Sid’s biceps gave an unconscious flex. “They couldn’t have picked something useful for you to do with your vacation?”
“No,” I said. The truth came out cool and clean against my lips.
“They really couldn’t have.”
When we perfect commercial time travel, everyone in the past is going to be pissed at us. It’s not only that their quiet, sepia-toned lives will be inundated with loud-mouthed giants. And it’s not even the issue that language is a living organism, so all communication will be way more problematic than anyone ever thinks about.
It’s jet packs.
At some point, someone is going to ask about jet packs, and no amount of bragging about clean water and vaccines and free Wi-Fi will be able to distract them. Even if you went back before the Industrial Revolution, someone is going to want to know if we’ve all made ourselves pairs of Icarus wings.
Defrost Walt Disney and he’ll ask to be put back in the fridge until Tomorrowland is real. Go back to the eighties and everyone’s going to want to know about hoverboards.
Hell, go back to yesterday, find your own best friend, and they’d still ask, “Tomorrow’s the day we get flying cars, right?”
People want miracles. They want magic. They want to freaking fly.
Unrelated: Did you know that crossing state lines on a train ispretty much the most boring and uncomfortable thing ever?
Despite sounding vaguely poetic, the midnight train to Oregon wasn’t much for scenery. Unfortunately, running away tends to work
best in the middle of the night, especially when one’s cousins have a curfew to make and can’t wait on the platform with you.
Twelve hours, two protein bars, and one sunrise later, the view was rolling brown fields that turned into dilapidated houses with collapsing fences and sun-bleached Fisher Price play sets. Appar– ently, the whole “wrong side of the tracks” thing wasn’t a myth. Everything the train passed was a real bummer.
One should always have something sensational to read on the train,
whispered Oscar Wilde, sounding remarkably like my stepmom. With my headphones drowning out the screech of the tracks, I reached into my backpack, pushing past the heavy stack of books and ziplock bags of half–eaten snacks, to the bottom. Tucked be– tween the yellowed pages of my battered copy of Starship Troopers was a folded square of white printer paper. I tried to smooth it over my leg, but it snapped back into its heavy creases.
On behalf of Rayevich College and our sister school, the Messina Academy for the Gifted, it is my great pleasure to offer you a place at Camp Onward. At Onward, you will spend three weeks learning alongside forty-seven other accomplished high school students from all over the West Coast as you prepare for the annual Tarrasch Melee. The winners of the Melee will be granted a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to Rayevich College . . .
The page was starting to wear thin in the corners from my fingers digging into it whenever it stopped feeling real enough. The packing list that had once been stapled to it was even worse off, high– lighted and checkmarked and underlined. I’d had to put that one inside of an N. K. Jemisin hardcover so that the extra weight could smash it flat.
I ran my thumb over the salutation again. Dear Ever.
I shivered, remembering how my hands had trembled as I’d read those words for the first time, stamped to the front of an envelope
case swayed across my stomach in tandem withmy backpack scrap– ing over my spine, making it hard not to waddle. “Are you from Rayevich?”
The guy looked up, startled, and shoved his phone into the pocket of his jeans. He swept forward, remembering to smile a minute too late. All of his white teeth gleamed in the sunshine.
“Are you Ever?” His smile didn’t waver, but I could feel him processing my appearance. Big, natural hair, baggy Warriors T–shirt, cutoff shorts, clean Jordans. Taller than him by at least two inches.
“Yeah,” I said. And then, to take some of the pressure off, “You were looking for a white girl, right?”
His smile went dimply in the corners, too sincere to be pervy. “I’m happy to be wrong.”
“Ever Lawrence,” I said, hoping that I’d practiced it enough that it didn’t clunk out of my mouth. It was strange having so few sylla– bles to get through. Elliot Gabaroche was always a lot to dump on another human being.
“Cornell Aaron,” the college boy said, sticking his hand out. He had fingers like my father’s, tapered, with clean, round nails. I spent the firm two–pump handshake wondering if he also got no-polish manicures. “I’ll be one of your counselors at Onward. It’s a quick drive from here.”
He took the handle of my suitcase without preamble and led the way toward the parking lot. I followed, my pulse leaping in the same two syllables that had wriggled between the folds of my brain and stamped out of my shoes and pumped through my veins for months.
It was a stupid thing to drive you crazy, but here I was: running away from home in the name of Oscar Wilde.