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Andy's facebook account was exploding with messages. So many friends wondering where he was. Asking if he was okay. It was overwhelming.
Roger and Tony had created a missing person page for him on facebook as well, desperate for any information about his whereabouts. Over the past month, the page had expanded into a stream of photos and moving tributes from all corners of his life. Friends, close and distant, classmates, old and new, all came out of the woodwork to voice their concern for his disappearance. Family members he hadn't seen in years, cousins, aunts, uncles, sang his praises and shared childhood memories. Even those whom Andy thought hated him or even bullied him in his youth had nice thing to say. His parents didn't know the first thing about facebook, of course, so Roger and Tony transcribed their words into a long post anchored at the top of the page. It was an emotional plea for his return. They told Andy how much they loved him and how regretful they were of their strained relationship at the time of his disappearance.
Tears came in a hot rush. Andy didn't realize -- or wanted to admit -- how many people cared about him until he found himself back home. It felt like he was attending his own funeral.
He looked up from his phone to stem the tide of tears. He filled his lungs with the brisk San Francisco air and gazed up at the sky. Everything was so beautiful. The fog hugging the city skyline under the smile of the afternoon sun. The passing seagull above him sailing on bay winds toward the ocean. The homeless vagrant smoking crack on the other side of the chain link fence. He was home!
Through a murky curtain of tears, Andy looked back down at his phone and saw a photo Yumi had posted on his missing person page. It was taken on that night at the Thirsty Boar. Yumi had tried to get a selfie with Andy on the dance floor as the punk band's fans thrashed all around them. The blur on the photo made their drunk smiles look wider than their faces. Andy clicked on her name and reveled in her facebook profile. Her latest post was made a few minutes ago from the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. She was asking whether anyone wanted to join her in sketching.
Andy felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Hey, are you okay?"
He hastily scoured his face with a sleeve and turned around. The other, bespectacled Yumi gazed at him with great sympathy.
"I'm fine," he smiled.
Seeing that he was okay, Dash and Mo stepped away from the tuner and trotted toward Andy. They had all been giving Andy a moment while he gathered himself. He was back in the grimy Tenderloin alleyway where he had been swept away to Praxis. The tuner hatch sat over the same manhole where he had first seen it.
"Well?" Mo asked.
Andy sniffled into the back of his hand. "Yeah... I'm home."
Without the input of a new dimensional coordinate, the tuner had simply tuned to the last dimension to which it had jumped. That happened to be Andy's world. The Tuner-1 hadn't been used since Dash returned to Andy's world to search for his Yumi. Since that time, Tuner-1 had been taken offline in the tuner hangar for maintenance. Tuner-2 had been used to bring the bespectacled Yumi to Praxis.
After tuning into this dimension an hour ago -- and celebrating their survival -- Yumi and Andy scouted the surrounding area to see if they could get a sense of the world. It could've been either Andy's reality or Yumi's from the looks of it, but checking Andy's facebook account confirmed their suspicions. The timing of Andy's disappearance as reported in this world aligned perfectly with his Praxis sojourn. All of Andy's various online accounts also proved that his friends, family, and other important specifics of his life were just as he remembered. They also checked crucial historical, geographical, and political details of this world on the internet just to be certain. Everything lined up.
Andy was back.
He put his phone away and looked around at his three amazing, unlikely, interdimensional friends. Probably for the last time. He didn't know where to start.
"Well... I... Guys..."
Mo stepped forward and locked him into a gruff hug. "Ah, shut up." He released Andy within a second and coughed uncomfortably. "You take care of yourself, kid."
"You too, Mo. Good luck with the wife."
Mo chuckled. "She's not my wife, damn it."
Andy shook hands with the Kyderon. "And thanks..."
"Hey, there's no need for that. You got us out of just as many jams as I did."
"No, I meant thank you for putting on some clothes before hugging me." Picking up clothes for Mo was one of the first things Yumi and Andy had done while scouting the streets.
Mo chortled and tapped Andy affectionately with his fist. "You don't know what you're missing, kid."
Then he stepped back to make way for Dash. She stared at Andy with trembling lips. It was impossible to find the words for either of them. So Dash swept Andy up in a crushing hug instead. His feet dangled above the pavement.
Their original plan of having Dash stay with him had been, well, dashed when the tuner was damaged. Yumi and Mo were not ready to go back to their home dimensions; Yumi wanted to explore the multiverse before reporting back to her world and Mo wanted to stay on the run from Kiara. Dash volunteered to operate the tuner for them. But with the frequency calibrator damaged, all she could do was input unknown coordinates in the hopes of randomly tuning into Yumi's dimension one day. On the plus side, Dash ran a full diagnostic on the tuner and discovered to great relief that the tuning guard was perfectly intact. So at least they were safe from instant death while they hopped through the multiverse.
Since there was no guarantee that the tuner would ever tune back into his dimension, Andy had no choice but to stay put. But if Dash left the tuner and stayed with him, she would be stranded in his world without even a possibility of going back home. Ever. As much as Dash wanted to stay with Andy, that was a level of commitment she wasn't ready to take.
