“So there’s a version of our life where we didn’t keep the baby. Charlie. You pursued your art. I pursued my science. And eventually, we parted ways. That man, the version of me you’ve been living with for the last month—he built the box.”
“Which is a large version of that thing you were working on when we first met—the cube?”
“Exactly. And somewhere along the way, he realized everything he’d given up by letting his work be the thing that defined him. He looked back at the choice he made fifteen years ago with regret. But the box can’t take you back or forward in time. It only connects all possible worlds at the same moment, in the present. So he searched until he found my world. And he traded my life for his.”
The look on Daniela’s face is pure shock and disgust.
She rises from the bench and runs toward the restrooms.
Charlie starts after her, but I put my hand on his shoulder and say, “Just give her a minute.”
“I knew something wasn’t right.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“You—well, not you, him—he had this different, like, energy about him. We talked more, especially at dinner. He was just, I don’t know…”
There are things I want to ask my son, questions blazing through my mind.
Was he more fun?
A better father?
A better husband?
Was life more exciting with the imposter?
But I’m afraid the answers to those questions might shatter me.
As she sits back down, I ask, “You all right?”
“I have a question for you.”
“This morning, when you got yourself arrested—was that to get me to come to you?”
“Why? Why not just come to the house after…Jesus, I don’t even know what to call him.”
“After Jason2 left?”
I say, “Here’s where things get really crazy.”
Charlie asks, “Things aren’t already crazy?”
“I wasn’t the only…” It sounds insane to even be saying the words.
But I have to tell them.
“What?” Daniela asks.
“I wasn’t the only version of me to make it back into this world.”
“What does that mean?” she asks.
“Other Jasons made it back as well.”
“What other Jasons?”
“Versions of me who escaped into the box in that lab, but took different paths through the multiverse.”
“How many?” Charlie asks.
“I don’t know. A lot, maybe.”
I explain what happened at the sporting-goods store and in the chat room. I tell them about the Jason who tracked me to my room and the one who attacked me with a knife.
My family’s confusion takes a turn toward outright fear.
I say, “This is why I got myself arrested. For all I know, many Jasons have been watching you, following you, tracking your every move as they try to figure out what to do. I needed you to come to me in a safe place. That’s why I had you call the car service. I know at least one version of me followed you to the police station. I saw him as we drove past your Honda. This is why I wanted you to bring Charlie with you. But it doesn’t matter. We’re here together, and safe, and now you both know the truth.”
It takes Daniela a moment to find her voice.
She says softly, “These other…Jasons…what are they like?”
“What are you asking?”
“Do they all share your history? Are they basically you?”
“Yes. Up until the moment I stepped into the multiverse. Then we all took different paths, had different experiences.”
“But some are just like you? Versions of my husband who have fought like hell to get back to this world. Who want nothing more than to be with me again. With Charlie.”
Her eyes narrow.
What must this be like for her?
I can see her trying to wrap her mind around the impossibility of it all.
“Dani, look at me.”
I stare into her shimmering eyes.
I say, “I love you.”
“I love you too. But so do the others, right? Just as much as you do.”
It rips my guts out to hear those words.
I have no response to them.
I look up at the people in our immediate vicinity, wondering if we’re being watched.
The mezzanine level has become more crowded since we sat.
I see a woman pushing a stroller.
Young lovers meandering slowly through the mall, holding hands and ice-cream cones, lost in their bliss.
An old man shuffling along behind his wife, with a look on his face that says, Take me home, please.
We’re not safe here.
We’re not safe anywhere in this city.
I ask, “Are you with me?”
She hesitates, looks at Charlie.
Then back at me.
“Yeah,” she says. “I’m with you.”
“So what do we do now?”
We leave with nothing but the clothes on our backs and a bank envelope filled with cash from our emptied checking and savings accounts. Daniela puts the rental car on our credit card, but every transaction going forward will be cash-only to make us harder to track.
By midafternoon, we’re cruising through Wisconsin.
Silos form a rustic skyline.
Smoke trickles out of farmhouse chimneys.
Everything sparkling under a fresh blanket of snow and the sky a brilliant winter blue.
It’s slow-going, but I keep off the highways.
Stick to the country roads.
Take random, unplanned turns with no destination in mind.
When we stop for gas, Daniela shows me her phone. There’s a stream of missed calls and new texts, all from 773, 847, and 312 Chicago-area phone numbers.
I open the messaging app.
Dani—It’s Jason, pls call me back at this number immediately.
Daniela, this is Jason. First of all, I love you. There’s so much I have to tell you. Pls call me as soon as you get this.
Daniela, you’re going to be hearing from a bunch of other Jasons if you haven’t already. Your head must be spinning. I am yours. You are mine. I love you forever. Call me the moment you get this.