“THIS IS THE
ROAD TO our future, WOOOHOOO!” Michael shouted from the stage. He strummed hard
across his electric guitar. I glanced up to see his long sandy hair flying
about with each head bang. He’d shouted it every few minutes on our road trip
down to Myrtle Beach, SC. It wasn’t the beginning of my future. I was just the
soundboard geek. If they hit it big, I’d be the first to go.
Michael howled out the words
of the Pearl Jam song he was covering when the bass guitar became overpowering.
I leaned over the soundboard and adjusted Travis’s mic. I had to do that when
he started feeling the music just a little too much. They were making a real
name for themselves. The motel had called Michael and requested they come play
at their patio bar every night of spring break. Free rooms and drinks plus a
thousand bucks. For high school kids, that was almost like signing a record
A drunken giggle to my right alerted me in
time to put my hands out to steady the brunette about to face plant into the
soundboard. She giggled again and fell over onto the soundboard a second time.
I held her upright, and she grabbed my tensed biceps before making eye contact
with me. She squeezed my arms through my black t-shirt and gave me a once over
and got a look I couldn’t quite define. It was somewhere between the look of a
cat about to pounce on a mouse and a kid staring at the selection of thirty-one
flavors of ice cream. I’d been getting those looks ever since the guys and I
started lifting weights. Half the girls in pre-cal were signed up for tutoring
after school with me now and gave me that same look. It was weird.
She leaned in and closed her eyes but I held
her back. She smelled like a rancid combo of beer, vomit, and armpit.
“Back away from the board.” I
spun her around and shooed her and her collection of inebriated revelers away.
The yeasty smell of beer
mixed with the sour stench of sweat filled the air. I’d just paid for the new
soundboard, and it would not be damaged.
I stood akimbo glaring at another group until they too backed away. I plopped
back down and glanced toward the slightly raised platform the motel had for a
stage. Girls in bikinis, tank tops, flannel shirts tied at the midriff and
daisy dukes, pushed up front to get a closer view of the guys with guitars.
Michael smirked at the girls and did some eye squinting thing as he pointed at
one lucky lady. It was a look he practiced in front of the mirror quite often.
It did its job, setting off a siren of girl squeals.
I shook my head and turned away when I noticed
a man, maybe in his fifties, standing on the balcony. I smirked thinking how
the old guy must be pissed at picking this motel with a band playing every
night. But when I focused on him, he wasn’t looking at the band or the crowd.
He was looking straight at me and grinning. It turned into some kind of weird
staring contest until I finally looked away and went back to hovering over the
soundboard. A few more close calls and my mind was firmly back on keeping sand
and beer off the expensive equipment. When a shadow loomed over the board, I
didn’t even bother to look up. “Step away from the sound system.”
“David?” A soft feminine
voice spoke my name.
I glanced up to see the
biggest, brownest eyes framed by the longest, blackest lashes I’d ever seen. I
glanced down to focus on the rest of her. The form-fitting black dress she wore
hugged every curve down to her toned and tanned legs. My gaze trailed on down
to her fancy black heels and then back up at her face. She was hot…like model hot. I couldn’t blink or think as I stared at her beautiful
face framed by large amounts of blonde hair and a pair of large hoop earrings.
She didn’t look like the other girls with her eye makeup, glossy pink lips, and
the way her hair was puffed up and styled. She looked like she had just stepped
out of one of the James Bond movies Dad and I watched on TV.
I glanced around the crowd of
stringy haired girls in cutoffs, t-shirts, and Keds. Her look wasn’t in style
at the moment. Most girls were doing the grunge and hippie thing, but Bond
girls never went out of style with guys. I tried to say something, but I think
I just stared and possibly stuttered before a wheeze came out. She reached for
the inhaler in my shirt pocket and handed it to me. I took a puff as she shook
her head, smiling.
“It is you.” A look of pure
wonder and amazement lit her face. She blinked, making her thick and extremely
long lashes flutter like butterfly wings. “I can’t believe it. You wear glasses
I pushed them back on my nose
self-consciously as I put away my inhaler. “Yeah, like since the third grade.”
I eyed her up and down once more and worked hard to remember to breathe. “Do I
“Kind of…Well not really.
I’m…” she shifted her eyes to the side without moving her head and bit her lips
like she needed to remember something and stopped for a moment before she
continued. “Ugh! I suck at this. You’ll never let me do this again if I mess
this up.” She shook her head and then turned her attention back to me. “No, you
don’t know me, but I know all about you. Let’s just put it that way.” Her grin
said something was up.
Had the guys arranged this? I turned my attention to Michael and
the others on the stage. She glanced over to them and then screamed out, “Oh my
word! That’s Michael!” She pointed and looked back at me. “He’s so scraggly
with the beard and long hair…and the flannel shirt with the sleeves cut out. He
looks like a lumberjack.” She giggled again. “You guys are so young and…dress
funny.” Her forehead wrinkled as she looked back at Michael.
Ouch! I glanced up at the stage. Mark was nudging Travis to look my
way. “Did the guys put you up to this?” I said it as they all motioned at
Michael and nodded for him to look my way.
She glanced back at the
stage, “No. Why?”
“Then are you a Head Trauma
fan?” I asked, trying to figure out how she knew about us. I really didn’t
think we were at groupie status yet.
The beautiful blonde girl
looked at me now like I was crazy, “What?”
“Our band, Head Trauma.” I
pointed to the stage.
“Oh, right.” Suddenly she
seemed to think in a different direction. “Yes, I’m a big fan of your band…Head…Trauma.”
She glanced around. “I’d better go before I mess this up. I can’t believe I’m
really here seeing you like this. This is amazing.” She looked straight at me.
“You are amazing and you are going to do amazing things and create the most
amazing future for the world. Just know that whatever happens, the pain and
sorrow will be worth it in the long run.”
I felt my face scrunch.
“It was really nice meeting
you like this, but I need to find my ride. I can’t wait to tell him I met you.
He’ll have fun telling Michael I said he looked like a lumberjack.” She bit her
lip and smiled before turning to walk away, and then she was gone.
A friend of Michael’s. Yeah, it was some kind of set up. I rolled
my eyes at him and gave him a certain gesture with my hand to let him know I
was on to it. He shook his head and shrugged back at me.
A couple of songs later I
felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Bond Girl again.
Dark, butterfly lashes
guarded eyes with a tinge of worry in them. “I can’t seem to find my ride. He
told me to make sure I stayed with him all night, and everything would work out
fine, but I can’t find him anywhere.” She looked back at me with those big doe
eyes. “Do you mind if I sit with you until he shows up? I think he’ll know to
“No, not at all.” I jumped up
so fast I nearly knocked over my chair as I pulled the one with my notebook and
pen closer and moved the book to the table by the soundboard.
She looked at the notebook,
then up at me, and smiled before she glanced around again. “I forgot how humid
it gets here.”
“Where are you from?”
“California.” She glanced
around toward the bar. “I’m so thirsty. I’ll be right back.” A few minutes
later she was back beside me, sweat beading on her nose. “I forgot I don’t have
my purse with me, but the bartender noticed me sitting over here and I let him
think I was with the band and got a free drink.” She smiled while handing me a
red Solo cup. “I got you one too. They didn’t have Cheerwine so I had him add
cherry to your Dr Pepper.”
I sat completely still and
glared at her and swallowed. “How did you know what I drink?”
Her glossy pink lips curled
up into the most devious grin. “I just know things.”
I glanced away. “Right. Or
did Michael’s friend tell you?”
“Michael’s friend?” Her nose
scrunched like she was confused.
I shook my head and turned to
The band finally took a break
and the guys got drinks and came over to where the Bond Girl and I were.
Michael pulled me aside, “Who’s the chick?”
“Like you don’t know.” I
started to brush by him, but he stopped me.
“You didn’t send her my way?”
I rolled my eyes at him. I wasn’t stupid.
“When have I ever sent a hot
chick your way? She looks like the woman from I Dream of Jeannie.” Michael smirked as he bumped my shoulder with
his. “Did you find her in a bottle down on the beach? Finally found something
different to rub for a change, and then she popped out?” He glanced around with
a mocking look.
I punched him in the arm. “Shut up, idiot.”
“Make me, dork.” He shoved me
before he gave her another once over. “Did you get her name?”
I shook my head. “No, but she
knows us somehow.”
“A fan girl. Nice.”
Michael was about to swagger
over to her when I said, “She said you look like a lumberjack and dress funny.”
Michael turned around and
shoved me again. “Well that shows you something’s wrong with her. That and the
fact she’s hanging out with you.” He glanced her way and eyed her up and down.
I didn’t like the way he ogled her. “You gonna ask her to dance?”
I stood still, realizing I’d
not thought of that. “I would, but someone has to play CDs during the break.”
“Joey can do that. If you
don’t ask her, I will.”
That decided it for me. Even
if it was some kind of hoax, I wasn’t turning down the chance of putting my
arms around her. I turned and saw her still searching out into the crowd for
her ride. I really hoped he wasn’t some big jock as I stumbled back to where
she sat. “You wanna dance?”
She smiled and glanced around
again before she turned her full attention to me. “I guess that would be okay.”
She followed me to the dance
floor and stepped closer and put her arms around my neck. I’d never danced
much. My heart raced and my hands got sweaty as they found their way to her
waist. “I don’t even know your name yet,” I said as we moved back and forth to
The huge doe eyes with the
long black lashes looked away as she bit her lip, like she was considering.
“I’m not allowed to say.”
“Says who?” It was a prank.
She shook her head. “Can’t
“What… are you like in the
witness protection program or something?”
She didn’t answer at first,
as if to consider how to answer. “Yes, I am!” But her grin said she was
“I don’t believe you.”
She only smiled with a quick
tilt of the head.
