Tom Petty’s Five Best Music Videos

On October 1st, 2017, heartland rock singer, Tom Petty, went into cardiac arrest, prompting a slew of media outlets to proclaim he’d flown to that great big stadium in the sky. While initial reports of his passing proved premature, Petty’s death was officially confirmed later that evening, igniting a groundswell of goodwill towards the legendary front man.

Petty and his band, The Heartbreakers, rose to prominence in the late ‘70s, thanks to their third LP, Damn the Torpedoes. The album contained rock staples, “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee,” sold over three million copies, and kickstarted an impressive run of hits that ran through the ’80s and into the early ’90s.

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers third album, Damn the Torpedoes, spent seven weeks at #2, stuck behind Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

In tandem with the band’s sustained success, Petty struck commercial gold when he went solo on 1989’s Full Moon Fever, and again with super-group, The Traveling Wilburys.

But for a certain generation of music fans, he’s best remembered for his music videos. Though not an obvious MTV superstar like Madonna or Michael Jackson, Petty was an early champion of the format, transitioning from rock star to video god with ease, and eventually winning the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard in 1994.

To celebrate his legacy, here’s a look back at five of Petty’s most iconic music videos.

Don’t Come Around Here No More: This Alice in Wonderland inspired video is frequently cited on all-time “best of” lists, and for good reason. Co-written by the Eurthymics’ Dave Stewart (who cameos in the video as the hookah-smoking Caterpillar), the song’s booming psychedelia perfectly matched Alice’s madcap adventure, with Petty expertly cast as the Mad Hatter. The minor (and ridiculous) controversy involving a scene where Petty and the band eat a cake version of Alice proved inconsequential, as the video scooped up Best Special Effects at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards.

 

Running Down a Dream: Based on Little Nemo in Slumberland comics, this animated music video found Petty on the run, as he slid down staircases and dodged cliff-eating clowns in surreal, nightmarish scenes. The video’s frenetic pace complemented the song’s windows-down/radio-up vibe in a fun, irreverent, and perfectly Petty way.

 

Into the Great Wide Open: Although the song wasn’t a hit (it limped to #92 in the charts), the six-and-a-half-minute video was a treat. The song’s cautionary lyrics were brought to life thanks to Johnny Depp as Eddie Rebel and Faye Dunaway as his cougar-ish Svengali, plus cameos from Matt LeBlanc, Chynna Phillips, and err…Terence Trent D’Arby. But the real fun was spotting the various parts Petty played: narrator, tattoo artist, roadie, reporter. The video was nominated for Best Male Video in 1992 (losing to Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”) and for Best Video That Should’ve Won a Moonman in 2009 (losing to Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”).

 

Mary Jane’s Last Dance: Recorded for Petty’s first Greatest Hits collection, this somber, faux-drug-promoting rock ballad was showcased by its lush, sapphire-tinged video, with Petty playing a morgue assistant enamored by a beautiful corpse (Kim Basinger). The video walks a fine line between creepy (dressing Basinger in a wedding gown and seating her at a dinner table) and cool (the candle-lit, Great Expectations-inspired slow dance), and won Petty Best Male Video at the 1994 VMAs.

 

You Don’t Know How It Feels: Petty’s last top forty single is best remembered for its distinct harmonica solo and a censored lyric about rolling joints. But it was the music video—shot in one continuous take—that shined brightest, with Petty in performance mode as he slowly revolved around a microphone. The deceptively-simple, medium close-up focus blurred the ensuing chaos (a bank robbery, circus performances, a wrecking ball smashing through a couple’s bedroom) behind him, creating instantly memorable imagery that scored Petty his second consecutive Best Male Video trophy.

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Kygo Reaches for the Stars

Norwegian, tropical house DJ, Kygo, has released his Stargazing EP, which collects previous singles, “It Ain’t Me” (featuring Selena Gomez) and “First Time” (featuring Ellie Goulding), plus his remix of U2’s brand new single, “You’re the Best Thing About Me.” Rounding out the EP are two new songs, “Stargazing” and “This Town”; the latter is an adequate but forgettable ballad about escaping the trappings of small town life, but the former is a beautiful, shooting star of a single.

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The artwork to Kygo’s new EP

“Stargazing” starts deceptively as a plain ballad, with up-and-coming singer-songwriter, Justin Jesso, supplying crystal clear vocals about star-crossed love (“And I will still be here, stargazing / I’ll still look up, look up / look up for love”). But when the chorus hits, the song explodes into a supernova marriage of shimmering piano and Jesso’s impassioned, digitally-stuttered voice. It tugs at the heartstrings, allowing “Stargazing” to shine brighter than the sun.

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Justin Jesso provides the stunning vocal on Kygo’s new single, “Stargazing”

A heartbreaking music video—centering around a child’s quest to build a rocket to find his deceased father in the stars—further supplements the song’s evocative vibe.

EPs function as stop-gaps to sustain interest while an artist plots their next move. But with another excellent single in tow, Kygo’s Stargazing twinkles magnificently on its own.

A Stadium Full of Dreams

On Saturday, September 23rd, 2017, Coldplay’s marathon A Head Full of Dreams Tour finally hit Seattle. It was a triumphant return for the band who—as lead singer, Chris Martin, pointed out mid-set—played their first U.S. show in Seattle, back in 2001. While they headlined the tiny Showbox theater on that year’s Parachutes Tour, they’ve since graduated to the gargantuan CenturyLink Field.

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Coldplay are touring in support of seventh album, A Head Full of Dreams

Despite being over a hundred shows into their tour, Coldplay delivered an exhilarating, explosive, energetic performance. After entering the outdoor stadium to “O Mio Babbino Caro” (a century-old Italian aria), CenturyLink was suddenly awash with vibrant Xyloband colors, as fireworks and confetti explosions punctuated opening song, “A Head Full of Dreams.” The free Xyloband bracelet—an accessory the band first utilized on 2012’s Mylo Xyloto Tour—played a pivotal role throughout the show, illuminating the stadium in stunning rainbow diodes.

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The Xyloband decorates stadiums with colors

Similarly, the band shot enough fireworks into the clear Seattle night sky to give the Beijing Olympics a run for their money. Pyrotechnics, lasers, kaleidoscopic screen visuals, and giant bouncy balls that floated across the crowd further ensured even the most casual Coldplay fan remained visually stimulated.

Furthermore, Martin was a charismatic front man, sprinting, diving, and twirling across stage like a kid in a candy store. Indulging locals is a time-worn concert tradition, but Coldplay’s love of grunge meant Martin’s 12th Man references felt genuine (he even played a few bars of “Black Hole Sun” in homage to local hero, Chris Cornell). He stopped “Charlie Brown” mid-song to have the audience tuck their cell phones away, and he apologized when the audience request song was once again “Us Against the World.”

And in a hilariously unscripted moment, Martin bashed a tooth against his microphone before asking if there was a dentist in the house. This excellent between-song banter was the perfect lubricant to keep the well-oiled Coldplay machine running smoothly.

Of course, a band is only as strong as their songs, and Coldplay delivered a swath of aces across three separate stages. Naturally, the setlist skewed heavily towards the tour’s namesake LP (including “Hymn For the Weekend” and “Adventure of a Lifetime”), but the band played at least one song off each of their seven albums. And they didn’t skimp on hits, either: Coldplay classics like “Yellow,” “Paradise,” “Clocks,” and “Viva La Vida” were dispatched from the main A stage, while slower fare (“Magic,” “In My Place”) were saved for the B and C-stages.

Of course, their long, storied career meant many of their gems (“Speed of Sound,” “Violet Hill”) weren’t performed, but the two-hour, twenty-plus-song setlist kept everyone satisfied. By the time the band closed with euphoric, penultimate closing song, “Up&Up,” Coldplay had successfully reminded Seattle why they’re currently the biggest band in the world.

NOTE: The fan videos were found on YouTube; they are not mine.

Father’s Day

            Time machine, time machine, take me away, to foreign lands and long-forgotten days.

 

            17 June 2018; local time: 12:12 p.m.; Seattle, USA

 

            A glance in my time machine’s mirror ensures my hair is perfectly buzzed and my jawline sports the small shaving nick that hallmarked my late 20s. Satisfied with my appearance, I twist the date dial back to 2013.

            “Don’t do it,” a woman’s voice warns. Looking up from the console and peering out the windshield, I find a tiny figure blocking my time machine. A hooded Castleton-green cloak obscures her face, with a single strand of silver hair peeking out to betray her age. We’ve met once before. She’s either my savior or the devil herself, I can’t decide.

            “How did you find me again?” I ask through the intercom, returning my attention back to the console, but keeping a watchful eye on her.

            “It’s Father’s Day. I knew what you’d be up to,” she says.

            “Well, if you wanted to stop me, you wouldn’t have given me this time machine, would you?” I say while inputting the destination coordinates into the console’s touch screen.

            “You can’t go back to see your father. You’d break too many rules and alter too many timelines.”

            “I’ll settle up later,” I reply with a dismissive sneer whilst straightening the picture of my dad in his Washington Air National Guard uniform I keep taped to my console.

            “You can’t save him, you know…”

            “You don’t get it, do you?” I snap, facing the old woman. “I’m not going back in time, hoping I’ll save him. I’m going back in time, hoping he’ll save me…”

            The old woman says nothing as we silently dare the other to flinch. Convinced she wields neither the power nor the intention to stop me, I take my seat and fasten my seatbelt as the time machine’s engines hum to life.

            “So kindly step aside and let me spend Father’s Day with my dad!”

            The old woman bows slightly and steps to the side before disappearing in a blinding flash of light as the time machine takes off.

