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Noggin(11)
John Corey Whaley

Now everyone knows. Travis Coates: The Second Cryogenics Survivor in History. Once I was famous for dying, in my own little way. People came to visit me and bring me flowers and pray with me and such. They came to get closure. Teachers, classmates, old ladies from church. They all came to say good-bye. Now I’m famous for living, and I can tell you this much: people expect a lot more out of you when you’re not lying in a hospital bed doped out of your mind. One minute I’m dying, and the next I’m supposed to be this beacon of hope for everyone around me? This miracle kid? I knew how to die, but I wasn’t so sure about being a living hero yet.

I sat there on the front steps, and just as I was about to go back inside, hoping my parents had dealt with the creepy mess without inhaling too much of it in the process, a black truck pulled into the driveway. I knew who it was before he could even cut the engine off. Kyle Hagler, my best friend, had driven straight from the future to my front door.

“Wow,” he muttered after stepping out of the car. He leaned against the hood with one hand.

“Well, you look different.” I walked across the yard, squinting in the afternoon sun.

“You look exactly the same,” he said. “Shit. You look exactly the same, Travis. I mean, from, like, here up.” He took one hand, flattened out, and moved it from his neck to his forehead.

“You’re tall,” I said. “And . . . handsome. You’re handsome, dude.”

“We’re both tall now, huh?” He stepped closer, looking me up and down.

He laughed a bit, and I noticed how his smile was the only thing proving this was actually him. The old Kyle Hagler was shorter than I was, which was terribly short for our age, and a little chubby around the middle. He had a voice that was higher than you’d expect from a sixteen-year-old boy, and he wore shirts that were always a little too tight. And his blue jeans. I’m not even sure where one buys pleated blue jeans, but it was possible and he proved it every day.

But this new Kyle was about my height—my new height, that is—was dressed in nice slacks and a button-down shirt, and had a voice that immediately threw me off. It was a great voice. Powerful but not threatening. He had grown up. The slight hint of a man he’d always been was replaced with a pretty impressive new form. It was weird.

“Should we hug or something?”

I was barely able to finish my question before he wrapped his arms around my shoulders and squeezed me into his chest. Two best friends hugging strangers’ bodies that were somehow now their own. He was crying, but it was quiet enough to be appreciated and not pitied. It was the best kind of crying. He let go for a second and wiped his face with the back of one sleeve before holding me by each shoulder and sort of just staring at me for a while with this expression that I’m still convinced no other person has ever had, a combination of shock, joy, pain, and terror. It was like I could see all his memories of me projected into the air between us, rushing and swirling around and enveloping us both in a nostalgic haze.

“I missed you, man.”

“I would say the same,” I said. “But I just saw you, like, three weeks ago.”

“Weird. It really feels that way?”

“It’s like I just took a nap or something and now everything’s different. Everyone’s older.”

“Does it hurt?” He sort of nodded toward my neck.

“Can’t feel a thing. Gonna be a righteous scar, though. I guess I can live with it.”

“I think you’ll make do.”

“They say scars give you edge,” I said.

“That right? What about coming back from the dead? Think that’ll get you laid?”

We went into the house, and my parents both got teary as they greeted and hugged him and immediately forced him to take a seat in the living room. I wondered if they looked at him the same way I did. I wondered if they saw the grown-up who walked in or the kid who used to practically live here.

I looked around and any evidence of the ashes was now gone. Part of me hoped they’d thrown it all away, just flushed the pile of dirt down the toilet and forgotten all about it. But the other part of me, the part that was still toggling between life and death and still very confused about how to define either, hoped that they’d hidden the ashes away somewhere safe, somewhere to be found when needed.

My parents insisted on Kyle staying for lunch, and then they ordered a pizza because my mom obviously hadn’t started liking cooking any more than she had before I’d left. We set up shop at the kitchen bar, Kyle and I taking the same seats our past selves had taken most nights of the week back when we’d binge on Mike & Ikes and study for Ms. Grady’s ridiculous biology exams and compare answers for Mrs. Lasetter’s never-ending Algebra 1 homework assignments. I was always much better at science than math, and Kyle was the opposite, so it worked perfectly that way. We piggybacked off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s real friendship, right?

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