“Well how old are you? Are
you allowed to tell me that?” I leaned down to speak into her ear because of
the music and the noisy crowd, but when I did I got a whiff of her. It was
sweet but not perfume. Was that her own scent? I had to catch my breath and try
to order my thoughts. If I wasn’t careful, I’d hyperventilate and need my
“I’m twenty-four." She
glanced up at me under those lashes. "And how old are you?”
Should I lie? “I’m eighteen.” It would be true by the end of the
She rolled her eyes and
leaned against my chest and laughed. Again, another intoxicating whiff of her
hair. “First I’m too young, and now you are.” Then she pulled back and gazed up
at me. “But it’s just one dance. I’ve always wanted to do this. I guess I never
got over my crush on you. I don’t think one dance will hurt anything.”
Crush on me? The guys had her laying it on thick.
Then she surprised me by
pulling off my glasses, folding them, and sticking them in my shirt pocket with
my inhaler. “I want to look into your eyes. They’re the first thing I noticed
the day I met you. That and your black hair. I’ve always thought you were such
Me a hottie? Now I knew it was a joke. “The day you met me? And
when was that because I know I would remember you?” I would kick Michael’s
everlasting butt for this later.
She smirked. “Can’t say. But
this is the perfect ending to a terrible day.”
“Today was bad for you?” We
swayed to the music.
She sighed. “It started with
some bad news. A friend of mine was missing. He’s going to be one of those
people who changes the world. You know, end up in all the history books. If
something happened to him, the world would be lost.”
“Was that the friend you came with?”
“No. Another, different, very
important friend brought me here.” She grinned at me like she was hiding
something in her words.
“But your friend who was
missing is okay?”
“Yes.” She pulled back again
and gazed up at me. “You’ve had enough go wrong in your life. I’m glad it
worked out for you too. I wasn’t sure you could survive another loss.”
I stared back at her, my
brows furrowed as I tried to comprehend what she was saying. “I don’t know what
you’re talking about. How much is Michael paying you to mess with me?”
“Michael paying me? I don’t
think Michael even notices I’m alive.”
I stepped back. “Oh, he
notices. So you’re one of his girlfriends?”
She stopped moving, pulled
back, and looked into my eyes with a piercing stare. “I’m sorry. I knew I would
mess this up.”
The song transitioned into
the acoustic version of "Layla" by Eric Clapton. The mood was too
somber for my first dance with this beautiful woman. The gig was up—I was onto
Michael but I could still enjoy the moment. I pulled her back to me as we
started swaying to the music again. I decided to lighten the mood and just play
along. “You can’t tell me where we met. You can’t tell me your name. So what do
I call you, ‘Hey you?’”
She laughed. “If you want.”
It worked. I liked her laugh.
It wasn’t all giggly like teen girls. It was more throaty and deep. It was sexy
and womanly and matched her.
“How about Layla? Since you
have me begging and all?” The words repeated in the song blasting from the
She stepped back from me, and
a look of horror came over her. “What?”
“Like the song.” I pointed to
the speakers. “Layla.”
She glanced around and covered her mouth with
“I was joking. The song just sort of matched
what was going on. I can call you something else.”
She backed away even farther,
her eyes wider now. She bumped into the couple behind her, but seemed oblivious
to it as she looked around again, frantically this time.
“No, it can’t be. I can’t
be.” And then she bolted toward the beach. She hit the sand, and her heels
began to sink. She kicked off her shoes and grabbed them up to run. I ran to
follow her. She kept going into the dunes and marsh grass, down away from the
lights to the sandy darkness. The sound of ocean waves beating against the
shore was followed by the next crash and then another. If it hadn’t been for
the full moon and cloudless sky, I might not have found her. I grabbed her arm
as I overtook her and she spun to face me.
“What’s wrong? Did I do
She fell on her knees in the
sand and clutched at her chest. “He left me here because he thought I was…” She
looked up at me in wide-eyed panic.
“What’s wrong? Who left you
here? Did the guys put you up to this? Because it’s not funny.” I knelt down in
front of her.
“I am not Layla!” Then she
looked right at me, her glare revealing pure fright. “I am not Layla.”
THE GUYS HAD
FOLLOWED ME and joined us on the beach. Michael came first and nodded for me to
step to the side with him.
“Dude, is she all right?”
I shook my head, still
watching as she cradled herself in the sand. “I don’t know. I called her Layla,
and she flipped. I thought I got your joke at first, but now I’m not getting
this. Just send her home and end this, okay?”
Michael turned to face me.
“This joke where the hot girl
is into me and then flips out. Ha ha. It was funny. Now send her home.”
Michael glanced at the girl
and then shook his head. “David, I don’t know that girl.”
“What about her friend who
dropped her off and his plan to talk to you later?” I felt one eyebrow rise, as
I asked further, “And how did she know who we were?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s
part of her crazy talk, or her boyfriend likes garage bands.”
“Then why did she flip out on
“The hot girl’s a few donuts
short of a dozen.” He twirled his finger by his temple., “Insane in the
membrane. I mean, why else would she be into you instead of me?”
I balled my hand into a fist
and punched him as hard as I could in the shoulder. “You’re stupid. And this
joke has gone on long enough.”
Michael jumped to the side
With a frown, I walked back
to where Layla sat in the sand and bent down to her. “Listen, you did a great
job of freaking me out. I’m sure Michael is thrilled. I don’t get it, but I’m
sure I will laugh and laugh about this night one day.”
She turned to face me, her
eyes full of tears. “What are you talking about?”
“Michael set this all up as a
“I wish it were a joke.” She
swallowed and rubbed her eyes. Either she was a really good actress or her tears
A tinge of sympathy softened
my tone with her. “I’m not sure what all this is about, but is there anyone I
can call to come get you?”
She shook her head. “No, I’ll
just call a cab.” She glanced around in the sand and then back at me. “Shoot, I
left my purse back at…” Then another look came over her, like she was realizing
something else. “Even if I had it, who would I call? My credit cards wouldn’t
work here.” She stared into space and then back at me. Her face contorted in
anger as she jumped up and shoved me into the sand on my butt. “You did this to
me!” She stood over me with her finger pointed at my face. “I don’t care what
you thought. I am not her. I am not Layla.”
She grabbed her shoes and
raced down the beach, kicking sand up behind her as she went. The guys stared
after her while I stood.
Michael walked over to me.
“Told you she was crazy. We gotta get back and finish our set.”
I watched her run until she
was too far down the beach for me to see.
BREATH I SUCKED made my lungs burn like fire, but I kept running. Broken shells
mixed with the sand cut the bottoms of my feet and yet I kept going. This
wasn’t happening. It was darker since I’d moved down the beach, away from the
hotels, but I couldn’t concentrate on that. My mind was a jumbled mess. The
waves crashed hard to my left, and the sea foam crackled like breakfast cereal
in milk. A wave stretched its wet tongue and lapped at my hurting feet. I
stepped in a hole in the sand, and my foot twisted. I dropped my shoes and put
my hands out to brace my fall and grunted as my body made contact with the
I flipped over and grabbed my
shoes and held them overhead as the sound of another wave alerted me that it
was approaching. I bolted up. I’d just had my hair done for the trip. The hair
and the shoes were gifts to myself from my bonus. I stood, but my legs buckled.
I made it to my feet. I wasn’t sure how far I had run, but it must have been
farther than my normal cardio workout. The skin on my knees burned from the
impact with the broken shells as I limped up to dry soft sand near the marsh
grass and took a seat.
I hugged my knees and stared
out into the darkness. The white foam glowed in the moonlight. This couldn’t
really be happening. This was a nightmare. It wasn’t real. I closed my eyes and
tried to take control of it, like my grandma taught me to do when my dreams
became frightening. She told me to realize it was just a dream and that I was
in charge of it. When I’d had enough, I could take to the sky and fly away. I
sat there thinking, this is just a dream.
Time to fly away. But nothing happened. I’d tried it the night she died,
praying it was just a bad dream, but it wasn’t. I might not be able to fly away
from all my troubles, but I never let circumstances control me. I rubbed at my
legs. They stung and I could feel trickles of blood.
The first tear pushed its way
down my cheek, against my will. I swatted it away angrily. I wasn’t a crier, not
since I was a child and realized it didn’t fix anything. No one ever came to
the rescue. Crying got you teased and wasted time. I let my mind race in every
direction that could possibly fix this, but it all came back blank. There was
nothing, absolutely nothing, I could do to fix this. I glanced up to the sky,
“I guess this is a good time to ask You for help. It’s been a while. If you
will just get me out of this, I won’t ask you for another thing. I promise.”
I RAN THE
SOUNDBOARD UNTIL the guys finished, but spent the whole time looking over my
shoulder to see if she’d come back. There was an eeriness about meeting the
girl. Sort of like Déjà vu but not… since I’d never met the girl before. It was
almost like the feelings I got when I needed one of my notebooks. Sort of a supernatural
tingle in the soul. Like a message meant just for me had arrived and I had to
capture it before it left.
I grabbed my notebook—I
always kept one with me—and wrote it down:
Layla April 3, 1994 Knew about Cheerwine. Either a joke or I attract
I tucked my notebook under my
arm and started cleaning up my soundboard area. Everything had to go in the
storage closet that the motel let us use. The drums, microphones, soundboard
and speakers went in there. Michael, Mark and Travis kept their guitars with
them in their motel rooms.
The guys had gone across the
street to a twenty-four-hour pancake house. I was about to join them, but had
to double check that everything was locked up. Good thing since one of the mics
and a speaker were still out by the pool. Those guys were the artists, and I
was the responsible one. I grabbed it and was heading to the storage closet
when I glanced up and saw her.
I froze and blinked, trying
to get her into focus. Then I remembered my glasses were in my pocket. I
reached in and placed them back on my nose. No wonder I’d spent the last part
of the night squinting at the switches. She was disheveled. The wind had
tangled and matted her hair, but it only made her more appealing in the way
messy hair did in a guy’s mind. “Um…hey.”
