The Worst Timing
They were neighbors. Every time he opened his door, she’d just closed hers. They ran into each other at the mailboxes, once in a while, but never spoke a word.
In an adjacent world, they were acquaintances. She’d open the window, but he was already gone, off to a bar or just playing with his cats in his flat. Might he be next door? Who knew? To her, he was simply his handle: LiveLongSpoke. His status light flashed red, or not at all. And so, few words passed between them, but the rare “hello,” and “how’s the bike?,” or “seen this episode?”
In the far off, they were friends. They’d grown up together. They knew each others’ dirty secrets: the boy she’d given it to at the Junior Prom. The girl he’d gone head-over-heels for, and still held a tiny flickering match for, ten years later. They got together for weekly dinners at the Sushi bar near her place, or the Thai place near his, or sometimes, got adventurous and stopped at the good-old-fashioned diner off the train-stop. It made no sense, for they both were City Kids, but it felt most like home when they’d order Meatloaf and Mashed (for him) and Chicken Noodle Soup (for her) and share a piece of Apple Pie a la Mode (a la Mode on the side–he’d eat the pie, she’d have the ice cream).
And sometimes they’d get drunk and sleep at whoever’s place was closer. He’d be on an air mattress (or the floor, if they were too drunk to blow it up, and once–just once–in her bed, when they were really drunk, but “no hanky panky,” she slurred, as she nuzzled into his neck, arms wrapped around him–they hadn’t talked for a week afterward). Or she’d sleep on his futon, and that was always fun, since it pulled out, and every once in a while he’d forget and trip on the way to the bathroom. One time he ended up curled up at the foot of the bed, like a cat. She’d watched him, while he slept. Gently, ever-so-gently, stroking the overgrown sideburn hair that stuck way out from his head.
Eventually he married the girl he’d carried the match for. And that was it.
But then, in a sideways world altogether, somewhere not here, they were lovers. And it was awful. Just the worst thing imaginable. Sure, they liked each other well enough. They had this feeling: we’re supposed to be together, right? Yes. But the answer really wasn’t yes. It was “maybe, in a different time and place?”
And then. In the one rare world, in all the rare universes (all rare as they are), where people like us live, some version of these two people lived.
And they opened the door at the same time. And said Hello.