Christmas Eve, 2014, Cobourg, Ontario, Canada
When Craig came into the living room with two steaming mugs of hot mulled cider, Adam had already moved the small pile of Christmas gifts from under the tree to the ottoman that doubled as a coffee table. The room smelled of wood smoke and pine and now cinnamon and apples. A two-storey window showed the deep blue Lake silvered by the moon under a black sky. The moon, candles twinkling on the window sill, the tree lights, and the fire were the only light in the room.
“This is perfect,” sighed Craig as he settled on the couch next to Adam.
“Now that we have achieved perfection, can we open our presents?”
Tomorrow was Christmas, but they would be on a plane to Cuba. Craig didn’t want to haul the gifts to Cuba and back, and worse, opening Christmas gifts in a tropical climate, instead of in cold, snowy Cobourg, just seemed wrong to him.
“Yes! Are you finished packing?”
“What’s to pack?” Adam picked up a present from the pile, one he had placed on top so he could open it first. “All I need is a Speedo and a toothbrush.”
“No, no, that one is for last.” Craig took the present out of Adam’s hand and put it on the farther side of the ottoman.
It was clearly a book, wrapped at the shop in acid-free, brown paper which Craig had tried to Christmas-up with a red ribbon. Adam had already shaken it, felt it, and sniffed it. It had the delightfully musty smell of a used bookstore.
“What if I want to open it first?”
“Well, you can’t.”
“But what if I do?”
Craig put his hand against Adam’s jaw and gently turned his head to give him a kiss. “You can’t, love. I forbid it.”
“You forbid it!” laughed Adam. “Oh, well!”
“Yes, I forbid it! Now, here, open this one.”
Adam looked at the tag. “It’s socks.”
“Yes, of course it’s socks. Why does your aunt always send you socks?”
“To keep my feet warm.”
Craig rolled his eyes. “Of course.”
They made their way through the packages. A generic drug store manly shower kit from Craig’s brother, a bottle from Tom, the in-the-closet priest, chocolates from Adam’s niece, matching ugly Christmas sweaters from his sister, and from Craig’s mother a lovely Chinese puzzle box containing a bag of homegrown marijuana and a check.
“Now you can open the book—I mean—that gift, love,” announced Craig.
“No, no, you said last. Here.”
“My gift to you.”
Craig turned the envelope over in his hand. “You got me a card?”
“Yes, just a card. Five years is paper, right?”
Craig opened the card and took out the folded piece of paper.
“What is this?”
“I got the Jag restored.”
“What? But, it was a write-off!”
Adam nodded. He felt smug and he was sure he deserved to feel smug. “You never thought about what happened after the insurance company paid you off? They kept the car.”
“Well, yes, I suppose that makes sense.”
“They auctioned it off for peanuts, and I went and bought it at the auction, and took it there,” he pointed at the International Motors letterhead on the receipt. Adam had blacked out all the prices. “I said, how much to put this back together?”
“You’re kidding me!”
“It won’t be done for another week or two. You need the receipt to pick it up.”
“Oh my God, Adam!” Craig threw his arms around Adam and kissed him till he struggled to get loose.
“I want to open my book!”
“Oh, I feel bad. This is so wonderful! How much did this cost? And all I got you was another book.”
Adam scoffed. “A car is just a way to get around. Books are life.”
As eager as he had been to get to it, Adam opened the parcel carefully. The acid-proof paper made him cautious. Books were life, but some were also investments.
The book was old. Adam could feel the strings of the binding through the spine, like the bones beneath the skin of an old cat. The burgundy leather binding had faded to pink at the corners and on the ribs of the spine. The gold leaf title had worn off, but the impression in the leather was still legible: The Book of Regrets.
The pages were yellow; the corners brittle. Inside, the first page was blank, and after that was the hand-lettered title, The Book of Regrets, done with a quill pen and black ink that had turned rusty and stained a mirror image on the verso of the flyleaf. On the next page was the same handwriting and the same ink.
I regret cheating my cousin out of his inheritance.