“Hey.” She wiped her red eyes
and sniffed before pushing her hair behind her ears. “I’m sorry to bother you,
but I don’t have anywhere else to go. I don’t have any money. I don’t even have
my driver’s license with me.” She shrugged. “I’m stuck and I don’t know anyone
to ask for help…except you.”
I finished walking the mic to
the closet and shut it and checked the lock as I spoke to her. “Sure. What do
She shook her head. “Just a
place to stay for now. I’m still not convinced my ride has really dumped me off
here. He might come back. Maybe he had issues with his…transportation and I
made the wrong assumption. Or this could be some kind of test. I don’t know.
But I’ll pay you back when this is all over, I promise. I take care of myself.
I always have.”
A beautiful woman was asking
to stay with me. There was still the chance that this was a trick because I
seriously doubted she was as crazy as Michael suggested. Trick or not, I’d help
her. “Yeah sure. I’m headed over to the pancake house to join up with the guys.
She swallowed. “I hate to put
you out more.”
“Guys buy ladies dinner all
the time. No sweat.”
She smiled. “But I promise I
will pay you back. I don’t earn my
spaghetti dinners. I pay for them myself.”
I frowned as I tried to
understand what she meant. “No problem. Pay me when you can.” I motioned for
her to follow me and took my notebook out from under my arm.
She grinned. “One of your
I held the black college-ruled
spiral notebook up and half grinned. “Yeah, it’s for my ideas.”
“Right because you’re like
Philo T. Farnsworth.”
I stopped and faced her.
She nodded. “You know…Philo
T. Farnsworth. The inventor of the television.”
I froze again and swallowed.
Michael knew a lot about me, but our conversations centered on music and girls.
He didn’t know about things like who Philo T. Farnsworth was. “Yes, I know who
he is.” I thought about the guys across the street. I didn’t imagine a single
one of them would recognize the name. They could hardly pass a class without my
“Philo would have visions of
the things he was to invent. The calculations would run through his head,
almost explaining themselves to him. He was fourteen when he got the vision for
how the television would work. He wrote it out at school that day, almost immediately,
taking up two chalkboards trying to explain it to his teacher and class.”
I nodded. “Yes.”
Goosebumps prickled along the
back of my neck, just like the first time I ever heard about his story at
science camp. I felt an instant kinship with him.
Her dark eyes warmed as she
looked at me. “You’re like Philo. You’re going to invent things.”
Her stare pierced mine, like
she could see into me and knew all my secrets, even the ones I wasn’t privy to
yet. “You’re wrong. I’m going to be a nice boring dentist.”
She smiled as she shook her
head. “No, you won’t”
“How do you know these things
about me? My drink was easy. That Michael knows. The visions—I don’t share with
Layla grinned, but it was a
sad grin. “I just know things.”
“People don’t just know things
like that about people they’ve just met.”
“Maybe I do.”
“It isn’t logical.”
“Not everything in life is
built on pure logic.”
“Yes, it is.”
She shook her head. “No. Sorry,
but there’s a whole realm of the unseen, and I think on some level we all know
it exists. Some call it God, assuming it is something bigger than they are and
seek to worship it. Others assume it’s all smaller than them and try to conquer
it through scientific study. But we all know something unseen is there, and we
know we need to find it. Because when we do, we will know the answer.”
“The answer to what?”
“Why we are here?”
I stared into her eyes. I
didn’t know what to say. The whole thing with her was becoming a puzzle. The
more she said or did, the less I had figured out. My stomach growled loud
enough for her to hear. Nothing was making sense, and I was getting hungry. I
shook my head and placed my hand on the small of her back to push her ahead of
me toward the exit of the pool area. “Are you a philosophy student?”
“Psychology then?” I was
trying to get some kind of read off her.
“Never went to college, not
“What does not really mean?”
“I took a certification
course at a community college to become an insurance agent. I work in the lower
end of the office right now, but I’m working my way up.”
My eyes widened as I thought
of what my mom would think. She had certain ideas about who was suitable for me
to date. Community college certification was not what she had in mind. She
planned on grandchildren who qualified to be members of Mensa.
I opened the door and
motioned for Layla to enter first.
She stopped and looked at the
door and then at me holding it. She cocked her head and smiled. “Thank you.”
We walked into the pancake
house, and I found the guys at a large table looking at menus while talking to
“You were supposed to wait
for me.” I pulled up another chair from a table beside them for Layla .
“We got hungry.”
Michael’s eyebrows lifted.
“She came back?”
“She came back.” I nodded and
turned my attention to the menu, hoping he’d drop it.
“Are you going to introduce
us to the Clapton hater?” Joey asked.
Layla turned to face me, her
eyebrows coming together. “What’s he talking about?”
“The way you freaked out
during the Eric Clapton song.”
“I don’t even know who that
is?” She shook her head.
The guys pushed away from the
table. A couple of them slapped the table top in all of the guffawing. “What
planet are you from to not know who Eric Clapton is?”
She shook her head. “Never
heard of him.”
Michael leaned in. “Then why
did you run off when he called you Layla?”
She swallowed and glanced at
me before answering. “I just thought he meant something else and was upset when
I realized that my ride had left me with no way back. I freaked out…okay?
“Leave her alone, guys.”
The waitress came and took
our orders. “Are these all on one ticket or separate?”
“She and I are on a ticket.
The rest are separate.”
Layla ordered water and a
Greek salad, and I got a burger with the works.
“So where are you from, Layla?”
Michael called out from the other side of the guys.
“Why in the world would you
take a ride with a guy from California to Myrtle Beach? You have beaches
“No, I flew to South Carolina
for a business conference and dropped in on a friend I hadn’t seen in a long
time, and he brought me here… and left me.” She glared at me again, the way she
had on the beach.
“Sounds like a jerk.”
She eyed me as I said it. “Really,
he isn’t. None of this is like him at all.”
“Why don’t you just let us
drive you to the airport? Did you fly in at Columbia or Charleston?”
“I flew into Myrtle Beach.”
I shook my head and started
playing with the dessert advertisement on the table. Michael should have given
her a better story because there was no airport in Myrtle Beach. Ha, caught
him. Again I said, “Why don’t you just let us drive you to the Myrtle Beach
airport then, so you can fly back home?”
“Because…things are different now, and I can’t
get into it. I’m hoping there’s been a mistake, and he will come back for me.”
“And until then?” Michael
There was a fear in her eyes.
“I don’t know.”
“She’ll stay with me.” I
answered for her. “Until he comes back or she can make other arrangements.”
“Where’s she going to stay?
In our bathtub?” Michael laughed.
I hadn’t thought of that, but
then I did think of something and grinned. “No. Remember we made a pact?” Ha,
his joke could come back and bite him in the rear.
Michael’s expression was
blank at first as he looked at me. Then he realized what I was saying. “No,
this doesn’t count.”
My smile widened as I put my
arm around Layla. “Oh, yes it does. You said if either of us picked up a girl,
the other would stay with the band for the night.” I raised a single eyebrow.
“It was your idea.”
“Yeah, but I was supposed to
be the one who had a girl stay with me.”
I only shrugged and glanced
over at Layla. She bit her lip and took a sip of her water.
BACK TO THE motel. I opened the door for Layla, but Michael scooted by me
“You’re sharing a room with
the other guys, remember?”
He turned to face me and gave
me a grin that said he wasn’t happy. “I remember. Just let me grab a few
We’d just arrived that
afternoon, so all he had to do was grab his bag and guitar case and came right
back out. He mumbled something unintelligible as he made his way to the guys’
room. I motioned Layla in and closed the door. I leaned my back against it and
looked at her. She turned to face me with a half-hearted grin that didn’t reach
her eyes. I swallowed and ran my fingers through my hair like I did when I was
nervous and then pushed my glasses back on my nose.
I let out a breath and summed
up the situation. I was alone in a motel room with a beautiful woman for the
very first time in my life. I gulped and looked at the two beds, then back at
her. I knew nothing would happen, so I worked hard to get my thoughts in check
so my breathing could follow.
“Right.” I took a puff and
got my mind in order. Then I made my way to the mini fridge and got out a Cheerwine.
She shook her head, so I
turned to face the wall and threw my head back for a big gulp. The guys had the
room with something stronger in the fridge. I got up my courage and turned back
around. “Listen, I’m not going to try anything–I promise. I would have agreed
to stay with the guys too, but Michael wouldn’t have gone for that so I pulled
the pact card on him. I knew he couldn’t say anything since it was his idea.”
She smiled at me and nodded.
“Why don’t you go through my bag
and see what might fit you to sleep in, and you can shower first.”
“Okay.” She nodded, looked through
my bag, and pulled out a t-shirt and a pair of boxers and headed for the
I went ahead and brushed my
teeth while I waited and then looked around the room and realized she would need
a toothbrush. I left and walked down to the front desk to see if they had any.
When I got back to the room, she was hanging her black dress on the hanging
rack. I had to stop where I was and swallow. I got a view of her backside, and
her toned and tanned legs were the first place my eyes went. My boxers looked
much better on her than on me. She turned to face me, and I remembered to
breathe, and that women prefer eye contact. I swallowed hard and looked into
It was just as lovely with
the makeup washed away. She was finger combing her hair that looked darker when
“Where did you go?” she
“Ummm…I…ummm…” I was trying
to form words. I held the toothbrush out. “I got you a toothbrush.”
She smiled and made her way
to me. “Thank you.” She took it from me and backed away. “I tried not to use
all the hot water.”
I nodded. “Thanks.” Then I
noticed the scratches on her legs. “What happened?” I pointed and stepped
“Oh, I fell when I was on the
beach. They sting a bit, but I’m fine.”
I made my way to the bag I’d
packed for all possibilities. I dug through and found Pepto, headache
medicines, laxatives, and spare cash hidden in a fake Coke can—from Mom. A box
of condoms that came with a speech from Dad about respect and safety and hoping
I would make the right choice and the box would come back sealed and full. First aid kit. I pulled out a tube of
Neosporin and the bandages and headed back to her. “Have a seat on the bed.”
