It's not that Will can control time, it's just that time has started to work differently. He has the thought as he's driving home from the hospital on a Thursday evening. Except, if he thinks about it too hard, he doesn't really know where exactly the hospital is in relation to his house and if Abby were to ask him what he did all day, which she will not, he'd be hard pressed to give an honest answer.
The first clear memory he has of his day was getting in the BMW to go to the hospital and his head finally feels clear again now that he's driving home. And the time in between? Well, the clock says seven hours has passed, so, that must be true. German-made cars always have impeccable time pieces.
Just when he's starting to worry about not knowing exactly where it is that he's going, he realizes he's already turned onto his street and Abby is there, waiting in the driveway for him to pull in. She kisses him, all round and glowing. Dinner is practically on the table and there's a Blue Jay's game starting in forty minutes.
Evenings he can stretch out forever. It seems like they last as long as he wants them to - the sun sinking slowly enough that the sky is stained orange and red and purple like it's the backdrop to a movie. Something so beautiful and permanent that there's no way it can be real.
It's that feeling of facade that plagues him. Will suggests to his wife that they take a long drive on the weekend and she spends a fair amount of energy trying to talk him out of it but he gets her into the car and they pull out of the driveway.
And then it seems like only minutes later that darkness is descending and the tank is almost on empty and she's complaining of being tired and hungry, so they head back home. Everything always seems to force him back to the house, no matter where he tries to go. It's like water circling a drain.
Abby complains about the music from across the way and it is loud, loud enough to be inconsiderate, but Will kind of likes the actual music. It reminds him of some far away, exciting place. Will hasn't done much traveling, unless you counted the States which he doesn't. He's never had a desire to leave his home town because everything he needs is right here.
But Abby has to have the window open because she's pregnant and when the music floats up, he lets it wash over him. Lets it lull him into a sort of sleepy trance where he imagines another life that involves hopping onto planes without notice and riding in jeeps over rocky terrain, eating strange foods, speaking foreign languages. Just... a different life.
He stands at the window and looks down into the glowing house across the street. She's awake, it seems like she always is at night, and her windows are thrown open wide as well. The air is sweet and warm and Will thinks that it's unseasonable, this weather, but then he realizes he's not really sure what the date actually is. Abby's too hot to sleep, he wears long sleeves every day and Helen, down in little home studio, wears big chunky sweaters that swallow her up. Big tall boots like she's planning on going somewhere other than her living room.
He's never seen her not at home.
She stands at her kitchen sink, mug in hand. She closes her eyes, rolls her neck and her shoulders. Her head hangs and her bangs obscure her eyes, but he can see her well enough. See the way her mouth moves as she washes out brushes, how one corner tugs up and in, how she chews on her lip. There's something so achingly familiar about the gesture, something that pulls at him low in the gut. The woman is a virtual stranger, only tense words exchanged now and again, but right now he feels like he knows her.
Like he ought to trust her.
She looks up, meets his eyes. There's a long moment where they just stand and stare, like they're both trying to puzzle something out.
But then her eyes narrow and so he reaches up and shuts the curtains.
Abby wakes up and he forgets about Helen. In the morning, when he's heading for work, there's an unfamiliar car in her drive and he can't see her in the living room at all.
He goes out to buy Abby a candy bar, onion rings from that burger place she likes, a six pack of juice that is nothing more than food coloring and sugar and water, and a very specific brand of barbecue sauce that he can only get at the fancy and over-priced organic market downtown. He doesn't mind doing it - it gets him out of the house and he's doing it for the baby as much as his wife and her escalating cravings.
He feels terribly out of place in the organic market in his chinos and his loafers. He finds the barbecue sauce and heads for the check out stands, cutting through the bath and hair product aisle.
Something makes him stop.
It's a smell, a particular smell that gives him a flash of something. It's not a memory, but a feeling, something associated with something good, with pleasure. He stands in the aisle and opens at least ten bottles before he finds the right one. It's imported from France and floral without being to cloying and he doesn't know why he knows the smell or from where, but he spends twenty-five dollars on eight ounces of the stuff.
