When you think about it, life is really no different than a choose your own adventure game. Sure, maybe we’re not choosing whether or not we want to travel back in time to meet the dinosaurs, but we do get to choose whether or not we want to break up with our partners, move to a different state, or have a cup of coffee in the morning.
We’re presented with millions of choices everyday from the moment we take our first breath. Some decisions lead us down mundane paths while others force us into situations far more exhilarating.
With every choice we make, a new version of us emerges. A new path birthing within the space-time continuum. We all have total control over which path we choose to run down. The problem is we have no way of knowing where those paths may lead. I suppose that’s why it’s called an adventure, right? Maybe the control we think we are given is only an illusion.
PATH ONE: Wednesday, 8:12PM
I’m laying on my bed when Allison begins pounding on my bedroom door. “Maya, are you coming or not?”
My roommate is going out to a new brewery in downtown with some of her friends. It sounds fun in theory, except it’s Wednesday. Who goes out on a Wednesday?
I sit up with a quiet sigh. I don’t really want to go out. Work has been an unforgiving black hole of asks without thanks. The only attention I seem to get on the cluttered fourth floor prison that is the studio production office is reprimand when I have done something wrong. Physically and emotionally, I am exhausted.
“The Uber’s gonna be here in six minutes,” she continues.”
“Okay, um… Yeah, sure I’ll come!” I shout back.
I’m tired, but I deserve a drink. I can’t stay trapped in a cycle of work, sleep, work forever.
Allison’s friends are sitting around an outdoor picnic table when we arrive. Many of them have already begun a round of beers. They greet us with enthusiasm and pack themselves together like sardines to make room for us on the bench.
I recognize two of Allison’s coworkers, Roland and Ava, a mutual college friend of ours named Autumn, and Allison’s boyfriend, Steven. However, the brunette I take a seat next to, I don’t recall meeting.
She turns to me with a friendly smile. “I’m Charlie. I don’t think we’ve met.”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m Maya. How do you know everyone here?”
“Ava’s my roommate. I don’t really know anyone except her. Just tagged along,” she says with a shrug.
“Allison’s my roommate. I could kinda say the same.” Of course I do know these people, but I wouldn’t consider them my friends. There’s a difference between knowing someone’s name verses knowing who they are as a person.
Charlie breaths a subtle sigh of relief, “That’s nice to know. Hey, do you wanna go get a drink? I haven’t had one yet.”
“Sure, let’s do it.”
At the counter I order a pilsner, and am surprised when Charlie insists she pays for it. I find it a bit odd as we have just met each other, but why not accept a kind gesture?
“So what do you do for work?” She asks as we sit on the hightop barstools, waiting for our beers, “Might as well get those boring surface level questions out of the way.”
I laugh at her bluntness. “I’m a production office assistant.”
“Like, for movies and stuff?”
“Well I’m on a TV show, but yeah.”
Her eyes light up, which I have just noticed are hazel. I find them pretty.
“Okay so I was wrong, that’s not boring at all. Do you get to work with famous people? You must get paid well.” She stops herself then looks a little embarrassed. “Sorry, I’m probably overstepping.”
“No, no it’s fine. I mean it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. I rarely get to see the important people and get paid minimum wage. It’s pretty draining work honestly.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize.”
I shrug and suddenly feel badly for putting a negative spin on the conversation.
“At least it’s rewarding to see the end product. What do you do?”
Our drinks are placed on the counter in front of us and we both take a sip.
“Well I was an intern at a publishing company, you know, reading manuscripts and whatnot, but the job ended a few weeks ago, so now I’m looking for a part-time thing.”
“Do you wanna be a writer?” I ask.
“That’s the goal. Though sometimes it feels stupid. I know most people interpret being a writer as being unemployed.”
“It’s not stupid at all,” I insist. “Plenty of writers have successful careers.”
“Yeah, if you’re good at it.”
“I bet you’re great at it.”
She cocks her head to the side and raises her eyebrows at me, “You don’t even know me.”
“I know that you’re easy to talk to.”
She smiles at my words, and for a second I feel a calm warmth ignite in my heart. It’s at the same moment that I notice our knees have sort of interlocked as we face each other and I become very aware that her's keep bumping into mine. I’m not sure if she’s doing it mindlessly or on purpose. Either way, I enjoy the closeness.
Our conversation goes on for over an hour. Allison is probably wondering where I went, but if she’s that desperate to know, she can come looking for me.
