Originally posted at the JOC Fanatics Bboard
Chapter 1 [posted: 5/27/99]
Chris Foster paused at the door of the Doppler Computer Store, squared his shoulders and took a deep breath before going in.
Today, just like every other day, was gonna hurt.
Hurt -- because he knew he would see Wade Welles. Hurt -- because she wouldn’t even notice him. Hurt -- because she only had eyes for Quinn Mallory.
Chris sighed. So why should today be any different? He’d only had a mad crush on Wade for -- what was it? -- one, two years? Ever since she’d come to work at the computer store and she’d run into him -- literally -- while he was restocking some software.
At the time he’d been a management trainee and she a newly hired sales clerk. Word of her computer expertise had leaked out during the interview phase. It was rumored she must have a computer chip buried somewhere deep inside her, so compatible was she with these machines. They weren’t scary or foreign to her, they were like close friends, and, as such, gave up their secrets to her. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t do with one.
Back to that first day. It was a day Chris relived often in his mind. He’d been down on the floor, wrestling with several boxes of Quicken and Clip Art, when she’d rounded the corner too fast and fallen right over him.
He still remembered her startled look, that all-too-brief flash of bare thigh as she pitched forward, and the incredible feel of her landing directly on top of him.
Her dark brown eyes had met his hazel ones -- her generous mouth had been mere inches away from his. He could still smell the light perfume she wore, which mingled enchantingly with the freshly shampooed smell of her dark hair. Her hands grasped his shoulders and he had his hands on her waist, attempting to break her fall.
The seconds seemed to crawl by as he continued to look into her eyes. She started to blush -- and then burst out laughing. He’d joined her in the laughter, easing her off him until they sat -- side by side -- on the floor, still laughing.
He got up off the floor first, and then extended his hand to help her up.
"Well, my mother always said I knew how to make a great first impression," she said, still giggling. "I’m so sorry! I didn’t hurt you, did I?"
"No," Chris shook his head, smiling down at her. At six feet, he knew he was above average height for a man, but she made him feel much taller. He introduced himself.
"Wade Welles," she took the proffered hand. Her hand was soft, her grasp firm, and Chris felt a surge of electricity as their fingers touched. Wade, however, seemed unaffected by it all. Soon, Chris learned why.
They worked closely together all that day, Chris showing Wade the layout of the store, product backup and inventory.
She was a quick study. Very bright. And very friendly. She was quick to smile or laugh, and had an endearing way of tilting her head to one side when she concentrated on things he was saying to her. She was also a very physical person -- constantly touching his arm or shoulder when she spoke to him. By the end of the day, Chris was just about to work up the nerve to ask her out for coffee or something -- until he caught sight of Quinn.
Chris had noticed Wade looking up at the clock as 7 p.m. rolled around. He made a joke, "What’s the matter, Wade, you taking medicine or something?"
"Excuse me?" she said.
"I mean, you keep looking at the clock. Is it time to take your medicine?" It was something his mom had always said to him when she caught him clockwatching. He didn’t realize how lame it sounded -- until now.
She did have the good grace to look embarrassed. "Oh, gee, was I that obvious? It’s just -- well, I have a friend picking me up tonight. We’re going out to celebrate -- me getting a new job, and all...," her voice trailed off as she saw a tall young man enter the store.
"Oh, there he is now! Quinn!" and she hurried off to see him, leaving Chris behind.
Chris watched as Wade bounced over to the young man and grabbed his arm. She dragged him over to where Chris was standing.
"Chris, this is the friend I was telling you about -- Quinn Mallory. Quinn, this is Chris...Oh," she exclaimed, pressing her hand to her mouth, "I’ve forgotten your last name."
"Foster. Chris Foster." Chris extended his hand, eyeing Quinn closely.
"Yo, Chris," Quinn said, shaking Chris’ hand.
Quinn topped Chris by about 3 inches. Chris didn’t like what he saw. Athlete’s build. Light blue eyes. Thick dark hair. Killer smile. Oh, yeah, he was trouble, all right. And Wade was totally infatuated with him. Chris saw himself fading from this picture, fast.
They left together, Wade clinging to Quinn’s arm, chattering happily about all she had done that day at the store. Chris watched them walk out, and then sighed heavily. Oh, well, he thought, reality bites.
Chapter 2 [posted: 5/27/99]
Chris believed he possessed some heretofore unknown masochistic streak when he asked Wade the next day: "So, how’d it go with Quinn last night? You know, celebrating the new job and all."
"Oh, fine," Wade smiled, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes. "Actually it was -- well -- I mean, Quinn’s awfully busy right now at Berkeley, what with football season ending -- he’s team co-captain, you know -- and baseball and track just around the corner, plus he’s taking 9 hours this semester...," her rambling explanation died off and she looked down at her scuffed Birkenstocks. "We just went to the Pizza Hut with some of his buddies and some of the Chi Omegas."
Chris resisted the urge to tell Wade exactly what he thought of their date. Instead, he threw himself into teaching her more about the store and making her comfortable around him.
Chris prided himself on being persistent. And patient. Very patient. As the weeks passed, Wade opened up to him, and the more she told him, the deeper his infatuation with her grew.
She was the youngest of two, with an older sister, Kelly. She was very close to her parents, who lived in a reasonably fashionable part of San Francisco. She’d been in the top ten percent of her graduating class in high school, a member of the school gymnastics team and captain of the debate team. Besides computers, she loved poetry, Shakespeare, science fiction, rock and roll -- and Quinn Mallory. In fact, Chris decided, Wade Kathleen Welles’ one flaw was Quinn.
Oh, Quinn seemed like an okay guy -- for a self-centered jock. Oh, sure, he was fairly bright -- according to Wade he maintained a solid B- average -- but Quinn was never going to make a name for himself through brain power. And, from what Chris had seen, Quinn wasn’t going to be a star athlete either. He had some talent, sure, but he was just not that special. He didn’t have the size for pro football, the height for pro basketball, the arm or reflexes for pro baseball or the speed for Olympic-caliber track.
What Quinn did have was an iron-clad reputation for being the ultimate party animal, and, Chris admitted reluctantly, a talent for attracting women. Quinn was, in the vernacular of the times, a ‘chick magnet’. He was one of those fortunate souls who would never have to work at being popular, getting a date or, crude as it might sound, getting laid. It was a wonder Quinn could even see Wade for all the women who seemed to constantly surround him.
It was ironic, really, Chris thought, that Wade felt the same about Quinn as he, Chris, felt about her. And Quinn was about as aware of Wade’s feelings for him as Wade was aware of Chris’ feelings for her. Quinn was -- in a word --- oblivious.
So, Chris, seemingly resigned to a fate of being nothing but a friend, resolved to be the best friend Wade ever had. He listened to her triumphs and her problems, remembered special occasions in her life - like birthdays and Christmas, dispensed advice, and -- wisest of all -- never commented negatively about her relationship with Quinn. He was constantly doing favors for her. And it was one of those many favors that started a series of events he would never have anticipated.
It all happened one Friday night. Wade was supposed to have a date with Quinn. He was picking her up at the store and they were going to one of the more popular watering holes for the young college crowd.
Forty-five minutes after the appointed hour, Wade was still waiting forlornly at the front door. This made how many times Quinn had stood her up? Chris had lost count. The store was getting ready to close, so Chris gallantly offered to drive her to the bar.
She put up a good front, but Chris could see the hurt in her eyes.
"Oh, that’s okay, Chris," she said. "I probably misunderstood and he’s waiting for me there."
Before Chris could say something sarcastic about Quinn’s dialing finger being broken, Wade asked him if he would mind driving her home.
"It would be my pleasure, Wade," Chris smiled. "I don’t mind taking you to the bar, either, if that’s what you’d like. We could get a drink, or something." Horrified, he couldn’t believe those words fell out of his mouth, but Wade didn’t seem to notice -- or if she did, she let him down gently.
"No, Chris, but thanks. I -- I don’t feel much like going out anyway. I think I’m coming down with something. Just take me home, okay?"
The drive to her house was made in silence. Chris tried to get Wade’s mind off the situation with small talk. but soon decided that being quiet was better than babbling on in a one-sided conversation. Once he glanced over at Wade, and swore he saw a lone tear trickle down her cheek before she turned her face away and gazed out the passenger side window. It broke Chris’ heart. He would rather see her angry than sad and quiet like this.
Chris dropped her off at the front walk. He started to get out of the car to walk her to her door, but she leaned over quickly and kissed him on the cheek, popped open the car door and jumped out.
"Thanks, Chris, thanks for everything -- and for being such a good friend."
Then she was up the walk and in the front door before he could say anything.
Chris did a slow burn. And resolved, right then and there, to track down one Mr. Quinn Mallory before the night was over and give him a piece of his mind.
He drove down to the bar where they were supposedly going. No Quinn. Yes, they said, he’d been there but had left hours ago. So Chris started driving around, looking for the late model Dodge Ram pickup Quinn drove. The more he drove, the madder he got.
Chris was so busy going through scenarios in his mind of what he’d actually say to Quinn once he found him, he didn’t concentrate on where he was driving and ended up around San Francisco’s Civic Center area.
The car suddenly hit a large pothole in the middle of the street. Jarred back to the present, Chris became aware of his surroundings -- the darkened, deserted streets, the refuse-littered sidewalks, the shuttered and barred storefronts.
