The night was warm and a blue haired girl sat alone at a bar. She was at one end, trying to catch a glimpse of a woman sitting opposite, a woman with long dark hair and caramel skin. Robyn knew her from somewhere, she was sure of it. A memory floated just out of reach, like a dream slipping away when you open your eyes. She was about to give up when she saw the tattoo on the other woman’s wrist. There was a moment of recognition and then – the sketch of sprawling pastel flowers and the hand above it colliding with her own hands, a full mug falling to the ground, the unmistakable shattering of glass, a thousand wet shards shimmering in the dim light of the pub. Robyn pushed away from the bar abruptly, stricken by the vivid images that had already begun to fade.
“You’re going to have to trust me when I say this isn’t a pickup line, but have we met before?” Robyn said, suddenly standing next to the stranger.
The other woman looked up with glazed eyes, as if noticing Robyn, or anyone else, for the first time. Robyn looked finally at her face and she felt the sense of recognition again. This time the barrage of images was less startling. She saw the woman before her, shirt stained with drink, her lips forming a forgiving smile.
“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure,” she said in the present, one eyebrow raised in curiosity. The expression seemed foreign to her.
“Really? I could swear I just bumped into you and spilt my drink on your shirt. Of course, that doesn’t make sense because I’ve only ordered one drink, which I drank, and your shirt is in perfect condition . . .” Robyn trailed off. At that point she was feeling rather foolish, but when she looked up the other woman was staring in disbelief.
“How could you possibly remember that . . .”
Robyn began to feel as if she had missed something, fallen behind in the conversation. The stranger’s eyes changed then, they became clear and bright.
“Your hair is very blue,” she said as she stood from her barstool and put on her jacket. “I like it. What’s your name, blue-haired girl?” Robyn shook her head, trying to clear it.
“I’m Robyn,” she managed eventually.
“It was good to meet you Robyn, both times. If you still remember running into me by tomorrow and you want to know why, meet me at the south entrance to Chestnut Park, four PM.” She moved toward the exit without missing a beat.
“Wait!” Robyn shouted after a moment of confusion. She just managed to catch her on the way out. “Who are you?”
“Oh, right. I guess it’s been a while,” she said quietly. “My name is Quinn,” And then she was out the door, leaving Robyn with nothing but a draft of night air and a curious smile.
“So, you can time travel?”
Quinn and Robyn lay on their backs in the grass, looking up at the sky through a break in the trees – Quinn had always found it relaxing. So far, she had spotted two bunnies, a horse, and a dragon floating above them. The clouds were just beginning to turn pink as the sun set.
“Yeah, but only backward in my own time stream. When you ran into me last night I got covered in beer, so I just went back in time and avoided walking into you,” Her tone was casual, as the notion of time travel had become causal to her. “But then I had to continue living my life from that point on. So like, if I wanted to go back by months – or even years – I’d have to live those months or years all over again because they would be different after whatever change I made.”
“Does that mean you could relive a year fifty different times but only be one year older? Do you remember them all? All the times you’ve lived over?” Robyn asked, sounding genuinely curious.
“Yes I can, and yes.” A subtle darkness crept into her voice. “Yes, I remember every version of every decision I’ve made over.”
Robyn propped herself up on one elbow, looking over at Quinn. Quinn watched her from the corner of her eye. Strands of her startlingly blue hair fell into her face.
“Aren’t you afraid I’ll think you’re crazy?” Robyn asked at last.
“Not really,” Quinn responded. “If you do I’ll just go back to last night and not tell you.”
“Nope, definitely don’t do that,” she said, still frowning slightly. Quinn looked back up to the peach and purple sky.
“And as far as I know, you’re the only one to ever notice. I didn’t think that was possible. It shouldn’t be. Nobody technically even lived that reality besides me.”
“That sounds really awful.” Robyn flopped into the grass again and it was Quinn’s turn to prop herself up and look at the other girl.
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, not only have you lived in countless worlds that no one else even knows existed, but every decision you make is pretty much meaningless. You never have to worry about consequences because if anything bad happens, you can just go back and change it,” she pondered.
