In short, time skipped back ten years, and in the blink of an eye everyone found themselves where they were ten years ago. The things that everyone in the world had done were now undone; children were not yet born, love had not yet been found, death had not yet come - but the memories of those ten years were still there.
All of it was truly too much to contemplate for any length of time; most found comfort in ignoring the bigger picture and centering on their own lives, and that’s how Kate and Dale found themselves sitting across from each other in a diner almost a year before they were to meet for the first time.
The time skip was just a week old and the world hadn’t collapsed into complete chaos yet, but the news was full of worldwide events having to do with the effects of the skip, and the news played on a TV in the corner to a full but still mostly quiet diner. Dale glanced at the TV but the girl seated alone at the boot next to the TV took his attention. She looked around the diner and caught his eye and smiled and when she looked beyond Dale her smile faltered a bit and she looked away.
Dale turned around and to see Kate taking the other seat at the table.
Dale rubbed his arms, appreciating the muscle there that ten years from now would decrease significantly. “Weird huh,” she said and motioned with her chin to the arm he was rubbing.
“I just can’t get over it. I’d forgotten how fit I was - am.” He rubbed and then slapped his stomach muscles and laughed. “I mean, is it weird that I feel like a freaking super hero? I mean seriously, this is great, huh?”
“Have you talked to your parents?”
Dale’s body slumped a bit and with a sigh he stopped smiling and tilted his head just a bit to the right and said: “Gosh I miss that.”
“You and your . . . No, I haven’t talked to them. We haven’t gone that far in the past for me to do that.”
“Even when you know what will happen to them?”
Dale shrugged and started rubbing his other arm and asked, “What about you?”
“Well,” Kate began, “I live with my parents now, totally forgot about that.”
“Jesus, that sucks.”
“Mom cries a lot now and dad just watches the news.” Kate watched Dale pull the sleeve of his shirt up a bit to show off more muscle. “Have you called your girlfriend?” He lowered his head a bit and shook his head.
“No, Kate, I haven’t,” and he straightened his back and lifted his chin and looked at Kate. “You know what I’m glad I don’t have to deal with anymore? Your treating me like crap and then asking for a favor.”
“Dale, what are you talking about? What favor?”
“We both know why you’re here, and in the past - or, well, you know what I mean, in our history I would have done it, I would have done anything for you.” Dale leaned forward. “It’s important that you understand that I did love you, and I did everything I could for you, and when you wanted something or asked something of me or whatever, I did it or did what I could to get it for you. You never appreciated all the things I did for you, or if you did you never said so. Then we got older maybe, married, I don’t know, but things changed, we changed. I started to get tired of doing things for you and you never appreciating them, and you stopped asking me and just expected me to do them and when I didn’t you got mad, and then I’d get mad and it would snowball.
“It’s my fault just as much as it is yours but in the end I had to break free of it all, so I left. There’s never a good time to leave and it would never be a good thing so of course it sucked but it had to happen for me to survive - for both of us to survive, really - and I am sorry but that’s all you will get, an apology and nothing more. I see now that I was a pushover when I thought I was being nice and considerate, but that’s not me anymore. I don’t want to repeat the ten years, I want something different, better.”
“You’re an asshole.”
Dale nodded. “I can’t believe you’d really want to still be with me anyway. I mean, honestly?”
“I don’t want you - “ She spat through grit teeth and suddenly leaned forward before stopping and taking a breath. “You left us. She was all I had when you left, she was everything to me and now she’s gone and I want her back!” Dale looked around but no one was paying them any mind. “I was holding her and then I wasn’t. I was holding her, looking at her and she was looking at me and then she was gone; and I could still feel her in my arms for days after - ” and Kate’s despair took over and she stopped speaking and instead just wailed into her hands while she sat there.
Dale looked at her, tried to console her but to no avail. He managed to get her into his car and he drove her to her parent’s house; and when she got out he offered to take her back to get her car if she wanted to give him a call but she made no sign that she heard him while she got out of the car and walked towards the house.
Dale, backing down the driveway, thought he’d stop by the diner on his way home to see if maybe that girl was still there.
Joshua Hampel lives and works in Wichita, Kansas