He automatically locked his doors and was about to beat a hasty retreat when he noticed a lone female figure emerge from an alley just ahead. She looked lost -- and strangely familiar. Then Chris noticed two men approaching the woman from behind.
Chris knew he had no choice. He sped up, driving toward the woman, honking his horn and flashing his lights.
Chapter 3 [posted: 5/28/99]
Wade Welles was lost.
Well, not lost, exactly -- she thought to herself -- more like -- misplaced. As in not with her companions. She hated when that happened. It didn’t happen very often, but occasionally there was a glitch in the slide.
She knew she’d slid later than Quinn. They’d been arguing -- something that had been happening more and more lately. Something about non-involvement.
Professor Maximilian Arturo and Rembrandt Brown had looked at their youthful sliding companions with exasperation.
"Come on, Wade, Q-ball -- y’all can argue some other time," Rembrandt held the timer, and he gestured toward the vortex.
"Really, Mr. Mallory, Miss Welles, I must insist you cease this childish behavior at once or you’ll miss the slide!" the Professor exclaimed.
"I still say I’m right," Quinn insisted, starting to move.
"You always say that, Quinn," Wade retorted, staying put.
Remmy and the Professor just looked at one another, shrugged their shoulders, and jumped.
"Come on, Wade!" Quinn yelled over his shoulder as he sprinted toward the vortex.
Still, she didn’t budge. Stubbornness, maybe. Or to prove a point. Or just to enjoy the panicked look in Quinn’s eyes when she held back as he jumped -- the possibility she might really miss the slide.
‘Oh, come on, Wade,’ she shook herself mentally, ‘you’ll be stuck here forever -- without Rembrandt, without the Professor, without -- Quinn. Are you willing to risk that?’
So, she jumped.
And now, here she was, by herself on her knees in a strange alley on a strange street in what she hoped was a reasonable facsimile of San Francisco.
At least it was a modern city. There were automobiles parked along the streets, dumpsters in the alley overflowing with trash, other city noises. It was late -- very late. Wade couldn’t see her watch, but guessed it was past midnight.
And cold. Wade stood up, brushed some dirt off the knees of her clingy black wool slacks and pulled her red leather jacket more tightly around her. She picked up the oversized purse/backpack she’d dropped and silently shouldered it. Then she looked around the alley.
"Quinn?" she called. "Rembrandt? Professor?" No answer.
She slipped out of the alley, quickly looking left and right. No sign of the three. No sign of anyone, for that matter. Suddenly, she detected movement out of the corner of her eye and saw the shadowy figures of two men approaching her from a nearby darkened doorway.
Poised to run, Wade was suddenly blinded by two bright headlights. The sound of a car horn split the night.
A late model Toyota pulled up beside her and a hand reached over, flinging open the passenger side door.
"Get in!" a voice urged. "Hurry!"
Wade didn’t hesitate. She jumped in, pulling the door closed. The car sped away, leaving the men behind.
They were some three blocks away when Wade finally snuck a look at her rescuer.
She saw a slender young man, nice looking, with wavy auburn hair, a beard and mustache. He was dressed as if he’d just come from work -- nice suit coat, tie, dress shirt, creased slacks.
Just then, his hazel eyes caught her glance and his mouth dropped open.
"Wade!" he exclaimed, "What are you doing here?"
Chapter 4 [posted: 5/28/99]
"Excuse me?" Wade said.
"I dropped you off at your house a few hours ago." the young man said. "What happened? Did Quinn call you? This isn’t a good area of town for you to be in by yourself, you know...." he paused, looking closely at her. "Wade, you okay? You look -- different."
Wade’s mind raced. This young man obviously thought he knew her -- or this earth’s Wade anyway. And there was a Quinn here, too. How to deal with this..... the truth? Could he take the truth? Would he believe the truth?
"Wade?" the young man asked again. "Come on, this is Chris...talk to me. What’s going on?"
"Okay," she squared her shoulders. "Chris, is it? Well, Chris -- is there someplace we can go that’s more comfortable than your car? I have a feeling this is going to take some time."
Dawn found them sitting in the living room of Chris’ small but attractive two bedroom apartment. An empty wine bottle stood on the coffee table, two empty wine glasses nearby.
They sat facing each other on the sofa, now both nursing cups of coffee. Wade had done most of the talking. She considered it to Chris’ credit that he actually seemed to understand her unbelievable story. At least he hadn’t called the cops -- or the guys in the white coats. Wade smiled to herself at that last thought.
Chris admitted he was having a difficult time getting his mind around what Wade -- or rather this Wade -- was saying. Tales of alternate earths and sliding and some genius named Quinn who, unfortunately, this Wade seemed to be very much in love with -- was this going to be the story of his life? Were all the Wades of this world and other worlds in love with a Quinn? Talk about a major cosmic screw up!
Still there was something different enough about this Wade to lend credibility to her story. The physical differences were subtle, but noticeable enough to someone who was as involved with Wade as closely as Chris was.
This Wade was a trace taller, a tad thinner, her hair was a tiny bit longer -- very minor points, to be sure.
The main difference came from within -- and was reflected through her wondrous dark eyes. This Wade was -- tougher, somehow; wiser, sadder. And her eyes spoke volumes. This Wade had seen more, experienced more, dared more, loved more and lost more than either his Wade - or he - would experience in one, possibly two, lifetimes.
"So," Chris cleared his throat as Wade paused in her story. "You say your - er - sliding companions are possibly someplace else in the city? Any ideas as to where we might look?"
Wade breathed a sigh of relief. Chris believed her! She almost leaned over and kissed him, then stopped herself. Better not confuse the poor guy further.
"Well, we normally meet at the Chandler Hotel. Are you familiar with it?" she asked.
"Chandler?" he frowned, "There used to be a Chandler Hotel, but it was torn down about six years ago. I can take you to where it used to be, though. First, I’d better call work -- leave a message that I won’t be in."
"I hope this isn’t a big inconvenience for you," Wade said. "I mean, this won’t get you in trouble with your boss, will it?"
Chris grinned at her. "If Hurley doesn’t like it, he can take a flying leap."
"Hurley?" her eyes widened. "Michael Hurley? Computer boy?"
"You’ve got one, too?" Chris asked in amazement.
"About 5’8"? Super nerd? Acts like he knows it all, but hasn’t a clue? Yep...," she grinned back at him. "There’s a Doppler Computer Store here?"
Chris nodded. "You -- rather -- my earth’s Wade and I work there together. That’s where we met." The look in Chris’ eyes confirmed what Wade had been thinking for some time. This guy has it bad for me - er - Wade.
"That’s where I, well, actually, Quinn and I used to work -- on our world." Wade said. "Does this world’s Quinn work there, also?"
"Quinn?" Chris snorted, "Actually, I doubt Quinn knows how to turn on a computer, let alone work with them."
Hummm, Wade thought, interesting.
Chris made the call. Then they were out the door.
Chapter 5 [posted: 5/28/99]
Where the hell was Wade?
These were the exact thoughts Quinn Mallory was thinking -- and vocalizing.
After a cold, miserable night in Golden Gate Park, the trio was no closer to finding Wade than when they had first slid into this world. And Quinn was beginning to panic.
"Where the hell is she? Wade!" he shouted in frustration. "Wade! Dammit, answer me!"
"Calm down, Mr. Mallory, calm down." The Professor’s massive hand clasped him on the shoulder. "I’m certain if Miss Welles were in hearing distance, she would have responded. This is no time to lose control. She must be here somewhere. The important thing is not to call too much attention to ourselves."
"You got that right, Professor," Remmy agreed. He looked at the timer. "At least we’ve got time before we slide -- just about three days."
"I know you’re worried, Quinn," the Professor said kindly. "I suggest we find the Chandler Hotel. If she’s in the city, I’m certain that’s where we’ll find her."
Sure enough, when Wade and Chris drove up to where the hotel had been located, a rather forlorn looking trio was gathered on the sidewalk.
Wade was out the door and running toward them before Chris could bring the car to a complete stop.
"Professor!" she shouted "Remmy! Quinn!!" And she threw herself into Quinn’s arms.
To Chris’ amazement, he hugged her as tightly as she hugged him. A look passed between them, and then she was hugging a portly, bearded man, who he guessed to be the Professor, and then a handsome black man, who had to be Rembrandt Brown.
Chris got out of the car and stood a short distance away from the group, not wanting to interrupt the reunion. Almost immediately, Wade came over, took him by the arm and escorted him over to the trio.
"Rembrandt, Professor, Quinn," she said, her eyes sparkling, "Meet my knight in shining armor, Chris Foster."
Chris received handshakes all around. As Quinn shook his hand, Chris did some mental comparing. This Quinn didn’t quite have the build of his world’s Quinn, but he was every bit as handsome, and a lot more pleasant. Plus, a keen intellect shown out of his light blue eyes. This Quinn would have no trouble attracting women, either, Chris thought. But he also got the impression that this Quinn either didn’t realize -- or care -- how attractive he was.
"Well, well, Mr. Foster," the Professor said jovially. "You have our undying gratitude for rescuing our fair ‘damsel in distress’." He then turned to the others. "Well, it seems we do have a problem. With the Chandler torn down, where do we stay?"
Chris heard himself say, "No problem. You’re staying with me."
They started to protest, but Chris would have none of it. In fact, he realized, he really wanted to get to know them -- all of them -- better.