“Most people would see that as a good thing. I can live a life free of worry.” Quinn responded without conviction, turning onto her back once more, though she had lost interest in the clouds. She could always come back and see them again.
“You could live endless lives without worry. You never have to deal with tragedy or negativity ever again, but without bad things you can’t really have good things either. I’ve been thinking about it while we’ve been lying here. If you don’t have to be nervous about telling me then you won’t be relieved when I believe you.”
Quinn felt a twinge of surprise when she realized what Robyn was saying, but no relief. “You’re right. I’m not relieved. I’m never relieved. I’m never much of anything now.” She sighed and wondered again what she had done to deserve her curse. “It makes it easy to forget why I keep living at all,” she said quietly, feeling the pointlessness of it all begin to suffocate her.
“I guess the only solution is to stop doing it.”
After a long silence Quinn managed a cough of disbelief. She sat up and looked at Robyn. It had been a long, long time since she’d been reduced to shocked silence.
“Stop doing it? Well if it’s just that easy-” She scoffed. Quinn was reminded then that though Robyn believed her, she could never understand her. Robyn sat up and looked at her seriously.
“I never said it would be easy. Frankly it’s going to be hell, but I believe you can do it. Plus, I can help you.” Then, like she was closing a business deal, she held out her hand for a shake.
“You don’t even know me . . .” Quinn muttered, staring at her hand.
“Maybe not, but I will. I think part of you wants desperately to live again. Why else would you tell me all this, if not to ask for my help?” She sounded so sure. She made it sound so . . . possible.
For the first time in as long as Quinn could remember, she felt nervous. She hesitated.
She took Robyn’s hand.
Robyn watched the steam rise off the rich cream-colored liquid in the mug across the table. Quinn wrapped her hands around it, as if to absorb the warmth. Robyn lifted her own drink, a much darker mixture of coffee and caramel, and took a sip. The city bustled by just outside the cafe window, like her and Quinn were sitting in an observatory, looking in on a world unaware of their existence. The first hints of fall had begun to show themselves, taking a particular liking to the early hours like these. Robyn looked back just in time to see Quinn taking her first eager sip. For a moment nothing changed, and then her nose crinkled and her face twisted in an unmistakable expression of disgust.
“No good?” she asked trying to keep a smile from her face. Robyn had been skeptical when Quinn had ordered the sweetest, richest, drink on the menu – something called Vanilla Milk. Now it seemed her doubts were founded. Quinn pouted.
“It’s supposed to be delicious! This just tastes like sugary milk. Warm sugary milk.” Robyn almost felt bad for taking such pleasure in Quinn’s disappointment. Almost. “I knew I should have gotten the chocolate . . .”
Robyn’s smile vanished. She had learned over the past three weeks to recognize statements like that as warnings. Just as Robyn expected, Quinn’s expression had gone slack and her eyes unfocused. Without a moment for hesitation Robyn’s fingers reached out desperately. They wrapped around Quinn’s wrist, tethering her there.
“Don’t. Quinn are you listening? Don’t do it. Can you hear me? You can’t do this.” Robyn’s fingers finally found what they were searching for, her index and middle finger pressing gently into Quinn’s wrist. She felt the other girl’s pulse, pounding sluggishly but returning to normal. Then she felt a pressure on her own wrist and Quinn was looking at her with guilt in her eyes. The two sat there for a moment, feeling each other’s heartbeats. Quinn pulled away.
“It’s not a big deal, it’s just a drink. A really gross drink.” She wouldn’t meet Robyn’s gaze.
“We talked about this, it doesn’t matter how insignificant the difference is. You could go back seconds or years. You could change a drink order or save someone’s life, but either way you are only hurting yourself. If you want to recover you can’t ever go back, not for anything.” She knew Quinn had heard it all before, but the memory of her unnaturally slow pulse still echoed through Robyn’s fingers. “Plus, it can’t be that bad.”
Quinn raised an eyebrow.
“Not that bad, huh? Well go right ahead and have a taste then,” she said, pushing the beverage toward her. Robyn hesitated, but refused to back down. She took a small drink. A moment passed.
