“Okay, close your eyes,” Duke said. He stood in front of his girlfriend, Lena, in his bedroom. The decor was sparse, almost spartan. A queen-sized bed with simple white linens matched the white walls. A cherry-wood nightstand and a small reading lamp were the only creature comforts. It was their one-year-anniversary and he promised her something special. Lena hoped they would talk about moving in together; she smiled and closed her eyes.
“It’s been an amazing…,” he leaned forward and surprised her with a soft peck on her right cheek. “…amazing year. But.. if we’re going to go any further…,” he kissed her cheek again. His lips landed closer to her lips, but still firmly in ‘cheek’ territory. “… and I do want to go further with you. The next obvious next step is living together,” he said. Lena squeezed her fists in excitement but she tried to keep her face pleasantly neutral. “But, before we get to that,” he sighed. His tone changed. “There’s something about me you need to know.” He suddenly sounded unsure, and he was. He had no idea how she would react.
“Do I have to keep my eyes closed for this? We can talk about it when we get there, wherever,” Lena smiled. She did not know where he was taking her, but she was very excited to go. Duke gave vague hints: their destination was special to him and it was out of the country. “I don’t want to be late for the cruise.” She tried again to get him to say something about his plans, even if it was, ‘We’re not going on a cruise’. She tried mentioning various modes of transportation to get him to admit something. He never gave anything away.
“I made the plans, I know how much time we have,” he replied. She heard his voice move to her other side. “I love you,” he said. “No matter what happens next that hasn’t and won’t change.” Duke reached down and grabbed her left hand with his right. “Take one step forward,” he said. He stepped forward and pulled her with him. Lena saw the light in the room change through her eyelids. The brightness disappeared for a moment, then reappeared darker than before.
“Okay,” he squeezed her hand in a comforting gesture. “Don’t panic. Everything’s fine,” he said. “Open your eyes.” Lena did; she did not know how to react. Duke’s room was gone; its boring white walls were replaced by elegant marble pillars. They stood in a hallway that was bigger than Duke’s entire apartment. White marble floors and walls were perfectly polished. Lena looked around to try and see everything. She saw a cosmos of stars in an inky-black sky above the tall glass ceiling. She turned to Duke and saw the nervousness on his face. He was biting his bottom lip and stared at her through worried eyes.
“Where are we?” she asked, “How did we get here?” Duke sighed with relief. He was glad she asked questions instead of any of the worse reactions she could have had. He found his smile and pulled her hand to lead her through the white hallway.
“This place is called the Star Academy. It’s my school,” he said as he took a turn through a narrow arch at one end of the hallway that split off into two others. The hallway he picked was lined on both sides with plain-looking wooden doors. The rough, unfinished doors looked more at home on a barn than a marble hallway. “These are some of the dorms, there are several thousand more spread out through the school.”
“How did we get here?” Lena asked again when she realized he hadn’t answered that part yet.
“I want to show you something first,” he said. Duke stopped in front of one of the doors. He reached for the knob, twisted it, and pulled the door; it swung out into the hall to open. The room’s interior was a dark, messy, crowded apartment. The only light in the room came from the window. Pink neon lights highlighted the rain falling on the window. Lena could see that it was night time. Somehow the night sky outside the window seemed different from the black sky above her head. It wasn’t raining on the ceiling.
“What am I looking at?” Lena asked. Duke winked and closed the door. The second it clicked into place Duke opened it again. This time the interior was an apartment with an ocean view on a bright sunny day. “What’s going on?” Lena asked as Duke closed the door again.
“This is…” he opened the door a third time. “…my dorm.” The door opened to reveal the apartment she had been standing in several minutes ago. Her navy blue suitcase was laying on his queen-sized bed in his boring room. Duke crossed the threshold pulling her along with him. “They’re all mine; each one is on a different Earth.” He walked to his bed and sat on the edge. Lena walked into the room but quickly turned around to see where she came from. She came out of the closet, but there was nothing there but clothes.
“So you’re telling me you went to a special school for wizards or something, and there are alternate Earths, and you’ve been to them?” Lena asked. She wasn’t sure she fully grasped everything, but she knew she wanted to. Duke half nodded and used his hand to give her the ‘more or less’ gesture.
“But,” she looked down at the floor then she turned and looked at the closet. “I only took one step. How did we get there?”
“The closet is only an exit. But,” he raised his hand to chest level and wiggled it at the air. A tall black portal opened in the middle of the room. “I can use these anywhere to go to any Earth. Well, you seem to be okay with everything so far?” he asked indirectly; she nodded. “So…” he smiled and dismissed the portal with a casual wave. “Where do you want to go for our anniversary?”