A young woman rushed by, then a young man, tapping away on his cell phone. The previously empty area was quickly filled with people, as if the old man’s revelation had broken a bubble keeping people away from the conversation. Mark noticed a few glancing their way, but nobody seemed to think anything of the young man and the old one.
Mark was shocked into utter silence. He wanted to escape, needed to run away from the old man, but he was frozen in place. No one knew about Nana. No one. He had never told anyone about what had really happened that day. His parents knew about the nightmares, but even in his deepest terror he had never given them the details. The world was taking on a surreal quality; the students around them, strolling, running, loitering, faded into the background. All he could focus on was the man in front of him, a person he wasn’t – would never be. Or could he be that man? He tried to wrap his mind around the idea. The concept seemed so large it just went around and around in his brain.
“I’m sorry I had to do that,” the old man said. Old Mark said. “It was the only thing I could think of to convince you.”
Mark finally managed to find his tongue in his mouth. “What are you doing here? How?”
“The how isn’t important,” old Mark said. “Why? Well, there’s a lot to talk about, and I’m hungry. What was that place called? The one you and Pete always used to go to after gaming, and you were too sick of pizza?”
The old man – Old Mark, young Mark reminded himself – clapped his hands together, and ran his tongue over his lips. It was a pinkish-gray thing that made Mark cringe. He couldn’t turn into this man, could he? But the Nana story…
“That’s the place. I used to love that place.”
“I just ate there last night,” Mark said, softly.
“Let’s go.” Old Mark started walking in a quick, shuffling gait that covered a lot of ground despite the fact his feet barely left the ground.
Mark watched him go for a moment, both curious and horrified. For the first time in his life he realized how young he was, and how much was ahead of him. The old man seemed in a better mood, more confident, now that his secret was out, and a third rate Chinese buffet was ten minutes away. Mark almost let him wander off into the distance, almost turned and walked in the opposite direction. He suddenly, very desperately, wanted to be twenty-one forever. If this was real, he didn’t want to know what lay ahead.
“Hey!” he called after the old man. “That’s the wrong way!”