They arrived at the lab and made their way down to the superposition room. Without power in the facility it was a bit more difficult, especially with Andrew's wound slowing him down. It was slow and the use of flashlights was obviously necessary once below ground.
It had occurred to Craig that they were actually in the superposition field as soon as they arrived in the parking lot, but then he realized that it would likely be much easier and faster to already be in the room when they translated, then he could hopefully quickly disable it before anything else happened. With time running differently here, it made more sense that way too. Only a few seconds should have passed on the other side since they left. Maybe less.
They arrived in the room and looked around. It didn't look any different from when they left, on the other side. Except that here the power was out, so it was dark and silent, and there were no fallen desks or computers like there was on the other side.
They sat down on the floor, near the panel where Craig knew he needed to be. He wasn't actually sure where, or even when, they would arrive back at their home universe, but it seemed to make the most sense to be here, close to it.
They gathered close, holding each other. Even the dogs were with them this time. They looked around at each other for a few seconds.
“Whatever happens, guys, thanks. I...” Craig started.
“Oh, just shut up and make the wish,” said Andrew.
Craig started to close his eyes.
“Oh, before you do,” said Andrew, making Craig look at him again. “Your nickname isn't Geek Boy anymore.”
“It isn't?” Craig said.
“Nope. After all this, after everything you've done, and everything we've been through, it's just proved I'm right. That day in gym class. In the locker room.” Andrew's voice was weak and his breathing shallow, but still he persisted.
Craig started shaking his head. “Oh no you don't. No way...”
“Yup. Too late. Like I said. I knew it all along. Even before all this. Superkid. Now let's get the hell out of here, SK.” He leaned forward for a quick kiss after saying that.
Craig sighed and gave up. “Whatever.”
Craig closed his eyes again. He schooled his thoughts carefully. He didn't want to screw up. He thought carefully about home, and about his friends. And once again, Craig made a wish.
The boys woke up at the same time, staring confusedly at each other.
Early morning daylight was streaming through a basement window. They were in sleeping bags, on the carpeted floor of Andrew's basement family room. Andrew and Craig were next to each other, sleeping bags zipped together, and Joel and Jamie took up spots a couple of feet away on either side. Rabble, Karma, and, strangely, Emdy, were also asleep on the floor with the boys. The plan before all of this had happened was for the four of them to sleep over Saturday night at Andrew's place. Joel's dad was going to pick him up Sunday morning, and Craig was going to walk home.
Andrew grabbed Craig's arm. “Craig! Look!”
He looked. Andrew's bullet wound. It wasn't there. Not even a scar. Joel looked at his arm and realized his own wound was also missing.
Craig stood up and looked around for his phone. He only realized he was naked when Joel and Jamie giggled at him. He ignored them and found his phone and looked at the date.
“It's Sunday morning. The day after we left.” Craig said.
“Uh, how did that happen?” said Joel.
Just then they all heard someone coming down the stairs. Craig dove back into the sleeping bag to hide his naked body. Andrew's wandering hands as soon as Craig turned onto his back made him flinch as Andrew's dad appeared. Andrew didn't remove his hand from the rapidly inflating body part, despite the presence of his father. Craig just grinned at him and returned the favor. It seemed a bit daring somehow with his dad standing ten feet away.
“Morning boys,” Dr. Pollack said. “I trust you all slept well?”
They four boys looked at him, questions written all over their face.
Dr. Pollack sat down in an armchair and grinned at them. “Don't worry. You're not dreaming or anything and yes, it all happened. You guys officially saved the universe. Too bad I can't get you any medals or anything.”
“But...how...why...” Andrew gave up and just gave his dad a look that he must've understood. He laughed.
“Sorry, I'm not making fun of you guys, honest. It's just I'm so relieved it's hard to stay serious. You want to know what happened on this end, right?”
They all nodded.
“Okay, I'll tell you. But then I want absolutely every detail of what happened over there. Every single detail! Don't leave out anything, you hear?” said Dr. Pollack. He noticed a few blushes around the room as the boys thought of a few details in the bedroom on nights before the trip west. Dr. Pollack looked at them, then blushed himself as he figured it out. “Sorry guys, I don't need quite all the details. Just the pertinent ones, got it?”
