Sunday, February 22, 2015

I Am Not a Good Person

I see people going through struggles I’ve never had to face and wonder why them and not me. I know I’m no better than they are. That’s kind of the opposite of how it usually goes. Folks find themselves in terrible circumstances and wonder, “Why me? I’m a good person.”

But I don’t think of myself as a good person. Mostly because I know me. I know every time I pre-judge, am rude and am harsh. I know the ugly thoughts that give birth to ugly words and actions. Maybe on my list of what I've never done, I could list murder… unless you count the ugly words I've said that perhaps killed a person inside. I could list all the bad things I've never done and try to claim it, but I think to be considered a truly good person, it would take more than a list of what I've not done.

I would need a list of the good I have done. I give to charities some. I let a stranger have a quarter yesterday. I cook for my family and do their laundry. But then there are the few who really do good, beyond what seems possible. Pastor Lee Jong-rak of The Drop Box Film for example. He takes in orphans and he and his wife choose to mother and father them all. He has given up money because he and his wife have had to work hard to provide for all those children along with his biological disabled son. I know he has given up sleep based my experience as mother of three. Parenting is not easy. He chooses fatigue and frustration and poverty for children that are not his responsibility.

A story like Pastor Lee’s needs to be shared. It shows the true power of Christ and his command to love God and love others. This is why that is the greatest commandment. You can’t debate it. It isn't about politics or forcing the public to act like Christians when they are not. This man picks up the throwaways of the world, calls them his children and loves them to the point that he is willing to die to protect them.

John 15:13New International Version (NIV)
13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down his life for his friends.

Listen Folowers of Jesus, if you want to change the world, look at Pastor Lee, read your Bible and live the way he lives. No one can debate the effect that will follow. It isn't about excluding anyone or pointing fingers. It is love beyond reason and it gets noticed and it softens hearts and makes those who witness it ask, “Why? How?” And the answer is, “I do this because Jesus first did this for me.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Chapters 1-5

Chapter 1
April 1994

“THIS IS THE ROAD TO our future, WOOOHOOO!” Michael shouted from the stage. He strummed hard across his electric guitar. I glanced up to see his long sandy hair flying about with each head bang. He’d shouted it every few minutes on our road trip down to Myrtle Beach, SC. It wasn’t the beginning of my future. I was just the soundboard geek. If they hit it big, I’d be the first to go.
Michael howled out the words of the Pearl Jam song he was covering when the bass guitar became overpowering. I leaned over the soundboard and adjusted Travis’s mic. I had to do that when he started feeling the music just a little too much. They were making a real name for themselves. The motel had called Michael and requested they come play at their patio bar every night of spring break. Free rooms and drinks plus a thousand bucks. For high school kids, that was almost like signing a record deal.
 A drunken giggle to my right alerted me in time to put my hands out to steady the brunette about to face plant into the soundboard. She giggled again and fell over onto the soundboard a second time. I held her upright, and she grabbed my tensed biceps before making eye contact with me. She squeezed my arms through my black t-shirt and gave me a once over and got a look I couldn’t quite define. It was somewhere between the look of a cat about to pounce on a mouse and a kid staring at the selection of thirty-one flavors of ice cream. I’d been getting those looks ever since the guys and I started lifting weights. Half the girls in pre-cal were signed up for tutoring after school with me now and gave me that same look. It was weird.
 She leaned in and closed her eyes but I held her back. She smelled like a rancid combo of beer, vomit, and armpit.
“Back away from the board.” I spun her around and shooed her and her collection of inebriated revelers away.
The yeasty smell of beer mixed with the sour stench of sweat filled the air. I’d just paid for the new soundboard, and it would not be damaged. I stood akimbo glaring at another group until they too backed away. I plopped back down and glanced toward the slightly raised platform the motel had for a stage. Girls in bikinis, tank tops, flannel shirts tied at the midriff and daisy dukes, pushed up front to get a closer view of the guys with guitars. Michael smirked at the girls and did some eye squinting thing as he pointed at one lucky lady. It was a look he practiced in front of the mirror quite often. It did its job, setting off a siren of girl squeals.
 I shook my head and turned away when I noticed a man, maybe in his fifties, standing on the balcony. I smirked thinking how the old guy must be pissed at picking this motel with a band playing every night. But when I focused on him, he wasn’t looking at the band or the crowd. He was looking straight at me and grinning. It turned into some kind of weird staring contest until I finally looked away and went back to hovering over the soundboard. A few more close calls and my mind was firmly back on keeping sand and beer off the expensive equipment. When a shadow loomed over the board, I didn’t even bother to look up. “Step away from the sound system.”
“David?” A soft feminine voice spoke my name.
I glanced up to see the biggest, brownest eyes framed by the longest, blackest lashes I’d ever seen. I glanced down to focus on the rest of her. The form-fitting black dress she wore hugged every curve down to her toned and tanned legs. My gaze trailed on down to her fancy black heels and then back up at her face. She was hot…like model hot. I couldn’t blink or think as I stared at her beautiful face framed by large amounts of blonde hair and a pair of large hoop earrings. She didn’t look like the other girls with her eye makeup, glossy pink lips, and the way her hair was puffed up and styled. She looked like she had just stepped out of one of the James Bond movies Dad and I watched on TV.
I glanced around the crowd of stringy haired girls in cutoffs, t-shirts, and Keds. Her look wasn’t in style at the moment. Most girls were doing the grunge and hippie thing, but Bond girls never went out of style with guys. I tried to say something, but I think I just stared and possibly stuttered before a wheeze came out. She reached for the inhaler in my shirt pocket and handed it to me. I took a puff as she shook her head, smiling.
“It is you.” A look of pure wonder and amazement lit her face. She blinked, making her thick and extremely long lashes flutter like butterfly wings. “I can’t believe it. You wear glasses now.”
I pushed them back on my nose self-consciously as I put away my inhaler. “Yeah, like since the third grade.” I eyed her up and down once more and worked hard to remember to breathe. “Do I know you?”
“Kind of…Well not really. I’m…” she shifted her eyes to the side without moving her head and bit her lips like she needed to remember something and stopped for a moment before she continued. “Ugh! I suck at this. You’ll never let me do this again if I mess this up.” She shook her head and then turned her attention back to me. “No, you don’t know me, but I know all about you. Let’s just put it that way.” Her grin said something was up.
Had the guys arranged this? I turned my attention to Michael and the others on the stage. She glanced over to them and then screamed out, “Oh my word! That’s Michael!” She pointed and looked back at me. “He’s so scraggly with the beard and long hair…and the flannel shirt with the sleeves cut out. He looks like a lumberjack.” She giggled again. “You guys are so young and…dress funny.” Her forehead wrinkled as she looked back at Michael.
Ouch! I glanced up at the stage. Mark was nudging Travis to look my way. “Did the guys put you up to this?” I said it as they all motioned at Michael and nodded for him to look my way.
She glanced back at the stage, “No. Why?”
“Then are you a Head Trauma fan?” I asked, trying to figure out how she knew about us. I really didn’t think we were at groupie status yet.
The beautiful blonde girl looked at me now like I was crazy, “What?”
“Our band, Head Trauma.” I pointed to the stage.
“Oh, right.” Suddenly she seemed to think in a different direction. “Yes, I’m a big fan of your band…Head…Trauma.” She glanced around. “I’d better go before I mess this up. I can’t believe I’m really here seeing you like this. This is amazing.” She looked straight at me. “You are amazing and you are going to do amazing things and create the most amazing future for the world. Just know that whatever happens, the pain and sorrow will be worth it in the long run.”
I felt my face scrunch. “O…kay?”
“It was really nice meeting you like this, but I need to find my ride. I can’t wait to tell him I met you. He’ll have fun telling Michael I said he looked like a lumberjack.” She bit her lip and smiled before turning to walk away, and then she was gone.
A friend of Michael’s. Yeah, it was some kind of set up. I rolled my eyes at him and gave him a certain gesture with my hand to let him know I was on to it. He shook his head and shrugged back at me.
A couple of songs later I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Bond Girl again.
Dark, butterfly lashes guarded eyes with a tinge of worry in them. “I can’t seem to find my ride. He told me to make sure I stayed with him all night, and everything would work out fine, but I can’t find him anywhere.” She looked back at me with those big doe eyes. “Do you mind if I sit with you until he shows up? I think he’ll know to check here.”
“No, not at all.” I jumped up so fast I nearly knocked over my chair as I pulled the one with my notebook and pen closer and moved the book to the table by the soundboard.
She looked at the notebook, then up at me, and smiled before she glanced around again. “I forgot how humid it gets here.”
“Where are you from?”
