All the Time in the World 2

Read previous part

A day or two passed before I could focus well enough to escape from my body again. Every time I closed my eyes, a thousand thoughts assaulted me at once, predators moving in on unsuspecting prey. It was all I could do to bury my face in the pillow and fall asleep.

People at work may not have noticed that I was, at my new height of 5'10, suddenly above the average height of the men in the office, but they certainly could tell that something was wrong. I received more than a few firm pats on the back from my male co-workers, and a few gentle touches from the female ones. They all seemed a little friendlier to me than I was used to, though I couldn't tell whether their changed demeanor was because of my moderately better looks or because I looked like I could use a friend.

On the third night after slipping into my memory of Tyler, I finally calmed myself down enough to try again. As before, I let my limbs relax, let myself sink down just to the edge of sleep. The now-familiar sensation of vibrations thrumming through my body came quicker than it had the first time, and then I floated free of my mortal bonds.

I did not will myself to Hal's domain. Instead, I lost myself in the beauty of the luminous constellations. Calling it a starfield would be imprecise. Rather like trying to draw a rainbow in pencil, or playing a symphony with a bass drum: the word was simply insufficient to describe what I saw. These were stars on acid, wild flourishes of color gathered together in clusters that would have seemed garish anywhere else. Here, free from the distractions of a body or the limits of my human senses, they were joy and beauty and brilliance all in a swirl that never ended, never repeated. Such was their beauty that I feared to miss a single unique configuration of lights.

Never far away was the dark place. Though the endless dance of lights made distances uncertain and mutable, I kept far away from that cold and foreboding shadow at the corner of my perceptions. I did not know what it was, but I hated and feared it even as it held my attention. Every time I drew too close to it, I sped off into the clouds of light so that I could admire their beauty uninterrupted for a time.

That was how I spent another endless span there in the starfields. Again, it was Hal who saved me. I recognized that I had been there so long that my sleeping form should have long since crumbled to dust, if time existed in this place. The interruption still filled me with fury.

The moment I materialized on his little cobblestone platform, I rounded on him. He stood beneath the strange little gas streelamp, eyes glittering, face so beautiful that my anger threatened to flee. I held it tight, clenching my fists.

"Why did you do that?" I asked.

"I have questions," he said, his tone entirely unapologetic.

I scowled. "It's not polite to--" I began, but then I realized that I had no concept of what was polite or not here.

"I have questions," Hal repeated.

"Fine," I said. "I was bored of that place anyway."

Hal quirked an eyebrow at me. "Of course."

"You had questions."

Hal nodded. "Due to our... sharing, I have developed new perspectives, and I wish to clarify them. Before I shared thoughts with you, my existence was not linear."

"You keep saying that. Linear. What do you mean by it?"

"For those like me, all that is exists at one time. We do not experience, we simply know that which is. The birth of things, the death of things, and the birth of new ones from the ashes--we know all of these events at once."

I held up a hand. "Are you talking about Earth?"

"I speak of everything. That which you know of as the universe. It is without end."

"So, what you're saying is that all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again." Hal fixed me with a peculiar look. "Never mind. Bad joke," I said.

"This was true until I met you," Hal continued. "You are an unknown quantity. That which you have done is not yet written. I find myself needing concepts I do not fully understand to grasp the scope of you. Before and after. The past. The future. It frustrates me."

"You don't know the half of it," I said. "Sometimes, when I talk to you, I feel like a square trying to talk to a cube. I can barely walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. Trying to perceive all of time and space at once? My head would explode."

"I see. You do not do well at dwelling in two times at once," Hal said.

I did not bother asking what he meant. "See," I said. "Square to cube."

"I know now that your human life is a straight line," Hal continued. "You begin and you end, and there are events in between. Once you make choices, they are indelibly made."

"Not to put too fine a point on it, but yes. The choices that we make are part of what makes our lives so valuable. This thing that you've taught me, the ability to go back and right things that I did wrong, people have fantasized about such a thing since we were swinging through trees. Our not knowing the future means that any decision that we make might have an outcome we don't expect. So, yeah, being able to go back and change things, that has value beyond reckoning."