Instead, she took the items
from me. “Thanks, but I’ll take care of it.”
I stood frozen, surprised by
how quickly she snatched them from me.
“You go ahead and shower.”
She motioned with her head toward the bathroom. “You’ve done enough for me.”
I guess I was still staring
at her because she shrugged. Her brown eyes circled in their sockets, displaying
her frustration as she spoke again. “I don’t like being needy. I don’t like
asking for your help at all. I can put a bandage or two on my own legs, and if
that is all I can do for myself, then I’m doing it.”
I stepped away and gathered
my things and made my way to the bathroom. I got in the shower and turned the
water to extra warm, just the way I liked it. But visions of Layla in my shirt
and boxers in the other room kept running through my mind and then Dad’s
speech. I switched the hot water off and opted for a cold shower instead. The
ice water hit my back as I leaned my head against the shower wall and groaned.
I heard a hum out in the room
and turned the water off. She had found Michael’s hair dryer. I dried off and
dressed in my jogging pants and t-shirt. By then the dryer had stopped. I came
out and found her sitting in the other bed with the blanket pulled up around
her. Her hair was back to golden now that it was dry. I was glad she was
covered up. It made conversation easier. She was flipping through the channels.
“Only old reruns.” She
stopped when she got to Family Matters.
“The Urkel Show. I always liked this one.”
I switched off the light and
made my way to my bed. I put my glasses back on and pushed them back farther on
my nose as I glanced over at Layla . I climbed into the other bed and stared at
the TV, saying nothing at first. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me. “Why
did you get so mad at me when I called you Layla? You also said it was all my
fault before you ran off.”
She turned the volume down
and put her head on her knees that were still under the blankets. She stayed
that way for a few seconds before she looked back at me. “I can’t tell you.”
“My friend. He said it could
“Your friend who abandoned
She looked at me with her
brown doe eyes and nodded.
“Why should you care what he
said at this point? He just left you here. Abandoned you. You should assume
he’s a stupid liar and stop covering for him.”
She shook her head. “No, he’s
anything but stupid.” She let out a sigh. “And I’ve never known him to be a
liar. I wish… I think I know why he told me that, and why he left me here, but
he’s wrong. I’m not who he thinks I am. I can’t be. It’s impossible.”
I couldn’t follow her
conversation. I sat quietly until I could think of something to say. “If you
don’t want me to call you Layla, what do you want me to call you?” I was still
trying to figure out the angle here. If this wasn’t some trick the guys were
pulling on me, then what?
She shook her head. “I don’t
She put her head back down
inside her arms, still hugging her knees and rocking. I wanted to do something,
but I didn’t know what to do or say. Her distress didn’t look fake. If she was
acting, she was good. Too good for the guys to be able to afford if it was all
I hadn’t planned it, but I
got up, walked over to her bed, sat down, and put my arms around her.
Her head shot up, and her
eyes were large dark circles as she pulled away from me.
“Sorry, you just looked so
scared. I promise I wasn’t trying anything.” I stood up and backed away.
She looked at the TV, but it
was obvious she didn’t see it. “I’m terrified. I don’t know what this all
means. I have no way to fix it.” She turned back to face me. “I always find a
way. I always make a plan and end up on top. That’s who I am. I don’t ask for
help, and I don’t cry in front of guys to get sympathy. I hate those kinds of
girls.” She looked away again. “I refuse to be one.”
I sat down again on her bed,
but farther from her. “I think everyone needs help sometimes. I mean, look at
the band. They all do something different, and they are each great at what they
do, but no one goes to hear a drum concert or a bass guitar concert. We all
carry the equipment and set up. I think it would really suck to try to do
everything alone. To think it’s all on you all the time.”
She still stared out into
space. “It’s the only life I’ve ever known.”
I stopped and watched her. I
didn’t know how to help her, and it was obvious that she didn’t want my help. I
stood up to go, but she turned and took hold of my hand.
“Thank you for letting me
stay here and loaning me clothes and the bandages. I may not like asking for
help, but I really do appreciate it.”
“Here,” she handed me the
remote. “I don’t care what we watch.”
I took it from her before she
rolled over to face the other wall. I got up and got back in my bed. I switched
the television off and put my glasses on the nightstand, so I could lie down,
and pulled the covers up. If this was a joke, it was pretty elaborate for the
guys. If she was crazy, how did she know so much about me? And why did being
called Layla freak her out so much?
IT TOOK ME
FOREVER TO fall asleep. It was almost dawn when I was finally able to forget
about the beautiful woman in the room with me and drift off.
A knock or something caused
me to bolt up in bed. I didn’t hear it again so I fell back on my pillow, for
just a moment forgetting Layla. But when I caught a glimpse of her blonde hair
on the pillow, it all came rushing back to me. I swung my feet to the side of
the bed, stood, and began tiptoeing to the bathroom on the other side of her. I
didn’t turn on the light at the sink to wash my hands, choosing to use the
light from the bathroom instead. I’d forgotten my glasses on the night stand
and squinted in the direction of a black, fuzzy thing. It looked like the
biggest, hairiest spider I’d ever seen, right there on the vanity by the cups
holding our toothbrushes. An unmanly yell escaped my lips before I ran to the
place I’d left my shoes the night before and grabbed one. By then, Layla had
jumped up as well.
“What’s going on?” She came
running up behind me, peering over my shoulder.
“A spider.” I brought the
sole of my shoe down on the spider sitting by the sink as hard as I could.
Layla reached over and switched on the vanity, causing the florescent light to
blink and buzz as it came on. I lifted the shoe to look at the hairy strand
stuck to it.
“What? Tsk.” Layla grabbed the shoe from me
and peeled the strand off. “That’s not a spider. Those were my eyelashes.
Man….tsk… those were my best pair of mink lashes. I special ordered those.”
I squinted at the hairy
strand she was working to separate with her fingers. “Your eyelashes?”
“Yeah, I was wearing false
lashes last night. I took them off when I showered.”
She held the squished hair
out and shook her head. “Doesn’t matter–I don’t have any glue with me anyway.”
She threw it in the trash can and then took a look at herself in the mirror. “I
don’t have any makeup either, nor money to buy any. No job. Great. I’m now a
She made her way to the bed
and plopped down on it with a bounce. “I’ve worked so hard at my job to be
taken seriously. I’m the youngest agent at the office to have my kind of sales.
And the least educated. I finally get to a place where I make good money and
can buy myself the kinds of things I never had growing up. Now I’m broke and
I shook my head and took a
seat beside her. “Your friend leaving you here is just a temporary setback. I
will drive you to the airport and charge up my dad’s credit card to buy you a
ticket. You can pay me back when you get home.”
“That won’t work. Believe me,
if it was that simple, I’d be on it myself and it would be done.”
“I don’t understand.”
“And I can’t tell you any more about it.” She
faced me and was motionless as she stared into my eyes. “You are so young.” She
reached up and placed her palm on my cheek. “Your blue eyes with black bangs
always falling into them—you were always brushing them out of your eyes.
Combing your fingers through your hair when you were frustrated. I was always
captivated. I’d never met anyone so determined before. And in your eyes, there
was always this distant look. It’s not in your eyes now. And your shoulders
don’t sag yet.” Her hand moved down to my shoulder and then rested on my bicep.
It tensed under her touch.
The air between us grew thick
as I took a deep breath.
“I think that’s a good thing.
You were my very first crush. I would watch you from afar and you never really
She leaned in close as she
spoke, and the space between us became charged with energy. I could feel it as
I breathed in her scent. I swallowed and placed my hand over the one she had
resting on my arm as she grasped at the muscle. She was so close and smelled of
sweet shampoo. Fruity, like apples. Her face was inches from mine. I found
myself staring at her lips. They were a natural pink now, not the shimmering
pink they were the night before. She really was beautiful just as she was, with
messy bed hair and no makeup. I reached and brushed a tendril of hair from her
eyes and lodged it behind her ear. It was one of those things I’d seen in
movies and had always wanted to do.
Layla took my hand as I let
go of her hair and held it and half smiled. “I hate being weak, and I hate
needing to be rescued, but what’s funny is when I was a girl, I loved to read
my friend’s comics because of those moments. The little boy next door loved
them, and I would read them to him and watch Spider-Man movies. Like when Mary
Jane was being held by Venom, and Spider-Man shows up to rescue her. After my
Grandma died, I would find myself alone and scared as a kid, and I would
imagine myself as Mary Jane waiting for Spider-Man. But when he pulled off the
mask, it would be your face staring back at me. You’ve always been the hero in
I swallowed and tried to make
sense of her words. “So did you used to live in Chesnee? Did we go to school
together as kids?”
She jerked her hand back and
covered her open mouth. He dark eyes were wide, and she looked away. “See, I’m
going to break the rules and ruin everything. What was he thinking, leaving me
here like this? I’m going to make a mess of your life. Then there won’t be…no,
that can’t happen.” She shot up from the bed and started pacing. “I can’t be
here. People will die and it will be my fault. I sell insurance for crying out
loud. I have no business here.”
A loud bang on the door made
us both jump.
“Breakfast is about to be
taken up. Mark ran out there and threw himself on the table and begged the
housekeeper to wait. Better come get some before they take it away. It’s
getting close to lunch time,” Travis yelled from the other side of the door.
Layla grabbed her black dress
from the hanger. “You go ahead, and I’ll join you all when I’m dressed.”
I took the dress from her and
hung it back up. “We’re at the beach at a 2-star motel. Shorts and a t-shirt
She sighed. “You’re right.”
She looked down at herself and shrugged. “It’s not like I know anyone here
anyway. Got any flip flops I can borrow?”