Jebediah Stone, Upper Canada, 1798
“Where did you get this?”
“At a book shop in Hull called Petit Adam.”
“With a name like that I could hardly not go and check it out, could I?”
“Thank you.” Adam caressed the leather and resisted the urge to put the book to his nose. Craig teased him for smelling books. “This is going to go in the barrister bookcase.”
“I’m going to go and tidy up the kitchen,” said Craig.
The kitchen was already tidy: Adam had cleaned up after dinner. He didn’t argue, though. Craig, his stainless steel kitchen, and cleanliness were a holy trinity.
Adam opened the book randomly, and read the regrets of Margaret Anne Killian, aged sixty-seven. She had a lot of them. She had apparently been storing them up. She regretted not hugging and kissing her father good-bye before he went off to the war when she was four. She regretted pushing someone named Annabelle Lee off a merry go round. She regretted letting Bruce Harvey kiss her in the cloak room because she gave him an inch and he took a mile that he didn’t deserve and which she would rather have saved for her wedding night. She regretted poisoning her sister’s cat, because, although her sister deserved it, the cat did not. She regretted letting the hospital whisk her second baby away from her, sight unseen. If it was going to die anyway, she would rather have held it at least once. She regretted not going to see the Beatles when they were in Toronto. She regretted marrying a second time and was happy to be a widow again. She regretted growing old, but, she supposed, there was nothing she could do about that.
There were blank pages between some of the regrets. Barry Keane regretted always playing it safe and never taking chances. Eachern Jacobs regretted not following his father into the family business. Sheldon McIlvey regretted shooting an Indian boy, even if they were thieves and beggars and illegally camping on his land.
Mary Alice Leahorn Wright regretted having a baby out of wedlock and giving it up for adoption, while Louise Lawson regretted going to college and pursuing a career instead of getting married and having a family, and Marie Anne Beauchamp regretted giving up her nursing career to get married and have children.
Ivan Horn regretted letting his sister have the family silver.
Adam looked out at the water. The moon was high now, out of sight above the roof. He didn’t have any regrets. How could he possibly be unhappy? He was legally (finally!) married to his lover, living in a fabulous house on the edge of Lake Ontario. He worked a comfortable two days a week in Kingston and performed wedding ceremonies on weekends throughout the year. Life was good. Like Margaret Ann Killian, he regretted growing old, but, as the joke went, it was better than the alternative.
“There,” announced Craig, “we’re all ready for tomorrow. Assuming you’re packed. Are you packed?”
“Yes. I told you: a Speedo and a toothbrush.”
“You might also want your passport. I’m going to bed.”
“I’ll be there in a few minutes. I have to tuck my new treasure in for the night.”
Adam took The Book of Regrets into his office and rummaged around in his desk for his acid-free pens. It felt naughty to write something new into an antique like this, but the book’s empty pages demanded it. It was what made it unique and valuable—that every owner had contributed to it. He wasn’t going to be left out.
Adam stared at the blank, yellowed page for some time, and then wrote, “I regret not becoming a writer.”
He signed and dated the entry, blew on the ink, unnecessarily, to make sure it was dry before closing it, and then locked the book into the barrister bookcase.
Christmas Day, 1972, New Liskeard, Ontario, Canada
Adam woke to the sound of cows lowing in the barn. Cows with uncomfortably heavy udders that needed to be milked. The first pale yellow of dawn glittered in the frost on the inside of his bedroom window. It was cold. He reluctantly peeled back the covers and slipped out of bed. It was his job to get the fire going in the stove that had burnt down to embers overnight.
The floor was cold on his feet despite his wool socks. Why was everything so big? He felt like Alice in Wonderland after drinking the shrinking potion.
Maybe he was dreaming.
The cold air made him need to pee. He ran down the hall to the bathroom, which was also out-of-scale-large, and looked in the mirror.
A boy’s unlined face stared back at him: blue eyes and straight white-blond hair. Shock doused him like cold water and he peed down the leg of his pajama pants. He was awake now. Wide awake. He was not dreaming this: it was too vivid.
