Updated: Apr 21
New Year’s Eve felt like the end of the world.
Maybe that’s because it was the edge of the past year standing on the brink of the next. A fresh start, the annual chance to reinvent yourself. To start over as someone new going into the future. Like the last turning point before the world started spinning into another rotation around the sun. Or maybe it was just Y2K.
It was the same no matter what time period she was in. Humans were obsessed with second chances. The idea that they could somehow magically become someone new overnight and erase the past just because of a “new beginning.” The idea that they could make any kind of progress just because of the natural passage of time distancing themselves from the time they were trying to escape, despite who they really were being stuck in the past.
But she’d been trying to do that all year—every year—start over with herself. After every heartache, after every setback. But it was always one step forward, two steps back no matter how hard she tried to heal. Healing wasn’t simple or linear like the passing of time was, you couldn’t just move on like the ticking moments. You couldn’t just forget so easily, and you couldn’t run away from what was hurting you when it followed you around like a shadow in your own head. She knew that it took a long time, and she had all the time in the world. But she was so impatient with herself, and leaving behind who she had become when she lost herself to the people she’d lost would be painful. It would mean finally letting them go, and she’d never been good at letting things go, starting all over again from scratch because she was always hoping that they could pick up where they’d left off. But when they were decades, centuries away from her, she had to accept the reality of the end. No matter how hard it was.
But for whatever reason, she couldn’t.
She never really liked Estella's parties.
Of course, she always went to them. Every New Year’s, every year, for the past two years she’d been trapped in the same decade.
She didn’t really know what it was she didn't like about them. Maybe it was how the smoke lingered over the room in a thick, hazy cloud. Maybe it was the way that the men whistled and stared, and how they got too close when they had had a bit too much to drink. Maybe it was all the people, the lights, and the noise.
She had been to every feminist turning point in history, every place in time where a woman's place improved just a tiny bit before being halted by the construction of yet another glass ceiling. But being stuck unmoving in time right here, she could only see the positives of what the movement of the flappers had on women of the time.
And no woman embraced her newfound freedom quite as Estella did.
She loved the idea of being the exact opposite of what the men in her life expected of her. She was proud of her fiery rebellion that took form in the puff of cigarette smoke from parted cherry-stained lips and cropped haircuts and skirts. She loved being the exact opposite of what women could be only a few years before.
Of course, she had seen how women in the future after her would feel the same way. Again and again and again, until their progress would be stopped. It was an endless cycle that came from decades of systemic oppression.
The world, no matter what time, was never kind to girls that refused to be beautiful little fools.
She also thought Estella also wanted an excuse to drink, not that it was legal.
Not now anyway.
The first time the world ended she almost wished it would go quicker, a one-and-done flash of light and all of the world fried into oblivion. Putting everyone out of the misery of waiting, wondering when it was going to happen. The long, drawn-out minutes turned into hours as the clock on the wall ticked slowly, second by second the anticipation only continued to build as her heart beat steadily along with it.
They had tried to set their own grief aside and distract one another, the tears of doomsday had dried and all they were doing now was waiting together for the whole world to nuke itself up. The countdown continued to tick, slow and steady as they lay on the floor of his bedroom. It must have been such a daunting choice, who you were going to spend doomsday with. But it’s not like either of them had anybody else to say their goodbyes to. They hadn’t existed in this time period, they had no family yet.
But it still was what might have been their final night alive.
They watched TV, trying to drown out their uncertainty with the show they had been meaning to watch together but hadn’t gotten the chance to. She ran her hands through his hair and closed her eyes.
“Where do you want to go?” he whispered against the quiet.
“What do you mean?” she asked, glancing down at him. His eyes were glassy.
“When the world ends and we have to blip out of here within an inch of our lives, running away together like some kind of inter-dimensional Romeo and Juliet?” He took her hand, a twinge of panic in his voice. He took a breath. “Idiot.” What was she supposed to say there, his head resting against her heartbeat as the world caved in on them? That she loved him and wanted to be with him for the rest of her life, or the two minutes she had left to live if she didn’t make it out in time?
“We could go to the Fifties,” she joked.
“We’d be killed in the Fifties, remember?” He rolled his eyes. “I have a list of what’s wrong with the fifties,” he began counting off on his fingers as he began. “We’d both get hate-crimed in the Fifties—I mean, you are biracial—everyone in the fifties thinks I’m a communist, and I’m—“
“You are a communist,” she smiled, despite her best efforts not to. This was a sad, solemn day. It felt sacrilegious to smile when the world was crumbling around you.
