Future (Short Story)

A beautiful day was unfolding all around me but my attention was focused in on scattered pieces of paper. The material on them was hardly enthralling as the history of Buddhism was not at the forefront of my interests. In fact it was a course forced upon me by some department head who figured all students in his department should get a “well-rounded” education. Maybe it was a fancy way to label subject matter one would forget immediately upon submission of the final exam.

Since I didn’t care to study too heavily, I decided an outdoor cafe to be the best place to work. I didn’t require the silence of the library and the weather was nice. Occasionally people nearby would speak up a bit too loud for my tastes, but no one stayed for too long. I actually came to this cafe often just to take in the view of the campus from its raised platform.

I would often take people up here. Drinks were not that bad and I could always attempt to impress my partner that day with my knowledge of the campus sights. Success varied. Sometimes they would want to come back a few more times, other times once was enough.

But this time I was not looking for the company of another person. Despite my attitudes towards the class I was studying for, I still needed to do well. Thus it would be alone time for me, as per my expectations.

In my life, expectations were broken quite frequently. This was again to be one of those times.

I was able to get through perhaps a third of the reading I wanted to finish when I felt someone staring at me. Maybe felt would be an inaccurate description. Every few moments when I would take my eyes off the page and stare at something besides letters I would catch a glimpse of a girl quickly averting her gaze after having stared at me while I was studying heads down.

I was content to let her keep staring at me, I didn’t really feel the pressure of her eyes until I stopped studying. When I was studying I was able to focus enough to filter out the distraction.

I was not focused enough to filter out a more direct distraction however.

“Hello?”

Looking up, I found the girl who had previously been so shy she couldn’t look me in the eyes now standing right by me. I made sure I was dealing with the same person. The empty table with her belongings left behind was evidence of this.

“Hello there,” I replied. As far as distractions went, it was a pleasant one. Definitely attractive, although a little older than the usual student. Probably doing graduate studies. She shifted nervously a little as she prepared her next statement.

“This is going to sound weird, but I was wondering if I could sit next to you?”

Quite a forward statement. “Sure, but mind if I ask why?”

She went silent for a few moments. I assumed she was processing my answer as a denial even though I had said she could. No one ever likes having their motives questioned.

“I knew you would say that.”

“Excuse me?” She avoided answering the question but left me more intrigued. “What do you mean?”

“Forget it. I actually want to talk with you. Can I sit down then?” Her tone was more that of a command rather than a question at this point.

What was she going to do? And really, why was I so hesitant? So an attractive woman wants to talk to you, what’s the worst that could happen? “I guess so. Go right ahead.”

Without a word of thanks she sat down across from me. Right away she started looking at me again, as if she was sizing me up. I decided to go back to studying while she decided on her response. The heat from her stare was so much more intense now that she was close. It was distracting, but she didn’t seem to want to stop.

“Sorry to bother you. I know studying is important and all. But, I just had to see you.”

See me? I had to turn away from the book and look at her again.

Her attractiveness was hard to deny up close. As I thought, she was older than the usual student here and seeing her across from me only confirmed this. She had a cute face, framed nicely by her bangs. It was a sort of subtle appeal, someone you could tell was really cute when they were younger but now was gracefully aging into a different look.

When I was looking at her from afar, there was a strange feeling of familiarity. But now, looking straight at her eyes, that familiarity was almost heart pounding. There were a few feelings running through me at this time: embarrassment at the fact she might know who I am but I didn’t know her, worry at her forward nature and unflinching stare and sure, a little excitement at the fact there was an attractive woman right in front of me.

My focus returned to her eyes. They had a nervous look, but not the expected shyness one has when they meet someone for the first time. Rather, it was the look one had when they had to prepare themselves for something bad.

I kept worrying about that sense of familiarity. Maybe it was deja vu? I was relatively sure I had never met this person before, but still felt I knew who she was.

“Sure, but, have we met before?”

There was a noticeable break in her relative coolness when I asked her that. Her gaze shifted away.

“We have,” was her simple reply.

The feeling of embarrassment grew within me. “Well, I’m sorry. I hate to say it seems you know who I am but I don’t know you are.”

“No, I guess you wouldn’t. It didn’t make sense to expect you to.”

Now my embarrassment turned into confusion. “I think you’ll have to tell me when we would have met.”

“Probably in November.”

“Can you be a little more detailed?”

“Gosh, it’s been awhile.” Awhile? It was only a few months ago. “I think we last met on the 13th? Or 14th? Like I said, it’s been awhile.”

What did she mean? Last met? We met multiple times? Seemed to be an unlikely possibility given that I had no idea who she was. And the only thing that came to mind on November 13 was breaking up with my previous girlfriend. We both deluded ourselves into thinking it was for the best. It didn’t mean that the best things in life didn’t hurt. I doubt I spent November 14 meeting this person, whoever she was. I easily remember lying in the bed the whole day, still in shock.