“Sure.” I grabbed an extra
pair and set them on the floor. Then I opened the door and motioned for her to
We made it out to the patio
where the motel served a continental breakfast of juice, coffee, yogurt and
pastries. Someone opened the door from the office behind the table and peeked
out, probably seeing if we were done so they could clean it up.
Michael was waiting with the
guys. White frosting and fruit gel dotted his blondish brown beard, from
shoveling the pastries into his face as fast as he could. He and the guys were
all in black t-shirts with various band names on them and faded jean shorts.
When they saw Layla and me approaching, they all smirked at each other. I
didn’t like them eyeing her up and down the way they did, especially the way
Michael did it. He jumped up and walked toward us. I bumped up against him hard
with my shoulder, trying not to let Layla see me do it. He grunted. “What’s
I glanced at Layla and back
at him. He threw up his hands in some mock show of innocence.
I continued to glare at him
but said nothing.
I walked over to the buffet. “Layla
would you like a bottle of juice?”
She was at the other end of the table, looking
at the food choices. “No. Coffee, please. Do they have any of those flavored
My forehead scrunched.
“Yeah, like hazelnut or
“They have dry powder.”
“I’ll use the milk for the cereal.”
She made her way to the yogurts in the ice and turned it to read the back. “How
many carbs does this have?”
We sat at the table with the
guys. Layla and I were on one side and the guys on the other. “I don’t know,
but the front says it’s low fat.” I knew that was a big deal to my mom.
She shrugged, pulled the flap
off, and dug the plastic spoon in. Then she flipped the spoon over and licked
it. Joey groaned when she did it, and I kicked him under the table. He groaned
again, but louder and for a different reason.
“You okay?” Layla asked him.
He glared at me and answered,
“I’m fine. Just bumped my leg on something.”
I ripped open my pastry and
took a big bite when Travis tapped Joey on the shoulder and pointed at me.
“Looks like he’s extra hungry this morning.” The guys all grinned at each
Michael answered him, “That’s
what happens when a boy becomes a man. It makes him extra hungry.”
“Real mature guys. Let it go.
Nothing happened.” I glared at them.
Michael smirked. “Let it go,
guys. He’d be in a better mood if something had
I stood. “Shut up morons.” I
turned to face her. “I’m sorry, Layla. Let’s get out of here and I’ll take you
for a real breakfast.”
She stood and followed me.
Once we got away from the guys, she stopped me and pulled me to face her.
“You’re such a sweet guy to defend my honor and all, but I don’t care what your
friends think. So don’t worry yourself about that, okay?”
I shrugged. “I didn’t want to hurt your
“Okay, extra sweet that you
even think like that. I don’t know any guys back home who do. Second, I told
you not to call me Layla.”
I hadn’t realized that I had
said it out loud, but I guessed I had. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what else
to call you since you won’t tell me your real name.”
She froze and her face went
pale. “I can’t.”
I turned from her. “Then I’m
calling you Layla.”
She shook her head, “But I’m
not Layla. I can’t be. Layla was beautiful and glamorous. She was an
inspiration. I’m just…playing like I’m somebody. I’m an insurance agent. I chit
chat and flirt and sell car insurance.”
I shook my head. “I don’t
understand what you’re talking about. The song doesn’t say anything like that
She walked away and put her
hand out like she was saying stop. “You don’t understand and I can’t explain.”
When we got back to the room,
she brushed her teeth, washed her face, and then grabbed up a handful of hair
and wadded it into a bun. She looked around the room and then made her way to
the night stand and grabbed a pen and stuck it in the bun. “Where are we going?
She finally asked.”
“The mall. You need some
clothes, unless you want to wear my boxers forever.” I didn’t really mind the
idea, but saying it would not be gentlemanly.
“I can’t let you buy my
clothes. You let me stay here last night and bought me dinner—that’s more than
enough. Besides, I’m hoping my ride comes back for me today.”
I turned to face her. “But
what if he doesn’t? I’ve got a little money with me. Don’t tell the guys. I
like them to think I’m as broke as they are.”
She took a second to think
about it but relented. “Fine, but I’m paying you back.”
She went to the bathroom with
her dress while I put on jean shorts and a blue t-shirt with a horizontal
stripe. When she came out, I drove us to the mall. We walked into one of the
stores my mom and sister always shopped at and headed for a rack. Layla pushed
back hanger after hanger making noises that sounded like, “Ugh…no way!”
Then she moved to the next
rack and did the same thing.
“What’s wrong?” I asked by
the fifth rack.
“These clothes are terrible.
The jeans are all too pale, the waist is too high, the legs are too wide. Ugh…
and the tops have no shape. The button ups are all boy cut. And what’s with all
We went to another store and
she did the same. When we found ourselves in the lingerie section, I tried not
to act as interested as I was. I glanced at what she was looking at, and then
away and then back at the bra she was holding.
“Why are these bra’s so
pointy and stiff?”
“Umm…I…don’t really know much
“I can’t spend your money on
any of this. I’m sorry. Do you think we could find a thrift store somewhere?”
“You mean used clothes?”
“Yeah, that’s how I used to
shop when I first got out on my own. I still do it from time to time. The rich
people send lots of great stuff there back in Cali.”
“I guess we can find one.”
I asked a lady in the mall,
and she gave us directions to a thrift shop back off the main strip along the
beach. There Layla finally found things she liked. I didn’t say anything, but
what she picked out was all from the 80s. Leggings and pointy heeled shoes and
baggy shirts with giant belts, bangle bracelets. The girls at school were all
into flannel and clunky shoes. They wouldn’t be caught dead in any of the
things Layla picked out. But she was happy and excited, so I didn’t question
it. Especially when she picked out a bikini. She held up the hot pink pieces of
cloth and said, “For the pool.”
I swallowed. “It’s…um…nice.”
Images started playing
through my head. It was in slow motion with fans blowing her blond hair about
and her lips painted red, like in a “hair metal” video. The wheezing started,
and she was soon beside me, digging into my shirt pocket, handing me my
I accepted it and took a
couple of puffs.
“Yeah, it’s the ocean air
down here or something.” I swallowed hard after the lie. If I couldn’t breathe
just thinking of her in it, they’d probably have to call 911 when she actually
put it on.
“We need to find a Laundromat
so I can wash these. And find a drugstore. I have to buy some makeup and
I nodded and we drove around
until we found a drugstore. She picked out what she needed and a pair of flip
flops, and I paid. She took the receipts and added them up in the truck as I
drove to the Laundromat the cashier had told us about.
“I’m going to pay you back
for all of this. I promise. I don’t like to mooch off people.”
“Don’t worry about it.
Michael and the guys love mooching off me. That’s why I let them think I’m
broke. I make a nice cut with the band, and my parents give me an allowance. I
hardly spend any of it. Besides, I was raised to help a lady in distress.”
We got to the Laundromat and
made change in the machine. Layla threw all the laundry into a couple of
washers with some soap we bought there.
She turned to face me. “Thank
you. And I meant what I said. I will pay you back when my ride comes.”
I looked into her dark eyes.
“Stop worrying about it. Three bags of clothes from the thrift store cost me a
whole $20.” Then I thought aloud, “What do you plan to do if your ride doesn’t
“I don’t know.” She looked
down at her lap
“I could help you get a
ticket back to California.”
She looked away. “That
“Why not? I don’t understand.
He doesn’t have to drive you back. You could get there yourself. I mean, it is
the obvious solution.”
She shook her head. “I’ve got
nowhere to go if he doesn’t come back for me. I can’t explain. But he has to
come back or I’m stuck.”
“Look, we leave Sunday. I can’t leave you here
alone. If he doesn’t come back, and you can’t go back to California alone,
think about coming to Chesnee with us.”
She shook her head, refusing
to consider it. “He will come back. He has to. I can’t think any other way
We sat in silence, listening
to the hum and slosh of the washer. I tried to think of some way to earn her
trust when it occurred to me what I’d seen my dad do. When little kids who came
to his dental office were too scared to talk to him, he’d turn it into a game
“Okay, I have an idea. You
are obviously hiding something because of a misguided sense of obligation to
some jerk. You seem to want to tell me what’s going on, but all you say is you
can’t tell me.”
“It’s not misguided, and I
can’t tell you.”
“But you’d like to tell me
the truth if you could, right?”
She looked up at me with
dejected dark chocolate pearls and nodded.
“Okay, so tell me two
stories. In them tell me all about why you can’t go home to California. How you
know what I drink and about my notebooks, AND… why you don’t want to be called
“But I can’t—”
“Hear me out first. One story
will be a lie, all made up, and one will be true. You never have to tell me
which one is which. But this way, you don’t have to be completely dishonest
She didn’t say anything as
she looked to the side and pondered the idea.
“Tell me. I know you want
She turned to face me, licked
her lips, and then bit the bottom one. “Okay…What if I told you I was from the
future? What if in the future, you are going to be famous?”
I rolled my eyes. “Be
serious. At least make the lie a little believable.”
“And how did you get here
from the future and why would I be famous? The soundboard guy isn’t usually who
all the girls have posters of on their bedroom walls.”
“No, but a guy who discovers
time travel would be famous.”
I turned to face her, my eyes
“You have visions, and you
write them down in these.” She scooted around me to pick up my notebook I had
placed on the seat beside me. “You always carry one. You have a stack of them
full of all your visions. One you had when you were sixteen was for time
travel. You wrote it all out in your notebook, and it has haunted you ever
since. Every equation. The waves that push time forward and back, and the
molecular structure that would have to be reordered to make it work. You saw it
all. And in the back of your mind, all the time, at any given moment, you are
trying to figure out how to make it a reality.”
I opened my mouth to say
something, but no words would come out.
“What if in my time, everyone
knows who you are? The way everyone knows Thomas Edison invented the light bulb
or Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. What if I’ve grown up hearing
all about you and your time travel idea and the woman who inspired you—Layla?
