Levi was listening to a rabbi explain to the classroom of students participating in a seminar called, “Alternate Universes: A Whole Lotta Options”, when the rabbi announced, “There are countless alternate universes. Every time one of us makes a decision, another reality is shaped in which that other decision has been made. And all these other universes exist out there.”
“I want to be in the universe where Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election,” Levi muttered.
“You and I both!” the Real Housewife said, placing her hand on his. “Let’s find that fucking alternate universe where Hillary is President. Now.”
The rabbi played with their joke, given that the celebrity in the room had made it bigger than Levi’s utterance. Celebrities were allowed to make jokes, steal the spotlight from the rabbi, even disagree with things the rabbis and teachers claimed. But not non-celebrities. It was all so hypocritical, Levi thought, but also oh so Hollywood. “So L.A.”, where a recognized face got better treatment and complimentary gifts when people who weren’t part of the business of show —and were paying good hard cash and credit—were pushed aside. It was also alarming that the Real Housewife—who usually never talked to him—not only agreed with him and laughed about it, but placed her sweetly-smelling hand atop his and squeezed it so fondly. Levi also found it endlessly entertaining that a reality TV star was here, listening to the concept of endless alternate realities.
“You make alternate universes all day,” the rabbi told them. “Each of you. Every time you make a choice—no matter how inconsequential. It all has consequences. You think you want a croissant; you instead get the muffin. Consequence. Somewhere is a universe where you got the croissant. So what happens? In that universe, the store runs out of croissants. Someone who otherwise got a croissant now gets no croissant. Seems small, yes? No. That person is now angry. All they wanted was that croissant. They go into a spiral. They get angry. Full of rage. They drive recklessly. They have a car accident. They hurt somebody.”
Having now secured Levi as an appreciative audience, the Real Housewife whispered to Levi. “Carbs have consequences.”
Holding in a laugh, he thought he actually liked this reality TV star. Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all. He had to admit —reluctantly— he had recently watched an episode of her show and admired her for throwing a purse at one of her fellow housewives and, when that didn’t hit her target, following it with a bible, an alarm clock, a tv remote, and, eventually, a painting she tore off a hotel wall. He hoped they’d chat later; he really wanted to ask her, “If you housewives all hate each other so much, why do you all always go on vacation together? I don’t even go to coffee with someone I dislike.” And “Was it hard to throw that framed giclee?”
“How many of you are in a relationship? Show of hands,” the rabbi shouted, jolting Levi out of potential future reality and back to the one in which he currently resided.
Levi left both his hands down, forgetting momentarily that Damien had admonished him about Levi’s hiding of their relationship, about Levi telling people he was just house-sitting, not living with Damien. It was a reflex of Levi’s; an awful one. X had hated when Levi referred to their relationship in public and those admonitions (“No one has to know, Levi.” And “I just don’t think we need to flaunt it”) still owned his responses, suppressing the natural reaction and making the natural response one which hid his relationships. Poisoned into secrecy, he carried that poison into his relationship with Damien. Openly gay? Check. Admit he was in a relationship? No. His former boyfriend had been ashamed of him and he saw no reason why his current one would not also feel that way.
But Damien had told him no more of that. Damien loathed X, loathed what he had done to Levi. And Damien was not ashamed of him, as X had apparently been. “Tell the world,” Damien had said. “I’m proud of you.”
And so Levi added his raised hand to the others in the room.
The rabbi assessed everyone—those with hands in the air and those without.
“Mmm. Some of you. . .some of you are in no relationship. Single. Guess what? Not in every universe. Out there, somewhere, out in the universe of universes, some of you who are single are married. Really! Married and happy. Married and miserable. It’s all possible. And you—you there with the hand raised? You people in relationships? Guess what? There are universes where you never met the one you are with. Think about that. The one you love? They aren’t even in your world. Poof! Gone. You never met them. Or you met them and they decided not to ask you for that date. Or you went on that date but you or he or she decided, ‘Eh. Not for me.’”
“That bastard,” the Real Housewife whispered, thinking about her husband.
“Maybe you’re with someone else in another alternate reality. Maybe. . .you’re alone. All things are possible. The famous? Not famous. The poor? Rich. The rich? Poor. In some universes, you don’t exist because your parents never met. So your soul is in another body living another life. Or awaiting reincarnation. Because your father did not decide to court your mother. Or your mother forbid your father the bed. See? So many outcomes, all from various decisions.”
Levi’s heart grew cold. Somewhere out there, if all this about alternate realities was true, existed a version of himself who had never met Damien. There existed a Damien who maybe had heard of the store but decided to bring Track on another day than the one he had, or on a day when Levi wasn’t working. Or maybe decided not to go to that store at all.
Somewhere, in some alternate reality, there existed a Levi who never met Damien Lanchester.
There also, then, existed in some alternate universe a Levi who had never gone to Piedmont Park the day of the shootings.
Or maybe a Levi who had left the park when the first news alert had come across that there had been a shooting a few miles away and had thought that maybe it would be best to not be in a crowd. Maybe there was a Levi who had gone to a late lunch at The Colonnade with Kyle, Leslie, and invited his parents, a decision which would have kept his parents from getting shot at Atlantic Station and he, Leslie and Kyle from being shot at Piedmont Park. Maybe, in some universe, his parents were still alive.
Somewhere, there existed a Levi who had not left his condominium at the Ponce that day. Maybe that Levi was shot in the hallway, as a few of his neighbors had been as some of the shooters made their way into the building and up to the rooftop, where they had unleashed their attack on the Fox Triangle. . Maybe there was a Levi who hadn’t bought that condo at all but instead had bought the much bigger, newer house in that development south of Jonesboro? He wouldn’t have been shot at all. He wouldn’t have had a life-altering recovery which made him need to start life anew somewhere else. He wouldn’t have moved to Los Angeles. He would have continued living in Georgia, thinking how tragic that all those mass shootings were but not really being a part of it. In some universe, Levi still lived there. In some universe, Levi never would have met Damien Lanchester.
It all kept coming back to Damien. So many little tricks and twists had been needed for them to meet; it frightened him to think how easily it could have turned out differently.
Had Damien not gone to his friend’s party, had his friend’s daughter not bounced on his knee with her stuffed animal. Had Damien not asked about the stuffed animal. Had his friend not been so specific about where the store was located, what it was called. Had Damien not thought to bring Track. Had Damien not brought Track that day. Had Damien not brought Track just at the time when Levi had been standing at the front door. Had Damien not looked up at just that moment and seen Levi. Had Levi gone into the stockroom and worked on the next week’s schedule and not been at the door or on the salesfloor while Damien and Track were in the shop. Had he never met Damien. . .
There was no reality he wanted more than the one in which he met Damien Lanchester. But it could have almost never happened.
Somewhere, in some alternate universe, was a he who was without the man he now loved. And that poor, lonely, alternate Levi had no idea of this alternate, lonely plan.
The idea of it left him stunned. Somewhere was a he without happiness.
“Are you okay, honey?”, the Real Housewife whispered, again taking his hand. “You look like you’re getting sick. Your face is gray. Here—” she said, pouring from a decanter on the table—“Have some water.”
The text message Levi sent to Damien, typed as Levi sat in his car after class and before he pulled out of his parking space, read. “My life would be so different if I had never met you. I really saw that tonight. It scared me just how easily it would have been for you and I to have never met. So let me reiterate now so that you always have it in your pocket and can look back on this should you ever doubt it: I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.”