Approximate ages: Corbin is 33, Carly is 30, Leila and Matt are 29.
Carly was unsure when Corbin first asked her out. First of all, she knew he was living with someone... someone and her husband, however it was that worked. Carly didn't pretend to know the story there. She didn't think he was her type, or even that she liked him much at all. She knew from friends that he was supposedly good in bed, but knowing that some of her friends had actually been in bed with him was a little off-putting in itself. But she thought they could have dinner, some conversation, because she craved someone to talk to here, a thing so simple as companionship.
Carly lost all of her friends in the rewrite. All of them. They all made it into the novel and Carly got written clean out of it. No mentions, no references. She didn't even exist in the backstory.
So how it started was that she was alone, and lonely, and maybe a little bitter, and even though she found all his talk about history and philosophy boring, and he dressed badly -- really badly -- it was nice not to be alone. So they went out once -- one. Single. Time. And he called her back.
And he kept calling...
It got old fast. She tried to cut the calls short. She let most of them go to voicemail. She began to hear the dreaded ringtone in her dreams while she slept, and one night, she answered the phone one last time. "I'm not home," she said.
"But you are home," he told her. "I can see you."
"What, the, fuck?" she said. "You can see me through the windows? Do you realize that's creepy?"
"Well your house is right across the..."
She hung up the phone without saying goodbye, and she started to look through listings for a new apartment.
Unlike many others, Leila Meyer found her new life bold and exciting. It felt like a dream, to be honest. She was in a strange position. She knew this wasn't real -- not for Leila, at least. She had a novel in progress, a definite story with a due date and everything. So whatever she was doing here, dressed in a few dozen pounds of fire-resistant Kevlar and insulation, stood before a raging inferno. Shit, this couldn't possibly be real.
Especially since she found she was actually pretty good at fighting fires! There, proof positive! She'd never fought a fire in her life, if you didn't count the ones she started in the kitchen. Leila started fires, not put them out. But here she was, putting out fires like a badass!
Within weeks, she'd lined a shelf at home full of awards and newspaper clippings. She was not bad at all.
Yet for some reason, she found herself married to Matt still. The children weren't with them, but Corbin was. And whatever twisted setup that was supposed to be only proved that this couldn't be real. Matt didn't seem to care that she flirted with Corbin, so she ran with it. She could do whatever she wanted for the first time in her life. No consequences. No obligations. No regrets.
And she had Corbin with her, whom she still found perfectly, irresistibly, and uncontrollably attractive. In this dimension or any. He wasn't taking the transfer as well as some. He thought about it too hard. But he came to visit her at the firehouse when he was lonely, when she would only otherwise be playing video games with the guys or watching daytime soaps.
"I'm a firefighter," she declared to him, as if that alone should have been impressive enough to charm the pants off of him. She knew she could charm the pants off of him in any case, but she did feel pretty darn hot as a firefighter.
She turned to Jack next and tried it on him too. "I'm a firefighter," she said. Corbin didn't appreciate it though, and it had annoyed Jack too. She was just joking, just trying to cheer them up.
"Um, yeah," he said. "I'm a firefighter too, remember? That doesn't work on me."
"You guys need to lighten up," she said. "This isn't real. Don't you get that this isn't real?"
"You don't know that," Jack said. "You don't know any more than the rest of us."
It wasn't like they had ever been impervious to scandal. There hadn't been a dimension yet where they had an easy time, and she wasn't expecting that much here. Though she found it wasn't that bad. They had fun in bed, with her so-called husband in the other room, and when he wasn't trying too hard to get Carly to go out with him.
But it was heavy on Corbin's conscience still. An affair was an affair, and he had his karma to worry about. "Why do you think we always have such a rough time? Don't you think we should try to make amends?"
"Oh, come on," she said. "My whole life is full of trying to make amends. Is that why you're trying to date that girl, Carly? You want something simple in this lifetime?"
"Maybe," he said.
"It's a love story, sweetie, it's not supposed to be easy. If it was, it wouldn't be interesting, and nobody would want to read it."
One certain thing was that Matt wouldn't be a part of it. Not when he had the choice, like he had here. He was out. He handed her divorce papers in the bathroom (because, where else!?), and he would find someone more stable to spend his life with this time around.
Leila sneered at him. She couldn't deny she was surprised. "You're breaking up with me?!?"
"Yes," he said. "In this story, I am. I certainly am. I'm gone."
And that was that. He'd already bought a large vineyard on the outskirts of town. He would make wine. He'd sell it from a little cottage shop on the hillside. The air was big and fresh and free, and he had a feeling that this life would suit him just fine.
Soon after Carly went out with Corbin, she met Kyle at work. She hadn't been trying to lead Corbin on, but she also couldn't help but notice that Kyle was the absolute perfect man -- tattooed and fun on the outside, clever and mysterious on the inside. She knew almost nothing about him at all, but she felt a crush coming on fast and hard!
And those dreamy eyes!
She'd only gone out with Corbin one. Single. Time. It had to end. For good this time.
She called Corbin over to the salon where she worked. Maybe part of her thought there should be witnesses present. Breakups were never fun, but she knew he had a thing going on with that Leila chick -- and besides that, Carly only went out with him one. Single. Time.
So she broke it to him. "Um, don't call me. Don't ask me out. And please, please, don't ask me to marry you again. It's just so desperate."
Corbin took it to heart, and it didn't feel good.
No, he didn't know what he was doing. He thought if he could try something different this time -- maybe try not to steal another man's wife -- then he might be granted a bit of reprieve. At least there would be no children involved this time. If you stole another man's wife with no children involved, was that a lesser form of bad karma?
Leila was home when he returned to their two-bedroom ranch. Matt had moved out of the second bedroom, and it was just the two of them now.
"I don't know why you keep asking her out," Leila said. "She doesn't like you, honey. She never really did. Pretty soon, she's going to file a restraining order."
Leila took his hand and led him outside.
It was like this house was built just for the two of them, from the moment they first arrived here. Inside, the walls were lined with books and art. Outside, there was a Zen garden surrounded in round boulders, with raked sand streaming through the center. The patio opened up to a sky full of stars.
"A lot of people are starting to forget," Corbin said. "They get comfortable here and forget this isn't real. But if this isn't real, then why is there pain and suffering here? What is it all supposed to mean?"
She smiled. That was the Corbin she knew and loved -- all philosophical and stuff. "There's not that much suffering, is there? We have each other... And I'm a firefighter. You know that's a hell of a lot more fun than serving pies! And I think you should relax. You might enjoy yourself here."
"But you were cute serving pies."
"Absolutely," he said, leaning his face to her cheek, his lips light as butterfly wings on her shoulder and it reminded her of koi ponds and reed flutes, and a time not so long ago, but somehow very far away.
In all of their lives together, they'd been friends, lovers, strangers, and yet always found each other. This was the first time, of all the times, that they didn't even need to search. That didn't feel like purgatory or punishment to her. It didn't feel like limbo. It felt like a really fun dream, the kind you knew wasn't real, the kind you knew didn't make sense, but you walked around with a smile on your face anyway, because it was just a dream -- nothing more than a short vacation from a long, complicated, and arduous story called real life.