They meet every Saturday, on the fifteenth of August. He'll never forget the weather that day; blazing afternoon heat melting into warm tar beneath his sneakered feet, chilly breeze in the strands of her brown hair. This Saturday, like every Saturday, he finds her seated on the white bench outside her favourite shophouse store, head tilted to the blue of fading noon sky.
"It's not nice to miss a date," she is going to say, and those are the words that slip past her lips. He feels a smile pull into his own, because it feels normal, almost, if he doesn't think about this conversation. About how he knows exactly what she will say next, which is -
"You're not going to save the world," she continues, frowning a little as she crosses her arms. "Is there really a point holing yourself up?"
He could choose to tell her something else, but like every other time he doesn't. "I'm working on something amazing," he says for the hundredth time.
"Not that stupid time machine," she scoffs. "Oh, this is exactly why my friends told me you were all wrong. You're wonky. A time-machine, how unromantic. You do know those things are just science fiction, don't you? God, why can't you be like other boys, write me a love letter or something..."
He stays there beside her as she voices her beef, only watches as the evening sun presses into her brown skin and fluttering eyelashes. Pigeons land on the pavement by their feet, and she nudges him, eyes narrowed and lips pursed.
"Remember our date tomorrow," she huffs, "or I will never forgive you."
Some Saturdays, he lets them talk about the same things - his useless time-machine and non-existant love letters. It's always like this, he knows - white bench, warm tar, chilly air, sunkissed skin. Back when the Saturdays first occurred, he would be a little more daring and do something out of the ordinary - kiss her cheek and hold her hand and tell her, "I won't show up for our date tomorrow. Can we cancel?"
But she would look at him, lips parted in indignation. "You're a bastard," she says then, looking like she wants to cry. "Is your work really that important?"
No, he wants to say. You are. You're everything to me. "Please," he says, "won't Monday do?" and everyday for the rest of his life -
But not Sunday.
She doesn't relent, the way he knows she never will. "Sunday," she says. "Remember our date tomorrow, or I'll never forgive you."
He's memorized the pattern of her dress by now, the texture of the fabric under his fingertips as she shifts beside him, mary-janed feet shuffling on the cement under the white bench.
"A time-machine, how unromantic," she is saying, somewhat dolefully. "You do know those things are just science fiction, don't you?"
"I think it might just work this time," he says quietly. She leans into him, and he closes his eyes and holds onto her a little tighter. She smells like lavender, smells like sky and sunshine and him. She sighs into his shoulder, clutches to the hem of his shirt with bony fingers.
"God, why can't you be like other boys, write me a love letter or something..."
He smiles into her hair. "I can write you one, right now."
"Write me one for tomorrow," she says, lifting her head and pouting a little. "You do remember, don't you?"
"Remember what?" even though he will never forget it. He hasn't forgotten Sundays for a year.
She pokes him rather violently, and they both chuckle as she latches onto his arm. "Sunday," she says. "Remember our date tomorrow, or I'll never forgive you."
When fate deals a painful card, you can try to cheat, and if you're lucky maybe you'll win. But you can't pull a bluff in a game that has already been played. He learned this the hard way; the truth may hurt, but the lie even more so.
If he'd known this was going to happen, he wouldn't have stayed up all night to work through wires and knots, over stacks of paper research and process books. How unromantic, she'd always said. How unromantic this all is. But his time-machine came alive on Sunday; he only realized this when he found himself in Saturday. In the hour he spent with her by the bench that late afternoon, she died in a car accident on Sunday.
Why didn't you show up? her mother had asked him, eyes painfully dry from too much crying. Why didn't you show up?
I didn't forget. The words curl into the tip of his tongue. He remembers Sunday, remembers how stark the sun is through the blinds, hollow rays against the white, sterile walls of the hospital. The light streams in, fades, disappears. The love letter crumbled in his fist, torn from the grip of his nails as the paper wilted in his tears.
It's wrong, he knows, to keep going back to a single moment in time and hope things will change. You can't alter the past, can't undo the mold of a future already cast. He steps across the warm tar road, and the late day soaks into his skin as the breeze whispers past his cheeks. There she is again, on the white bench in her pretty striped dress, like she is every fifteenth of August.
"It's not nice to miss a date," she protests, as he sits down beside her. "You're not going to save the world. Is there really a point in holing yourself up?"
"It's going to work, you know," he says, managing a smile. The truth will make no difference.
"Not that stupid time machine," she groans, throwing up her hands. "Oh, this is exactly why my friends told me you were all wrong. You're wonky. A time-machine, how unromantic. You do know those things are just science fiction, don't you? God, why can't you be like other boys, write me a love letter or something..."
"I love you," he says. "That's what the love letter is going to say."
"What?" their gazes meet, the fire in her expression slowly doused by the softness in his own. No matter how many times he looks into her eyes, he thinks, he will never get over the way they crinkle just like this as the confusion knots into the corners of her smile.
He pulls her close, arms over her shoulders as she squeaks in surprise. He wants to hold her forever, all the way into Sunday, Monday, Tuesday; everyday into Saturday and all over again. He feels her smile in his shoulder as she pulls away gently, head tilted to a side in slight puzzlement as the joy flickers in her face.
"Sunday," she murmurs finally. "Remember our date tomorrow, or I'll never forgive you."
He could choose not to come back, but he does every time Sunday rolls around and he wonders, ever so briefly, if the time will come that he will ever decide not to have her return to him like this as if she has never gone. But then he curls a finger in a lock of hair, closes his eyes to the dying evening sunlight. If he concentrates hard enough, he thinks, time would stop and she'd be there still when he opens his eyes - beautiful and smiling and so alive.
"I won't forget," is all he says.
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