"And yet you use it to change your physical form. Is that important?" Hal asked.

My cheeks flushed with heat. "Well, to me, it is."


"I just want to make things better for myself."

"Will having a different form make things better?"

"Okay," I said, "I think that's enough questions for today."

"You can have any form you wish, here," he said. "You must simply choose to do so."

A ripple went through Hal, as if he were a reflection on still water disturbed by a gust of wind. The change in him was a subtle one, but in the space between seconds--or whatever passed for seconds in a place that had no time--his black shirt clung a little more tightly to his physique. A body that had been merely athletic was now enhanced by dozens of flourishes that pushed it toward muscular. His broader shoulders strained the shirt. Thicker arms protruded from the sleeves, the muscles beneath the skin pushing a number of veins to the surface. His chest, too, had grown from being defined but flat to being two thick orbs pressing up beneath the black fabric. Despite the overhang created by his pectorals, I could see each individual brick of an eight-pack barely concealed below. Even his legs had grown, swelling to strain the seams of his jeans.

The change wasn't just in his physique. The crotch of his jeans had gone from flat to obviously overstuffed with what had to be a huge piece of meat. His eyes had taken on a hypnotic quality that made them difficult to look at for very long. Above his thicker neck, the planes of his face had refined themselves, sharpened and been blessed with the finest dusting of auburn stubble.

"For something not human, you sure know what looks good," I said.

"Now you try," Hal said.


"Control yourself. That is the first step." He leveled a glance at my garments, which still fluctuated wildly among various styles and cuts.

"My clothes aren't part of me," I said.

That was a mistake. The moment I thought of how unimportant my clothes were, they vanished. Cold air tickled my skin. I wasn't sure if there was actually air here or if the sensation arose from me knowing what being nude felt like. I looked down at myself. It was my old body, devoid of definition, short and soft everywhere, with not a hard spot on it. Well, that wasn't precisely true. Looking at Hal had sent a shock straight to my groin, and the most treacherous body part I had was pointing straight at him, jumping up and down like an overenthusiastic dog.

"This arouses you," Hal said. It was not a question.

"Sorry," I said.

I focused on clothing myself. A white button-down and cargo pants were the first options that came to mind, probably lifted from some Old Navy commercial I'd been watching before bed. Yuck. Second, I found myself in a suit and tie that made me look like an undertaker. I'd worn something like it to a funeral once, and it was just as ill-fitting now. Hal was staring at me with consternation by the time I settled into a facsimile of the clothes he himself wore. My shirt had no sleeves, and I couldn't quite keep shoes on, but this uniform was easy to keep steady in my mind, as all I had to do to keep them intact was keep thinking the words "tight" and "dark."

Emboldened by my success, I focused at a spot nearby and thought of a large dressing room mirror. I had meant to have it spring up from the cobblestone ground theatrically, but it simply appeared there, standing freely on its razor-thin edge. I admired my appearance in the mirror. The clothes definitely looked better on Hal, and he wasn't even human.

"Now change your appearance," Hal said.

"It's not that easy," I said.

"Here, what is inside and what is out are not so tightly coupled as in your waking existence. Your form is as easy to change as your clothing."

"Maybe for some weird dream creature," I muttered.

I gave him a baleful look before turning my attention back to the mirror. Knowing that Hal wouldn't be any more help with his alien perspective on things, I focused on my body, trying to remember what it had felt like when I'd slipped into myself as a college freshman. The hard bulk of my arms, the lean flatness of my belly brushing against my jeans, the way my pecs tightened and flexed when I breathed deeply. The reassuring tightness of my shirt against the breadth of my shoulders, the firm strength of my quads, the way my back had pushed my arms out just slightly so they could not hang perfectly straight at my sides.

"No, no," Hal said. "Do not think of changing yourself. Simply be what you wish to be."