 

            3 August 2013; local time: 3:47 p.m.; Alabama, USA

           

            Sweltering Alabama heat and oppressive summer humidity slam into me as I step out of the time machine into an empty field. Though I’m just a ten-minute walk from my parents’ place, I’ll be drenched in sweat upon arrival. I forgot to bring one of my trusty fans, and I know better than to prance around the Bible Belt with a parasol, so I’m forced to brave the elements on my own. Locking the time machine and enabling its invisibility mode for ninety minutes, I march towards home.

            As predicted, I’m soaked when I enter my parents’ cul-de-sac. My t-shirt clings to my chest with sticky perspiration, while my neck trickles sweat beads down my back like runaway teardrops. I take shelter in the shade of a towering basketball hoop besides my parents’ driveway, only to find the normally boisterous neighborhood devoid of life. Where are the bike-riding children, the barking dogs, the steady purr of lawn mowers? The heat has driven everyone inside except for an old Asian man I’ve never seen before. He adjusts his floppy sun hat and waves at me when he mistakes my brow-wiping for a salutation. I smile weakly at his confusion before turning my attention to the dried yellow grass in front of my parents’ home. Mom is normally so attentive to the lawn, overwatering it with unfailing love every day, but Dad’s diagnosis has halted her horticulture handiwork. Sadly, the grass isn’t the only thing that will perish in this August heat.

            The grass crunches under my feet as I cut through the withered lawn to ring the doorbell to my parents’ home. Mom’s van isn’t in the driveway because she’s picking up my brother from the airport, and I’m banking on Dad being too weak to have ridden along.

            When no one answers, I ring the doorbell again. Dad opens the door for both sinner and saint, so this denial of his eldest son is strange. I hope he’s not asleep, though a cursory glance towards the window reveals nothing since the shades are drawn shut. When I ring the doorbell a third time, nervous sweat intermingles with the drying perspiration still stuck to my body.

            Finally, ice-cool air-conditioning strikes my face, and I’m greeted by a corpse.

            I’d seen Dad three months prior, and while he looked sickly then, his current emaciation renders me speechless. His glasses magnify his sunken, cloudy eyes. Liver spots decorate his bald dome. And he’s reduced to just a third of his normal weight. Cancer has hollowed him into nothing more than a bag of bones. I don’t recognize this ghost of a man, and I almost turn and run.

            “Well howdy, fella!” he says in the slight Southern drawl that signifies this truly is my father.

            “Hi, Dad!” I manage to choke out.

            “I wasn’t expecting you! Mom is picking Nathan up from the airport right now. Come in, you look like you’re roasting out there!”

            Crossing the threshold into the cool house is a breath of fresh air, as a crisp breeze finally halts my perspiration. Dad shambles his way towards the sofa like a narcoleptic zombie, and I’m suddenly ashamed at inconveniencing him.

            “Here, let me help you,” I offer.

            Too proud to accept my assistance, he rejects my offer with a disgusted wave of his hand, continuing to shuffle his way towards the couch in agonizing slow motion. Gripping the arm of the sofa, he lowers himself into a seated position, grimacing the entire time, before finally settling horizontally under one of the enormous faux-fur blankets he brought back from one of his many work trips to Korea.

            “That’s why it took so long to answer the door,” he says with a chuckle.

            “No worries,” I say, kicking off my sneakers and sliding into the navy blue La-Z-Boy recliner my parents have owned my entire life. “What’s that on the TV?” I ask, nodding my head towards the flat screen television mounted on the wall. “A bunch of horses?”

            The Man from Snowy River,” Dad replies.

            “Ah, your favorite film! I’ll watch it with you for a while, if you want.”

            “Nah, it’s just a DVD. Let’s visit for a bit.” Dad attempts to sit up to reach the remote on the coffee table, but I beat him to it. A click of a button and the horses on screen vaporize into a black void.

            “I thought you were in Vancouver,” he says as we both settle back into position.

            I am. I’m power-napping right now, but soon I’ll be on the dance floor, rolling my tits off while chasing sexy strangers who won’t want me.

            “I’m headed there soon,” I lie. “I’m actually flying out in a few hours.”

            “Oh, that’s too bad. You’re just going to miss Mom.”

            “Yeah, listen, about that…you can’t tell Mom I’m here, OK?”

            “Why not?”

            Because Mom is sharp as a tack. She’ll have already seen my Vancouver Pride Facebook posts, and she’ll wonder how I made it to Alabama so quickly. Unable to reconcile the disparity, she’ll look me over, wondering out loud why I look heavier, why I have so many more grey hairs, why I look so much older since my last visit. She’ll start asking too many questions I won’t—or can’t—answer. It’s best to circumvent her entirely. That’s why I bought my brother’s plane ticket; I needed a full-proof plan to get Mom out of the house, and I knew her kind heart couldn’t resist picking Nathan up from the airport.

            “She knows I’m strapped for cash right now, and she’d hit the roof if she knew I charged another flight to my credit card,” I half lie. “She doesn’t even know I bought Nathan’s ticket.”

            Dad’s eyebrows scrunch as he considers my explanation. He can’t conjure a lie to save his life, but he can be trusted with a secret, so I appeal to his sentimentality.

            “Please, just don’t tell her I stopped by. It was really important for Nathan and me to see you one last time, and I don’t need Mom worrying about me with everything else she’s juggling right now. Promise me you won’t tell her, OK?” I plead.

            Dad finally smiles. “Cross my heart and hope to die,” he jokes. Though I glower at his off-color humor, I’m secretly grateful cancer hasn’t stole his spirit.

            “Do you need money?” he asks.

            “What? No, no, I’ll be fine. I’ll work some overtime next month. I’m just glad to be here with you right now.”

            “Well, I’m glad you’re here, too,” he says with a grin. Fuck! I’m already fighting back tears, and I’ve only just sat down!

            Before I can ask how he’s feeling, Dad descends into a vicious coughing fit. Concerned, I leap from the recliner, ready to act, but as I’m unsure how to respond, I fidget like a nervous chicken until Dad makes a drinking motion. My socks glide across the hardwood kitchen floors as I rummage through the cupboards for a cup. I find one of Dad’s old mugs, the bottom stained and cracked from a lifetime of black coffee—no cream, no sugar—and fill with it with cold water from the refrigerator spout. The storm has largely passed when I return, though he drinks the water in careful, deliberate sips in between a few stray coughs.

            “Thank you,” he wheezes, clutching his chest with his free hand. “That’s been happening a lot lately.”

            “Does it hurt?” I ask. I immediately regret letting the words slip from my mouth, but he takes it in stride.

            “Not too much, but the doctor says I need to be careful. Coughing that hard can crack my ribs.”

            “Look at you, finally listening to doctors’ orders!” I tease, trying to lighten the mood as I ease back into the recliner.

            “I don’t have much choice,” he replies, squashing my attempt before it got off the ground.

            Chastised, I sit in silence as he soothes his throat with the cold water. I watch him drink as I reach into a glass candy dish on the coffee table. Pulling out a mini-Reese’s peanut butter cup—Dad’s favorite—I carefully unwrap it, ensuring peanut butter and chocolate flecks don’t rain onto the carpet. I offer him one, but he shakes his head as I pop the candy in my mouth.

            “So, do you have a boyfriend yet?” he suddenly asks.

            I nearly choke on the peanut butter cup. I could always talk to Mom about my boy problems, but my dating life was a taboo subject with Dad. Being a conservative Baptist, he refused to acknowledge or discuss my sexuality until my last visit when I blurted out, “Thank you for always loving me, even though I’m gay,” in our final conversation. He admitted then that he didn’t understand my sexual orientation, but that his love for me remained unchanged. Accordingly, this inquiry is another unexpected olive branch he’s extended my way.

            “I wish,” I say, rolling my eyes and swallowing the candy. “There’s one guy I love, but I don’t think he’s right for me.”

            “Why not?” Dad asks, genuinely interested.

            “I don’t think he loves me back,” I admit.

            “Then he’s not the right guy for you, Son. You deserve to be with somebody who loves you, unconditionally, like your mom and I love you.”

            “Thank you,” I mumble. I never thought I’d see the day when Dad would be doling out boyfriend advice to me.

            “You’re a smart young man, and I’m so proud of you. Any guy would be lucky to have you.”

            My face flushes crimson with shame. I don’t feel like such a proud son, knowing I’m partying my ass off in Vancouver while my dad’s dying. Furthermore, despite harboring a lifelong, secret desire to discuss my romantic flings with my dad, I’m going to liquify into an ocean of tears if I don’t immediately change topics.

            “Hey, do you remember walking with me to take out the garbage when I was five years old?” I ask.

            A sparkle of confusion gleams in his eye at my obvious change of tact, but it vanishes as he furrows his brow to conjure the correct memory.

            “I know you remember,” I encourage. “It was when we used to live in that tiny apartment. Nathan and I were friends with Austin, the kid next door…”

            “I’m sorry, I don’t…”

            “…and that giant tree near the trash bins terrified me. When it swayed in the wind, it looked a hundred feet tall, and I was always afraid it would reach out and carry me into the night.”

            “Oh! The place on Holly Drive!”

            “Yes! On Holly Drive!” We both smile at his recognition.

            “What brought that up?”

            “It’s one of my favorite memories of you. Of us together, actually.”

            Dad smiles. “Why is that?” he asks.

            “Because it was the first time I needed a hero. Whenever we took out the trash, you always held my hand and told me everything would be alright, even when I was sure that scary tree would steal me away forever. You were my very first hero, Dad.”

            “Aww, thank you. But you were always such a good, independent kid. You didn’t need anybody to save you.”

            “I did, Dad. I did then…”

            I stop and clench my eyes shut, tapping into emergency reservoirs of willpower to keep from bawling like a baby. Convinced I’ve temporarily halted the flood, I reopen my eyes and finish: “…and I do now.”

            Dad and I long since discarded the warm-fuzzy aspect of our relationship, so this unbridled display of emotion is unbecoming, but I’ll be damned if I don’t ride it out.

