Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Sebastian stood in the middle of the living room, basking in the late afternoon sunshine. Rays scythed through the walls of glass, catching random dust particles and lighting them, like so many flecks of stardust.

He felt the polished barnboard floor, warm beneath his bare feet, and the gentle breeze easing through the open patio doors.

Outside, stretched on a lounger was Dorothy, propped up on pillows, reading a book. The dogs lay around her, golden coats shot with white, once unstoppable balls of youth and energy, now quiet companions content to merely exist in her company. She was beautiful, grey hair, laugh lines, eyes that could hold any man in thrall until she chose to release him.

He turned, and in the kitchen, Dorothy sat peeling an orange, carefully manicured nails slicing the skin like knives as she flayed and segmented the plump fruit before giving him a coy smile and popping a slice into her mouth and chewing it slowly.

Laughter at the beach distracted him, and as he looked their children ran out of the ocean up onto the beach, splashing and chasing each other, joyous outbursts mingled with the cries of annoyed seagulls disturbed from their perches and forced into flight. Dorothy stood there, her back to him, sundress blowing in the breeze keeping watch.

Max, the older of the retrievers wandered in through the open door and stood next to the long leather couch on the far wall, head down, waiting.

“Go on, just get down before your mother comes in.”

Max hopped onto the couch, turned around several times before flopping down in a ball, head on paws, regarding Sebastien with curiosity.

Outside Dorothy turned the page of her book, drained the last drops from her glass of wine, hair blowing freely about her head, held only by her sunglasses pushed up from her forehead, likely forgotten.

He smiled.

Dorothy in the kitchen finished her orange, and started again, slicing the peel with lacquered nails like knives. He fell in love with her like this, at this very table in his apartment in Queens when she stayed over on just their third date. They talked all night, drank wine, ate oranges that she peeled with those perfectly manicured nails.

At the beach she called, it would be dinner time soon, the children would have to come inside.

They would have been nearly twenty now, going off to school.

Or in their sixties, with children of their own.

Or not even a thought, just some possible undreamed-of future, coalescing unknowing to the scent of oranges.

For a moment Max was a puppy, precocious and daring on the good couch he knew he was forbidden to be on, then he was old again as that youthful bubble of energy rippled through the room and was gone.

Outside Dorothy propped herself up on pillows, nearly spilling her wine glass, carelessly filled too full, and started her book.

In the kitchen, she plucked an orange from the bowl.

At the beach, the children dropped their towels and shoes on the sand and ran screaming into the ocean.

Sebastian stood, rooted at the epicenter of these variations of their timeline where they still existed, his wife, their children, focused his attention on these three pockets, unable to enter any without tearing the rest out of time and space. Who knew how long any of them had, outside of these tiny loops of time.

There was nothing left but to keep them alive, even just for these short whiles.