“California.” She glanced around toward the bar. “I’m so thirsty. I’ll be right back.” A few minutes later she was back beside me, sweat beading on her nose. “I forgot I don’t have my purse with me, but the bartender noticed me sitting over here and I let him think I was with the band and got a free drink.” She smiled while handing me a red Solo cup. “I got you one too. They didn’t have Cheerwine so I had him add cherry to your Dr Pepper.”
I sat completely still and glared at her and swallowed. “How did you know what I drink?”
Her glossy pink lips curled up into the most devious grin. “I just know things.”
I glanced away. “Right. Or did Michael’s friend tell you?”
“Michael’s friend?” Her nose scrunched like she was confused.
I shook my head and turned to the soundboard.
The band finally took a break and the guys got drinks and came over to where the Bond Girl and I were. Michael pulled me aside, “Who’s the chick?”
“Like you don’t know.” I started to brush by him, but he stopped me.
“I don’t.”
“You didn’t send her my way?” I rolled my eyes at him. I wasn’t stupid.
“When have I ever sent a hot chick your way? She looks like the woman from I Dream of Jeannie.” Michael smirked as he bumped my shoulder with his. “Did you find her in a bottle down on the beach? Finally found something different to rub for a change, and then she popped out?” He glanced around with a mocking look.
 I punched him in the arm. “Shut up, idiot.”
“Make me, dork.” He shoved me before he gave her another once over. “Did you get her name?”
I shook my head. “No, but she knows us somehow.”
“A fan girl. Nice.”
Michael was about to swagger over to her when I said, “She said you look like a lumberjack and dress funny.”
Michael turned around and shoved me again. “Well that shows you something’s wrong with her. That and the fact she’s hanging out with you.” He glanced her way and eyed her up and down. I didn’t like the way he ogled her. “You gonna ask her to dance?”
I stood still, realizing I’d not thought of that. “I would, but someone has to play CDs during the break.”
“Joey can do that. If you don’t ask her, I will.”
That decided it for me. Even if it was some kind of hoax, I wasn’t turning down the chance of putting my arms around her. I turned and saw her still searching out into the crowd for her ride. I really hoped he wasn’t some big jock as I stumbled back to where she sat. “You wanna dance?”
She smiled and glanced around again before she turned her full attention to me. “I guess that would be okay.”
She followed me to the dance floor and stepped closer and put her arms around my neck. I’d never danced much. My heart raced and my hands got sweaty as they found their way to her waist. “I don’t even know your name yet,” I said as we moved back and forth to Radiohead’s Creep.
The huge doe eyes with the long black lashes looked away as she bit her lip, like she was considering. “I’m not allowed to say.”
“Says who?” It was a prank.
She shook her head. “Can’t say.”
“What… are you like in the witness protection program or something?”
She didn’t answer at first, as if to consider how to answer. “Yes, I am!” But her grin said she was teasing.
“I don’t believe you.”
She only smiled with a quick tilt of the head.
“Well how old are you? Are you allowed to tell me that?” I leaned down to speak into her ear because of the music and the noisy crowd, but when I did I got a whiff of her. It was sweet but not perfume. Was that her own scent? I had to catch my breath and try to order my thoughts. If I wasn’t careful, I’d hyperventilate and need my inhaler again.
“I’m twenty-four." She glanced up at me under those lashes. "And how old are you?”
Should I lie? “I’m eighteen.” It would be true by the end of the week.
She rolled her eyes and leaned against my chest and laughed. Again, another intoxicating whiff of her hair. “First I’m too young, and now you are.” Then she pulled back and gazed up at me. “But it’s just one dance. I’ve always wanted to do this. I guess I never got over my crush on you. I don’t think one dance will hurt anything.”
Crush on me? The guys had her laying it on thick.
Then she surprised me by pulling off my glasses, folding them, and sticking them in my shirt pocket with my inhaler. “I want to look into your eyes. They’re the first thing I noticed the day I met you. That and your black hair. I’ve always thought you were such a hottie.”
Me a hottie? Now I knew it was a joke. “The day you met me? And when was that because I know I would remember you?” I would kick Michael’s everlasting butt for this later.
She smirked. “Can’t say. But this is the perfect ending to a terrible day.”
“Today was bad for you?” We swayed to the music.
She sighed. “It started with some bad news. A friend of mine was missing. He’s going to be one of those people who changes the world. You know, end up in all the history books. If something happened to him, the world would be lost.”
 “Was that the friend you came with?”
“No. Another, different, very important friend brought me here.” She grinned at me like she was hiding something in her words.
“But your friend who was missing is okay?”
“Yes.” She pulled back again and gazed up at me. “You’ve had enough go wrong in your life. I’m glad it worked out for you too. I wasn’t sure you could survive another loss.”
I stared back at her, my brows furrowed as I tried to comprehend what she was saying. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. How much is Michael paying you to mess with me?”
“Michael paying me? I don’t think Michael even notices I’m alive.”
I stepped back. “Oh, he notices. So you’re one of his girlfriends?”
She stopped moving, pulled back, and looked into my eyes with a piercing stare. “I’m sorry. I knew I would mess this up.”
The song transitioned into the acoustic version of "Layla" by Eric Clapton. The mood was too somber for my first dance with this beautiful woman. The gig was up—I was onto Michael but I could still enjoy the moment. I pulled her back to me as we started swaying to the music again. I decided to lighten the mood and just play along. “You can’t tell me where we met. You can’t tell me your name. So what do I call you, ‘Hey you?’”
She laughed. “If you want.”
It worked. I liked her laugh. It wasn’t all giggly like teen girls. It was more throaty and deep. It was sexy and womanly and matched her.
“How about Layla? Since you have me begging and all?” The words repeated in the song blasting from the speakers.
She stepped back from me, and a look of horror came over her. “What?”
“Like the song.” I pointed to the speakers. “Layla.”
 She glanced around and covered her mouth with her hand.
 “I was joking. The song just sort of matched what was going on. I can call you something else.”
She backed away even farther, her eyes wider now. She bumped into the couple behind her, but seemed oblivious to it as she looked around again, frantically this time.
“No, it can’t be. I can’t be.” And then she bolted toward the beach. She hit the sand, and her heels began to sink. She kicked off her shoes and grabbed them up to run. I ran to follow her. She kept going into the dunes and marsh grass, down away from the lights to the sandy darkness. The sound of ocean waves beating against the shore was followed by the next crash and then another. If it hadn’t been for the full moon and cloudless sky, I might not have found her. I grabbed her arm as I overtook her and she spun to face me.
“What’s wrong? Did I do something?”
She fell on her knees in the sand and clutched at her chest. “He left me here because he thought I was…” She looked up at me in wide-eyed panic.
“What’s wrong? Who left you here? Did the guys put you up to this? Because it’s not funny.” I knelt down in front of her.
I am not Layla!” Then she looked right at me, her glare revealing pure fright. “I am not Layla.”
Chapter 2
THE GUYS HAD FOLLOWED ME and joined us on the beach. Michael came first and nodded for me to step to the side with him.
“Dude, is she all right?”
I shook my head, still watching as she cradled herself in the sand. “I don’t know. I called her Layla, and she flipped. I thought I got your joke at first, but now I’m not getting this. Just send her home and end this, okay?”
Michael turned to face me. “End what?”
“This joke where the hot girl is into me and then flips out. Ha ha. It was funny. Now send her home.”
Michael glanced at the girl and then shook his head. “David, I don’t know that girl.”
“What about her friend who dropped her off and his plan to talk to you later?” I felt one eyebrow rise, as I asked further, “And how did she know who we were?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s part of her crazy talk, or her boyfriend likes garage bands.”
“Then why did she flip out on me?”
“The hot girl’s a few donuts short of a dozen.” He twirled his finger by his temple., “Insane in the membrane. I mean, why else would she be into you instead of me?”
I balled my hand into a fist and punched him as hard as I could in the shoulder. “You’re stupid. And this joke has gone on long enough.”
Michael jumped to the side and laughed.
With a frown, I walked back to where Layla sat in the sand and bent down to her. “Listen, you did a great job of freaking me out. I’m sure Michael is thrilled. I don’t get it, but I’m sure I will laugh and laugh about this night one day.”
She turned to face me, her eyes full of tears. “What are you talking about?”
“Michael set this all up as a joke, right?”
“I wish it were a joke.” She swallowed and rubbed her eyes. Either she was a really good actress or her tears were real.
A tinge of sympathy softened my tone with her. “I’m not sure what all this is about, but is there anyone I can call to come get you?”
She shook her head. “No, I’ll just call a cab.” She glanced around in the sand and then back at me. “Shoot, I left my purse back at…” Then another look came over her, like she was realizing something else. “Even if I had it, who would I call? My credit cards wouldn’t work here.” She stared into space and then back at me. Her face contorted in anger as she jumped up and shoved me into the sand on my butt. “You did this to me!” She stood over me with her finger pointed at my face. “I don’t care what you thought. I am not her. I am not Layla.”
She grabbed her shoes and raced down the beach, kicking sand up behind her as she went. The guys stared after her while I stood.
Michael walked over to me. “Told you she was crazy. We gotta get back and finish our set.”
I watched her run until she was too far down the beach for me to see.

