Why had he come? James did not care for parties and Gail knew it. He cared even less for fancy parties where he didn’t know anyone. Thank God Gail had kept it simple and hadn’t chosen to have one of those throwback Roaring 20s parties that everyone seemed so fond of this year. He wouldn't be here, except Gail insisted he attend. James would prefer to be home working on his latest fantasy novel.
Who was he kidding? This was the fifth novel he'd started. Four other novels languished unfinished on his laptop and this one would meet the same fate. He had good ideas, or so everyone said, but he eventually lost interest in all of them, and rather than press on he abandoned them for the next grand idea.
Although creative writing was useful in his job as an advertising executive, he didn't have the freedom to express himself the way he did with his fiction writing. He was a damn fine ad man, but it held no meaning for him. James did it to pay the bills. Advertising didn't sing to his spirit the way fiction writing did. He would give up his cushy advertising job in a heartbeat for the chance to pursue a career as a writer.
James didn't see himself as a real writer. Real writers finished books. Real writers had agents and editors who pushed them to be better. Real writers had legions of rabid fans. James had Gail. Gail believed in James' abilities though and suggested James come tonight to network with some of her contacts. What good would it do to schmooze with people in Gail’s circle if he had nothing to offer them?
He ran his fingers through his sandy blond hair and glanced at his phone for the hundredth time, wishing it would ring and save him. How soon was too soon for him to sneak out? No matter how he wanted to, he couldn't leave yet. Gail wouldn't let him and would smack him if he tried. James turned to go find her so he'd at least he'd have someone to talk to. He was so preoccupied with his phone he didn't notice the woman until he ran into her.
James noticed now. Her shimmering blue dress suited her full, curvaceous figure and her shoulder-length raven hair framed her face.
Their eyes locked.
Neither of them spoke for several seconds. They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul and both of their windows were wide open. They took a long look inside each other's windows before the woman spoke.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't watching where I was going."
"Neither was I. No harm done."
She bent down to retrieve her phone, which she dropped when they collided. He knelt down too, and both reached for the phone at the same time. Their hands touched. His hand tingled when hers touched it. Her cheeks reddened as her fingers wrapped around her phone. James took her free hand and helped her up.
"My pleasure. I'm James and you are?"
"How fortunate that I bumped into you, Anna." She giggled. "I'm on my way to get another drink. Would you care to join me?"
She answered with a smile and by placing her left hand in the crook of his elbow. James escorted her into the main room. Gail seemed puzzled when she saw the pretty lady on James' arm. She gave him a wink, letting him know she approved even though she couldn't get away to tell him so.
An hour later, James and Anna were in the Sitting Room on the sofa talking like they had been friends for years. No one who saw them would believe that a short time ago, they were two strangers who bumped into each other in the hallway. James had forgotten about his apprehensiveness for the fancy New Year’s Eve party. All other concerns fell away as he and Anna talked.
Gail reappeared, surprising James. He stood up to greet her with a hug.
“Managed to slip away, huh?”
“Sorry, I didn’t realize I’d invited so many people. I hope you are enjoying the party.”
"Anna and I have been having a wonderful time."
Gail paused for a moment and looked at Anna as if trying to piece together how she knew her. Did she think James had invited her? Why did Gail not recognize Anna? Had James been interacting with a party crasher?
Anna stood and greeted Gail.
"Hi, Gail, nice to see you again. Thank you for inviting me to your party."
She touched Gail on her left arm, and sudden recognition filled Gail's eyes as she brought the woman in for a hug.
"It's great to see you again too, Anna. I'm glad you could make it. I hope this lug isn't boring you to death with all his dry advertising talk."
Anna smiled. "Quite the contrary," she said. "He's been regaling me with tales of his fiction writing and I find his ideas to be fascinating. He should write novels, not commercials."
Gail punched his arm. "See James, I'm not the only one that thinks your ideas are good. You should listen to her. You're much too creative to waste your time advertising someone else's crap."
James blushed. He wasn't used to people gushing over his talents. He could handle criticism, but compliments were hard.
“Speaking of which, I need to borrow James for a bit. I hope you don't mind. I promise I’ll bring him back soon.”
Gail grabbed James by the hand and tugged him behind her.
"Come on, there are some people I want you to meet."
James mouthed “help me.”