            “You were always the best dad in the world. I hope you know that. I wasn’t always the best at telling you or letting you know, but I always thought the world of you,” I gush.

            My dad is surprised but touched. “I’ve always been so proud of you!” He reaches his hand towards me, and I scoot forward to warmly accept him. Crouched in this half-standing position, I spot his King James Bible lurking from the bottom of the small book stand behind him. I have an idea.

            “Can I read the Bible to you?” I ask.

            He looks up, confused. When I was a child, the Bible was my bedtime story. Dad came into my room with his enormous, leather-bound book, and he’d read me the stories of Moses, Samson, and Jesus Christ while I sat in wide-eyed wonder. I always asked a billion questions, and my father patiently answered each one until it was time to sleep. Listening to him talk about the Bible became a religion unto itself. But sadly, Dad knows I haven’t been to church or cracked open a Bible in nearly a decade.

            “Sure, Son,” he finally says, disguising his puzzlement.

            I gently brush past my father to pick up his ancient Bible. The brown cover is frayed and tattered, with a coffee stain splotching the upper righthand corner. Unsure of which story to read, I flip through the timeworn pages, admiring the countless highlighted passages and handwritten notes in the margin. When I reach the book of Matthew, a tiny picture acting as a bookmark makes me pause. It’s a dinosaur, drawn in blue ink. It’s crude and unpolished, something a kindergartener would proudly present to their father on Father’s Day.

            “You kept this?” I ask, holding my drawing up.

            Dad squints, then beams when he recognizes the image.

            “Of course! I kept all your Father’s Day presents. Even that horrible ceramic mug you made for me in middle school,” he says with a cough/laugh.

            “I can’t believe you still have this,” I say, more to myself than to him.

            “Where was it at?” Dad asks.

            “Huh?”

            “The bookmark. Which book was it in?”

            “Matthew.”

            “OK, start there.”

            Still pleasantly surprised he kept my earliest Father’s Day present, I regain my composure and settle on Matthew, chapter one:

            “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:            

            Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…”

            I continue reading the Bible to him, occasionally peering over the book to catch him wrapped in his blanket, smiling at me. I lose myself in Christ’s genealogy, and I only just make it into Jesus’ ministry in Galilee when Dad’s snoring interrupts me. Having just read the Bible—and knowing my father’s fate—I can’t help but think of heaven. Dad will surely ascend, but what about me? I’ve run so far from home that they might not let me come back. If that’s the case, today’s the last time I’ll ever see him again.

            The dam finally breaks and the tears fall.

            Sobbing silently into my hands so as not to wake my father, I realize the old woman was right: I can’t save him. No matter how many times I come back to this moment, he’s still going to wither and die on that couch. Reduced to a child, I curse God, fate, and time itself for this cruel trick. Why have a time machine if I can’t go back and save the ones I love?

            I could cry for an eternity, but Mom’s imminent return disallows such luxuries. Holding the dinosaur drawing carefully between my fingertips, I flip to Revelations and place the bookmark on the Bible’s last page, but it looks out of place.

            “No, that’s not right,” I whisper, before flipping to Genesis and placing the dinosaur there.

            “This is just the beginning,” I say against my Dad’s snores. Placing the Bible on the coffee table and kissing him gently on the forehead, I add, “I promise to see you again.”

            I open the front door and whisper “I love you” to my dad before running out into the shimmering afternoon heat.

           

            18 June 2018; local time: 09:23 a.m.; Seattle, USA

 

            After my phone resynchs to 2018, I scroll through texts my mom sent until I find one dated August 6th, 2013. It still reads, “He’s gone.” My visit changed nothing. Though I’m hit with a pang of guilt, I’m also relieved my presence failed to alter history, because it means I can go back and visit him again. Instead of wallowing in misery, I can spend every Father’s Day with him. He might not have a future, but he has a past, and if I’m there for enough Christmases I skipped out on, birthdays I missed, and cancer diagnoses I should’ve been there for, maybe one day—someday far in my future but buried deep in his past—I’ll finally believe him when he looks me in the eye and tells me he’s so proud I’m his son.

America’s Original Idol Returns

Hard to believe, but it’s been fifteen years since Kelly Clarkson won the first season of American Idol, back in 2002. She rocketed to stardom when coronation single, “A Moment Like This” reached #1, but it wasn’t until 2004’s Max-Martin-penned “Since U Been Gone” that Clarkson became a chart mainstay, allowing parent album, Breakaway, to dominate pop radio for nearly two years. The album’s success legitimatized Clarkson’s career, as well as American Idol’s ability to nurture genuine talent.

Fast forward to 2017. American Idol has been put out to pasture after years of diminishing returns (although a premature reboot airs in 2018), with The Voice now reigning as television’s preeminent vocal talent competition. Despite these changes, Clarkson remains a national treasure. Now married and with four additional studio albums under her belt (plus a Christmas album, a remix collection, and a successful greatest hits package), Clarkson has completed her American Idol contract.

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Clarkson celebrated ten years in the biz with 2012’s Greatest Hits–Chapter One

Having jumped ship from RCA to Atlantic Records, she’s ready to start the next chapter in her storied career with seventh album, Meaning of Life. To launch the new LP, Clarkson has blessed us with not one, but TWO lead singles: “Love So Soft” and “Move You.”

“Love So Soft” is the sexier of the two singles, as it combines trap and soul for a stomping banger that splits the difference between DJ Snake’s “Get Low” and vintage Amy Winehouse. While it lacks the same immediate rush as previous high watermarks like “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” handclaps, soaring backing vocals, and sultry horns compliment Clarkson’s crystal-clear notes, allowing the song to swagger with confidence. It’s a quirky, brilliant lead single.

Meanwhile, “Move You” is aimed at traditionalists who’ll find her other single too sonically adventurous. While Clarkson’s vocal remains restrained in “Love So Soft,” she lets loose in this ballad, as she compares love to “a sunrise on a mountain,” and “the thrill of Christmas morning”. The lyrics are occasionally corny (is love really “like a symphony at sundown, in the middle of July”?), but the conviction of Clarkson’s commanding voice keeps this from descending into schmaltz; expect this to soundtrack weddings well into 2018.

Notably, each of Clarkson’s six studio albums have spun off at least one top ten single. With the expert one-two opening punch of “Love So Soft,” and “Move You,” Clarkson looks to keep her streak alive, and to once again remind us why she’s still our OG Idol.

George Michael’s Sexy “Fantasy”

Eight months after his untimely death on Christmas Day, George Michael returns with a posthumous new single…sort of. To promote an upcoming reissue of Michael’s early ‘90s opus, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, a remake of obscure B-side, “Fantasy,” has just been released.

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A deluxe reissue of Michael’s 1990 album, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, will be released on October 20th.

“Fantasy” is an odd candidate for a remake. Tacked onto his mission-statement-of-a-single, “Freedom ’90,” the glorified jam session found Michael crooning “if you ain’t got time for me / I’ll find another fantasy” against five minutes of wailing trumpets. The tune was serviceable but unspectacular, and was (rightly) reduced to a mere footnote in Michael’s storied career.

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The artwork to the “Freedom ’90” single, on which “Fantasy” first appeared

Enter Nile Rodgers. The legendary producer—whose five-decade-plus career encompasses everyone from David Bowie to Daft Punk—reduced “Fantasy” to its barest essentials, slashing a minute and a half from the running time, and stripping away the horns to thrust Michael’s blue-eyed-soul vocals to the forefront. Best of all, Rodgers infused the track with a sexy, bouncing groove that dares the listener to not tap their toes. The result brilliantly updates Michael’s classic sound for 2017.

Because of the original’s obscurity, the “Fantasy” remake will unfortunately preach only to the converted. But Rodgers has more than done his job, transforming an average B-side into an ass-shaking delight. George Michael would be proud.

The Power of Britney: I Wanna Go

Britney Spears is no ordinary musician. Though the racy, Catholic school girl-themed video to debut single, “…Baby One More Time” suggested she was a sexy flash-in-the-pan, a combination of seamless reinventions, tabloid-selling headlines, and a Phoenix-like resurrection from the deepest depths of personal despair have transformed her initial fifteen minutes of fame into fifteen-plus years in the biz. Her very essence enables Britney to hold hypnotic sway over a swath of gay men (myself included) who worship the ground she walks on.

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Britney cemented her comeback with three wins at the 2008 Video Music Awards

Of course, Britney would not be the unimpeachable pop princess she is today without an impressive catalogue of hits. Whether she’s confessing doe-eyed love to her boyfriend in 1999’s “Born to Make You Happy,”

or baiting the paparazzi in 2008’s “Piece of Me,”

there’s a Britney jam for every mood and moment. The pervasiveness of these hits means her songs come intrinsically bound with memories unique to each listener; to the faithful, Britney jams aren’t just songs, they’re mission statements, callings, and/or life lessons.

This series will explore the memories and lessons I’ve attached to Britney’s music, starting with how “I Wanna Go” delivered me from hell.

2:00 a.m. Sunday morning, Vancouver Pride, 2013. After dancing for hours to DJ Grind’s “happy house” music at the main Saturday party, my circuit-queen boyfriend and I defected to an after hours club. Queueing in the grimy, claustrophobic lobby, we were blissfully unaware of the rabbit hole we were about to descend. Instead, eager to dance, we paid the outrageous cover fee and stepped through the ominous black entrance.

Inside, it was hot as hell, and twice as debauched. Within minutes, the sweltering temperature sucked a gallon of sweat from my body, while horny men—hidden in the shadows and lost in the throes of animal lust—fucked on the dance floor. Circling the chaos, we observed limitless depravities: tweaked-out twinks snorted coke, a friend fell into a K-hole, some guy literally shit his pants. Unimpressed with such antics, my seasoned boyfriend suggested navigating through the crowd to find our friends. I was terrified. With the seriousness of a saint, I looked him in the eye and instructed him to not let go of my hand for any reason.

