There was something inside of me that knew what I was going to do would cause huge repercussions in my daily life. It wasn’t exactly clear how bad this was going to turn, but I knew that I had to follow my heart. I sat down next to Lisa, who turned and smiled from ear to ear when I did.
“Hey, you tanking rogue. Nice to see you’re not still dying.”
“I mean, if only I could get a healer worth a damn, I wouldn’t be dying so much, right?”
She playfully shoved me and we chuckled. I would have felt an aura of peace if not for the glares I could feel burning a hole in the back of my head. I can imagine Ariel is boiling at my choice of seat.
Soon enough, she made her way up and sat across from us. I turned to greet her, but she seemed less than thrilled.
“Is there something going on, Erich?” Ariel whispered, a cold tone in her voice. I almost felt the icicles growing in my ears as her stare was locked on me. Lisa could tell something was going on, but she was unaware of who Ariel was to me at this point. I know I had to make my choice, but I could have been a bit more tactful about when I did.
“I don’t know what you’re referring to, I just wanted to talk to Lisa about an upcoming game we talked about. I was about to make my way back.”
Ariel’s eyes focused on mine and she knew that even if I wasn’t entirely telling the truth, she couldn’t continue pressing me lest she looked paranoid and controlling. She went to the back of the bus in a fuss.
“Is there something going on between you two?” Lisa murmured, a bit of shame scattered in her voice.
“I’ll explain it all after school. I promise you it’s a lot more complex than it seems. I need you to trust me. Can you meet me by the park near your house?”
“I guess,” she replied, then turned her gaze to the window.
Lisa looked a bit off put. I can sympathize with her position. From her view, I’m two timing my current girlfriend with her, and that’s not a position anyone wants to be in the middle of. I’d have to explain everything to her otherwise I’d end up hurting a lot of people unnecessarily. Sometimes I feel like navigating high school is worse than doing college course work.
I made my way to the back of the bus out of necessity. Gone was the chance to make things easy for everyone. Ariel was seated next to John, facing away from me. I sat across from them in an empty seat. A few conversations became hushed and I could tell they didn’t want me around. Not that I wanted to be there at that point.
“Dude, are you suicidal?” John whispered to me through the aisle.
I shrugged dejectedly and said, “I am not exactly an expert just because I’m older. I still don’t exactly know how to tactfully navigate the waters of high school drama.”
He gave me a curious eyebrow raise before chuckling, “Dude, you’re seriously nerding me out with that talk. Listen, I just have to confirm before I assume. Is that your choice?”
I nodded, knowing my path was set. I would pursue Lisa despite what my original self did because she was closer to me than anyone had been. I may not be overly complex, but it really felt like I was something special when I was around her. It killed me to think that Lisa thought negatively of me. I have to be more cautious about how I approach these situations in the future.
When we got to the pumpkin patch, Ariel stormed off the bus. I knew that in order for me to ethically go after Lisa, things had to end with Ariel. But I wasn’t about to make the absurd decision to break up with her now. That would seem so suspicious that even I would think I cheated. Forcing a fight would be what a scum bag would do. I needed to meet with her after school too.
But there’s still the matter of the pumpkin trip. Lisa was off on her own at this point, but I couldn’t go to her now. I had to deal with what was happening with Ariel. She tactfully made sure she was in an area where there weren’t others. I knew exactly what she was doing.
As I approached, I said, “Ariel. Listen to me.”
“You may think you can hide things from me, Erich. But you can’t. Don’t you dare think I can’t see what’s going on. Just have the decency to be honest with me.”
Getting called out like this was jarring. She was going to get the answer out of me right now whether I wanted to give it or not.
“I’m not the same Erich that you knew.”
She seemed oddly accepting of this answer. Her eyes narrowed on me before saying, “I know. I’ve noticed that you’re acting like someone entirely different. It had me on edge and I guess I just exploded today. But I need to know what’s going on.”
“This may seem impossible to you, but I woke up as my 14 year old self. I’m actually 25.”
She seemed to wince as I revealed what was the truth. I don’t exactly know how I would go about proving it, but it seemed almost like I didn’t have to.
“At least do me the courtesy of telling me what happened in your timeline.”
As I explained to her why we broke up previously, she seemed a bit down. It wasn’t a story I enjoyed bringing back to life, but I know that she needed to hear this. I told her about my infatuation with Lisa my senior year and how we never were able to actually date due to college. I think that’s when it sunk in.
“So when you got here, you saw her and those feelings returned?”
I was speechless. To say something like this would hurt her in ways I was unable to comprehend. She turned her head and smiled softly.
“I can’t blame you. If I was older and suddenly went back, who knows if I would have even kept up the charade as long as you. I feel like our relationship can’t continue unless I know the real you is into me. I’ll be competing with Lisa, so don’t forget me.”