More nods. Craig was working hard to keep his face straight as he waited for Dr. Pollack's explanation, but Andrew's slowly pumping hand was making that very difficult indeed. Craig of course ensured he was making it just as difficult for Andrew to keep a straight face.
“I expect your story will take a lot longer than mine. There's not a lot to say. Once you left, I realized that the only possible way for you to have a chance to return was to leave the field on and running as long as I could. That's what I did. It was only a few seconds later, this universe's time, when gravity failed completely and all the air in the room started to vent off.”
“The air?” said Joel.
“Gravity is what keeps the atmosphere around the earth,” Craig said to Joel, “without it, the air is gone.” He turned to Dr. Pollack. “Wouldn't the earth itself come apart?”
“Yes, it would and it had started to. Just as the field was flickering off due to the power going out, suddenly everything was back to normal. Just like that. Even time had moved backwards fifteen minutes. Everything was just like it was before everything started to happen, before the stars started flickering. The field was off, everything was off, and nothing seemed to have changed. That's when I knew for sure you guys had done it.”
“But, how...” Joel said.
“I'm not sure.” Dr. Pollack said. “I think the universe just used the probability wave of the superposition field to reset things back to before the laws of physics started to mess up. I need to do more work on the math around this.”
Craig shook his head, not really following that, “So, um, what about us?” he asked, “And if everything went back fifteen minutes, how do you remember what happened?”
“Well, I was in the superposition field, so I think I was protected from the time shift somehow. As for you guys, you were nowhere to be seen. I panicked, and searched the entire facility. Twice. Finally, feeling horrible, I didn't know what else to do, so I came here. And found you four asleep, just where you are.”
“Why here?” said Craig.
“Well, this part is just a guess, but I suspect, on some level, you guys wished it. I'm thinking you all just wanted it to be finished, and just to be here having your sleepover with all the drama over. So, here you are.”
“That's so weird. It's like some things never happened. Andrew, well, uh, Andrew got shot, and Joel too,” Craig said. Dr. Pollack startled badly and stood up suddenly, looking pale. Craig kept talking, “No, it's okay. I mean, he did get shot, but now he's completely better. So is Joel. Why? I mean, when I got back last time, I still had my scars. So did Joel. I still do.”
Dr. Pollack sat down again, very slowly, and looking pale. “I want that story boys. I mean it. Now, I suspect that what happened was the same thing as being here, asleep. You wished it away. You wanted to be fine. All of you. Now. The story.” his voice was stern and his gaze was firmly on his son.
“Okay Dad,” Andrew said. And he told the story. It took some time, with all of the interjections by the others to add details.
Finally it was done. Dr. Pollack looked pale, like he was going to throw up.
“Boys...” he stopped. It took a few seconds before he started again. “Boys...I had no idea...I mean if I had known...” he shook his head. His voice firmed up. “I said it before and I say it again. Thank you. We all, literally everybody, owes you a great debt.” Dr. Pollack stood up and actually went up to each of them, still in their sleeping bags, looked them in the eye, and shook their hands. Firmly. It was weird. It was embarrassing. Especially when Craig thought about where his hand had been a few seconds before.
Andrew grinned evilly, “A great debt? So, uh, that means I get a huge raise in my allowance, right? You said you owed me...”
Dr. Pollack laughed. “I just may have to consider that Andrew. Maybe a small increase. If all your chores get done.” His voice became serious again. “Guys, what I said before you left, it's still true. I never should have let you go. You're just kids, teenagers. I never have believed, nor do I believe now, that the end justifies the means. I have to live with my decision. I still believe it was wrong, morally and ethically, despite the fact that I am very profoundly glad about the outcome.”
The boys looked at each other. Nobody seemed to know how to respond.
