The Last Chance(2015)
Anna sat in her car and cried. Her heart was poured out in every sob and tear. Her body shook with sadness. Her car, thankful, was parked a little away from the church. Nobody she knew would see her.
She hadn’t gone in. She couldn’t. Not after what had happened only an hour ago. Brian knew. He knew that Anna had feeling for him and he was still marrying Vivian. With that knowledge, nothing would change for the better. Her heart had already been broken before Brian had known how she felt, but now that Brian knew… It would be awkward.
Anna would have to sit across from Brian and Vivian at dinners, watch Vivian’s stomach grow with child, watch Brian build a life without her, all the while knowing how she felt. Anna couldn’t bare it. Anna couldn’t bare to ever look in his eyes again.
You should have said yes. You should have said yes. Brian’s parting words played over and over in her mind. It was like a track on repeat, clear as if it were his first time saying it. If only she could. If only there were a way to go back to that night. If only.
Anna laid her head on the steering wheel just as someone opened her car door, got into the seat, and closed the door behind them. She jumped. Her eyes met the wide eyes of a stranger. He looked a homeless man. His black hair was long and looked dirty. A beard and mustache covered the lower portion of his face and spilled over his dark baggy clothes. His black eyes were piercing. There was a look in them, a look that said at any moment, he would attack. Anna screamed. “Get out of my car!”
The homeless man didn’t move.
Anna did. She went for her door handle, but found that it wouldn’t open. She began to cry hysterically. She banged on the glass, shouting, hoping someone would hear her, but the street was bare. Where was everyone on a Sunday morning?
“Got a smoke?”
Anna whipped back towards the stranger. He was still staring at her cautiously. He almost looked afraid of Anna. Why would he be afraid of Anna? He was the one who’d jumped into her car. His hand came out, which only made Anna jump again. She whimpered. Her body squeezed as close to her side of the car as she could. She closed her eyes in fear, but quickly popped them back open. She couldn’t close her eyes. There was stranger in her car. She had to watch him, keep an eye on him. Like that would do her any good.
Anna stared at the man’s open hand. It was shaking and dirty, very dirty. His eyes still looked at her expectantly. He no longer seemed scared. Now that Anna looked at him, she knew what it was, simply nicotine withdrawal. He need a smoke bad. “I don’t smoke.”
“I didn’t ask if you smoked. I asked for one for me,” his rough voice sounded angry. His hand thrusted further towards her.
Anna choked a sudden sob. She was going to cry again. The man was crazy. She didn’t have a cigarette. She didn’t smoke. Why would she have one? Wait. Anna’s eyes flew wide. She did have one. Just one. She’d confiscated it from one of her students a week ago. She swore that college was just the older version of high school. It was simply full of big kids who would either test their teacher’s patience or be cooperative. Some failed, some succeeded. You knew who would be who immediately. The daily drama didn’t change, the insults just got more sophisticated. “It’s in the glove.”
The man turned away from her and immediately began to dig through the glove compartment of her car. He threw papers everywhere in a relentless pursuit for what he wanted. “Ah.” There is was, at the bottom of everything else. When he found it, he held it in his hands with such care, you would think he’d struck gold.
Anna tried the door latch again, but it wouldn’t budge. Her turned back towards the man just as he lit the cigarette with a match and took a slow and long drag. Breathing out, he sighed. The smell of tar filled the little car’s interior. The man seemed to calm immediately. Anna felt herself calm as well. Maybe he would leave now. He’d got what he wanted. What else could there be? Just the thought of it made Anna panic again.
The stranger turned towards her then, a smile on his face. His teeth were a deep yellow… at least, the ones that were still there. “What do you want?” he asked.
Anna’s brows drew with her confusion. What did he mean? He’d come to her. “I want you to get out of my car.”
He laughed a rich laugh. His head turned towards her. Why did his face look brighter? “No, you don’t” His voice sounded different now. More clear. Less rough. Almost younger.
Anna shook her head. She stared and watched as the man’s hair seemed to restrict back into his face. The dirt marks that sat on his cheeks seemed to fade as well. His eyes, they were still black, but there was a faint twinkle in them now. Anna blinked a few times, not sure of what she was seeing. This couldn’t be real. She must be dreaming.
She felt herself almost climbing on the seat, trying to get as far away from the transforming stranger as possible. His facial hair was gone, leaving the impression of a strong jaw. The hair on his head was now short, black, and clean. It now looked to have been freshly cut. The entire time, the man simply kept his eyes on Anna. He smiles again, this time, showing off a beautiful row of pearly whites. In a matter of seconds, the stranger in front of her had gone from being a very scary looking homeless man to one of the most attractive men Anna ha’d ever seen in her life. Anna stared into those black eyes. Long, beautiful lashes fanned around them. Even in the baggy clothes, he was still gorgeous, but Anna couldn’t take her eyes off of his. There was something in them. Something that called to her. He winked.
He laughed and took another drag of the cigarette. “Thank you for the smoke. I truly needed it.” No kidding. His smile was devastatingly handsome.
“What do you want?”