EACH DEEP BREATH I SUCKED made my lungs burn like fire, but I kept running. Broken shells mixed with the sand cut the bottoms of my feet and yet I kept going. This wasn’t happening. It was darker since I’d moved down the beach, away from the hotels, but I couldn’t concentrate on that. My mind was a jumbled mess. The waves crashed hard to my left, and the sea foam crackled like breakfast cereal in milk. A wave stretched its wet tongue and lapped at my hurting feet. I stepped in a hole in the sand, and my foot twisted. I dropped my shoes and put my hands out to brace my fall and grunted as my body made contact with the prickly shells.
I flipped over and grabbed my shoes and held them overhead as the sound of another wave alerted me that it was approaching. I bolted up. I’d just had my hair done for the trip. The hair and the shoes were gifts to myself from my bonus. I stood, but my legs buckled. I made it to my feet. I wasn’t sure how far I had run, but it must have been farther than my normal cardio workout. The skin on my knees burned from the impact with the broken shells as I limped up to dry soft sand near the marsh grass and took a seat.
I hugged my knees and stared out into the darkness. The white foam glowed in the moonlight. This couldn’t really be happening. This was a nightmare. It wasn’t real. I closed my eyes and tried to take control of it, like my grandma taught me to do when my dreams became frightening. She told me to realize it was just a dream and that I was in charge of it. When I’d had enough, I could take to the sky and fly away. I sat there thinking, this is just a dream. Time to fly away. But nothing happened. I’d tried it the night she died, praying it was just a bad dream, but it wasn’t. I might not be able to fly away from all my troubles, but I never let circumstances control me. I rubbed at my legs. They stung and I could feel trickles of blood.
The first tear pushed its way down my cheek, against my will. I swatted it away angrily. I wasn’t a crier, not since I was a child and realized it didn’t fix anything. No one ever came to the rescue. Crying got you teased and wasted time. I let my mind race in every direction that could possibly fix this, but it all came back blank. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, I could do to fix this. I glanced up to the sky, “I guess this is a good time to ask You for help. It’s been a while. If you will just get me out of this, I won’t ask you for another thing. I promise.”