“Don't worry about it boys, my cross to bear, not yours. Now get up, get this mess cleaned up, come upstairs and eat my pancakes, and then go outside and be teenagers. You've earned it. I think you have about three hours before Joel's dad will be here to pick him up.” Dr. Pollack turned and walked upstairs.
The boys looked at each other and, amid much giggling, shoving, and insulting, did just that.
An hour later they were walking to the park, with the dogs following. Andrew was dribbling a basketball as they walked. They headed towards the empty basketball court in the center of the park. Craig couldn't help wondering about Emdy, why she was with them instead of home, but he just pushed that thought away. He'd worry about it later.
They had just started a game when two other boys came up, holding their own basketball.
“Hey Danny. Hiya Brian,” said Andrew. “I think you know these guys,” he pointed at Craig and Jamie. “This is Joel, he's a friend of Craig's from Elm Grove.”
Introductions made, Danny spoke up. “You guys want a game? There's six of us so we could do some three on three.”
“Sounds good. You guys need all the help you can get, so Craig's on your team,” Andrew said with a smile.
Danny and Brian returned the smile and they played.
It was nice to just be a teenager again.
As they played, they talked.
Brian asked, “What did you guys do so far this weekend? Anything interesting?”
Joel snorted, Jamie giggled, Craig just smiled stupidly, and Andrew literally fell over onto the grass.
Finally they got control back and Andrew waved off their questions. “Nothing, private joke. Sorry. We didn't do much really, just ate pizza, saved the universe, and had a sleepover at my place.” Craig was awfully impressed with Andrew keeping a straight face. He wasn't so successful himself, and Joel and Jamie were looking at Andrew like he'd lost his mind. Jamie was shaking with a controlled laugh.
Brian seemed to ignore their looks and nodded. “Yeah, we played video games too, and I stayed at Danny's. It was fun.”
Craig started breathing again, and they resumed the basketball game. He couldn't remember the last time he had so much fun.
Back at Andrew's house a bit later they said their goodbyes. While waiting for Joel's dad, the boys were chatting idly about all the events and how life would seem different now. Craig couldn't help thinking about all the other universes, and what it would be like to see some of them, and meet the people there. Craig turned to the others. “You know guys, sometimes I wish...”
“Shut Up Craig!!!” was the loud and simultaneous chorus from the other three.
Craig stopped. Whoops. Sure he knew that nothing could happen now, with the field gone, but he knew, and his friends knew, that that was a phrase that had just been permanently eliminated from all of their vocabularies. Even their internal ones.
Joel's dad pulled up. Joel gave all three boys a hug before getting into his dad's car. “I'll text you guys later,” he said as he closed the car door.
Craig and Andrew found a private spot to say their own goodbye, and came back twenty minutes later, faces flushed. Jamie just rolled his eyes, grinned, and said goodbye himself and Andrew and Jamie began walking towards their homes.
Soon enough Craig was walking home too, Rabble and Emdy following at his heels. He wondered how he was going to explain Em.
Craig thought about something else too. He was ready. He knew it was time to come out to his mom. He didn't want to keep Andrew a secret, and, after everything else, it just didn't seem like a big deal anymore. He was sure his mom would handle it, at least he hoped so. Craig knew his mom had a gay roommate in college. Still, there was a margin of worry there. He knew, whatever happened, he'd deal with it somehow.
Arriving home, he opened the door, slipped off his shoes and walked into the kitchen. Mrs. Jamison was making dinner, but she stopped long enough to give Craig a smile and a hug. Craig was so glad his relationship with his mom had improved. Even today, she seemed more relaxed and happier than he'd seen her in a long time.
“Honey, would you mind setting the table. Dinner won't be ready for a while, but then it's done and we can relax a bit before,” said Craig's mom.
“Sure Mom,” Craig said, and he set to work.
He had just finished up and was walking out of the kitchen when his mom laughed and said to Craig, “Craig, dear, weren't you planning on eating too?”
Craig looked back at the table quizzically and then at his mom. Just then he heard footsteps, coming down the stairs.
“How was your sleepover at Andrew's, Craig?” asked the figure on the stairs, holding a newspaper.
Craig's jaw dropped open.