It was later that evening. The group sat around Chris’ small dining room table, finishing up a truly memorable meal.
Remmy had sprung for the groceries -- thick steaks, baked potatoes, tossed green salad and hot French bread. He grilled the steaks on the small patio out back. The Professor had contributed a fine bottle of wine for the meal, and now was preparing to serve some after-dinner brandy. Chris and Wade had outdone themselves in the kitchen, and Quinn had volunteered to clean up afterwards.
As Quinn did the dishes, the rest of the group retired to the living room.
The Professor swirled the brandy around in his glass and inhaled appreciatively.
"Ahhh!" he exclaimed. "A truly fine ending to a delightful dinner. Mr. Foster, my compliments. You are a gracious host."
"You should really thank Wade," Chris smiled in her direction. "She did most of the work."
"Aha!" Wade laughed, hugging Chris impulsively around the waist. "At last, a man who appreciates me!"
"I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that remark!" Quinn called out from the kitchen.
A lump suddenly appeared in Chris’ throat. He didn’t know just what affected him, whether it was the hug or the fact that these people were obviously so close, but he knew he was witnessing true friendship. Luckily, the professor picked that time to continue the conversation they had been having since meeting. They had spent the better part of the afternoon comparing earths, but had stayed away from the subject of their doubles.
"So tell us more about this earth, Mr. Foster," the Professor urged. "It sounds quite similar to ours."
"It’s pretty close, Professor," Chris said. The Professor sat in a large overstuffed chair near the living room’s small fireplace. Chris and Wade sat side by side on the sofa while Remmy leaned over the back of the room’s other single chair.
"A few things are different. As I told you earlier, this fellow -- Bill Clinton -- who you say is President on your world, isn’t President on ours. He was a big time televangelist in Arkansas who’s now serving time in federal prison for income tax evasion, fraud, perjury and statutory rape. The President is Bob Dole. And some of the sports teams have different names. It’s the Denver Miners, not Broncos, and in Atlanta, it’s the Rebels, not the Falcons."
"Tell us more about our doubles, here," the Professor urged. "We know you know Miss Welles -- and Quinn -- what about my double?"
"Yeah," Remmy said, "Is there a Cryin’ Man on this earth?"
"Yes, Rembrandt, there is," Chris said. "He was really popular in the ‘70s. He’s making a comeback, I hear. His big break came about 18 months ago when he sang the national anthem at a Giants game" -- here Chris missed the look that passed among the trio -- "He’s in Vegas right now, I think."
"As for you, Professor," Chris said, "you’re Regents Professor of cosmology and ontology at the University of California at Berkeley. A member of the brain trust. I’ve heard Quinn - that is, our Quinn - speak about you. Says you’re a real -- excuse the term -- hard ass."
"I beg your pardon?" the Professor looked genuinely upset. "This from my brightest student?!"
"I’m afraid you don’t understand, Professor," Chris said, unaware that Quinn had finished the dishes and was coming in to join the discussion. "The one member of your group who is the most different is -- Quinn."
"I am? How?" Quinn asked.
"Well," Chris said. "Here Quinn is a jock. He’s not a member of your class, Professor, in fact he’s not a brain, not trying for his Ph. D. in physics. He’s majoring in business administration and has spent five years at Berkeley already. He says your pet student is some guy named -- Bennish?"
"Bennish? Conrad Bennish?!" the Professor looked positively apoplectic. "That -- that -- that arrogant metal head-thumper?"
In spite of this unsettling news, Quinn smiled, "Banger, Professor. The term is head-banger."
"Whatever," the Professor waved his hand dismissively. "Go on, Mr. Foster, please go on."
"There’s not much else to say," Chris said. "Wade and I work together. She’s a computer whiz and she sometimes dates this Quinn..." When he’s not busy screwing around with other women, Chris thought, but he didn’t voice that opinion.
"You’re in love with her, aren’t you, Chris?" Quinn asked suddenly, seriously. It wasn’t a question.
Chapter 6 [posted: 5/29/99]
Chris started to protest, realized the futility of it all, and shrugged his shoulders.
"Is it that evident?" he asked.
"You might say so," Quinn replied, with a grin. Wade merely nodded in agreement.
"So, what’s the deal, man?" Remmy asked. "From what I’ve seen, you’ve got a lot going for you. What’s wrong with the girl, anyway?"
"It’s Quinn," Chris said simply. "She’s in love with this world’s Quinn." Quinn looked abashed. He and Wade exchanged looks. "Think I’ll grab another beer," He muttered, and headed back to the kitchen.
"Oh, my God," the Professor said, "It’s multi-dimensional kismet!"
Wade was quick to defend her double. "Come on, guys, we haven’t met this world’s Quinn and Wade yet. Maybe he’s okay."
"Yeah, and maybe she’s crazy," Remmy said under his breath, just loud enough for Chris to hear. Chris flashed Remmy a grateful smile and got a supportive nod and wink in return.
The Professor put an end to all this speculation by clapping his hands together.
"I must say, I’m rather fatigued. Just what are the -- er -- bathing and sleeping arrangements for tonight?"
Chris really hadn’t thought that far ahead, but now he put his mind to the problem at hand.
"Wade can have my room," He offered gallantly. "Two of you can sleep in the spare bedroom -- Professor, Remmy, why don’t you take that? Quinn and I can sleep in here."
"I can’t take your bed, Chris," Wade started to protest, but he stopped her short. "Please, Wade, I insist. How long has it been since you’ve had some privacy, anyway? And, as far as the bathroom -- ladies first."
He loved seeing her eyes light up. "A room all to myself -- wow! And a hot bath! Anyone need in there first? I’m going to be in there a l-o-o-n-g time!"
The men wisely dashed for the bathroom, knowing Wade was very serious about hogging the facilities. Chris scrambled for blankets and pillows for everyone.
Remmy and the Professor soon disappeared behind the closed guest bedroom door. Quinn was making a pallet for himself in front of the brightly blazing fireplace. Chris pulled an old shirt out of his closet and gingerly knocked on the bathroom door.
She opened it a crack. Steam was already building up in the room. She was wrapped in a towel, with another towel wrapped turban style on her head. "Yes?" she asked, looking up at Chris.
"Here," he thrust the shirt at her, afraid to interrupt her bath but drinking in the sight of her. "I thought you might need something to sleep in."
"Thanks, Chris," she smiled up at him. "This is really very sweet of you." She took the shirt and closed the door, leaving Chris still standing there.
He could hear Quinn’s voice from the living room. "I doubt if you’ll have any hot water when she gets done, Chris. That girl loves her baths. She’ll be in there forever."
Chris walked back into the living room and sat on the couch. "That’s okay, Quinn." he said. "I’m glad she can relax and enjoy it."
"How long have you been in love with her -- your Wade, I mean?" Quinn asked, finishing his beer. He went back to the kitchen and grabbed a fresh one.
"About two years -- ever since the first day I saw her." And Chris told Quinn the story of how they first met.
Quinn, who then joined Chris on the couch, chuckled as he pictured the heap of flying arms and legs. "That sounds like Wade, all right," he grinned. "Always in a hurry."
"How long have you two been involved?" Chris asked Quinn. He eyed Quinn worriedly. So far tonight, Quinn had helped them polish off the bottle of wine, had had three glasses of brandy, and was now working on what must have been the last of a 12-pack.
Quinn ran a hand through his thick hair. "Us? Oh geez, seems like forever. I can’t remember when I didn’t know her."
"She’s crazy about you, you know," Chris said seriously.
"I know, and I love her, too. It just seems that, ever since we’ve been sliding, I can’t get over this feeling of guilt I have for involving her -- involving all of them, really -- in my selfish personal adventure." A disgusted look passed over Quinn’s face and he pounded his fist in his hand. "Damn! I wish I’d done things differently when we first started. I can’t control which world we slide into, and there are an infinite number of earths out there. I should have been more careful!"
Suddenly he looked much older than his years. Dispair and unshed tears filled his eyes. He picked up his beer and took a long drink.
Sitting, shoulders slumped, he said quietly, almost inaudibly, "They look to me to get them home, Chris -- and I don’t know if I can."
Chapter 7 [posted: 5/30/99]
Then much of the untold story poured out.
Most of the evening had been spent telling of the high points of the various slides. But something gave way in Quinn that night and he unburdened himself to Chris.
And Chris began to understand some of the terrible pressures Quinn faced -- day in and day out.
Quinn admitted some of them were of his own making, some due to a twist of fate. Quinn had always been the brightest, youngest and smallest in his class. He’d skipped some grades and, as a result, his life was made a living hell by some of the older, bigger, slower boys in school. An only child, he had lost his father to an accident when he was eleven. From then on, it had been him against the world. Despite the best efforts of his mother and a compassionate homeroom teacher, Quinn retreated deeper and deeper into himself, putting up invisible but tangible barricades to keep anyone from getting too close. He began exercising his mind as well as his body. As a result, he became one of the brightest minds on his, or for that matter, any world. But Chris could see he was also one of the loneliest.
He talked about the Professor and Rembrandt. By the way he spoke, Chris could tell how much Quinn respected and valued the Professor, what a true friend Rembrandt had become, and how guilty Quinn felt that they were involved in these slides from world to world.