I RAN THE SOUNDBOARD UNTIL the guys finished, but spent the whole time looking over my shoulder to see if she’d come back. There was an eeriness about meeting the girl. Sort of like Déjà vu but not… since I’d never met the girl before. It was almost like the feelings I got when I needed one of my notebooks. Sort of a supernatural tingle in the soul. Like a message meant just for me had arrived and I had to capture it before it left.
I grabbed my notebook—I always kept one with me—and wrote it down:
Layla April 3, 1994 Knew about Cheerwine. Either a joke or I attract crazy chicks.
I tucked my notebook under my arm and started cleaning up my soundboard area. Everything had to go in the storage closet that the motel let us use. The drums, microphones, soundboard and speakers went in there. Michael, Mark and Travis kept their guitars with them in their motel rooms.
The guys had gone across the street to a twenty-four-hour pancake house. I was about to join them, but had to double check that everything was locked up. Good thing since one of the mics and a speaker were still out by the pool. Those guys were the artists, and I was the responsible one. I grabbed it and was heading to the storage closet when I glanced up and saw her.
I froze and blinked, trying to get her into focus. Then I remembered my glasses were in my pocket. I reached in and placed them back on my nose. No wonder I’d spent the last part of the night squinting at the switches. She was disheveled. The wind had tangled and matted her hair, but it only made her more appealing in the way messy hair did in a guy’s mind. “Um…hey.”
“Hey.” She wiped her red eyes and sniffed before pushing her hair behind her ears. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I don’t have anywhere else to go. I don’t have any money. I don’t even have my driver’s license with me.” She shrugged. “I’m stuck and I don’t know anyone to ask for help…except you.”
I finished walking the mic to the closet and shut it and checked the lock as I spoke to her. “Sure. What do you need?”
She shook her head. “Just a place to stay for now. I’m still not convinced my ride has really dumped me off here. He might come back. Maybe he had issues with his…transportation and I made the wrong assumption. Or this could be some kind of test. I don’t know. But I’ll pay you back when this is all over, I promise. I take care of myself. I always have.”
A beautiful woman was asking to stay with me. There was still the chance that this was a trick because I seriously doubted she was as crazy as Michael suggested. Trick or not, I’d help her. “Yeah sure. I’m headed over to the pancake house to join up with the guys. You hungry?”
She swallowed. “I hate to put you out more.”
“Guys buy ladies dinner all the time. No sweat.”
She smiled. “But I promise I will pay you back. I don’t earn my spaghetti dinners. I pay for them myself.”
I frowned as I tried to understand what she meant. “No problem. Pay me when you can.” I motioned for her to follow me and took my notebook out from under my arm.
She grinned. “One of your notebooks?”
I held the black college-ruled spiral notebook up and half grinned. “Yeah, it’s for my ideas.”
“Right because you’re like Philo T. Farnsworth.”
I stopped and faced her. “What?”
She nodded. “You know…Philo T. Farnsworth. The inventor of the television.”
I froze again and swallowed. Michael knew a lot about me, but our conversations centered on music and girls. He didn’t know about things like who Philo T. Farnsworth was. “Yes, I know who he is.” I thought about the guys across the street. I didn’t imagine a single one of them would recognize the name. They could hardly pass a class without my help.
“Philo would have visions of the things he was to invent. The calculations would run through his head, almost explaining themselves to him. He was fourteen when he got the vision for how the television would work. He wrote it out at school that day, almost immediately, taking up two chalkboards trying to explain it to his teacher and class.”
I nodded. “Yes.”
Goosebumps prickled along the back of my neck, just like the first time I ever heard about his story at science camp. I felt an instant kinship with him.
Her dark eyes warmed as she looked at me. “You’re like Philo. You’re going to invent things.”
Her stare pierced mine, like she could see into me and knew all my secrets, even the ones I wasn’t privy to yet. “You’re wrong. I’m going to be a nice boring dentist.”
She smiled as she shook her head. “No, you won’t”
“How do you know these things about me? My drink was easy. That Michael knows. The visions—I don’t share with anyone.”
Layla grinned, but it was a sad grin. “I just know things.”
“People don’t just know things like that about people they’ve just met.”
“Maybe I do.”
“It isn’t logical.”
“Not everything in life is built on pure logic.”
“Yes, it is.”
She shook her head. “No. Sorry, but there’s a whole realm of the unseen, and I think on some level we all know it exists. Some call it God, assuming it is something bigger than they are and seek to worship it. Others assume it’s all smaller than them and try to conquer it through scientific study. But we all know something unseen is there, and we know we need to find it. Because when we do, we will know the answer.”
“The answer to what?”
“Why we are here?”
I stared into her eyes. I didn’t know what to say. The whole thing with her was becoming a puzzle. The more she said or did, the less I had figured out. My stomach growled loud enough for her to hear. Nothing was making sense, and I was getting hungry. I shook my head and placed my hand on the small of her back to push her ahead of me toward the exit of the pool area. “Are you a philosophy student?”
“Psychology then?” I was trying to get some kind of read off her.
“Never went to college, not really.”
“What does not really mean?”
“I took a certification course at a community college to become an insurance agent. I work in the lower end of the office right now, but I’m working my way up.”
My eyes widened as I thought of what my mom would think. She had certain ideas about who was suitable for me to date. Community college certification was not what she had in mind. She planned on grandchildren who qualified to be members of Mensa.
I opened the door and motioned for Layla to enter first.
She stopped and looked at the door and then at me holding it. She cocked her head and smiled. “Thank you.”
We walked into the pancake house, and I found the guys at a large table looking at menus while talking to the waitress.
“You were supposed to wait for me.” I pulled up another chair from a table beside them for Layla .
“We got hungry.”
Michael’s eyebrows lifted. “She came back?”
“She came back.” I nodded and turned my attention to the menu, hoping he’d drop it.
“Are you going to introduce us to the Clapton hater?” Joey asked.
Layla turned to face me, her eyebrows coming together. “What’s he talking about?”
“The way you freaked out during the Eric Clapton song.”
“I don’t even know who that is?” She shook her head.
The guys pushed away from the table. A couple of them slapped the table top in all of the guffawing. “What planet are you from to not know who Eric Clapton is?”
She shook her head. “Never heard of him.”
Michael leaned in. “Then why did you run off when he called you Layla?”
She swallowed and glanced at me before answering. “I just thought he meant something else and was upset when I realized that my ride had left me with no way back. I freaked out…okay? That’s all.”
“Leave her alone, guys.”
The waitress came and took our orders. “Are these all on one ticket or separate?”
“She and I are on a ticket. The rest are separate.”
Layla ordered water and a Greek salad, and I got a burger with the works.
“So where are you from, Layla?” Michael called out from the other side of the guys.
“Why in the world would you take a ride with a guy from California to Myrtle Beach? You have beaches there.”
“No, I flew to South Carolina for a business conference and dropped in on a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, and he brought me here… and left me.” She glared at me again, the way she had on the beach.
“Sounds like a jerk.”
She eyed me as I said it. “Really, he isn’t. None of this is like him at all.”
“Why don’t you just let us drive you to the airport? Did you fly in at Columbia or Charleston?”
“I flew into Myrtle Beach.”
I shook my head and started playing with the dessert advertisement on the table. Michael should have given her a better story because there was no airport in Myrtle Beach. Ha, caught him. Again I said, “Why don’t you just let us drive you to the Myrtle Beach airport then, so you can fly back home?”
 “Because…things are different now, and I can’t get into it. I’m hoping there’s been a mistake, and he will come back for me.”
“And until then?” Michael asked.
There was a fear in her eyes. “I don’t know.”
“She’ll stay with me.” I answered for her. “Until he comes back or she can make other arrangements.”
“Where’s she going to stay? In our bathtub?” Michael laughed.
I hadn’t thought of that, but then I did think of something and grinned. “No. Remember we made a pact?” Ha, his joke could come back and bite him in the rear.
Michael’s expression was blank at first as he looked at me. Then he realized what I was saying. “No, this doesn’t count.”
My smile widened as I put my arm around Layla. “Oh, yes it does. You said if either of us picked up a girl, the other would stay with the band for the night.” I raised a single eyebrow. “It was your idea.”
“Yeah, but I was supposed to be the one who had a girl stay with me.”
I only shrugged and glanced over at Layla. She bit her lip and took a sip of her water.
WE WALKED BACK TO THE motel. I opened the door for Layla, but Michael scooted by me instead.
“You’re sharing a room with the other guys, remember?”
He turned to face me and gave me a grin that said he wasn’t happy. “I remember. Just let me grab a few things.”
We’d just arrived that afternoon, so all he had to do was grab his bag and guitar case and came right back out. He mumbled something unintelligible as he made his way to the guys’ room. I motioned Layla in and closed the door. I leaned my back against it and looked at her. She turned to face me with a half-hearted grin that didn’t reach her eyes. I swallowed and ran my fingers through my hair like I did when I was nervous and then pushed my glasses back on my nose.
I let out a breath and summed up the situation. I was alone in a motel room with a beautiful woman for the very first time in my life. I gulped and looked at the two beds, then back at her. I knew nothing would happen, so I worked hard to get my thoughts in check so my breathing could follow.
“Right.” I took a puff and got my mind in order. Then I made my way to the mini fridge and got out a Cheerwine. “Want one?”
She shook her head, so I turned to face the wall and threw my head back for a big gulp. The guys had the room with something stronger in the fridge. I got up my courage and turned back around. “Listen, I’m not going to try anything–I promise. I would have agreed to stay with the guys too, but Michael wouldn’t have gone for that so I pulled the pact card on him. I knew he couldn’t say anything since it was his idea.”
She smiled at me and nodded. “I understand.”
“Why don’t you go through my bag and see what might fit you to sleep in, and you can shower first.”
“Okay.” She nodded, looked through my bag, and pulled out a t-shirt and a pair of boxers and headed for the bathroom.
I went ahead and brushed my teeth while I waited and then looked around the room and realized she would need a toothbrush. I left and walked down to the front desk to see if they had any. When I got back to the room, she was hanging her black dress on the hanging rack. I had to stop where I was and swallow. I got a view of her backside, and her toned and tanned legs were the first place my eyes went. My boxers looked much better on her than on me. She turned to face me, and I remembered to breathe, and that women prefer eye contact. I swallowed hard and looked into her face.
It was just as lovely with the makeup washed away. She was finger combing her hair that looked darker when wet.
“Where did you go?” she asked.
“Ummm…I…ummm…” I was trying to form words. I held the toothbrush out. “I got you a toothbrush.”
She smiled and made her way to me. “Thank you.” She took it from me and backed away. “I tried not to use all the hot water.”
I nodded. “Thanks.” Then I noticed the scratches on her legs. “What happened?” I pointed and stepped closer.
“Oh, I fell when I was on the beach. They sting a bit, but I’m fine.”
I made my way to the bag I’d packed for all possibilities. I dug through and found Pepto, headache medicines, laxatives, and spare cash hidden in a fake Coke can—from Mom. A box of condoms that came with a speech from Dad about respect and safety and hoping I would make the right choice and the box would come back sealed and full. First aid kit. I pulled out a tube of Neosporin and the bandages and headed back to her. “Have a seat on the bed.”
Instead, she took the items from me. “Thanks, but I’ll take care of it.”
I stood frozen, surprised by how quickly she snatched them from me.
“You go ahead and shower.” She motioned with her head toward the bathroom. “You’ve done enough for me.”
I guess I was still staring at her because she shrugged. Her brown eyes circled in their sockets, displaying her frustration as she spoke again. “I don’t like being needy. I don’t like asking for your help at all. I can put a bandage or two on my own legs, and if that is all I can do for myself, then I’m doing it.”
I stepped away and gathered my things and made my way to the bathroom. I got in the shower and turned the water to extra warm, just the way I liked it. But visions of Layla in my shirt and boxers in the other room kept running through my mind and then Dad’s speech. I switched the hot water off and opted for a cold shower instead. The ice water hit my back as I leaned my head against the shower wall and groaned.
I heard a hum out in the room and turned the water off. She had found Michael’s hair dryer. I dried off and dressed in my jogging pants and t-shirt. By then the dryer had stopped. I came out and found her sitting in the other bed with the blanket pulled up around her. Her hair was back to golden now that it was dry. I was glad she was covered up. It made conversation easier. She was flipping through the channels.
“Anything good?”
“Only old reruns.” She stopped when she got to Family Matters. “The Urkel Show. I always liked this one.”
I switched off the light and made my way to my bed. I put my glasses back on and pushed them back farther on my nose as I glanced over at Layla . I climbed into the other bed and stared at the TV, saying nothing at first. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me. “Why did you get so mad at me when I called you Layla? You also said it was all my fault before you ran off.”
She turned the volume down and put her head on her knees that were still under the blankets. She stayed that way for a few seconds before she looked back at me. “I can’t tell you.”
“Who says?”
“My friend. He said it could ruin everything.”
“Your friend who abandoned you here?”
She looked at me with her brown doe eyes and nodded.
“Why should you care what he said at this point? He just left you here. Abandoned you. You should assume he’s a stupid liar and stop covering for him.”
She shook her head. “No, he’s anything but stupid.” She let out a sigh. “And I’ve never known him to be a liar. I wish… I think I know why he told me that, and why he left me here, but he’s wrong. I’m not who he thinks I am. I can’t be. It’s impossible.”
I couldn’t follow her conversation. I sat quietly until I could think of something to say. “If you don’t want me to call you Layla, what do you want me to call you?” I was still trying to figure out the angle here. If this wasn’t some trick the guys were pulling on me, then what?
She shook her head. “I don’t know.”
She put her head back down inside her arms, still hugging her knees and rocking. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what to do or say. Her distress didn’t look fake. If she was acting, she was good. Too good for the guys to be able to afford if it was all a prank.
I hadn’t planned it, but I got up, walked over to her bed, sat down, and put my arms around her.
Her head shot up, and her eyes were large dark circles as she pulled away from me.
“Sorry, you just looked so scared. I promise I wasn’t trying anything.” I stood up and backed away.
She looked at the TV, but it was obvious she didn’t see it. “I’m terrified. I don’t know what this all means. I have no way to fix it.” She turned back to face me. “I always find a way. I always make a plan and end up on top. That’s who I am. I don’t ask for help, and I don’t cry in front of guys to get sympathy. I hate those kinds of girls.” She looked away again. “I refuse to be one.”
I sat down again on her bed, but farther from her. “I think everyone needs help sometimes. I mean, look at the band. They all do something different, and they are each great at what they do, but no one goes to hear a drum concert or a bass guitar concert. We all carry the equipment and set up. I think it would really suck to try to do everything alone. To think it’s all on you all the time.”
She still stared out into space. “It’s the only life I’ve ever known.”
I stopped and watched her. I didn’t know how to help her, and it was obvious that she didn’t want my help. I stood up to go, but she turned and took hold of my hand.
“Thank you for letting me stay here and loaning me clothes and the bandages. I may not like asking for help, but I really do appreciate it.”
“No problem.”
“Here,” she handed me the remote. “I don’t care what we watch.”
I took it from her before she rolled over to face the other wall. I got up and got back in my bed. I switched the television off and put my glasses on the nightstand, so I could lie down, and pulled the covers up. If this was a joke, it was pretty elaborate for the guys. If she was crazy, how did she know so much about me? And why did being called Layla freak her out so much?

