Fiction: Love Out of Season

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By Caroline M. Yoachim

out-of-seasonCaroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather. She is the author of dozens of short stories, appearing in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and Lightspeed, among others. For more about Caroline, check out her website athttp://www.carolineyoachim.com.

 

It’s autumn, and Sierra isn’t here. My last true memory of us is from two years ago, from when we tried to use her time machine. Something went wrong. The time machine vanished with Sierra inside, and now we’re out of sync. I’m alone in my apartment, and she’s three months behind me, rewriting my memories of summertime. According to my journal, I spent her birthday at the office. I have the emails I sent back and forth with Dominique about the third quarter budget, and my timesheet shows that I was there. Yet despite the evidence to the contrary, I remember taking Sierra to the beach. We held hands and walked barefoot in the sand.

It’s torture that she’s never in my present moment. I don’t get to form the memories. There’s nothing real about our life together. She’s not in my yesterday, or my last week. We are out of season with each other. I start spending more time at work. I can’t face the harsh reality of the present, and I can’t reach the shifting memories of my past.

~~~

I’m working late one night when a snowstorm hits. Dominique is in the office with me, and instead of driving home on icy roads we stay up all night talking and eating microwave popcorn and drinking the cruddy excuse for coffee that’s in the break room. She’s real and here and now and she eases the gnawing loneliness that Sierra left behind. By morning she’s leaning against me while we sit on the break room couch, her face close to mine, and I kiss her.

Instantly I’m overwhelmed with guilt. Sierra isn’t here, hasn’t been with me for more than two years, but I feel like I’m betraying her.

~~~

The guilt taints my memories, or Sierra somehow knows the future. Back in autumn—months before my snowy winter night with Dominique—Sierra accuses me of cheating. She’s crying so hard I can barely hear the words, and all I want to do is change the future-present to make her stop hurting. I promise I’ll stop, and in the memory, I mean it.

~~~

I go out with Dominique for drinks after work, and we take a weekend trip to the mountains to go snowboarding. I try to convince myself that I never really promised Sierra anything, but my memories tell a different story. I can’t be with both of them, the love of my present and the love of my past. I am always cheating, always torn. It isn’t fair to them, and it isn’t fair to me.

Dominique takes two weeks vacation to fly to Florida and visit her parents for the holidays. While she’s gone I try to recreate Sierra’s time machine from the diagrams and equations in her notebook, but the math is beyond me. One of the pages has a sketch of splitting timelines, tangled together at first, but diverging ever farther apart. At the bottom of the page, in all capital letters, Sierra has written, “RIFTS THAT ARE OPENED CANNOT BE CLOSED.”

~~~

Spring brings crocuses and snowdrops, their delicate blooms surprisingly strong against the lingering cold. Dominique invites me to Easter dinner with her sisters, the first step in introducing me to her family. It’s Southern comfort food, country ham and collard greens and corn spoon bread. Dominique baked a carrot cake for dessert, and the cream cheese frosting looks like swirls of winter snow.

~~~

I remember taking Sierra to the holiday office party. She knows I haven’t kept my promise, and she wants to meet her competition. The two of them speak to each other briefly, their words polite but their voices cold.

~~~

Dominique is slicing up the carrot cake, and I ask if she remembers the holiday party. She frowns and reminds me that she was out of town that week. Her memories don’t match with mine. Sierra doesn’t exist in this timeline. There’s a rift between us, and rifts cannot be closed.

~~~

I’m alone with Sierra after the holiday party. Her face is streaked with tears, but she tries to smile anyway. She knows this is the end. I brush her cheek with my fingertips, and her cool wet skin feels so real. I don’t want her to rewrite my memories, but it’s so hard to lose her, so hard to leave her. Rifts cannot be closed, but we can hold them as they are, keep them from growing any wider. I want one last moment, one last memory.

~~~

Goodbye, Sierra.

~~~

I’m helping Dominique with the dishes, elbow deep in soapy water, and she leans over and kisses me on the cheek. A soap bubble floats up from the sink and pops. It reminds me of Sierra, of that day when her time machine popped out of existence. Is she still back there, somewhere in the past?

I wonder if she ever thinks of me.

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