“Would you go back in time?” She asked him.
Finals had finished a week ago and the results came that day. They had promised to meet here and share the news. They sat in the corner of a loud bar, facing each other in a booth, the bright afternoon sun shining through the mostly glass walls and killing the bars’ cozy atmosphere. She cracked a pistachio nut and threw it into the air to try and catch it in her mouth. The boy watched with a bemused smile as it fell to the dirty table instead. He brushed it to the floor before she could pick it up and eat it.
“And do what?” He asked.
“Live it all again.”
“Could I keep all my memories, like from this life?”
“Yeah, and you could return here anytime you wanted. This isn’t about changing the future, you’re only reliving the past.”
He cracked a pistachio nut, intending of course to eat it himself. She opened wide and gestured for him to throw it. He tossed the pistachio and she caught it in her mouth.
“Works every time,” she said.
“I’d go back and relive all my memories along with you,” she continued, “like, you know those couples that meet as little kids and live across the street and are always together, I want something like that, with you. I want you to be there when I have my first kiss.”
“You want me to be your first kiss?”
“No, I just want you to be there. It’d drive you so crazy and you’d lash out the way little kids do when they’re in love. Wouldn’t that be sweet?”
“Sounds kinda sadistic.”
“A little bit. But eventually, you’d work up all your courage to ask me out, and I’d say no at first, just because of the shock of it all. My best friend just asked me out on a date, after all, but after recovering from the initial surprise I’d say yes the next time.”
“What makes you think I’d ask again?”
“You’re that type of guy. And besides, you’re obsessed with me.”
“No, not really.”
“The part about me being that type of guy, I don’t deal well with failure. I’d be too embarrassed to ask you again.”
She smiled without her eyes the way she did when she wasn’t sure what to say next. It formed these strange wrinkles along her cheeks that the boy had pointed out once. She yelled at him and told him he should never point out a womans’ wrinkles. He was going to say they looked cute, but for whatever reason, the words wouldn’t come. He stood there like a caveman frozen in ice, preserved for thousands of years with a stupid smile on its face and a soft blush. She hadn’t talked to him for the rest of that day and since then he never mentioned the cute little wrinkles that formed on her cheeks when she smiled without her eyes.
“It’s going to rain soon,” he said.
She was looking down at the table, her fingers twitched. They sat together for what felt like an eternity to her, waiting for the waiter to come take their order, waiting to share the results of their exams, waiting to ask each other a million questions that neither knew exactly how to phrase. Bloated dark clouds lumbered across the horizon, half-blocking the sun. It cast a strange hazy light over the man’s face.
“Your face looks like it’s made out of cheese,” the girl said.
“For what it’s worth, I love cheese.”
She blushed then because that was the closest either of them had come to saying “I love you.” She looked into his eyes for a long time, those shallow dull eyes of his. He started to blush.
A waiter came and apologized for the long wait. He was thin and bald, wearing a black button-up with sleeves rolled up to expose a set of pale, hairless wrists. He spoke in an airy, high-pitched voice. His eyes were green but in the hazy lighting of the bar seemed grey.
“I’ll have a whiskey,” the girl said.
“It’s good weather for a whiskey,” said the waiter.
“I know, all those dark rain clouds make me feel so cold,” she answered.
“I think that’s why so many people are here, to enjoy a whiskey in the rain. Anyway, what would you like, young man?”
“I’ll have a whiskey, too.”
“Ah, how original,” the waiter said with a smile, “only joking, sir, you can forget I ever said that when it’s time to give a tip.”
The boy didn’t find this funny, but couldn’t help laughing when he saw the smile on the girls’ face. She turned to the waiter and looked into his eyes.
“Do you mind if I ask a strange question?” She said.
“You’re still sober, right?”
“Haven’t had a drop of alcohol yet.”
“Good, then ask away.”
“If you could travel back in time, relive your past, not change it but just relive it, would you?”
“Well, that depends,” the waiter said, stroking his chin with his bony fingers, “could I choose which memories to relive?”
“I’m afraid not,” she answered.
“Back when I was a young man, probably around his age, I did go and revisit my past. It was nice, but I did it for all the wrong reasons, and if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t.”
“What?” The boy asked.
The waiter smiled, his eyes shining like deep rivers with something sinister lurking below the surface. He stared down at the young couple, wrote their orders in a small notebook, and walked away without answering.
The girl waited until he disappeared out of view and leaned across the table.
“Our waiter’s a time traveler,” she said.
“Our waiter’s crazy.”
“Crazy or not, we’re going to get him to elaborate.”
“Fine,” the boy said, trying to hide his excitement.
The drinks took a long time to make. People filtered in and out of the bar, and afternoon rolled into early dusk. Now, the bar was nearly empty. The sun had already set and the sky was deep blue. The girl had one elbow on the table, resting her head on her palm and again looking into the boy’s dull eyes. This always made him blush and she loved that because it was like a compliment to her. The boy wouldn’t tell her this until years later, but she had beautiful eyes.
“Sorry for the long wait, folks,” the waiter set two whiskeys in front of them. “The bartender figured you could have drunk five whiskies each in the time it took to make the two, so these whiskies here will get you as drunk as you want, no extra charge.”
“You’re kinda strange,” the girl said.
“You don’t even know the half of it,” the waiter answered, and he turned around to walk away.
“Wait,” the boy called out.
The waiter spun around and smiled. A chill ran up the boy’s spine and he wasn’t sure what to say anymore. The girl spoke up instead.
“How’d you do it?” She asked.
