“I’ll probably be late again,” she informed him coldly. “Try to do something today will you? Take a shower at least,” she suggested with a sniff. “We’re supposed to meet John and Sherry for dinner; may I assume you’ll come up with some excuse?”
“You know I don’t like going out,” he replied, returning his eyes to the TV and the rerun of some cartoon.
“Jesus, Morgan, you were wounded over there, not killed! I don’t know how much more of this I can stand,” she sighed as she closed the door behind her.
Picking up his bowl of cereal, Morgan kicked the newspapers off the couch. His sweats had seen better days, he’d give her that. Scratching the hair on his chest and sniffing his pit, he couldn’t remember the last time he showered. Hell, he did stink, but who cared. He wasn’t going anywhere and if he got his way no one would be coming to see him.
Frankly, he loved it when Cara went to work. It meant he didn’t have to spend his days avoiding her accusing eyes and disappointed expression, he realized as he chewed his Lucky Charms. They were strangers now. Two people living in the same house and nothing more. She thought he was a pussy; a 6′ 4″, two hundred pound pussy who didn’t have an ounce of pride. Well she hadn’t seen the things he’d seen, felt his pain watching his friends mowed down before his very eyes. They were good soldiers. Men and women he’d been through the fires of hell with. People he’d come to trust and care about. She hadn’t watched innocent civilians treated worse than animals before they were murdered by their own countrymen.
Morgan knew he wasn’t the man he’d once been. His last tour of duty nearly cost him his life, as well as his sanity. The once active and unbreakable man was a shadow of his former self.
At one time most people thought he led a charmed life. Excelling at sports, he’d gone to college on a full scholarship and made a name for himself among the pigskin elite. He met Cara in his senior year and was immediately attracted to the brainy young woman who rarely smiled. She was a challenge, and there was nothing Morgan enjoyed more. After years of women fawning over him, Cara’s disdainful glance had him he pursuing her with a vengeance, to the amusement of his friends.
Cara was serious, dedicated, and completely focused on her intended career in quantum physics. The tall, thin brunette had no intention of letting anything distract her, especially not a jock.
Morgan was no slouch in the brains department. As well as a career in pro-ball, he wanted his degree to fall back on. Injuries were not something to be taken lightly and unless a player was exceedingly lucky, their professional career could be over on a single play. If and when that happened to him, he would be prepared to support his family. It wasn’t about the money; he genuinely loved the sport and was well aware that many who lived the lavish lifestyle of the celebrated sports star often ended up broke if they let it go to their head.
It took him three months before Cara would even agree to go out with him, but he finally wore her down and several weeks later they became the campus ‘odd couple’. None of that bothered Morgan. He was a man with a plan. His hope was to be drafted by a pro team when he graduated. Cara had at least five more years to get her Masters, longer if she decided to go for her PhD. After that she wanted to work in an experimental program the government sponsored. It was a highly competitive field, requiring exceptional grades, maximum security clearance, and a tight-lipped commitment to even be considered. She wouldn’t discuss the work with him, and he’d tried many times to get her to open up about it, even questioning her at the apex of an explosive climax.
“Don’t you ever do that again!” she shouted, jumping out of bed as soon as she caught her breath and pulling on her jeans. “You know how important this is to me,” she continued angrily. “My entire career depends on my trustworthiness. Don’t try to undermine that, or I won’t see you anymore.”
“Alright, alright,” Morgan replied. “I’d just like an idea of what my future wife will be doing when I’m away,” he soothed, standing and pulling her into his arms. “Is that too much to ask?”
“Yes it is, and I haven’t said I’ll marry you yet,” she sighed, snuggling closer.
“But you will,” he asserted, lifting her from the floor and spinning her around. “You know you will!”
“I might,” she teased, giving him one of her rare smiles. “But not if you keep pestering me. We’ve been over this before.”
“So I’ll shut up about it,” he promised, setting her on her feet and cupping her bottom cheeks in his large hands. “If you come back to bed,” he whispered, nuzzling her neck.
Cara melted against him. This guy was definitely not in her plans, but damn, he could make her body sing. She found herself nodding and he laughed, picking her up and tossing her on his bed.
Now, six years later, he looked around the place he called home and didn’t feel a connection to a single thing. His shot at making the NFL draft had ended with a knee injury. That same year his younger brother, Matthew, had been killed by a sniper’s bullet on his first Marine deployment, leaving the entire family devastated. The only bright spot had been when Cara finally agreed to marry him. He suspected it may have been out of pity, and to give his parents something to grasp onto, the possibility of grandchildren. Cara didn’t want children. She’d made that clear the night he proposed. But he appreciated her keeping quiet about it. They married in a small civil ceremony, with Morgan slipping the ring on her finger mere hours before he shipped out himself.
The decision to enlist was instinctual. He wanted to honor his brother’s memory and in a sense he felt he needed to fulfill that commitment. The grief surrounding the people he loved was suffocating. He needed a purpose, a goal. Normally a driven person, he could not be happy sitting around waiting for some coaching position to become available, and he had no guarantee he would be offered the job if it did. He liked the structure and organization of the Marines; it was a good fit. It gave him very little time to dwell on the loss of his brother and his parents’ deaths three years later. The smoke of a house fire took their lives long before the flames ever reached them and he was thankful for that, at least. All in all, he felt he was cursed.
He was next; he knew it in his soul, and who would grieve over him? A distant woman who had married him out of pity and because he was a good fuck? A bitter laugh escaped him. They hadn’t had sex in many months and hadn’t made love in years. He wondered briefly if she was fucking someone at work and decided it was unlikely. What passion had been in her in the beginning was long gone, swept away by his indifference and her unnatural dedication to her work. Too bad his early religious training kept him from taking his own life.