What I wished to be at that moment was someone punching a condescending immortal being. I did not say so. Instead, I settled into my task, trying to imagine myself as I wanted to be. I shut my eyes and pictured what I wanted to see in the mirror when I opened them back up: me at my physical prime, a smoldering specimen of manhood. I could almost feel my shirt tightening around my growing form, as muscles sprouted up over my body.

The first sound of straining fabric told me that fantasy had become reality. I opened my eyes to a rapidly-changing physique in the mirror. My shoulders were broadening, regaining hard caps and rounded contours that lent them extra breadth and heft. At the same time, the muscles of my neck strengthened and widened, forming into a solid column of muscle. This, and the slow dissolution of the fat clinging to my form, strengthened my jawline. My face went from merely attractive to masculine and chiseled in moments as the dark circles under my eyes vanished, the crows' feet around them smoothed, and their color deepened from murky jade to vivid emerald.

"There, that's it," said Hal.

I wasn't finished. My pectorals surged outward as if I were flexing, then pulsed again and redoubled in size, creating a deepening, ridged valley between them. I lifted my shirt. Beneath my pecs, fat retreated away from my midsection like a sea at low tide, revealing corrugated abdominals that could cut glass. I sucked in a breath and flexed them, bringing them into stern relief. Veins sprung out of the skin, pointing jaggedly beneath the waist of my jeans, as if leading the way to the treasure that waited there.

My back was more difficult. I had never paid much attention to it in the mirror, so I drew to mind the backs of bodybuilders that I had seen in magazines or on the web, the dense muscles sprouting like wings to either side of their spine. To my satisfaction, the shirt I was wearing began to give way against the press of my growing bulk, letting out high-pitched protestations as the individual threads were rent asunder. I could have simply imagined the garment away, but I wanted to tear out of it.

I did not neglect my legs. I channeled strength into my glutes almost effortlessly, feeling rather than seeing as they developed into a solid bubble of muscle. After that, it was simple to grow my thighs until the pants I wore were cutting in to my flesh. Unsatisfied with my proportions, I focused on the image in the mirror and let my spine lengthen, my legs stretch, and I surged higher, passing six feet in a matter of seconds, then surging past tall into towering. All the while, my body expanded with hard, dense muscle, all thoughts of conforming to reality left behind.

When I flexed, my shirt did not tear. It exploded off. Ribbons of black fabric floated down around me like tickertape. I let out a triumphant roar, flexing a chest that would have made an Olympian jealous, reveling in the power of the corded muscles there. My dick began to plump in my pants, and almost as an afterthought, I sent it reeling outward, packing on inches of length and girth until a truly obscene tent protruded from my groin, distending the denim there.

Hal coughed. "Is this what you want?"

His sad, confused tone brought me up short. "Yes," I said.

"Is this all that you want?"

"Yes, I--I've always wanted to look like this."


"Because it's a rush. Because people notice people who are muscular and beautiful. Because--" I felt the muscles ebbing away, my old physique and stature quickly replacing them.

"You wish to be noticed. Were you not, once?"

"I was, but that's not--that's just not..."

Memory surged up like a sea of blackness around me, taking me off-guard. For a moment, a floated in cold darkness, and then I slammed into my own body, or at least the muscular body I'd worn when I first met Tyler. It was funny how quickly I could tell the difference between the taut jock's body my meddling had granted my collegiate self and the decidedly less impressive one I wore in my own time. Everything just felt more fluid, healthier, more energetic.

I lay on my back in bed, nude and sweating, and from the heat pouring in through the window, it was summertime. Between my legs, an unfamiliar cock sprouted from a neatly-trimmed brush of black hair. It was bigger than I remembered. Was that because I was fatter in the present, or because all of the exercising I'd done in high school had made other things grow, too? I looked like I had to be a good seven and a half inches, and not the six that I'd always had.

A hand fell against my hand. Fingers tangled with my fingers, hot and damp but welcome nonetheless, and Tyler's lips pressed against my cheek. I did not need to look around to know that we were in my college dorm room. Even with my eyes shut, I bathed in the familiarity of it. The slight musk of a men's dormitory, concealed by the scent of a near-spent air freshener. The sound of the clock he'd gotten me when we'd gone on vacation to Seattle ticking away precious minutes of our time together. The flickering light of a candle he'd set to burn on my desk, and the pure, sharp odor of beeswax.