“It’s . . . it’s not that bad. It’s . . . fine . . .” Robyn made her best effort to keep her expression in line.
“Yeah, it’s pretty disgusting.” Robyn caved and her face contorted. “It’s like warm milk? But somehow-”
“-somehow it’s also like drinking granulated sugar,” Quinn finished.
“Exactly!” Robyn agreed adamantly, and at the same moment they burst into laughter. The cafe’s other patrons gave disapproving glances, but neither of them noticed.
Quinn fiddled nervously with the little bundle of pastel flowers. She shouldn’t be nervous when she could simply undo any mistake and relive it successfully. Only she didn’t do that anymore, she hadn’t for nearly two months. And those two months had changed her. She had suffered inconveniences, and some physical pain. She had found a job from which she was fired. She had made mistakes and let people down and eaten things she didn’t like and arrived places late. She had felt real fear. They had been the best two months of her life.
And it was all thanks to Robyn. If she hadn’t remembered that one, random, insignificant encounter . . .
As if on cue Robyn stepped through the trees and into the little clearing, walking with that bounce in her step and light in her eyes that never failed to make Quinn smile.
“I remember this place,” she said with an absent-minded glance at the sky, undoubtedly recalling the clouds they had watched that day. “What’s up Quinn?” she asked, coming to a stop in front of her.
“Um . . .” she began confidently. “Uh, here.” Quinn held out the stems and felt her cheeks begin to burn. Robyn accepted the meager flowers graciously and smiled, the breeze catching her short blue hair and batting it playfully into her eyes. Without thinking Quinn reached up and brushed it from her face.
“You have such lovely blue hair. When you got it re-dyed yesterday it reminded me of the first time I met you. Well, first times. I was such a different person then. I had no sense of self or purpose. I was the one who picked this place but when I got here I was lost. When I was left I . . . I had hope. You gave me hope.” When Quinn went to take a breath, she risked a glance at Robyn. She was still smiling, smiling and waiting. Her mask of calm and patience was like an anchor. Quinn clung to it against the turbulence within. She took another breath.
“What I’m trying to say is you are unquestionably the best friend I have ever had and it’s honestly unfair you were able to change my life so completely without allowing me to even make a dent in yours.”
“That’s not-” Robyn started in protest, but Quinn kept going.
“So, if you’re up for it I’d like to make my best effort. I’d like to take you out to the movies and see something that very well may be horrible, but if it is horrible, I still want to have seen it with you.” Her heart raced and her train of thought had been seriously derailed. Honestly, she was a little preoccupied fighting the urge to travel back right then, but she had to know what Robyn would say.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure you just gave me flowers, complimented me, thanked me, and then asked me to the movies. Are you asking me out on a date Quinn?” She was smiling, and as far as Quinn could tell it wasn’t a gesture of pity, so she nodded. “In that case, okay.”
Quinn stared. A moment passed. A minute passed. The birds sang and a breeze ruffled gold and crimson leaves.
“So . . .” she hesitated, Quinn wasn’t the best at interpreting people’s expressions. “So, you’ll go on a date with me? Does that make you my . . . does that make you my girlfriend?” Before she could say anything else dumb, Robyn was standing on her tiptoes, wrapping her arms around Quinn’s neck and pressing her lips to Quinn’s. It was soft and sweet and everything Quinn had ever hoped kissing Robyn would be. Before she could even react, the pressure was gone and Robyn was there, centimeters from her, smiling with those round honey eyes.
“I think you could say that, yes.” And all of a sudden Quinn wasn’t frozen anymore. She swooped down, wrapping her arms around Robyn’s waist and lifting her into the air. She swung her around all of two times before they both collapsed.
“I . . .” she panted, laying on her back. “. . . am not . . . very strong.” Robyn laughed, and when she had the breath, Quinn joined in.
“Quinn?” Robyn asked after a while of companionable silence.
“Hmmm?” she responded, absentmindedly playing with Robyn’s hair.
“You have to promise me something, okay?” The serious tone of Robyn’s voice made Quinn stir, and she propped herself up on her elbows to meet her gaze.