Quinn also spoke of Wade, and what a loving, stabilizing force she’d become. But he’d come close to losing her on alternate worlds on more than one occasion, and Chris could see he was terrified of that prospect, and, because of that, was pushing her further and further away.
Chris wished there were more he could say to Quinn, but he knew he was way out of his league in this matter. He couldn’t even begin to identify with what this man was going through. So he just listened.
Chris glanced at the clock. Quinn had been talking for over an hour. Three empty beer cans sat clustered at the end of the coffee table. Quinn’s eyes were taking on the glazed look of someone with a really good buzz on. He was winding down, fast. He looked over at Chris from his seat on the couch, and smiled sheepishly. "Hey, I’m sorry to bend your ear this much. Guess I’m just tired. Wade really had us worried, not ending up with us on this last slide. And last night in Golden Gate Park was a sonofabitch, y’know?"
"It’s okay, Quinn," Chris said. "Hey, why don’t you take the sofa? It’s a lot more comfortable than the floor, and besides," he added hastily, "I’m not really ready to go to sleep yet. Got a few things I need to do." Chris was glad Quinn didn’t have to drive anywhere tonight. Hell, he was glad Quinn didn’t have to WALK anywhere tonight.
"Don’t want to take....sofa," Quinn said, but already his eyes were getting heavy and his tall frame was settling comfortably into the cushions. He yawned once, then twice. He lay back, stretching out the full length of the couch. "Sorry, Chris...not the company."
"Shut up and go to sleep, Quinn," Chris said good-naturedly. "I’ll see you in the morning."
Chris grabbed Quinn’s blanket from up off the floor. Quinn didn’t even feel it as Chris pulled off his tennis shoes and covered him up. Rest well, Quinn, he thought, You’ve earned it.
Chris heard the bathroom door open and out stepped Wade. His shirt swallowed her, she still had her hair wrapped in a towel and she was clutching her clothes to her chest. She looked so sexy and so innocent at the same time that Chris swallowed convulsively.
"Hey, Chris," she said softly. She looked over at Quinn, sleeping soundly on the couch, and her face softened. "Guess he couldn’t stay awake any longer." Looking at the beer cans, she made a face.
She turned back to Chris. "Sorry, I think I used almost all of your hot water, but that bath felt so good. I’m in your debt forever."
"Here," Chris offered. "Let me show you where you’ll sleep."
He opened the bedroom door for her.
Wade was amazed. She expected to see a thoroughly masculine room, but this one was actually pleasing to her feminine eye. While nothing about it was frilly or girlish, it could serve as a woman’s bedroom as well as a man’s.
The whole room was done in shades of blue. A huge four poster king-sized bed dominated one corner of the room. A pair of night stands flanked either side, and an old cedar chest sat at the foot. The carpet was thick, dark blue and incredibly soft to bare feet. There was a chest of drawers against one wall, plus an entertainment unit across from the bed which housed a large screen television and VCR. Some pieces of abstract artwork complimented the walls.
Wade looked around, impressed. "Wow, Chris," she said. "Great bedroom!"
"Glad you like it," he said. As she placed her little pile of clothing on the back of the one chair in the room, he opened the closet and showed her where the extra blankets and pillows were.
Holding a goosedown pillow in her arms, Wade smiled up at him. "Guess I need to say goodnight, then" She stood on her tiptoes and kissed Chris on the cheek. "Thanks for all you’ve done."
Chris hesitated. He knew she needed rest -- after all, they’d been up the whole night before. But something about the look he’d seen in Quinn’s eyes stopped him and he said, "Wade, I know it’s late, but I think we really need to talk -- about Quinn."
Chapter 8 [posted: 5/31/99]
Wade sat cross-legged in the middle of the bed and motioned for Chris to join her. She took the towel off her head and began to dry her hair. Chris sat near the foot, and cleared his throat, not quite knowing how to begin. Wade saved him the trouble.
"It’s his drinking, isn’t it?" she asked.
"Well, yes, that, and..." and Chris began to relate what Quinn had been telling him.
Tears swam in her eyes as Chris talked, especially when he said. "God, Wade, he’s in so much pain. He loves you -- well, all of you, really, but you especially -- so much and it’s tearing him up inside that he can’t get you home. Plus he’s scared to death something’s going to happen to you. He told me of some of the times he’s nearly lost you. He says he doesn’t want to go through that again."
"I know he’s been so - so distant lately," she admitted. "When we first started sliding it was wonderful between us -- our slides were like one big adventure -- but lately, well," she frowned, "it seems like lately all he does is drink. I’ve tried to talk to him about it, but it just makes him mad. I just don’t know what to do."
She looked so lost that Chris’s heart went out to her. He scooted over towards her on the bed and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, hugging her to him. He realized she even smelled like his Wade -- like springtime.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this to the double of the woman I’m madly in love with, Chris thought, but it needs to be said. Then he plunged in.
"Wade, he really needs you to love him," Chris said. "And be there for him, even if he seems to push you away. Quinn’s his own worst enemy. That brilliant, perfectionist, ‘I’ve got to be all things to all people’ streak he’s got is going to kill him if he’s not careful. Plus the fact that he keeps everything that’s bothering him bottled up inside. He’s going to drink himself to death, or have a stroke, or drop dead of a heart attack. You and Remmy and the Professor have got to help him. But I think the lion’s share of the work falls on you, because of how much he loves you. Think you can handle it?"
She nodded. And then she looked at Chris, her eyes shining. "You know, Chris," she said, "Quinn never talks to anyone about how he feels. And I don’t think it was that he’d had too much to drink tonight that got him to open up, or else we would have had this conversation with him some time ago. There’s just something about you that makes people trust you instinctively. It’s a wonderful trait, but it can be a big responsibility. Thanks for sharing this with me tonight. I get so caught up in my own little miseries that I forget just how much responsibility Quinn is carrying on his shoulders, no matter how broad they are."
"Glad to help," Chris said simply, "Besides, I’m a sucker for true love." Even when it’s someone else’s true love, he thought.
"How did such a young man get to be so wise?" She asked. Then she kissed him, softly, tenderly, on the lips. "You know what I think?" she whispered. "This world’s Quinn doesn’t stand a chance against you. Wade would have to be blind not to see who’s the better man."
Chris was stunned -- first by the kiss, then by her words. "Nevertheless," he stammered, "The fact still remains that my Wade is in love with Quinn Mallory."
"Well, we’ll just see about that," Wade smiled mysteriously. She hugged him tightly. "Now," she said, "out of my boudoir, knave! I’ve got to get my beauty sleep."
Not that you need any, Chris thought, but he just smiled at her. "’Night, Wade," he closed the door to his bedroom and made his way back to the living room.
He checked on Quinn once more, but he was sleeping soundly. Quinn Mallory, Chris thought, you are one lucky bastard, whether you know it or not.
Chris made himself as comfortable as possible in the overstuffed chair by the fireplace and eventually drifted off to sleep, warmed by the memory of Wade’s lips on his.
Chapter 9 [posted: 6/1/99]
The sun streamed through curtained windows when Chris awoke the next day. Glancing at his watch he saw that it was well past noon. The guest bedroom door remained closed. Quinn was still asleep on the couch, buried under blankets and pillows until only part of his dark hair showed.
Chris stretched, feeling the bones in his neck and shoulders pop. Stiffly, he rose from the chair and stretched again. He heard a noise in the kitchen and went to investigate. It was Wade.
She was still clad in his shirt from last night. She’d rolled the sleeves up and had pulled on a pair of extremely short shorts. She was bent over looking in cabinets, offering him an enticing view of her adorable rear.
Chris grinned. "Looking for something?" he asked.
She whirled, a startled look on her face. Then she smiled, "Chris, you rat! You scared me to death! What does a person have to do to get a cup of coffee around this place?"
They were busy making breakfast when the doorbell rang. Both Remmy and the Professor were up, and Quinn was beginning to stir.
"I’ll get it," Wade said, as Chris was busy frying bacon. She opened the door -- and stood face to face with herself.
This world’s Wade stood there, speechless. Here was a woman who could be -- was actually -- her identical twin standing in the doorway of Chris’ apartment, wearing one of Chris’ shirts and little else.
The other Wade recovered more quickly. "Chris," she called out, "there’s someone here to see you!"
Chris came to the door. "Wade!" he said, startled. "What are you doing here?"
"Well," she said, noticeably shaken. "You didn’t come to work on Saturday and your phone-in message to the store sounded really strange. Then, when you didn’t show up today -- I - I thought you might be sick, or something."
"Come on in," Chris guided her through the door. She couldn’t take her eyes off her double.
Just then a tall figure rose somewhat unsteadily from the couch.
"Man, did someone get the number of the truck that hit me?"
Running his hands through his hair, Quinn looked remarkably well for someone who had really tied one on the night before. Then he caught sight of Wade -- and Wade.
"Shit," he muttered. "I’ve got to quit drinking. I’m seeing double!"
The new Wade’s mouth fell open. "Quinn?" she exclaimed. She looked at her double -- then at Chris -- then back to Quinn. "Quinn??"
Chris felt introductions -- and an explanation -- were in order.
"Wade Welles, this is -- Wade Welles," he said. "And this is Quinn Mallory. Not the Quinn Mallory we know, but another Quinn Mallory. The other two gentlemen are Professor Maximilian Arturo..," here the Professor said, "How do you do, madam?" and offered his hand, "and this is Rembrandt Brown." Remmy extended his hand and said, "Small world, ain’t it?"