Chapter 3
IT TOOK ME FOREVER TO fall asleep. It was almost dawn when I was finally able to forget about the beautiful woman in the room with me and drift off.
A knock or something caused me to bolt up in bed. I didn’t hear it again so I fell back on my pillow, for just a moment forgetting Layla. But when I caught a glimpse of her blonde hair on the pillow, it all came rushing back to me. I swung my feet to the side of the bed, stood, and began tiptoeing to the bathroom on the other side of her. I didn’t turn on the light at the sink to wash my hands, choosing to use the light from the bathroom instead. I’d forgotten my glasses on the night stand and squinted in the direction of a black, fuzzy thing. It looked like the biggest, hairiest spider I’d ever seen, right there on the vanity by the cups holding our toothbrushes. An unmanly yell escaped my lips before I ran to the place I’d left my shoes the night before and grabbed one. By then, Layla had jumped up as well.
“What’s going on?” She came running up behind me, peering over my shoulder.
“A spider.” I brought the sole of my shoe down on the spider sitting by the sink as hard as I could. Layla reached over and switched on the vanity, causing the florescent light to blink and buzz as it came on. I lifted the shoe to look at the hairy strand stuck to it.
 “What? Tsk.” Layla grabbed the shoe from me and peeled the strand off. “That’s not a spider. Those were my eyelashes. Man….tsk… those were my best pair of mink lashes. I special ordered those.”
I squinted at the hairy strand she was working to separate with her fingers. “Your eyelashes?”
“Yeah, I was wearing false lashes last night. I took them off when I showered.”
She held the squished hair out and shook her head. “Doesn’t matter–I don’t have any glue with me anyway.” She threw it in the trash can and then took a look at herself in the mirror. “I don’t have any makeup either, nor money to buy any. No job. Great. I’m now a bum.”
She made her way to the bed and plopped down on it with a bounce. “I’ve worked so hard at my job to be taken seriously. I’m the youngest agent at the office to have my kind of sales. And the least educated. I finally get to a place where I make good money and can buy myself the kinds of things I never had growing up. Now I’m broke and homeless.”
I shook my head and took a seat beside her. “Your friend leaving you here is just a temporary setback. I will drive you to the airport and charge up my dad’s credit card to buy you a ticket. You can pay me back when you get home.”
“That won’t work. Believe me, if it was that simple, I’d be on it myself and it would be done.”
“I don’t understand.”
 “And I can’t tell you any more about it.” She faced me and was motionless as she stared into my eyes. “You are so young.” She reached up and placed her palm on my cheek. “Your blue eyes with black bangs always falling into them—you were always brushing them out of your eyes. Combing your fingers through your hair when you were frustrated. I was always captivated. I’d never met anyone so determined before. And in your eyes, there was always this distant look. It’s not in your eyes now. And your shoulders don’t sag yet.” Her hand moved down to my shoulder and then rested on my bicep. It tensed under her touch.
The air between us grew thick as I took a deep breath.
“I think that’s a good thing. You were my very first crush. I would watch you from afar and you never really noticed me.”
She leaned in close as she spoke, and the space between us became charged with energy. I could feel it as I breathed in her scent. I swallowed and placed my hand over the one she had resting on my arm as she grasped at the muscle. She was so close and smelled of sweet shampoo. Fruity, like apples. Her face was inches from mine. I found myself staring at her lips. They were a natural pink now, not the shimmering pink they were the night before. She really was beautiful just as she was, with messy bed hair and no makeup. I reached and brushed a tendril of hair from her eyes and lodged it behind her ear. It was one of those things I’d seen in movies and had always wanted to do.
Layla took my hand as I let go of her hair and held it and half smiled. “I hate being weak, and I hate needing to be rescued, but what’s funny is when I was a girl, I loved to read my friend’s comics because of those moments. The little boy next door loved them, and I would read them to him and watch Spider-Man movies. Like when Mary Jane was being held by Venom, and Spider-Man shows up to rescue her. After my Grandma died, I would find myself alone and scared as a kid, and I would imagine myself as Mary Jane waiting for Spider-Man. But when he pulled off the mask, it would be your face staring back at me. You’ve always been the hero in my dreams.”
I swallowed and tried to make sense of her words. “So did you used to live in Chesnee? Did we go to school together as kids?”
She jerked her hand back and covered her open mouth. He dark eyes were wide, and she looked away. “See, I’m going to break the rules and ruin everything. What was he thinking, leaving me here like this? I’m going to make a mess of your life. Then there won’t be…no, that can’t happen.” She shot up from the bed and started pacing. “I can’t be here. People will die and it will be my fault. I sell insurance for crying out loud. I have no business here.”
A loud bang on the door made us both jump.
“Breakfast is about to be taken up. Mark ran out there and threw himself on the table and begged the housekeeper to wait. Better come get some before they take it away. It’s getting close to lunch time,” Travis yelled from the other side of the door.
Layla grabbed her black dress from the hanger. “You go ahead, and I’ll join you all when I’m dressed.”
I took the dress from her and hung it back up. “We’re at the beach at a 2-star motel. Shorts and a t-shirt are fine.”
She sighed. “You’re right.” She looked down at herself and shrugged. “It’s not like I know anyone here anyway. Got any flip flops I can borrow?”
“Sure.” I grabbed an extra pair and set them on the floor. Then I opened the door and motioned for her to go first.
We made it out to the patio where the motel served a continental breakfast of juice, coffee, yogurt and pastries. Someone opened the door from the office behind the table and peeked out, probably seeing if we were done so they could clean it up.
Michael was waiting with the guys. White frosting and fruit gel dotted his blondish brown beard, from shoveling the pastries into his face as fast as he could. He and the guys were all in black t-shirts with various band names on them and faded jean shorts. When they saw Layla and me approaching, they all smirked at each other. I didn’t like them eyeing her up and down the way they did, especially the way Michael did it. He jumped up and walked toward us. I bumped up against him hard with my shoulder, trying not to let Layla see me do it. He grunted. “What’s that for?”
I glanced at Layla and back at him. He threw up his hands in some mock show of innocence.
I continued to glare at him but said nothing.
I walked over to the buffet. “Layla would you like a bottle of juice?”
 She was at the other end of the table, looking at the food choices. “No. Coffee, please. Do they have any of those flavored creamers?”
My forehead scrunched. “Flavored creamers?”
“Yeah, like hazelnut or vanilla?”
“They have dry powder.”
“I’ll use the milk for the cereal.” She made her way to the yogurts in the ice and turned it to read the back. “How many carbs does this have?”
We sat at the table with the guys. Layla and I were on one side and the guys on the other. “I don’t know, but the front says it’s low fat.” I knew that was a big deal to my mom.
She shrugged, pulled the flap off, and dug the plastic spoon in. Then she flipped the spoon over and licked it. Joey groaned when she did it, and I kicked him under the table. He groaned again, but louder and for a different reason.
“You okay?” Layla asked him.
He glared at me and answered, “I’m fine. Just bumped my leg on something.”
I ripped open my pastry and took a big bite when Travis tapped Joey on the shoulder and pointed at me. “Looks like he’s extra hungry this morning.” The guys all grinned at each other.
Michael answered him, “That’s what happens when a boy becomes a man. It makes him extra hungry.”
“Real mature guys. Let it go. Nothing happened.” I glared at them.
Michael smirked. “Let it go, guys. He’d be in a better mood if something had happened.”
I stood. “Shut up morons.” I turned to face her. “I’m sorry, Layla. Let’s get out of here and I’ll take you for a real breakfast.”
She stood and followed me. Once we got away from the guys, she stopped me and pulled me to face her. “You’re such a sweet guy to defend my honor and all, but I don’t care what your friends think. So don’t worry yourself about that, okay?”
 I shrugged. “I didn’t want to hurt your reputation.”
“Okay, extra sweet that you even think like that. I don’t know any guys back home who do. Second, I told you not to call me Layla.”
I hadn’t realized that I had said it out loud, but I guessed I had. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what else to call you since you won’t tell me your real name.”
She froze and her face went pale. “I can’t.”
I turned from her. “Then I’m calling you Layla.”
She shook her head, “But I’m not Layla. I can’t be. Layla was beautiful and glamorous. She was an inspiration. I’m just…playing like I’m somebody. I’m an insurance agent. I chit chat and flirt and sell car insurance.”
I shook my head. “I don’t understand what you’re talking about. The song doesn’t say anything like that about Layla.”
She walked away and put her hand out like she was saying stop. “You don’t understand and I can’t explain.”
When we got back to the room, she brushed her teeth, washed her face, and then grabbed up a handful of hair and wadded it into a bun. She looked around the room and then made her way to the night stand and grabbed a pen and stuck it in the bun. “Where are we going? She finally asked.”
“The mall. You need some clothes, unless you want to wear my boxers forever.” I didn’t really mind the idea, but saying it would not be gentlemanly.
“I can’t let you buy my clothes. You let me stay here last night and bought me dinner—that’s more than enough. Besides, I’m hoping my ride comes back for me today.”
I turned to face her. “But what if he doesn’t? I’ve got a little money with me. Don’t tell the guys. I like them to think I’m as broke as they are.”
She took a second to think about it but relented. “Fine, but I’m paying you back.”
