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Art by Melissa Mead

Love at the Corner of Time and Space

Annie Bellet is a voracious reader, an accomplished horse-back rider, and an incurable nerd. Her fiction has appeared in magazines such as AlienSkin, Daily SF, and Contrary. She lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Find out more about her at www.anniebellet.com

When she left him at the Crossroads of Time for the second time, Darrin didn't start to worry until he'd counted to four million eight hundred and ninety-seven. Then he lost count, again, and started to wonder if Ashley was coming back for him. They'd had another big fight, about the dirty dishes or the cluttered front hall or that curvy blonde he'd kissed on Friday night at the Reel'm Inn or any number of little annoyances that seem to pile up the longer any relationship goes on.
But he knew that in a long-term relationship with a Time Traveler, things got sticky on occasion. Last time she'd dumped him here, she'd come back after a count of about a thousand with a smile on her face. Ashley hadn't shared the joke, but she'd taken him home at least.
The crossroads was more of a movie theatre than a roadway. Opaque edges lined the four-way road, with images flickering like an old movie reel across the surface of the thick mists that formed barriers to each side of the crossroads. The roads themselves were soft and gave a little, like walking on dark blue cotton balls.
Darrin sat in the middle, twisting his head around, and picked at the fluffy road. It came away in his hand in pieces, only to dissipate like cool smoke between his fingers. Four million nine hundred even, though he guessed he'd skipped a few tens somewhere in the three millions. It didn't matter. Not if she was really going to leave him here.
Rising to his feet, Darrin fought off vertigo as the soft roadway gave under his Converse All-Stars and the images in the mists around him blurred and spun. He breathed in deep through his nose and then out his mouth and took stock. He wasn't hungry or thirsty. In fact, he felt fine, more or less. Just bored as hell and real fear had started to nibble at the edges of his mind.
"Ash?" he called out. "Okay, I'm sorry." She couldn't really have just left him here. Right? He shivered though it wasn't cold. "I'll do the damn dishes. Ashley?"
He closed his eyes and tried to remember what she'd said about the Crossroads. The time stream flowed here, each image a moment somewhere in the universe. He could dive in, randomly, and hope he ended up somewhere good. A Time Traveler could pick and choose.
But how long would she leave him here? Ashley had no concept of time, not the way he did. She was always late or early to dates with a funny little smile on her strawberry-glossed lips. Darrin shook his head. He wasn't in time, not here. It could be a million years of nothing and he'd never know. She'd been pretty damn mad but he didn't deserve this shit.
His college Psych professor's voice came to him suddenly, droning about the stages of grief. Denial. Anger. Darrin pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to recall the other stages.
"Bargaining," said a graveled voice, startling him. "Depression. Acceptance."
Darrin opened his eyes. One of the walls had become a whole classroom, the mustard walls familiar. Dr. Graham stood in front of a group of sleepy undergrads, hands shoved into his coat pockets.
"It's a crock of shit," Graham said, looking directly at Darrin. "We just hold on."
Darrin's heart started punching his chest. He could jump through, go back to that time. He'd have to remember what he was doing, have to deal with his classes again, but he'd manage.
He stepped forward even as the image began to fade back down into the myriad streams. Then he stopped himself.
He'd made that image appear. He'd been thinking and then it had happened, coalescing for him. Fingertips tingling, Darrin stood in the Crossroads and bit his lower lip.
With a muttered prayer, he closed his eyes again and tried to remember last Thursday. The apartment had needed cleaning. He reached for the slightly sour smell of the room, the feel of the corduroy couch cover beneath his hands, the throb of bass from the stereo.
And then he could hear it. Darrin opened his eyes and stepped into the room in front of him, falling into his own body. There was a rushing noise and a sense of something ripping apart deep inside. Then. . . just the beating of his heart in his ears and the song changing in the player.
He was back. The clock said 7:03 pm. Ashley would be home from her ballet class in twenty-three minutes. He rubbed his sweating palms on his jeans and jumped up off the couch. He turned up the music and went into the galley kitchen. With a small, secretive smile on his face, Darrin turned on the hot water, soaped up a sponge, and started to wash the dishes.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, June 23rd, 2011
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