What if your love for Layla is what drove you to accomplish your dream? What if
your dream inspired another dreamer with an even bigger and better dream all
because of you and Layla? What if in a future where love is thought of as an old-fashioned
fairytale, as extinct as the dinosaurs, where people don’t dare to wish for it any
longer, a little girl heard stories of your love for Layla and wished with all
her heart to be Layla. And then one
day, a man with a time machine dropped her off to meet you. Only you called me Layla, and I realized I’d been
abandoned by my tour guide. What if I’m terrified that I’m going to ruin
everything and get in the way of you meeting the real Layla? And what if I’m
even more frightened at the idea I might actually be Layla…the woman who breaks
your heart and puts the distant look in your eyes?”
I just looked at her. My
mouth hung open as I tried to form words.
She smiled and then laughed.
“Or maybe the guys in the band aren’t as broke as they pretend to be either.
Maybe they’ve peeked in your notebooks behind your back and decided to freak
you out and play an elaborate joke on you. One you’d never believe they could
pull off. Maybe I’m a hired actress to mess with you during spring break, and
the guys are back at the motel laughing?”
The washers stopped, and she
jumped up to move the clothes to a rolling buggy and then to the dryer.
I sat back, thinking of both
stories. One was more believable than the other, and it wasn’t the one you
The guys could never pull off
such an elaborate joke. First off, they weren’t that organized. They might have
an idea and joke about it. But they couldn’t even make it through a writing
session together with one original song. When they tried, we always ended up at
The Bantam Chef for milkshakes and several rounds of Street Fighter. Second,
the guys could hardly scrape together enough money to split an order of fries.
And there was the other part. I’d never told anyone about my vision of time
travel. No one—not Michael or the other guys, not even my Mom knew about the
visions. That notebook wasn’t kept with the others. But I’d tried not to take
that idea too seriously. Time travel wasn’t real. It was the stuff of science
fiction. I wasn’t going to study physics but dentistry and join my dad’s dental
office when I finished school. The time-travel vision was tucked away in my
notebook for someday next to never.
But the time-travel idea was
never really fully tucked away, even if the notebook was. That special notebook
held sketches of how the whole thing would work. All the numbers I saw. Pages
and pages of numbers and drawings. Waves and algorithms. Some of the formulas
that I saw, I had no clue how to work them yet. They really were like visions
from another source and not like I thought them at all. It was more like they
were sent out and my mind caught it.
I looked back at her wide-eyed
and swallowed. What if it were true? In the future, I would build it and it
would work and people would know about it. It was decided and she had told me.
Was this why our meeting had felt so much like the way my visions had made me
feel? Was she some version of them—a beacon pointing me to my destiny?
And she told me I would love a girl named
Layla—a beautiful woman who was glamorous and inspiring. I don’t know why she
couldn’t see herself as all that. She’d shown up the night before, looking like
a Hollywood actress from a different era, and she knew about Philo T.
Farnsworth. I looked at her, and at that moment knew what I would do with my
life. I would discover time travel and make a time machine. Kids would learn
about me in school and I would love a woman named Layla. And whether she wanted
to be or not, I had a feeling she would be Layla or maybe always had been. In
my mind, she was forever Layla.
WE DROVE BACK
TO THE motel. I didn’t talk. I couldn’t. There was too much going on in my
Layla took the bag of clothes
from me. “I’m going to change out of this dress and go lie out by the pool.”
“I’ll wait outside with the
guys until you’re done.”
She went to the room while I
joined the guys who lounged around the pool. The sun was beating down hard
overhead already. It would have been too hot if it weren’t for the breeze
blowing off the ocean beside us.
Travis, Joey, and Mark played
volleyball in the water with some girls, while Michael had his guitar out,
strumming it for a brunette girl sitting by him at one of the tables. He gave her
his normal line when I took a seat in a lounge chair nearby to listen to his
Michael played a few chords
of Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and sang along. The girl
started singing too, but way off key.
“You have a beautiful voice.
“Thank you.” She placed her
hand over her heart and smiled. The wind blew tendrils of dark hair around her
olive face. “I’ve always wanted to be a singer.”
“You’d be great at it.”
Michael did that smirk hepracticed in
I coughed. “Bullcrap.” And
coughed again. Michael gave me a quick glare that the girl totally missed.
“Do you play guitar?”
The tone-deaf girl shook her
head. “No. But I’d love to learn.”
“Come have a seat in my lap,
and I’ll teach you. I want you to know, I don’t let just anyone handle my
I rolled my eyes as I watched
her fall for it. The truth was, he’d let just about any attractive girl handle his instrument. The same shtick
with every girl. He convinced each of them that they were special, but to him
they were all the same. It was the one thing I didn’t like about my best
friend. He had no conscience when it came to girls. He never thought about
their feelings in the whole matter. My mom would kill me if I treated girls
“Scoot a little closer, so I
can let you get a feel for it.”
I coughed and gagged
obnoxiously loud. He gave me the look, and I only smirked. I considered it
payback for that morning when he was making his insinuations about Layla and
Tone-deaf girl, still
oblivious, giggled and strummed the guitar, making a sound no guitar should
“That was really good. Let’s
try it again. Scoot back just a little more, so I can reach my arms around you
After a few minutes of the
worst sounding noises coming from both the guitar and the girl, I had to say
something. I noticed Layla was on her way, so I leaned over and tapped Michael.
“Dude, I think you need to
get the girl out of your lap. Your wife is headed this way.”
The girl in Michael’s lap
jumped up. “Wife?”
Michael was trying to protest
when the girl grabbed his Coke and poured it over him and his guitar and stormed
I laughed so hard, I rolled
off the lounge chair onto the pavement. Michael jumped up and kicked me hard in
the leg. I had curled in to protect where he was really aiming.
“What was that all about?”
Layla asked as she joined us. I was still laughing so much it was throwing off
my balance. I tried to stand but couldn't, so I crawled to the lounger and
pulled myself up. I pushed my glasses back on my nose. Layla took the lounger
beside me. She had one of my t-shirts on, as a swimsuit cover up.
Michael pulled off the black
Guns-n-Roses shirt, now soaked with Coke and wadded it up and threw it at me.
“He ruined my chance with that girl. She could have been my dream girl…the
mother of my children. Now I’ll never know.”
“She was tone deaf, and you
were just trying to bag her.”
“Just because you can’t score
with a girl who stays in your room all night long, doesn’t mean you should shut
down my chances.”
Layla poured some suntan
lotion into her hands and bent over to start rubbing it into her legs. “Score?
Like in a game?” She glanced up at Michael, and he shrugged. “Don’t make fun of
David for being a gentleman. The world needs more of those. Where I’m from, the
guys don’t even ask girls on dates anymore. They just look for a hookup at the
clubs. All casual sex with no meaning.”
Michael scooted closer in his
chair. “Where are you from again? I want to move there.”
Layla shook her head. “My
friends are all into that, and I don’t judge them for it. But they get more
hurt and jaded about love as they go. I don’t want that.”
“Can you give me your
She rolled her eyes at him
and pursed her lips. “Why do you want to be that guy who beds a bunch of women?
Later they all regret having been with you. Why not make it your goal to be the
guy one girl wants to sleep with many times and is proud to be seen with you?
Why not look for one you want to hold close after the sex is over, instead of
one you want to kick out of your bed as soon as it’s done?”
His eyes got big, and he
looked both ways. “How did you know I…?” He looked at her up and down. “Have
Layla’s eyes went wide. “No
way. I just know your type.”
Michael got a look in his eyes like he’d never
thought like that before. He started walking away. “I think I’ve got a new
line. ‘Hey, baby. You look like the kind of girl I’d want to hold after sex and
actually call the next day?’”
Layla sighed. “You are
disgusting, Michael, and you always will be.” She pulled off my t-shirt to
reveal the hot pink bikini underneath. “David, could you help rub lotion on my
I leapt from my seat and then
realized I looked too anxious. “Umm sure.”
When I was finished rubbing
it in, I handed her the bottle and leaned back in my lounger. I pulled out my
inhaler and tried to unscramble my thoughts and breathe.
“So, this is what spring
break is all about?” she asked.
“You never went to the beach
for spring break?”
“Nope. They don’t schedule
spring break trips at a girls’ home.”
I turned to see her. “A girls’
“Yep. I’m an orphan. It was a
church-run orphanage called Connie Maxwell Children’s home, so they were strict
with us. I just started allowing myself to wear a bikini. But they got me ready
for life. I don’t expect anyone to just hand me anything. If I own something,
it’s because I worked to get. I’m grateful for that because I don’t expect
anything from anyone in life now. I know it’s all up to me.”
“Wow.” I didn’t know what
else to say.
“I’ve been on my own since I
was eighteen. I got a scholarship, but you have to eat too while in college,
right? And where would I go during Christmas? College wasn’t an option for me
because I needed to hit the ground running. I got a job in retail and realized
I was good at selling. I investigated what I could do with that talent and got
into insurance and have moved up the ladder pretty quickly. They consider it
pretty impressive to have made it to the level I’m at without a degree and so
young. But I work hard, and I go after what I want. I may not be as educated as
some, but I’m not stupid. Some of the ones who were handed an education are the
laziest ones in the office.”
I looked at her and my heart
sank. Suddenly I felt more like a little kid than I had when she told me her
age. She wasn’t just older than I was, but more of a grown up than I’d
realized. “I’m about to turn eighteen next month. If I had to move out on my
own that day with no one to help me along, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“That’s all I thought about
at your age. How was I going to take care of myself when I graduated? I knew a
minimum wage job wouldn’t work and I didn’t want to end up like my—” She
stopped and cleared her throat. “…a statistic. You should count your blessings
that you don’t have to worry about all that. Taking care of myself is all I’ve
ever really known.”
“Yeah, I guess I should be
thankful. I don’t think I’ve ever given it a thought how much my folks take
care of me.”
Layla stretched out on the lounger. “I’m still
counting on my ride coming back so I can get back to my life, but until then,
I’m here and I might as well enjoy the sun, right? My very first spring break.