Gail introduced him to two literary agents and an editor of her acquaintance. He couldn’t tell if they were just humoring Gail by interacting with him, or if they were interested in his work. All of them asked for samples of his work and gave him their business cards. He promised he would send them within a day or two to the glee of Gail who was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
James made it only half an hour before he excused himself. He returned to the Sitting Room, and he slumped next to Anna on the sofa. She didn't bleed away his energy the way the extroverted social vampires in the other room did. She didn’t seem as done in as he was. Somehow she warded off the liquored up stuffed shirts roaming the premises.
"Parties are so exhausting."
James turned to Anna. "Want to get out of here? I've got booze back at my place, we can watch the ball drop, and best of all no people."
Butterflies fluttered in his stomach. He didn’t know much about her, but he desired nothing more than to spend the rest of the night getting to know her better. He prayed she wouldn't turn him down.
Anna smiled. “Let me grab my coat.”
James’ apartment on West 95th Street wasn’t far from Gail’s apartment at the Ansonia at 73rd and Broadway. On another night they’d have just walked the short distance, but being that it was New Year’s Eve, and the weather was a bone-chilling forty degrees, thirty with the wind chill, James hailed them a cab.
His place wasn’t the biggest or fanciest, but it met his needs just fine. It was built in 1900 and was close enough to everything that he didn’t need a vehicle of his own, but far enough away so it dulled the endless symphony of city sounds.
James nearly tripped over Winston when he opened the door. Winston was James’s cat. He was a black domestic short-haired with yellow eyes that gleamed like headlights in the darkness. Winston bulldozed his leg with his head. He wouldn’t have believed such a small animal could cause a grown man to stumble by head-butting him, but Winston was good at it. James and Winston had an agreement. Winston allowed James to live in his apartment for regular payments of toys, treats, and head rubs. From his behavior, it was feeding time.
“Geez, Winston buddy, at least let me get in the door before you try to kill me.”
Winston noticed her and wrapped himself around her legs too. This was new to James because Winston rarely warmed up to people, yet here he and Anna got along like she was a long-lost friend. She seemed to have that effect on people. He watched as Anna reached down, ruffled Winston’s ears and picked him up.
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that… he doesn’t like to be held.”
James hoped he’d restocked the Neosporin and bandages after his last mauling from Winston. Anna would need them. He gritted his teeth for the inevitable rending. Winston didn’t fight her, hiss, scratch or anything though. In fact, he was nuzzling into her arms and purring. Somehow Anna had conquered the Black Razor. It was a feat James had never seen. Oh sure, Winston eventually warmed up to people. This was more like love at first sight. James felt the same way too. Good with people and animals. Tonight was shaping up to be a great night.
James took Anna’s coat and hung it on the coat rack along with his own. He watched Anna take in his small bachelor’s pad with an eye of approval. She took a seat on his chocolate-colored sofa, Winston still snuggled in her arms.
“What can I get you to drink?” He asked. “I’ve got gin, scotch, brandy, rum, white wine, and…” James rummaged through his fridge, “a smattering of craft beers.”
"Rum and Coke for me, please."
"A woman after my heart."
James filled two highball glasses with ice, rum, and cola and carried the drinks over to the couch. Anna set Winston down and took the glass from him. Earlier he had monopolized the conversation, but now that they were away from the party crowd he hoped Anna would open up.
"Should I turn on the TV? It’s still over two hours until the ball drops."
"Let's just sit here and talk."
And so they did.
Anna did most of the talking. Her story wasn't what James expected. She told him she was a time traveler who had slid into New York City earlier today and admitted Gail had not invited her to the party, but it had drawn Anna’s attention. The reason turned out to be James himself. Anna knew from the moment she met him in the hall she was there to prepare him, for soon he would become a Slider like her. She had used her abilities to plant memories in Gail's mind that they were old acquaintances to smooth over remaining close to James at the party.
James drained the last of his drink. He didn't know what to make of Anna’s story. It sounded too far-fetched to be true. There were no signs that Anna was lying. She believed what she was telling him, but such things were impossible. They didn't happen outside of books, television shows, or movies.
Anna interrupted his thoughts. She leaned in and kissed him. All doubts of her story’s veracity drifted away like smoke, consumed by the fiery passion and suddenness of the kiss. Anna's lips lingered on his for a hot minute and then she broke contact. She leaned back against the left arm of the sofa and propped her legs on his lap. Her blue dress sparkled in the dim light. To James, she resembled a pin-up model at that moment with the way her dress fell displaying her curves. There was no mistaking her intent. She wanted him. He wanted her too.
