Time Enough for Love
Chuck watched as Maggie took a fortifying sip of her beer.
“Okay,” she said. “All right.” She pressed her palms flat against the table in the bar in Tia’s restaurant, as if needing to feel the solidness of the wood beneath her hands. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. I’m supposed to believe that you’re some kind of a rocket scientist genius type who’s invented time travel — despite the fact that you look like some crazy, homeless guy wearing Santa pants, a Phoenix Film Marathon T-shirt, and ugly cardboard shoes.”
Chuck glanced down at the cardboard and string sandals he’d made. He didn’t think they were that bad — considering the choice of materials he’d had to work with.
“I’m supposed to believe that you’ve zipped back here in your little Runaround time travel pod–”
“Runabout,” he corrected her.
“–from seven years in the future — where you and I just happen to be friends–”
She didn’t believe him. Why should she believe him? Time travel. It seemed so science fiction. She gazed at him with such cynical disbelief in her eyes, he couldn’t help but smile.
He smiled as he hid his trembling hands, as he fought to keep these waves of emotion from overpowering him.
God, three hours ago, he hadn’t thought he’d ever smile again. Three hours ago, the woman sitting across the table from him had bled to death in his arms. Three hours ago, she’d used her own body as a shield, taking bullets meant to kill him. Three hours ago, he’d escaped through the ventilation system in the Data Tech building, running for his life.
The pungent odor of gunpowder and blood still lingered in his nostrils despite the shower he’d taken underneath Maggie’s garden hose. Boyd was dead. Maggie had seen his friend and security chief take a bullet in the back of the head. She’d told him that before she, too, had died. He was still shaking from all that he’d been through, all that he’d seen. The destruction of the lab. The death — death on a massive, global scale in the form of a bomb taking out most of the White House and with it, the President of the United States. And death on a smaller, far more personal level, too.
Chuck gazed at Maggie, shifting slightly in his seat, trying to rid himself of the disturbing memories of death on extremely personal level. He took a deep breath.
None of that had happened yet. And he was here to make damn sure it wouldn’t happen again. This time around was going to be different. He’d never tried to tamper with time before, not to this degree — he had no idea how easy or hard it was going to be. But easy, hard, it didn’t matter. He was determined to set things right and keep innocent people from dying.
But for right now, all he wanted to do was gaze into Maggie’s light brown eyes. He didn’t care that they were filled with skepticism. He didn’t care that one graceful eyebrow was lifted in disbelief. He’d expected as much from her. She was so straightforward, so honest and down to earth, he would have been surprised had she believed him without an argument.
Chuck was ready to argue with her all night, if she wanted. He didn’t care. He just wanted to look at her. She was just so…beautifully alive.
His hand was shaking as he picked up his mug of coffee, so he set it back onto the table without taking a sip. He wanted to touch her — her hand, the soft smoothness of her cheek — but he didn’t dare.
She thought he was nuts.
“So…if what you’re saying is true, there’s some kind of time machine — this Runabout thing — sitting in my back yard…?”
Chuck shifted in his seat. “Actually, no–”
The look in her eyes made him want to laugh, but he was afraid if he started, he wouldn’t be able to stop.
“Of course not,” she continued. “Come on, tell me why it’s not still there, and make it a really good one.”
“I had to program any kind of return jump in my lab, and since I knew this was going to be a one-way trip, I set it up to self-destruct,” Chuck told her. “See, there’s a long recharging delay between jumps. And if the mechanism is engaged too soon, the device malfunctions, and the Runabout is destroyed.”
“Of course,” she said. “I should have known.”
“It’s the truth.”
“It sounds like anything but. I mean, really, Chuck. You’ve traveled back in time because some evil government agents from some ridiculous sounding organization–”
“Wizard-9,” he supplied.
Right. These guys from Wizard-whatever got their nefarious hands on your time machine and orchestrated some kind of bomb in the White House that killed the President and his entire staff, including the speaker of the house, in order to trigger a political coup.” When she said it that way, it sounded ridiculous. It sounded like the bad plot of a comic book.
The coup is just my theory. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out if I was right.”
“So you’ve come back in time to stop yourself from developing time travel, in order to prevent this assassination. Have I left anything out?”
“That’s about it in a nutshell,” he told her.
“Why not just go back in time and warn the people at the White House about the bomb? Why stop the entire project before it even starts?”
He answered her gravely, as if her question were serious. “I figured if I only did that, the door through time would still be left open. This way, the problem of unauthorized time tampering is solved once and for all.”
Chuck had actually considered going back much further into the past, back to his childhood, back before the time when the idea of time travel first flashed into his head. But by doing that, he couldn’t be sure that a change made back then would be enough to alter his entire future. He knew he had only one shot, and he had to be damn well certain it would work.
Maggie sat back in her chair. “Meanwhile, while all this was happening in Metropolis, Superman couldn’t do anything to stop the evil agents, because he had been struck down by a bullet made of kryptonite.”
Chuck had to laugh. “I’d almost forgotten how sarcastically funny you used to be.”
“What, I’m not as funny seven years from now?”
He couldn’t quite meet her gaze, unwilling to tell her the truth. He realized he was nervously drumming his fingers on the table and he forced himself to stop, to sit calmly, without moving.
She leaned forward. “Come on, futureman. What am I like seven years from now? Does my freelance writing business finally earn me enough to pay my mortgage? Do I move into one of those big houses on Camelback Mountain? Do I have any kids? A rich, handsome husband? — no, wait a sec. Don’t tell me. You’re my husband, right?”
“Wrong.” He looked across the table at her. She was incredibly pretty, but she didn’t know it. She’d probably never know it.
Her hair was brown, and at first glance it seemed to be nothing special. It was only on closer inspection one could see that it hung in shining waves around her face, long and thick and glistening. Her eyes, too, were an average shade of brown — but they sparkled and danced when she smiled or laughed. Her face was long with a delicate cleft in her chin, her jaw strong and almost square. Her nose turned up very slightly at the end.
She was gorgeous in a girl-next-door kind of way, with a brilliant smile that could light up the darkest night.
She was funny and smart and sweet. And incredibly sexy.
He’d been wildly attracted to her from the very moment he’d first set eyes on her — seven years ago, his time. And she’d been attracted to him, too. It had happened this time around, too, despite the fact that she doubted his sanity. He could feel the familiar sexual pull, even now, each time she looked into his eyes.
If history were going to repeat itself, she would learn to hide that attraction from him, letting him see only friendly warmth in her eyes. But he was here to make sure that history didn’t repeat itself.
“Two years from now, you’ll marry a man named Albert Ford,” he finally told her. “An accountant. It won’t work out. One of the last times we spoke, you told me you were waiting for the divorce papers to arrive. I think the whole thing was pretty nasty. So, yeah, it’s been awhile since you’ve made very many jokes.”
Maggie stood up. “Well, this was more fun than I’ve had since the last time I played with my Magic Eight Ball.”