She went to the bathroom with her dress while I put on jean shorts and a blue t-shirt with a horizontal stripe. When she came out, I drove us to the mall. We walked into one of the stores my mom and sister always shopped at and headed for a rack. Layla pushed back hanger after hanger making noises that sounded like, “Ugh…no way!”
Then she moved to the next rack and did the same thing.
“What’s wrong?” I asked by the fifth rack.
“These clothes are terrible. The jeans are all too pale, the waist is too high, the legs are too wide. Ugh… and the tops have no shape. The button ups are all boy cut. And what’s with all the flannel?”
We went to another store and she did the same. When we found ourselves in the lingerie section, I tried not to act as interested as I was. I glanced at what she was looking at, and then away and then back at the bra she was holding.
“Why are these bra’s so pointy and stiff?”
“Umm…I…don’t really know much about bras.”
“I can’t spend your money on any of this. I’m sorry. Do you think we could find a thrift store somewhere?”
 “You mean used clothes?”
“Yeah, that’s how I used to shop when I first got out on my own. I still do it from time to time. The rich people send lots of great stuff there back in Cali.”
“I guess we can find one.”
I asked a lady in the mall, and she gave us directions to a thrift shop back off the main strip along the beach. There Layla finally found things she liked. I didn’t say anything, but what she picked out was all from the 80s. Leggings and pointy heeled shoes and baggy shirts with giant belts, bangle bracelets. The girls at school were all into flannel and clunky shoes. They wouldn’t be caught dead in any of the things Layla picked out. But she was happy and excited, so I didn’t question it. Especially when she picked out a bikini. She held up the hot pink pieces of cloth and said, “For the pool.”
I swallowed. “It’s…um…nice.”
Images started playing through my head. It was in slow motion with fans blowing her blond hair about and her lips painted red, like in a “hair metal” video. The wheezing started, and she was soon beside me, digging into my shirt pocket, handing me my inhaler.
I accepted it and took a couple of puffs.
“You okay?”
“Yeah, it’s the ocean air down here or something.” I swallowed hard after the lie. If I couldn’t breathe just thinking of her in it, they’d probably have to call 911 when she actually put it on.
“We need to find a Laundromat so I can wash these. And find a drugstore. I have to buy some makeup and toiletries.”
I nodded and we drove around until we found a drugstore. She picked out what she needed and a pair of flip flops, and I paid. She took the receipts and added them up in the truck as I drove to the Laundromat the cashier had told us about.
“I’m going to pay you back for all of this. I promise. I don’t like to mooch off people.”
“Don’t worry about it. Michael and the guys love mooching off me. That’s why I let them think I’m broke. I make a nice cut with the band, and my parents give me an allowance. I hardly spend any of it. Besides, I was raised to help a lady in distress.”
We got to the Laundromat and made change in the machine. Layla threw all the laundry into a couple of washers with some soap we bought there.
She turned to face me. “Thank you. And I meant what I said. I will pay you back when my ride comes.”
I looked into her dark eyes. “Stop worrying about it. Three bags of clothes from the thrift store cost me a whole $20.” Then I thought aloud, “What do you plan to do if your ride doesn’t come back?”
“I don’t know.” She looked down at her lap
“I could help you get a ticket back to California.”
She looked away. “That wouldn’t work.”
“Why not? I don’t understand. He doesn’t have to drive you back. You could get there yourself. I mean, it is the obvious solution.”
She shook her head. “I’ve got nowhere to go if he doesn’t come back for me. I can’t explain. But he has to come back or I’m stuck.”
 “Look, we leave Sunday. I can’t leave you here alone. If he doesn’t come back, and you can’t go back to California alone, think about coming to Chesnee with us.”
She shook her head, refusing to consider it. “He will come back. He has to. I can’t think any other way right now.”
We sat in silence, listening to the hum and slosh of the washer. I tried to think of some way to earn her trust when it occurred to me what I’d seen my dad do. When little kids who came to his dental office were too scared to talk to him, he’d turn it into a game of pretend.
“Okay, I have an idea. You are obviously hiding something because of a misguided sense of obligation to some jerk. You seem to want to tell me what’s going on, but all you say is you can’t tell me.”
“It’s not misguided, and I can’t tell you.”
“But you’d like to tell me the truth if you could, right?”
She looked up at me with dejected dark chocolate pearls and nodded.
“Okay, so tell me two stories. In them tell me all about why you can’t go home to California. How you know what I drink and about my notebooks, AND… why you don’t want to be called Layla?”
“But I can’t—”
“Hear me out first. One story will be a lie, all made up, and one will be true. You never have to tell me which one is which. But this way, you don’t have to be completely dishonest either.”
She didn’t say anything as she looked to the side and pondered the idea.
“Tell me. I know you want to.”
She turned to face me, licked her lips, and then bit the bottom one. “Okay…What if I told you I was from the future? What if in the future, you are going to be famous?”
I rolled my eyes. “Be serious. At least make the lie a little believable.”
“I am.”
“And how did you get here from the future and why would I be famous? The soundboard guy isn’t usually who all the girls have posters of on their bedroom walls.”
“No, but a guy who discovers time travel would be famous.”
I turned to face her, my eyes wide. “What?”
“You have visions, and you write them down in these.” She scooted around me to pick up my notebook I had placed on the seat beside me. “You always carry one. You have a stack of them full of all your visions. One you had when you were sixteen was for time travel. You wrote it all out in your notebook, and it has haunted you ever since. Every equation. The waves that push time forward and back, and the molecular structure that would have to be reordered to make it work. You saw it all. And in the back of your mind, all the time, at any given moment, you are trying to figure out how to make it a reality.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but no words would come out.
“What if in my time, everyone knows who you are? The way everyone knows Thomas Edison invented the light bulb or Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. What if I’ve grown up hearing all about you and your time travel idea and the woman who inspired you—Layla? What if your love for Layla is what drove you to accomplish your dream? What if your dream inspired another dreamer with an even bigger and better dream all because of you and Layla? What if in a future where love is thought of as an old-fashioned fairytale, as extinct as the dinosaurs, where people don’t dare to wish for it any longer, a little girl heard stories of your love for Layla and wished with all her heart to be Layla. And then one day, a man with a time machine dropped her off to meet you. Only you called me Layla, and I realized I’d been abandoned by my tour guide. What if I’m terrified that I’m going to ruin everything and get in the way of you meeting the real Layla? And what if I’m even more frightened at the idea I might actually be Layla…the woman who breaks your heart and puts the distant look in your eyes?”
I just looked at her. My mouth hung open as I tried to form words.
She smiled and then laughed. “Or maybe the guys in the band aren’t as broke as they pretend to be either. Maybe they’ve peeked in your notebooks behind your back and decided to freak you out and play an elaborate joke on you. One you’d never believe they could pull off. Maybe I’m a hired actress to mess with you during spring break, and the guys are back at the motel laughing?”
The washers stopped, and she jumped up to move the clothes to a rolling buggy and then to the dryer.
I sat back, thinking of both stories. One was more believable than the other, and it wasn’t the one you would think.
The guys could never pull off such an elaborate joke. First off, they weren’t that organized. They might have an idea and joke about it. But they couldn’t even make it through a writing session together with one original song. When they tried, we always ended up at The Bantam Chef for milkshakes and several rounds of Street Fighter. Second, the guys could hardly scrape together enough money to split an order of fries. And there was the other part. I’d never told anyone about my vision of time travel. No one—not Michael or the other guys, not even my Mom knew about the visions. That notebook wasn’t kept with the others. But I’d tried not to take that idea too seriously. Time travel wasn’t real. It was the stuff of science fiction. I wasn’t going to study physics but dentistry and join my dad’s dental office when I finished school. The time-travel vision was tucked away in my notebook for someday next to never.
But the time-travel idea was never really fully tucked away, even if the notebook was. That special notebook held sketches of how the whole thing would work. All the numbers I saw. Pages and pages of numbers and drawings. Waves and algorithms. Some of the formulas that I saw, I had no clue how to work them yet. They really were like visions from another source and not like I thought them at all. It was more like they were sent out and my mind caught it.
I looked back at her wide-eyed and swallowed. What if it were true? In the future, I would build it and it would work and people would know about it. It was decided and she had told me. Was this why our meeting had felt so much like the way my visions had made me feel? Was she some version of them—a beacon pointing me to my destiny?
 And she told me I would love a girl named Layla—a beautiful woman who was glamorous and inspiring. I don’t know why she couldn’t see herself as all that. She’d shown up the night before, looking like a Hollywood actress from a different era, and she knew about Philo T. Farnsworth. I looked at her, and at that moment knew what I would do with my life. I would discover time travel and make a time machine. Kids would learn about me in school and I would love a woman named Layla. And whether she wanted to be or not, I had a feeling she would be Layla or maybe always had been. In my mind, she was forever Layla.

