“I can’t believe that dad didn’t believe me,” Sako said as she sulked overtop her lunch. “I mean, when have I ever lied to him? Why would I just, like, completely lose his handsaw that I’ve never touched before and make up a story about it?”
“There was that one time you told him you were staying at my house, when you actually went over to Tommy’s,” Beck suggested helpfully.
Sako loosed a lugubrious groan as she slouched down into her seat in the booth. Her friends were always doing this to her. Every single time that she tried to complain about her father they took his side. Every single time! Not that she faulted them for it; after all, unlike her terrible mother, he was always right. It just stung to be wrong, even if you weren’t actually wrong, because you were going up against some omnipotent force of pure positive righteousness. But that lead to a small wrinkle in her theistic views of family – how could she and he both be wrong and right?
“Wait. Whoa. Slow your ponies down. You guys don’t believe me either?”
“It’s not that we don’t believe you…” Beck said. She started to open her mouth, but closed it after a brief pause, trailing off into uncomfortable silence.
Belligerence had crept itself into Sako’s voice. She examined the group with wide, shocked eyes, making a mental note of her friends’ expressions of bemusement and barely concealed mirth. In growing anger Sako turned to root through her satchel. Carefully she extracted the napkin from the depths of her main sketchbook, and with a triumphant smirk slapped it down on the table.
“See? Look at this. I drew this! My younger self drew this and I brought it back between time lines and you guys seriously don’t think that this can be real?”
Drew adjusted his glasses and looked at the napkin with the regal picture of a cat. With slow, deliberate movements he reached out and tapped the middle-edge of the paper with the tip of his index finger.
“Is that your signature, Sako?”
“You’ve been using that signature for, like, a year, Sako…”
Of course he would see that little addition, but he wouldn’t see that the pens had laid down subtly different shades of ink. He wouldn’t see that the strokes were much steadier in her signature than in the cat, or the subtle tapering on the end of her lines were brushed at a master level. By Crom’s black heart, she had been born with ink in her veins and her fingers as pens and here some of her best friends were able to see and accept the refinements she had made in life?
Beck and Kent, the sweet couple from as far back as high school, exchanged a knowing glance but remained mum. Drew, to Sako’s left, pushed skillet potatoes around his plate with a fork. He mumbled something that sounded non-committal. Sako’s face had tightened into one of her comical gargoyle scowls, unfixed bottom teeth jutting from her sucked-in lip like a row of unleveled tombstones.
“Look,” Kent said, “It’s just that this sounds really far fetched. I mean, really far-fetched. You traveled through time just to get in a fight with yourself? This would make a great scenario to role play but come on, I’m not dumb.”
“Oh, that would make a good World of Darkness scenario! Um, but he’s right about your story,” Drew said. “I mean, in high school you got suspended for a couple days for telling everyone you turned yourself pure evil and you were going to start drinking rabbit blood to become a vampire. And all that happened was you got sent home for a couple days until everyone realized you were just joking around and it all turned out fine. We knew it was a joke from the start, you would have probably killed a lot of people if you were really actually a hundred-percent pure evil version of Sako.”
“Oh god, I remember all of that!” Beck laughed from behind her hand. Even Kent couldn’t keep a smile from creeping up the corners of his mouth.
Drew turned imploringly to Sako. “I mean, am I wrong on any of that?”
“No, you’re not wrong,” she whispered bitterly. “You are so right, Kent. That’s what happened. This was all a big joke I was trying to play on you guys.”
“Um, are you alright?” Beck asked. There was concern in her voice, and her fingers worried at a few of the French fries left on her plate.
The waiter hovered unobtrusively beside the table. He held his ticket pad in hand but his pen was poised just above the paper, his eyes darting furtively between the obviously agitated girl and her calmer friends.
“Will… that be everything, today?”
“Just a couple to-go boxes,” Kent said.
“And could I get a diet coke to-go, please?” Beck asked.
The waiter hinted at a smile and gave a slight nod. “Will these be together or separate?”
“Separate. Me and her together,” Kent gestured at his girlfriend. “And those two…” his voice trailed off as he caught sight of Sako’s expression.
Silence gripped the table as Sako turned to stare expectantly at Drew. She had made no move towards her satchel, and her wallet chain dangled down against her hip untouched. She waited away the seconds by staring at him, tear-rimmed eyes competing with her facsimile of a flirtatious smile. All she needed to do was stare and focus her mind on getting him to succumb to her wiles.
Drew blinked, then dramatically rolled his eyes as he reached for his wallet.
As the sun began to dip behind the line of trees that ringed the outside of their fence, Sako stared intently at the door leading to The Black Room.
“I can do this. I can do this! C’mon, Sako, you’re not a little itty bitty baby. Just go in. Do it. Do it, chicken.”
In one movement, she yanked the door to the shed wide and stepped inside. She counted to ten in her mind, each number taking an eternity, entire universes forming between three and four, galaxies shattering in bursts of ancient light as she hit seven. By ten she was already wheeling around to grope at the door. It wasn’t until she had stepped outside into the muggy night that she realized her breath had been held. She lashed out behind her with a mule kick, slamming the door shut behind her.
But the world was the same as it has always been. The same it had been the past ten times she had tried this. And that was the problem, because the world should instead have been what it wasn’t – younger, fresher, instantly recognizable as a moment that had previous existed.
Sako threw her head back, and raised her fists to the sky.
“Why! Isn’t! This! Working!”