Punishing, vocal-less industrial music sound-tracked our voyage. Devoid of melody, the songs’ abrasive, jagged sounds echoed through the club like ricocheting metal; it sounded more like a factory than a dance club. We managed to find our friends in the sea of sin, but the party favors started short-circuiting my brain: one friend’s face glowed with neon green zig-zags, while another friend morphed into a werewolf right before my eyes. Telling myself these were merely hallucinations, I forced myself to sway to the music’s brutal beats. My friends and I muscled our way through two hours of hot, sticky drudgery, but having partied the night before, we were exhausted and on the verge of collapse…

…And then the DJ dropped “I Wanna Go”.

After hours of hard, sadistic tunes, Britney’s third Femme Fatale single was the ray of sunshine we craved. The effect was sweeping and immediate: couples stopped fucking, junkies tucked their drugs away, and my friend came out of his K-hole, allowing the dance floor to explode in unison. While my dance floor brethren’s depths of depravity had previously frightened me, we were now suddenly united under the track’s bouncy groove. My friends and I danced and twirled with renewed vigor, casually intermingling with strangers we’d maintained a healthy distance from before. Even the stifling heat seemed to briefly dissipate. Somehow, in this crazy carnal hellhole, Britney managed to merge the disparate dance floor factions into three-and-a-half glorious moments of unbridled harmony. We left shortly thereafter, Britney having once again saved the day and our souls.

Pretty in Pink

On Sunday, Pink will be awarded this year’s Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Music Awards. Despite not being an obvious choice, a look through her storied career shows why she’s a worthy recipient: aside from being a criminally-underrated vocalist, her defiant, take-no-prisoners attitude was a breath of fresh air in the post-millennium bubblegum-pop landscape. And while her career never scaled the same stratospheric heights as Britney Spears or reached the cultural ubiquity of Rihanna, she’s consistently delivered some of the catchiest and sassiest hits of the last twenty years.

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Pink has been a VMA mainstay for nearly two decades

In honor of Pink’s coronation, here’s a look back at five of her most eye-popping music videos:

Don’t Let Me Get Me: After some slick, R&B-influenced videos off her debut album, Pink kickstarted her pop-rock transformation with the feel-good video to “Get the Party Started.” But it was Missundaztood’s second single, “Don’t Let Me Get Me,” that showcased her vulnerability. Despite the unwieldly song title, the semi-autobiographical video played the lyrics straight, dealing with Pink’s nonconformity in high school and the record industry. Whether she was railing against her reflection in a school locker room, or scaring off overly-zealous hair and makeup crew during a photo shoot, Pink’s rebellious spirit spoke to a generation of disenfranchised teens.

 

Stupid Girls: Pink had dabbled with humor in her videos before, but she went for the comedic jugular on 2006’s celebrity-skewing, “Stupid Girls.” No vapid VIP was safe, as she mercilessly mocked Lindsay Lohan’s hit-and-run, Paris Hilton’s sex tape, and Jessica Simpson’s hypersexualized “These Boots Are Made For Walkin” video via hilarious reenactments. The effect is almost too obvious today, but back then it was a bold, genius move that enabled Pink to scoop Best Pop Video.

 

U + Ur Hand: Filmed in tandem with “Stupid Girls,” “U + Ur Hand” found Pink playing the role of Lady Delish, an unlucky-in-love renegade with a penchant for red lollipops and black lace. Despite numerous locales—an auto shop, a rooftop bar, a garden library—the video is light on plot, electing to shine with flawless makeup and perfectly-detailed splashes of color, instead. Telling an ex to fuck off had never looked or sounded so sweet.

 

Fuckin’ Perfect: On one of two new songs for her first Greatest Hits album, Pink tackled the serious subject of self-harm. Focusing on an artistic loner who struggles to find her way, the song stops dead in its tracks as the young woman, overwhelmed by the weight of the world, cuts the word “PERFECT” into her arm whilst lying in the bath. The visual chills without being exploitative, and when our protagonist survives, perseveres, and eventually flourishes, it hammers home an essential message of self-acceptance that every alienated, outcast soul needs to see. If you do not shed a tear while watching this video, you’re a soulless automaton.

 

Try: After wowing at the 2010 Grammys with her stunning aerial performance of “Glitter in the Air,” Pink upped the ante with the Technicolor explosion of dance that is “Try.” Set in a spartan shack, the video finds Pink and hunky, shirtless dancer, Colt Prattes, engaged in intricate, Apache dance-inspired choreography that highlights the song’s somber mood. Impressively, Pink performed all her own stunts in the video, proving once more she’s a legitimate badass.

The Perfect Birthday Present

           Time machine, time machine, take me away, to foreign lands and long-forgotten days.

             I never know what to get my best friend for her birthday. Despite knowing each other since middle school, all my well-intentioned presents somehow miss the mark: that industrial-sized bag of her favorite tropical-flavored Starburst I got for her fourteenth birthday? The candy jammed her braces. The fancy calligraphy set she pointed out while we were strolling through the mall after high school? She had wanted it for her sister. That autographed copy of The Wheel of Time I bought for her after college? She already had it. A fancy bottle of wine for her 21st birthday? Left her sick. A massage getaway before her wedding? She spent the entire weekend reading books in her room, too embarrassed to disrobe in front of strangers. She’s always genuinely appreciative of my efforts, glossing over my shortcomings with a hug and a kiss, but my best friend deserves a perfect birthday present, at least once. This year, I think I’ve finally found it.

 

            12 October 1997; local time: 8:37 p.m.; Everett, Washington

            When I step out of the time machine, I’m greeted by ominous clouds that hang in the sky like gloomy dollops of whip cream. They obscure the moon, casting this cool fall evening into darkness. The threat of rain makes me button my peacoat snugly.

            I’ve arrived in the parking lot of my old middle school where I first met my best friend a lifetime ago. She offered me Sour Patch Kids that day while we waited for the bus, laughing when the candy’s tart taste contorted my face into a grimace. From such inauspicious beginnings, did our friendship begin.

            But I’m not here to tickle nostalgia’s underbelly. The parking lot functions as a safe, deserted space to leave my time machine while I walk to the nearby park. As I’m double checking my phone’s time, a group of crows perched on a power line above my head caw at me with menacing intent. Drawing my fingers into the shape of a gun, I blast the birds into oblivion, but the murder flies off unscathed.

             It’s nearly 9 p.m., so I pull a plain black Venetian mask from my coat pocket and slip it over my face, adjusting the strap so the mask fits snugly without obscuring my vision. I feel like Zorro but look like Kato from The Green Hornet. “Who loves ya baby?” Or was that Kojak? I leave the vacant lot and race towards the park. The sidewalks and even the streets are empty on this lonely night, though streetlights spotlight me in eerie halos every few feet. My large coat slows me down, but it’s too late to toss it. I ignore a growing stitch in my side and press on.

            The park entrance eventually stumbles into view. Slowing to a trot, I catch my breath whilst surveying my surroundings. The road remains deserted and no homes nestle nearby, so I leap over the “Closed After Dark” sign perched on the locked gate and enter the park.

             A narrow concrete path invites me into a small thicket of trees. The moonlight fails to penetrate the dense forestry, slowing my progress to a fumble. Because the light on my phone isn’t working, I carefully make my way down the gently sloping path. Low-hanging branches catch in my coat. A pinecone is smashed under my feet. And somewhere, an owl hoots. Just before my eyes adjust to the darkness, the trees give way to an expansive field. A single streetlight illuminates a baseball diamond to my left, but it’s the dimly-lit jungle gym to my right that sends a chill down my spine.

             It’s just an ordinary jungle gym: rope ladders and wood plank bridges connect the plastic monstrosity, with rusted monkey bars resembling gallows standing to its side. But taking a cautious step into the wood-chipped playground floods my mind with horrific secondhand memories. After passing a motionless merry-go-round, I find what I’m looking for: two swings—one red, one blue—swaying slightly in the breeze.

             I’m a few minutes early, so I scan my surroundings for the best cover. The open field provides insufficient hiding spots, even on this dark night, so I settle on the giant, twisting serpentine slide opposite the swings as my hideout. Climbing the adjacent rope ladder to reach the slide’s entrance proves difficult; all the running and leaping over fences have zapped my energy, and my forehead is flush with sweat when I finally fling my middle-aged body into the slide’s mouth. Thankfully, the slide’s plastic is cool as I lean my head against the interior, jamming one leg up and to the right into a sideway “K” to keep from slipping to the bottom. Wiping my brow and readjusting my mask, I slow my breathing and listen for the sound of footsteps, voices, or a heart breaking.

             An eternity disguised as a few minutes passes before a young male voice rings faintly in the distance. A young female answers. As their conversation grows louder, I strain my ears to confirm their identities. I can’t make out a single word, but the young man’s voice drips with pubescent hunger. Most of the words flow from his mouth, though the young woman’s occasional sweet laugh keeps their conversation balanced.

             Their sneakers softly crunch wood chips as they approach the jungle gym, but suddenly their conversation and footsteps die. I freeze, not even daring to breathe. Do they suspect something? Oh my god, can they see me? How did he find out? But the sound of laughter calms me as he invites her over to the swings.

             The swings creak as the couple pump their feet, lifting themselves higher and higher until they can almost reach out and touch the moon with their teenage hands. Woops and cheers fill the sky as they soar amongst the stars, hands held, leaving this world behind. It’s a beautiful, innocent moment.

