Darkness broke as soft morning light filtered through the cafe windows. Alicia hummed softly to herself as she began opening up the aptly named "Cuppa Joe" cafe. She prepped the oven, brewed coffee, and set up the snacks in their case.
She grabbed a stool from the back and wrote the menu out on the chalkboard, adding her favorites as the daily specials. She glanced at the clock that sat above the front door. Eight minutes until the shop officially opened.
She wiped the counters down and moved to wipe down the different tables. There were only three tables in the shop and a few chairs near the bookcase that leaned against the wall by the windows.
As she finished setting up, she glanced at the clock again. Only a minute left. She unlocked the door early and went to grab her apron from the back. Her first regular liked to show up right as the cafe opened and wanted to be ready for him.
She glanced around the cafe yet again. Sure, it was small, but it was basically hers. It belonged to her friends' grandparents, but when the time came, her friend didn't want the responsibility of the shop. Neither did Alicia if she was honest with herself, but writing didn't pay the bills, but as her mother liked to say, the shop did.
Part of her loved the shop and always would, but it had never been her dream. Her thoughts were interrupted by the bell above the door jingling.
"Hi George! You want your usual?" She asked. George had brought a friend with him, she noticed. A man, significantly younger than George, whose hair had started to gray many years ago. She thought maybe he was a nephew, although she quickly realized that was not the case when the man behind George hung back, letting George walk through the cafe without talking to him. Alicia didn't recognize the man, but she recognized the cup in his hand as one of the cafe's to-go cups.
"I sure do!" George smiled. His entire body seemed to light up with the movement. According to Alicia's friends, he moved fast for a man of his age and acted younger than she did.
"Great! Let me get that started for you! How are the grandkids?" She let George tell her about his grandchildren and their recent accomplishments as she made his drink.
"And how is your writing going? Finish that book of yours?" George asked.
Alicia sighed as she did every morning when he asked her this, "Not yet."
"Why not?" George asked even as she handed him his drink.
"Just haven't had time," Alicia answered. The man snorted, and Alicia jumped. She had forgotten all about him. He was standing in front of the bookshelf, feigning interest in the books on the shelf.
George glanced at the man and back at Alicia, a question evident in his eyes. Alicia shook her head; she didn't know who he was either.
"Well, I hope you let me read it when you're done," George smiled. Alicia smiled back at him. He turned and walked out of the shop, but not without a last questioning look at the young man who was now making his way to the counter.
"So you're writing a book," the man finally reached the counter and put his cup down.
"I'm trying," Alicia said instead of an actual answer. It was true, she was trying to write a book. She had been for a few years now, but as the years went by, the less confident she got in her work.
"You'll finish it in the next year or so. Or maybe not, if you're stuck here all the time" he glanced around the shop.
"Excuse me?" Alicia felt her shoulders tense. She regarded the man again. He was handsome, but he seemed to look down on her like he knew something he didn't. His clothes were plain, and the cup he had placed on the countertop was definitely from the cafe, but Alicia didn't recall ever meeting him.
"You'll finish your book in the next year, well in the next thirteen months. But you won't be able to do that if you keep working here all the time."
"Why should I believe you?"
The man smiled, "That book you're writing, your main character is named after me, or I guess I'm technically named after him."
"How do you know that?"
"Name's Oliver, Oliver West." Oliver held his hand out for her to shake.
Alicia's eyes widened; that was her main character's name. Something she hadn't told anyone yet, not even her closest friends.
Oliver put his hand back down, "I wanted to come back here and see where my story starts."
"Excuse me?" Alicia couldn't think of anything else to say.
"In the future, after a few of your books sell, this shop becomes a relic. People start to think of it as your starting place."
"In the future? What are you talking about" Alicia questioned.
Oliver smiled and held his arm up so that the watch on his wrist was facing her. He pressed the face of it, and a small hologram protruded from it.
Alicia gasped as a miniature version of Cuppa Joe appeared before her. She leaned forward as crowds of people stood outside of the cafe, taking pictures. The view suddenly changed, and the hologram was on the inside of the shop. While the setup was the same, it was no longer a functioning coffee shop. Instead, it seemed to be a museum, a museum of her. The bookcase was gone, replaced with framed writings all signed by her. The tables had been removed to make room for towers of her books. A nicely dressed tour guide opened the door and started a tour for a group from the crowd outside.
"What is this?" Alicia stepped back and stared at Oliver in confusion.
"This is your future" Oliver tapped his watch again, and the hologram disappeared. Alicia bit her tongue as she almost asked him to do it again, "Or at least one of them."
"One of my futures?" Alicia asked.
Oliver nodded, "The future is constantly changing. It's something your society figures out in a few years from now and once they do, they realize that the past can change too."
"There's no way. I mean-" Alicia stopped talking as Oliver pulled his sleeve up. Beneath the watch was a tattoo. It was numbers that lit up underneath Oliver's skin.
"This is how many times my future has changed in my lifetime," Alicia watched the numbers change once again, "Every decision I make, changes it just a little bit."
"If you can change the past, why hasn't anyone gone back in time and stopped wars from happening?" Alicia asked.
Oliver pulled his sleeve back down and shrugged, "People tried. Our future has rules set in place to stop people from doing it now. You never know how much worse the world can get when you take out the first big bad that appears."
"So what are you doing here?"
"I wanted to meet you. In the future, you're kind of famous," Oliver shook the empty cup at her, "People sell these for thousands of dollars just because they have your handwriting."
"That's-" Alicia started.
"Creepy?" Oliver gave her a half-smile.
"Very." Alicia paused, "So I'm famous in the future?"