“I know I don’t have to ask this of you, but also I do. I have to be sure. Will you promise me that you will never undo any of this? I know I can never truly understand, but one thing I do know is that it’s not just about you now. If you undo any of this then it will never have happened to me either. I don’t want that, no matter what happens.”
Quinn looked at her and she could not think of a single reason why she would ever want to go back to a time before this.
“You promised me!” Robyn yelled, her insides churning. “Five months of progress and you didn’t even think!” Her voice was raw from shouting.
“Of course I thought about it! What did you want me to do? Let it die? That would have been on my shoulders! I was behind the wheel, not you!” Quinn spat back. Tears stained her face.
“I don’t care about the damn dog Quinn! Its life is not worth yours!”
“You act like this changed everything! It was seconds Robyn, seconds!”
“And you seem to have forgotten that when I met you you had forgotten what the point in living was! I don’t ever want to see you like that again.” Robyn’s own eyes welled with tears at the thought. Quinn had to know that the amount of time or the reason didn’t matter. It was like an addiction; any slip was dangerous.
“You pretend like you know how I feel, but you can’t! Every mistake I make I have to live with the fact that I’m choosing not to fix it! You would be no better!” Quinn’s voice became quiet and she looked away. “When you can’t see the toll it takes, you’re just a reminder of how alone I am.” Robyn jerked back as if she’d been struck. Her eyes widened.
“How long do I have Quinn?” She was quiet, tears flowing freely now. Quinn looked up, anger quickly giving way to confusion. “How long before you decide I was a mistake, just a painful reminder? How long before you go back in time and undo me?”
“Robyn I would never-”
“How long do I have with you?” Robyn’s shoulders shook with sobs as she thought about the possibility. At any moment Quinn could change her mind and leave, undoing everything.
“As long as you can put up with me.” Robyn’s vision was blurred with tears, but she felt Quinn’s arms wrapping around her and her breath was soft and warm on Robyn’s neck. She let herself be wrapped up and her tears stained Quinn’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean any of that. I just felt guilty about breaking my promise. I was afraid . . . I was afraid you’d leave me. I wouldn’t even blame you.” They stood there, arms wrapped around each other, for a long time.
“I love you, Quinn.”
“I love you, too, Robyn.”
Robyn stood next to her, both of them swaying uncertainly on their feet. They looked down at the kitchen floor, or more specifically the round orange cat sitting in the center of it. She purred loudly and moved to rub against their legs.
“You’re sure she was the fattest one they had?” Robyn asked in a loud whisper, trying not to draw the cat’s attention. Quinn giggled.
“Robyn you were there, we were both there. She was the roundest one we could find.” She whispered back. “What do we call her?” She asked, nearly losing her balance but covering it by crouching down to stroke the orange tabby.
“I see absolutely nothing wrong with that name. Hello George,” Quinn cooed, and Robyn joined her. Quinn laid on the linoleum floor, curling her body around George.
“We got to go to bed babe, it’s nearly 3 AM,” Robyn insisted.
“You want me to get up and leave George here? Cold and alone? Our bond is new and feeble, I can’t break it with a betrayal like that,” Quinn muttered drowsily.
“I love you so much,” Robyn said fondly, wiggling into position behind Quinn and wrapping her arms around her waist.
“You do?” Quinn whispered, and it broke Robyn’s heart a little to know she was still unsure.
“I love you too,” Quinn sniffled.
“Are you crying Quinn?” Robyn pulled a lock of dark hair away from her face.
“I think so, yeah. It hurts, but like, in a really really good way,” she said, sniffling again. “Is this what being in love feels like?”
“No, this is what being alive feels like.”
Quinn crouched, her back against the wall and her hands in her hair. She could hear her heartbeat ringing in her ears, feel it pushing against her rib cage.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, are you Quinn?” Quinn looked up. A middle-aged man stood before her, the knees of his jeans were smeared with dirt and oil. His hands were freshly washed.
“Yes, I’m Quinn,” she said without meaning to.
“My name is Dave, I was at the intersection when . . .” Quinn’s head shot up and in a heartbeat she was standing.
“You were there?” Blood rushed in her ears.