You guys can teach me how it’s done.”
I watched her stretch out and
had to wonder at how at ease she was with things. Could she really be from the
future? Maybe this really was a prank from the guys. Maybe they knew more about
my notebooks than I’d realized.
I stood. “I’m going in to put
on my suit. I’ll be right back.”
She lowered her sunglasses
and smiled. “Take your time.”
I got to my room and changed
into my trunks. The guys and I had gotten a big bottle of amino acids and had
been popping them for months while taking turns on the weight bench in
Michael’s garage. I glanced at my physique in the mirror and was sorta glad I’d
joined the guys. My body wasn’t just skin and bones any longer. I didn’t look
like a body builder but I had good definition. I flexed my biceps and nodded at
my reflection. I caught myself and stepped away from the mirror. If I didn’t
watch it, I’d be practicing sultry gazes in the mirror like Michael and
rehearsing stupid pick-up lines.
I grabbed a beach towel from
my bag and my sunglasses and my notebook, of course. I filled my cooler with
Cheerwines and got ice from the machine on my way out the door to the pool.
Layla was still there, sunning herself. She’d pulled off the bandages from her
“Are your legs better?” I
pointed at the scabs forming.
She sat up. “Some. Mainly I
didn’t want the bandages making a tan line.”
I sat down on the lounger
beside her and leaned back.
Layla turned toward me. “Need
some sunscreen?” She grabbed the bottle from beside her and handed it out to
I shook my head. “No, thanks,
I don’t usually burn.”
She sat up and pulled her
glasses down again to look at me. “Oh my gosh! I had no idea.”
“What?” I glanced down at
myself to see if I had a spider or something on my chest.
“You are ripped.”
I spun around to check my
trunks, feeling my face grow warmer. “Where?”
Layla laughed. “No, I’m
talking about your chest. You are solid muscle.”
“Oh.” I felt my face flush.
“The guys and I have been working out. Travis is trying to get signed by a
college for athletics next year, so his coach has him lifting weights and
eating peanut butter sandwiches every few hours. He started bulking up, so we
all joined in. I used to be a stick until this year.”
“Well you are far from a
stick now. I like a nice toned body on a guy way better than the overly bulky
kind.” She watched me a little longer and bit her lip and leaned back, but I
thought I heard her mumble, “He’s eighteen. Too young, too young, too young.”
I grabbed my notebook from
beside me and wrote the date and then under that wrote a quick note. I couldn’t
let myself forget anything about meeting Layla. Her ride could show up, or the
gag come to an end any moment. But today, I had a beautiful older woman
reminding herself that I was too young for her. It might not be directions for
time travel, but for an eighteen-year-old guy, it was up there in important
things to always remember.
UP UNTIL HE
TOOK HIS shirt off, this David was a harmless kid. He wasn’t the manly David of
my dreams, but I could see glimpses of that David. It was like checking in the
oven on a pan of cookies. They might still be warm dough, but the senses could
appreciate the process. Besides, cookie dough could be nice too while waiting
on the cookies. I turned my head and was trying to get a hold on my breathing.
Maybe I needed a puff off of his inhaler. I glanced back over at him as he
jotted something down in his notebook. I realized at that moment he didn’t know
he was hot. He’d been the gangly, asthmatic geek all his life and probably
hadn’t noticed he was beginning to grow into himself. I glanced at his biceps
and forearms that flexed as he gripped his pen. He was far from gangly now, and
although he was not the man I had
always dreamed of, he certainly wasn’t the boy
I had mistaken him to be.
My heart sped up, and my
breathing deepened as I watched him. I looked away again when I saw him about
to look at me. It was one thing staying in a room with a little boy overnight.
It would be another staying with a hot guy. I pushed the thought from my mind.
Maybe my ride would show up before then. Until that moment, I would relax and
catch some rays. I glanced in the other direction at the ocean and the people
walking by on the beach and let the worries fade as I got to be a kid myself
for the first time ever.
LUNCHTIME WE ALL LEFT the pool to go across the street to eat. Layla used my
t-shirt and boxers as her bathing suit cover up, and I had to use my inhaler.
Did I pack my other one? I sure hoped so, or she needed to go home before I
succumbed to the attacks. I’m not sure why it was affecting me so much. She
showed more skin in the bathing suit. I guess it was because her skin was
wrapped up in something of mine. I’m not really sure. She had piled her hair up
in a sloppy bun, and to be honest, she was just as breathtaking as she had been
all dressed up the night before. There was this new electricity bouncing off
the both of us, and I think she felt it too. She was acting more awkward around
me, sort of the way I generally acted around her.
The guys walked across the
street while I walked with Layla. They got to a table first, and we followed. I
quickly pulled a chair out for her and she finally seemed willing to look at me
directly and smiled as she said, “Thank you.”
I sat beside her. We grabbed up menus and gave
the waitress our orders.
The guys discussed what songs
“'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is
a must,” Michael grabbed a napkin and asked if anyone had a pen. I loaned him
mine from my notebook. He knew better than to ask for paper. I never tore
anything out of my notebooks.
“Too bad about him dying so
young. His daughter won’t even remember him and her train wreck of a mother…”
Layla rolled her eyes and then sipped her water.
“Too bad about who dying?” I
“The singer for Nirvana.”
Michael leaned forward and
held up his hand. “Hold up. What do you mean Kurt Cobain died? He’s not dead.”
“Yeah, he is.”
Michael turned his head and
rolled his eyes and then looked back at Layla, making a two-fingered point at
her. “I don’t know what you’ve been smoking, but Kurt Cobain is alive.”
She threw up her hands and shook her head.
“Hey, didn’t mean to start anything. Maybe I was thinking of someone else.”
“We’ve gotten Pear Jam’s "Black"down pat now,” Travis added, to ease
We were all passing out ideas
when Layla added, “I went to a concert once where they passed around a hat for
requests and performed what they drew between their regular set. It was lots of
Michael’s face lit up. “I
like it. We should try that tonight.”
We ate lunch and then headed
back to the motel. I opened the door to the room and let Layla go in first.
Michael eyed me, and I shrugged as he made his way into the room shared by the
other three guys. “Can I help it if the girl staying with me wants to stay
I walked into the room
shaking my head and laughing. Layla stood there, looking at me.
“I’m sorry. I just made it
sound like…” I stopped. I hadn’t thought about my joke.
She shook her head. “It’s
fine. You were giving Michael a hard time. That’s what you guys do. And really,
where I’m from, no one thinks that way about things anymore. It’s sweet that
you do. My grandma would approve.”
“Your grandma? I thought you
were an orphan?” Had I caught her?
“I was. But not always.”
I moved toward the bathroom. “I’m going to
shower and take a nap to get ready for tonight. If you want to shower, you can
She shook her head. “No, I’m
going to go ask the manager if they have internet here. I need to get my
bearings straight. I think I misspoke with Michael. I’m really going to mess
things up if I don’t watch it.”
My forehead dipped. “I doubt
this place has it. Besides, don’t worry about Michael.”
“Are you sure they won’t have
it? Maybe a fast food place will have it.”
“Why would a fast food place
have internet? We don’t eat it.”
“WiFi is pretty standard
almost everywhere back home. People don’t want to ever be disconnected from the
internet for a moment. I’ve been having the shakes from lack of cell phone.”
“What’s why fie?”
“Wireless internet. Places
provide it for cell phones and tablets people carry with them.”
“I’m the only one of my
friends who has internet at the house. The library has a couple of computers
hooked up to it. And my dad’s a dentist and always on call and even he doesn’t
have a cell phone yet. He’s been talking about getting one but right now still
carries a beeper.”
She scrunched her nose.
“What’s a beeper?”
“It beeps and gives you a
number to call when you get to a phone.”
She shook her head. “I guess
I’ll just shower and take a nap, too.”
“So are you saying in the
future, almost everyone is connected to the internet and carries a phone
“That or I’m a big fat fake.
I’m going to shower.” She grabbed her bags from the drugstore and some things
from a drawer and headed to the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
I plopped down in a chair to
wait my turn and listened to the shower curtain whisk as it was wrenched to the
side. I shook her image from my head and forced my mind away from visions of a
naked girl in my shower.
I grabbed a Cheerwine and
chugged the cold drink down. If it didn’t work, I was running out and doing a
cannonball into the pool. Who was Layla? I closed my eyes and thought about it.
She could be a prank or she could be my future. I grabbed my notebook and
started writing out lists of possibilities. The shower knob made that squeak,
and the water splatter sound started. “She’s the death of me is who she is.” I
threw down the notebook and ran out the door to the pool.
BESIDE ME AT the soundboard and bounced her crossed leg with the music. Her
thrift-store wedged sandals were out of style, but I didn’t look at them long.
I watched the top leg bounce to the music, the way a subject watches the fob
watch of a hypnotist—mesmerized. My gaze trailed up the length of her tanned
legs to the cut off denim shorts and then the white button-up shirt with the
sleeves rolled up and the bottom tied at her waist. I caught myself and glanced
up at her and smiled. Her hair was back to a big bouffant ,and she’d replaced
her lashes at the drugstore. She was watching the band and smiling, not even
aware that I was looking. She was so beautiful I could hardly believe she was
I glanced out at the crowd of
girls pushing their way to the platform where the guys played. The other girls
had loose, untamed hair, flannel shirts and Keds. Layla stood out from all of
them. She didn’t belong. I could easily believe she was from the future.
The music stopped and I cut
the mics from the guys so people could hear Michael speak.
“Time for another request
from the hat.” He made that smoldering gaze at the girls. “I love my fans.
Anything for you.” The girls squealed as he lowered his voice and gaze.
Michael kneeled down and drew
a piece of paper from the bowl and stood. He unfolded the square, flipped the
paper around, and then lowered his head. “You have got to be kidding me.”
He showed the paper to the
guys and they all started shaking their heads and groaned.