"Are you ready?" I said, as if by rote.

The hand tightened its grip in mine. "As I'll ever be."

He rolled over onto me, and sensations familiar and unfamiliar clashed together in my brain. The cock pressing against mine should have been bigger by a half inch, but instead it was smaller, confirming my suspicions that I had grown. Tyler's weight had been greater in my memories, but my new, stronger body bore it without complaint. Instead, I noticed only the heat of his sex as he tangled his hands with mine and eagerly pulled himself up, positioning my dick at the entrance of his hole.

I gasped at the sensation as I guided myself inside. He'd never felt so tight before. My eyes widened, and he smiled despite the pain.

"You're big," he said. "Maybe too big."

That hadn't happened on our first go-around either. I was having trouble thinking about anything but the sensation of his flesh on mine as he slowly eased his way down my length, but I think he'd told me that I was just right. Neither of us spoke, but the silence in the room was incomplete. The clock ticked. I gasped with ecstasy; he from a commingling of pleasure and pain. Slowly, we settled into a rhythm.

No, not just a rhythm. Our ragged breaths resounded in perfect synchronicity. My thrusts met his, like two waves joining into one. Even our pulses pounded at the same time. By this point in our relationship, I'd known that I loved him, but on this night, the first night we made love, I'd felt like we were one soul in two bodies, so complete was our joining.

At last, and yet too soon, we rose to a climax together. His moans crescendoed, a symphony of sound accompanied by the percussion of my deeper grunts. I felt his lithe, swimmer's body sliding over the stony hardness of my physique, saw his eyes, bright and burning with need in his perfect face, and the dam burst. We came together. Hot liquid spurted against my chest, more shots than I thought possible, until he collapsed against me, spent.

I did not move again that night, so content was I in his embrace. When his breathing had grown more even and his heart had stopped pounding in his chest, I felt him smile against my shoulder. Tears leaked from his eyes.

"I love you, Lee," he said.

"I love you too." My voice was hoarse.

Those were the last words we had said to each other that night. I was almost content to let them be so again. But I couldn't help myself. I hadn't intended to come back to this memory, but now that I'd experienced it, perhaps I could do some good.

"Tyler. Promise me you'll never leave me," I said.

He did not respond. His breaths had settled into the easy rhythms of sleep. Slowly, I guided his body off of me, marveling at how light it felt with my newfound strength. How I had ever given up this body was beyond me. It had to have happened some time after college, but my memories were uncertain, divergent from reality now. I found myself thinking how wonderful it would be to relive these good days just one more time, and almost did not slip free from my body to return to the field of stars.

When I did, the blackness was waiting. It seemed to have grown darker and more ominous. I hesitated as I considered my options. I could flee from it. A part of me wondered what it would be like to exist here forever, reliving my best days over and over, and being like him. He claimed that time here had no meaning, but I didn't like the idea of my sad, pathetic form lying in bed for eternity.

Mustering all of my courage, I darted past the cold shadows, feeling them snatch at me as I went. Flashes of ice and pain shot through me as hateful tendrils tugged at my essence, slowing me until I felt as if I were swimming through molasses.

I let out a soundless cry and urged myself to move faster. Like a rubber band snapping, the tendrils sheared away, and I plummeted back into my body such force that it sent me shooting out of bed with a scream. Cold sweat drenched me from head to toe. I swore and rubbed at my head, feeling the beginnings of a headache building there. That night, I did not dare go back to sleep.

The next day, I called in sick to work. My hoarse voice and listless tone were convincing enough for my boss. I lost myself in little projects throughout the day, doing anything not to think of what had happened. The worst part was that I didn't know, myself, and the only way I would get any answers involved going back to sleep.

While I was cleaning my counter off, I found the letter I'd written to Tyler. I picked it up and frowned. I was certain that I had thrown it away. I did so again.

