Authors: Elizabeth Norris
ertain moments in my life are imprinted in my memory.
They’re easy to recall with perfect clarity, whether I want to remember them or not. Any small thing can trigger them: a phrase, a smell, a thought. It brings everything back like I’m reliving that moment, a brief scene in the movie of my life, complete with how horrible I felt at the time. And I usually felt horrible in those moments, because for some reason it’s the moments that I want to forget that stick around.
Like in eighth grade when I had my first kiss with Jane Sheriden, and my arm got stuck awkwardly between her head and the couch: Just thinking about it still makes me cringe. Or when Ms. Wittak caught me cheating in algebra freshman year because I’d saved the formulas I needed to remember in a fake game on my graphing calculator, and she tore up my test in front of the whole class.
Then there were memories that were more significant.
The pivotal moments that changed everything.
Those I don’t want to forget. Now that I’ve had too much time to think about them, to replay them over and over again in my mind, they’re the things that I wouldn’t take back, that I wouldn’t do over.
Because of Janelle.
She saved my life when we were ten. She anchored me by being who she was, and somewhere along the line, I fell in love with her.
At just about every significant moment in my life, she was there. Whether she knew it or not.
he first time I opened a portal, it was an accident.
It was nine days after my birthday at a joint party with one of my best friends. It was at his house. We played games in his backyard, ate ice-cream cake, opened presents, then challenged everyone to a video game tournament. My brother was older, though, and he had an advantage. I ended up knocked out quickly, as did three of my friends.
Once we were eliminated, we got bored, so we went in search of something else. We just didn’t expect to find what we did. In the basement, instead of old board games, we found his father’s home lab, and when we did, even the locked door didn’t keep us out. We knew it was where he kept his failed experiments, and we wanted to check them out.
One of them wasn’t as failed as we thought, and after messing with the wires, the motor flared to life, connecting to a laser beam, and a portal opened in front of us: a huge black hole that rippled like it was made of oil. We dared one another to touch it, but no one would step up.
I don’t know who shoved who first, but it happened. Somehow, I tripped and fell. And I brought two of the three of them with me: through the portal.
We ended up in another world. In the ocean.
The second time we opened a portal, it was different.
It was because of a girl, and it changed everything.
t all started with a fight.
It was the first Thursday in March of my sophomore year. I know because I kept track of the days and months and years that had passed since we’d fallen through.
It had been an uneventful day. I skateboarded to Eastview, got to first period on time, made an appearance in my first class, ditched my second one to hang out with Eli and a couple of guys while they got high behind the football stadium, and then made it through my last two. At the end of the day, I headed to It’s a Grind for the afternoon coffee that would get me through work.
I didn’t usually frequent the unofficial campus coffee shop. It backed up to the school parking lot and was always crowded, which meant long lines and a high probability of getting sucked into a conversation with someone from class. I didn’t do conversation well. I didn’t know what to say to most people. It was hard to know what to talk about when my mind was on things they wouldn’t understand.
Most days I stopped at a gas station or something because I didn’t have any coffee shop loyalties. I just wanted something strong and convenient and preferably cheap. That day, though, my foster parents had been out of coffee, and I spilled the cup I’d bought on the way to school when a group of freshman girls knocked into me before first period. The caffeine withdrawal, combined with my fourth period world history class, had given me an unbearable headache.
If even one thing had been different: if my foster parents hadn’t run out of coffee, if those girls hadn’t knocked into me, if I had ditched world history, I wouldn’t have been there, and things might not have worked out the way they did.
When the fight broke out, I was trying to place my order. I’d only been in one real fight myself. I was more of a keep-my-head-down-and-stay-out-of-trouble kind of guy. So I didn’t see how it started.
“Small black coffee,” I ordered.
The words had barely left my mouth when the door jingled open, and some guy I didn’t recognize leaned in to shout to one of his friends, “Dude, get out here. There’s a catfight!”
For a split second, the conversations halted. Just about everyone else turned to the door and froze, straining to see behind him to the parking lot where the “catfight” was allegedly taking place. My muscles tensed. Most of the fights near or on Eastview’s campus involved Eli. He had always been the get-right-in-the-middle-of-it kind of guy, and I was his best friend, which made it my responsibility to make sure he didn’t kill someone by accident. Or get killed himself.
Then I remembered he caught a ride with Reid in the new car fifteen minutes ago, and if this
a catfight, it would be girls going at it, not guys. Thankfully, Eli usually stayed away from that. Satisfied that he couldn’t be involved, I forced my shoulders to relax.
If Eli wasn’t beating someone up, I didn’t really care. I looked at the girl behind the cash register and offered her my two dollars, but her eyes were glued to the door.
I didn’t even turn around when the guy behind me said, “Oh shit, that’s Brooke Haslen.”
“Small black coffee,” I said to the cashier, louder this time.
She unfroze, took my money, and asked, “You want me to leave room for milk?” all without looking at me.
I shook my head, about to say “Just black” when I heard it.
It was more a yell than a scream, I guess. It might have even been a word, but it was too far away and too muffled to be sure.
But I recognized the voice.
It was the same one I’d heard six years ago, when she’d pulled me half-drowned out of the ocean.
It was a voice I’d know anywhere.