"I'll find a way to fix the tuner, Andy Go" Dash murmured into his ear. "Then I'll come visit you all the time." She set him back down on the ground like a mother releasing a little boy.
"I'll have that pastel set waiting for you," Andy replied with a wistful smile. "But in the meantime..." He grabbed a shopping bag leaning against the chainlink fence and handed it to Dash. Dash looked inside and found it stuffed with art supplies. Besides grabbing Mo some clothes, he and Yumi had also stopped at an art store. "I'd better see a finished portfolio when you come visit," he said.
Tears fell like waterfalls from Dash's huge eyes. She pulled Andy into another fierce hug.
"Thank you for coming back for me, Andy Go. Thank you for saving my life."
"No. You saved mine, Dash," Andy whispered into her chest. "Thank you."
Unable to wrangle her emotions in front of everyone any longer, she released Andy and scuttled back to the Tuner, the bag of art supplies clutched tightly in her arms. She granted Andy one last teary smile before descending into the tuner hatch. A peach-sized lump welled up in Andy's throat at the thought of never seeing her again.
Dash had confided in him that tuner technology was far beyond her understanding. Dimensional transportation was the latest Praxian breakthrough and there were very few outside of the tuner engineers who had any inkling of the science. Dash and Andy both knew the chance of Dash fixing the tuner on her own and coming back to visit him was virtually nil. It was with great irony that Andy choked back so much emotion over this alien whom he had fixed with such hate and resentment just a few weeks earlier.
Mo and Andy exchanged one last wave as the Kyderon followed Dash into the tuner. He called out to Andy. "Hey, kid. Go doggy when you lose your virginity. Missionary is overrated." He cackled and disappeared down the hatch.
Yumi and Andy shook their heads.
"Are you sure you want to be stuck with that guy for God knows how long?" Andy asked.
"Don't worry, I've always been good with animals."
They shared a chuckle. Then they started to talk at the same time, and laughed again. Andy let her start.
"Listen... I'm terrible at goodbyes," she said. "So I'm just going to..." She stopped speaking and gathered Andy up into a hug. She kissed him on the cheek as she pulled away. "Good luck, Andy."
Andy reached for her wrist. "Just a minute. Are you sure you don't want to stay? I know it's not exactly your world, but hey, it's close enough, isn't it? You get into that tuner, you don't know if you'll ever get home."
"If I never make it back home... I can live with that. There's a whole multiverse out there to explore! I have a feeling there's a lot more waiting out there for me anyway. Unlike you, I don't have someone waiting for me back in my dimension..." Yumi pushed up her glasses as a sudden cloud of melancholy gathered over her face.
Andy put a hand on her shoulder. "You know, we've got the Pulitzer Prize in this world too," he said.
Yumi forced a smile. "You guys also have a Yumi in this world already. And from the sound of it, a much better one than me. Go get her, dude."
With that, she turned to go.
"Wait!" Andy called after her. "Yumi, I have to ask..."
She turned back around. "What?"
"What did you want to tell me in the hallway at the zoo? When we thought everything was over... I have to know."
"Oh, I was just going to say..." She stopped herself and looked down at the ground before the words could escape her lips. Then she looked up again and smiled. "...later, skater."
Her eyes lingered on Andy's as she waved with both hands and stepped backward toward the tuner. She finally saw him. Just him. Not an echo of her Andy back home. Each step seemed to fill her with a little more hope and optimism until the spirited adventurer Andy had come to know returned in her swagger. Finally she spun around and bounded into the hatch. The manhole cover dropped shut, and within a minute, the tuner disappeared from Andy's world.
A bank of clouds had rolled in by the time Andy got off the bus at the Japanese Tea Garden. The sky was an inverted cotton field stretching to the horizon. Little breaks in the rolling fluff dappled the carefully groomed cedars and cypresses with winks of sunlight. A flock of singing seagulls overhead seemed to herald his arrival as Andy stepped between the studded oak doors of the front gate. Andy scanned the garden and spotted Yumi seated on a stone bench across the moon bridge. She was facing away from him, sketching the pagoda. Roger, Tony, and a few of Andy's other art school friends were gathered around her, drawing various attractions of the garden.
Tiny pebbles on the stone path crunched below his feet as Andy padded past fragrant azaleas toward the moon bridge. He halted in front of its high arch, irrationally afraid it would not let him cross. But contrary to his dream, the bridge did not move against him. He felt tears welling up as each step drew him closer to Yumi. Below the bridge, Koi fish darted after him through water still and clear as glass. Andy ruffled through his satchel and pulled out Yumi's purse as he stepped off the bridge.
One by one, his friends looked up when his shadow moved across their sketchbooks. Yumi was the last to turn around and stare up at him. The pencil fell from her hand. Andy smiled through his tears and held out her bag.
"You forgot something," he said.
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