Sometime Before Yesterday

               Everyone is running from something. Some of us are trying to escape our soul crushing jobs and others are hiding from the bitter reality of their home lives. Eliana is running from the future, not just what it holds for her but the very place in time itself. She spent her first week in the past squatting in an empty apartment down the hall from Mark watching him as he came and went. Her second week she would venture out into the world in the hours she knew he would be away, reacquainting herself with the old neighborhood. She had always meant to go back and check in at home but with everything going on at school she had never found the time. She did not know what it was she was hoping to find but the idea of coming back seemed like a much better idea than facing her present worries. So she kept her distance and waited still not knowing what she was waiting for but hoping that it would happen soon and that she would be ready.

               Mark was never one to wander far. The apartment Eliana grew up in wasn’t too far from where he lived now and the surrounding area hadn’t changed much throughout the years. Following him around was very much like revisiting her childhood memories. Today he was at Books. Some families went camping, others would go on picnics, but Eliana and her father would spend hours every weekend dining on the outdoor patio of Jackie’s Café after a long visit to Books. Eliana was certain it had to have a name but the sign simply read Books in bold, bland, white letters on a red background and so that is what people called it. At one point it joined forces with the café next door and a wall was removed to extend the dining room into the bookstore to allow patrons of both a quiet place to eat, read, study, or watch the other people around them. This is where Eliana was parked as she followed Mark’s sporadic book browsing from behind a copy of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine she wasn’t paying any attention to. Mark’s behavior in any store was a bit too erratic for her to follow along at any pace without calling attention to herself but she could see the top of his head above the bookshelves as he wandered from one part of the store to another, often retracing his steps having completely forgotten to check for a certain book when he was just there. She remembered running off and getting herself lost amongst the books as her father frantically called out for her in a giant game of hide and seek. The bookshelves didn’t look so tall now.

“What’s this one about daddy?” They had their drinks and pastries on the patio of Jackie’s after an adventure in Books. Eliana had her backpack full of crayons and papers plus the books she got today but instead of the things in her ‘survival kit’ she had in front of her a magazine from her father’s pile of reading material. She didn’t care much for the pages and pages of just plain text but the full page color ads always attracted her attention.

“That is a wonderful story about a princess who must leave her city in order to save the people inside of it from the bad people who’ve taken it over.” It was an advertisement for some sort of women’s make up but Eliana didn’t want that. She wanted a story and she wanted one from her dad.

“Daddy, don’t be silly.” She may be getting wise to this act.

She mostly avoided that patio now.

               It was a few more moments before Eliana realized she had completely lost track of Mark. She was focused on an abandoned backpack in the children’s section. It was small, bright red, and reminded her of her childhood bag she called her ‘survival kit’ that she would bring to this very bookstore but of course it couldn’t be the same one. Not only was the timing all wrong but so was the color. Hers was a striped green and purple and this one was solid red. Completely different except in size. Maybe it was the bookstore or her trailing of Mark that brought back these memories that made the bag seem so familiar. Having already lost track of Mark she quickly got up and retrieved the abandoned bag and returned to her table. Hastily opening the bag, she dumped its contents onto the table. School papers, drawings, a couple of notebooks, some crayons and markers, and some books the kid must have pulled directly off the shelf unaware of how a bookstore works. She didn’t know what to find but was underwhelmed nonetheless. She left the books and schoolwork on the table and took the rest with her. This is who she was now. Who she had to be. This trip was not very thought out. When she arrived she didn’t know where she would stay or how she could even survive in a world where she did not yet exist. At first it felt wrong digging around in donation bins and swiping tips off of restaurant tables but this was her survival. Some things just had to be done.

               She needed to blend in and the little black outfit she had put together was perfect for hiding amongst the other patrons at the bar she found herself in that night. The red backpack may have stood out a bit but it had become something of a safety blanket since she found it. Her new survival kit containing her notebooks and a change of clothes because she did not know where this journey was taking her. She usually did though. Mark doesn’t usually venture too far from his apartment but tonight something different was happening. Not only was this trip unexpected, Eliana was even more worried than usual about being discovered. Not that he would recognize her but she just did not know what she would say to him if he did approach her. There were a lot of people in the building but not so many that she could get lost in a crowd and the it wasn’t the largest of local establishments so there was nowhere for her to hide but in plain sight at the bar.

               So she sat there and watched as Mark and his friends ordered round after round of drinks getting louder and louder as the night went on. She would occasionally pull one of her notebooks from her bag and scribble little somethings as she made her observations. They had been loud and rowdy all night with the exception of Mark who looked like he was trying to stay unnoticed by the group he was with but then she watched as, after plenty of coaxing from his friends, he got up and began walking across the room. She was instantly overcome with paranoia and dread, some nervousness, and panic. Lots and lots of panic. Was he coming over here? Oh no. No. No. No. No. This is bad. This is not going to end well.

               This was not going to end well. Mark was trying his best to get through the night the best he could having somehow been talked into going out with the crew tonight. The bar scene is not his usual thing but everyone at work was going and while he was fine being the odd man out his coworkers weren’t having any of that tonight. He had made the mistake of zoning out and checking out the other patrons at the bar which everyone around him interpreted as him checking out a girl which, admittedly, he had been doing but he would never had done anything about it on his own. But tonight was different. Tonight he was surrounded by people he mostly just tolerated and some he might call friends and then there was the alcohol. That was the biggest motivating factor. That and getting away from this table for the next few moments. He was easily coaxed into getting up and actually talking to someone other than the increasingly noisy crowd he was with. She had her nose in a book occasionally looking away to write something in a notebook. She would alternate sips from two cups in front of her. One coffee, the other, something a bit stronger. She must be a student. Has to be.  He liked students. He liked the idea of studying and learning and liked the kind of people that liked to learn. He himself would like to learn something someday. Someday but I don’t have the time right now. Soon. Definitely soon.

               It was obvious that she did not want to be bothered but she was at a bar and when a man like Mark who is equal parts lonely and desperate consumes enough alcohol something bad is bound to happen. Mark may have miscalculated just how much alcohol he needed in his system to both build up the courage to approach this woman and successfully navigate the distance between them. Was he really going to do this? Hit on a woman at a bar? It’s all sorts of cliché and not the kind of thing he would normally do. He is the kind of guy who pushes boundaries. The kind of guy that breaks molds and blazes trails. The kind of guy that gets nervous and breaks away at the very last minute. Behind him he can hear the laughter coming from his table. Just another failed approach in a long list of failed approaches. There was no way he could go back to them with any sort of dignity. At least not empty handed.