Jennifer might’ve been the one. But as she clearly told me then, it wasn’t up to me to decide. We managed some awkward conversations since then but we were still in the middle of trying to rebuild a shattered relationship into something resembling a friendship.

So then why was this woman referencing that day?

“I’m sorry miss, but I don’t think we met then.” I figured I should just stop this apparently confused woman from proceeding further.

She just smirked in reply. “It has been awhile after all,” she said to herself. “You can’t see it?”

“See what?”

“Look at me again.” She moved some of hair out of the way so I could see her face clearly. I took another look, but nothing jumped out me. The same feelings before recycled themselves.

“I really don’t know who you are.”

“Fair enough. I guess I might as well just tell you. It’s me. Jennifer.”

I looked again at this woman. Now she was claiming to be Jennifer? “Your name is Jennifer? I know a few but I don’t think I know you specifically.”

“No, I am the one you’re thinking of. Here, look.” She reached over to a bag on the other table, pulling out a small wallet. From it she produced a license and handed it to me. As expected, the woman’s picture was there. Looking at the name, it was Jennifer’s.

“So you have the same last name as someone I know?”

“Look at the birthday.” I did. Surprise followed right behind. The birthday was also Jennifer’s, right down to the year. The inevitable logic in my head tried to sort itself out. If this woman was Jennifer’s age, why did she look so much older? It just didn’t make any sense at all.

“Do you know Jennifer or something? Did she doctor up a fake ID for you? I don’t get it.” I handed this Jennifer the license back.

“No, that’s me. We broke up. I’m that Jennifer.”

I had a slight laugh at her ridiculous statement. “I don’t mean to be rude, but the Jennifer I know isn’t as old as you.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

“So then, you admit you aren’t her?”

“No, I’m Jennifer. Just not the one you know. But then, also I kind of am.” I answered her riddle with a confused and concerned stare. She laughed. “I know you’re confused. I’ll make it simple. You know about time travel, right?”

“Well, sure. I know it’s also just a piece of science fiction.”

“Yeah, I thought so too. But you’ll be amazed by the scientific advances in the next few decades.”

“So what then? You’re saying that you’re from the future? You’re a future Jennifer?”

“Knew you would get it quickly.”

“You’ll have to forgive me for not believing you.”

“No, I don’t blame you. You always were a “prove it to me” type.” She was correct there. Not a surprise she knew that, if she really was Jennifer. “If you just accepted it after me showing you some license, then I would’ve been really worried if I really remembered you accurately at all.”

“So how are you going to prove it to me?”

“That’s not really why I’m here. Like I said before, I have something to tell you.”

“You’re no fun.” Oddly, I felt comfortable enough with this Jennifer to tease her like I used to.

“And you were always like this too!” A bright smile flashed on her face. “So uh, what else can I do? Oh, I know! We can talk about that time in the library.”

“What time in the library?”

“You know. ‘That’ time in the library.” I could feel myself turn a little red and looked away for a second to avoid revealing my embarrassment. I could hear her chuckling.

“This is pretty wild. I didn’t think I would get to see you again.”

“Wait. We don’t see each other again?”

Her smile disappeared. “Um, well. I probably said too much. You know those stereotypes about messing with the past? I probably shouldn’t have come here.”

“But you did?”

“At a certain point in your life, you know you have to make a move. Screw the rules, just go for it.” She hesitated for a moment. “It’s all about doing what you know will make you happy.”

“You’re not happy?”

“You’re just full of questions aren’t you? I would be the same I guess, if I was seeing someone from the future too.”

“Well, there’s just so much you could tell me. Not saying I believe you, but you seem interesting enough to tell a good story.”

She started to laugh. “I’m not going to tell you won the Super Bowl this year if that’s what you’re looking for. I only know so much as my memory allows. And really, the world is pretty much the same. People can only advance so much in a few years.”

“But they invented time travel?”

“Just wait. You’ll find out about it too someday. I don’t want to ruin the surprise.” She was always one to withhold good news.

“Fine fine. I don’t think I want to know about that anyway. However, it sounds like we aren’t friends anymore. At least in your future.”

“No, we’re not. That’s why I’m glad I had to chance to talk to you. A younger version of you anyway.”

“I’m the same age I’ve always been.”

“You and your smart comments. You know what I mean.”

“What happened?”

“We broke up. You know that. And then, we just didn’t really talk after that. A few awkward hangouts with other friends. Then after graduation, we just lost touch.”

“I see. You don’t really know what happened to me?”

“You think I should tell you even if I did?”

“No, I guess not.”