             Eventually their laughter dies down and the squeaky swings give way to silence. Trapped in the slide without a view, I can only speculate on what’s happening, but I bet he’s moved his swing close to hers so he can feign chivalry by draping his arm around her. Gazing into her eyes, he’ll lean in for a soft, gentle kiss. Caught off guard but pleasantly surprised, she’ll allow his lightly chapped lips to press into hers. He’ll start tenderly, but her submission will awaken an animalistic desire, reducing the kiss to sloppy tongue-mauling. Alarmed by his passion yet trapped like a passenger on a runaway train, she’ll try to pull away, but he’ll continue to devour her face as his hands start sliding over her breasts, down her torso, and into her thighs before she shouts:

            “Hey, stop!”

            “Oh c’mon, you know you want it,” he sneers. “We’ve been going out for months now.”

            “No, get off me!”

           A hard, cold slap follows.

            “Fuck!” he shouts.

            “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hit you, I just wanted you to stop,” she pleads.

            “You fucking bitch!”

            Suddenly, the swing set comes alive with the sound of struggle. Now’s the time to act, but I’m suddenly immobilized by a toxic cocktail of fear and doubt. What if I’ve inexplicably misjudged the situation and no foul play is involved? What if he overpowers me? What if…what if I can’t stop this from happening? Tormented by indecision and drenched in sweat, I remain hidden, even as a body hits the ground with a sickening thud.

            “Somebody, help me!” the girl shouts.

            “Ha, no one can hear you!”

            “Please, anybody, help!”

            “SHUT UP, bitch!”

            “HELP! HELP! Somebody, please help me!”

            “I SAID SHUT UP!”

            “What…what is that? Where did you get that?” she asks him. Whatever’s in his hand causes her voice to quiver with fear.

             The unmistakable “click” of a disengaged trigger safety finally galvanizes me into action. Dropping my leg allows me to soundlessly slide from my hiding place onto the wood chipped ground below. The young man is a few feet in front of me, his back facing me and a gun in his left hand pointed towards a crying young woman on the ground. Seizing a perfect opportunity, I reach into my inside coat pocket for the handgun I’ve been hiding. But static electricity charged from my descent down the slide bursts as my fingertips brush against my coat, causing me to flinch.

            “Fuck!” I yell involuntarily, shaking my hand.

            The young man whips around to face me, gun pointed squarely at my chest.

            “Who are you? Where did you come from?” he demands.

            Catching my first glimpse of him leaves me stunned. Acne dots his face in angry red mountains, while moonlight bounces off his braces. I knew he’d be young, but he’s just a child.

            “I said, ‘Who are you?’!” he repeats. “And why are you wearing a mask?”

             Raising my hands in deference and taking a slow step backward, I tell him he doesn’t want to do this. “Put the gun down,” I say as calmly as possible.

            “This is none of your business, man!” he seethes.

            “Please, just listen to me. Don’t do this! You’ll ruin her life, and yours. Just let her go!”

            “I’m going to blow your fucking head off, man!” he spits, taking a step towards me.

            Unable to reason with this agitated young buck, I switch tactics:

            “NOW! Do it now!” I shout at the crying girl on the ground.

            Confused, the young man spins towards her to see what mischief we’ve planned, but her perplexed expression lets him know he’s been duped. He spins back to face me, but he’s too late: I’ve already retrieved the handgun from my coat pocket and fired a shot. Though I’ve aimed for his hand, the young man grabs his arm, instead. Still, the rubber bullet has successfully distracted him from noticing my rushing advance. My head lowered and my elbows jutted outward, I ram into him at full speed, sending his gun flying as we crash into the wood chips.

            Despite falling backward, the young man scrambles to his feet before me to frantically search the playground for his gun. Capitalizing on his disarmament, I charge towards him again, eager to subdue him, but he’s ready this time, squaring his shoulders and bracing his body for impact. This time, it’s my gun that flies off when we crash to the ground.

            Standing proves painful, as a sharp, piercing sting ignites below my chest anytime I move. Thankfully I’m not bleeding. Clutching my side, I hobble to my feet to find my gun while the young man does the same. The young woman lies on the ground and sobs.

            Searching for a small, dark object at night is as difficult as it sounds. After mistaking too many stray pinecones for my gun, I settle for sifting wood chips with my sneakers in hopes of finding my weapon. The young man mirrors my action just a few feet away, desperation fueling our efforts. We both understand how this game ends for the loser. There is no second-place trophy in this twisted game of Find The Firearm.

            His laughter peels through the air like a wolf’s howl. He’s found his gun. Turning towards the sound only confirms my suspicion: a menacing barrel is pointed at me. Before I can protest, he fires a shot in the dark that connects directly above my fractured rib.

            Time grinds to a halt. All the air is sucked from my body, and unimaginable pain radiates from my chest in blinding shockwaves. I sway like a drunkard before collapsing in a heap.

            “You KILLED him!” the young woman shouts to the young man.

            “He was going to kill me!” he protests.

            “You killed him! You killed him!”

            “SHUT UP! It was self-defense!”

            The couple are silent as the young man stares at my motionless body. Convinced I won’t rise from the dead, he returns to his deplorable task, a confident sneer displaying his intentions.

            “I’ll deal with him later. Now, where were we?” he says.

            In a flash, he rushes over and pounces atop her stomach. She twists and turns like a sheep trapped in a python’s grip, but she’s powerless beneath his oppressive weight. With one hand waving a gun wildly in her face and the other fumbling with his zipper, he unsheathes his hard on.

            “Quit struggling!” he shouts as he awkwardly slides her pants halfway down her legs, exposing her virginity.

            The young woman screams just before her innocence is shattered.

            A sound like the world being ripped in two rings through the night, causing the young man to halt his trespass. The young woman holds her breath, relieved that the strange sound has temporarily stopped her boyfriend. She watches as he continues to loom over her like a vulture, waiting for the right moment to strike. Suddenly, he collapses on top of her, the full weight of his body pressing into her with unstoppable force. Expecting the worst, she closes her eyes and screams, telling herself this will all be over soon…

            …but the young man doesn’t stir. He lies on top of her, as if lost in deep slumber. Unable to fathom what’s happened, the young woman remains motionless, hoping and praying this nightmare will end. It’s not until a warm pool of liquid oozes its way onto her chest that she summons the courage to shove the young man off her own untouched body. Pulling herself into a seated position, she finds me standing nearby, gun in hand.

            For a second time that night, the young girl screams, “You killed him!”

            “I didn’t mean to! He must’ve grabbed my gun when…”

            But my explanation falls on deaf ears as she’s on her feet, wrapping me in a giant hug. Her surprisingly tight grip sends a fresh jolt of pain through my broken rib, and the bloodstain from her boyfriend bleeds onto my coat, but I let her cry her heart out. With her head down, I readjust my askew mask before gently cradling her in my arms.

            “He was going to rape me.”

            “I know, but it’s over. You’re safe now.”

            “I thought he shot you,” she says, pulling away whilst considering my masked eyes.

            “He did, but my gun had rubber bullets. He must’ve found mine on the ground. Still hurts like hell, though!”

            The young woman’s stare has turned morbidly curious, so before she can reach up to remove my mask, I pass her an ancient flip phone.

            “Here, call your parents on this,” I say.

            She breaks from her wary gaze to carefully dial home. When her mother answers, she spews an abridged version of her close call, deleting me from the narrative. She promises she’s unharmed, but that she needs a ride from the park.

            “Am I alone?” she asks her mother while looking at me. I nod twice.

            “Yes, I’m alone. Call the cops and have Dad pick me up. Please hurry!”

            With her parents racing towards the scene of the crime, she flips the phone shut and hands it back.

            “Will you be OK here by yourself?” I ask. “I can’t be here when your parents arrive, it will look suspicious…”

            “I’ll be OK,” she says, shivering.

            “Good. I’m glad you’re safe,” I say. Unsure of whether to hug her, shake her hand, or pat her on the shoulder, I opt for walking away, instead.

            “Wait…who are you?” she blurts out before I’ve managed two steps.

            “A friend,” I confess.

            “But how…”

            “Just a friend,” I interject with finality.

            “OK,” she says sheepishly.

            I stare at her in the darkness, unable to pull away. Hesitantly, she asks one final question:

            “How did you know I’d be here tonight?”

            Though the mask obscures my face, I feel her eyes searing into me like hot daggers. She senses a familiar presence, yet my identity remains frustratingly out of reach. I consider my words carefully.

            “…Because it’s part of my plan,” I say.

            “Plan? Plan for what?”

            “My plan to finally give you the perfect birthday present you’ve always deserved.”

            “But…but it’s not my…”

            I don’t wait for her to finish as I trot towards my time machine, leaving her alone in the park.

 

            15 August 2018; local time: 12:16 p.m.; Paris, France

            When I exit the time machine, blinding summer sunshine stands in stark contrast to the cold fall night I’ve just come from. The weather is perfect, with not a cloud in the sky. Removing the mask from my face, I grab a neatly wrapped box with a bright blue bow, and make my way down a tree-lined Parisian boulevard. Birds sing, children whizz by on bicycles, and a dog barks happily in the distance. My rib still aches, reducing me to a leisurely shuffle, but otherwise it’s a glorious day.

            When I arrive at the correct townhome, I knock three times. My best friend opens the door in a checkered blue and white apron.

             “Matt! What a surprise! What are you doing here? And is that blood on your shirt?”

            I flash her one of my trademark I’m-up-to-no-good smiles. “I was in London visiting Cody, and I thought I’d pop over for your birthday. I got a bloody nose on the train,” I lie.

            “That’s so sweet! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were in the area! Come in, come in! Charlie’s taken Max to the store to buy him some crayons, but I’ll text him you’re here! I’m finishing up some cookies, but we’re going to grab lunch near the market for my birthday. You must come with us! I’m sure Charlie will let you borrow a clean shirt.” She steps inside to put a kettle on, but I grab her arm.

            “I’m sorry, I have to catch the next train out of Paris if I’m going to make my flight out of London. I’m just here to drop this off for you,” I say, handing her the box.

