When I walked into the brewpub for our first date, she greeted me by throwing her arms around my neck, kissing me on the lips, and nuzzling her face against my beard. I said, when she finished, “It’s nice to meet you.”
It was our first face-to-face meeting, after a month of trading messages on a dating site. She’d seemed normal enough online—more than normal, desirable. How could you not want to date a girl who includes Tobias Wolff in the “Celebrity Crushes” section of her profile? But, I thought, I guess you can never tell. I followed her, warily, into the dining room, where she’d already found us a table.
“I brought you a present,” she said when we sat down, and she withdrew from her purse a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, which she had recommended to me several times in our messaging back and forth. It was the perfect icebreaker, and I wished I’d thought to do something like it myself. I’d been worried that, having said so much in our messages, we would have nothing to talk about in person, but then our beers arrived at the table and we were slipping easily into a passionate conversation about books.
Everything was going great until, after the waitress brought the checks, the girl looked at me from across the table and said, “I have a confession to make.”
“I’m not exactly who you think I am. I mean, well, I guess the best way to put it is: I’m your girlfriend from eight months in the future.”
“I’m from the future. There was this time fluke that sent me back to the beginning of our relationship. Where I come from, we had a really good thing going. I mean, we were really in love.”
“In love. I know this must put you in a terribly awkward spot, but I couldn’t bear to keep it from you. It’s just so...weird.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You’re saying you travelled back from the future to date me? Like the plot in Terminator?”
“I’ve never seen Terminator.”
“Well that’s a deal breaker,” I said.
She slugged me in the arm. “You haven’t seen it either.”
It was true, I hadn’t.
“It was a time fluke. It won’t happen again. I’ve been reading up on them. They’re super rare. Has to do with solar flares and quantum entanglement.”
“Do they have flying cars in the future?”
“Now you’re just being stupid.”
We signed our checks.
“Okay, so what now?” I asked.
“Now you suggest we go get some ice cream.”
I was kind of craving ice cream, now that she mentioned it, but that must have been the power of suggestion. Sure, she seemed a little crazy, but there was something weirdly charming about her, too, something that made me want to see this date through to the end. I said, “Let’s get some ice cream.”
The next day I called her to set up a second date. The first date had just gone so well—we’d walked and talked for hours, and then when it was time to leave she’d asked, so nervously, “Do I get to see you again?” How could I say no? I told myself the time-travel thing must have been a joke I hadn’t gotten.
We met up, as we had before, in the town that was halfway between our two towns, this time at a Thai restaurant. I’d never had Thai food before, so she talked me through the menu dish by dish. “But get the drunken noodles,” she said. “That’s what you got the last time we were here. You love drunken noodles.”
And it turned out I did love them, albeit reluctantly. This time-travel thing was starting to make me feel hemmed in. I mean, I’ve never really believed that there’s some cosmic, meant-to-be, predestined other half out there, not for me or for anybody else. Love is a choice, a commitment two people make to each other, and with this girl I was beginning to feel like that decision had already been made for me. What had Alternate Future Me been thinking?
But I already knew what he had been thinking, because I was thinking the same thing: This girl was a catch. She was smarter than I was and almost as funny, beautiful to look at and beautiful on the inside, too, as cheesy as that sounds. I mean she had a fierce, passionate sincerity about the things that matter. Also she could play mini golf like a boss. When we got to the course, I made a bet with her, thinking I could impress her. “Winner buys ice cream,” I said.
“Okay, but I’m going to win. I’m from the future and I know these things.”
“You’re just trying to intimidate me,” I said.
But she wasn’t. She annihilated me. Five hole-in-ones and she landed her final putt right in the mouth of the hydraulic clam on the last hole, a shot that set off a buzzer and won her a free game.
“Not fair. You’re from the future,” I said as we headed to the ice cream counter. “Let me pay.”
“Nope. Your money’s no good here,” she said, brushing away the hand with which I held my wallet.
When we hugged good night, she got emotional. She said, “You once told me, on our six-month anniversary, that you finally understood why Baucus and Philemon asked to be turned into trees, that you were glad we were growing into each other.” She squeezed me. “I’m glad we’re still growing into each other.”
“I said that?” Wisps of her hair were clinging to my beard and tickling my face. I couldn’t figure out how to extricate myself.
“You did.” Her voice was getting quivery.
“Well if I said it, then I guess I must have meant it.”
“You did,” she sniffled, giving me one last squeeze, “and I’m sure that you will.”
The next night I called her up and said, “I was thinking, there’s a carnival in town. For our third date maybe we could go.”
She clicked her tongue. “No, that’s where we went for our last third date. You threw up on me on The Zipper. It was kind of a pivotal moment in the history of us, but it’s not one I’d like to relive.”
We went to the movies instead—or tried to, anyway, but instead got wonderfully lost on some back country roads and ended up lying on a blanket and just staring up at the stars. She told me about her nieces and nephews in Oregon, her “siblets,” she called them. She told me about how much they loved her and how, in the future, they loved me, too. “It’s so weird,” she said. “These kids, they just love me for no reason. Just because their mom is my sister.”
After that we lay in silence for a while, just holding hands and looking up, and we saw a shooting star. It was the first shooting star she’d ever seen.
When it was time to go home, she hooked my iPod up to the tape deck in my Explorer and played my favorite songs, now and then sliding in a favorite of her own that she knew I would like, and we cranked the volume and sang at the top of our lungs. I drove the back roads at breakneck speeds, the Explorer swaying as I took the turns, and she stuck both her hands through the sunroof. The fire flies were hovering over the fields, and it occurred to me as we sang that it was such a cliché to be in love in this way. It occurred to me that we both knew this and that neither of us cared. The wind was in our hair.
When we returned to the brewpub parking lot where we’d left her car, I killed the engine and we got out and hugged goodbye.
I said, “I think I could learn to love you.”
She said, “I think so, too.”