“Yes, I helped pull the blue haired girl from her car.” Quinn stumbled back, the wall catching her. “She was asking for you. Did you know her well?” His voice was soft, apologetic.
Quinn looked down at her hand. It was shaking, but she hardly noticed. She was looking at the ring.
“She’s my – she’s my fiancé.” Her voice shook and tears finally threatened. She forced them back. “We haven’t picked a date yet – but – but the ring means – it means she’s stuck with me.” Quinn attempted a shaky smile but she couldn’t breathe. She felt dizzy and suddenly the world swayed.
All she could see was a ring, a beautiful sapphire engagement ring. It looked warm against the ashen skin. She could feel the stiff wrist beneath her fingers. She had stood over that body long after it grew cold, searching, searching in vain. She had placed her fingers on its wrist.
“She used to do that to tell if I was about to rewrite time. My pulse always slows down . . .” Quinn had begun feeling for Robyn’s in return after a little while, as an anchor, as a reminder. But this time it was quiet and cold.
“Ma’am are you okay? Are you alright?” She looked up to see the man from before – Dave – crouching over her. He looked worried.
“I’m okay, I’m fine.” But never in her life had that been less true.
“Ms. Robyn, your fiancé wanted to say something to you but I’m not sure what it was.” He waited, probably wanting to make sure she was paying attention.
“What did she say – tell me everything you can remember.” Quinn was listening.
“I’m certain she was saying she loved you, but it was the other thing I couldn’t make out. It sounded like . . . well it sounded like don’t do it.” He looked confused and concerned, but Quinn knew exactly what that meant. The poor man probably just wanted to go home to his family and forget everything that just happened. Who was she to deny him that?
“I’m sorry Robyn,” Quinn whispered.
It had been nearly three years since she’d traveled back in time, but it wasn’t difficult. For a moment everything slowed down around her, then it snapped back into place. The most violent part of the transition was her emotional state. She had become accustomed to traveling back into her body with a numb mind past and present, but this time her state of utter upheaval was met with the serenity of a Tuesday morning. She thought her brain would be torn apart as the emotions battled for dominance. Soon, though, her memories settled into place and the thought of – of that broken body was enough to tip the scales. She settled back into shock and despair shortly.
Quinn picked up her phone checking the time. She had eight and a half hours. Nothing felt real. She didn’t know what she was doing until the phone was dialing.
“You’re up early for a day off. What’s up?” Quinn’s breath caught in her chest and when she exhaled the tears came. She cried longer than she ever had before and every time Robyn asked what was wrong she cried harder. She thought she’d never stop, but she ran out of tears eventually. When she had relieved the sorrow, guilt hit her like a spear.
“Um . . .” she began, unable to force the words from her lips. “I . . . I finished that book you kept recommending.” She said lamely. It was a poor excuse but Robyn didn’t bat an eye. Quinn made a mental note to prepare herself for a sad ending if she ever read it. She had the burning visceral need to say something, anything. “It’s just that it’s over and I can’t – it’s like saying goodbye to the characters.” What am I doing?
“I know exactly how you feel, it always hurts when good things end. But if they didn’t, if TV shows and books went on forever we’d take them for granted and lose interest. You know better than anyone how important endings are.”
“I know but it feels like – it feels like they’re . . . like they’re dead.” Her voice cracked.
“Quinn, they’re fictional. And even if they weren’t you wouldn’t want them to live forever would you?” Her voice was scolding as it echoed through the phone.
“Why not?” Quinn asked in a small voice.
“You know very well why not! You know the knowledge that any time could be our last time is essential to being human. I wouldn’t wish immortality on anyone I cared about, fictional or not. I know you wouldn’t either.” Quinn knew, but that didn’t mean she understood.
“So you want to die?” Quinn struggled to speak through the tightness in her throat.
“Well, preferably not tomorrow, but the knowledge that that could happen is what makes life interesting. Honey I really have to go, I’ll see you tonight. We can talk more about the book then, okay?”
“Okay, sorry for interrupting you at work.”
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
“Love you Quinn.”
“I love you too, Robyn – more than anything in the world.”