Author : J.D. Rice

“So anyway, do you want to go out Saturday night?”

I asked the question abruptly, after an uncomfortable amount of small talk. Stacey’s eyes darted away from my own, looking across the park where we’d agreed to meet. I told her I just wanted to discuss our latest exam, but she saw right through me. Together, we’d endured the awkward conversation, the unbearably plutonic walk along the garden trail, and now the lingering silence that followed the true reason for our meeting. She would say no. I knew she would say no. I was prepared for it. And still it stung.

“No,” she said, offering little explanation. The answer was direct and blunt.

“Okay,” I said, sighing despite myself. I was prepared for this. “I’ll just try again tomorrow.”

“Really, John?” Stacey asked, watching as I pulled a small device my pocket.

“Really,” I said, pressing the large button in the center of the device. As soon as I pressed the button, her beautiful face faded from my sight, the sunlight went dim, and I felt a falling sensation as I awoke in my bed once again. It was 6:00 am, the same morning, and now I had a second chance at asking her out. I whistled along each step of my morning routine, readying myself for tackling the day once again. I showered. I shaved. I took extra care of my appearance, making some minute changes from the day before, wondering what would increase the odds of Stacey saying yes to a date.

As I slipped out the door a few hours later, on my way to the park where we were scheduled to meet, I picked the device up off the coffee table and read the meter on the back.

3-6-4, it read. Three hundred, sixty-four more attempts.

My second attempt went just as badly as the first. I fumbled through the same conversation again, trying entirely too hard to be likable and charming. In the end, she said no even faster than she had the day before. But, as the days stretched on and the numbers on the back of the dial ticked down, my performance with Stacey slowly improved. At day 3-2-5, she actually took some time to think before telling me no. At day 2-9-4, she actually managed to offer an excuse, rather than deny me outright. But it wasn’t until day 2-4-1 that I had a breakthrough.

“I’ll think about it,” she said, and inside I cheered. I waited all day by the phone, but she never called. I eyed the device at my side warily. If she didn’t say yes before the original 24 hours were up, the device would be useless, and it had taken me two years to save up to buy this one. What if she said no? After over an hour of internal argument, I finally snatched the device from my bedside and slammed my finger on the reset button. I proceeded to completely botch the next eight days’ worth of attempts, simply trying to recapture the magic of 2-4-1.

Finally, after over 150 attempts, I started to relax. I took the time to get to know her, to do research, to learn about who she was. This is what girls really wanted in the first place, if you believe what the movies say. On day 1-6-9 I learned about how her father had passed, leaving her family a small fortune. I didn’t quite care about the fortune so much as the emotional damage. Perhaps she was afraid to get close to anyone? On day 1-1-2, I learned about how she’d broken her arm as a girl, and how the pain reminded her of how her father used to mend her every bump and bruise. Finally, on day 6-8, she told me exactly what kind of guy she wanted to marry, feeding me exactly the information I would need to make the next two months of attempts worthwhile. Getting her to open up like this took time and patience, and I only had a handful of weeks to go.

Eventually, I dwindled myself down to the last week. My research was done. I knew her better than anyone I’d known in my entire life. I loved her, I truly did. I left myself the week to just enjoy her company, knowing I could make her say yes. Knowing that she would love me back.

When day zero finally arrived, I performed my role perfectly. It had become who I was. I spoke just the right words, said just the right things. I brought her flowers, which she found bold. I professed my affection, which showed honesty. I talked about my life and asked her to share nothing in return. I knew it all already, and I knew she found my earlier days’ pressings too invasive. I’d have all the time in the world relearn about her life.

When at last the day was done, and I asked her the question I’d been meaning to ask, there was only one thing she could say.

“Yes,” she said, and my heart skipped a thousand beats. I beamed at her, and my hand went instinctively to the device in my pocket. It had done so much for me, I wished I could give it some kind of thanks. But then Stacey’s eyes caught my own, they darted from my face to the hand in my pocket. “Did you…?” she asked.

The guilt was already on my face. She knew.

“I’m sorry, John,” she said, pulling a duplicate, all too familiar device from her pocket. “But I have to know if this was real.”

“No!” was all I could say before my vision faded, and I disappeared into nothingness, a remnant of a lost time.

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