            “A present? And it’s even wrapped this time! To what do I owe this honor?” she teases.

            “Oh, stop it. Just open it, will ‘ya?”

            She laughs and smooths a crease from her apron as I hand her the present. She studies the box’s size before declaring:

            “It looks small enough to hold a cupcake.”

            “Or a human heart.”

            “You’re terrible!” she says, lightly slapping me on the arm.

            “Go on, open it!”

            With the townhome’s threshold dividing us, I watch as she tears off the blue bow and opens the lid, curiosity dancing in her eyes. Her smile fades to a confused frown when she sees what’s inside. Picking up the tiny, crumpled object in her fingers, she shoots me a quizzical look.

            “What is this? Is this a bullet? Why did you get me this?”

            “Close your eyes,” I say.

            “What?”

            “Close your eyes,” I repeat.

            My best friend’s patience is wearing thin, but her weary sigh means she’s complied with my request.

            “Alright, no peeking, OK? Promise not to open your eyes until I say?”

            “Yeah, fine, whatever.”

            Convinced she’ll keep her word, I grab her free hand and tell her to ask me about the present again.

            “What?”

            “Ask me why I got this bullet for you again. And then you can open your eyes.”

            Even with her lids shut, I see her eyes roll, but she obeys:

            “Why did you get me this bullet?” she asks in flat monotone.

            When she opens her eyes, she’s transported back in time twenty-one years, the same masked man in a blood-stained shirt from that horrific night standing in her doorstep, still clutching his rib. Frozen in disbelief, her mouth agape, she cannot speak.

            “Because I want to finally give you the birthday present you’ve always deserved.”

            Dropping the rubber bullet to the ground, she hugs with me the conviction of a woman just saved.

            “Thank you, it’s perfect,” she says, reduced once more to a young woman crying on my shoulder.

            “Happy birthday,” I say.

Murdering an Ex

 

            Time machine, time machine, take me away, to foreign lands and long-forgotten days.

            9 May 2017; local time: 12:03 a.m.; Seattle, Washington

          “I can’t do this anymore!” I exclaim, tossing my dinner jacket over Chrysta’s couch whilst unraveling my bowtie. I’ve drunkenly stumbled to her apartment after a charity event downtown—no time travel necessary—and I’m raiding her pantry to mix myself a vodka-Sprite. Carbonation bubbles float up my highball glass like tiny tempers let loose.

          “I keep running into him everywhere I go! Why can’t he just leave me alone?”

          “Scott again?” Chrysta asks. Her sleep mask rests in her tussled hair, stray strands of which radiate in every direction like blonde solar flares. She crosses into the kitchen and shoos me away from the fridge I’ve propped myself against to add a splash of cold milk to her mug of hot cocoa.

          “Yeah, Scott again,” I say, plopping down at her kitchen bar.

          “What happened this time?” she asks, yawning.

          “Same old bullshit. I didn’t know he’d be at this event, and he came out of nowhere to talk to me. Things were cordial at first, but I was a little drunk…”

          Chrysta shoots me a motherly glance, which I promptly ignore.

          “…and I asked why he blocked me on Facebook.”

          “What did he say?”

          “He gave some lame-ass excuse about needing to cut toxic people out of his life.”

          “Well, he is toxic for you,” Chrysta says as she takes a satisfying first sip of her cocoa.

          “Yeah, he is toxic for me, not the other way ‘round!”

          “Why even talk to him, then?”

          “Ugh…I try not to, but he’s so damned charming. One word and I’m hypnotized.”

          Chrysta’s cat, Warhol, hops atop the bar, and I nuzzle the top of his head as he purrs affectionately.

          “And he means well,” I continue. “He’s apologized for cheating, and I’d like to move forward as friends, but whenever we try to negotiate any kind of peace…” I let the sentence die while cradling my empty highball.

          “What did you say, then, after he mentioned cutting toxic people out of his life?”

          I sigh heavily before confessing that I called him a balding asshole.

          “No!”

          “Wait, it gets better. He responded by calling me a narcissistic loser, so I called him a flat-assed failure with abandonment issues.”

          Chrysta shakes her head but demands the denouement.

          “At that point, he threw a drink in my face. I was so pissed that I threatened to murder him with my bare hands, but security kicked us both out before I could take a swing.”

          “God, your guys’ fights put world wars to shame!” Chrysta marvels. I dip my head into my hands, frustrated and drunk. I can already feel tomorrow’s hangover creeping in.

          “You need another drink. Let me pour you another vodka-Sprite,” she says as she moves toward the pantry.

          “Your readiness does not negate my sorrow,” I caution, but she refills my glass just the same, neutralizing my bitterness with figurative and literal sweetness:

          “Of course not, dear,” she says with a smile, dropping a maraschino cherry into my drink. “You know what will happen tonight, though, right?” she asks.

          “Thank you,” I say, regarding the garnish. I take a sip and am impressed with her perfectly-mixed proportions. Still, my predicament’s predictability leaves me acidic. “Do tell, oh All-Seeing Oracle,” I mock.

          “First, you’ll get drunk… you’re already well on your way there…” she says. I raise my glass in a faux toast.

          “Then you will be filled with that familiar tug of regret for Scott…” She pauses just long enough for my disgust to register.

          “…and then you’ll flounder for reason, like a fish gasping for breath on a boat deck. Finally, you’ll break through and get to the most essential task you’ve been called upon to fulfill,” she says.

          I’m impressed by her midnight eloquence but maintain my bitterness: “And what is that?”

          “Why, the task of being Matthew Fucking Craven, of course!” she says with a victorious smile.

          I reach across the bar with my half-empty highball and clink it against Chrysta’s mug, flattery trumping logic once again. Warhol jumps to the floor and weaves his way between Chrysta’s legs while I watch in silent contemplation.

          “I wish I had never met him,” I finally declare to myself.

          “He’s certainly not the most positive influence in your life,” she says as she bends down to pick her cat up.

          “No, I mean it. I wish I never fucking met him. I want to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind him out of existence. POOF, vanished, never existed!” I say, mimicking exaggerated smoke clouds with my hands.

          “Well, there’s no way for you…” Chrysta realizes her mistake a second too late when a wicked grin dances across my face.

          “Matthew Joseph Craven, you better not!” she says, dropping Warhol to the ground and rushing around the bar to confront me face-to-face.

          “Calm down,” I say, my hands raised in surrender. “You know I’m too drunk to fly the machine tonight, anyway.”

          She is not satisfied with my answer. “Promise me you won’t do anything rash.”

          “I promise not to do anything rash,” I say, crossing my heart and bonking my finger on her nose to diffuse the tension. And I won’t. A plan is germinating, but a cursory stroke of my chin reminds me I’m sporting only a few days’ worth of stubble, and I need a full beard to pull this off.

          I finish my drink in one long gulp and grab my dinner jacket from the couch. Chrysta senses my sudden elation, but not even flattery can ground me now, so she settles for a warning: “Time has a way of correcting itself,” she says.

          “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I say, kissing her on the cheek before rushing home.

 

            18 January 2015; local time: 12:17 a.m.; Portland, Oregon

          I kept my promise to Chrysta, as nothing about my month-long preparation could be considered “rash”: I stopped shaving and patiently waited for my stubble to blossom into a thick beard and mustache. I replaced free-weight-training at the gym with punishing cardio so I could squeeze back into my old “Why I’m Single” tank top. And I’ve dabbed gallons of moisturizer and anti-wrinkle creams on my face to achieve my long-lost glow from yesteryear. A thorough examination in the mirror verifies my efforts were not in vain: I’m the spitting image of 2015 Me.

          Aesthetic simulation was a piece of cake, though, when compared to my plan to finally eradicate Scott from my timeline; the expert coordination, deception, and guile of my strategy will win me a Machiavellian medal if I succeed! Still, a nagging voice—the same nagging voice I’ve silenced all month long—whispers uncertainties in my ear as I descend into Portland. Can I really do this? Do I want to really do this? The time machine lurches upon landing, whipping me forward and pinning my hand between my chest and the console. I swear in pain, but as I feel my heartbeat, I’m reminded of the sting Scott left in my heart. That’s sufficient motivation. I flex my hand, ensure an extra iPhone 6 is in my pocket, and step out into a rainy Portland night.

          As I pass empty restaurants and closed shops in the Pearl District, a fresh specter of doubt materializes. What if someone recognizes me? What if I recognize me? My plan suddenly feels sloppy, unrehearsed. It’s not too late to turn back…no, this will work. I was hammered that night, so there’s no way 2015 Me will remember any of this. I zip up my dark jacket and quicken my pace until the rainbow flag above CC Slaughter’s welcomes me to my destination.

          CC Slaughter’s promise of cheap, stiff drinks and dance floor frivolity were a Siren’s call too irresistible for my friend, Jake, and I to ignore when an impromptu road trip led us to Portland over MLK weekend in 2015. This return to the scene of the crime marks the start of Phase I of my masterplan. I stand in the modest queue and reach for my wallet to pay cover, but the doorwoman ushers me inside as expected, 2015 Me having already paid. I hold my breath as I cross both CC Slaughter’s threshold and the point of no return.

          I slide out of my jacket and linger in the dark entrance to let my eyes adjust to my surroundings. The main bar stands in front of me, the dance floor beckoning from beyond; bathrooms are ahead, to the right. Large crowds on both sides of the bar provide perfect camouflage, allowing me to scope out the dance floor from the safety of the shadows. It doesn’t take long for me to spot Jake and 2015 Me dancing—already sans tank top and snapping a fan—to Katy Perry’s “Birthday”. God, I was such a mess that night! Luckily, that will play to my advantage, now.