               Eliana’s thoughts calmed when she sees that Mark was not approaching her but another woman sitting alone at a booth surrounded by books obviously not wanting to be bothered. What an idiot. She hoped it was the alcohol that triggered this abnormal behavior in him. She did not want to have come all this way and not find what she was looking for. But her relief was short lived. Something had either gone incredibly right or terribly wrong because Mark was suddenly standing next to her at the bar ordering drinks. Like many of the women at the bar she was avoiding eye contact with him. This is not how she wanted him to meet her. Slightly drunk. Maybe a bit lonely. Then the thought suddenly hit her. Oh no. No. No. No. No. No. How can she avoid what could potentially become an incredibly awkward situation?

               Mark held his head in shame as he ordered another round for his table. Embarrassment began to eat away at the edges of his thought. It was then he realized that he had nothing to lose. This is a lively place. No one here really knows him. What could it hurt to introduce himself to any one of the beautiful women here? In fact, he had just happened to wander right up next to an especially gorgeous young lady at the bar. He didn’t know what he was going to say and he didn’t care. He was just going to dive right in. What did he have to lose anyway?

“You don’t have too many successful conversations with women do you?”

Mark stared at her, dumbfounded.

“I saw you over there,” Eliana points to Mark’s failure still wrapped up in her studies. “You couldn’t even approach her. Maybe booze isn’t the right fuel for your nerves.”

With that Eliana raised her eyebrows, downed the rest of her drink, and left before Mark had a chance to recover.

               Just dive right in. Her father used to tell her. What do you have to lose?

               Silently Mark gathered his drinks and makes the walk of shame back to his table. Well, at least they didn’t see this one.

               That was far too close a call for Eliana. It was time her mission went from observation to interaction. But first, she would need some help.

 

“Wake up, Mark!”

A kick to the head is not the ideal wakeup call but it is the one Mark deserves. The previous night was a foggy mess of memories. There was the bar, his friends, and alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol. Ugh, what kind of mess did I get myself int? Another kick, to his side this time and no longer a gentle tap. And who is kicking me?

“You’re blocking the hall, Mark. Get off your butt.”

His eyes open to reveal the source of both the voice and the kicks. It’s Jamie. Of course it’s Jamie. It’s always Jamie. His other neighbors were standing at a distance down both ends of the hallway. He never bothered to learn their names which is probably why it was Jamie who was kicking him awake this morning. Someone must have knocked on her door after discovering him passed out on the floor in front of the door to his apartment. Some would say that Mark and Jamie were inseparable but other, more attentive folks would say that Mark never left her side even if that side was several paces behind her. Even now he lives in the apartment across the hall from her. It seems he has always lived across the hall from her. She is his constant. No matter what changes come in his life Jamie is always there. They had grown up as neighbors and Mark being two years her junior had always looked up to her. And as they often do, his feelings of admiration turned to infatuation.  For the longest time he had the biggest crush on her but growing up he learned that crushes were just that, childish. But every so often those feelings would resurface and right now, waking up with everything still a bit fuzzy, seeing her face awoke a smile in him. He would be lost without her. It was Jamie who helped him get his job and again his apartment. When she knew her neighbor was going to break their lease her landlord had a new tenant before he even knew he needed one. Now here she was, standing over him, kicking him in the head to wake him up after a terrible night. It had always been Jamie and he hoped it always would be.

The other tenants went back to their business now that the drama in the hallway was over and Mark had pushed himself up, leaning his back on the door to his apartment to let the traffic his unconscious self was blocking through. But despite being awake Mark still was not all there. Working backwards he remembered stumbling into the building late last night. Early this morning? Then all the drinks. And a girl. Or was it girls? Everything else was still a bit too fuzzy to get a clear grasp on. One thing he was sure of was that he had to have made an ass out of himself if he drank as much as it feels like he did.

“I-I couldn’t find my keys.”

Shaking her head, Jamie points to the lock on his door where the keys still hang, lock already turned. She opens the door and Mark falls backwards into his apartment. Stepping over him like nothing is out of the ordinary she heads to the kitchen.

Marks apartment is a thing of necessity. A tiny television stand for a tiny television. A single TV tray between a single chair and a mostly unused coffee table that is more clutter than table at this point. The dining room serves only as large open space between his living room and kitchen which is also bare of almost any appliances. There is a toaster on the counter unplugged and covered in dust and next to it, in stark contrast, is an overused and under cleaned coffee maker. His apartment didn’t even contain a desk which was strange for someone who claimed to be a writer. But he did have bookshelves. Plenty of bookshelves. The only reason Mark even had a couch was because Jamie kept hounding him to get one. Mark learned long ago that arguing with Jamie was useless and she knew that his arguments were more for his benefit than for actually convincing anyone of his point of view. His complaints were an attempt of having a say in his own life even though he knew he would follow her advice regardless. He begrudgingly bought a couch and put it next to his chair but he still hardly used it. Today was an exception. Today he was so terribly hung over that he walked right up to that couch that he had so adamantly argued against and collapsed face first into it.

“Let’s get some coffee into you.”

Mark could practically hear the smirk on her face. “Oh so very much coffee.”

“Don’t worry, he’ll be okay. This happens sometimes. Don’t hold it against him.” Jamie called from the kitchen.

It takes all of his strength to open one of his eyes not knowing if Jamie’s words were some sort of dream or if he had missed something important when he was so rudely awakened. There, standing in his doorway was the most familiar looking girl but his brain still was not operating at peak capacity to place her.

“Mark, this is Eliana. She’s subletting my place while I’m gone.”

“Gone?”

“Yea, Mark. Gone. The world awaits and I’m not getting any younger standing around here with you.” Jamie had been talking about this trip for what seemed like years but she never mentioned anything about anyone staying in her apartment. Then again, Mark was steeped heavily in denial that he hardly remembered anything she said when she went on about her travels.

“I was hoping that was all a dream.”

“You mean a nightmare.” Jamie handing a cup to Eliana and sets another in front of Mark who may or may not have dozed off again. But Jamie knew that he was only pretending to be asleep to avoid having this conversation. “You didn’t have to go out and get all wasted because of lil’ ol’ me.”

“Psh, you wish. Nick got the promotion. We were celebrating.”

“You? Out? Celebrating? That doesn’t sound right.”

“I’ve got to make new friends if you’re abandoning me to have your little adventure.”

“Look, Mark, I’ve know you what? Forever? And not once have you ever been concerned with getting to know other people. Here’s what I think happened, Nick got the promotion, you got jealous even though you put forth zero effort in getting it for yourself, so you decide to get all mad and drunk and pretend that you’re not worried about the future and your complete lack of one.”

Those last words were punctuated by a door slamming and then the running water of a shower.