By the time evening approached, my terror at facing sleep had dimmed to a small quaver. With some trepidation, I lay back in bed and tried not to think of the darkness. It took some effort, but calm suffused me at last, and I was spinning free from my form, weaving my way toward Hal's place. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for how easy it now was to find him.

"You were pulled away," Hal said when I arrived.

He had kept his improved physique, and now favored a sleeveless shirt that showcased the savage cuts of his triceps and the swell of his biceps. Almost instinctively, I shifted back into the muscular, younger form I'd worn in college so as not to feel inadequate next to him. He raised an eyebrow at me, and I blushed.

"Sometimes I can't control where I go," I said.

"You are only human."

"If I didn't know better," I said dryly, "I'd think you were developing a sense of humor."

"Impossible," he said.

I made my way to one of the edges of the platform and leaned on the railing. The metal was cold against my bare arms. I was too busy thinking of other things to control my clothing, so it had settled on its own into a tank top and shorts. My eyes searched the darkness out there, so unlike the cold shadows that had assailed me, for answers. They found none.

"Hal, you know the place where you first found me?"

"Of course," he said. "But it is not a place, not really, no more than this is."

"What is it, then? What's all of this? Why do I have a body here, if it's just some place where thoughts are real?"

"You have a body because it is comfortable for you. I appear this way because your mind finds it easier to grasp than what I am. You are a fascinating creature, but you are limited."

I shrugged. "Fair enough, I'm limited. But what is that place?"

"It is a place of your making," he said.

"That's not possible. I felt other minds there. You found me there."

"True," he said. "It is a place shared by many minds, and the work of many."

"And what is the blackness?" I turned back toward him. "You know what I'm talking about."

He glanced away. "That is entirely yours, I fear."

"That can't be," I said, but I knew he was right.

It came to me that I had never noticed any of the other gleaming lights I'd come to think of as other souls nearing that dark place. It seemed to only be interested in me, and only when I was on my way back to my waking body. I grasped the railing before me tighter, savoring the chill of it against my palms. It all felt so real.

"What is it?" I asked.

"It is the place where you ended."

"It's my death?" I blinked.

"No. That which exists here never dies, not truly. But you have ended already."

"I'm still alive," I said. "That's not how humans work. We're straight lines, remember?"

Hal nodded. "I understand humans, now. I am telling you that it is a place where you ceased to be. The dark place is the end of you. It is why you confused me so, when we first met. Your kind is linear in its physical form, but in your minds, you are not."

"Stop it, Hal. I mean it."

"Your kind fears death, but you have chosen to end things already. You ceased to live. Why?"

Unwittingly, I swelled larger, muscles erupting over my form and tearing my shirt away in one fell motion. This was not the slow growth I'd endured when Hal was teaching me to change my form, but an abrupt shift. In one second, I was human, and in the next, monstrous. Arms the size of tree trunks curled at my sides, supporting hands that could palm bowling balls. My shadow loomed over Hal. He did not look impressed.

He gave a casual gesture. My new mass dwindled away, leaving me with my own physique. He folded his arms across his chest, muscles bunching. His expression told me exactly how unimpressed he had been with my display.

"Shall we try again?" he asked.

"Fuck you," I said, and fled.

I threw myself into memory after memory. The time Tyler and I went to Yellowstone. His 24th birthday party in Los Angeles. The weekend we'd spent together in Palm Springs. Each time, I was more and more muscular, as my body thrived on the attention I was giving it at the gym. When had I given up and fallen into the doldrums that defined my current life? I wandered the starfield, looking for answers, afraid to return to my own body.

This time, Hal did not come to me. I didn't know if an otherworldly being could get offended, but I figured that if anyone could manage it, it was me. I wandered so long amidst the constellations that I could have forgotten who I was, were it not for the looming blackness of the dark place always waiting at the edges of my perception.

"Fine," I told it, some eons after beginning my brooding. "You can't be that bad."

Except I knew that it was.

Moving toward it intentionally was an oddly freeing experience. I hadn't realized how hard it had been to avoid the heaving mass of shadows this many times until I gave in and let it embrace me. Without fighting it, the pain was almost welcome. Cold deeper than winter reached out, claimed me, and pulled me down into darkness.