“I'm a socialist,” he said sarcastically as he sat up next to her. “There’s a difference.” Despite all of the things he had listed, everything that was wrong with it, deep down she wouldn’t really mind a quiet little life in suburbia with him. A white picket fence and a cat sounded nice to her because that means that they both had made it. That they could build a life together. She could feel her eyes start to prick with tears.
“Well, we can’t go to the Eighties!” she exclaimed. “Everyone there thinks you’re a satanist!”
“Look, moral panics are not my fault.” He forced a smile, “the demon worshiping rumor about that game was a joke.” He laughed, but there was something in his eyes that almost looked afraid. It was unfamiliar to her, he was the bravest person she knew. What could she possibly say that would comfort him here when he was the one she went to for some kind of safety? That she had missed him so much, and she would miss him even more? She drew in a quick breath, squeezing her eyes shut at the light against the horizon, brighter than the sunlight and enough to bathe the whole world in white and burn your eyes if you looked too long. She turned to him, the familiar feeling of fear creeping up into her chest. I love you? I miss you? I wish we had more time together, I wish we had our whole lives to be together, to have a home and a cat and–
He simply squeezed her hand, and there was nothing.
She remembered standing at the end of the world. She sat up, swiveling her head as her heart sank. He didn’t make it with her, they had been separated. This was the real end, the final time the clock struck midnight when the world’s timeline didn’t start all over again. It was only Linear moments after they had last been together, but centuries away from that night. She remembered thinking how if she could go back in time she would because now she was stuck there and didn’t know for how long.
If she could go back, maybe she’d get it right this time. Maybe she wouldn’t have had to lose him.
Losing someone is hard. Trying not to love someone, even if they didn’t love you anymore, is too.
If she could go back and fix everything, maybe they would be able to start over and be happy. Have that future they always talked about. The one with the cat and the house.
Or maybe she wouldn’t do anything, just have the good things for one last time. One last time before she had to leave again. Hear what his voice sounded like because she was starting to forget.
She shouldn’t have left in the first place, because now he had forgotten her. He probably wouldn’t even recognize her!
Someone else will have that future, she thought. She didn’t fit in it anymore.
And he would hold her hand, and twirl her around. That girl would get to do everything she didn’t get to do with him. That girl would be the happiest, luckiest girl in the world.
She didn’t really get to be selfish, did she? She wanted him to be happy. But deep down, beyond that sore feeling in her chest, and the dull pain in her heart, she wished he could be happy with her.
That was the thing about getting stuck in time, it passed like normal for everyone else. But she still kept her promise. She still loved him, half a century later she had never stopped loving him. But you couldn’t just ask someone to wait for you, to love you, for so long with no sure sign of the two of you meeting again.
That’s not why she left anyway, she didn’t have a choice. Now she’d never get to explain. To apologize.
The end of the world was lonely. It was New Year’s Day, and all was quiet. The world was still bathed in white snow, a blood-red sky above the horizon. For months before she had finally gathered enough strength to blip to her seemingly long-term place in the Gilded Age she wandered amongst the rubble of shattered buildings and broken homes, it was eerily quiet. Time travel was too unpredictable. And nauseating. She obviously wasn’t any good at it, she was at the edge of time. And if she could go back in time she would.
The dress she was wearing when she met him was borrowed. It wasn’t even hers. She wore it like a costume, giving it back by the end of the night after she was finished playing the role she had improvised. Maybe that meant something, it didn’t belong to her and neither did he. She couldn’t keep anything for herself, could she? She couldn’t even stay the person that she was when she met him. Nothing was ever permanent.
It was red. She never liked the color red, red made everyone else sexy. It made her self-conscious. It called too much attention that she didn’t really want. The dress was also too big and just fell loosely around her frame like a robe. Why was everything too big? Wherever—whenever—she went, nothing ever fit.
Red did not make her confident. Red made her want to hide. But that had seemed to become her state of being, hadn’t it? Wanting to hide. Trying to shrink into herself so often that she had to remind herself to stand up straight, or clenching something in her fists to stop her hands from shaking.