          Having found 2015 Me, my next task is securing a suitable one-night stand. Scanning my surroundings like a sexual panther, I quickly reject two young twinks, an older Asian man, two college-aged lesbians, and four dude-bros in backwards caps. Then I catch a guy, early thirties, just under six feet tall, checking me out across the bar. His wrinkled white button-up and un-gelled brown hair are discouraging, but his drunk smile swaggers with ignorant bliss. He’s perfect for tonight. I feign nervousness by locking eyes with him and quickly looking away. When I look back, my shy smile encourages him, and he flies over like a moth to the flame.

          “Hey, what’s your name?” he asks.

          “Hi, I’m Matt.”

          “I’m Jason,” he says as he reaches to shake my hand, sloshing his drink all over my arm in the process.

          “Nice to meet you,” I lie whilst suppressing an eye roll. “Looks like you need another drink.”

          He looks at his half-empty glass, but fails to reconcile the math, opting to shot-gun the remaining liquid instead. “Can I buy you a drink?” he asks, the sticky stench of his Jäger-breath forcing me back a step.

          “Sure, but I just got here and need to find my friend first. Will you order me something, and I’ll be back in a minute?”

          He catches the sinister undertone of my request, but I have this horny boozer firmly in my grip. When I scratch the back of my head—gratuitously flexing my bicep the entire time—Jason’s eyes light up like Christmas lights.

          “OK,” he says.

          “Excellent.” With this part of my plan complete, I make to leave, but Jason points at my chest and slurs a question I don’t catch.

          “What?”

          “Single. Why are you single?” he asks.

          “Oh, my tank top. Because I’m waiting for Mr. Right,” I lie while turning my attention back to the dance floor.

          “I’m right here, baby,” he says, taking a stumbling step forward, his free hand reaching for my waist.

          “Whoa, slow down, tiger!” I say, dodging his pathetic seduction. “Whiskey sour, please. I’ll be back as soon as I find my friend.”

          My confident, dominant tone must turn him on, because Jason staggers back into the drink line like a compliant school boy, smiling stupidly the entire time. I reciprocate with a dopey smile of my own until he finally turns to the bartender, allowing me to duck into the bathroom undetected.

          The stench of stale piss hits my nostrils as my sneakers strike the dirty tiled floor. Suppressing a gag, I duck into a stall to peel off my tank top, securing it tightly through my belt loop. I place my jacket over my forearm to conceal my tattoo, and I sneak out of the bathroom with a loud gaggle of gays.

          I manage to find a dark corner near the back bar with ample views of the dance floor, but out of Jason’s lusty range. Jake and 2015 Me dance and twirl under the neon lights and shimmering disco ball as I bide my time, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

          Finally, Jake leaves the dance floor for the back bar. Though he crosses within a foot of my hiding spot, his mission of mirth renders me invisible. Once he’s in line, I slide onto the dance floor, shimmying and shaking my way past drunk revelers towards my prize.

          2015 Me is dancing next to a mirror, his fan temporarily sheathed. He’s easy to sneak up behind, though his sweaty forehead causes my finger to slide when I cover his eyes.

          “Guess who,” I taunt.

          When I uncover his eyes and he spins around, 2015 Me’s toothy grin melts into confusion at seeing his dance floor doppelganger. His eyes narrow as he staggers unsteadily, pointing at me, then himself, then me in the mirror, then himself in the mirror, our identical black jeans and unruly face fuzz overloading his flooded circuits. When he starts to speak, I grab his shoulders and slam him into the wall next to the mirror. His puzzlement gives way to fear, my smoldering sneer frightening him further. Just before he can shout for help, I lean in close and whisper, “Welcome to the best moment of your life,” before thrusting my tongue into his mouth.

          2015 Me initially struggles against my invasion, but soon returns my kiss, hints of his watermelon gum tickling my tongue. Incredibly, the animal intensity of his probing tongue arouses me as we continue trading sloppy, mouth-devouring kisses. An involuntary image of the two of us, naked, fucking each other’s brains out, flashes through my mind. Good god, Scott was right: I am a narcissist!

          Thankfully, thinking about Scott refocuses my attention, allowing me to reach for 2015 Me’s fan while maintaining our kiss. I know he can’t resist, and sure enough, he snatches the fan out of my hand and snaps it open with a satisfying prrrrattt! With the Oriental accessory shielding our incestuous embrace from curious onlookers, I reach into his pocket and extract his iPhone 6. Sliding the stolen phone into my own jean pocket, I discreetly drop a replica on the ground.

          “Your phone!” I shout, breaking our kiss and pointing to the floor. With continued confusion, 2015 Me investigates the ground to retrieve the duped device, while I retreat to find Jake at the back bar.

          “Hey girl!” I say, jumping into line with Jake and lightly punching him on the arm. The crowd in front of us suggests he might be waiting awhile for drinks. “I’ve got a massive, mega favor to ask of you, mate,” I add, affecting the bad British accent I lapse into when drunk.

          Even through his booze-filled filters, Jake smells a rat. Though he can’t pinpoint anything specific, my appearance is somehow slightly off. Brow furrowed, he scans me up and down for signs of failed facsimile. When he finds no obvious faults, he settles on the jacket slung across my arm.

          “Where did you get that?” he asks.

          “That’s what I want to talk to you about. It belongs to this super cute guy named Jason. We’re going to hook up, but he can’t host…” I draw out the last word, hoping Jake will piece it together on his own, but he refuses to play along. “…so I need to use the hotel room for a bit.”

          Jake immediately protests, but I’m ready.

          “Here, take my credit card. The rest of your drinks are on me tonight. And you can grab a late-night breakfast burrito at a food cart afterwards. Oh, and stop by that strip club, Silverado, you mentioned on the way in; I didn’t want to go to that, anyway. All of it’s on me. I just need the room until 4 a.m.” I dangle my credit card in front of Jake’s face while flashing my most innocent smile.

          Jake glares at me but snatches my card just the same. “Matt Craven, I fucking hate you!”

          “Thank you!” I say, wrapping him in a hug.

          “You can have the room until 3 a.m., not a second later. And you’re buying brunch tomorrow!”

          “Deal! Love you, bitch!” I say, kissing him on the cheek. Jake dismisses me with a pithy wave and returns his attention to securing drinks while I cut back across the dance floor. Jason is milling near the front bar, a drink in both hand, casting his eyes nervously about. Relief washes over him when he sees I’ve returned.

          “Hey, where did you…” he starts with excruciating pauses punctuating each slurred syllable.

          “I found my friend and he said it’s cool if I bail,” I interrupt. “Do you want to get out of here?” I ask.

          “Yeah,” Jason manages.

          “OK. Now listen, this part is extremely important,” I say clearly and slowly. “I have to be back at my hotel at exactly 2:50 a.m. Walk me back, call me a cab, I don’t care, but I absolutely must be back at 2:50 a.m. on the dot. Can you do that?”

          Jason’s confusion infuriates me, so I kiss him on the mouth to seal the deal. Remnants of Jäger, too many beers, and his sushi dinner nearly activate my puke stream, but he disengages just in time.

          “Get you back to your hotel at 2:50 a.m. exactly,” he repeats with the sobering clarity of a man desperate to get laid.

          “Good boy,” I say. “I’m going to go dance to one last song while you close out your tab. Come grab me when you’re done.”

          “What about…?” Jason asks, holding the drinks in his hands aloft.

          “Here, I’ll take care of that,” I say, reaching for both whiskey sours. Jason watches in stunned wonder as I swallow the drinks in one gulp a piece. “Go close out and let’s do this,” I command, handing him the empty cups and twirling towards the dance floor.

          Jason nods in approval and shuffles back to the bar to close his tab. Drunk 2015 Me will find him an acceptable prospect, and I’ve already informed Jake of my intentions, so no suspicions will be aroused. When the bartender grabs Jason’s attention, I sneak out of CC’s. Phase I of my plan is complete!

          The rain has stopped, and the cool, crisp air is refreshing after the carnal humidity of the club. After verifying the hotel keycard is nestled amongst the credit cards in the stolen iPhone’s wallet case, I slide my tank top back on and zip up my jacket while hailing a cab. It’s time to implement Phase II of my plan.

          The cab zips through late-night Portland while I unlock 2015 Me’s phone to open Grindr. I breeze past unanswered “hello”s and “sup?”s until I find Scott’s message, but I click too quickly and accidentally enlarge his photo instead of receiving his introduction. I’m brought face to face with my tormentor once more, only this time his stormy eyes, dirty-blonde five o’clock shadow, and disarming half-smile leave me dumbstruck. I forgot about this photo. He’s so rugged and handsome, and I’m reminded of why I fell in love with him in the first place…

          …but I’m not here to rekindle old sparks. Exiling sentimentality from my heart, I start the conversation that will erase him forever.

          “How’s your night?” I type.

          The green dot next to his name indicates he’s online. He was drinking at home with a friend that evening, I remember. Thankfully, his response is prompt:

          “Hello! I’m drinking wine with my friend.”

          “LOL, I’m drunk, too!”

          “Lol. Where are you?”

          “Leaving CC’s, heading back to my hotel.”

          “Cool.”

          Pleasantries sufficiently exchanged, I up the ante:

          “Want to come over? LOL” I ask.

          I glance out the cab’s window when Scott doesn’t immediately respond. We’ve stopped at a light on the Northwest Broadway Bridge, near the hotel. The area is deserted except for an angry, tweaked out homeless man howling obscenities at the moon. His long, unwashed locks and dirty coat obscure his profile until he turns and catches me staring. A dangerous growl escapes his lips as he hurdles towards us, throwing an empty whiskey bottle at the cab for good measure.

          “What the fuck was that?!” the driver exclaims as the bottle shatters inches from the cab’s bumper. The light turns green.

          “Go, go, go!” I shout.

          The driver peels off, leaving the homeless man to his continued wailing. I exhale a sigh of relief once we’ve cleared the bridge, though I wait until we’ve almost reached the hotel before I check Grindr again to see Scott has responded.