He was home.
He was in the farmhouse in New Liskeard.
Adam blinked at himself and reached out to touch his reflection in the mirror. He was ten years old again.
“Get out of the way,” ordered his sister Eleanor.
Adam stared at her. She was twelve years old, a skinny girl with braids and a flannel nightgown. Her feet drummed out a rhythm on the cold tile.
“I have to pee!” She pushed him out of the bathroom and closed the door. Through its wooden panels Adam heard her make a disgusted noise. She had just stepped in his puddle of pee.
Adam ran back to the bedroom and took a look at it. There was the high bed that he shared with his older brother, covered in a threadbare patchwork quilt; the old dresser that would be worth a couple hundred in a shop now; his brother’s larger maple dresser; the bead board paneling on the walls painted cream; and his brother John staring back at him.
“What?” demanded John.
“I’m ten,” Adam squeaked.
“No kidding, dunderhead.”
Right, okay, so John was thirteen, really thirteen.
“If you want to live to be eleven, go get the stove going.”
Adam took a step forward and his sock squelched. He pulled it off. He was so limber! And so small. The bed was like a mountain and Adam had to climb onto it.
Ten years old.
Ten! Years! Old!
“What are you doing, dunderhead?” crabbed John. “Go stoke the fire so we can get up and open our presents.”
“Fuck off.” Adam’s voice came out piping and sweet as a songbird’s.
“What!? I’m going to tell Mama you swore.”
“Go milk the cows,” Adam said, just to test out his voice again. Had he really sounded like that as a child? His voice held no authority at all; no wonder his siblings bossed him around.
“Go milk the cows,” called their mother from down the hall. “The cows still need milking, even on Christmas.”
His brother got out of bed with a growl. “Dunderhead,” he shot at Adam, as if it were his fault the cows needed milking. Adam had forgotten that his brother used to call him that.
“And Adam, you watch your mouth.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Adam suppressed a giggle at the sound of his own voice. At the absurdity of it all.
He must be dreaming. But it was too vivid, too detailed. He could read the titles on the spines of the books on his bedside table. You weren’t supposed to be able to read in dreams.
Ten years old.
He still had puberty ahead of him. He peeked inside his pajama bottoms to be sure, and yes, he was hairless down there. And wet. He peeled the PJs off and stood shivering.
Out the window, the fields were flat and white with snow, like the blank page of a book, like his life, unwritten, there for him to do over again. Assuming he didn’t wake up and find that this was just a dream, there were things he could do differently. He wasn’t going to let his brother bully him, for one thing, and he wasn’t going to wait so long to come out.
What else? What did he really…
The Book of Regrets.
Had it sent him back here to relive his life, to change things? Over a simple comment that he hadn’t become a writer? Not to put things right that had once gone wrong, or some such grandiose nonsense? He wasn’t supposed to stop Hitler or keep JFK form being assassinated, was he?
No, those things were in the past. It was 1972 and he was ten years old.
“Adam,” called his mother sharply, and fifty-two or not, Adam snapped to attention. “What are you doing?”
The fire. Stoke the fire. His job, every morning. Adam wrestled open a dresser drawer. “I’m coming!”
Christmas Eve, 2014, New York City, New York, USA
Adam looked out at New York. He couldn’t look down on it from his $2 million flat, but he didn’t have to look up either. At night, New York glittered, but now, in the grey, slushy afternoon it was bleak and dull.
He had bought the flat at the height of his success, after the book about Stonewall and just when his book about AIDS hit the market. He was credited with blowing open the whole AIDS thing, frightening people—necessarily—with what would happen if the gay community ignored it, if the media labeled it a gay disease, and if medical science didn’t do the responsible thing. Only Adam knew how many people he had saved.
A reviewer once described him as prescient. His stock advisor thought the same thing.
But now that prescience had run out. He was back to where he started: December 24, 2014, when The Book of Regrets had sent him back in time to change his life. And he had changed it. Drastically.
