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John Corey Whaley

“Eggs okay?” Dad opened the fridge.

“Sure. No cheese, though, please.”

“I remember.”

My dad’s hair had started to gray on the sides and around his temples, but his face didn’t look all that much older. He wore new glasses, black plastic frames, that looked surprisingly modern for him, I thought. I was taller than him now too, which was weird. Still is weird.

“How’s work?”

“Good. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff has happened since you’ve been away.”

My dad was an executive at the largest arcade chain in the country, Arnie’s Arcade, Inc. Which meant two things: 1) My dad had a job that is much cooler than all other dads’ and 2) I got to hang out at the arcade all the time, even on school nights. If you’ve never been to Arnie’s, then you’re missing out. The whole idea of Arnie’s is for kids to feel like they’ve stepped back into what Dad calls the “golden age” of video arcades. Each Arnie’s looks like it’s been there since before anyone inside the place was ever born. And they’re full of all these classic games that can’t be found in any other arcades in the country. My dad’s boss, Arnold “Arnie” Tedeski, won a bunch of video game competitions back in the ’80s. He was pretty famous, or so my dad tells me. Kyle and I practically lived at the Arnie’s in Springside up until I got sick.

Ah, Springside. I should tell you about Springside. Springside is a neighborhood in the Country Club District of Kansas City. This district is the largest contiguous planned community in the United States, and if you’re black or Jewish, you weren’t allowed to live there until 1948. Also, you probably still don’t live there because you’re pissed off about it. Needless to say, there’s a lot of snobby white people in Springside. My mom refused to send me to private school not because we couldn’t afford it, but because she hated the one she’d attended as a child. It was fine, though. What my school lacked in snobbery and tacky striped ties, it more than made up for in people like Kyle and Cate. And neither of them would’ve ever survived in a place like Springside. But we’ve got shopping! Lots of shopping and parks and an Arnie’s Arcade right here in Whiteside. Sorry, Springside. Mostly, though, I spent my time with Kyle or Cate, and it didn’t really matter what neighborhood we were in or what any of the people there thought about anything or anyone.

“Do you remember anything about being gone?” Dad slid a plate of scrambled eggs across the counter toward me.

“Not a thing. I remember closing my eyes and I remember opening them. And now this.”

“Your mother used to ask me if I thought you were dreaming.”

My dad started to cry as soon as he’d gotten that last sentence out. He gripped the sides of the counter with both hands and held his head down, shaking it. It looked like he was about to apologize, you know, for showing emotion, but he stopped himself and it was quiet for a while longer.

“We’re so happy you’re home, Travis.”

“Me too.”

Before bed I walked up to my parents’ room and knocked on the door. My mom said to come in, and I found her lying there with puffy eyes. She’d already put on her pajamas, black ones with little red hearts all over. She sat up and smiled a little as I walked to the other side of the bed and sat down next to her.

“Well, Sharon Coates.” I held an invisible microphone up in front of her. “Your only son’s just come back from the dead—what do you have to say?”

She paused, looked over at me the way she used to in church when I’d try to make her laugh during the sermon, and smiled, shaking her head.

“Go on, Sharon. Tell us what you’re thinking about.”

“I’m thinking about how I must be the only mother in the world who has ever gotten to have this conversation.”

“Maybe Lawrence Ramsey’s mom did,” I said.

“Maybe,” Mom said. “And what about you, Travis Coates? You’ve just been brought back to life, what are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking about how long it’s gonna take me to remember that everything’s so different. I can’t quite understand it yet, I guess.”

She leaned over and hugged me, set her head down on my shoulder, and patted my back a little.

“I think we’ll have to get used to a lot of things we don’t understand.”

She was right about that one. I didn’t understand a damn thing that was going on. So how come it felt so familiar, every motion and breath and sound? How could it feel like nothing had changed at all when I wasn’t me from the neck down?

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