“That was a bit harsh, huh?” Jamie had almost forgotten that Eliana was standing there listening to all that.

“Oh he’s not mad at me. He’s just upset because everything I said was probably closer to the truth than he wanted to admit. I don’t know what you came here looking for but I sincerely hope that that was not it. But don’t worry, he isn’t always like that.”

“Yea, I know. I was there last night.”

“At the bar?”

“Yea, I wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into. He almost hit on me.”

That was bit more than Jamie could handle. The situation, as it was, was already strange enough but that had her laughing so hard her eyes began to water. Eliana just stared at her untouched coffee, lost in thought. What was I thinking coming all the way out here? At least she had Aunty J. At least for now. She was just Jamie back then- now- a friend of the family long before Eliana was ever born. Jamie travels the world doing a little of this and a little of that. She is a writer, a photographer, a humanitarian, or, at least she will be. Right now, well, Eliana doesn’t quite know what Jamie does but she does know the kind of person she is and that she is the only person in her life that would believe she is who she is. She was her in into Mark’s life. Mark turned out to be a very different kind of person than she had thought he would be now. The Mark she knows just might let her into his life but not this Mark. This Mark is a mess and she was beginning to regret coming here. There was no way this version of Mark would be able to help her but Jamie insisted that she stay. She told her that he was worth staying for. That they would be good for each other. But Eliana didn’t want to be good for anyone. She was here to help herself not anyone else. But Jamie wasn’t exactly like her Aunty J who always knew what to say at just the right moment. Sitting here now Eliana wished she had come to see Jamie earlier. That seeing her was her mission and not Mark. But Jamie was leaving. This was the beginning of her own her story.

Initially Jamie was worried about leaving Mark alone for such a long time. She wasn’t worried that he would do something brash or irresponsible. She was afraid that he would do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Go to work. Go to the bookstore. Go home. Repeat forever.

“So… I’ve avoided asking this question so far but seeing as I’m about to leave and all… Where do I end up, future girl?”

Eliana continued to stare blankly into her coffee finally taking a sip long after it had cooled. Her biggest worry about coming back was this question. She didn’t have much of a plan and she didn’t exactly know how time travel worked and what, if any, mess she could make.

“You don’t want to know that. That’s not who you are. It would take all the adventure out of life.”

It was true. Jamie as excited to meet Eliana but also a bit let down. She had assumed that Mark would always be part of her life but the absolute certainty of it was overwhelming. It was good that she was getting away for a bit to gather herself and do all the things she had always told herself she would do one day. The things that she could never do with Mark following her around all the time. He has been worrying her recently and she had been trying to keep her distance. She was worried that he had become too reliant on her. That was one of the reasons she was going on this trip. She just hoped it would be more helpful than harmful to Mark. And then Eliana shows up. A miracle. Whether it was science or something greater, Eliana claiming to be from the future. That she is Mark’s daughter. That she is lost. So of course Jamie took her in. How could she not? But it turns out that Eliana isn’t as lost as Jamie thought. She was right where she wanted to be. She was running. Running from life. Running from her future. Just running. She didn’t go into the details but Jamie could tell that something goes wrong down the line somewhere. She could tell that Eliana wasn’t being entirely truthful with her. Eliana was running to Mark. Her father. The man who raised her and supported her throughout her life. Now she needed some of that support. She was running to her father but he wasn’t who she thought he was. He may even be worse off than Eliana. Maybe with her here things will work out for the both of them. Hopefully the two of them will be good for each other. Help each other. Anything to break them out of what their lives had become.

 

“So how goes the writing?

There it is. That dreaded question that comes up every time Mark sees his father. How can he talk so casually about something so sacred? Something close to his heart, a direct expression of his soul? The truest thing that defines his very being? That one something he has not been doing? At all.

Mark and Alan met on a fairly regular basis at the café right down the road from Alan’s. Alan is here every day working on something. He is always working. Whether he’s writing a new play or short story, editing or going over his notes, he is always working. Writing is what he loves to do and was overjoyed when Mark began showing an interest in the craft even if he often was unwilling to share what he was working on with his dad.

“Jamie leaves soon.” Mark says, changing the subject.

Jamie leaving is another thing he did not want to talk about but at least this is something that is definitely happening. Alan had watched his son’s relationship with Jamie since the very beginning. At times he had hoped his son would do something to further that relationship but as he watched the two of them grow up he realized that theirs was a unique one. Mark clung to her with all his being and Jamie, well at first she liked the attention but as they grew up she saw the responsibility she was given to look after little lost Mark. Alan was glad that Mark had someone to look up to because he often worried whether he filled that role at all. He likes to think he is a good father and, in truth, he is not a terrible one but he sometimes does feel as if he has failed his son. He did not have as open a relationship as he would have liked with his son but at least they do talk which is more than Alan could say about his relationship with his own father. But Mark had been getting more and more reclusive as he grows older, further distancing himself from his father and now with Jamie leaving, if only for a short time, Alan’s worry increased greatly.

“Oh? What are you going to do with her gone?”

“I don’t know. I mean, we didn’t see much of each other when she went off to college.”

“And you didn’t leave the house much either,” reminding his son that he doesn’t deal with her absence very well. “Maybe this is your chance to go off on your own. Go out and do things.”

“I do things.”

“Go out and do things with other people. Look, Mark, I worry about you. Even with Jamie around you seem lonely.”

“What about you? When was the last time you talked to someone other than me or your agent? You don’t make friends.”

“I talk to people. Here, at the bookstore, on the street.” Alan was more like his son in this area than he would like to admit but it was true, his only link to the rest of the world is the small talk he makes with the people who are already part of his routine.

They were both quiet after that. Mark was already regretting what he had said and was about to feel the same for what was coming next.

“It’s been a long time since mom.”

“I love your mother.”

“But she left us.” There it is. That regret he saw coming but also relief because he finally said it out loud.

They don’t talk much about Mark’s mother. Mark hardly even remembers her but Alan never stopped loving her. He loved her more than she could ever love him and that may have been one of the reasons why she left.

The two of them were young and in love as many artists find themselves. He was an up and coming playwright and she was an astounding actress on the verge of her big break. His plays about true love were an adventurous journey into a fantasy Alan had far too much faith in. He became a romantic at a young age, always thinking about that perfect relationship and how two people can overcome any obstacle put before them as long as love was their driving force. It was these imaginative retreats that birthed his love for creating stories and eventually, writing them down. But he lived so far inside his own head sometimes that he often would not pick up on the not so subtle clues of what was going on around him. He did not notice his wife becoming more and more distant over the years. He completely misinterpreted her tears when they found out she was pregnant. And was in complete shock when she left seemingly without warning. Though neither of them has come out and said it, Julianne has been a subject best unspoken between them. He often thought it was Julianne’s absence that was the reason his work began to decline but the truth was that there just wasn’t room in this world for a hopeless romantic anymore. The audiences were after something different now. They no longer wanted stories about love and adventure, they wanted tragedy and realism. Things that were far too distant from Alan’s state of mind. But that didn’t hinder his writing. Smaller plays for smaller theaters, textbook entries on plays and writing, and reviews for whoever would pay for them. He had also published several collections of short stories and old plays but they were only ever printed because of his early success. His name was the only thing keeping his writing relevant.

