My answering machine was blinking when I arrived in my apartment. I hit play and untied my shoes.
“Hey, it’s your dad.”
I almost slammed the delete button, but stopped with my finger hovering above it.
“Just wanted to check in and see how things were going. Call me back if you want. Miss you.”
Then a few seconds of silence before the click that signified his hanging up. I put my shoes back on and went to visit Zip.
When I rang the bell he came over on his crutches and yanked the door open.
“Welcome, welcome,” he shouted, beaming.
Chomper the pug ran tight ovals around us, emitting breathless little barks. I rubbed him behind the ears.
“Would you look at that,” I said. “He didn’t even pee himself.”
“Don’t jinx it,” said Zip. “Hurry up. I’m watching a documentary about Magellan.”
I followed him to the living room. There was a hint of impatience, but otherwise he seemed to have the hang of the crutches.
“You really didn’t learn a thing in school, huh?”
“Dead Italian people were never a top priority.”
“Ferdinand Magellan was one of the greatest explorers in history,” said Zip. “Dude flew an airship around the world back in the 1500s.”
“Oh. That guy.”
“And he was Portuguese, not Italian.”
“Of course. What’d they give him?”
“For finishing that trip? Did they make him a knight? Did the Portuguese have knights?”
“Oh, Magellan himself didn’t make it.”
“I thought you said—”
“No, his crew finished the journey without him. Somewhere off the coast of Southeast Asia, Ferdy got cocky and floated too close to the canopy. Pterodactyl snatched him right off the deck.”
Chomper had his tongue out. He mostly sat on the couch next to Zip, but every once in a while he hopped down and ran over to me for a pat on the head.
We watched the documentary for a while, but I could tell that Zip was no longer interested. He kept reaching for his phone to check the time.
“Okay,” I said, “you’ve obviously got questions.”
He flicked the TV off and tossed the remote aside. “One moment you’re dragging me through the forest. Then I wake up in a hospital bed.”
“They didn’t tell you anything?”
“I mean,” said Zip, “this sleazeball came to visit a couple times. Dressed like Frank Sinatra but without the handsome.”
“What’d he say?”
“‘You’re not in trouble. Your friends are fine.’ Bullshit like that.”
“Said if I kept my mouth shut about the tablet they’d set me up with a fat pension.”
“Must have been Cooper,” I said. “Smiled like a snake?”
“Me and Li have seen a lot of him.”
I could tell he felt left out, so I filled the silence with the first thing that popped into my head.
“The forest’s not supposed to be there,” I said. “It’s supposed to be water.”
“Like, instead of forest—everything that’s forest, is supposed to be water.”
“That’s two thirds of the globe.”
“I know,” I said. “They showed us what it would look like.”
“Are you allowed to be telling me this?”
“Fuck them,” I said, electrified. “I’m telling you. I don’t care what they think.”
His shoulders relaxed. “What do you mean, ‘supposed to be?’”
“Millions of years ago, we went from having water to having forests. And they think it has something to do with the tablets.”
Zip rapped his knuckles against his leg. “Why did they tell you that? Why not just tell you to shut up, the way they did with me?”
I watched his face carefully. “They want us to go on an expedition.”
He snorted. “Right.”
“Me and Li and a scientist. We’re supposed to investigate a magnetic disturbance. Or something. I’m not totally clear on that part.”
Zip rubbed his eyes and rested his face on his palms. All I could see was the taut line of his mouth.
He took a moment to respond. “I’m so pissed, man. That should be me out there, but I fucked up, and I’m going to have to live with that the rest of my life.”
“At least you’re alive,” I said.
“I kinda wish I’d died,” said Zip. He scratched Chomper behind the ears. “I don’t mean that.”
“You better not,” I said, trying to think of what Li would say.
Get over yourself, fuckface. I went through hell to save you. Where’s my thank-you card?
“What am I going to do, Tetris? I mean, what am I going to do with my life?”
“What does anybody do? Find a job. Find a girl. Chill out and enjoy yourself.”
“Right,” said Zip, but he didn’t sound convinced.
“Look,” I said, “we’re hitting Thai Restaurant for dinner. Want us to pick you up?”
I was pleased to see him brighten at the thought.
“Thank God,” he said. “I mean, my sister’s great. She’s been going light years out of her way to take care of me. But… let’s just say she’s not going to be winning a cooking show any time soon.”
When Li and I picked him up, he’d put on a nice shirt and rolled up his empty pant leg, fastening it with safety pins. At the restaurant he even managed to grin when the waitress, who’d seen us often enough to notice the missing leg, asked what happened. After regaling her with the tale—in this version, the culprit was a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the story did not end well for the reptile in question—Zip even managed to requisition her phone number, scribbled upon a napkin, which he carefully folded and placed in his pocket.
And for once, instead of making a snarky comment, Li gave Zip a congratulatory smack on the back, and then we were all laughing, and for the first time in a long while I knew that everything was going to be okay.