So where she’d somehow worked up the courage to go over, to talk to him—as cliche as that sounded—was new to her. Not in the normal way, but in the way where she wasn’t thinking about it. She wasn’t uncontrollably terrified of doing something wrong. She wasn’t afraid of starting something new only to lose it. She wasn’t thinking that far ahead. Maybe it was the dress and red really was a confident color, maybe it was that her pride outweighed her anxiety, maybe it was the hope that maybe this would be something new. Something better.
Or maybe, it was that she would probably never see him again. So she could be the part of the person she desperately, deep down, really wanted to be. Who she’d written for herself and worn like an improvised costume all week long. Maybe this was the first thing she would do as that person, a fresh start with a brand-new her.
Because it would be over as soon as it began, and there was some comfort in that.
But nothing was ever permanent, and as soon as she shook his hand—with shaky hands of her own—that person melted away and her hands were empty.
But maybe that meant something too, he wasn’t meant to hold them for longer than that one fleeting moment because that’s all they were. Just a moment in their respective timelines.
But, he didn’t expect that from her. He didn’t expect the person she pretended she was, he didn’t expect the character he’d met. He didn’t expect anything from her at all. She hadn’t known that feeling in a long time.
So there she was, trying to ignore the grief she felt on the same night they met, a different Linear Year, almost half a year Her Timeline after she had last seen him. So seeing him there. Seeing him there across the room—as cliche as that sounded—it was like all time stood still.
It had to be some form of deus ex machina, like the god of the cruel machine that was the universe had brought them back together somehow. Somebody up there must have been smiling on them, the stars must have aligned, and it must have been written for them. There was no way that something so perfect wasn’t planned by someone.
He looked older than he actually was with the bags underneath his eyes like he’d grown up since The End. She figured he’d gotten out in time, he always had such a way with life-or-death situations. She was always able to chart exactly where he needed to be at the exact time he needed to be there, he wasn’t as unpredictable as she was. He had blipped backward, and she had gone forward mere moments after The End into The Aftermath. How could someone with such good timing be the right person at the wrong time?
“Have we met?” She could feel her heart sink a little before his mouth twitched into a smile. She breathed a sigh of relief. It was like meeting him all over again for the first time.
“Where have you been?” she whispered.
“Looking for you!” he exclaimed. “I’ve tried everywhere. I almost died three times and ended the world twice looking for your ass!”
“Yeah Y2K in Nineteen Ninety-Nine, when the world almost ended on New Year’s Eve? That was me,” he looked away from her face with a small smile on his. “And now I’m banned from the Nineties too.”
She simply shook her head. “When did you last cut your hair?” She asked, reaching up to where it had grown out past his ears.
“The Renaissance,” he shrugged. “What’s wrong with it?” She raised an eyebrow and shook her head. He continued on, “I was living in hiding back there for a while before I ditched my chip back in Two-Thousand Four.” He paused and turned to her, his eyes warm. “What have you been doing?”
“I was stuck in The Aftermath for like,” she blinked thoughtfully. “Four months My Timeline, maybe? Then I was stuck here for two, so two years Linear in the Twenties.” She sighed, how long it had been seemed to weigh on her shoulders.
“Wow,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.” He took a breath. “I wasn’t even sure if you made it out.”
“Well, I did!” She smiled. “And now we can go home.”
He winced. “No, we can’t.”
Realization flashed across her face.“Right.”
Running away together through the timeline was difficult, they were both either systematically oppressed in the past, or had gotten themselves caught by some conspiracy theorist and their red string and corkboard. It didn’t really help that she was history’s clumsiest time traveler. Or that he was being chased because of it.
He was also wanted for nearly ending the world twice.
“Well, we’ll find someplace.” She took his hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “It’s not a white picket fence house, but it could be a wasteland at the end of the world and I’d still be alright if you were there.”
And with that, the clock struck midnight. It was New Year’s Day. He squeezed her hand back, smiling at the celebration around them. The celebration of people who were ready to change, ready to go into the future leaving the grief of the last years’ behind with the ones they loved.
She was ready, too.
Grace Kaye is an aspiring novelist and occasional poet, who is passionate about writing authentic and unapologetic Mixed-Race, Muslim, unapologetically feminist stories about mental health and growing up inspired by the world around her and her everyday life. She will always claim to be from Massachusetts (despite living in New Hampshire) and enjoys reading and writing, but is often procrastinating both of those things. You can find her on Instagram @gracekayewritesstuff.