There are second chances if you’re willing to take them

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Photo by Bill Adler

“Hi.”

Quinn was daydreaming during a walk in the park when a girl appeared out of nowhere. She eclipsed the late afternoon sun, which surrounded her with an expansive, red halo.

Oaks, hemlocks, and cedars grew scattershot along the curved path. The trees insulated the park’s interior from the honks, sirens, and city hubbub, but this was far from a silent place. Blue jays called, woodpeckers knocked, and squirrels chattered among each other. Now and then Quinn heard the shrill scream of a fox.

He squinted, then blinked a few times to dislodge the sunbeams from his eyes. The girl’s oval face, shoulder-length chestnut hair, and green eyes looked familiar, undoubtedly a trick of the light. But why would a teenage girl say “hi” to a random, middle-aged man? Quinn looked down to remind himself that his fifty-seven-year-old body was decades past anything this girl would have an interest in. His belly hid his shoes.

She must be about to tell me that I’ve dropped my wallet.

“Hello, Quinn.”

Quinn opened his mouth, but no sounds came out. He covered his mouth with his hand as if trying to feed words to himself.

She closed the distance between them. “You do remember me,” she said.

Quinn’s legs wobbled and his face turned ashen. He glanced to the side to look for a tree to prop himself against, but there were none within reach.

“I…”

She took Quinn’s hand and intertwined her fingers with his. Electricity passed between their flesh, an ancient telegraph carrying memories. A windstorm of emotions jolted him.

“Janet?” It wasn’t a question, even though Quinn’s inflection made it sound like one. “Janet Oachs. No, no, no.” Quinn felt dizzy. He grasped her hand tighter, like he was holding onto a roller coaster safety bar during its reckless descent. “You must be Janet’s daughter or niece.” He scrunched his eyes. Ridges grew along Quinn’s forehead. “But you look and sound exactly like her.”

“It’s me. Janet Oachs, here in the flesh.”

“I don’t understand how — ” Quinn didn’t know how to complete this sentence.

Quinn had met Janet a few days before the end of senior year on a typical rainy day in Seattle. He had stopped in an office supply store a few blocks from school. With high school over and college still months away, he didn’t need any supplies, but the store was a fun place to pass the time. He surveyed the pens, notepads and calculators, but chose nothing.

As he was leaving, a silky voice called him. “Hi.”

Quinn turned around. “Oh, hi.”

“I’m Janet.” She paused. “From Mr. Balsam’s history class.”

She’s perfect, Quinn thought. Helen of Troy has nothing on her. Quinn blushed. He hoped that he only thought those words and hadn’t said them aloud.

“I’m Quinn.” His voice cracked and an invisible lump clogged his throat. Quinn felt his cheeks warm.

“Do you mind if I share your umbrella to Westlake Station? I left mine in my locker. That is, if you’re walking to Westlake. And if you don’t mind sharing an umbrella.”

Quinn sputtered and stuttered, and before he could say “yes,” Janet slipped her arm under his. Their shared warmth evaporated any wayward raindrops that snuck in under the umbrella.

She leaned over the restaurant table and pressed her lips against his. “Mmm. I like garlic,” Janet said, and then she kissed him again.

The cacophony of voices, silverware clanging against plates, and footsteps dashing to and from the kitchen felt like an impenetrable sonic cocoon to Quinn inside of which there was only Janet and him.

“Garlic isn’t going to keep me away. Nothing is going to keep me away from you, Quinn Hall.”

“I — ”

“I know you don’t know what to say, so I’ll say it for you. I’m all yours, for as long as we have.” She kissed him again. “Even if you order pizza with anchovies. Can I ask you…do you feel the same way? I mean, we’ve only known each other a week, Quinn, but I dunno, I’m smitten. Can I say smitten?”

“Yes, you can say that. And me, too.” It was Quinn’s turn. He kissed her. “For forever, I’m yours.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why do you like me?” Janet asked.

“I feel good with you. I feel happy, and I think I’m going to become even happier. I feel like we were meant to be.” He chuckled. “Is that corny?”

“That’s good enough for me.” Janet pointed to the pizza. “Now eat more garlic.”

For the next three months, Quinn and Janet were as inseparable as the moon and tides. Movies, dinners, reading in the rain in the park under Quinn’s umbrella, double garlic pizzas, shopping, sampling Seattle’s ice cream parlours, and long walks filled their days and nights. But time flew faster than the swiftest arrow, and each day carried them closer to the inevitable goodbye.