Chapter 4
WE DROVE BACK TO THE motel. I didn’t talk. I couldn’t. There was too much going on in my head.
Layla took the bag of clothes from me. “I’m going to change out of this dress and go lie out by the pool.”
“I’ll wait outside with the guys until you’re done.”
She went to the room while I joined the guys who lounged around the pool. The sun was beating down hard overhead already. It would have been too hot if it weren’t for the breeze blowing off the ocean beside us.
Travis, Joey, and Mark played volleyball in the water with some girls, while Michael had his guitar out, strumming it for a brunette girl sitting by him at one of the tables. He gave her his normal line when I took a seat in a lounge chair nearby to listen to his bull.
Michael played a few chords of Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and sang along. The girl started singing too, but way off key.
“You have a beautiful voice.
“Thank you.” She placed her hand over her heart and smiled. The wind blew tendrils of dark hair around her olive face. “I’ve always wanted to be a singer.”
“You’d be great at it.” Michael did that smirk he  practiced in the mirror.
I coughed. “Bullcrap.” And coughed again. Michael gave me a quick glare that the girl totally missed.
“Do you play guitar?”
The tone-deaf girl shook her head. “No. But I’d love to learn.”
“Come have a seat in my lap, and I’ll teach you. I want you to know, I don’t let just anyone handle my instrument.”
I rolled my eyes as I watched her fall for it. The truth was, he’d let just about any attractive girl handle his instrument. The same shtick with every girl. He convinced each of them that they were special, but to him they were all the same. It was the one thing I didn’t like about my best friend. He had no conscience when it came to girls. He never thought about their feelings in the whole matter. My mom would kill me if I treated girls like that.
“Scoot a little closer, so I can let you get a feel for it.”
I coughed and gagged obnoxiously loud. He gave me the look, and I only smirked. I considered it payback for that morning when he was making his insinuations about Layla and me.
Tone-deaf girl, still oblivious, giggled and strummed the guitar, making a sound no guitar should ever make.
“That was really good. Let’s try it again. Scoot back just a little more, so I can reach my arms around you better. Perfect.”
After a few minutes of the worst sounding noises coming from both the guitar and the girl, I had to say something. I noticed Layla was on her way, so I leaned over and tapped Michael.
“Dude, I think you need to get the girl out of your lap. Your wife is headed this way.”
The girl in Michael’s lap jumped up. “Wife?”
Michael was trying to protest when the girl grabbed his Coke and poured it over him and his guitar and stormed off.
I laughed so hard, I rolled off the lounge chair onto the pavement. Michael jumped up and kicked me hard in the leg. I had curled in to protect where he was really aiming.
“What was that all about?” Layla asked as she joined us. I was still laughing so much it was throwing off my balance. I tried to stand but couldn't, so I crawled to the lounger and pulled myself up. I pushed my glasses back on my nose. Layla took the lounger beside me. She had one of my t-shirts on, as a swimsuit cover up.
Michael pulled off the black Guns-n-Roses shirt, now soaked with Coke and wadded it up and threw it at me. “He ruined my chance with that girl. She could have been my dream girl…the mother of my children. Now I’ll never know.”
“She was tone deaf, and you were just trying to bag her.”
“Just because you can’t score with a girl who stays in your room all night long, doesn’t mean you should shut down my chances.”
Layla poured some suntan lotion into her hands and bent over to start rubbing it into her legs. “Score? Like in a game?” She glanced up at Michael, and he shrugged. “Don’t make fun of David for being a gentleman. The world needs more of those. Where I’m from, the guys don’t even ask girls on dates anymore. They just look for a hookup at the clubs. All casual sex with no meaning.”
Michael scooted closer in his chair. “Where are you from again? I want to move there.”
Layla shook her head. “My friends are all into that, and I don’t judge them for it. But they get more hurt and jaded about love as they go. I don’t want that.”
“Can you give me your friends’ numbers?”
She rolled her eyes at him and pursed her lips. “Why do you want to be that guy who beds a bunch of women? Later they all regret having been with you. Why not make it your goal to be the guy one girl wants to sleep with many times and is proud to be seen with you? Why not look for one you want to hold close after the sex is over, instead of one you want to kick out of your bed as soon as it’s done?”
His eyes got big, and he looked both ways. “How did you know I…?” He looked at her up and down. “Have we?”
Layla’s eyes went wide. “No way. I just know your type.”
 Michael got a look in his eyes like he’d never thought like that before. He started walking away. “I think I’ve got a new line. ‘Hey, baby. You look like the kind of girl I’d want to hold after sex and actually call the next day?’”
Layla sighed. “You are disgusting, Michael, and you always will be.” She pulled off my t-shirt to reveal the hot pink bikini underneath. “David, could you help rub lotion on my back?”
I leapt from my seat and then realized I looked too anxious. “Umm sure.”
When I was finished rubbing it in, I handed her the bottle and leaned back in my lounger. I pulled out my inhaler and tried to unscramble my thoughts and breathe.
“So, this is what spring break is all about?” she asked.
“You never went to the beach for spring break?”
“Nope. They don’t schedule spring break trips at a girls’ home.”
I turned to see her. “A girls’ home?”
“Yep. I’m an orphan. It was a church-run orphanage called Connie Maxwell Children’s home, so they were strict with us. I just started allowing myself to wear a bikini. But they got me ready for life. I don’t expect anyone to just hand me anything. If I own something, it’s because I worked to get. I’m grateful for that because I don’t expect anything from anyone in life now. I know it’s all up to me.”
“Wow.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“I’ve been on my own since I was eighteen. I got a scholarship, but you have to eat too while in college, right? And where would I go during Christmas? College wasn’t an option for me because I needed to hit the ground running. I got a job in retail and realized I was good at selling. I investigated what I could do with that talent and got into insurance and have moved up the ladder pretty quickly. They consider it pretty impressive to have made it to the level I’m at without a degree and so young. But I work hard, and I go after what I want. I may not be as educated as some, but I’m not stupid. Some of the ones who were handed an education are the laziest ones in the office.”
I looked at her and my heart sank. Suddenly I felt more like a little kid than I had when she told me her age. She wasn’t just older than I was, but more of a grown up than I’d realized. “I’m about to turn eighteen next month. If I had to move out on my own that day with no one to help me along, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“That’s all I thought about at your age. How was I going to take care of myself when I graduated? I knew a minimum wage job wouldn’t work and I didn’t want to end up like my—” She stopped and cleared her throat. “…a statistic. You should count your blessings that you don’t have to worry about all that. Taking care of myself is all I’ve ever really known.”
“Yeah, I guess I should be thankful. I don’t think I’ve ever given it a thought how much my folks take care of me.”
 Layla stretched out on the lounger. “I’m still counting on my ride coming back so I can get back to my life, but until then, I’m here and I might as well enjoy the sun, right? My very first spring break. You guys can teach me how it’s done.”
I watched her stretch out and had to wonder at how at ease she was with things. Could she really be from the future? Maybe this really was a prank from the guys. Maybe they knew more about my notebooks than I’d realized.
I stood. “I’m going in to put on my suit. I’ll be right back.”
She lowered her sunglasses and smiled. “Take your time.”
I got to my room and changed into my trunks. The guys and I had gotten a big bottle of amino acids and had been popping them for months while taking turns on the weight bench in Michael’s garage. I glanced at my physique in the mirror and was sorta glad I’d joined the guys. My body wasn’t just skin and bones any longer. I didn’t look like a body builder but I had good definition. I flexed my biceps and nodded at my reflection. I caught myself and stepped away from the mirror. If I didn’t watch it, I’d be practicing sultry gazes in the mirror like Michael and rehearsing stupid pick-up lines. 
I grabbed a beach towel from my bag and my sunglasses and my notebook, of course. I filled my cooler with Cheerwines and got ice from the machine on my way out the door to the pool. Layla was still there, sunning herself. She’d pulled off the bandages from her knees.
“Are your legs better?” I pointed at the scabs forming.
She sat up. “Some. Mainly I didn’t want the bandages making a tan line.”
I sat down on the lounger beside her and leaned back.
Layla turned toward me. “Need some sunscreen?” She grabbed the bottle from beside her and handed it out to me.
I shook my head. “No, thanks, I don’t usually burn.”
She sat up and pulled her glasses down again to look at me. “Oh my gosh! I had no idea.”
“What?” I glanced down at myself to see if I had a spider or something on my chest.
“You are ripped.”
I spun around to check my trunks, feeling my face grow warmer. “Where?”
Layla laughed. “No, I’m talking about your chest. You are solid muscle.”
“Oh.” I felt my face flush. “The guys and I have been working out. Travis is trying to get signed by a college for athletics next year, so his coach has him lifting weights and eating peanut butter sandwiches every few hours. He started bulking up, so we all joined in. I used to be a stick until this year.”
“Well you are far from a stick now. I like a nice toned body on a guy way better than the overly bulky kind.” She watched me a little longer and bit her lip and leaned back, but I thought I heard her mumble, “He’s eighteen. Too young, too young, too young.”
I grabbed my notebook from beside me and wrote the date and then under that wrote a quick note. I couldn’t let myself forget anything about meeting Layla. Her ride could show up, or the gag come to an end any moment. But today, I had a beautiful older woman reminding herself that I was too young for her. It might not be directions for time travel, but for an eighteen-year-old guy, it was up there in important things to always remember.