“I kind of wish we did stay in touch. You were…are great. And for the longest time, after we lost contact, I would keep thinking about those times.

Then one day they start talking about time travel. Going into the past. Crazy, right? But yeah, now you can relive those memories. I guess I always wanted to live in my past. And now…I can.”

“So what? Are you here forever?”

“I don’t belong here.” Jennifer let out a sigh. “These days are over for me. I’m just lucky enough to see it in person. But I have my own life to lead now. I guess I just wanted to meddle in yours a bit.”

“Aren’t you going to mess up the time space continuum or something like that?” I tried to pull from my limited knowledge of science fiction cliches.

She just laughed again. “I would hope neither of us is that important to the future of time. Maybe? I don’t know. People have gone in the past and come back just fine. Maybe we just don’t know the changes that happen when we return. Because why would we? We would just think that was the way things always were. Time probably just has a funny way of making things work out in the end.

I thought about it for a long time before coming out here. If I went through with it, I wouldn’t just change my own life but I would probably change yours too. And I don’t even know who you are in my time. Maybe you’re loving life, married with kids, working at some dream job. Is it fair for me to be selfish and take you away from that? Then again, maybe you’re living a terrible life now too. That chance is just as likely.”

“What exactly are you here to do then?”

“I decided to be selfish. I had to do it for me.” She took a moment to collect herself. “I want you to get back together with me.”

The sheer coincidence of future Jennifer asking to make up with current Jennifer notwithstanding, I was more surprised by the difficulty of the action she was suggesting I take. Not that reconciliation did not cross my mind previously but I was under the impression that Jennifer was not interested, based on her rather cool attitude since November.

But here was Jennifer, an older one, telling me to go for it.

“But she…you, didn’t seem interested in getting back together.”

“That’s true. I guess I wasn’t. That’s why I know it will be tough. It’s just…” Jennifer trailed off for a second. “My life now, to be honest, is terrible. I’m lonely.”

“Lonely? You’re not going out with anyone?”

“A few boyfriends. It didn’t work out. And then I just kept going on dates and for whatever reason I kept striking out. Now, I’m just tired.” I was always bad at consoling those in this situation, so I kept silent. “This is really all I have left. Going into the past and convincing an old boyfriend to go out with me. In the slim hope that years later, we still stick together.”

“I can’t say that your plan is going to work though.” I decided to be more practical than optimistic. “We broke up for a reason the first time. Who’s to say it won’t happen again?”

She gave me a faint smile. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s quite possible nothing will happen. But nothing will happen for sure if I don’t do anything.”

“You don’t just want to talk to yourself, I mean, your younger self here?”

“I thought about that. But knowing who I am, I would’ve dismissed it as crazy. You were always more willing to accept the impossible. And really, I wouldn’t want to get involved with something when I knew that it would be the last possible chance I had. You have to keep love pure, right? Don’t you think I’ve messed up the past enough?”

“You’ve certainly made quite a mess of things already. Any other visions of the future you’d like to impart?”

A chuckle. “I’ve got nothing. Just want to let you know, it’s not hopeless just yet. If you want get back together. Be honest. Be smiley. And be sorry.”

“I am.”

“Good! Then tell her that too.” She reached across the table to hold my hand. I was taken aback at first and almost pulled away but I was quickly surprised by how right it felt. It wasn’t exactly Jennifer’s touch, but a slight modification of what I was used to. A little different with age but just as good. Like the future Jennifer in front of me I guess.

“Sorry. I’m being selfish again. But I had to do it.”

“It’s all right.” I enjoyed her touch a bit as well.

She slowly started to let go. “Okay, I’m done. I need to get going.” She stood up and grabbed her things from the other table. “There are a few more things I guess I could mess around with also. It’s okay, you wouldn’t know how badly the future turns out anyway.” One last smile towards me. “It was nice to see you again.”

“Nice…to meet you?”

“That works too,” she said with a laugh. “Hope to see you again.” Jennifer never liked to say goodbye. Even after we broke up. But maybe she really meant it this time.

She threw me one last goodbye wave as she descended the stairs and out of sight. I tried to follow her shrinking figure from above as she disappeared in the fields below.

As one Jennifer left my life, I had the chance to bring the other one back in. Maybe things wouldn’t be that simple. Part of me wasn’t eager to talk to Jennifer again. I considered the option of just letting it go. Just let the whole thing pass like a dream. Getting back together with her would be great. But then, I didn’t need another disappointment in my life either.

The future was mine to make. Variables throw themselves at us along the way but in the end, the choice is ours. Future Jennifer made a choice to come back and mess with the past. She could’ve easily just kept things the way they were.

Now would I have the same courage to mess with my future? I wasn’t sure yet. But I had nothing but time to think about it.


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