nsync in black and white

Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

The First Step

This story was first posted on 6th August 2010.

The dogs were enjoying themselves, happily chasing one another and the rubber ring they'd occasionally bring back to him to throw again. Lance sat on the bench and closed his eyes against the sunshine.

"Why, hello there."

He opened his eyes again, to find that Dingo and Foster were making overtures to an old man in a long coat. The old fellow bent to pet them and fondle their ears, and stooped slowly to retrieve the rubber ring. He straightened, and held the drool-covered thing out towards Lance, who got up, took it graciously, and hurled it out for the dogs to chase. They tore away. Dingo did a double somersault when he tried to stop.

The old man sat himself down, and gestured to Lance to do the same. "So," said the old man. "Nice day for a walk."

"It sure is." Lance grinned.

"I'm not quite sure," the stranger said, hesitantly, and for a moment there he reminded Lance very strongly of his grandpa, "what day it is."

"Oh! It's August fourth."

"Hmm. So. How old are you?"

Lance's eyebrows arched in surprise, but he supposed there was no actual reason not to tell a complete stranger—an oddly familiar complete stranger—his age. "I'm thirty-one," he said.

"Ah." The old man nodded, happily. "Thirty-one. So it's 2010, then. A good year. And a good day, judging by your smile."

"It is a good day," Lance said. "There's been—" He hesitated. The stranger looked to be eighty years old, at least, and he probably wasn't—but hey, you never knew, and besides, why should Lance be ashamed to say it? He didn't do that any more. "There was a judgment on Proposition Eight, saying it's unconstitutional."

"Ah." The old man nodded, and again, Lance caught a flash of familiarity. Had he maybe seen the old guy around the park, or something? Except… "Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation," the stranger quoted.

"Wow!" Lance sat up, pleased. "That's exactly it. I think."

"Oh, yes. Something to remember." The old man chuckled. "It is just the first step, but there has to be a first step. Can't finish a journey 'less you take the first step."

"That's what my grandpa always says," Lance acknowledged. Although, he thought privately, it wasn't very likely this old fellow was going to make it all the way to the end of the journey. Had he been longing all his life to marry someone special? Lance wanted to ask, suddenly, but it seemed way too intrusive, even for a stranger who apparently knew what year Lance had been born.

Which was kinda strange.

Although, Lance was still moderately famous, and if the old fellow was gay—"Are you, uh, is it something that affects you? Personally, I mean."

"You could say that. Mind, I'm coming at it from kind of a different perspective than yours." He smiled. Why, why did Lance recognize that smile? "I've been married fifty years now. Matter of fact, this trip's by way of being an anniversary gift."

"Let me guess," Lance said, disappointed but careful not to let it show. "Your wife went shopping?" He got another smile in return, but the old man didn't seem inclined to answer. They sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Did you ever wonder what advice you might give yourself, if you could go back through time?"

"No, not really," Lance said, taken aback. "It's not the sort of thing I, I mean, I can't go back, but if I could…" He thought for a moment. "You know, I don't think I'd give myself any advice. There's stuff I could tell myself, but—I like where I am now, I like how my life turned out, and if I knew back then, I guess I might have done things differently, and maybe it wouldn't have turned out so good."

"You know, you're pretty smart, for thirty-one."

"Thank you, sir. I think."

The dogs came panting back to the bench. Lance stroked Foster's silky head, surprised to see that Dingo had gone straight to greet the stranger.

"Hey, Dingo. You're a good boy, aren't you, such a good boy," the stranger crooned.

Lance leaped to his feet. "How the hell—I'm sorry, but what is this? Are you some kind of stalker? How do you know my dog's name?"

"You talk about your dogs all the time," the old man said, mildly.

"Yeah, but you know which one is which! That's, like, obsessive."

"You never forget a dog," the old man said, almost to himself. "And they never forget you. You still remember Jackson, don't you?"


"So do I." The stranger looked straight up at him. His eyes were pale with the slight glaze of old age, but they were green, almost yellow, and there was the faint trace of a tiny scar just above the left—

Lance sat down.

"Different perspective," said the old man, and laughed, deep in his throat. "It's good to see these two again. Come here, Foster. That's right, you know me, don't you, clever boy."

"This isn't possible," Lance said. He thought he might pass out. He lowered his head towards his knees, and Dingo nosed at him anxiously.

"Not in 2010," the old man said, cheerfully. "And it doesn't come cheap, I promise you. But, you know what they say, what do you give the man who has everything? It's kinda irritating, really, because it's a way better anniversary gift than I gave him."

"So, um. Did you say, you've been married fifty years?"

"Mm hmm. Never regretted a minute of it."

"So who do I—when—"

"Oh, no." The old man grinned at him. He still had all his teeth, apparently. Good to know. "Who's to say it wouldn't turn out different if you knew now what I know then? And you don't want it any different, believe me." He patted Lance's hand. "You'll do just fine."

Lance didn't know what to say next. He had, he discovered, about a million questions to ask, and he knew for a fact he wasn't getting any answers. He gave up, and smiled helplessly.

"I have to get back," the old man said, and stood up. "Nice talking to you." He stroked the dogs one last time, and started walking, old and slightly bowed, but eager to be gone, as though he had somewhere better to be. Lance's eyes watered, suddenly, and he must have blinked, because when he looked again the old man wasn't there any more.

"Come on, boys," he said to the dogs, and clipped their leads back onto their collars. It seemed like he had a lot of life to look forward to. Might as well get on with it.


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