Anna smiled at James as she stood and reached behind her. He licked his suddenly parched lips in anticipation. The metallic whisper of a zipper presaged what came next; a soft rustle of fabric as Anna's dress slipped to the floor.
Bright light streamed into the room and James groaned. He opened his eyes and then regretted his decision as the light stabbed his brain like an icepick. His head throbbed. How much did he drink last night? He rolled over to tell Anna good morning, but she wasn't there. Also surprising to James, Winston wasn't in his face demanding breakfast.
Something felt off.
He sat up on the edge of the bed and looked around to get his bearings. It didn't help. James didn't recognize where he was, but it wasn't his apartment.
The room he found himself in resembled a cramped closet more than it did a room. The bed took up most of the space in the cramped quarters and from where he sat; it didn't even look like it had a bathroom. Aside from the light streaming through the window, darkness covered much of the room. He reached for the nearby nightstand, but his phone wasn’t there. The only things atop it were some kind of oil lamp and a leather money clip with a few bills in it. Maybe he left the phone on the bed? He often fell asleep with it beside him. James felt around on the bed, and under the pillows and covers, but didn't find it there either. That presented a problem. Like most people, James needed his phone because it housed his brain. He couldn’t remember anyone’s phone number, appointments, or important events without it. At the moment, he needed it for a flashlight even more.
James fumbled along the wall trying to locate a light switch. He didn’t find a switch but his right foot discovered a heavy chest at the end of the bed. He spent a few minutes cursing a blue streak and wondered why anyone would put a chest right there. He opened the chest not knowing what he would find. All that he found inside were a few odds and ends of clothes including a suit. Why would someone put a nice suit in here where it could get wrinkled? Why hadn’t they hung it up? There were a few starched white shirts, a couple pairs of black socks, and a pair of suspenders. James didn’t see his clothes anywhere. He hoped whoever this stuff belonged to wouldn’t mind him borrowing it. Though they weren't his clothes, they fit him as though tailored to his measurements, even the black leather shoes he found under the bed fit.
Just as he couldn’t find his cell phone or his clothes, James couldn’t find his wallet either. What the hell was going on? Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to mess with him. No, not just someone, Anna. He should have realized she was up to something with her talk of other times, and past lives. What a bunch of nonsense! James could kick himself for falling for her story. What did she have to gain by doing this to him? Those were questions for later, right now he needed to find out where in the hell she’d taken him. He retrieved the money clip from the nightstand and made a mental note that he would pay back double whatever he spent.
He found an old-style skeleton key under the money clip. People didn’t use keys like this anymore. He took it too and used it to lock the door behind him as he exited the room. Though he didn’t know how or why all this had happened, he didn’t want anyone to steal his unknown benefactor’s stuff. Plus, he might need somewhere to stay if things turned even worse than they already were.
The hallway was not an improvement, but James didn’t expect it to be. It surprised him that there were multiple doors on each wall with another door at one end of the hallway, and a set of stairs at the other. It reminded him of hostels in movies. He bet if he opened the door at the end of the hallway he’d find a bathroom shared by everyone on the floor. James didn’t have to use the facilities at the moment though and stalked down the hall to the stairs.
James descended three flights of steps before reaching ground level. He pushed open the doors and prayed that things would be normal on the other side.
Once outside, James realized that his prayers fell on deaf ears. He saw cars, people, and familiar landmarks. Everything was normal, normal that is if you were from the 1920s! He saw Model A’s that look like they had just rolled off the assembly line floor. He saw people dressed much the same as him. The men all wore suits; most of them had hats either bowlers or fedoras. The women wore dresses and bonnets or fancy hats stuffed with flowers. Some women carried signs demanding the right to vote.
It was at that moment James accepted that Anna had been telling the truth last night. He fell asleep on New Year’s Eve 2019 but had woken up on New Year’s Day of 1920. He had been displaced in time. Happy New Year to him.
Winston stood on Anna's chest and meowed. He nudged her hand with his head and purred as if saying, “wake up and feed me." She stroked his head between his ears.
Anna didn't need to look. James wasn't beside her. She knew he wouldn't be and hadn't been since the first chime of midnight. At Midnight, James disappeared from 2020 and started his first adventure in whatever year he had slid to. No one in 2020 would remember James except for her and Winston. Well… there would be one other.
Anna placed her hand on her stomach. She would make sure that their child remembered their father even if the world did not.