And so, all six of them sat down to a late brunch and a lot of conversation.
It was all somewhat overwhelming at first, but, as Chris already knew, his Wade was smart, quick -- and open-minded. So, while she still looked in amazement at Wade and Quinn periodically, she found the prospect of parallel earths fascinating.
Soon they were laughing and carrying on like old friends, which -- in a sense -- they were.
"Damn!" Remmy smiled, leaning back in his chair at the table, his arms draped around the shoulders of both Wades. "I could learn to like this! Having two of you around could really be interesting!"
His Wade elbowed him in the ribs. "Oh, yeah? Well, don’t get too used to it, Rembrandt. We slide tomorrow."
Chapter 10 [posted: ]
Chris invited his Wade to spend the rest of the afternoon with them. She readily agreed, and, after the group cleaned up a bit around Chris’ apartment, she and Wade decided to do a some shopping while the guys indulged in a bit of ‘male bonding.’
"I can see it all now," this earth’s Wade laughed as she and her double drove to Union Square. "Some type of sports event on TV, potato chips all over the floor, plenty of beer guzzling..."
"Oh, I hope not," the other Wade replied, getting a mental picture of Quinn’s binge the night before. "Besides, that really doesn’t fit the Professor. He’d be bored to tears watching a sporting event on television."
"Tell me more about -- all of them," Wade asked, her voice implying ‘Quinn’, but not saying it. "It must be wonderful journeying to new worlds with them."
"It hasn’t always been wonderful," Wade replied, "but wherever we land, I know I can always count on them to be there for me if I need them. The Professor -- oh, well, the Professor can be a bit egocentric and he is -- fussy -- sometimes, but he always has our best interests at heart. We all -- well, maybe not Rembrandt -- but Quinn and I look to him as a kind of father figure. Quinn, especially. The Professor was Quinn’s physics professor at Berkeley and there’s a lot of love and respect between the two."
"Oh, Rembrandt’s a real sweetheart." Wade’s eyes always lit up when she talked about Rembrandt. "He and I are soul mates. Rembrandt often says that’s because we are the only two normal people in our little group. He is such a dear man -- keeps the Professor human. Quinn, too, whenever they get off on one of their ‘intellectual’ tangents. Rembrandt’s got a lot of common sense and what they call ‘street smarts.’ He’s pulled our collective behinds out of the fire more than once. I’m proud to call him one of my best friends."
"And -- and Quinn?"
"Quinn? Well, Quinn is Quinn." Wade started not to tell this Wade much about Quinn, but then decided, why not? There must be some very obvious character differences between her Quinn and this world’s Quinn. She’d also like this Wade to start taking a closer look at Chris, so maybe now was the time to get the ball rolling.
So she talked. And as she painted a vivid picture of her Quinn, she could tell that this world’s Wade was getting to see a side of a Quinn she didn’t know -- and probably never would.
"So he really cares that much about each one of you?" this world’s Wade asked, when Wade finally stopped for breath.
"Absolutely," Wade said. "In fact, he cares too much sometimes, and it’s gotten us in trouble. He’s always taking in strays. We have to literally sit on him sometimes to prevent him from getting involved in other people’s problems. Of course," she smiled sheepishly, "I guess each one of us has been guilty of that on more than one occasion. I see a lot of my Quinn in Chris."
"In Chris? Are you serious?" the other Wade asked.
"Certainly," Wade replied. "I mean, if Chris hadn’t rescued me from that alley the other night, there’s no telling what might have happened...," she shivered briefly at the thought.
"But, surely, he thought you were me," the other Wade started, but Wade cut her off. "Actually, he wasn’t close enough to me to know who I was, but he took a chance all the same. All he knew was that I was a woman alone in a not-so-safe part of San Francisco. And he’s helped Quinn through some rough times here, too. Chris has a lot of insight -- and he’s a great listener."
"You’re right about that," the other Wade said. "Chris is always there for me, too -- ever since I met him. I guess you could say he’s probably the best friend I have. I mean, he’s always doing things for me, remembers my birthday and stuff like that.."
"And why do you think that is, Wade? You’re not totally blind, are you? Chris is in love with you."
At first the other Wade opened her mouth as if to protest, but closed it slowly. "I guess I’ve known that for a long time. And I really love him, too -- in a way -- but there’s Quinn..."
"And this world’s Quinn is in love with you, right?" Wade asked, a hard edge to her voice. "Think about it, Wade. Does he treat you like a man who’s in love?"
"Well," her voice shook a little. "Well, no...."
Backing off a little, Wade said kindly. "Just think on it, Wade. Do a little comparison test between Chris and your Quinn. I believe you’ll see there is quite a difference."
Chapter 11 [posted: ]
This earth’s Wade was strangely quiet as they pulled up to Union Square. Wade guessed she’d given her some food for thought.
They browsed through Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Although Wade knew they liked to travel light, she picked up a few things, mainly concentrating on the guys. She found a small pocket guide for the Professor, a new pen for Rembrandt, who was constantly losing his, and a soft handsome blue sweater for Quinn.
Then she turned to the other Wade. "Help me pick out something for Chris, would you?" she asked. "He’s been so good to me and the guys, I’d like to get him a little something."
"Well, he likes Suzy Bogguss’ music," the first Wade suggested. "Maybe you can pick him up a CD."
So, it was while they were shopping in the Stockton Street Virgin Records Megastore that slider Wade got her first glimpse of this world’s Quinn.
She was looking through the CD racks when a group of people entering the store caught her eye.
It was three young men and five young women. Most of the women seemed to be milling around one young man near the center of the crowd. He was tall with dark hair, and was wearing blue jeans, a white pullover and a varsity letter jacket with a bear emblem and several sports patches down the left sleeve. He had his arm carelessly flung around a petite blonde who was looking up at him with adoring eyes. He eyed his reflection in every window and mirror they passed, obviously pleased with what he saw.
Wade looked more closely, then ducked behind a stack of CD crate holders. It was Quinn!
Oh, he was good looking, all right, Wade thought, but there was something -- cold about him that almost made her skin crawl.
She looked around for this world’s Wade, and saw a glimpse of her red sweater some distance away, near some sale racks. She obviously hadn’t seen the entourage yet.
Wade slowly and inconspicuously made her way over to where the other Wade was thumbing through some sale items. "Psst!" she whispered. "Don’t look now, but, over near the rap section -- isn’t that Quinn?"
This world’s Wade looked up quickly, and gasped. "Oh, my God! He’s with Brandi Potter!"
"Is that bad, or good?" Wade couldn’t quite figure out the reaction.
"Her dad’s got megabucks, and Brandi’s one of the biggest party girls on the UC campus." Wade whispered. "She’s also got a reputation for being one of the easiest, if you know what I mean."
Yeah," the other Wade whispered back.
"Those other two guys with Quinn are members of the Bears football team. The girls are sorority sisters of Brandi’s - she’s Chi Omega." Then Wade said, very softly. "We -- Quinn and I -- were supposed to go out this afternoon, but he told me he couldn’t -- something about practice."
"I think he’s had enough practice," Wade said, somewhat sarcastically. She noticed the other Wade’s somewhat stricken look.
"Come on," she said, motioning to this world’s Wade, "let’s go. I think it’s time we got back to the apartment."
She made her way unnoticed up to the sales counter and made her purchase. Then she noticed this world’s Wade wasn’t with her.
Wade stood over by the rap section, looking at Quinn. He finally looked up and made eye contact.
"Hey, Wade, what’s up?" he said, offhandedly.
"I thought you said you had practice today," she said calmly.
"Is that what I said? Sorry, babe, but something else came up," he smiled. It was a killer smile, but his eyes were flat and disinterested. "Maybe we can get together some other time, okay? Come on guys, let’s go. Ready, sugar?" He looked down at Brandi and squeezed her tightly.
"Sure, Quinn, whatever you say," Brandi breathed. The group walked out of the store, leaving Wade standing, a stunned look on her face.
Chapter 12 [posted: ]
Slider Wade glanced over at the other Wade’s tear-stained face as they drove back to Chris’ apartment.
What an asshole this world’s Quinn is, she thought to herself. Out loud, she said. "You will stay and have dinner with us, won’t you? Since this is our last night here, we’d really like to spend it with you and Chris."
"I don’t think I’d be very good company," this world’s Wade sniffled, but Wade was persistent.
"Come on, please? I don’t want to spend another night being the only girl among this overabundant mass of male testosterone! It’ll be fun -- give Rembrandt something to look back on fondly during his subsequent slides. Please?" she asked again.
Wade’s outrageous statement made this world’s Wade smile -- a little. "Okay," she agreed.
Her acquiescence made Wade’s little matchmaking heart happy -- very happy indeed.
Dinner was wonderful for both Wades. The group dined at one of the city’s most talked about restaurants. Even the Professor, who was usually supercritical about his meals, raved about the food.
"My compliments to the chef," he told the beaming waiter who served them. "My duck confit was superb, and the grilled quail....!" here he kissed his fingertips expressively, with such a look of ecstasy on his round cherubic face that even Chris’ Wade had to laugh. Rembrandt, Quinn and Wade had, of course, seen this performance before, but it never failed to amuse them.
They sat in a large leather-covered booth near the back of the restaurant. It comfortably seated eight, and was raised just slightly to afford a better view of the restaurant’s eye-catching oval atrium and curving staircase.