“I’m just about finished compiling my next collection.” Mark wasn’t the only master of changing the subject.

“Oh yea? Nothing more about me I hope.”

“You write what you know, Mark.”

“But its fiction, dad.”

“It doesn’t matter. They say it might not get published anyway. No one’s buying the old ones either.”

“Oh,” Mark is usually resentful of the fictional version of himself that his father writes about but that doesn’t mean he wants to see him fail. “Sucks.”

“Yea.”

“Well, I gotta go. I really do hope they pick up your book.”

“Thanks Mark, I’ll see you next week.” As Alan picks up the check he pulls out enough for both lunches, a hefty tip, and then slips a few more bills into his son’s hand as they say their goodbyes. Neither of them is necessarily hurting for cash but Alan doesn’t spend much and he knows Mark’s job pays just enough to cover his bills but hopes that somehow this counts towards his status as a good father. He doesn’t understand that their conversations alone are a connection that the two of them share, he just doesn’t want Mark to ever think that he was never there for him.

 

Mark has always been more of a dreamer than a writer. Writing takes discipline. It takes time. Mark didn’t have that discipline and he definitely didn’t want to put in the time so he had pretty much abandoned his dream after struggling through every written assignment in school. But the thing about having a monotonous job is that there is little else to do but dream. Soon he had ideas scribbled down on little scraps of paper that littered his pockets, his bag, and then, eventually, his apartment. They would get as far as being copied to one of his notebooks but that meant instead of having an apartment full of scraps of papers with bits of story ideas written on them he had an apartment full of notebooks with little bits of story ideas in them. But they never did progress beyond just an idea. His notes would go unlooked at for months at a time but he would always carry one of his notebooks with him when he went out just in case the urge to work on one of his stories ever hit him. It never did. He never felt the need to force an idea out but instead wait for inspiration. He tried to convince himself that forcing the words out of him and onto the page threatened the pure integrity of the story but it was the actual work of writing that he was avoiding.  It was a Saturday afternoon and he was drinking coffee on the patio of Books that just such an urge of inspiration failed to move him, a long blank page of his notebook opened before him. It was here that Mark ran into Eliana for the third time.

“Hey Mark.”

“Oh, hey.” He pauses struggling to remember the name of the young woman as he is jostled from his daydreaming and awkwardly shoving his blank notebook between two recent purchases on the table. He never liked an audience especially to his writing. On occasion his father or Jamie would stumble across one of his notebooks in his apartment and the few times he wasn’t able to instantly snatch it away from them he refused to look at them as they read and shut down any attempt of discussing what they had just seen. It would be even harder for him if someone he did not know that well got ahold of one of them. “Alana?”

He only met her last week but he was not in the best condition for retaining memories at the time. Though he did remember the tongue lashing Jamie gave him. And in front of a complete stranger. But he has never been able to stay angry with her and the things she said were not entirely inaccurate.

“It’s Eliana. You were pretty out of it that morning.”

“Yea, sorry about that. That’s not usually me.”

“That’s what Jamie was saying.”

“Oh yea?” He assumes Jamie talks about him to her friends but hearing about it isn’t such a good feeling. The last thing he wants is to look like her charity case. He already feels like a burden- like the little brother being forced to tag along with his older sibling.

“What else has she been saying about me?”

Eliana found his interest in Jamie’s opinions of him amusing. The Mark she knows doesn’t bother with trivial thoughts like the way other people see him. He was always telling her, “Be who you are and let them sort it out for themselves.” This younger, self-centered version of him is new to her.

“You aren’t the center of her world. You know that, right?”

“I’m not?” Knowing full well his reliance on Jamie’s input into his life is not the norm at least he knows that she will be honest with him. Sometimes hurtfully so. But he does wonder how he comes across to other people.

“Don’t worry, she doesn’t talk about you that much. But she does worry about you. She did ask me to check in on you while she was gone and I’m not going to say the she used the word ‘babysit’ but…”

“Yea. Yea, I know. She thinks I need someone to hold my hand through life. She doesn’t think I can make it on my own.”

“Can you?”

Mark raises his cup recognizing that the conversation went from playful to serious much quicker than he would have liked. “Point taken.”

Mark is not a social person. With Jamie he can talk about the little things in life but she knows when to pry and when to let him be, pushing and prodding only when she knows that it will move him closer to becoming a better version of himself and even then he holds things back from her. On the other hand, his father only talks about big picture stuff. Things that Mark feels vastly unprepared for. Future careers, marriage, family. He hardly thinks about what he will be doing the next week let alone the next year or in ten years. But his father doesn’t push him any further for answers when Mark inevitably shrugs him off. So when Eliana approaches him and immediately starts a conversation that is both casual and straight to the point he is a bit thrown off. This is not how it’s supposed to work. Small pokes or big questions.  Nothing in between. Noting that will actually affect him. Nothing that makes him want to take an honest look at the way he is living his life. Especially from a complete stranger. Her banter is quite the opposite of what he had expected from the shy girl he met in his doorway last week.

“So Jamie tells me you’re a writer.”

There it is again but unlike his father she lets him talk about the things he does not want to instead of asking the questions purely for the sake of small talk.

“Well I suppose a writer is someone who actually writes.”

What was he doing? He had adopted her playful tone yet also admitted to an insecurity. This girl was no good.

“I was in your apartment. I saw your notebooks.”

“Yea, those. Those are mostly just ideas and stuff.”

“I’d like to see one sometime. Your ideas.”

“Well, I mean, they’re in my apartment.”

“What about that one right there. The one you keep looking at hoping I didn’t notice you shoving underneath all those books?”

Mark was not having any of this. What started off as playfully serious had taken a turn towards something he definitely does not want. He prides himself on how well he has avoided these sorts of conversation and Eliana will not be the one to break him of this habit.

“So what brings you to town Eliana?”

“Ah, so that’s how it’s going to be? Very well. I’m just traveling.”

“Oh yea, a student of the open road, huh?”

“Well I guess a student is someone who actually studies,” she counters using Mark’s own vernacular against him. “No, just traveling for the sake of traveling.”