That path had taken him places he had not been before. He had become an American citizen. He had won a Pulitzer and been listed for a Nobel. He could write any drivel and have publishers in a bidding war over it. It had resulted in many interesting relationships, with men and women, but none that lasted, none with depth. Christmas Eve and he was alone.
He had never crossed paths with Craig. When they should have met, when they had met originally, he was living with the Kurds in Afghanistan. Sweet little Craig with his shaved head and fuzzy little soul patch, his sparkling clean stainless steel kitchen, his absolute inability to decorate, and his devotion to his morning jog no matter what the weather was like.
The house in Cobourg was a lifetime away.
Adam’s book collection was more compact and select than in his previous life; many of the volumes warranted being under lock and key. But there was one he did not have: The Book of Regrets. He had never come across it.
Where had Craig said he’d found it? Oh, right, Petit Adam, how could he forget a name like that? In Ottawa? Or was it Toronto? Gawd, that conversation was forty-two years ago! Adam pulled out his phone and Googled it. Hull. Six hours and fifty-one minutes away on the I-81.
With no Adam in his life to buy it for, Craig would not have bought the book, probably never have gone into the shop at all, and it would still be sitting there the day after Boxing Day. Adam packed a bag, gave the parking valet $20 for bringing his car out from the underground garage and headed for the highway. After all, there was nothing—and no one—to keep him in New York over the holiday season.
Through the long hours of Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Adam read and fidgeted and watched porn on his phone. When Petit Adam opened at ten on December 27, he was waiting outside, with the cold rising from the packed snow of the sidewalk right through the leather soles of his shoes.
“Bon matin,” greeted the owner.
“I am looking for a book.”
“Well, you are in the right place,” laughed the man. His accent was Trinidadian, overlaid with Quebecois.
“It’s called The Book of Regrets.”
The owner stopped and frowned. “That is funny. That book sits on the shelf for months and no one looks at it. Christmas Eve, I sold it, and here you are asking about it now.”
“Sold it to whom?”
“You know, you look familiar.”
Adam wanted to turn the man upside down and shake him until the name and address of the person he had sold The Book of Regrets to fell out of his pockets like loose change. Instead, he stepped forward and extended his hand. “Adam Bovenkamp. I’m an author. You may have heard of me.”
“Oh, goodness! It is an honour to have you in my shop.”
“I need to get my hands on that book.”
“The man who bought it, I do not know him. He paid cash.” The owner shrugged. “I am sorry.”
It was Craig. It had to be Craig. Adam’s timeline had changed, but Craig’s hadn’t.
“Monsieur, would you sign….?”
Only one way to find out.
Adam walked out of the shop, checked out of the Chateau Laurier, left Ottawa, and drove to tiny Grafton. There he turned right down the little two-lane road that ran towards slightly larger Cobourg. Yes, there was the house, just like he remembered it. Smoke was wafting from the chimney.
It had been forty years since he had been here, but pulling into the driveway something slammed into him like an avalanche. It was the feeling of coming home. Adam put his foot on the brake and just breathed. This feeling, this was something he had not felt in a very long time. He did not feel it in his New York apartment, not like this. And when his mother had been alive (for the second time) and he had gone back to the farmhouse in New Liskeard to visit, his feelings were more complicated.
When he recovered from the initial impact, Adam continued up the drive and parked behind a Lexus. No Jag.
A stranger answered the door. Tall, salt-and-pepper hair, hand-knit merino wool sweater in tweedy grey. Adam immediately knew two things—that salt & pepper man was gay, and that he hated him.
“Hello, I’m, uh, looking for Craig.”
“Craig!” called the man. “He’s just upstairs. Come in, let me close the door. Sorry, I don’t want to let the cat out.”
Adam recognized the thump of Craig’s feet on the stairs above his head and he held his breath. Craig came around the corner wearing a matching hand-knit sweater in tweedy brown. He had a mustache and goatee instead of the little soul patch.
“Hello,” said Craig. His blue eyes sparkled with good humor.