Rembrandt and the Professor held center stage, sitting in the middle, with their Wade to the left of the Professor and next to Quinn, and this world’s Wade to the right of Rembrandt and next to Chris. The booth curved nicely, affording everyone seated a good glimpse of all the faces gathered around the table.
Wade couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed so much -- or felt so much at ease. Quinn’s arm was resting on the back of the booth, just at the right height to touch her shoulders and for her to rest her head against. His body was angled in toward hers and when he leaned in to make a comment to Chris or the other Wade, he’d brush up against her slightly. All traces of his hangover were gone, his eyes sparkled and he was clearly enjoying himself.
Wade thought he looked particularly handsome tonight. He wore the new blue sweater she’d bought him with a pair of black slacks and had traded his traditional tennis shoes in for a pair of deck shoes. His hair gleamed under the lights of the restaurant and the sweater made his eyes an even more impossibly clear shade of blue.
She wore a short, form-fitting little black number she’d picked up at Saks during her shopping excursion. She normally didn’t splurge on herself, but the dress was on sale for such a ridiculously low price she couldn’t resist. She’d pulled her hair back on one side and secured it behind her ear with a large hothouse rose Quinn had secured for the occasion.
Chris was also quite handsome in dark slacks and a hunter green sweater, which made his hazel eyes take on a more greenish hue. His Wade looked wonderful, in a short lavender dress trimmed in metallic gold. She, too, wore her hair pulled back on one side, secured with a colorful barrette.
Remmy looked dapper in a shiny rust-colored suit with a cream colored silk shirt. The Professor was, as usual, more conservative, but even he had donned a quilted red vest to go with his usual somber black suit.
Chris couldn’t help notice how happy both Wade and Quinn looked this evening. He was so much more relaxed -- much of the tension had gone from his face, and he was drinking mostly ice water. Wade kept most of her attention focused on him, whispering in his ear, touching him, smiling up at him every so often. It seemed as if a new closeness was forming between them.
His Wade seemed to be comfortable with him, also. The other Wade had told him about their meeting up with this earth’s Quinn in the record store this afternoon and what had transpired. He was as furious as she over the way Quinn had treated her.
So, Chris did his best to show her a wonderful time. And she seemed to be enjoying herself.
After dinner, Rembrandt stated to the group that it was much too early to go back to Chris’ apartment.
"Come on, sweetheart," he said to Chris’ Wade, taking her hand and spinning her around. "I got on my boogie shoes! Let’s go dancing!"
Chapter 13 [posted: ]
The Professor begged off and hailed a cab to take him back to Chris’ apartment, but the rest of the group ventured down to The Embarcadero, which is how they found themselves at a hot night spot on Steuart Street.
The crush of people was unbelievable for a Sunday, but the group soon secured themselves a table near the dance floor.
"Why are there so many people here?" Wade asked, as she fought her way to the table.
"Well," Remmy laughed, "I heard a cab driver say this is the place where most of the straight San Francisco crowd hangs out. They said, if you can’t get laid here, you can’t get laid!"
"Rembrandt!" she exclaimed, punching him in the arm.
"Ow! Hey, girl, they said it, I didn’t!" Remmy looked hurt -- for a moment, until a statuesque redhead in a gold lame` dress asked him to dance.
Chris and Wade and Quinn and Wade sat out several fast numbers, content to just be with one another and watch the dance crowd. Eventually, however, the pace of the music slowed. The sounds of Savage Garden filled the room. As the first notes of "truly madly deeply" began to play, Quinn grabbed Wade’s hand and led her out to the dance floor.
They looked at one another a moment, thoughts of another shared dance long ago in an alternate world basement on both their minds.
He wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her in closely, securely, tightly against him. He took one of her hands in his and tucked it in between the two of them. She leaned against him, wrapping her arm around the small of his back and settled her head against his chest. Then, they began to move to the music.
They danced as if they had always danced together. As if they had never stopped dancing together.
The top of Wade’s head just reached Quinn’s shoulder and she fit against him perfectly, just as Eve must have fit Adam back in the Garden of Eden. She looked up at him and grinned. He smiled down at her.
"Bring back memories?" he asked.
"Yeah," she sighed, placing her head back against his chest. "Oh, yeah..."
Chris and Wade watched the couple from the table. Chris was surprised when Wade’s voice spoke in his ear.
"They look so right together, don’t they?"
Chris looked over at Wade. There were unshed tears in her eyes, but she was smiling slightly. She continued.
"So that’s what true love looks like."
Rembrandt, who had rejoined them at the table with Monique, the redhead, said simply, "That’s the way Chris looks at you, Wade."
She looked at Remmy, then Chris, then grabbed Chris’ hand.
"Come on, Chris," she said, "let’s dance."
The last strains of "truly madly deeply" died away as they stepped on the floor and the sounds of the Righteous Brothers’ "Unchained Melody" took its place. Quinn and Wade just snuggled up closer to each other, never missing a beat.
Chris wrapped his arm around Wade’s waist and together they started to move to the sounds of the music.
She stood apart from him for just a second, then her arm went around his neck and she moved in close, resting her head on his shoulder.
Chris tightened his grip almost imperceptibly. His head swam. How long had he dreamed of this moment, never fully believing it would actually happen? He could smell the light fragrance of her perfume and the feel of her slight, supple body pressed against his.
"You look especially lovely tonight, Wade," he said.
"Thanks," she said. "But let’s not talk, okay? Let’s just enjoy this."
Back at the table, Monique was leaning against Rembrandt, affording him a good look at her more than ample charms.
"Your friends look really cute out there together," she purred in Remmy’s ear. "Identical twins, aren’t they? But did I hear you call both of them Wade? What were their parents thinking?"
"Uh, Monique...," Rembrandt started to explain, but then thought the better of it. Monique was a knockout, but he doubted that a certain part of her anatomy would be able to comprehend the concept of alternate earths.
So, he merely grinned and planted a slow, sizzling kiss on her lips.
Chapter 14 [posted: ]
Chris and Wade danced two or three more numbers together, then she excused herself to visit the ladies room.
Chris made his way slowly back to the table.
Quinn and Wade looked at Chris’ expression, then exchanged glances. "How’s it going, Chris?" Quinn grinned. "As if I needed to ask."
Chris plopped down in his chair. "This has got to be the best night of my life."
Wade placed her hand gently on his arm. "Believe me, Chris," she said, glancing at Quinn, then back at him, "it only gets better."
Quinn wrapped his arm around Wade’s shoulders and gave her an affectionate hug.
Wade, in the last stall in the restroom, was suddenly shaken from her reverie by the sound of several voices entering the room.
"....as if you needed to worry," one voice finished.
"Listen," said a voice very familiar to Wade’s ear, "I’ve got him exactly where I want him. He knows Daddy has part interest in the Giants; he’d love a chance to play on the team."
"He can play on my team any time he wants to," another voice interrupted.
"Shut up, Stacie. Quinn’s mine -- for as long as I want him -- and you know it."
Wade drew in her breath sharply. Brandi!
"Maybe he’d rather play with Wade," the first voice teased.
"Wade!" Brandi snorted. "That little mouse? Quinn’s no more interested in her than the man in the moon -- he told me so himself. He just dates her ‘cause she forces him into it. God, she’s so obvious!"
Wade was stunned. Sudden tears began to well up in her eyes, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. She could hear the sound of running water, and then Brandi spoke again. "Come on, we’ve got to get back. Quinn’s really drunk and you know what that means!" She laughed a wicked laugh.
"Yeh! Or-gy! Or-gy!" the other two girls chanted as they exited the restroom.
Wade waited several seconds after they left, and then peered carefully out the stall door. Feeling slightly sick to her stomach, she made her way shakily to the one of the sinks, splashed cold water on her face and refreshed her makeup.
A few minutes later found her back at the table.
Chris stood as she approached. He could tell she was upset. "Wade -- what is it?"
"Quinn and his gang are here tonight," she told them. "I overheard Brandi talking to her girlfriends in the restroom. They didn’t know I was there."
"Well, that shouldn’t spoil our evening, should it? I mean, so what? I’m sure this place is big enough for all of us. We’re with the best-lookin’ ladies on the planet anyway! Let ‘em stay with their won crowd," Remmy said. He stood up.
"Hey, Q-ball, what say we go refresh everyone’s drink? All this fun is making me thirsty." He gave Monique’s shoulder a little squeeze.
"Sure thing, Remmy," Quinn said, standing. Giving his Wade a peck on the cheek, he said, "Everybody drinking the same thing? We’ll be right back." And he and Remmy disappeared into the crowd.
That left Chris to entertain all three ladies. Monique, left by herself for the time being, seemed disinterested in conversation and studied her long red fingernails intently.
Chris was about to say something when suddenly his Wade grabbed his arm, digging her nails painfully into the skin.
"Chris!" she hissed in his ear, "coming this way -- it’s Quinn. And he’s got company."
Chapter 15 [posted: ]
Sure enough, Chris looked up just in time to see an inebriated Quinn Mallory, two teammates in tow, stagger toward the table.
He loomed over them, grinning. "Yo, Wade, Chris, whazzup?" Then his eyes narrowed.
"Damn!" he exclaimed. "I’m drunker than I thought! There’s two of you. Wade, you never tol’ me you were a twin!"