UP UNTIL HE TOOK HIS shirt off, this David was a harmless kid. He wasn’t the manly David of my dreams, but I could see glimpses of that David. It was like checking in the oven on a pan of cookies. They might still be warm dough, but the senses could appreciate the process. Besides, cookie dough could be nice too while waiting on the cookies. I turned my head and was trying to get a hold on my breathing. Maybe I needed a puff off of his inhaler. I glanced back over at him as he jotted something down in his notebook. I realized at that moment he didn’t know he was hot. He’d been the gangly, asthmatic geek all his life and probably hadn’t noticed he was beginning to grow into himself. I glanced at his biceps and forearms that flexed as he gripped his pen. He was far from gangly now, and although he was not the man I had always dreamed of, he certainly wasn’t the boy I had mistaken him to be.
My heart sped up, and my breathing deepened as I watched him. I looked away again when I saw him about to look at me. It was one thing staying in a room with a little boy overnight. It would be another staying with a hot guy. I pushed the thought from my mind. Maybe my ride would show up before then. Until that moment, I would relax and catch some rays. I glanced in the other direction at the ocean and the people walking by on the beach and let the worries fade as I got to be a kid myself for the first time ever.

Chapter 5
AROUND LUNCHTIME WE ALL LEFT the pool to go across the street to eat. Layla used my t-shirt and boxers as her bathing suit cover up, and I had to use my inhaler. Did I pack my other one? I sure hoped so, or she needed to go home before I succumbed to the attacks. I’m not sure why it was affecting me so much. She showed more skin in the bathing suit. I guess it was because her skin was wrapped up in something of mine. I’m not really sure. She had piled her hair up in a sloppy bun, and to be honest, she was just as breathtaking as she had been all dressed up the night before. There was this new electricity bouncing off the both of us, and I think she felt it too. She was acting more awkward around me, sort of the way I generally acted around her.
The guys walked across the street while I walked with Layla. They got to a table first, and we followed. I quickly pulled a chair out for her and she finally seemed willing to look at me directly and smiled as she said, “Thank you.”
 I sat beside her. We grabbed up menus and gave the waitress our orders.
The guys discussed what songs to perform.
“'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is a must,” Michael grabbed a napkin and asked if anyone had a pen. I loaned him mine from my notebook. He knew better than to ask for paper. I never tore anything out of my notebooks.
“Too bad about him dying so young. His daughter won’t even remember him and her train wreck of a mother…” Layla rolled her eyes and then sipped her water.
“Too bad about who dying?” I asked.
“The singer for Nirvana.”
Michael leaned forward and held up his hand. “Hold up. What do you mean Kurt Cobain died? He’s not dead.”
“Yeah, he is.”
Michael turned his head and rolled his eyes and then looked back at Layla, making a two-fingered point at her. “I don’t know what you’ve been smoking, but Kurt Cobain is alive.”
 She threw up her hands and shook her head. “Hey, didn’t mean to start anything. Maybe I was thinking of someone else.”
“We’ve gotten Pear Jam’s "Black" down pat now,” Travis added, to ease the tension.
We were all passing out ideas when Layla added, “I went to a concert once where they passed around a hat for requests and performed what they drew between their regular set. It was lots of fun.”
Michael’s face lit up. “I like it. We should try that tonight.”
We ate lunch and then headed back to the motel. I opened the door to the room and let Layla go in first. Michael eyed me, and I shrugged as he made his way into the room shared by the other three guys. “Can I help it if the girl staying with me wants to stay again?”
I walked into the room shaking my head and laughing. Layla stood there, looking at me.
“I’m sorry. I just made it sound like…” I stopped. I hadn’t thought about my joke.
She shook her head. “It’s fine. You were giving Michael a hard time. That’s what you guys do. And really, where I’m from, no one thinks that way about things anymore. It’s sweet that you do. My grandma would approve.”
“Your grandma? I thought you were an orphan?” Had I caught her?
“I was. But not always.”
 I moved toward the bathroom. “I’m going to shower and take a nap to get ready for tonight. If you want to shower, you can go first.”
She shook her head. “No, I’m going to go ask the manager if they have internet here. I need to get my bearings straight. I think I misspoke with Michael. I’m really going to mess things up if I don’t watch it.”
My forehead dipped. “I doubt this place has it. Besides, don’t worry about Michael.”
“Are you sure they won’t have it? Maybe a fast food place will have it.”
“Why would a fast food place have internet? We don’t eat it.”
“WiFi is pretty standard almost everywhere back home. People don’t want to ever be disconnected from the internet for a moment. I’ve been having the shakes from lack of cell phone.”
“What’s why fie?”
“Wireless internet. Places provide it for cell phones and tablets people carry with them.”
“I’m the only one of my friends who has internet at the house. The library has a couple of computers hooked up to it. And my dad’s a dentist and always on call and even he doesn’t have a cell phone yet. He’s been talking about getting one but right now still carries a beeper.”
She scrunched her nose. “What’s a beeper?”
“It beeps and gives you a number to call when you get to a phone.”
She shook her head. “I guess I’ll just shower and take a nap, too.”
“So are you saying in the future, almost everyone is connected to the internet and carries a phone around?”
“That or I’m a big fat fake. I’m going to shower.” She grabbed her bags from the drugstore and some things from a drawer and headed to the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
I plopped down in a chair to wait my turn and listened to the shower curtain whisk as it was wrenched to the side. I shook her image from my head and forced my mind away from visions of a naked girl in my shower.
I grabbed a Cheerwine and chugged the cold drink down. If it didn’t work, I was running out and doing a cannonball into the pool. Who was Layla? I closed my eyes and thought about it. She could be a prank or she could be my future. I grabbed my notebook and started writing out lists of possibilities. The shower knob made that squeak, and the water splatter sound started. “She’s the death of me is who she is.” I threw down the notebook and ran out the door to the pool.
LAYLA SAT BESIDE ME AT the soundboard and bounced her crossed leg with the music. Her thrift-store wedged sandals were out of style, but I didn’t look at them long. I watched the top leg bounce to the music, the way a subject watches the fob watch of a hypnotist—mesmerized. My gaze trailed up the length of her tanned legs to the cut off denim shorts and then the white button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the bottom tied at her waist. I caught myself and glanced up at her and smiled. Her hair was back to a big bouffant ,and she’d replaced her lashes at the drugstore. She was watching the band and smiling, not even aware that I was looking. She was so beautiful I could hardly believe she was real.
I glanced out at the crowd of girls pushing their way to the platform where the guys played. The other girls had loose, untamed hair, flannel shirts and Keds. Layla stood out from all of them. She didn’t belong. I could easily believe she was from the future.
The music stopped and I cut the mics from the guys so people could hear Michael speak.
“Time for another request from the hat.” He made that smoldering gaze at the girls. “I love my fans. Anything for you.” The girls squealed as he lowered his voice and gaze.
Michael kneeled down and drew a piece of paper from the bowl and stood. He unfolded the square, flipped the paper around, and then lowered his head. “You have got to be kidding me.”
He showed the paper to the guys and they all started shaking their heads and groaned.
A voice from the audience shouted, “What is it?”
Michael leaned into the mic. “Proof that I love my fans. I promise, I wouldn’t sing this otherwise.”
Then music started playing the opening of Achy Breaky Heart and the crowd started forming rows of lines to do the dance that went with it.
I threw my head back and slapped my leg as I guffawed. “I wonder who put that in. Michael hates country music.”
Layla turned and smirked. “I remembered the story.” Then she bit her lip and stopped herself.
“Did you put it in there?”
“Maybe.” She bit her lips again.
I couldn’t take my eyes off her lips. I blinked and reminded myself to breathe. “Are you really from the future?”
“I’m not allowed to say. Maybe I am, or maybe I’m a gag the guys are pulling on you.”
The breeze off the ocean stirred her hair and brought the fragrance closer to me. I wasn’t thinking any longer about the future or a prank, the band, the soundboard or even where I was. My mind was on the beautiful blonde inches away from me, leaning in to speak over the loud music. I leaned in too, my eyes fixated on her glossy pink lips, and then my own lips were brushing gently against hers. Her darks eyes closed and then so did mine as I tasted her. She was sweet and her lips were cherry, like my favorite drink but better. My hands were in her hair as I kissed her more deeply. Her lips parted. I’d only kissed one other girl and that was a game of spin-the-bottle in eighth grade. I’d been so nervous, I kissed the girl’s chin by accident.
Layla pulled back from me, her eyes dark circles, and then she turned away and stared at the band. I turned my attention back to the soundboard and started flipping switches that connected to nothing really. I just needed to look busy.
She and I didn’t speak the rest of the night. There was the awkward avoiding eye contact and each other’s space. The set ended, and it was time to clean up. Layla made her way to the tables and started picking up cups and trash.
“Hey, we don’t have to clean that stuff.” I called out to her. Wow, what a great first sentence after kissing someone.
Tony, the bartender called out, “Go ahead, and I’ll tip out from my cup.”
Layla smiled at him and headed for the bar. “You’re on. Hand me one of your garbage bags.”
The clean up took about twenty minutes, with the guys again abandoning me the last five minutes of it. Layla was still around, picking up and straightening chairs. She took the garbage bag to Tony, and he reached in his tip jar and handed her $20.
She took it and walked over to me. “Here’s payment toward my debt.”
I shook my head. “There is no debt. Just hold onto it.”
She shoved the money toward me. “Here, I don’t like being indebted to people.”
I pushed it away. “Why don’t you hold onto it… for now. Pay me at the end of the week.”
She kept it and stuck it in her pocket. “Fine, I’ll use it for my dinner tonight.” She pulled back and stared at me with those giant doe eyes and then quickly looked away. “I can’t risk getting any deeper with you.”
I wasn’t sure that statement was all about the money. We walked across the street together to the diner. The guys were already scarfing down their meals. Layla and I were about to take a seat with them, when all of a sudden, they all got up.
“Where are you guys going?” I felt my brows furrow as I looked at Michael for an answer.
“We met some girls, and they asked us to join them at Club 317. Later, bro,” he said as he patted me on the back and headed out the door.
I watched them all leave and then turned my attention back to Layla. “Okay then.”
We started to sit where the guys had just gotten up, but the waitress came out and asked us to move to a smaller table. So there we were, just the two of us at the table.
We ordered, and the waitress left.
Layla stared to her left, then to her right. She picked up the dessert menu and looked at it. She was obviously avoiding me.
“I’m sorry.” I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to say, but I said it anyway.
Layla turned to face me. “For what?”
“I’m sorry that the kiss made you uncomfortable. I guess I shouldn’t have done it.” I couldn’t bring myself to say I was sorry for the kiss itself because I wasn’t.
She leaned forward and placed her hand on mine. “I kissed you back. I’m just… not the type who goes around kissing every guy I meet. Some of my friends do that and more but that’s not me. It’s not how I was raised.”
“Well I don’t kiss every girl I meet either. Michael’s my best friend, but I’m not like him. My mom has always drilled into me how I’m to treat a woman. Open doors for ladies and treat them with respect. She told me to wait for the right one rather than fool around and get mixed up with the wrong girl.”
Layla smiled as she lifted her head. She got a thoughtful expression before turning her attention back to me. “She sounds a lot like my grandma. She drilled her morals into me. Made me swear to wait and not get in trouble like she and my mom both did. I’m the first in my family to finish high school instead of dropping out to have a baby.”
I stopped and watched her as I leaned back. Had I caught her in a lie? “I thought you said you were an orphan. That you were raised in a girl’s home?” Maybe she was part of a hoax after all.
“Both are true. I lived with…” She stopped as if she’d just realized something and looked at me. “I need to quit answering your questions before I say too much…again.”
The waitress brought out our food. I had a plate of pancakes and bacon. Layla had another salad with the dressing on the side.  I spread butter on the pancakes and poured syrup all over them. She stared at my plate and said, “That’s a lot of carbs and pure sugar.”
“And that’s a lot of rabbit food you are eating.” I pointed at her plate.
She shrugged. “Tell me about you, David. You have all these questions about me. It’s your turn.”
“I’m a senior at Chesnee High School. I will be turning eighteen this Sunday.”
Layla held up her hand, “Hold up. You told me you were already eighteen.”
“I figured I was close enough. Besides, I never imagined you’d be staying the week with me to find out any different. It was just supposed to be one dance.”
“Yeah, and this was just supposed to be a quick trip back in time and then right back home.”
I sighed and continued. “Anyway, I’m graduating next month. I’m starting at Wofford College for pre-dentistry in the fall. I’m supposed to join my dad at his practice when I finish dental school.”
Layla smiled and shook her head. She gave me that look, like she knew me already. “Do you want to be a dentist?”
“My mom and dad are always pointing out the perks. Work office hours Monday through Thursday with Friday off to golf. Good pay and nothing life and death like a doctor deals with.”
“But do you want to be a dentist?” she asked again. Her dark eyes pierced into me.
“I…I don’t know. I’ve always been told that’s what I would do.”
“What would you chose to study if no one was pushing you toward dentistry? What do you really want to be when you grow up?”
I leaned back in my chair and ran my fingers through my hair, and then pushed my glasses back on my nose. Layla took them from me, folded them up, and put them in my shirt pocket like she did the time before.
“I can’t wait until you get Lasik. I’m not used to your eyes all covered. They’re too beautiful to be covered up. Now, what would you chose to study if you weren’t concerned with your parents or potential income or anything else practical?”
“Probably physics or chemistry.”
“Then why don’t you?”
“Because my mom says I’ll end up a dusty old professor if I major in those.”
 “What would be wrong with that if you loved what you did every day?”
“There’s no money in it. No prestige. Mothers don’t push their daughters at the country club toward the nutty professors. They push them on the doctors and lawyers and dentists.”
“What if I promised you that you’ll not be a dusty old professor? And you won’t be a dentist either.”
“Tell my mom that. She has it all mapped out. Even when I should start looking for my future wife. She says sometime around the end of my undergraduate studies is when I should seriously start looking. She gets all up in arms when I mention a girl from school. She shoots them all down fast. None of them are good enough. She’s a bit of a micro-manager.”
Layla looked down at her salad. “At least your mom cares about your future. She’s just trying to get you somewhere good in life before she lets go.”
“But she’s wrong about what you’ll become. You will never be a dentist.”
“Because I’m going to discover time travel. So you really are from the future.”
Layla leaned in closer to whisper. “Do you see how hard it is for me to let you pay for my meals? To let you so much as put a bandage on my knee when I can do it myself. If getting to the airport is all I needed to do to get back to my work and my life, don’t you think I’d do it?”
I leaned in to whisper, “So is this conformation that you really are from the future? That this isn’t a hoax?” I was so close to her again. Her fragrance was everywhere, filling my senses. I could feel her presence and it electrified the air between us. My heart raced as I stared into her eyes—huge saucers of warm hot chocolate.
She was in the same trance, looking back at me and having trouble forming her sentence. “I…can’t…tell…you.” She swallowed.
“I think you already did.” I knew in my heart I was having a moment. It was just like the flashes that I had to jot down in my notebooks. This wasn’t just the attraction between a guy and a pretty girl. This went deeper. This was more. She was my future. Just as much as that vision of how time travel would work. I was seeing into my future and all the potential that came with it.
I leaned in. I didn’t want anyone to hear the craziness of what I was about to say. “What if you are Layla? THE Layla. What if you are the catalyst sent to get me on the path to my destiny? What if you and the time travel go hand-in-hand and there cannot be one without the other? You want me to accept that I’m never going to be a dentist. Well, if all you are telling me is true, maybe you need to accept that you are never going back home. You are Layla.”
She pulled back and took in a quick breath at my last statement. She looked like she was going to speak but never did. Maybe she was having trouble processing the idea.
“If I’m to be a time traveler and it all starts with my great love for the beautiful Layla and you have shown up in my timeline and I automatically call you Layla, then you must be Layla. You either believe the stories you were taught or you don’t. Or maybe you liked them better when they were for someone else and didn’t require anything from you.”
She said nothing as I watched her take it all in. Her blonde hair was messy from the ocean breeze by the pool, but I liked it like that. It reminded me of how she looked when she got up from bed. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I could hardly believe I was sitting at a table with someone like her. It almost made her story unbelievable because there was no way that I’d end up with a woman like her.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked, her eyes becoming even more wet with emotion.
“Like what?”
She blinked and swallowed. “Like I mean everything to you.”
I thought about her words and what she had told me about my future. I thought about the time travel I’d told no one about. I thought about the notebooks and the Cheerwine and Philo T. Farnsworth.
 “Because maybe you do.”