Seeing him was like being hit by a second wave of the avalanche. Adam wanted to drop to his knees, throw his arms around Craig, and say, Please, forgive me, I made a mistake, take me back!
Only this Craig in this timeline or parallel universe or whatever didn’t know who he was.
Adam needed to say something.
“I, um, uh, I understand you might have bought a book that I have been looking for.”
“I’m a collector. There’s a shop, in Ottawa, called Petit Adam, and—”
“I know that place. It’s right around the corner from the Ottawa office. But I don’t think I’ve ever been in it.”
Adam blinked. Never been…?
“What’s the book?” asked sweater-man.
If Adam had a ray gun he would have annihilated sweater-man where he stood.
“It’s called The Book of Regrets. It’s a curiosity, really.”
Sweater-man looked at Craig, who was staring at Adam and not saying anything, and then, to fill in the silence, said, “I don’t think we have anything like that.”
“I’ve never been in that shop,” said Craig. His blue eyes flashed; all friendliness was extinguished. “How did you get my name and address?”
Sweater-man looked from Craig to Adam.
Oh fuck, thought Adam. “I…I’m sorry, I must be mistaken.”
“Who gave you my address?” demanded Craig.
“I think I’d better go.”
The door was slammed behind him. Adam didn’t waste any time driving away; he didn’t want them to take down his plate number.
There was no one on the snowy road and at the corner he stopped and put the car in park. Not Craig. Someone else had bought it, a complete stranger, could be any one of a million people.
He had come here on a whim, but seeing Craig now…
Now he had regrets, and no book to write them in.
Adam stopped work on his multiverse book to scour bookshops in Quebec and Ontario and upstate New York. He put the word out that he was looking for The Book of Regrets. He knew it would drive up the price, but it was better to have the eyes of every bookseller in two countries looking for it than just his alone.
Finally, someone contacted him. “Interesting item,” he said. “I don’t have it, though. I sold it to a shop in Vermont, in Montpellier, about a month ago.”
“Did you write anything in it?” asked Adam.
“No! Of course not.”
The shop had sold it to a professor at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. The professor had given it as a gift to his granddaughter, who was studying English at Berkeley.
The granddaughter had loved it, but she didn’t have it anymore. She didn’t know where it had gone. One of her roommates had disappeared—poof—without a trace, like Keyser Soze. It was possible the book had been packed up with her things.
Adam tracked down the family of the missing girl.
“I’m looking for a book that may have gotten in with your daughter’s things. It belonged to her roommate.”
“I, oh dear, that’s too bad,” said the woman’s faded voice on the other end of the phone. “We just, just recently, we gave all of Ally’s stuff to Goodwill.”
Adam wanted to bash his head against the wall. Instead he grabbed a pen and paper. “Where is this Goodwill?”
Adam called the Goodwill but they were unwilling to look for the book. He had to fly to Vancouver.
The book was not in the Goodwill shop.
So now he put the word out that there was a finder’s fee. If it was ever found he might have to sell his flat to get his hands on it. Quite likely. But it wouldn’t matter then, would it? He would leave all that behind.
And in this universe, this instance of the multiverse that he currently occupied, would he just disappear like the girl from Berkeley? Was that what had happened in his first life, in Cobourg in 2014? Had Craig woken up alone and spent the rest of his life wondering and grieving? It pained Adam to think so.
October 23, 2031, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Adam had traded the winters of New York for a stucco house in the warmer weather of New Mexico and a comfortable nest egg to sit on during his retirement. His multiverse book had done well. Ten years ago he had published a book on the effect of global warming on population trends, and it made a good deal of money, but as the years passed, his predictions were not realized. He was no longer prescient; the last 16 years had been new territory for him. It was time to stop and rest on his laurels.
And spend his time pursuing The Book of Regrets.
When his phone rang one Saturday morning, Adam made a gesture in the air that was sensed by the house AI. It was probably Marcus from the theatre group looking for a handout, or maybe his stock advisor. A ghostly virtual screen appeared in front of him, but the caller was not sharing his video feed.