A sudden weight of seriousness overcomes Mark. The usual lighthearted banter that comes so naturally for him is pushed aside by a single question. A question he would never ask anybody let alone someone he just met.

“What are you running from Eliana?”

Eliana is taken aback but not entirely surprised that Mark caught on so quickly. He has always had an uncanny ability to see what people are usually trying to hide and it wasn’t just because she was his daughter. He had this effect on everyone but usually he would keep it to himself unless he knew them really well. This younger version of Mark seems to just open his mouth and let whatever he’s thinking come out.

“Studying mostly.”

“Well then,” Mark raises his cup reverting to his usual jovial tone, “to running from the future.”

Eliana nervously laughs as she raises her glass. Oh how right you are. But this isn’t what she came here looking for. I don’t need a kindred spirit to confide in. This is the exact wrong sort of encouragement I need. What am I even doing here?

 

“I’ve got a problem.”

Mark was lounging on his couch as he often does, the TV on mute and a book laying open on his stomach, not using either. He was in that usual place in his head thinking about everything at once while doing absolutely nothing to further any of it. It was one of those days where he was just so overwhelmed with things to do that he just shuts down and doesn’t accomplish any of it as he stares into nothingness. He stares at his shelves, his closets, his walls, his ceiling, he just stares, completely lost in thought while he isn’t actually thinking about anything. Hours could pass and he wouldn’t even take notice of them. Then Eliana barges in on him. Now how am I supposed to get anything done? He needs to remember to lock the doors now that Jamie is gone. He is so used to her coming and going as she pleases that leaving his door unlocked has become habit. He isn’t so comfortable with Eliana. He barely survived their last conversation.

“Um, come in?” A pointless gesture as Eliana was already well inside his apartment.

“I seem to be out of groceries,” she says wryly as she opens his fridge. “And so are you.”

“Yea, it’s been a while but I eat out mostly so I don’t usually bother.”

A Mark that doesn’t cook for himself came as a surprise to Eliana. The man she grew up with cooked all the time. They hardly ever ate out. I wonder when he starts that.

“Well then I guess we’ll eat out.”

Jamie had always been pushy. She would either take him grocery shopping or bring over hers and attempt to teach him how to cook even though it never took. The appeal of the ease of having someone else do all the preparation for you was just too much to make him ever want to do it all himself. But with her out of town he had become even more reliant on take out than usual.

“Yea, alright. Let me just change first.” What was he going to do? Say no? He needed to eat and there was no avoiding someone who lived right across the hall. Especially someone who was given instructions to prevent him from going full hermit while Jamie was gone. He had tried his hardest to avoid her but Eliana was always there. When he was leaving his apartment, when he was coming home, checking the mail, and even on his long walks. If their eyes ever met he would politely wave but also pick up the pace as if he were in a hurry, which he was. He often hurried away from social encounters in the wild. The only people who would make him stop were Jamie and his father. His coworkers or the occasional friend of Jamie’s he might run into got the same polite wave and quickened pace to get as far away as possible. So not only was he surprised that Eliana had barged into his apartment uninvited but also that she was being so nice to him despite his best efforts to keep his distance from her.

“You should write more.” And that was why he was avoiding her in particular. She was looking at his bookshelf which held all his notebooks. She had pulled one down and was leafing through it. Empty mostly.

“You sound like my dad.” Mark says this as he comes out of his bedroom, his clothes looking a little less slept in. He relieves Eliana of his notebook, placing it in his bag and gesturing her to the door.

“Oh yea? What other sound advice of his do you ignore?”

Mark laughs it off as he locks the door behind them. The things she says should infuriate him and they would if she were anyone else. Even Jamie. But the casual tone of everything Eliana says eases his usual standoffish feelings.

“So Eliana, tell me, how’s school?”

“Alright I’ll play to your home field advantage but just remember we’re not done here. School is great. I get along just fine. But I guess what I said earlier wasn’t entirely accurate. It’s not school or even the studying that I’m running from. It’s whatever comes next.”

“The future.”

“The future.” Eliana repeats knowing exactly how literal that statement is. “Real life.”

“The uncertainty.” Mark finishes, staring hard at the ground in front of them as they walk knowing that making any sort of eye contact with anyone right now would shut him down and for once in his life this was a conversation he felt like he had to see through to the end.

“Yea.”

“I’m afraid of what people will think of what I write. Even if the only people who see it are those closest to me. If anything, it’s their opinion that scares me the most.”

“It’s only scary because theirs is the most true. But sometimes that’s what we need. The truth that can hurt us the most. That’s what will help us grow and move forward with our lives.”

Both Mark and Eliana were both staring at the ground as they walked avoiding each other’s gaze having unexpectedly touched on something close and personal to them both. It was a bit much for the both of them to take in.”

“So, food?” Mark finally says breaking his gaze away from the sidewalk.

“Food is good.”

 

“Start reading.” Eliana had zoned out. She could see that Mark was excited about something but she had been too consumed by her own thoughts to notice he had shoved one of his notebooks into her hands.

“Um, wow.” She starts turning the pages not actually reading but just surprised by how much he had written. He did it. He actually did it.

His excuses had been becoming more and more ridiculous that he wasn’t even fooling himself any more. He needed to write. He needed to carve out a specific time to focus and not walk away until he had something he was satisfied with.

“Well?” Mark asks, not really wanting to know. Criticism is not something he takes well even if it’s from someone he trusts and he had started to trust Eliana these last few weeks. She may only be filling the space left by Jamie but unlike his lifelong friend Eliana treats him more like an equal than a younger brother.

“This is…” There was a pause.

“Go on.”

“This is terrible.”

“Wait, what?” This is definitely not what he had expected.

“I mean this is really bad. But it’s readable. Definitely readable. You wrote something that may actually go somewhere. Now you just need to make it good.”

Mark sits in stunned silence, the high of his accomplishment instantly gone. Banished by Eliana’s words. Readable wasn’t the compliment he was hoping for. This was more than his usual half page barely thought out idea he would usually write. More than a chunk of dialogue with no context. This was something more.

“Alright. Alright. You can give me notes on it later. I have this thing with my dad I have to get to.”

“Your dad?” One of Eliana’s favorite photos was of her grandfather holding her as an infant. He had been there for them after her mother had passed but soon he too was gone and while she has so few memories of him she was raised on his stories. The thought of meeting the man behind those stories had never even crossed her mind as she was planning this trip.

“Yea, it’s terribly boring but I need to go. You know how it is.”

Eliana sat there in a daze. How could he have mentioned his father in such a lackluster way? Then again, he doesn’t know what the future has in store for him. He doesn’t know that the love and respect him and his father share for each other will one day becoming the driving force behind everything he does. It is now when it truly hits her that the man sitting in front of her is nothing like her father at all. At least not yet.

