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Here’s the first scene of chapter 2:


Jason woke Thursday to the sound of the television blaring, Dan’s face glued a foot or two away from the set.  He was watching the morning news, of all things.

“What’s up?” Jason sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Another plant explosion,” Dan said without turning.  He reached out and muted the sound.

“In Beaumont?”  Bad news always comes in threes, Jason thought.

“Nah, that was yesterday morning at the Exxon refinery,” he said, turning his face away from the pictures of devastation.  “This was last night at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas.  Pretty much flattened the whole town.”

“Fertilizer?”

“Ammonium nitrate,” Dan nodded.  “Dumbasses in this state never seem to learn.  Fourteen dead, over a hundred injured, a school destroyed, and these morons will chalk it up to an unforeseen act of God,” he finished by waving his hands in the air.  “Can’t go regulatin’ bidness outta bidness,” he said in a fair imitation of the governor.

Jason rubbed his head, then scrunched his eyes at his roommate, “Hey, that’s not far from where you live, right?”

“’Bout ten miles,” he said, already watching the news again.  “Mom called this morning to let me know dad was ok.”

“Your dad?”

“He was helping train EMT’s in the area and responded to the call.”  He turned back to face Jason, bitter tears welling in the corners of his eyes, “Three of the trainees died trying to help.”  His voice cracked, and he said, “I knew those guys.”

“Shit, man,” Jason said, lowering his voice.

“Yeah…”  He wiped his eyes and turned back to the screen.  “Life’s cheap in this state.  Especially where bidness is concerned.”

Jason lay back, one arm over his head.  Life turns on a dime, and there are no guarantees.  He wanted to tell Dan that it didn’t matter.  That those people lived on in another universe, having made a different choice that day.  He turned his head to watch his friend.  This is the wrong time though.  Maybe later.

“Tell me something, Jay,” Dan stood and turned off the TV.

“What’s that?”

“Are you ever gonna pull that ring out of your dresser and give it to Kat?”  He stood over Jason, lips pursed and one eyebrow raised, the muscles on the side of his neck standing out.  His arms hung limp at his sides, but there was a restrained tension in his stance, like a boxer preparing to enter the ring.  Jason began to think there was a wrong answer possible.

“Why do you ask?”

Dan’s shoulders slumped, the tension leaking away as he said, “I dunno.”  He shrugged.  “Everything now is all about the choices we make, right?”  He poked a finger at Jason’s chest, “You need to shit or get off the pot.”

“I’ll be sure to use that exact phrase when I ask her,” Jason said, a lopsided grin splitting his face.

Dan smiled for the first time that morning.  “See that you do.”  He snorted and said, “Can I be there when you do that?”

“For the proposal, or me acting like an ass with Kat?  ‘Cause I’m pretty sure you’ve seen a lot of the latter already.”

Dan laughed, reached down beside Jason’s bed, and pulled pants and a shirt from the floor.  He looked at them, shook his head, then tossed them at Jason’s own.  “Just get dressed so we can have breakfast before class.”

Jason sat up, rolled the clothing into a bundle, and said, “Mind if I shower first?”

“Please do.”

He stood and walked past Dan on his way to the bathroom, then turned back and said, “Dan… it’s always been about the choices we make—here and all the way up and down the line, across every branch.  We just didn’t know about it before.”

He turned and walked out of the room.  “Tell that to my dad,” Dan muttered to the door.

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