“I understand you’re looking for something called The Book of Regrets,” said a middle-aged man’s voice.
Adam settled back in his chair. Cranks and forgers had called before. “I am.”
“I found it at an estate sale.”
“The real thing?” Adam gave a dismissive chuckle. “Show me.”
The video feed came on. The caller was a spare man in his forties wearing a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbows. It was amazing, thought Adam, how much the world changed over time and men’s clothing didn’t.
“Here it is.”
The cover filled the screen. With a twitch of his fingers in midair Adam zoomed in. There was the impression of the title in the leather.
“Show me the inside.” Adam’s voice shook, and he cleared his throat to cover for it.
The man paged slowly through the book. He was patient. He knew he had the real article.
“I think that’s it,” Adam cadged. “How much do you want for it?” He tried to sound like he didn’t care all that much.
“I know you are offering a finder’s fee….”
“Ten percent,” said Adam firmly.
“But I got this for peanuts. 50 yuan. I want more than 5 yuan for it.”
“A hundred and fifty, and I will pay for the mailing cost.”
“A thousand,” said the bookseller.
Anything, thought Adam. My soul! But he kept his head and scoffed. “Five hundred.”
The book was put down and the caller came into view again. Adam twitched him back to a normal zoom level, put on his best poker face, and politely shared his own video feed.
“You’re supposed to go up,” said the caller, “not down. That’s how bargaining works.”
“I offered you 500. If you are going to make me work for it, I am going to keep offering you less. If you insist on being stubborn, you will be left with a 50 yuan curiosity you can sell on EtsyBay for 50 yuan.”
The man, wearing his own poker face, was silent for a minute. “I’ll take the 500.”
“Wise choice. Pack it carefully and overnight it.”
The next day the book was in his hands, delivered to his door by UPS drone. It was the same, a little more worn, the pages a little more yellowed. Adam opened it up and reread Margaret Anne Killian’s many regrets. As he progressed through the pages, though, it changed. There were new entries, and some he remembered were missing. The last one was fresh.
I regret going to Berkeley instead of going to Columbia with Keenan. I miss him!
Ally DeGuire, 2016
This was the girl who had stolen, or at least borrowed, the Book of Regrets from her roommate at Berkley. Where was she now? Had Keenan been worth it? Had she, like Adam, been unable to reconnect with her love from a past life?
Adam skimmed through but his entry was not there. He sat down at his dining room table and put the book down flat in front of him and went through every page. Twice.
Adam’s entry was not there.
Adam was baffled. It looked the same, it had the same imprint of the worn-off title on the cover, and some regrets he remembered reading, even though it had been nearly sixty years. It smelled the same.
He no longer regretted not becoming a writer, because he had. Was that it? Corrected regrets disappeared and the ones remaining were still unfulfilled?
Adam took out an ordinary ballpoint, no fussing with acid-free pens this time. He hesitated with the pen above a blank sheet of paper. What if nothing happened? What if this was not the book? What if he had just spent 500 yuan on the wrong book?
“And what if it is the right one?” he said out loud, and wrote: I regret not meeting and marrying Craig Gellner.
Nothing happened. Of course, he hadn’t expected anything to happen yet. He went to bed and, after a lot of tossing and turning, he went to sleep.
October 25, 1972, New Liskeard, Ontario, Canada
He was ten years old again.
Adam lay in bed and felt the enormity of a life unlived pressing down on him. All those years of school, of the playground, of bullies, of memorizing pointless facts and formulas he would never use. He groaned.
“Whassamatter?” mumbled his brother beside him.
“School,” groaned Adam. He was surprised again by his piping, prepubescent voice.
“Get used to it, dunderhead.”
As Adam walked down the dirt road towards the school in the chill autumn morning he vowed to himself that this time he would have the career and the boy. Third time’s the charm.
May 1, 1992, Los Angeles
Adam spent most of his third childhood and youth being impatient. He forced himself to stick with school for the sake of each diploma, which lead to the next one, which lead to his career as a journalist, which led to his career as a writer.