I’m quite the lightweight, so two beers in already has me feeling the effects of the alcohol. Charlie is telling me a story about this one time she was on a family trip in Italy and ran off into the streets of Rome as a ten year old without a cellphone.
I know I should be listening, but I feel distracted by her appearance. My eyes wander from her left eye to her right. I begin visually tracing the frame of her face, watching her curly dark hair flow about with her movements. Now I’m looking at her lips, and maybe it’s the beer, but all I want to do is…
“They found me eventually. I guess I thought it’d be fun to run away from home in a foreign country, you know like some lost orphaned kid that goes on all these adventures and has to steal food, but it probably wasn’t the best-“
I kiss her. Immediately I wonder if that was the wrong choice, if I’m coming on too strong, but then I feel her lean into it. Now her hand is on my cheek and she’s kissing me back, and the warmth in my heart turns into a heat spreading through my body.
I pull away a moment later and her eyes meet mine with a rising soft smile.
“Do you wanna come back to my place?” She asks.
PATH TWO: Wednesday, 8:12PM
Allison knocks on my bedroom door. “Maya, are you coming or not?”
“No, I think I’m gonna stay back tonight,” I tell her from my bed. As fun as a night out sounds, I have work tomorrow and I barely have the energy to make myself dinner. I’m not in the mood to socialize.
“Alright, well if you change your mind the Uber will be here in six minutes!” She shouts back.
I don’t change my mind. Six minutes pass and I hear our front door open and close as Allison heads out for the night.
This happens often. She invites me places, I contemplate it, ultimately decide not to join, and find myself alone on the couch watching reruns of shows I’ve already seen, burning my tongue on a cup-o-noodles because I don’t have it in me to cook a real dinner.
I don’t mind being alone most of the time. I’ve spent the majority of my life alone. Being an only child. Never committing to a long term relationship. Living in my first apartment by myself. In fact, when I moved in with Allison I found the constant company a bit unsettling at first.
However, there are times when I start to feel bored of my own company, and I regret turning down an offer to leave the house. Tonight is one of those nights.
Eager to escape the feeling of loneliness, I take a warm shower and decide to go to bed early. Maybe I’ll have a fun night out in my dreams. At least that way I won’t wake up hungover.
PATH ONE: Thursday 10:18AM
I wake up with my head on Charlie’s chest. I’m naked. So is she. She smells good. Her bedsheet are soft. I’m warm. God, it feels good to be next to somebody. I close my eyes and let my body sink deeper into hers. One of her arms is around me, and I feel her embrace tighten slightly as I shift. I want to fall back asleep like this, but it’s so bright in her bedroom. Why is it so bright? Squinting, I glance at the digital clock on the nightstand.
“SHIT!” I shoot up from the bed and Charlie sucks in a startled breath. I grab my phone and see three missed calls from Greg, my supervisor.
“Shit! Shit!” I curse again, grabbing my clothes off the floor.
“What? Maya, what?” Charlie asks with sleep in her voice.
“It’s past ten, I’m so late!”
“Oh!” Charlie pushes herself out of bed and helps me find my shirt. I dial Greg and wedge the phone between my cheek and shoulder while I hop into my Jeans.
“Maya, where are you?” He answers. I can already tell from his voice, he’s furious.
“I’m so sorry, I overslept. I’m on my way into the office right now! I’ll be there in-“
“This is totally unacceptable and it’s not the first time this has happened. The team is scrambling this morning to pick up the slack that you created.”
“Greg, I promise I will be there in twenty minutes. I’ll stay late tonight to make up for it.”
“No, you know what Maya, don’t bother coming in at all.”
The line goes dead. Charlie’s looking at me quietly. I know she heard.
PATH TWO: Thursday 7:15PM
“You can go home” Greg says without looking up from his computer.
“Alright, thank you.” I gather my things and sling my backpack over my shoulder. “Have a goodnight,” I say on the way out. I get nothing in response.
Once again, I leave my job beaten and joyless. People weren’t lying when they said this industry was soul sucking. When I get home I chat with Allison about her day and ask about last night.
“It was a lot of fun,” she tells me. “Met some new people. You would’ve liked them. You’ll have to come out next time.”
I promise her I will, though I’m not sure that I mean it. I shower, get in bed, fall into a slumber that doesn’t last nearly as long as I would like it to, go to work, come home, the cycle repeats. That’s all my life is. A monotonous cycle.
It’s 11AM when I wake up on Saturday morning. Allison has left for the weekend to visit Joshua Tree with Steven and I have nothing planned. Today will be a chore day.