Oliver gave her a smile full of amusement, "More than that. Your works change society for the better, but nobody knows how or why you wrote the things you did."
"So what I'm supposed to change the world? I'm a barista, Oliver, not a superhero."
"But you could be."
Alicia said nothing, and he sighed. "Can you close up shop for today. I want to talk to you and your next customer comes in," Oliver checked his watch, "four minutes and twenty three seconds."
Alicia stared at him for a moment. She had never closed the shop before, but she had also never met a man who claimed to be from the future before.
"Yeah, okay." She took her apron off and slung it against the counter. Oliver smiled. "But I'm not doing this again!"
"I only supposed to have today," Oliver said quietly. Alicia ran to the front and turned the "Open" sign to "Closed." She pulled the blinds down and locked the door.
Oliver had taken a seat at one of the tables closest to the windows, and Alicia joined him.
Oliver let her ask all the questions she wanted, even the silly ones that caused him to laugh. He told her about all of the advancements they had made in the future. He explained the ways doctors could save lives within minutes and how cities could be built in under a week. Hours flew by as he told her about the future and her place in it as well as about his life. He worked for "The Timekeepers," those placed in charge of maintaining the time balance, ensuring the safety of the world they currently had.
"And you do all that with just a watch and some tattoos?" Alicia asked.
Oliver smiled, "There's a lot of advancements to be made. With time as a resource, we're able to do so much more than anyone ever thought possible. We-"
A loud bang sounded in the street. Alicia and Oliver jumped.
Oliver looked out the window and nearly dropped the cup he had been playing with.
"Are you okay?" Alicia had her hands out under the cup, ready to catch it if it had slipped out of Oliver's usually steady hands.
"It's starting," Oliver whispered.
"I-I haven't been completely honest with you."
"Of course not," Alicia said flippantly, "You're a man from the future."
"No! I'm not joking," Oliver grabbed her to stop her from moving. Her eyebrows furrowed as she looked at his hand, which held her arm in an iron grip.
"What haven't you told me?"
"Not everyone likes the changes you made. Some people think that without you-" Oliver trailed off.
"Without me," she prompted, although the fear settling in her stomach told her she already knew what he was going to say.
"Some people think that without you the world would be a better place" he refused to break eye contact with her as he said it. He let go of her arm as she scooted back.
A bullet pierced the glass of the opposite window. Alicia screamed.
"Get down!" Oliver yelled. He stood up and grabbed her, pushing her towards the counter even as he stood his ground.
Shots continued to ring out, and bullets lodged themselves in the walls of the cafe. Oliver pulled a gun out of the waistband of his pants.
"What are we supposed to do?" Alicia ducked beneath the counter as shots broke the glass of the cafe windows. Through the holes in the blinds, Alicia could see a group of figures with guns in hand. They were aiming at the cafe. No, she realized, they were trying to aim for her.
"You're supposed to run and I'm supposed to hold them off," Oliver stood up and glared at the figures across the street.
"I'm sorry I lied to you," Oliver turned to her, "My name is Oliver West and I did want to visit you, but-"
"I'm supposed to save you. Today is one of your possible death days."
Alicia felt tears in her eyes as she looked up at Oliver from her position on the floor. He took only one look at her before returning fire to the figures across the street. To Alicia's shock, she noticed they had moved closer. There were five of them, clad in all black. They stood in a line across the street from the cafe, the evening light making them seem even more menacing. The gun Oliver held didn't comfort her either. It didn't look real, more like a children's toy than a weapon. But as he shot, instead of bullets, a laser zapped out of the barrel. Alicia watched as a figure across the street went down and didn't get back up. Oliver shot two more times, and two more figures went down.
"Alicia, I need you to run. Get far away from here. I'll take care of them."
"But what about y-"
Alicia scrambled to her feet and started towards the back of the cafe. She looked back as a final shot rang out. She watched in horror as the bullet lodged itself in Oliver's chest, his eyes wide as he crumbled to the ground.
Alicia screamed and ran back to him. She fell to her knees beside him.
"Oliver, you have to go back," Alicia cried into his chest, "They can save you if you just go back to your time!"
"They can't. This is supposed to happen," Oliver rasped out in between coughs. "I'm supposed to die today and I'm not allowed to change the future."
"No!" Alicia screamed as blood trickled out of Oliver's mouth. His eyes fluttered shut, and Alicia felt the tears run down her face.
Alicia held his body against hers, feeling the shallow rise and fall of his chest. At least he was still breathing. She didn't know how she would carry him out of the cafe, but she knew she had to. His last words rang in her ears. He couldn't change the future.
"But I can," Alicia's voice was raspy from her cries. She looked at Oliver's face and teared up again at the seeming lack of life in it. She moved quickly and lifted his arm so she could reach his watch. She fiddled with it, not understanding how to unlock it. She worked fast, even as bullets started to fly again. She finally remembered and grabbed Oliver's other hand and pressed his index finger against the watch face. It lit up, and she navigated through its settings.
"Come back," she whispered. She hit the control on his watch. She stood up as his body dematerialized in front of her, not unlike the hologram he had shown her that morning.
Bullets shot through the glass once again, and Alicia dropped to the ground. She wanted to crawl to the back of the cafe, where she knew she could escape through the back door. She started to move when the shots suddenly stopped. The world was silent for a moment.
"You did it" Oliver walked through the shattered windows. He held a hand out to Alicia, who grinned at him.
"Only because you told me I could."
"So what are you going to do now?" Oliver asked. He was seated at a brand new table in the cafe. Cuppa Joe had been closed for a week, and the renovations had already been completed. Alicia refused to comment on how similar it now looked to the version that existed in the future.
Across from him, Alicia smiled, "Apparently I have some books to write."