“Be more clear please,” the waiter said.
“Go back in time and relive your past.”
“I wanted it badly enough.”
“Why?” the girl asked.
The smile disappeared from the waiter’s face as he took a step towards them. The boy noticed that he wasn’t entirely hairless, he had tiny grey whiskers growing just under his nose. As the waiter bent his head to the side and thought, those whiskers grew. His eyes narrowed, and at that moment he looked like a giant, hairless cat.
“I wasn’t sure what to do with my life at the time. I was on the bridge between childhood and adulthood, ahead of me was only darkness, behind me familiarity, so I turned around and walked the other way, towards the past.”
“I wish I could do that,” the girl said.
“You shouldn’t,” the waiter answered.
“Those who do it get turned into cats, every time, and there’s no cure, trust me I’ve tried.”
“I don’t know.”
The boy took a large sip from his whiskey. It settled in his stomach like he’d swallowed the sun, and sweat dripped down his forehead. He drank more, shocked by the warmth that filled him with every sip. He closed his eyes and felt as though he was back in the womb, perfectly warm and safe. He opened his eyes and studied the whiskey, amazed.
“Good, huh?” the waiter said, looking down at the boy.
“Yeah,” the boy answered without taking his eyes off the whiskey.
“Don’t drink too much, you’ll get lost in it.”
“What kind of whiskey is this?” The boy asked.
“The kind made from nostalgia.”
The boy tried coming up with a response to this, but he was too late. The waiter dropped down on all fours and walked away.
“This whiskey’s amazing,” the boy said.
“So we’re coming back here?” The girl asked.
“No way, whiskey’s not that good,” the boy said with a laugh.
The girl nodded and smiled, looking into his eyes again. He wasn’t blushing this time.
“Do you ever have this feeling,” the boy said, “like you’re exactly where you want to be?”
“I think so,” the girl answered.
“Like, there’s no other place you’d rather be at this moment, and you realize it and it makes everything even better.”
“You’re quite the poet, don’t tell me you’re already drunk.”
“I love you,” he said.
“You’re just drunk,” she said with a smile.
“I love you too, then.”
They sipped the whiskey slowly, settling into peaceful silence while outside day turned to night and people began filtering into the bar. It was as if someone turned up the volume, everyone was talking and outside fat droplets of rain lashed against the windows of the bar.
“I’ve got something I need to tell you,” the girl said.
“Me too,” said the boy.
“You go first,” she said.
“I failed,” the boy said, “I’m going to have to stay in college a bit longer.”
The girl smiled without her eyes, not sure how to comfort him. She looked at him and despite the whiskey that was actually worth several whiskies, he blushed. This made her laugh, and he laughed with her.
“I still love you,” she said.
“Me too,” he answered.
“It’s good to love yourself.”
“No, I meant I love you.”
“Yeah, I just wanted to hear you say it.”
Sitting in their little corner booth, the girl looked away from the boy and out into the bar for the first time that night. It seemed as though everybody on campus was here, celebrating their success or drowning out their failure. She blushed, worried that somebody would see her with him. The boy didn’t seem to notice any of this. His face was twisted into a strange smile, pulled up by their mutual declaration of love but at the same time dragged down by his failure. He’d have to stay here for at least another semester, and that meant they couldn’t run away and start their new secret life together. Their future was closed, at least for another few months, and it was his fault.
“I passed,” the girl said in a quiet voice.
“I know,” the boy answered, “at least one of us is smart.”
“You are smart, how else would you be able to score me?”
Across the crowded room sat a group of students the girl and boy recognized from class. Amongst them was the girl’s boyfriend, and fortunately, he was too busy celebrating his success in the exams to notice her in the corner. It was a bitter reality check, and suddenly she wished she was very drunk. Sipping the last of her whiskey, her wish came true. The boy was also quite drunk, and they were both in love, and the room was spinning a little. That’s the problem with magic whiskies.
“You know what?” the girl said.
“Let's be cats together, that way he’ll never catch us and we can live together for the rest of our lives.”
“Why don’t you just break up with him?”
“It’s not that simple, our families are friends, we’ve known each other since we were babies. You can’t just go and change your past like that, but you can change your future. Let’s go back to the past and you can relive it alongside me, then we return to the present and live the rest of our lives as cats.”
This sent the boy into a fit of laughter. She frowned, her eyes growing malevolent.
“You don’t love me,” she said.
“I love you more than anything, but we’re going to have to do this right. No more sneaking around and certainly no turning into cats.”
“What’s your plan, then?”
“Go over to him right now, ask him to talk away from his friends, and tell him you’re done.”
“But it’d be so much easier to turn into cats.”
“I know it would, but we’re better than that. Enough sneaking around. I’ll be right here if things go sideways.”
He watched her approach the table across the bar and pull her boyfriend aside. Watched as she told him the news, then watched, horrified, as her ex started yelling obscenities at the girl. She burst into a fit of tears, and the boy ran over to her. He rested his hand on her back and they started walking away together. Five steps later, something hard collided with the back of the boy’s head, and he heard shards of glass land on the ground. Her ex had just smashed a beer bottle over his head.
“I deserved that,” the boy said, “good thing I have a thick head.”
“I’ve got bandages in my room,” the girl told him.
They walked out into the night, and thankfully her ex decided they just weren’t worth it, returning to his table.
Outside she rested her head on his shoulder, trying to look up into his shallow eyes through the darkness. A hairless cat with thin grey whiskers walked across them, raising a paw to say hello. They waved back.