In the shower that night, he squeezes it into his hand and peers down at it. He lathers up and the overwhelming scent makes him groan, a stab of pleasure going through him. It also makes him feel a little lonely and that feeling that has been plaguing him lately, of something being missing, rears up again. Something is not here. Something is not right.
Abby frowns at him, her little nose wrinkling up when he comes out in his towel.
"You smell like a lady," she says. "Like a fancy lady."
"Oh," he says. "One of the dermatologists at work gave it to me for my... my dry skin."
He's never lied to her before, has he?
"Oh," she says. "Well, it's making me dizzy."
"Sorry," he says. He puts on some clothes and goes downstairs to take a walk, maybe air out a little.
The white cat is on his front step, licking his paw and cleaning his face. Beside him is a dead mouse.
He scoops the cat up with plans of at least dropping it on its own step, but as soon as he starts across her brick, the cat squirming in his arms, she opens her door and steps out and calls in her lilting voice, "Henry?"
"Ah," he says. "Actually, he's right here."
Will steps into the light and awkwardly extends his arms.
"Oh," she says, and steps down toward him. "Well. Thank you."
"I guess he just likes us," Will offers - an olive branch. "Also, there's a dead mouse if you'd like that too."
"A mouse? Well done, Henry," she says, reaching for her pet and pressing her face into the top of his head.
In the exchange, they had both leaned in and he realizes he can smell it again.
It could be just him, but it isn't, it's her too. She glances at him and the cat curls into her, purring.
"Goodnight, Dr. Zimmerman," she says, a strange tone in her voice.
"Goodnight," he says.
He walks back to his house in a daze. How does a smell remind him of a woman he doesn't know? How can you long for a perfect stranger or worse, someone you don't even like?
She stands on her porch for a long time with her cat and he doesn't go to bed until she goes back inside.
It gets to the point where all Will dreams about is the lab, the glass coffins full of water, and Helen Druitt.
Once Will realizes he can't actually remember why he detests Helen so thoroughly, those feelings disappear. He starts to linger in his yard where she can see him. He pulls her trash cans to the curb along with his own and puts them back the next morning. When Abby is at her Saturday morning mommy-to-be workshop he got her into at the hospital, Will cleans the gutters and then, on a whim, goes over and offers to clean hers as well.
"I'm perfectly capable of caring for my own home, Dr. Zimmerman," she says, leaning against the door jam, not inviting him in rather pointedly. He gets it. He'd spooked her the last time with the cat and rushing in.
"All right," he says. "Just trying to be friendly."
"But why?" she asks. "We've never bothered with that before."
It's a fair point.
Helen is beautiful and dark and tall. Abby is pretty and blonde and petite and Helen is somehow the antithesis of what he has married and yet, Will longs for Helen in an almost reverent way. Like if she asked him to worship her, he'd build an altar. Her eyes are ringed in dark make-up, and under that, her skin is shadowed and pale. He wonders with the skin at the base of her throat tastes like. He wonders what it feels like to slide his hand into her hair and cradle the base of her skull. He wonders how it would feel to have such long, slender legs wrapped around his hips.
"Um," he says, losing track for a moment. "I've been having these dreams and sometimes you're there."
"Sometimes I'm there," she repeats, her brow creasing.
"Always there, actually," he says. "I'm not dreaming about you, you're just... in my dream."
Helen doesn't say anything, merely bites her lip and stares at him hard. Finally, she reaches out and touches his arm between his wrist and his elbow.
"I don't think we're supposed to be doing this here," she says.
When she says it, he knows that she's right. Her phone starts to ring; across the street, Abby pulls into their drive. This life is tugging them apart once more.
"Helen," he says.
"Not now," she says, stepping back into her house. "Not yet."
She shuts the door.
It's Helen's idea to take the drugs. She takes them anyway, so it's nothing out of the blue for her, but Will can't stand drugs. He doesn't like his system dulled and he doesn't like feeling out of control. Helen shakes one pill into his open hand and three into her own.
"I know you don't like drugs," she says. "But I think we ought to try."
She squints at him.
"I mean, how do you know that?" he asks.