On his first job in New York, as a new magazine journalist, his editor opted to send him to cover the Rodney King riots in LA. He had been passed over for this assignment in his last life. It was proof to him that he was progressing, life to life, improving his skills as a journalist.
Adam booked a flight and strode boldly into what looked like a war zone with his camera, recorder, and camera bag slung across his body. He wasn’t afraid. He had never been here before, but he knew the course of his life, after all. He could do whatever he wanted as long as he got himself to Toronto in July of 2008 and met Craig.
He stationed himself at the mouth of an alley, ready with his Nikon to capture the mood of the place. The rage of the oppressed. Maybe he could do something about it this time. Maybe he could write something that would have an impact so there wouldn’t be a Treyvon Martin or so many others.
And then, with no warning, Adam felt a crack on the back of his head. His sight narrowed down to a pinpoint, and he fell. He didn’t know why he fell, or how, only that the street came up to meet his shoulder and his side. The Nikon disappeared from his numb fingers. Sight faded in and out. There was another whack that he felt but did not hear, and consciousness left him for good.
May 2, 1972, New Liskeard, Ontario, Canada
Ten years old again. It was like getting the jail card in Monopoly: do not pass Go, do not collect $200.
Adam lay in bed immobilized. He had done it wrong. He could die; nothing was foreordained. Of course, this whole thing totally wouldn’t work if it was. He had been an idiot, strutting into a war zone like that.
Adam trudged off to school, like so many other mornings. The fields weren’t snowy pages waiting for him to write his marvelous life on: they were boggy with mud and spring rain, something to be slogged through—like grade five.
July 1, 2008, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Adam had made it to the moment he met Craig at his friend Paul’s Canada Day barbeque. The first time around he had very nearly not come, but car trouble had kept him in Toronto an extra day, so he decided Why not? This time, nothing was going to stop him from attending that barbeque.
“Adam, I’d like you to meet Craig,” said Paul. Adam didn’t know if this was exactly the way it had gone before. Nothing was preordained, and it made him nervous.
“Charmed,” Adam put on his best smile and shook hands. He felt like a teenager on his first date.
“I’ve wanted to introduce you two since forever. You two could talk politics all night. Excuse me.”
“Politics, eh?” said Craig. “Are you an NDP supporter?”
“Green Party.” Adam smiled into Craig’s blue eyes.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I think you and I have a long and wonderful future together.”
Adam grinned like an idiot.
Craig blinked at him. “Excuse me.” He walked away.
Adam nearly swallowed his tongue. What had he done?
Adam followed Craig across the yard, but now Craig was on his phone. When he saw Adam standing there, grinning nervously, he frowned. Adam knew that frown. Craig was as sweet and polite as a petit four until you crossed a boundary.
“Can you hold for a minute?” said Craig into his phone. It was a business call. Craig was using his business voice. “Can I help you?” he asked Adam in that same voice.
“I, um, I’m sorry, we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot.” He had to fix this, only he didn’t know how.
“I’m on a call.”
“Let me get you a drink.”
“I have a drink.” Craig turned his back on Adam and went back to his call.
Adam watched Craig throughout the party. This was the time and place. This was where Craig met the man he married. If only he had a home movie of the original encounter so he could reenact it!
Craig left early and Adam followed him, only to see Craig pull away from the curb in his beat up old Volvo before Adam could catch up to him.
Adam let a few days go by. Surely things would work out. They were meant to be together. He had to try again and make a better impression this time. But when he called Paul a week later, Paul told him, “No, I may not give you his phone number. What did you do, Adam? He used the word creepy. I thought you two were just perfect for each other.”
Adam tracked Craig down. He hung around outside Craig’s office at lunch time. He joined the same gym. He rented a condo in Coburg and spent his weekends there milling about town, hoping to run into Craig. Deadlines were missed; his manuscript about a dystopic Trump presidency was shelved.
In January of 2010 Adam ran into Craig at a coffee shop just outside Craig’s office block.