He leaned in toward this earth’s Wade to get a closer look.
Wade could smell the liquor on his breath and shivered at the expression in his bloodshot eyes. She suddenly realized she didn’t like this Quinn at all.
Chris vaulted out of his chair and placed himself between Quinn and his Wade.
"Back off, Quinn," he said in a calm but firm tone. "She’s with me."
"With you?" Quinn snorted. "With you?? Tha’s a laugh. Why should she pick you when she can be with a real man!"
Then he looked closer at the other Wade. "Damn me, if I don’t believe this one’s even prettier!"
He grabbed the other Wade’s chin with his fingers, forcing her gaze up. "What say we get a little three-way action going, huh, babe? You, me and sis. The geek can watch."
Wade eyed him coldly. "Take your hand off me before you lose it," she spat at him, jerking her head away from his grasp.
Quinn and Remmy were elbowing their way back to the table when they spotted the disturbance. Quinn almost dropped the drinks he was carrying in an effort to get over there when Remmy stepped in front of him, stopping him from going further.
"Wait, Q-ball, wait!" Remmy hissed. "This is Chris’ fight. Don’t rush in there like the big hero just yet." He saw Quinn’s jaw work angrily. "Hey, at least we can make this a fair fight." His eyes darted over to the two young men with this world’s Quinn, who were standing a little ways back from the table. "You take the one on the left," he said quietly.
Quinn nodded understandingly. They set the drinks down at a nearby table and moved quickly, quietly, through the crowd.
"....before you lose it," Wade had said, jerking away from Quinn’s grip. Her eyes flashed angrily.
Chris now moved closer to Quinn, trying to position himself between the swaggering drunk and the two Wades.
"Leave them alone, Quinn," he said, a bit louder this time, his hands balled up into fists at his sides.
Quinn, startled by Chris’ sudden move, fell back about a foot. Unsteadily, he stood upright and pushed Chris roughly with both hands. "Well, lookee here who’s getting macho all of a sudden! Hell, Chris, if it means that much to you, you can join in!"
Angered, Chris shoved Quinn back.
The two fellows with Quinn started to move in, only to find themselves armlocked from behind by two equally powerful forces. Remmy hissed in his target’s ear, "Now, now, let’s keep this just between them, shall we?" and twisted the guy’s arm for emphasis.
Quinn’s target tried to turn and face his attacker, but found himself trapped in the grip of a man stronger and taller than he. "I don’t think that’s a good idea," Quinn said quietly. "You heard what the man said; let’s keep this just between them."
This world’s Quinn, caught off-guard by Chris’ aggressive action, stumbled backwards a few steps, then steadied himself.
"Well, well, well," he grinned malevolently, "so the geek has a backbone."
"I’m warning you, Quinn," Chris said, truly angry now. "Leave them alone."
"Or you’ll what?" Quinn took a step forward.
"Don’t make me hit you, Quinn," Chris said. "I don’t want to fight."
"Fight?" Quinn laughed harshly. "I doubt you even know how to fight!" And with that, he took a swing at Chris.
Luckily, Quinn’s punch was a little off-center. As it was, his right fist, complete with a heavy varsity ring on his third index finger, caught Chris directly under the left eye, snapping his head back and sending him crashing into the table where the girls sat. "Chris!" both Wades shrieked almost simultaneously, jumping to their feet. "Damn!" Monique muttered, as Chris tumbled into her. She pushed him back up.
Chris could feel the skin under his eye immediately begin to swell, and felt something warm begin to trickle down his cheek. He took a swipe at it with the back of his hand. Blood. Working strictly from adrenaline, he closed his eyes, gathered his strength and took aim at Quinn’s midsection.
Chapter 16 [posted: ]
In retrospect, those who saw the fight called the knockout punch the greatest they had ever seen. Chris knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime lucky shot; a real sucker punch.
He caught Quinn completely off-guard. Having harbored so much pent-up anger toward Quinn for so long, Chris’ first punch carried the power of ten men. He caught Quinn squarely in the stomach, knocking all the breath out of him. As Quinn doubled over, gasping for air, Chris’ second shot caught him right underneath the chin, propelling him backwards onto the floor.
There he landed, out cold.
Chris just stood there, breathing heavily. He looked at his fist, unbelieving. Then, his Wade grabbed him around the neck, hugging him tightly. His arms closed automatically around her, as she kissed him and whispered in his ear, "That was wonderful!"
The area around the small table was utter pandemonium. Brandi shrieked, "Quinn, sugar!" and threw herself on the ground beside him. Quinn’s two companions, having been released by Remmy and Quinn, bent over the unconscious figure.
Rembrandt, wisely, felt it was high time to make an exit. "Let’s get out of here!" he shouted to his companions. Grabbing Monique by the hand, he started toward the exit. Quinn took his Wade’s hand, with Chris and Wade bringing up the rear.
They all piled in Chris’ Toyota, Quinn behind the wheel with Wade beside him. Remmy, having bid a very warm farewell to Monique, sat in back with Chris and Wade.
Chris’ left eye was almost swollen shut, the skin around it puffy and discolored. At least the bleeding had slowed considerably.
"You’re going to have one hell of a shiner tomorrow," Quinn said.
Chris laid his head back against the seat. He was having trouble focusing. His head hurt like hell. All in all, he felt like shit -- and utterly wonderful. He would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Wade was sitting close beside him. He eased his arm around her shoulders and pulled her even closer until her head rested on his shoulder. She wrapped her arms around his waist and sighed contentedly.
"Where to, champ?" Quinn asked from the front.
"Home, Quinn," Chris said wearily. "Let’s go home."
The noise and clatter of everyone coming in woke the Professor, who lumbered, yawning hugely, out of the spare bedroom. He took one look at Chris and bellowed, "Good lord, Mr. Foster, what on earth happened to you?"
The group took turns telling the story - first Remmy, then both Wades, and then Quinn. Chris remained silent for the most part, just adding to the story when necessary. His Wade got him some aspirin and then an ice pack for his eye. It was she who lead him over to the couch, pulled his shoes off and helped prop his feet up. She sat close beside him on the couch, holding tightly to his hand.
When the story was done, the Professor shook his head. "That blistering idiot! Normally I do not condone violence, but -- bravo, Mr. Foster, well done! It is unfortunate we do not bestow knighthoods in this country."
"Yep, all in all, quite an evening," Remmy agreed. "But it’s about time for this ‘old man’ to turn in -- coming, Professor?"
"Right behind you, Mr. Brown," the Professor nodded. "Right behind you." And so Chris, Quinn and the two Wades found themselves paired up in the living room. Remmy had made a fire, and it still burned steadily in the fireplace. The conversation died away and soon all you could hear was the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece.
Chris looked over towards the overstuffed chair by the fireplace where Quinn was sitting, Wade on his lap. They had fallen silent the last several minutes. Quinn had his arms wrapped snugly around her, and Wade half-dozed, her head pillowed on Quinn’s shoulder. Quinn absently stroked her arms with his fingertips. He seemed lost in thought.
Chris suddenly broke the silence. "Quinn, why don’t you put Wade to bed in my room? She’s practically asleep."
At first, Quinn’s eyes lit up eagerly, but then, he said, "I think you’re the one who needs the rest, Chris. We’ll be okay out here in the living room."
"Put Wade to bed, Quinn," Chris repeated, staring at Quinn out of his remaining good eye. "My Wade and I have some things to discuss. See you in the morning," he added meaningfully.
"Sure thing, Chris," Quinn picked up the half-sleeping Wade as if she weighed next to nothing and carried her into Chris’ bedroom. Closing the door with his foot, they caught his exiting smile and then heard a muffled, "Good night, you two," from behind the door.
His Wade said nothing at first, but looked at him curiously, a half-smile on her lips. "Just what ‘things’ do we have to talk about?" she asked, tilting her head prettily. Then it dawned on her. "You planned that! Why?"
"Simple," Chris said, turning to face her. "They slide in a few hours. Who knows where they’ll end up, or what kind of world it will be? They’re just beginning to rediscover one another. They need the time together, alone. Just the two of them."
"Do you mind if I stay here tonight with you?" Wade asked suddenly, boldly. "I think we’re beginning to make some discoveries of our own. Or, at least I am."
Chapter 17 [posted: ]
Chris just nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
"The least we can do is get comfortable," she said.
Chris stripped out of his sweater and Wade went looking for something to replace the little lavender dress she was wearing. She found it, in Chris’ laundry room -- the shirt of Chris’ the other Wade had worn earlier.
Chris swallowed hard when Wade first appeared in the living room wearing his shirt. Since she and the other Wade were practically identical in appearance, she looked almost unbearably sexy in it.
She had grabbed a blanket and a couple of pillows from the hall closet where they had been stashed. She placed one pillow under Chris’ head and got him settled on the couch, then put fresh ice in the pack he was using for his eye.
It was crowded but cozy on the sofa when she joined him. She stroked a stray strand of hair off his forehead and very gently touched the purpling bruise around his left eye.
"Ouch!" he winced at her feather-like touch.
"Poor Chris," she crooned, "Quinn was right. That’s going to be some shiner. How do you feel?"
"Like someone’s using a jackhammer on the left side of my face," he answered. "Other than that, I couldn’t be better."
"Maybe this will help take some of the pain away," she murmured, brushing her lips against his.