"How do you know what kind of shower gel I use?" she says. "How come I know your shoe size? How come I know what you like on your pizza or, or that breathing into your ear makes you hard? How do I know anything about you? I just do."
She's so unapologetic about it.
He knows things, too. Not just the intimate smell of her, but trivial things like she knows about him. How she takes her tea. Her bra size. They way she looks after pulling an all-nighter, how she picks black olives out of her salads but leaves them on her pizza.
In the hazy moments before the drugs kick in, he reaches for her and her hand is already there, waiting. He rubs his thumb over the bone of her wrist and she sighs, lacing their fingers tightly.
When they wake up, not in the lab, but in the house - surrounded by the smell of paint and thinner - they sit up together.
"It's time to make a plan," he says.
"I know," she says. She pushes off her blanket and sits up.
"What should we do?" he asks. She rises off the couch and comes to sit on the arm of the chair beside him.
"Plan tomorrow," she says.
"What about today?" he asks.
"Today," she says. "I think we should just keep floating."
At first he doesn't know what that means but Helen touches his face and leans into him. Her eyes are still dilated, pupils dark and wide. He can feel the drugs already filtering out of his system but she's still in the thick of it. She hesitates just a moment and they breathe together. She leans in.
Kissing his wife is sweet and normal and sometimes they bump noses and Abby laughs and it always feels like a third date with her, where it's still exciting because it's new but they're not quite there, yet.
But this, this first stolen kiss with Helen, is something else all together.
He feels like he's been kissing her for years. She feels familiar - her taste, the sharpness of her teeth, the way her breath comes out of her nose in little bursts. They way her tongue moves against his, the way she melts against him, her long limbs curling around him.
She pulls away and looks at him searchingly. Her brows furrow; her eyes are so, so blue.
"Will?" she asks. She must feel it too.
"This isn't real," he says.
"Kissing you is the first thing that has felt real at all," Helen murmurs.
And just like that, Helen stops being his eccentric neighbor and goes back to being the center of his world.
The more time they spend in the strange lab, the more their regular lives start to break down. Will doesn't even go to work anymore and Helen doesn't spend her nights painting. Instead she waits up for him. Will lies in bed until his wife is asleep and then he steals across the street to wait out the sun.
They know what needs to be done. They know they must completely break away from this deceitful life, but it's hard to make the final choice. To say yes, the time is now. To decide to die.
Will stretches out the night hours the best he can. They spend them upstairs in her bed, the curtains drawn, their clothes in dark puddles on the floor. The only thing that feels more real than their brief moments in the lab is being together, like this, skin to skin.
When he's with her, he gets flashes of what he thinks might be their other life. Running through deep caverns under the earth and shooting over their shoulders, waking up in a hospital with her concerned face hovering over him, standing in a little house and watching her pull clothes on over her slender, pale frame.
"Magnus," he says, his sweaty face pillowed on her breast. Her fingers run through his hair.
"Hmm," she says. She sounds drowsy - she still takes her drugs.
"What if I wake up and you aren't there?" he asks. "What if we do this, and..." He swallows. "What if the only blissful part of this fake life is you?"
"But you see me there," she says. "And I you. We're real, Will. You and I are real."
He desperately wants to believe her.
"When you wake up, I'll be there," she promises. "Always."
He spends the rest of the night with her. They kiss lazily for hours, slow and searingly hot kisses. Only when the sky starts to grow light do things escalate for the last time. Helen fits their hips together, pulls his hands to her body, holds his face hard as she moves and moves and moves. Her skin gleams with sweat, her bangs dark and sticking to her forehead.
He's never not been there with Abby in the morning, but it's Helen who cries out now, balanced on his hips, her skin aglow with the orange light of the rising sun.
They don't bother to shower, not so close to the end. They pull on dirty clothes and, shut into her car, it still smells like sex and tea and paint and all the things that make up this world.
He thinks she'll stop, she'll chicken out and break hard, swerving back onto the road but Helen has steady hands and she doesn't flinch or blink as the tires leave the pavement.
For a moment they are flying, totally and blissfully free. Will decides, in the final moments of his life, that this is the best dream he's ever had.