Once my laundry is washed and folded, I make the trip to the grocery store and stop for gas on my way home. There’s a sign attached to the pump I pull up next to. “CARD READER BROKEN. PLEASE PAY INSIDE.”
The bell chimes as I enter the convenient store and take my place in line. Only one girl ahead of me.
“Yeah I’ll take two of the five dollar ones,” she says. The cashier hands her two scratch tickets and she pays. As she turns to leave she bumps into me.
“Ah, sorry,” she apologizes and flashes me an embarrassed smile.
“No worries,” I say. Her hazel eyes and curly dark hair are a beautiful combination. She’s pretty, I think to myself.
“What can I get ya?” The cashier asks me.
“Forty dollars on pump number ten please… and actually, could I get one of those scratchers too?”
I dig a loose penny out of my glove compartment once I’m back in my car. I’ve never been one to waste my money on lottery tickets, but what’s the harm in one game?
The first three numbers bare no reward. The fourth gives me a dollar. Hey, maybe I’ll at least make my money back. The fifth is another goose egg. Wiping away the metallic dust from the sixth, my eyes widen. There’s no way, I think to myself. I reread the card instructions twice and triple check my winning numbers, matching 17 to my scratched off 17.
I’ve just won twenty-five thousand dollars.
PATH ONE: Saturday 2:28PM
“If this is totally crazy you can say no, but do you wanna drive to Yosemite with me?” Charlie asks over the phone.
“How did you even get my number?” I’m glad she has my number, but it occurs to me we never exchanged them.
“I asked Ava, who asked Allison, who gave it to her, who gave it back to me. Anyway, do you wanna go or not?”
Concern rises in my mind. I have to remind myself I just met this girl. I like her. A lot. But we only spent a night together. There’s no telling who she really is. Then again, I was hesitant on going to the brewery at all, and had I not, I never would have met her. Maybe life would offer me more gifts if I was more willing to partake in it.
“I think I’d like that,” I say, “but I just lost my job. I don’t know if I should be spending money on a trip.”
“Okay wait, so this is the best part. Consider it paid for.”
“No way, Charlie, you’re not paying for-“
“No no, I’m not paying for anything.” She says excitedly.
“What do you mean?”
“I just won two hundred bucks off a scratch ticket!”
I laugh and shake my head in amazement. “Of course you did.”
“Come on. That’ll cover food and gas for us. We can camp out in my car. Neither of us has a job to get to…”
“This is crazy,” I say, but I’m smiling stupidly. “Come get me.”
PATH TWO: Saturday 2:28PM
My mind is racing. Twenty five grand. I could pay off all my student loans. That’s enough for a downpayment on a house. Maybe I drop everything and embark on a six month tour of Europe. Although, I’m not sure I would want to do that alone.
Allison doesn’t pick up when I try to call her. Maybe there’s no service in the desert. It occurs to me that as exciting as an all expenses paid trip to Europe sounds, she may not want to disappear with me for six months. Allison has Steven. She has a job that she actually enjoys. She has a life here. I’m not sure that I could say the same of myself.
A dull sadness rises in me as I come to the realization that I don’t actually have anyone to share my sudden fortune with. I don’t have a partner. I hardly have a best friend. The “friend group” I go out with consists of people I would, individually, only consider to be okay acquaintances.
What do I really have here?
Who do I really have here?
The longer I contemplate what it means to be happy, the more I realize I’m not.
PATH ONE: Sunday 5:48AM
The songs of birds fill the valley as first light washes over Half Dome. We parked the car in an empty lot, across from a wide open field, on the north side of the park when we arrived around ten last night. We definitely aren’t supposed to be camped out here, but no one has told us otherwise.
Looking to my right, I take in the image of Charlie fast asleep beside me in the trunk of her SUV. She’s as beautiful as the valley.
I’ve never been to Yosemite before, and excitement builds in me as I think about exploring it, but for now I let my body and mind dissipate into the peace of early morning.
Charlie and I talked, laughed, and sang the entire drive up. Normally, time alone with people I barely know makes me very anxious. I get wrapped up in what I should and shouldn’t say, or whether they’re actually finding my stories interesting or just engaging to be polite. I don’t feel any of that with her. Nothing about our time together has felt forced. It feels easy and real. It’s a feeling I’m not used to. Is that love? It has to be too early to know that. What I do know is that I feel happier than I have in months.
As the sky burns with a pink glow, I take in one final glance of the sunrise before letting my eyelids shut, wondering how much different my life would have looked if on Wednesday night, I had just said no.