WHEN his cell phone rang, Peat Harris stood in that breath of space between car collision and awareness, an instant of structured chaos. He had made the stupid mistake of calling home the day before, so he couldn’t curse fate for this awkward moment about to happen.
Today, as a Repeat day, should be disconnected from reality like an island from shore. Repeat days, for whatever arbitrary reason, ended at midnight, hit the delete key and started with a blank screen. As if the day had never happened, had yet to happen.
The days disappeared, existing only in Peat’s memory. He alone remembered the original¬ sequence of events. He alone remembered the alterations he manipulated each time after, trying for the right combination.
He had learned that the hard way. On Peat’s first Repeat, he had written and lost a term paper twice before he realized his efforts disappeared at the restart of each day. On a different Repeat day, he’d lost his virginity and now was the only one who remembered how powerful it was. The relationship couldn’t develop after that with chunks missing from their romance.
On today’s original version, he woke with his hands vibrating like a tuning fork, an icy chill of awareness that he had just woken up in the middle of a Repeat day. The accident happened on the I-5 heading south: a pile of commuter travelers stacked like mis-sized Tupperware, with razor sharp edges, ready to topple. The dark sky blunted all the sharp metal angles of the compacted, twisted, mangled cars and trucks. A Miata bit into the foreskin of a Mac truck like a Shiatsu biting the forward flank of a Doberman. The rusty, dull Cadillac had diced up the Prius into little cubes. Glass, shoes, and rubber tires garnished the edges. The dreary pulse of rain made all but the red blood muted, turned off.
Getting a good visual of the Honda was hard since it was smashed against a cinderblock wall. Car exhaust and road dust had been broiled into the road and wall. The rain pearled on the natural sealant and ran for the nearest storm drain.
The sight turned Peat’s stomach to rotten cottage cheese. Peat gulped to keep the taste out of his mouth. Six dead, including a two-year-old and his six-year-old sister, on their way to daycare.
Getting info on the accident, how it happened, who was at fault, was proving difficult. Difficult like taking the SAT’s with a hangover. Difficult like a prostate exam. Difficult like telling his mom he was gay.
Well, most people didn’t do that last one at all, let alone every day for a week. He’d called her before his hands started to vibrate, before he heard about the car accident, before the day even started.
The day before the Repeat.
In two days he would be finished with finals and would head home for a brief—God willing—jaunt before his internship at the architectural firm in Chicago; a polite weekend across a formal dining room, having plenty of formal conversations. With two years of college under his belt and enough life experience to know who and what he was, it was time to tell the folks he preferred men to women. He hadn’t been home during that time and had only seen his parents two Christmases before, when they had met in Vale to ski for the winter break. It had been a month of spending time on the slopes but avoiding any real interaction.
It wasn’t that he needed his parents’ acceptance. He didn’t. And almost every part of him didn’t want their acceptance. But he did want their acknowledgment. He was gay, openly out to the world, and he was proud as hell that he lived in an intolerant world and said take me as I am or sod off. Like a kid who’s played the piano for years and wants to perform in a recital to prove how good he is, to show those who doubted him that he’d taken the instrument and made it his own. He’d figured out he was gay, explored what that meant to him, and made his life awesome. Okay, well, that part of his life had awesome overtones.
Some days he thought the Repeats would never happen again, that they hadn’t happened before. He could feel them fade and he let them go with relief. Relieved that his life was still happily normal. Normal for a gay college student in Northern California majoring in architectural design and engineering. Normal for a Repeater, a person existing outside the odd paradox of repeating days.
So it was his own fault. He had called late last night, sleep deprived with studying for finals and a party he’d attended to say goodbye to the seniors he knew. He went through periods of self-absorption where everything was huge and important and the emotions built inside of him and he knew he was about to explode. The trip home would be an emotional crash. His anxiety had built until he felt it skittering under his skin, looking for an exit wound. And then something tragic would happen, or even just something sad, and he’d feel like shit that he got caught up worrying about something so petty.
There were sirens but no screaming, an odd hush as people tried to react to the shock of seeing such an accident. The sirens were already on their way because Peat had called them and given them the heads up.
When his phone rang a second time, he answered on autopilot. “Hello?” Stepping carefully around the metal carnage, he looked for the car with the kids in it. A little compact car. Maybe the quick ambulance response would save them today.
“Darling, what is that noise?”
Bloody hell. It was his mom. “Roommate’s got a video game going.”
“‘My roommate is playing a video game’,” she corrected. “Can you please ask him to turn down the volume?”
“Mum, I’m going to call you back.” But she’d insisted her son be trained in etiquette and he just couldn’t bring himself to hang up the phone.
“Absolutely darling, but first tell me why you called yesterday. You indicated it was quite important that we speak.”
He rolled his eyes and cursed. The medics had shown up, and he stepped to the sideline to watch. The day would Repeat and maybe he could prevent the accident the next time. Right now he needed information on exactly what had happened so he’d know how to save all these people tomorrow.
His conversation with his mom would reset as well. He could tell her and gauge her reaction and then decide if he really wanted to tell her at all.
He laid on his best British accent—which was natural since Mum and Da were originally from London—knowing she’d be chuffed to hear him use it. “Mother, I wanted you to know. I’m gay.” He listened to the silence as the noise around him picked up in volume, medics yelling to each other, a helicopter in the distance approaching to aid the hospital evacuation.
“So no grandkids?”
“What? I don’t know.”
“Your father and I will need to have our wills redrawn.”
He raised his hands and shoulders in a shrug. “Okay.” Though he hadn’t expected yelling, he didn’t think she would bring up death. He’d just told his very proper, business-first mom that he was a poof, and she wanted the legalities taken care of? Well, all righty then.
A tire rolled loose from some of the wreckage and spun toward him, drawing his attention back to the carnage. Had the accident been more malicious and calculated? Was the motive to make this a murder hidden in plain sight? Would there be proof of sabotage or drug use? Both would come up during the investigation—two or three weeks from now—which did him no good. He had less than twenty-four hours.
“Do you want me to tell your father?”
“Sure.” He wasn’t really listening. They’d pulled the first body out, or rather the upper torso of the first body. The rest stayed in the car. He lifted his eyes to the sky and blinked rapidly as he took shallow breaths to keep from puking. They pulled the six year old out of the car; one leg was crushed and bloody, and Peat keened like a pitiful animal in immense pain. Pressure built at the back of his throat, and he blinked rapidly to stave off the tears. He could fix this. The whole point of living through this horror was the opportunity to stop it from happening. In a matter of hours, it wouldn’t have happened. The child would be whole and healthy and depending on Peat to save him. Peat would stop the accident.
“It would be wise for you to have a will in place. I could have one of the lawyers meet us this weekend. We could see what other legal steps he would recommend we take.” He didn’t hear the rest because the helicopter swooped in to land on the highway median. Bits of dust and grass spun in the baby hurricane created by the rotor blades.
He yelled into the cell phone that he was sorry and flipped the phone closed. The engines were cut and more medics poured out of the helicopter. Four dead, one child who would need his leg amputated, and an old lady in the back with a concussion. He looked at his watch. Less than a half hour from when he called 911. Better than the first day, yesterday, when all six died, but still nowhere as good as he wanted it to be. He had to find as much as he could about the cause of the accident and the people involved.
And maybe when his mom called next time, prompted by the same actions she had been today, he just wouldn’t answer the phone. Save him the hassle.