She was destined for Oxford, he for Pomona College, a continent and an ocean apart. Had they tried to keep their relationship alive, they would have failed one painful phone call at a time. Even at seventeen, Quinn understood that a romance eight time zones distant had only one inevitable outcome. He had paid attention in English lit.

Quinn inhaled staccato breaths, searching for oxygen. He unbuckled his watch and handed it to Janet. A few tears landed on the crystal. As he placed his watch in her palm, Quinn knew this would be the last time they touched.

“I want you to have this. Not just to remember me, but because when you wear it, we’ll always be in sync. We’ll laugh and cry at the same movies. We’ll enjoy the same books. We’ll drink wine at the same moment. Heck, maybe we’ll both even get the same breed of dog years from now.”

“Yeah, we’ll always be in sync.” The dam holding back her tears broke.

“I’m going to go now. I’d better go,” Quinn said. “Goodbye, babe.”

Quinn’s eyes went in and out of focus, from Janet’s smile to the trees in the park, and back to Janet.

Janet raised her wrist.

“My watch,” he said.

“Your Grand Seiko, which you gave to me. Do you remember?”

“I remember. But how — ”

“You said we’d always be in sync. We were, we are, in more ways than we could have imagined at the time. The watch you bought, the watch we cried on, the watch I never wiped your tears off of, was manufactured in 1989 — ”

“The year I bought it.”

“Only it wasn’t. Or it shouldn’t have been. In 1989, Seiko was only making quartz watches. This is a mechanical watch. Seiko didn’t revive their Grand Seiko mechanical line until 1998.”

“I don’t understand.”

Janet wrapped her arm around Quinn’s waist and leaned into him. Quinn shivered with the same intensity he had when she’d first taken his arm the day they met in 1989.

“There’s no time to explain.” Janet picked up both of his hands and looked into Quinn’s eyes. “I can only be here for two minutes before I have to return to 1989. You can come with me. You will be seventeen again, too. We can have the life together we missed out on three decades ago. We can have the second chance nobody gets. But you have to decide now.” Janet looked at their watch. “A minute’s gone already.”

“I want to, but…” Quinn paused and took in another breath as if all the air in the world was about to disappear. “I have two kids, a boy and a girl. I can’t just leave them.” But I can. They’re grown. They’ve got families of their own. They don’t need me anymore — a hard reality to accept, but the truth. Daddy’s job is over. They’re happy. Shouldn’t I be happy, too?

When was the last time Quinn had been happy? He and his wife hadn’t been intimate in over ten years. They ate meals in front of the TV. Small talk echoed in the vacuum of their apartment. At night, he mostly read. It passed the time until sleep.

Quinn ran his hand along his bare scalp. To be seventeen again, thin, athletic, no aches, no pains. To love and be loved. To sleep holding each other.

“Time’s almost up, Quinn. You need to decide. Forty-five seconds.” Janet circled her fingertip around the watch’s steel bezel.

Quinn remembered a cliff above a quarry, dazzling sunlight dotting the water’s surface with diamonds. He had hemmed and hawed, watching other kids jump. A dozen kids hooted and hollered with wild abandon, ecstasy their parachute. By the time he had worked up the nerve to leap, it was time to go home.

“Thirty seconds, sweetheart. Come with me. Love me again.” She rested her head against Quinn’s arm.

“I need to call my kids, say goodbye.” Tears welled in Quinn’s eyes. He panted, as if he’d run a hundred meters.

“No time, Quinn. And even if there was, what would you tell them?” Janet twisted her wrist and looked at her watch, Quinn’s watch.

“Ten seconds, sweetie.”

Quinn opened his eyes wide. He took a step forward. “I’m coming.”

Janet tugged Quinn toward a shimmering gossamer wall. It looked like a frosted window, with thick rain pouring down the panes. Red, silver, and yellow sparks traveled up and down the transparent interior.

“The doorway to 1989,” Janet said. Holding Quinn’s hand, she stepped through, glittering iridescent blue as she crossed the portal. From 2020, Janet looked more beautiful than ever. Just as she was about to pull him through, he shook off her hand. Janet tumbled backward into the past. Before the doorway vanished, she mouthed, “Why?”

Quinn fell to his knees, his words barely resembling language. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”

An American writer in Japan, editor of The Binge-Watching Cure books, author of the bestselling book, Outwitting Squirrels. Occasional pilot, 24/7 cat owner.

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