I sat on a corner beneath a guttering streetlamp. The night's chill was a dim echo of the cold that had scored my soul. Tyler's warmth blazed next to me, but there was a distance between us, one that a passerby would not have noticed. To me, it was the world. A tingle of anticipation thrummed through my fingers, not unlike the sensation that overwhelmed me each time I left my body. I knew what was about to happen. I had known, then. I wanted to be anywhere but here, anywhen but here.

It was the night I'd stopped.

My hand reached out by instinct for Tyler's, hoping to find an anchor against the night's cold. It found only open air. The distance between us increased by a hair. He let out a long breath.

"You know why I wanted to talk," he said, sounding for all the world like they were the last words he ever wanted to say.

I couldn't speak. All of my strength was engaged in holding back a flood of tears. Instead, I managed a nod.

"I love you. You know I love you. It's just... Lee, you're so intense. Sometimes when I'm with you, I feel like I lose myself. I just--I-- it's too much. It's just too much, and it's terrifying. I can't control myself when I'm around you. Everything goes out the window. All my plans, my entire life, my judgment. I feel like I'm sprinting through a marathon, but I never make any distance."

"And that's my fault," I said.

"Fault?" He let out a bitter, choked laugh. "God, I wish this was someone's fault. It's just who we are together. I love you, but I don't like who we are together."

"You're breaking up with me." My fingers were numb, and it had nothing to do with the cold.

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess I am."

The first time we had done this, I had argued with him, until we were shouting at each other at the tops of our lungs. If one of the neighbors hadn't stumbled outside to ask what was going on, we probably would have had the police called on us. Not this time.

I stood, and my legs trembled beneath me like those of a newborn fawn. Somehow, I found the strength to turn and stumble away. He did not cry out after me. He just sat there, sobbing on the street corner, a form illumined in wan yellow light, retreating into the distance.

I don't know where I slept that night, or how I got back to Hal's. I don't even know when he embraced me, his hard body supporting me against the waves of tears that wracked my form. It might not have been real, but it felt good to be held. His warmth was a rock I clung to amidst the black tide of memories that washed over me, memories of the days after Tyler had vanished from my life. And Hal shared in my memories, drank of them as if they were a bitter wine, weeping along with me. I knew now why I had stopped working out. I had stopped caring. I had stopped taking care of myself. I had stopped living.

"How do I fix it?" I asked Hal when the tears had stopped.

"Did you not try to repair your relationship?"

"I did. Countless times." I'd called the next day to apologize, and the day after that. Then I'd texted, sent letters, emails, and called again. He had never responded. It had been three years, and the letter I'd sent was only the most recent to be returned to me.

"I see. Perhaps, then, things take as much time to mend as they do to break, for your kind," Hal said.

"Maybe," I said. "I don't think I'll be coming back here, Hal. But thank your for all that you've done."

"You'll be back," he said.

I left him with a gentle embrace, fully suspecting that it would be the last time that I'd see him. I knew why my life was in shambles, but I had no way to repair it. Tyler was gone, and everything I'd done since he'd left had just pushed him further away.

So I returned to routine. I went through the paces of life without really living. In the morning, Monday through Friday, I went to work. I went out with friends and rewarded their efforts to cheer me with empty smiles and hollow laughs. I ate. I slept. I did not try to get free from my body, now that I knew that my past could not be rewritten with any success. Perhaps I could have taken up sports betting, or won the lottery, but money wouldn't dig me out of this depression, and it seemed somehow tawdry and inappropriate to use the chance I'd been given for such trivialities.

On a cold day heralding the arrival of winter, I found the letter. It was sitting on my bed when I got home from work one day. I stared at it for minutes before hastening toward it. It was the same letter I had thrown away weeks before. And before that.

I looked down at it. All of the fire that had driven me to throw it away had died away, leaving only black ash in my heart. I read it over, savoring the sight of my handwriting as it spelled out Tyler's name. Bitterness warred with longing in my heart.

