airbag any day over the cement of the skate ramp that rushed up to meet him. Over and over again.
He flexed his legs and hopped, finger grabbing his skateboard as he reached the large ramp’s side platform, called the hip. Peat stood and looked at the skater standing next to him.
The guy had a board in his hand and yawned, mouth wide, back jaw cracking as he looked over the skate park. Peat could see all his straight white teeth.
Boise’s morning commuter traffic on the overpasses above them chilled the air. A morbid chandelier made of a dozen sneakers hung from a light off the freeway twenty feet above them.
“Cold this morning,” Peat said as he rubbed his fist into his eye socket. A deep ache pinched along his shoulders. The ache had a lot to do with trying to learn to skate for the first time in his life. Then there was the lack of sleep. Oh, and that other thing that kept happening. Was going to happen again today. Peat hunched his shoulders. His cold weary skin hung on his body like a blue, yellow, and occasionally purple towel on a rack.
He’d learned the dress style and had it down. Jeans, neither loose nor tight, but in the realm of baggy. This pair was ripped. The holes showed his plaid boxers, damaged knees, and a good portion of one shin. He had on a long-sleeve knit shirt and a T-shirt over that proclaiming “Position of Girlfriend: Vacant.” He made even this look good or could if he wasn’t so battered.
The boy next to him wore the same style. Colors were different. No holes in the pants, and his shirt had a spinning, coiled, deadly looking bunny. The bunny gave the world the finger. But the rest was the same.
The guy didn’t look at him, dropped his board and sailed down the U ramp and back up the other side. He flipped his board 360 degrees, leaned back on it, and sailed back toward Peat. Not sailing, though; they called it skate. But it had helped Peat to think in sailing terms. He’d known how to sail yesterday. But today he needed to know how to skate. The guy didn’t do anything fancy on Peat’s side of the ramp but then did an excellent grind along the ramp’s rim on the other hip.
“Sweet, man.” Did they say sweet? Excellent? He’d never get this one right if he didn’t start paying closer attention. Of course, he didn’t think he’d ever get this one right.
The guy came in tight. And gave Peat a look. “New?”
“Yeah, just moved here,” Peat said.
“To boarding?” the guy clarified.
“Obvious, isn’t it?”
Ah, the joys of conversation. Some mornings Peat would ask for lessons, but he had passed the amateur state. He just didn’t have the etiquette down, like giving fellow boarders room.
Peat dropped his board and followed it down, did a clean grab on the other side, nothing fancy but done right. He picked up speed, crouched low, and spun the board twice before going back down again. He stuck it, but roughly. Wait, stuck it was a gymnastic term. Groan.
He took the low dip out of the U-shaped ramp and tried some pole grinds.
They were the only two in the park. It was a school day and early enough that the homeless people were still warm in the shelter a block from the park. The ice company and fish market had already dispatched their delivery trucks. Bright primary-colored murals on the pillar overpasses framed the view of condominiums under construction. Their plastic windows rippled in the breeze.
Peat clipped the edge of the raised pyramid to pick up speed then cut across the park toward the ramp where the skater put on a good show. He grabbed serious air with each trick. Seeing Peat head his way, he grabbed board and stood on the hip to give Peat room.
Peat grabbed board next to him and said, “Before you give me the skate park polite-use-of-right-of-way or whatever the hell you’re going to call it, I want to ask you something.”
“It’s too early to talk.”
“It’s too early to do a lot of things.” Like die. “But here we are, and I’m anxious to know.” The adrenaline from caffeine and lack of sleep mixed like oil and water in Peat’s belly. “You’ve ever been in love?”
“You drunk? Shouldn’t skate hammered, man.”
“Me? Nope. Before today I’ve never been in love. But who knows what today will bring,” Peat said.
“How about we get you some coffee?” The guy stared at Peat, wary of the possible drunk. “If you’re strapped for green, Bernie’s is good about free coffee to us boarders. Just don’t tell them—”
“Don’t need coffee. Bloody hell. What are you, my granny? Coffee doesn’t fix shit,” Peat yelled.
“Step off, asshole. I’m just trying to help.” He dropped his board, but Peat grabbed him to prevent him from following it. Lacking the mass needed to propel itself, the board skated halfway up the other side then back to the center where it flipped over, wheels spinning.
It was time. And on this side of the ramp they were safe.
“’Bout made me wipe, man. What’s your problem?”
“You’ve got to stop coming here.” Peat’s voice shook, and his body tensed, fighting what came next. “It’s not safe.”
“Are you threatening me?” The guy sounded surprised. Tightly toned twenty-somethings with killer moves and a six-foot-four-inch frame didn’t get threatened. At least not this guy.
“Nope.” Peat dropped his board and followed it down into the crosshairs. The bullet penetrated his right shoulder and the cement smacked him in the back as he hurried to meet it. Again.
“Fuck. What the hell?” The guy crouched down on the hip. Safe for now. The rifle continued to fire, hitting Peat in the gut as he tried to stand. “Stay down.”
“That’s my line, Jake,” Peat said. He hadn’t meant to use the name, had purposely kept it out of his thoughts.
Peat had tried to keep his distance. He was only in Boise for the day. Tomorrow, the real tomorrow, he’d be back at college, groin-deep in guys and senior projects.
Reliving the same day was par for the course as a Repeater. And if he’d come from a long tradition of Repeaters, if the Powers That Be had sent Doyle to tell him of his new calling, hell, if he’d walked into a science fiction portal, then it would be easier to accept. But the why behind it, the who that resided behind Dorothy’s black curtain, was unknown. Peat had no fucking clue why him or why them.
He did it because he had no choice. He did it because he had only hope. Hope that it was good or right. That it would make a difference. That the days would stop.
And maybe one day he would know the why. Why Jake and why him.