She stood proudly and walked back to her friends. John made his way over, patting me on the shoulder.
“Dude, did you really break up with her now?”
“She knows who I am, John. She knows I’m 25.”
“Whoa. You told her? Ballsy. I guess you are older than you look.”
I chuckled, a bit sad. Ariel was an abundantly aware girl and I knew that she would be someone I’d remember. Yet Lisa was the girl my heart truly was drawn towards. I wasn’t about to stir things up here, so I hung out with John during the rest of the trip.
After school, I made my way quickly to the park. Half of me expected Lisa not to show, too ashamed of what clearly was going on without her notice.
Yet just like when I first met her, she surprised me. She was already waiting by the time I arrived. Her hands were clasped together tightly behind her back as she swayed nervously from back to front. She put her hair up so that it wouldn’t cover up her face, which was nervously searching for me. There was clear relief when she was able to focus on my approach.
“I will admit I didn’t know you had another healer.”
What a way to put it. I scratched my head and tried my best to look calm. This girl had my more nervous than anything in my life right now. This moment would decide my fate.
“If I’m being real, I’m from an entirely different dungeon.”
At this point, she gave me a look of disbelief. I mean, I know the metaphor was decently easy to track before but now we’re just getting a bit far fetched.
“What exactly is going on, Erich?”
“This is going to sound like I’m mentally unhinged, but I’ll try to explain it to you anyways. I went to sleep one night as a 25 year old software engineer. I woke up the next day as a 14 year old high school freshman.”
She shook her head.
“If you’re going to lie, at least make it believable.”
“You think I’m lying? Alright. I suppose I do have the burden of proof. Show me your computer.”
We went to her room and I sat down. This was my best chance of convincing her that I’m actually who I say I am. I opened up a program that I knew would exist at the time and downloaded it. Slowly, I walked her through the process of making a very simple program that would calculate my number of deaths based on the incoming damage and healing provided. It was able to output how much healing she would need to give me based on he enemies in order for me not to die. Something in her eyes revealed that she was not only a believer, but she was incredibly interested in what I had just shown her.
“This is insane. You’re really a college graduate?”
“I am. Granted, I went to the school just before my back up. Hoping this time around I can end up going to my first choice. It’s where you ended up going without me last time around.”
This gave her pause. She looked at me with curious eyes.
“What does that mean?”
I told her about my relationship with Ariel and how when I came back I had nearly forgotten about it. John must hate me for telling this story, but in this time line John is a completely different person on a different path. His shame would no longer happen here.
“When I first arrived,” I said softly, “The first person I went up to wasn’t Ariel. It wasn’t any of my old friends. It was you. I wanted to finally be able to see the person you were before it was too late. Last time I waited far too long to get to know you. I didn’t want to make the same mistakes.”
Lisa blushed a flush color of red. I guess I had finally convinced her. She placed her hand on mine and said, “Let’s get to know each other. I want to learn about you.” Then we kissed. It was innocent and sudden, but the passion was electric between us.
Over the next few weeks, Ariel was inviting me to go out with our friends nearly every day. I ended up going once or twice, but for the most part I spent my time with Lisa. We would spend time studying coding together and she was really picking up on the concepts. We would hit road blocks when it came to some more difficult concepts, but she would have so much patience with herself. I began a dungeons and dragons campaign with our friends, much to John’s pleasure, and Lisa flourished in my campaign. I suppose she finally learned how to properly heal.
I felt myself slowly becoming isolated socially. My main social outlet was John, and even then I only saw him sparingly between games. Lisa kept me from going completely insane but I could feel myself slipping away from Ariel and my other friends.
That issue withstanding, I found myself the happiest when I spent time with Lisa. It was like a therapeutic break from the rat race of college and job hunting I had come to know. The cute demeanor she carried with her everywhere was something I would never get sick of.
After a role playing session, John asked me if I could have a word with him. He revealed to me how Ariel is constantly talking about me still and how she really is curious about how life is for me with everything going on.
I admit, I do think about Ariel from time to time. Nothing romantically, honestly, but she is a great friend and someone who I would lean on for various reasons.
“Can I ask you something, Erich?” John said, breaking my thought.
“My feelings about Ariel are still very strong. I know that she still thinks about you, but I want to try and help her. I don’t like feeling in second place, but I’m sure after awhile she’ll see me for the guy I am. I don’t want to be like you told me I would end up. If I try to date Ariel, would you be upset?”
I hadn’t put much thought into the idea, but it would make sense that John would have. He seemed genuine in his sentiments, from what I could tell. If I support him, perhaps I could start seeing Ariel as a friend. That said, I’m still unsure about my own feelings towards her. If I don’t support him, it will seem like I’m being selfish. That said, it would be a lot of mental anguish on me.
What should I do…