 

Eliana recognized Alan from her old photos of him. He didn’t look so different. Then again he wasn’t much younger now than he was in those pictures. She has always missed him even though her memory has faded to the point where she cannot differentiate between what is memory and what is part of some story her father may have told her over and over again. He was this almost mythical being in her life so naturally she had read everything he had ever written. She had to prevent herself from staring as she sat at a nearby table. He was quietly sipping his coffee with a manuscript in front of him nodding to himself when something looked good and smacking his lips and scribbling in the margins every so often when something was out of place. Eliana pulled one her own notebooks from her survival kit. This one was specially prepared for her trip. No dates. No details. It was mostly just observations she made while people watching and little stories she would come up with about them. It was her writing exercise. She knew Alan was an over the top romantic and would not be able to resist striking up a conversation with a young woman sitting alone and writing at an open air café. The trap was set.

“Excuse me, if you don’t mind me asking, but are you working on over there?”

Knew it. “Oh nothing. Just a little something passing through my head.”

“Do you mind if I take a look at it?”

Eliana feigned nervousness as she pretended to think it over in her head. This was only a little something to pass the time and maintain her cover but the idea of Alan looking over it, even if he tells her it’s terrible, excites her.

“I don’t know…” Come on take the bait.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle. Tell you what, we can trade. I’m stuck on a little something myself. Maybe a fresh pair of eyes will help me out.”

“Oh all right but it’s nothing really. Completely unpolished.”

Eliana and Alan swapped work, hers a notebook she picked up second hand with only a few pages torn out of it and his, a printed manuscript of what looked to be novel. Strange, Dad never told me grandpa wrote a novel. Mark had told her many stories about his life so it never crossed her mind that he would have held anything back. But then again, maybe her dad didn’t know about this. Which was also strange because as far as she knew Alan shared everything with his son. Of course with some of his publishing troubles at this stage in his career maybe he was ashamed to talk about a novel that may never be. She was under the impression that everything Alan wanted published eventually was. Even when his popularity waned he was able to secure at least a small print run of anything he wrote.

“A little lost are you?” Alan eventually asks breaking Eliana’s gaze from Alan’s work.

“Yea, well who isn’t?”

“It’s all over your writing. Do your characters ever find what they’re looking for?”

“They will. Eventually. Hopefully. I just need to get there first.”

“Well I hope it’s soon. You don’t want to spend your entire life running.”

Eliana was finding far too much truth than she had expected on this trip. First on her walk with Mark and now Alan’s insights. It is what she had wanted- guidance- but facing reality was not as easy as she had hoped it would be. Of course she was running. Who wouldn’t? Well, everyone else I guess. She was supposed to be on this soul searching journey but instead had been treating this more like a vacation.

“So what did you think of mine?”

“Well, it’s alright, I guess, but it’s no masterpiece.”

Alan sighed and smiled. “I seem to be having that problem recently.”

“I mean, the writing is great but it’s the story that’s lacking.”

Alan remembers a time when his stories were much more. His life was much more. Full of adventure and excitement. Full of love. He was in love with the idea of love. And that made everything far less real in his mind. No form of reality could live up to the fantasy he had built up in his head and that had affected his ability to write something that felt true in this state of his life. He was losing touch with reality and wasn’t doing much to dig himself out of it. This novel was supposed to be his turning point.

“Look, Alan, let’s be honest here. They’re just not selling. I think you’ve got enough leeway for one more go. One last book but that’s it. Do you want this collection to be it?”

Alan slid his collection back across the table avoiding eye contact.

“I guess not.”

“You’re not out of this yet. Give me something good. Something you really believe in and maybe it’ll strike some chords and then we can print more of your stories. Until then…”

He knew this day would come but he still was unprepared. He would survive. This was not his livelihood. He still wrote enough reviews and educational materials to supplement his residuals from his earlier, more successful works but writing was his passion. And his stories weren’t the same if they just sat on his shelf. They were meant to be read. This one too. He just couldn’t find the right voice to bring what he sees as his greatest idea to life.

“Keep working at it.”

“And here I thought I was to give you advice young lady.”

“You did.” The sad eyes she was looking into bore little familiarity to the man she remembered but that is a lesson she was starting to get used to. Eliana wasn’t sure what the rules were here. How much could she interact before she inevitably changed things for her present time? Could she even change anything? She still wasn’t sure if any of this was real or just an extremely elaborate trick of her mind. But she knows Alan’s writing experiences a resurgence. But she also knows that what he is writing right now does not see the light of day. But it should. She wasn’t lying when she said there was something there. Alan just needed to get reacquainted with the writer he used to be. Here I am helping two writers get their lives on track and I still don’t have what I’m looking for. Is this why I’m here or am I only helping them to avoid my own issues?

 

“I can’t do it. I have been staring at this page for twenty minutes and I am done.” Mark tossed his notebook on the couch next to Eliana. It was this exact frustration that kept him from writing all these years.

“You’ve got to give it time. You don’t want to force it out but you don’t want to not write either.” Was this why her dad was always able to give her the perfect writing advice because he too had to work through all these issues himself?

“You work on this,” Eliana told him tossing the notebook back to Mark who had retreated into the lowest of slouches in his chair. “I’m gonna go make some tea.”

“Tea?”

“Yea, it’ll help. Trust me.”

Eliana didn’t know what else to say to Mark. His juvenile attitude toward his work combined with the revelation that the relationship between him and his father wasn’t as perfect as she had been led to believe was a constant frustration for her these last few days. The tea would help her relax and hopefully clear Mark’s head enough for him to write something substantial.

She didn’t bother closing the door as she walked across the hall from Mark’s to Jamie’s apartment. Her cupboards were stocked with all sorts of tea. Eliana, herself, had never gotten into the habit of making tea just for herself and never knew what to order when she went out but inexperience hadn’t hindered her journey yet. She grabbed the most empty and most likely used tea. One thing she did know however was how to make the tea. Every time Jamie was in town she insisted on the two of them having tea and would have Eliana right next to her as she made it. It was a simple process but a tiny Eliana thought of it as the highest honor to share the task with her Aunty J. Growing up she relished those visits because she never knew when Jamie would be back in town. Sometimes it was as little as a few weeks and other times it was years between visits. She had seen her soon after her father’s passing but urgent work called her off once again. Her promised calls to Eliana went ignored however. In a time when she needed the support of family the most she ignored the only one she had left. Nothing seemed right with her father gone. Not even her relationship with Jamie.