          “I’m with a friend tonight,” he repeats.

          “LOL, I know. But I’m only here tonight. I leave tomorrow morning.”

          “Oh. Where do you live?”

          “Seattle.”

          “OK.”

          Scott’s indecision is infuriating but not unexpected given our countless arguments regarding his hesitancy. He’s weak concerning matters of the flesh, though, so a few of my modeling pictures—including one of my untrimmed stomach he loved so much—should do the trick.

          “Wow, your hiot!” he replies, his misspellings betraying his drunkenness.

          “Thanks! You’re cute, too!”

          I arrive at the hotel, paying the driver and using the keycard to enter the building. Spotting the concierge behind his desk, I take an unbalanced step with half-closed eyes in his direction.

          “Hey man, I checked in earlier,” I say, pausing to let my head bob a few times, “but I’ve had a few drinks, and I don’t…I don’t even remember my room anymore.” I shrug my shoulders and smile stupidly, fixing the concierge with one eye.

          “Last name?” he asks, ever the consummate professional.

          “Craven. Like Raven except with a C. Caw caw!”

          “You’re in room 301.”

           Thank you!

          “Thanks, man! I gotta go sleep this off now, caw caw!”

          The concierge nods and points me to the elevators. Once I’m upstairs and inside my room, I turn back to my phone to see Scott has responded.

          “Friend leaving soon but I’m drunk.”

          His interest piqued, I strike with my trump card.

          “OMG, is that a Gambit tattoo?!” he asks after seeing the picture I’ve sent.

          “It is! He’s my favorite X-Man!”

          “I love the X-Men!” I know. They were one of our most endearing bonds.

          “Wanna see it in person?”

          “OK,” he responds.

          “OK?”

          “Yeah.”

          “LOL, I meant now.”

          “OK.”

          “I’m at the Marriott Residence Inn by Union Station.”

          “OK.”

          “LOL, quit saying OK. Are you coming?”

          “Yeah.”

          “Great, I’m in room 301. See you soon!”

          “OK.”

          My plan nearly finished, I close Grindr and pace the hotel room, knowing Scott can’t resist an attractive Asian with an X-Men tattoo. His place is only a ten-minute walk from the hotel, which gives me plenty of time to eviscerate him upon his arrival. Once the door is locked and he can’t escape, I’ll remind of him of every fight we ever had, including the one back at the train station that cold, rainy November afternoon when I should’ve left him for good. I’ll recall all his deplorable actions—forgetting my birthday, hitting me, sleeping with someone else!—and I’ll belittle every weakness and flaw he’s ever exposed to me. Fueled by righteous anger, I’ll bury him in an onslaught of vicious verbiage until I’ve exhumed all his foul memories from my soul. Finally, decimated by my disdain, I’ll deliver a death-blow by reminding him he was the worst thing to ever happen to me.

          Of course, Scott doesn’t yet possess these same memories, so he won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. He’ll assume I’m one of those Grindr psychopaths who lures innocent men back to hotel rooms for ritualistic murder (he should be so lucky). He’ll run back home, screaming the entire way, never to bother me again. Just to be sure, I’ll block his ass on Grindr, ensuring we never date; when I return to my time, he’ll be wiped from my memory, like he never existed. This thought makes me break into an evil grin. Scott, you’ll finally be eliminated!

          My smile fades when half an hour passes and Scott hasn’t arrived. The neon green numerals on the microwave clock tell me it’s just past 2 a.m., so I’m cutting this close. Checking Grindr every few minutes does nothing but affirm Scott is offline, so I pace nervously around the hotel, rooting through refrigerated takeout and rifling through dirty laundry. I fold 2015 Me’s socks, and I repack his weekend bag while I wait, cursing him for not stocking the fridge with vodka.

          Scott still hasn’t turned up at 2:45 a.m., so I pull the plug. Jason will return 2015 Me to the hotel soon, with Jake trailing close behind, and I can’t risk running into them. Naturally, I’m incensed. Where is Scott?! Did that loser pass out at home? I send him a “Fuck you!” on Grindr whilst chuckling darkly at the realization he’s once more derailed my ambitions. Resorting to Plan B, I fly out the hotel lobby and bolt straight for my time machine.

 

            19 January 2015; local time: 11:02 a.m.; Portland, Oregon

          I’ve barely closed the time machine’s hatch before I’m off to the next morning. My fists clench at Scott’s absence, but my mission remains salvageable if I catch him now. The journey only lasts a few seconds before the time machine shudders to a halt, yet I manage to crack each one of my knuckles while impatiently waiting for my phone to acclimate to the new time. Once my phone displays the correct local time, I open Grindr, ready to draw Scott in again. Strangely, he’s been offline since last night. How is he still offline?! Is he still asleep? Despite becoming more trouble than he’s worth, I set the dial for the next afternoon…

          …to find he’s still offline.

          Scott’s legendary ineptitude has me teetering on the precipice of rage. I need a drink. I grab my jacket, slam the time machine hatch shut, and march through the wintery mist and fog towards the nearest bar.

          The bar is dimly lit and almost empty, with peanut shells lining the floor. The counter looks like it hasn’t been washed in a century, so I place my jacket over my lap, instead.

          “Apple martini, two cherries, please,” I tell the barmaid once I’m comfortably seated on a stool. When she disappears, my anger ebbs and I suddenly feel hollow. I bury my head in my hands, pangs of defeat ringing loudly in my ears. Scott, you win again.

          When my drink arrives, it’s watered-down and weak. I roll my eyes at my continued misfortune, allowing me to spot the small television nestled above the bar. A local news channel is on. At least it’s not sports. Swiveling my stool towards the TV, I watch with bored disinterest until an attractive female correspondent reports a man was found dead in the Willamette River. I take another sip of my martini and ask the barmaid to turn the volume up. The correspondent’s amplified voice reports the sordid details:

          “The body was found early Sunday morning near the Northwest Broadway Bridge with lacerations on his abdomen, arms, and hands. A large chunk of glass was also found embedded in his chest.”

          The correspondent is replaced by a police officer, who states the Northwest Broadway Bridge has seen increased transient activity and associated crime. I shudder when I remember the tweaked-out man who attacked my cab. The officer adds that additional patrols will sweep the area after dark, but that residents should remain vigilant.

          The correspondent returns to the screen, but with my attention waning, I return to my drink. I’m about to finish my martini when she says his name.

          “Scott was last seen at his apartment around 1:00 a.m., Sunday. Police believe he was stabbed to death on the bridge and his body dumped into the river.”

          My stomach lurches and my heart sinks. It can’t be! But an image of Scott—in a grey X-Men t-shirt and smiling ear to ear—appears on the screen, confirming my suspicions. My thoughts swirl and I can’t breathe.

 

            9 May 2017; local time: 10:37 a.m.; Seattle, Washington

          I’m back at Chrysta’s apartment, the morning after I left. She’s still in her pajamas, cradling Warhol on her couch while an old Police LP plays quietly in the background. My Portland expedition has erased our previous conversation from her memory, although the extra plate of scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and homemade hash browns she’s prepared tells me I was expected, anyway. I recount my last few hours in between mouthfuls of hearty breakfast.

          “The same homeless guy who came after my cab must’ve also attacked him when he tried crossing the bridge. Scott was probably looking down at his phone and didn’t even see it coming,” I say, concluding my story.

          “And then stabbed to death and dumped into the river! How awful!” Chrysta responds.

          “Yeah, and all that broken glass from earlier would’ve made the perfect weapon.”

          Chrysta shudders at the gruesome image and hugs Warhol harder.

          “You don’t…you don’t remember him, though, do you?” I ask.

          “I’m sorry…” she starts.

          “I didn’t think so,” I interrupt.

          “But you still remember him?”

          “Yes, and I don’t know why. If he died, that means we never dated, which means all my memories of him should’ve been erased when I came back here. What’s going on?”

          “I don’t know. Maybe being a time traveler shields you somehow, like you’re in the eye of your own storm.”

          “But that means I’ll always remember him?”

          Chrysta knows better than to answer that. “Why don’t you go back in time and save him?” she asks instead.

          “You know I can’t do that. Altered timelines become fixed. Their consequences are irreversible.” Anger fueled by frustration, remorse, and sleep-deprivation has shortened my fuse. I slam my fists onto the table, causing my empty plate to jump.

          “Listen, I know you’re upset,” Chrysta starts in the warm, motherly tone she adopts whenever she’s serving me cold, hard truths, “but isn’t this what you wanted?”

          “I wanted to forget him, not, you know, murder him.”

          “You didn’t murder him!”

          “Well, I’m the reason he’s dead now, right? Isn’t that murder?”

          hrysta drops Warhol and joins me at the table. Her hand is warm when she lovingly touches my wrist.

          “I know how much he meant to you by how upset you are. But you didn’t murder him. Time just has a way of correcting itself, that’s all.”

          “I know,” I reply bitterly.

          “Well, just because I can’t remember him here,” Chrysta says, touching her temple, “doesn’t mean he doesn’t still exist in here,” she says, taking my hand and placing it on my heart.

          A lingering silence fills the apartment as the Police record stops spinning.

          “You’ll find a way to survive this, just like you would’ve found a way to survive your breakup with him,” she adds.

          “Thank you,” I say, “but I need to go.”

          I attempt to bring my dirty dishes to the sink, but Chrysta leads me to the door and traps me in an embrace.

          “Take care of yourself. And don’t try to erase anybody again, OK?”

          “I promise,” I say, kissing her lightly on the cheek. “Thanks for breakfast.”

          After she’s closed her door, I breathe in Seattle’s warm, spring morning air. My heart feels heavy, but I remember what Chrysta said about Scott staying with me. Placing my hand over my chest and closing my eyes, I whisper, “I’m sorry, Scott, for everything. I promise to never forget you.”