Shoving his bowl of cereal across the coffee table, he watched the pink milk slosh over the side and drip onto the carpet as he turned up the TV volume and tried to silence his own thoughts.
Frequently the silence of their home was oppressive as each tried to steer clear of the other. Neither one of them were happy. It was clear their marriage had been a mistake. They no longer connected on any level and were roommates at best. Finally one night she approached him with a solution.
“What do you think about leaving?” Cara asked, taking the seat across from him at the table as he mowed through a pizza, his eyes fixed on the television.
“Sure, leave if you want to. Makes no difference to me,” he replied, picking up another slice.
“Not me, Morgan, you,” she sighed. “I think you should leave.”
“Why the fuck should I leave? This is my house,” he insisted, flinging his food back into the box and picking up a beer. Leaning back, he swung his long legs up onto a corner of the table and stared at her with narrowed eyes.
“This isn’t about the damn house, Morgan. I can well afford to buy my own,” she snapped, rising and grabbing the box off the table. Stomping to the kitchen, she threw the whole thing into the trashcan and slammed down the lid. “This is about you checking out,” she said, returning to the dining room and facing him, her hands on the table.
“And you’d like me to check in, say at a hotel,” he drawled sarcastically.
“Checking out of life, you bastard,” she shouted, slapping her hand on the table. “You do nothing, save sit around and watch the damn TV, and I don’t think you even process what you’re seeing. You refuse to talk to anyone, not me, not your doctor. Hell, you even tape the money for the delivery guy on the front door and retrieve your take out after he’s gone! You’re dying, Morgan; you’re just too stupid to lie down. And you stink!”
“Big deal, it’s not like you’re interested in touching me.”
“Do you want to touch me?” she asked quietly, watching him intently.
His silence alone spoke volumes, but he answered just the same. “No.”
Cara turned away and brushed a tear from her cheek before squaring her shoulders. “Then I have a proposition for you,” she said, sinking onto her chair.
“We’re ready to test out a piece of equipment at work and we need a volunteer.”
“So you need a guinea pig?” he snorted, picking up his beer. “What makes you think I’d be interested?”
“I don’t, but then you’re not interested in anything anymore are you? That makes you the perfect candidate. You have no friends to speak of, your parents and brother are gone, and your wife, me, would be the only one to file a missing persons on you, which I wouldn’t do. Basically you could disappear for an extended period of time and no one would notice. The government would backup any story I give. I have their assurance and protection.”
“And just where would I be going?” he asked, stunned. He knew he wasn’t much of a husband, but it almost sounded like he could die and she had the power and backing to cover it up.
“You’re crazy,” he snapped, dropping his feet to the floor and standing.
“Morgan, hear me out. I’m not crazy. I’m offering you an opportunity to make history, and believe me it wasn’t easy to get my colleagues to go along with my suggestion. The only reason you’re even being considered is you already have a death wish.”
“Oh, so that and the fact that no one would miss me, makes me an acceptable candidate?”
“Essentially, yes,” Cara replied, looking directly into his eyes.
“And if something goes wrong, what, I’m vaporized?”
“We’ve sent other things back in time and have been able to retrieve them with no problems.”
“Well, no, mostly inanimate objects. Our experiments with living creatures have not been entirely successful, but that’s because they don’t stay in one place and tend to run as soon as they are in unfamiliar territory. Once we lose their location, we aren’t able to pull them back. A human subject would have enough sense, hopefully,” she continued as she narrowed her eyes and glared at him, “to return at the appointed time for retrieval.”
For some strange reason Morgan did not fully understand, he found that he was not opposed to the whole idea of leaving this century. He felt a little spark of interest. “Where would I go, in 1880?”
“Wherever you want. We have the capabilities to control that,” she replied, feeling cautiously optimistic. “You’d be doing a great service to our country, Morgan, and maybe when you came back you would be willing to rejoin the land of the living,” she suggested.
“How long would I be gone?” he asked, moving to the window and staring out into the blackness.
“It depends on what you want. We can do as little as a week, or as long as two months. Anything longer than that would be risky and put us outside of our range of transfer.”
“Sparing you hours of technical jargon, let’s just say the universe is constantly in motion and leave it at that. We’re working on broadening that window.”
“Suppose I didn’t want to come back?” he asked, turning to look at her.
Cara tipped her head down, her dark, blunt cut hair swinging to hide her features as she spun her wedding ring on her finger. “I guess if you didn’t show up at the appointed time and place, it would be pretty obvious that either something happened to you or you decided you didn’t want to return. There would be nothing we could do about it in any case, save send someone after you and we wouldn’t do that.”
Morgan paced the room for several minutes before picking up his beer and chugging it. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he slammed the empty can on the table.
“I’m in,” he said gruffly. “I’ll let you know where I want to go after I’ve given it some thought,” he called over his shoulder as he headed back to the couch and flopped down, picking up the remote.
Emotion swamped Cara and she quickly left the room without speaking. Elated that all her hard work was about to come to fruition yet at the same time knowing once and for all how little she meant to her husband left a bitter taste in her mouth.
The ease with which he moved from one plane of existence to another shocked him to his very core. One moment he was standing in the research lab in western garb, complete with Stetson, boots, and a colt 45, and the next he was several hundred yards from a well-traveled dirt road. The vortex of screeching wind and flashing lights he’d imagined never happened. Instead it was a silent, breezeless passing, eerily quiet and unemotional. For a brief moment he saw Cara through a thin veil as she dropped her head in her hands. He reached toward her in indecision and she was gone.