"Tyler Kennedy, 3736 Carrow Avenue--" I began, and stopped. That wasn't right. I couldn't have gotten his address wrong. That was impossible. He'd lived at 3735 Carrow since we had gotten out of college. I looked closer at the letter. It looked as if I had written the right address, and then changed the five into a six. Except I knew I hadn't. At least, not yet.

That night, I went through the paces of calming myself as quickly as I could, and fell asleep clutching the letter. I spiraled out of my body with wanton abandon. I didn't bother luxuriating in the beauty of the starfield, as I knew exactly where I wanted to go. Moments after I'd fallen asleep in my time, I opened my eyes at home on the night after Tyler had broken up with me. I sat at my desk. My eyes still burned with tears. I blinked them away and looked down.

Before me sat the first letter I'd begun drafting to Tyler. In one hand, I had my cell phone open to his number. I deleted his contact information after only a heartbeat's hesitation. I reached for the pen that I'd dropped when I'd slipped into my body and scribbled over the tear-stained sheet of paper in front of me. Then I took out another piece of paper and wrote on it. I tacked it up onto the wall before going to bed.

I revisited myself a few times after that, putting up the note every time I found it taken down. I even threw away my cell phone once because it was full of unsent texts my past self had been composing. At last, when I'd hopped forward about a year from the night that had shattered my world, I found that my past self had given up taking the note down. Then, and only then, did I return to my time.

When I woke, I knew things had changed. The letter was gone from my hand. A glance at the wall told me that my note to myself remained. I got out of bed with ease and hurried to the mirror. An unexpected sight greeted me after so many months of waking to dark-rimmed eyes and sagging flesh. I looked good.

If anything, I'd gained some muscle. I put myself at about 5'10 and 195 of solid muscle. I'd gone to sleep wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants, but awakened not wearing a stitch. There was no clothing to detract from the impressive pectorals that flexed slightly as I took in a breath of morning air, nothing to hide the hard eight-pack of abs that bulged as I clenched my stomach. I flexed my arm, and a solid softball of muscle leaped up, tangled in blue veins just under the surface of the skin. At the sight, something else began to grow, my dick slowly hardening to seven and a half inches of thick meat.

"Later," I told it. "I'll be late for work."

I breezed through the day, and no one seemed surprised by my sudden change in demeanor. Perhaps I had never been down in this new world that I had created. After work, I went to the gym and savored the stares of my peers as I worked through a truly amazing chest workout. They probably wondered why a guy as muscular as I didn't know what weights to use, but they were too daunted to ask.

When I got home, I went into my bedroom. I had thought to take a nap, but something caught my eye. The letter hung there, looking almost as it had when I'd written it years ago. Perhaps a little more weathered from all of those times I'd posted it back up after my past self had taken it down. I stepped over to it and read the message I'd scribbled across it.

"Stop worrying about fixing him, and fix yourself, or you'll regret it. Take it from someone older and wiser," it said. I had figured that my past self was good enough at taking directions, and that had sounded dire enough.

But beneath that was more writing, writing that I hadn't put there. "It's all going to work out. Take it from someone much, much older and wiser," it said.

"Ass," I wrote back.

That night, when I was getting ready for bed, the phone rang. I picked it up without looking at the number and answered. There was quiet on the other end.

"Hello?" I repeated.

I pulled the phone away from my ear and looked at the number. Even without a contact to tell me who it was, I recognized those digits. My heart began to pound. My hand shook so much that I almost dropped the phone. But I held it back up.

"Lee?" Tyler's voice sent a shiver up my spine.

"Yeah. Yeah, it's me," I said. I hoped my voice didn't reflect the tears forming in my eyes.

"It's been a long while," he said. "I've really missed you."

"I've missed you, too."

"Do you have some time to talk?"

I drew a long, shaking breath. I knew at that moment that Hal had probably been right. I would come back to him a hundred thousand times, if need be. Anything to get this conversation right. But I hoped beyond all hope that I could manage it on the first try.

"Yeah," I said. "I have all the time in the world."