It startled him, at first. Then he relaxed as her lips brushed his for a second time.
He kissed her, tentatively at first, then became bolder when he met with no resistance. His mouth covered hers; the kiss was long and slow and thorough.
Lost in the kiss, Wade let the last of her feelings for this world’s Quinn fade away, replaced by the immediate and intense response Chris awakened in her. She sensed that beneath his deceivingly mild exterior, here was a man who had both great strength and great gentleness. She did not think that there could be any amount of tears or anger -- or passion -- that Chris Foster could not handle.
Her lips moved against his, kissing him back, and her tongue twined around his, testing and exploring. His breath was warm against her cheek, and his hands slid down her back and over the smooth curve of her derriere, lifting her up onto him.
His smooth skin was like fire. She could feel the heavy rise and fall of his chest against her own. His mouth left hers and began to move down, trailing kisses down her throat. That was when she moved her shoulder and accidentally rammed it into his left cheek.
"Shit!" The expletive escaped Chris’ lips before he could stop it. He jerked back, nearly pitching her onto the floor.
"Oh, God," She muttered, hand to her mouth, eyes wide. "I - I’m so sorry, Chris!"
The pain was intense. Involuntary tears sprang up in the injured eye and ran down his face. Her trying clumsily to wipe them away with a tissue brought another wave of unpleasant sensations.
"Dammit, Wade, quit!" he said, flinching. She stopped, tissue in hand, her lips trembling slightly.
Oh, great, he thought, now I’ve done it. I’ve made her cry.
Instead, her face broke into a grin. "You should see your expression!" she giggled. "I’m sorry, Chris, really. Guess the feelings are right, but the timing’s lousy!"
He smiled back at her, greatly relieved that he hadn’t hurt her. He settled back into the cushions and opened his arms.
"Yeh, lousy timing -- but it’s something we can continue at a later date, right?" he grinned. "Come on, lie down. Let’s get some sleep." As she snuggled carefully onto his chest, sighing contentedly, he knew he had found something so right it was scary.
"Nite, Wade," he murmured into her hair.
"Nite, Chris," she murmured back, her face hidden in his chest, her breath warm on his skin. Then she looked up into his face, eyes shining. "I’m so sorry you got hurt, but, I -- I had a really wonderful time tonight."
"Me, too," he said back softly, meaning every word of it.
They settled into each others arms and fell fast asleep.
Chapter 18 [posted: ]
That was how Remmy and the Professor found them the next morning.
Chris lay on his back, his arms wrapped lightly around Wade, who lay, curled up almost catlike, on top of him.
"I would say that this has been a most successful slide, Mr. Brown," the Professor whispered, clasping Rembrandt’s shoulder.
"You could say that, Professor," Remmy agreed. "Wonder what our Quinn and Wade are up to?"
The Professor eyed Chris’ closed bedroom door meaningfully. "One can only speculate," he said. He shook his graying head. "Ah, youth...,"
"Wasted on the young, Professor?" Remmy asked.
"In this case, Mr. Brown, I think not," the Professor answered sagely.
The sight of Quinn and Wade emerging from Chris’ bedroom later that morning caused a few raised eyebrows around the breakfast table.
"My, my," Remmy grinned. "Look what the cat dragged in!"
"Really, Miss Welles, Mr. Mallory," the Professor said trying to be stern, but with a definite twinkle in his eyes, "Where is your sense of propriety?"
"Relax, guys," Wade said, a bit too hastily. "We didn’t do anything to jeopardize or compromise our situation in the future."
"But we came pretty damn close!" Quinn said, with a wicked grin. Wade jabbed him in the ribs. "Quinn, behave yourself!" she chided, smiling lovingly at him. Quinn retaliated by slinging her over his shoulder and marching back into the bedroom, slamming the door behind them with a resounding bang. A fit of laughter and giggles ensued from behind the closed door, followed by silence.
The Professor raised an eyebrow. Remmy simply said, "Oh, brother," and went back to his breakfast.
Chris and Wade merely exchanged glances and smiled.
After breakfast, Chris called the computer store while the other three cleaned up.
"I trust we haven’t jeopardized your and Miss Welles’ jobs by staying here," the Professor said seriously as Chris got off the phone.
"Well, ‘computer boy’ is none too happy with us, but Wade just secured a $50,000 account and I’m busy recataloging the entire inventory system, so he’d be stupid to fire us just yet," Chris grinned. "Besides, I lied. Told him we’d been mugged last night and needed a couple of days to recover."
The Professor chuckled, "Very clever, Mr. Foster."
"Did he buy it?" Rembrandt asked.
"I think so," Chris answered. "Frankly, I didn’t ask. And I don’t care." He looked over at his Wade. "Just so we have a couple of days to get to know one another better. He said he’d see us on Thursday, bright and early."
"Well," she said, "your eye might look better by then."
"How are you feeling this morning?" Rembrandt asked.
Chris looked at himself in the mirror hanging in the short entrance hall. He could see more clearly; the ice pack had reduced the swelling considerably. However, the skin around his eye and the eyelid itself were various hues of green, yellow and purple. The bruise extended down to below his cheekbone and there were several small cuts there he hadn’t noticed the night before. He touched his face gingerly with his fingertips. While the area was tender, it wasn’t nearly as painful as it had been last night.
"I feel surprisingly good," he said.
He strode over to his bedroom door and pounded, loudly.
He heard a rustle of bedclothes and then Quinn opened the door a crack. He could see Wade lying in a tangle of sheets, bare-limbed, a very self-satisfied smile on her face. Quinn had positioned himself behind the door, but from the sight of his naked upper torso, Chris had a pretty good idea what was going on.
"What?" Quinn scowled at Chris.
"Sorry, buddy. Consider this your ten minute warning. I gotta get dressed. Wade’s gotta get dressed. You gotta get dressed. Not much time before you slide," he said.
"Yeah. Okay. You’re right," Quinn admitted grudgingly. "We’ll be right out." And then he closed the door firmly in Chris’ face.
Chapter 19 [posted: ]
Chris wandered slowly back out to the living room, where the Professor, Remmy and his Wade were gathered.
"Er -- they’ll be out in a few minutes," he said, barely suppressing a grin. As he spoke, he could see Wade, clad in Quinn’s blue sweater, streak for the bathroom. Seconds later, Quinn, shirtless, dressed in jeans, joined them. He clasped Chris on the shoulder as he passed by. Their eyes met.
"Thanks, Chris," he said quietly. A look of complete understanding passed between them. "No problem, Quinn," Chris replied., "Glad I could be of some help."
"Well, Mr. Brown," the Professor turned to Remmy. "How much time until we slide?"
"Couple more hours and we’re outta here," Remmy answered.
The time passed quickly. Both Wade and Quinn showered and dressed, and grabbed a quick bit of breakfast. Then both Wades volunteered to tidy up Chris’ bedroom.
"I’m glad you decided to help me," Wade said to this world’s Wade as they stripped sheets off the king-sized bed and replaced them with fresh ones. "How are you and Chris doing? Are you happy with your choice? No more agonizing over Quinn?"
"The Quinn I thought I loved and the real Quinn are exact opposites," Wade said. "Chris is everything I could want in a man. No, I’m not sorry." She smiled a sly smile, "Now, if this world’s Quinn were more like your Quinn..."
"Don’t even think it!" said Wade, tossing a pillow at her double. "My Quinn would drive you crazy! We’ve still got a lot of issues to work out, although...," she grinned, "things are certainly going much better."
"I’m glad," this world’s Wade said. "You both deserve some happiness. I really hope it works between you two."
"You, too," Wade said, coming over to give her double a hug. "You and Chris make such a great couple. I hope it works for you, too."
It was mid-afternoon when Chris and Wade walked their friends to a secluded park not too far from Chris’ apartment. They said their good-byes, then Remmy counted down the seconds and activated the timer.
Although both Chris and Wade had heard them talk about the vortex, they were unprepared for the visual impact of the wormhole. They both stood there, mouths gaping, as the colors swirled and the winds blew.
The Professor and Rembrandt were the first into the vortex.
Both Wades hugged for the last time. "Take care of yourself -- and Quinn." Wade told her counterpart.
"I will." Wade promised. "And you take care of Chris."
She stood on tiptoe and kissed Chris quickly on the lips. "Thanks for all you’ve done -- you rescued all three of us, you know. Me, your Wade -- and Quinn. We can’t thank you enough."
"Just remember what we talked about. And take care of each other," Chris said, hating to see them go.
"I will. We will." She looked lovely, silhouetted in front of the vortex. Then she slid out of his life forever.
Quinn gave Wade a big hug, then turned to Chris, clasping his hand warmly. "I can never repay you for all you’ve done."
"Just make sure you keep her safe and happy," Chris said. "That’s all the payment I need."
"You can count on it," Quinn yelled over his shoulder as he leapt into the vortex. Then he, too, was gone. The vortex disappeared, leaving behind a bit of dust and debris.
Chris and Wade stood for a long moment, looking at the spot where the vortex had been. Then he put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close. She wrapped her arm around his waist, giving him a warm hug.
"I’m thinking -- dinner and a movie," Chris said. "What are you thinking?"
She smiled mischievously, naughtily, up at him. "Actually, I was thinking -- dessert first. Then dinner and a movie. Okay?
"More than okay," Chris said, as his lips closed over hers.
Alternate Earth 117