Past the back of the cabin, the property slopes gently to the edge of a lake.
I walk out to the end of a snowcapped pier.
There’s a rim of ice a few feet out from the shore, but it’s too early in the season, even with the recent storm, for the rest of the lake to have frozen.
I brush the snow off a bench, take a seat, and watch the sun creep up behind the pine trees.
The cold is invigorating. Like an espresso shot.
Mist rises from the surface of the water.
I register footsteps squeaking in the snow behind me.
Turning, I see Daniela coming down the pier, following in my footprints.
She’s carrying two steaming mugs of coffee, her hair is a gorgeous wreck, and she has several blankets thrown around her shoulders like a shawl.
As I watch her approach, it occurs to me that in all likelihood, this is the last morning I’ll ever get to spend with her. I’ll be returning to Chicago first thing tomorrow. Alone.
Handing me both mugs, she takes one of her blankets and wraps it around me. Then she sits on the bench and we drink our coffees and stare out across the lake.
I say, “I always thought we’d end up in a place like this.”
“I didn’t know you wanted to move to Wisconsin.”
“When we’re older. Find a cabin to fix up.”
“Can you fix things up?” She laughs. “I’m kidding. I know what you mean.”
“Maybe spend summers here with the grandchildren. You could paint by the lakeshore.”
“What would you do?”
“I don’t know. Finally catch up on my New Yorker subscription. Just be with you.”
She reaches down and touches the piece of thread that’s still tied around my ring finger. “What’s this?”
“Jason2 took my wedding ring, and there was a point early on where I was beginning to lose my grasp on what was real. On who I was. If I’d ever been married to you. So I tied this string around my finger as a reminder that you, this version of you, existed.”
She kisses me.
For a long time.
I say, “I have to tell you something.”
“In that first Chicago I woke up in—the one where I found you at this art installation about the multiverse—”
“What?” She smiles. “Did you fuck me?”
The smile dies.
She just stares at me for a moment, and there’s almost no emotion in her voice when she asks, “Why?”
“I didn’t know where I was or what was happening to me. Everyone thought I was crazy. I was starting to think so too. Then I found you—the only familiar thing in a world that was completely wrong. I wanted so badly for that Daniela to be you, but she wasn’t. She couldn’t be. Just like the other Jason isn’t me.”
“So you were just fucking your way across the multiverse then?”
“That was the only time, and I didn’t realize where I was when it happened. I didn’t know if I was losing my mind or what.”
“And how was she? How was I?”
“Maybe we shouldn’t—”
“I told you.”
“Fair enough. It was just the way you described this other Jason coming home that first night. It was like being with you before I knew I loved you. Like experiencing that incredible connection all over again for the first time. What are you thinking right now?”
“I’m figuring out how mad I should be at you.”
“Why should you be mad at all?”
“Oh, is that your argument? It isn’t cheating if it’s another version of me?”
“I mean, it’s original at least.”
This makes her laugh.
That it makes her laugh says everything about why I love her.
“What was she like?” Daniela asks.
“She was you without me. Without Charlie. She was sort of dating Ryan Holder.”
“Shut up. And I was this successful artist?”
“Did you like my installation?”
“It was brilliant. You were brilliant. Do you want to hear about it?”
“I’d love to.”
I tell her about the Plexiglas labyrinth, what it felt like to walk through it. The startling imagery. The spectacular design.
It makes her eyes light up.
And it makes her sad.
“Do you think I was happy?” she asks.
“What do you mean?”
“With everything I’d given up to be this woman.”
“I don’t know. I was with this woman for forty-eight hours. I think, like you, like me, like everyone, she had regrets. I think sometimes she woke up in the night wondering if the path she took was the right one. Afraid it wasn’t. Wondering what a life with me might have been like.”
“I wonder those things sometimes.”
“I’ve seen so many versions of you. With me. Without me. Artist. Teacher. Graphic designer. But it’s all, in the end, just life. We see it macro, like one big story, but when you’re in it, it’s all just day-to-day, right? And isn’t that what you have to make your peace with?”
Out in the middle of the lake, a fish jumps, its splash sending perfect, concentric ripples across the glasslike water.
I say, “Last night, you asked me how we fix this.”
“Any bright ideas?”
My first instinct is to protect her from the knowledge of what I’m contemplating, but our marriage isn’t built on keeping secrets. We talk about everything. The hardest things. It’s embedded in our identity as a couple.
And so I tell her what I proposed to the chat room last night and watch the expression on her face move through flashes of anger, horror, shock, and fear.
She says finally, “You want to raffle me off? Like a fucking fruit basket?”
“I don’t need you doing something heroic.”
“No matter what happens, you’re going to have me back.”
“But some other version of you. That’s what you’re saying, right? And what if he’s like this asshole who ruined our lives? What if he isn’t good like you?”
I look away from her, out across the lake, and blink through the tears.
She asks, “Why would you sacrifice yourself so someone else can be with me?”