The man turned away from her then, and began to stare straight out of the front window of the car. He sighed. “It is not what I want. It is what you want. You called me.”
Anna was confused. “I didn’t call you. I didn’t call anyone.”
The man turned back to her then. His movements were so smooth. Graceful. It was almost un human His eyes were looking into her’s again. “Are you so sure, Anna?”
He knew her man. Panic rose in Anna’s throat. She looked into his eyes and felt like she were looking into the universe. She felt like she could fall through them and that if she did, Anna would be lost forever. “Who are you?,” she whispered.
This eyes stayed steady. “You know who I am, Anna.”
Anna stared transfixed in his eyes. She didn’t know him. His face. It was not one she would forget. And yet, there was something familiar about it. Looking at him almost made her feel… safe. Home. Anna shook her head. “I don’t know you,” but her words lacked confidence. She was almost sure she didn’t know him, and yet, something told her that she did.
“Come one. Who am I, little Annie?”
Little Annie? No one had called her that in years. The last time Anna had been called that she’d been five or six. Anna’s breathing slowed. She felt weightless looking into his eyes. “I don’t know,” her voice was growing weaker. She was beginning to feel dizzy, light headed. “I don’t know.” Even to her own ears, she was sounded like a child, young, shy, unsure. But he could help her. Anna felt the need to go over and crawl into the stranger’s lap. Let him hold her. Let him take the pain away. A part of her believed he could. Knew he could. She looked into his eyes now, searching.
His eyes looked kind. “What do you want, Anna? Tell me what you want?”
“Brian.” Immediately, Anna felt reality come back with a force so powerful, it knocked her back. The hand that wasn’t braced on the seat flew to her mouth. Anna had said too much, revealing her deepest feeling to the perfect stranger. But the stranger seemed unmoved, his eyes just stared, so gentle.
He put the cigarette between his lips. “I can not give you Brian.”
A sadness slipped into Anna. What had she been thinking? Of course this stranger couldn’t give her Brian. No one could. Anna was upset with herself now. She felt foolish. She looked away.
“But I can take you back.”
Anna’s gray eyes flew to his then. “Take me back?”
His eyes were no longer gentle. They were serious now. He suddenly sounded very professional. “Graduation night. Seven years ago. You’ll have twelve hours before you come back to your present time. It is all the time I you have left.”
Anna frowned. “Have left?”
The stranger kind of let out a giggle laugh. It didn’t really fit him, yet at the same time, it did. “Yes, Anna. We’ve done this before.”
Anna’s face fell. “We have?”
He nodded. “In your twenty-eight years, you’ve used twelve hours of time reversal. You have twelve hours left. How much of it would you like to use now?” The stranger was now looking down at his clothes. Distaste in his features. He didn’t approve. Who would?
Anna’s mind tried to think. The man did look familiar, but she couldn’t place him. He said they knew one another, but she couldn’t place him in any of her memories. “I don’t understand.”
The man sighed, his patience growing thin. “A select group of humans are given 24 Hours of rehearsal time. You, Anna Crow, are one of them and you have used approximately half of your time.” He flicked a piece of lint from his clothes. It didn’t help.
“I don’t understand.”
The beautiful stranger turned his eyes towards her again. He didn’t move for a moment. Then his hand shot out and touched Anna’s. She hadn’t seem him move. Anna began to pull away, but then felt something electric shoot through her. Her mind filled with images. Horrible images. Her childhood dog had gone missing? She’d broken a leg when she was in high school? When had her father died a few years ago? That was impossible. Her father was still alive. But the images said differently. The last one had been the worst. A car accident. Her father had once died in a car accident, but Anna didn’t remember that. It was awful, so awful. Anna could feel herself crying, but the crying didn’t seem like her own tears. They were tears of someone else. She didn’t remember any of it. She wanted to leave. With great force, she pulled herself away, breaking the connection. The images left. In a flash of light they were no more. With the connection gone, Anna felt herself begin to breath. Had she’d not been breathing before? She looked up into the stranger’s eyes. “All of that happened?”
He didn’t reply, but Anna knew the answer. They had. He was at the end of his cigarette now. They both looked at it. One, maybe two more puffs were left. The man’s eyes looked back at Anna again, there was urgency in his voice. “We don’t have long, Anna. Choose now. Do you want to go back?”
Anna was shaking her head, but heard herself say, “Yes.” She wanted Brian. She didn’t want to go the rest of her life without him. She wouldn’t, not if she could help it.
The man nodded. He took the last drag, inhaled, moved his hand away, and blew the smoke into Anna’s face.
Anna tried to fan the smoke away, but it only got thicker. She couldn’t see. Then, she felt herself falling, really falling, but she didn’t scream. Something slowed her fall. Something still held her.
A voice came from somewhere far. “Goodbye, Anna.” The voice was kind. It was the stranger’s voice. “I am happy to have met you. Have a good life.”
Anna looked around, but she was surrounded by a cloud or fog. There was nothing she could grab that she could hold on to. Underneath her, she saw nothing but more cloud, an endless pit. She felt her breathing slow. Her eyes closed.
And then nothing.