A navy crop top exposed the small of her back and her skintight yoga pants showed me curves that could’ve caused me to swerve the car. No one could blame me for slowing down my ride, for hovering a few feet behind her and watching her hips sway while her unnaturally red hair flew behind her head.
When she threw out her hand and popped out her thumb, I actually laughed. Some guys have all the luck, but karma wasn’t typically in my favor. Not after the sweetheart ex I lost, because I was too terrified to accept her invitation to move into the house she’d just bought. The universe treated me as shittily as I’d treated her, but I’d take handouts if it was suddenly offering them. Anything to get my mind off of Sasha.
I rolled down the window, edged up to the woman, and gave her a wink. A pretty creepy move that was supposed to look friendly, but if she was accepting rides from strangers, she couldn’t have been too cautious.
“Thank you, darling. I appreciate it,” she said as she climbed inside. “I’m Ruby.”
Her voice didn’t match the features of her face, and they certainly didn’t match her fashion sense. It was like she had stolen her grandmother’s voice box. No, she sounded a little too delicate for that. More like a movie star from the black and white days. Young, but aged at the same time.
“Are you from around here?” I asked, expecting her to be from New York or California or some other place I’d never be upper-middle-class enough to visit.
“In a way, yes. In other ways, no.”
“Well, where are you heading?”
She held up a finger, then dug into her oversized Michael Kors bag. She must’ve had it filled to the brim, because it took her a full five minutes to pull out a piece of paper, the size of an index card, and try to shove it into my CD player slot.
“Here’s my ticket,” she said.
So even the sexy hitchhikers were psychos. Should’ve guessed.
“Listen,” I said, scratching at my stubble. “I can drop you off at like, a friend’s house or even a hospital, maybe?”
“Just drive straight. Or turn if you’d like. Doesn’t matter. You’ll still get me where I want to go.”
I was debating whether to ask her to step out of the car or just deal with her crazy when the CD player rumbled like a printer and accepted her “ticket.” Sucked it in, like it was a disc.
“Careful. Careful,” I said, trying to pluck the paper out with one hand. “That’s like one of the only parts of this crappy car that still works. Don’t need it to break.”
She blinked. “If you think change breaks things, then you might have trouble soon. Everything’s about to break.”
“Listen, I really should find somewhere to—”
The road vanished. Whiteness, more like light than snow, coated every window. The entire car, surrounded by it. Encased by it.
I had to squeeze my eyes shut to push back the headache, and when I opened them again, a transparent dome covered the car. Like we were trapped under a massive contact lens. Or like that dome from the Stephen King book. A moving one that glided along with the wheels.
I switched my foot over to the brake with no luck. The road was in front of us again, but the car wouldn’t budge when I pressed the pedals or twisted the wheel.
“The ticket told it where to go,” the woman said, pulling out a miniature scarf and tying it around her neck. “It’s like, what do you call it nowadays, automatic steering.”
To my left, a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell disappeared. So did the string of stores connected to them. To my right, a mom-and-pop looking diner appeared with smoke wafting through the windows. Up ahead, the streets got dimmer and the stars grew brighter than I’d ever seen.
The woman in the passenger seat dug her nails against her scalp and pulled away her red hair to reveal a short black bob. Then she shimmied out of her yoga pants to climb into a patterned skirt and pulled her crop top over her head and replaced it with a conservative button down shirt.
When I looked over, she must’ve thought I was staring at her breasts, because she said, “Don’t worry. Nobody out there can’t see into the bubble. We can only see out of it.”
“Not my main concern. What…” I swiped my tongue over my lips, wondering if she’d found some way to drug me in the ten minutes I’d known her. “Just… How did…?”
“Right. Of course.” She finished closing the last button, right against her neck. “Oh, I am sorry about this. I hate hitchhiking through time, but I didn’t feel like going through the trouble of buying a car.”
My ex, the sweetheart I’d screwed over, had been a Physics major. Her and her friends would have theoretical conversations about time travel over craft beer, discussing wormholes and time dilation and FTL travel. Theoretical.
But I didn’t know where to start with the questions. Hell, I wouldn’t even understand the answers if she gave them. So I said, “Once we get where you want to go, how do I get back home?”
She pulled down the visor, wiping away the wings of her eyeliner and leaving on her heavy red lipstick. “Sorry,” she said. “I only had a one-way ticket this time.”
I’ve been here, smack dab in the middle of the 1950s, for twelve whole months. Twelve months of sipping on soft drinks and popping coins into Jukeboxes and learning the Lindy Hop. Twelve months of turning down women who like my odd hairstyle and bizarre slang, because all I can think about is Sasha, my ex from 2016. The ex who feels even further away than she did after our breakup, after I told her to delete my number and all of the photos from her phone. The ex I should’ve married, but was too scared to really let in. The ex whose mother hasn’t even been born yet.
But there’s finally some hope. Ruby, the hitchhiker, stopped by my apartment for the first time since she dragged me here a year ago. Told me she’s leaving on another trip, to 2020 this time. Asked if I’d like to join, because she likes the company. I know she just pities me.
I accepted the invitation, anyway. I don’t know how I’ll explain my missing four years, the jump from 2016 to 2020. Maybe I’ll say I was away on a church mission or helping kids in another country. Sasha likes that crap. Then again, I don’t want to lie to her. Not anymore.
I need to do things right this time. That must be why time travel exists, why the hitchhiker showed up on my street and hopped into my car. To set things right.
Here goes nothing…
Jump into a Thunderbird in the 1950s. Jam a ticket into a slot (the cassette player this time). Get blinded by a white flash. Covered by a bubble. Arrive in 2020.
Ruby got dressed next to me again during the ride, but I didn’t even glance at her. There was only one body I wanted to see. As soon as we parked, I stepped out in the clothing I’d saved from the day I left, and walked toward her house. If it was still her house.
When I got there, a man with dark skin and even darker glasses was taking out the garbage. Couldn’t be her place, then. Maybe she wanted to move away from the bad memories, from our breakup and from my death to the modern world. Is that what she thought, that I died?
I had my old cell weighing down my jean pocket, so I checked to see if it worked. Still did. Then I checked to see if the internet access worked. Still did. Then I pulled up her Facebook, hoping people used Facebook. Still did.
It was a relief to know nothing had changed since I’d been gone.
On Sasha’s page, the first thing I saw was the sexy smirk in her tiny profile picture. The next thing I saw was: “Married to Andy Booth” with a picture of the dark skinned guy who took out the trash.
Not just dating. Not just engaged. Married. When I clicked on her picture to enlarge it, my eyes dropped from that lopsided smile to her pushed out stomach. Pregnant, too.
Married and pregnant.
Happily married and pregnant.
And I was four years behind.
I turned my back toward the house, knowing it would kill me to see her baby bump or baby daddy again in person, and walked down the street. With any luck, the hitchhiker could get me a one-way ticket out, back to the 50s when I couldn’t check on Sasha with a tap of my phone screen. Or, even better, back a few years, before she met Andy and replaced me with him. Or back to the day I met Ruby with her fake red hair, so I could drive past her and set my GPS to Sasha’s house and get down on one knee.
But, even after months of searching, I never found the hitchhiker again.
My therapists at the Ruby Hill Rehabilitation Center say she never existed at all.