She was in over her head. She had been in over her head since the beginning but now instead of seeking the advice and comfort she had been looking for she was playing care worker to these two lost writers. She didn’t know what had bothered her more, her conversation with Alan or the fact that Mark didn’t pick up that something was wrong with her. Her father was always aware of how she felt. And not just her. He could pick up on the underlying feelings of most everyone around him. It was his gift. But this Mark was different. Even with all the stories her father had told her Eliana was still surprised at the state she had found both Mark and Alan in. She wasn’t naïve enough to expect perfection from them but they were both so far gone from what she had been told. Growing up she heard story after story about how great her grandfather was and the perfect relationship the two of them shared but what she witnessed upon her arrival was just the opposite. Mark was a mess and his father was just the same. And while Alan spoke highly of his son, Mark hardly mentioned his dad. Had her father been lying to her? In her mind he had never lied to her. Or was the relationship she heard so much about a thing of the future? Spending time with the two of them she realized that the men she grew up idolizing weren’t exactly the saints they were made out to be. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe something changes between then and now. Maybe that something is me.

“Um, what are you doing?” Elaina drops the saucers spilling some of the tea- the cups miraculously landing upright with a clatter on the coffee table as she snatches her notebook away from Mark. She could see on Mark’s face that he had read enough to raise questions and was trying to process what she had written. This wasn’t her people watching notebook she had shared with Alan it was notes on the time period, on Alan, and on her father. It was full of information on Mark. Everything she had seen him do before being introduced to him, everything he had talked to her about, and comparisons on this version of him and his future self.

“What is this? It’s… It’s me. It’s all about me.”

She knew this might happen. She had planned for it. But what could she tell him? Not the truth. Never the truth. She would have to face the situation like an adult. Unfortunately she had gotten quite used to running in her adult life and that is exactly what she did.

 

“So what’s changed?”

Improvising may not have been Eliana’s strength but what she was good at was being straightforward. Mark’s discovery of her notebook may have put a disastrous end to her journey with consequences she couldn’t predict but she was still determined to get as many answers before her time here was up.

“Pardon?” Alan on the other hand was not very good with directness. At all. Eliana’s sudden appearance immediately threw him off balance. Her slamming a pile of his old plays on the table nearly knocking over his coffee didn’t help either.

“These are brilliant. This,” she said pointing at the manuscript he was looking over, “is, well, not. I mean, it’s good enough” and far better than anything your son has written, she thought “but it’s nowhere near as impactful as any of these.” She didn’t have to motion to his work she had brought with her. Her arrival not only had his attention but also the few others who were trying to enjoy their afternoon eating out on the patio which she was suddenly aware of. Too strong.

“Sorry,” she said looking around the patio as she sat down with Alan.

“I’m sorry,” This time to Alan but he wasn’t looking at her. Instead his focus was on the mess of his works Eliana had so tactfully brought to his attention.

“Heh,” he laughed to himself in a sad sort of way, picking up the topmost play on the pile. “I wrote this one for my wife. She was an actress. Probably still is. I can’t imagine her doing anything else.”

This quieted Eliana. Alan died when she was very young and Mark had so few memories of his mother himself that he hardly ever talked about her. She never even thought about the fact that she knew almost nothing about her grandmother. It didn’t even cross her mind to seek her out when she got here. That is how detached from their lives she had been.

“Tell me about her.”

-----

Mark went out of his way to pass by the café his father frequents. He may not have seen their relationship as a close one but that father/son bond was still there and while he doesn’t normally seek his father’s advice with Jamie out of the country and Eliana being the subject of his troubles he had no one else to turn to. Jamie. She was the one who introduced him to Eliana in the first place. Was she in on this or did Eliana fool her too? Other than this whole Eliana situation things were looking up. Mark was writing and his happiness greatly improved. Life was good. The smile on his face was no longer a facade. Seeing that notebook certainly shocked him but this is something his old self would obsess over, occupying his mind during every waking moment. But this is Mark 2.0. He just needed to move past these circumstances and maybe distance himself from Eliana. She was starting to become a surrogate for Jamie but what he needed was to learn how to make it on his own for a while. Actively seeking out his father when he would normally just begrudgingly tolerate him was a good first step for Mark 2.0. But all that changed when he turned to corner and saw who his father was sitting with on the patio of the café.

Mark and Eliana’s eyes locked before Alan even knew his son was there. The look on Eliana’s face gave away that something was wrong though and told him to turn around.

This is not going to end well.

“Hey Mark,” Alan began to wave but Mark, stopped in his tracks the moment he saw Eliana, immeadiately turned around and headed back as his old, obsessive self once again took the reins.

“Excuse me.” Eliana quickly extracted herself from the conversation with Alan and chased after Mark.

“Wait, what?” Alan was baffled. What had begun as a strange confrontation between Eliana and himself somehow led to him telling her stories about his once wife but then this. He didn’t think things could have gotten any stranger.

“Mark!”

Mark was not turning around. Facing his problems was something Mark 2.0 might have done but this reversion of himself was not having any of that.

“Who are you? Why are you everywhere?”

“Mark wait.” He finally stopped and turned to face her with a look of both anger and anguish as he is both outraged and supremely confused.

“Seriously, I am nobody but here you are, showing up at my door. At the bar, yes, I know that was you, and you have this notebook about my life. Things I never even told you. Things I haven’t told anyone! I mean, seriously…” Mark turns back around too frustrated to even have this conversation.

“I’m from the future.” Eliana hesitantly shouts. Well, here we go. Mark pauses but still doesn’t turn back around. Nothing can be further from what he expected to hear from her. “I’m your daughter and I’m from the future and I’m just as lost as you are right now.”

That was about all he could take. He just left. Nothing made sense anymore and staying to talk about it would even further his confusion. So he walked away and continued walking not wanting to look back. Not wanting answers. Only wanting to get away. Peace. That is all he ever wanted. To be left alone. No struggles. No frustrations. Only peace.

 

Eliana couldn’t leave just yet. She was all ready to pack up and go home, all her reservations about getting too involved and messing with the timeline were gone now. She screwed up. Big time. Not just in telling Mark who she is but just talking to him in the first place was also a mistake. How could I have been so selfish? There had been no plan. She had not been careful. This should have been observation only. Getting involved never should have happened. But she did. And here she was. There’s no running away from this one.

What is she going to do now? If she were to head home there was no telling what would be waiting there for her. How does this work exactly? Did she change her entire future? That can’t be how it works, right? If it was then people would be going back and changing every bad decision they had ever made. Atrocities and world shaking tragedies would be averted. Are there fail-safes for things like this? Would nothing have been permanently affected by her actions? Would someone be waiting for her upon her return? Would they know? Would they even notice? Was her father even important enough for anyone to even care that she changed anything? It was all so overwhelming. She was stressed out before and now with this heaped on top of everything else-- it was just too much for her to take. Definitely too much for her to bear on her own. She wished her father was here. She needed to find Mark.