“Hello, stranger!” cried Adam cheerfully.
Craig gave Adam a flat look and said quite clearly, and loudly enough for other customers to hear, “If I just happen to run into you one more time, I am getting a restraining order.”
July 12, 2014, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Christmas Eve be damned, Adam was going to get his hands on that book as soon as it landed at Petit Adam. He went there every weekend and browsed. He didn’t tell the bookseller, Henri, what he was looking for, but he had pretty well memorized the shelves. If there was something new in stock, he would know it.
And finally, now, he had it. Ten bucks—that was all he had paid for it. A ten-dollar gift had caused him all this trouble.
Adam leafed through. There was his touchpoint, Margaret Anne Killian’s long entry. He kept going, glancing only briefly at entries that were not his own. Brad someone. Should never have. Time is precious.
And there it was: his own handwriting, a lifetime ago. Or was it two? I regret not meeting and marrying Craig Gellner. He stared at it. It was already in the book, so what was he going to do?
He went to sleep and woke up again in 2014.
Adam pondered for two days. Finally, he gathered up all the sleeping pills and codeine he could find. Los Angeles had shown him that death was the reset button. Die before you fix your regret and you start over. Things not going as planned? Go back to the beginning. As he began to float in the codeine, he wondered: was Mary Ann Killian enjoying the fountain of eternal youth by never fixing her regrets? There were so many, how could she even remember them all? Did she just keep looping through her life?
Boxing Day, 1972, New Liskeard, Ontario, Canada
Ten years old again.
He would be more careful this time.
Christmas Day, 2014, Varadero, Cuba
“Cheers!” Craig tinked glasses with Adam and sipped his mimosa. “Mm, that’s not bad.”
They were sitting on the rhomboid balcony of their room and before them stretched an intensely turquoise ocean. The tops of palm trees swayed at the bottom of the view. While Craig had ferried breakfast from the room service cart to the table, Adam had unpacked the Christmas gifts. They had opened everything the night before in Coburg, except for these two items, their gifts to each other.
“Oh, this view is fantastic. I am so glad you talked me into this hotel,” said Craig.
“I knew you would like it.”
“Oh, the presents! So you did pack more than just your Speedo and toothbrush.”
“I wore the Speedo. I packed these.”
“What about the toothbrush?”
“I wore that too. Would you like to know—”
Craig shook his head. “No, I would not. Not before breakfast.”
“Here, open this.” Adam handed Craig an envelope.
“You got me a card?”
“Yes, just a card. Five years is paper, right?”
Craig opened the card and took out the folded piece of paper. It was a receipt from International Motors in Ottawa. Adam had blacked out all the prices.
“What is this?”
“I got the Jag restored.”
“What? But, it was a write-off!”
Adam nodded. He wasn’t smug. Smugness was not a thing he found he could be any more. After all his lifetimes, Adam knew that the tide of his personal history could turn at any moment. After life seven he had stopped writing his prescient books. Writing the same thing over and over was like chewing gum too long: it got flavorless and stale. Instead he puttered at this and that. Nothing was as satisfying as that first go-round as a writer, but it was the only way to keep from being bored to death lifetime after lifetime as he tried to get back together with Craig. He’d gotten close a few times, but never close enough.
Until now, life twelve.
“It won’t be done for another week or two. You need the receipt to pick it up.”
“Oh my God, Adam!” Craig threw his arms around Adam and kissed him till Adam struggled to get loose.
“I want to open mine!”
“Okay, here you go, I hope you like it.” Little lines of worry creased Craig’s brow.
“I will love it,” Adam assured him.
It was an iPad Air. Adam had also stopped collecting physical books. He did not want anyone to buy him The Book of Regrets. He was done with it.
“No more lugging that laptop around.”
“Thank you, I love it.”
Craig raised his champagne flute. “Merry Christmas!”
Really lovely story. Loved the speculation about do-overs and whether we would really want them if they were possible.
Thanks, Jordan. I am glad you enjoyed it.