Jim Smith’s office loomed in darkness except for a single lamp highlighting a cluttered desk.
A tall man with a black ponytail leaned back on a rolling chair and rubbed his eyes. “Dang, it’s been a long day.”
Staccato heels clicked across the floor. “Muttering to yourself again, Jimmy-boy?” A grinning brunette with round, jovial eyes tapped the edge of Jim’s computer screen. “Time you gave it a rest. Kenny and I are going to grab dinner at the Seashell. Wanna come?”
Leaning on one arm and looking like he might slide to the floor in a puddle of spent energy, Jim eyed his compatriot in exotic studies. “No rest for the wicked, Christy. You ought to know that by now.”
Christy leaned in her smile widening in a challenge. “Even the devil gets time off for good behavior.” Swiping a stray lock of hair from her eyes, she straightened and shrugged. “We’ll hang out for a bit. Come when you can.”
Sliding his fingers down the side of his face, Jim shook his head as he watched Christy’s silhouette pass through the doorway. “Gorgeous but never makes the least effort to be logical. The devil—hah!” His gaze flickered to the screen. Under a subheading “Alternate Universe Citations,” thirty resources lined the page in perfect APA order.
With the sublime effort of a god-finger reaching toward Adam, Jim tapped the off switch and the screen blinked to black. “Time to feed the cat.” He struggled to his feet, staggered, and then, like a ship when the wind dies down, righted his mainmast and headed for the door.
At home, Jim found the cat alive though far from happy. He scoured the shelves and discovered what the cat already knew—the cupboard was bare. “Dang it!”
The cat couldn’t have agreed more.
“Guess it’s out into the wilds once again.” Jim peered down at the feline. “It won’t take me long. They have eatables in the shop on the corner.” He glanced at his watch. “If they’re still open.” He rattled through the doorway, clumped down his apartment steps, and plowed his way through the crowded street.
The cat watched from the window.
Inside the market, Jim snatched up a bag of kitty food, a quart of milk, a box of granola, and a sausage pizza. He pondered a can of root beer.
A man, loaded with foodstuffs, stepped next to him. “Excuse me.” The man pulled open the glass door and plucked a root beer off the shelf.
Jim glanced over and nearly dropped his groceries.
They peered at each other, both sets of eyes widening in confusion.
Jim’s arms began to shake. Mirror, mirror…. He peered at the items in the man’s arms. Kitty food, a pizza—pepperoni not sausage—a quart of milk, and a pack of granola bars. His gaze traveled to the other man’s round, frozen eyes. He swallowed and stuttered a single word. “H—Hello.”
The stranger cleared his throat. “You seem awfully familiar.”
Like a pricked balloon, they burst out laughing. Jim piled his parcels onto one arm and thrust out a hand. “Name’s Jim. Always wanted to meet my alternate universe persona.”
The other man balanced his goods on his left arm and grasped Jim’s hand with a warm smile. “James.” He shook his head. “Never seen anything like this.” He nodded to the checkout counter. “I’m just staying the night at the One-Stop next door. Traveling through. Me and Millie—my cat. We’re visiting friends in Milwaukee.”
Jim dumped his foodstuff on the counter and faced James. “I live up the block. I wasn’t kidding about an alternate universe—that’s my thesis. I’m a student at Chicago University.”
James lined his foodstuffs in neat order behind Jim’s. “Very cool. My dad’s big into theoretical science too—time travel, extraterrestrial stuff—all that.”
The two men paid their dues and started for the door with matching sacks hanging at their sides.
Jim opened the door and nodded to the left. “Well, I go this way.”
James grinned. “Hey, how about you stop by the motel a minute, and I’ll get a picture of us together. My friends won’t believe that I have a lookalike.”
Jim shrugged. “My cat’s about ready to kill me—but sure. I’ll take one too. My mom will freak. She thinks I’m crazy—this’ll at least bring some credence to my theory.”
As soon as the two entered the dark room, James snapped on a light and dropped his groceries on a table. He pointed to another. “Just put your stuff there—” He fished his phone out of a pocket as his gaze roamed over the matching foodstuffs. “Did you notice? We got almost the exact same things?”
Jim nodded. He bent down and patted a gorgeous white Persian cat. “Well, at least we have different tastes in cats. Mine is a calico.” He straightened and peered at James. “So, what do you do for a living?”
James adjusted the camera feature on his phone. “I’m studying to become a Jesuit priest.” He peered over the camera and grinned. “Thought my dad would kill me—alternate universe here I come.”
With his hands clasped, Jim sniffed back sudden irritation. “What do you mean by that?”
Focusing on Jim, James waved with two fingers to the left. “Take a step—there. Perfect.” He tapped the phone and scanned through images. “Take a look at my dad. He’s a big man—important in his own way—never to be taken lightly.” He turned the phone around so the image faced Jim.
Jim took three steps forward and froze. As if his hand moved by a separate power, it found his shirt pocket, lifted a phone forward, and within seconds, his eyes scanned through multiple images. “Dad hates to have his picture taken—now I know why.” He turned the phone around.
James staggered and fell on the edge of the bed. “Oh, Lord.”
Jim plopped down next to James and rubbed his face. “God had little to do with this.”
Slapping his leg, James stood. He stalked across the room. “So, that explains everything. All the business trips. Gone for months at a time!”
The cat twirled around James’ leg.
With shaking fury, James peeled open a can of cat food, pounded to the bathroom, and slapped the container on the floor. “Here, now quit being a pest.”
Jim’s gaze strolled from the cat to James. “It isn’t the cat’s fault.” He shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. “I should’ve guessed. I always thought his secretiveness had to do with his science—never occurred to me he was leading a double life.” His fingers curled into clenched fists. “Poor mom.”
His eyes closed in pain; James leaned against the wall. “What’s your mom’s name?”
Jim’s gaze flickered over his phone. He found another picture, stood, and held it out. “Saundra.”
James opened his eyes and nodded. “She’s beautiful.” He held up his phone, found an image, and passed it over. “Maria.”
Jim stared at the photo. “Gorgeous.” He slapped his face as he handed the phone back. “Dad always has had a strange sense of morality.” He shuddered a long exhaling breath. “Odd sense of humor too.”
James shook his head as if chastising the floor. “True. I just never thought it extended this far.” He nudged his half-brother. “Guess the joke’s on us.”
Jim stood to his full height and pulled a card out of his wallet. “Call me when you get home, and we’ll arrange a little joke on Dad.” He gathered his groceries into his arms and stepped to the door.
James followed and tapped his card into Jim’s shirt pocket. “I’ve always believed in a supernatural, not an alternative universe. But in this case, I’ll bet by the time we’re through, Dad will believe in both.”
Jim stepped over the threshold. “When our moms find out—likely—he’ll be heading for one—or the other.”
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
“There are many excellent stories in this collection.” ~McEvoy
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