She knew what He would do in a stressful situation. He would walk. There would be lots and lots of walking. So that is exactly what Eliana did. She needed to find him. She needed to explain why she did what she did. Even if not to set things right at least to make sure Mark was okay. She couldn’t stand him being upset with her even if he wasn’t her father just yet.

Mark knows where Eliana will go to look for him. According to her notebook she knows everything about him. He still isn’t ready to believe her but what he read—how else could she know those things? Parks, bookstores, restaurants, even the streets he would use to take is regular walks, she knew them all. They were the places he would go whenever he just needed to get away from things and there was nothing more he wanted to get away from now than Eliana. After his ventures out he would normally end up back at his apartment and wait for Jamie to beat some sense into him. But now all there was was Eliana. Jamie? Did she know? Was she in on it too? And what about his dad? He found her with him at the café. This was getting to be more than Mark could handle. So he went home. It will be the last place Eliana goes to look for him so at least it will give him some time alone to sit in his anxiety. There may be no running from this one.

Eliana spent the rest of the day wandering the streets looking for Mark even stopping for a while at Books hoping maybe she would catch him coming in to blindly browse through his confusion but she came up empty everywhere she went.

“Mark?” She lightly taps on the door to his apartment. He wasn’t at any of his usual haunts and the only other place she could think was his dad’s but not only did Eliana not know where her grandfather lived but also because he had found her with him she was sure that Mark didn’t want to talk to his father right now either.

She hears some shuffling coming from the other side of the door. She was right.

“Okay, I’ll just be right here if you want to talk.” She says, sitting on the floor, her back resting on the door to Jamie’s apartment. Every so often she would have to pull her knees close to her chest to let the neighbors go by. They pass wordlessly, already accustomed to whatever drama Mark had gotten himself caught up in this time.

Eliana’s head nods as she fights off sleep unaware as Mark’s door opens.

“So, the future, huh?”

 

“So are we gonna talk about what happened last week?”

After a long chat with Eliana Mark was finally able to talk to his dad once again though he definitely wasn’t sure how to explain her to him. He still had trouble wrapping his mind around it himself.

“First things first. How?”

“Well I don’t quite know the science behind it and even if I did I don’t think YOU would understand it either.”

“Fair enough.”

“Look, Mark, everything I told you was true. I am a student. I’m just about done with my studies and I definitely don’t know what I’m going to do next.”

“You told me you were traveling.”

“Well I kinda am.” She says palms open gesturing to her surroundings.

“So where does Jamie fit into all this? You didn’t tell her did tell her did you?”

“Oh, yea, she definitely knows. Accepted it right away actually. Are you really that surprised?”

“So … why then?”

“I just … I don’t know. I don’t know why I came here. I guess I was just looking for answers and the way my dad, you, used to talk about yourself it sounded like you had it all figured out back then, now. I needed advice and I thought that if I could find you then maybe I would be able to figure out all this life stuff without actually going to you because I know you’ll just tell me I need to figure all of this stuff out on my own. That that is what life is. And that’s not exactly what I wanted to hear.”

“But isn’t that what happened anyway? You kind of just showed up here and realized that I wouldn’t be able to help you yet you stayed anyway. This, me, I became part of your journey. Why didn’t you go back to, well, me once you took that first look at me and saw that I didn’t quite have as much figured out as you had thought?”

“Look, I can’t talk about that. Future stuff, you know. Let’s just say that you’re unavailable.”

“Unavailable how?”

“Look, I’m kind of having a crisis right now. I thought I was before I came here but now, after everything I may have done and now with you finding out, I’m super worried about how I may have screwed everything up and I really don’t want to talk about it. Just know that there is absolutely nothing you can do to help me on that front.”

“She an old girlfriend or something?”

Mark nearly choked on his drink. “No. God no.” Laughing now, “Just a little work drama I didn’t expect to run into. And especially here with you. How did you two even meet?”

“Oh, you know.”

“She was writing, wasn’t she?”

“She was a damsel in distress.” Alan tried defending himself.

“Did she recognize you?”

“I didn’t think she did. Not at first. But she definitely did. I thought maybe she was student of mine. You know I can’t keep track of them.”

“Well, she kinda was. What did you two talk about anyway?”

“Just life stuff. I talked about my writing and your mother and she talked about, well, my writing and her childhood and trying to reconnect with her parents.”

That straight up stopped Mark cold. Parents? As in father AND mother? Her mother? His future.

 

The park. Alan had told him that Eliana sometimes visits her mother at the park outside the bookstore. Books. So close. Incredibly close. The thought of meeting the woman he knows he will one day end up with is a bit much to take in. Should I know? Is this why Eliana was so hesitant to tell me the truth? But what if, by jumping on this opportunity things don’t end up working out for us? What if me being here somehow screws up the relationship we are one day supposed to have had? What if I’ve already broken things by just by knowing? Eliana told him all of this. The future may not be written in stone. Her presence may have already wrecked things for the both of them. What she had done may not have been planned but she got lucky that not too many things had been altered because of her recklessness. It was a rash decision. Childish. He would have to raise her better. But it was the situation he was in that prompted her to come back in the first place. Maybe no matter how much you want something, if you don’t do anything about it, you may never get it. Only a possibility that still needs to be worked on. If I do meet this woman now instead of when I am supposed to maybe nothing will change at all. But what if it does? What if the only mistake Eliana made by coming back here was trusting me not to screw everything up for her. Getting handed the knowledge of my future won’t make that future happen for me. Before he realizes it he is there at the edge of the park. He sees Eliana sitting at a bench facing away from him and, almost as if on cue, she turns around and looks right at him. What now? He doesn’t know how she does it. Just earlier this week she was telling him how she was afraid she had made a mess of things by coming here and now here he is doing the exact same thing. She calmly excuses herself from the woman she is with and walks where he is stopped frozen. Oh no! Mark quickly turns around but afraid to move any more as the woman looks back to Eliana as she is heading towards Mark.

“What are you doing here? Are you frikkin’ insane?”

“I,” Mark starts, trying to compose himself, “I couldn’t do it. I thought all I needed was a glimpse of my future to set myself on the right path but, really, what good would that do? I’ll still be stuck in my ways just in a different part of my life.”

“Wow, how very dad of you. That has got to be the first smart thing you’ve said since I got here.”

“Hey, that can’t be the first. Third, maybe. You can’t expect life to be handed to you. That’s what you told me.”

“Well I had a good teacher.”

“Yea, so did I.”