A voice from the audience
shouted, “What is it?”
Michael leaned into the mic.
“Proof that I love my fans. I promise, I wouldn’t sing this otherwise.”
Then music started playing
the opening of Achy Breaky Heart and
the crowd started forming rows of lines to do the dance that went with it.
I threw my head back and
slapped my leg as I guffawed. “I wonder who put that in. Michael hates country
Layla turned and smirked. “I
remembered the story.” Then she bit her lip and stopped herself.
“Did you put it in there?”
“Maybe.” She bit her lips
I couldn’t take my eyes off
her lips. I blinked and reminded myself to breathe. “Are you really from the
“I’m not allowed to say.
Maybe I am, or maybe I’m a gag the guys are pulling on you.”
The breeze off the ocean stirred
her hair and brought the fragrance closer to me. I wasn’t thinking any longer
about the future or a prank, the band, the soundboard or even where I was. My
mind was on the beautiful blonde inches away from me, leaning in to speak over
the loud music. I leaned in too, my eyes fixated on her glossy pink lips, and
then my own lips were brushing gently against hers. Her darks eyes closed and
then so did mine as I tasted her. She was sweet and her lips were cherry, like
my favorite drink but better. My hands were in her hair as I kissed her more
deeply. Her lips parted. I’d only kissed one other girl and that was a game of
spin-the-bottle in eighth grade. I’d been so nervous, I kissed the girl’s chin
Layla pulled back from me,
her eyes dark circles, and then she turned away and stared at the band. I
turned my attention back to the soundboard and started flipping switches that
connected to nothing really. I just needed to look busy.
She and I didn’t speak the
rest of the night. There was the awkward avoiding eye contact and each other’s
space. The set ended, and it was time to clean up. Layla made her way to the
tables and started picking up cups and trash.
“Hey, we don’t have to clean
that stuff.” I called out to her. Wow, what a great first sentence after
Tony, the bartender called
out, “Go ahead, and I’ll tip out from my cup.”
Layla smiled at him and
headed for the bar. “You’re on. Hand me one of your garbage bags.”
The clean up took about
twenty minutes, with the guys again abandoning me the last five minutes of it.
Layla was still around, picking up and straightening chairs. She took the
garbage bag to Tony, and he reached in his tip jar and handed her $20.
She took it and walked over
to me. “Here’s payment toward my debt.”
I shook my head. “There is no
debt. Just hold onto it.”
She shoved the money toward
me. “Here, I don’t like being indebted to people.”
I pushed it away. “Why don’t
you hold onto it… for now. Pay me at
the end of the week.”
She kept it and stuck it in
her pocket. “Fine, I’ll use it for my dinner tonight.” She pulled back and
stared at me with those giant doe eyes and then quickly looked away. “I can’t
risk getting any deeper with you.”
I wasn’t sure that statement
was all about the money. We walked across the street together to the diner. The
guys were already scarfing down their meals. Layla and I were about to take a
seat with them, when all of a sudden, they all got up.
“Where are you guys going?” I
felt my brows furrow as I looked at Michael for an answer.
“We met some girls, and they
asked us to join them at Club 317. Later, bro,” he said as he patted me on the
back and headed out the door.
I watched them all leave and
then turned my attention back to Layla. “Okay then.”
We started to sit where the
guys had just gotten up, but the waitress came out and asked us to move to a
smaller table. So there we were, just the two of us at the table.
We ordered, and the waitress
Layla stared to her left,
then to her right. She picked up the dessert menu and looked at it. She was
obviously avoiding me.
“I’m sorry.” I wasn’t sure it
was the right thing to say, but I said it anyway.
Layla turned to face me. “For
“I’m sorry that the kiss made
you uncomfortable. I guess I shouldn’t have done it.” I couldn’t bring myself
to say I was sorry for the kiss itself because I wasn’t.
She leaned forward and placed
her hand on mine. “I kissed you back. I’m just… not the type who goes around
kissing every guy I meet. Some of my friends do that and more but that’s not
me. It’s not how I was raised.”
“Well I don’t kiss every girl
I meet either. Michael’s my best friend, but I’m not like him. My mom has
always drilled into me how I’m to treat a woman. Open doors for ladies and
treat them with respect. She told me to wait for the right one rather than fool
around and get mixed up with the wrong girl.”
Layla smiled as she lifted
her head. She got a thoughtful expression before turning her attention back to
me. “She sounds a lot like my grandma. She drilled her morals into me. Made me
swear to wait and not get in trouble like she and my mom both did. I’m the
first in my family to finish high school instead of dropping out to have a
I stopped and watched her as
I leaned back. Had I caught her in a lie? “I thought you said you were an
orphan. That you were raised in a girl’s home?” Maybe she was part of a hoax
“Both are true. I lived
with…” She stopped as if she’d just realized something and looked at me. “I
need to quit answering your questions before I say too much…again.”
The waitress brought out our
food. I had a plate of pancakes and bacon. Layla had another salad with the
dressing on the side.I spread butter on
the pancakes and poured syrup all over them. She stared at my plate and said,
“That’s a lot of carbs and pure sugar.”
“And that’s a lot of rabbit
food you are eating.” I pointed at her plate.
She shrugged. “Tell me about
you, David. You have all these questions about me. It’s your turn.”
“I’m a senior at Chesnee High
School. I will be turning eighteen this Sunday.”
Layla held up her hand, “Hold
up. You told me you were already eighteen.”
“I figured I was close enough.
Besides, I never imagined you’d be staying the week with me to find out any
different. It was just supposed to be one dance.”
“Yeah, and this was just
supposed to be a quick trip back in time and then right back home.”
I sighed and continued.
“Anyway, I’m graduating next month. I’m starting at Wofford College for pre-dentistry
in the fall. I’m supposed to join my dad at his practice when I finish dental
Layla smiled and shook her
head. She gave me that look, like she knew me already. “Do you want to be a
“My mom and dad are always
pointing out the perks. Work office hours Monday through Thursday with Friday
off to golf. Good pay and nothing life and death like a doctor deals with.”
“But do you want to be a
dentist?” she asked again. Her dark eyes pierced into me.
“I…I don’t know. I’ve always
been told that’s what I would do.”
“What would you chose to
study if no one was pushing you toward dentistry? What do you really want to be
when you grow up?”
I leaned back in my chair and
ran my fingers through my hair, and then pushed my glasses back on my nose.
Layla took them from me, folded them up, and put them in my shirt pocket like
she did the time before.
“I can’t wait until you get
Lasik. I’m not used to your eyes all covered. They’re too beautiful to be
covered up. Now, what would you chose to study if you weren’t concerned with
your parents or potential income or anything else practical?”
“Probably physics or chemistry.”
“Then why don’t you?”
“Because my mom says I’ll end
up a dusty old professor if I major in those.”
“What would be wrong with that if you loved
what you did every day?”
“There’s no money in it. No
prestige. Mothers don’t push their daughters at the country club toward the
nutty professors. They push them on the doctors and lawyers and dentists.”
“What if I promised you that
you’ll not be a dusty old professor? And you won’t be a dentist either.”
“Tell my mom that. She has it
all mapped out. Even when I should start looking for my future wife. She says
sometime around the end of my undergraduate studies is when I should seriously
start looking. She gets all up in arms when I mention a girl from school. She
shoots them all down fast. None of them are good enough. She’s a bit of a
Layla looked down at her
salad. “At least your mom cares about your future. She’s just trying to get you
somewhere good in life before she lets go.”
“But she’s wrong about what
you’ll become. You will never be a dentist.”
“Because I’m going to
discover time travel. So you really are from the future.”
Layla leaned in closer to
whisper. “Do you see how hard it is for me to let you pay for my meals? To let
you so much as put a bandage on my knee when I can do it myself. If getting to
the airport is all I needed to do to get back to my work and my life, don’t you
think I’d do it?”
I leaned in to whisper, “So
is this conformation that you really are from the future? That this isn’t a
hoax?” I was so close to her again. Her fragrance was everywhere, filling my
senses. I could feel her presence and it electrified the air between us. My
heart raced as I stared into her eyes—huge saucers of warm hot chocolate.
She was in the same trance,
looking back at me and having trouble forming her sentence. “I…can’t…tell…you.”
“I think you already did.” I
knew in my heart I was having a moment. It was just like the flashes that I had
to jot down in my notebooks. This wasn’t just the attraction between a guy and
a pretty girl. This went deeper. This was more. She was my future. Just as much
as that vision of how time travel would work. I was seeing into my future and
all the potential that came with it.
I leaned in. I didn’t want
anyone to hear the craziness of what I was about to say. “What if you are
Layla? THE Layla. What if you are the catalyst sent to get me on the path to my
destiny? What if you and the time travel go hand-in-hand and there cannot be
one without the other? You want me to accept that I’m never going to be a
dentist. Well, if all you are telling me is true, maybe you need to accept that
you are never going back home. You are Layla.”
She pulled back and took in a
quick breath at my last statement. She looked like she was going to speak but
never did. Maybe she was having trouble processing the idea.
“If I’m to be a time traveler
and it all starts with my great love for the beautiful Layla and you have shown
up in my timeline and I automatically call you Layla, then you must be Layla.
You either believe the stories you were taught or you don’t. Or maybe you liked
them better when they were for someone else and didn’t require anything from
She said nothing as I watched
her take it all in. Her blonde hair was messy from the ocean breeze by the
pool, but I liked it like that. It reminded me of how she looked when she got
up from bed. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I could hardly
believe I was sitting at a table with someone like her. It almost made her
story unbelievable because there was no way that I’d end up with a woman like
“Why are you looking at me
like that?” she asked, her eyes becoming even more wet with emotion.
She blinked and swallowed.
“Like I mean everything to you.”
I thought about her words and
what she had told me about my future. I thought about the time travel I’d told
no one about. I thought about the notebooks and the Cheerwine and Philo T.