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Chapter Two

February 20, 1998

Lake Buena Vista, Florida

I'll be your dream
I'll be your wish I'll be your fantasy
I'll be your hope I'll be your love
Be everything that you need

The first thing I hear is Savage Garden. Someone is blaring it out their car window. The Plymouth Breeze zooms pass me and I notice the new dealer plate on the back. The car rounds the corner and the next thing I realize is that I'm standing outside a hotel separated by the beach only by a small road. I inhale the salt water when it hits me.

Savage Garden. Plymouth Breeze. Hotel. Beach.

It worked.

It actually worked.

Or, at least I think it has. The House of Blues is behind me and I can smell the ocean. It smells different than the Pacific, yet I can't explain exactly why or how. My brain is moving in a million directions and I feel faint. Luckily there's a bench overlooking a rocky beach line and I sink down onto it, grateful that I know longer have to hold myself up.

I don't know how long I sit there, but it's enough time to realize my pants are uncomfortably tight. The shirt isn't much better. I wonder if space travel has a bloated Elvis effect. I laugh. As the first ever time traveler, I have the power to call it the bloated Elvis effect (scientific classification: elvi bloaticus) if I want.

The extra weight reminds me of the freshman fifteen I put on the first year of college. Unlike other girls, that extra weight had settled into my boobs and butt making me quite popular with the college guys...but I hadn't had time for them. My life revolved around a laboratory from the second I donned my first lab coat. It still does.

As I inhale another deep breath of ocean air, I realize that the world around me just feels different. It feels happier. It's a post 9-11 world. Gas is cheap, Clinton's in office...

I think then about Kal. Just the thought of her reeks me back in. A true scientist hypothesizes and then tests. I've hypothesized that my journey is a success. Now I need to turn that guess into fact.

I turn around and look at the landscape behind me. My stomach flips as I study the logo for the House of Blues. A nearby hotel looms up behind it looking clean and fresh with balconies jutting out to give its guests the perfect ocean view.

My legs feel surprisingly strong as I stand. I walk with purpose, noting an inline skater out of the corner of my eye. She has a Sony Walkman CD player attached to her. It's another small reassurance that I have returned to the days of anti-skip protection.

I see a few people walk into the HOB restaurant and I mark it as my destination. A young guy hovers just outside the door, a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth. He looks like an Eminem wannabe with his backwards ball cap pulled somehow low. He smiles as I get closer. I notice his arms are too scrawny to pull off the white tank top he's wearing.

"Hey," he says. He has a cute smile that strikes me as familiar for some reason. So does the voice for that matter. He can't be any older than 18. I smile back, but I don't reply. I think saying anything else to this boy would make me a cougar. Even so, I feel his gaze on me as I disappear into the building. He totally checked me out.


"Hi, how many?"

The waitress looks frazzled, but she's on the ball, spotting me as soon as I step in. She's pretty enough to work for Disney instead of being a waitress and I wonder if she was one of the not-talked-about Disney rejects. Perhaps she had a nose piercing I couldn't see in the dim light.

"Where's your restroom?" I ask.

"Right there," she points. "But it's for paying customers."

"I'm a customer," I assure her. That seems to be enough for her. My feeling that she's a Disney reject grows stronger. She's still smiling as if the 'customer is always right' policy has been brandished into her brain by the man with the ears himself. She points down a hall where a wooden blackboard spells out 'restrooms' in pink chalk.

"Thanks," I say. It's a short walk to the restroom and I'm relieved to see that the place is empty as I make my way towards the wall to wall sinks and mirror. I turn on the water and focus on my reflection. My eyes, growing wider by the second, reflect back out at me.

Kal, Josh, and I had theorized that if the time space continuum was successful that I would be my older self visiting a past realm in which I existed. We assumed if any of us made a trip even farther back in time that the same rules would apply.

We were wrong.

The Courtney staring back at me was my college-aged self. I was carrying the extra fifteen pounds. The scar on my right temple from a small chemical backfire two years ago was nowhere in sight. I shake my head in disbelief.

This was why the kid outside had talked to me! The kid...

Like a rubic's cube, the squares in my brain twisted and aligned. He had been standing in the shadows and his hat had been pulled low. Still, that smile...

I had to be wrong. Even so, I left the restroom quickly. I'd just go outside and check...

Except I didn't have to. There he was.

And he wasn't alone.

I'm not sure if it can be considered good luck or bad luck that the situation I hadn't expected to happen, but that I wanted to happen, was actually happening (and quickly). Kal never failed to tell me I was the queen of educated guesses. This was no different.

"If your mom finds out you're smoking, she's gonna kill me."

"Why would she kill you?"

"She just would, okay? If Kevin finds out..."

"You're not going to tell him..right?"

"Smoking is horrible for your voice, Nick."

"AJ started it."

"For some reason, AJ thinks he's a thug right now. I think he's humped the stage one too many times. Don't be like AJ."

"You wouldn't be saying that if you had seen the girl coming out of his hotel room earlier. Her boobs were..."

"I don't care."

"But you love boobs."

"This isn't about boobs!"

"Yes it is! It's your birthday!"



"Nevermind. Can I at least come with you? I'll buy you a birthday drink. Or we can go play basketball. Or that new video g--"

"You're not 21. Besides, I think you've already had your fill of bad habits today. I'm drinking alone. Just go back to the hotel. We've got rehearsal early tomorrow morning. And try not to get mobbed."

"I'm in-con-cheeto right now. Some hot girl just walked by me and didn't even know who I was."

"Probably because you smelled like a smokestack."

"Ugh. You know what I think?"

"What do you think?"

"I think you should just do the surgery. As much as I don't like her, at least you're not a dick to everyone when you're getting some. Besides, she has a point. You kind of need a heart to be alive. I think."

"Go back to the hotel before I get Lou after you."

"You can't handle the truth!"


"But it's your birthday! You can't be alone!"

"I've already talked to my mom and dad. Kevin and I had lunch. Best birthday ever. I don't need her and I don't need her opinions. I also don't need yours so just go away!"

"Fine! I'll just go be Howie's best friend!"

"Aw, shit. Wait. Nick---"

Whatever Brian Littrell was going to say to Nick Carter was interrupted by the sound of a side door slamming. Brian tugged at his hair and turned. I am treated to a close-up look at a face I've memorized, now so youthful again. The sadness that radiates from him about kills me. This is the Brian I had fallen in love with, the Brian that had covered the walls of my dorm...the Brian that was the whole reason for me choosing this particular day and place...

In the official space time continuum guidelines Kal, Josh, and I created, we have about a million rules. Up until this point, I have been nothing but cautious about having the correct money, ID (even though it obviously won't help me since I don't look the age on the card), clothing, knowledge of current events, top songs, etc. Yet, the number one rule, especially with so many things unknown about time travel, is to make the smallest footprint possible. Be an observer, not observed. This is without question the most obvious rule. The most important. The most--

But then he notices me and I am pulled into the eyes that are the bluest blue even though the room is too dark to really see the vibrancy of them. He smiles and the sadness diminishes slightly.

I find myself smiling back.