Choosing Realities

A Life Not Lived

The room continued to spin as Ian stood there staring at Rose, his mouth agape at an almost unnatural length. Rose lifted herself up off her elbow so that she was sitting straight up in bed. Her eyes were clearly troubled as her anxiety continued to build over Ian’s unexplained behavior.

“Ian… What’s wrong?” she asked, shifting her body in his direction though remaining in bed.

He staggered back at her movement as if afraid of her, causing him to make harsh contact with the wall behind him. His legs finally gave way, his knees buckled, and he sank to the floor, his hands clutching his head. Rose was no longer able to mask her panic. She scurried off the bed and was at his side in an instant.

She dropped to the floor with such force that bruised knees were a certainty. “Ian, you’re scaring me!”

Ian continued to remain silent—gaping at what he was sure was an apparition, a hallucination, something other than a living, breathing entity. Rose took his face into her hands, grasping him tightly.

“Talk to me, love!” she pleaded, no longer able to conceal the terror she was experiencing.

The touch of her delicate hands on his face sent a shock through him unlike any other. For one fleeting moment, the room stopped spinning and everything came into focus. Her eyes were intensely fixated on him, searching his own. They were brimming with a mixture of pure love and fear, and it was all directed at him. In that moment, he was captivated. He couldn’t breathe—the intensity of the feelings conveyed was overwhelming. He grabbed her wrists and pushed her away from him, breaking the spell. She teetered back as he scrambled upwards, clutching the doorframe for support. Rose looked up at him, unable to rise due to utter confusion. Their eyes locked one more time, before he whirled around and rushed out of the bedroom.

Ian had to get away; he didn’t belong there. He had to figure out what was going on, and to do that he had to leave. He saw the stairs and sprinted down them, almost losing his balance in his haste. He rushed for the front door, but then realized that he was in flannel bottoms and a white undershirt—not what he remembered going to bed in. Without thinking, he grabbed the long brown coat hanging by the door and the set of keys in the bowl on the table beside him. Throwing the door open, he ran outside and hit the Unlock button. When the lights flashed, he jumped into the car and gunned the ignition, leaving a scared and confused Rose calling out to him from the stoop.


Ian did his best to focus on the road while he attempted to slow his breathing. The neighborhood looked familiar, but it wasn’t his neighborhood. It wasn’t his home. She wasn’t… His mind was instantly assaulted with the image of waking up next to her—the sun in her hair, the look in her eyes as she held his face. He felt himself begin to struggle for air. He frantically groped for the window control as panic and the need to breathe began to overtake him. He was finally able to locate it and quickly lowered the window, taking in long rasping breaths. Somehow, he still managed to maintain control the vehicle and not careen into oncoming traffic. All reason and thinking ability had left him and he now was operating on automatic, guided by some subconscious force. That being the case, it came as a surprise to him when he suddenly stopped in front of his flat. He leapt out of the car, keys still in the ignition. He rushed towards the entrance, but was stopped abruptly by the doorman.

“Can I help you, sir?” the man asked politely.

Ian inspected the man before him. This wasn’t his doorman. His doorman was a short, portly older man in his sixties. This man was rather tall and couldn’t be older than his mid-thirties.

“I live here,” he said as he moved towards the entrance.

The man held up his hands and slightly moved into Ian’s pathway. “I think you’re mistaken, sir. I know all the residents in this building, and I’ve never seen you before.”

Ian narrowed his eyes at the man. “Listen, I’ve lived here for three years, so if anyone is mistaken, it’s you,” he said, his tone stopping just short of a growl.

The man stiffened his stance and looked pointedly at Ian. “Sir, I’ve worked here for the past four years and I’ve never once seen you,” he said firmly. “Now you’ve obviously had a long night-..."

“I am not hung over,” Ian replied emphatically, glaring at the man.

“Listen mate—your hair’s a mess, and you’re in flannels and an overcoat. And you don’t know where ya live, so…why don’t I phone someone for ya? Who-..."

“No!” Ian snapped. He angrily ran his hands through his hair, furthering his madman appearance. He knew any further discussion would be pointless. He stomped back to the car and flung himself into the driver seat, slamming the door after him. He closed his eyes and exhaled a shuddering breath. Fury and frustration finally culminated and he beat his fists into the steering wheel. After he finished, he sank into the seat. He sat there completely dazed, unable to process what had transpired that morning. The more he contemplated the insanity, the more he began to downward spiral. He was jerked from his descent by a vibration in his coat pocket. He shuffled around and pulled out a mobile. The Caller ID displayed a picture of Rose blowing him a kiss; one she’d obviously taken of herself. Ian was so riveted by the smile in her eyes, the fullness of her lips, the look of love staring straight at him…so much was contained in such a simple photo. He couldn’t bring himself to answer her. What would he even say? He still couldn’t even believe that this was anything more than an unbelievably realistic nightmare.

He looked at the idle phone still clutched in his hands. It didn’t look like his mobile, but he slid his finger across the touchscreen anyway, and a passcode screen appeared. He puffed out his cheeks and then released his held breath. He keyed in his usual code but it was incorrect. He tried a few other combinations but all were unsuccessful. Something about the phone was nagging him, but he couldn’t place it. Then, the words of the doorman prodded at him. He pressed the Home button and looked at the date. His chin slacked and his mind became a complete blank at what he saw. The date was the same but with one exception—the year was different. It was Saturday, November 2, 2019. He was six years into the future.


Ian was back at the home he’d woken up in that morning. He had stopped just a few blocks away, not wanting to be seen before he had worked up the nerve to go back in. Earlier, he’d found a GPS in the middle console. He’d hit the Home button and fifteen minutes later he arrived there. In that time, he’d received five calls from Rose, seven from someone labeled “Slap Happy,” and surprisingly, three from Jack. All went unanswered. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to do next. He had briefly thought about trying to go to familiar haunts or searching out people he knew, but after seeing that he was six years forward in time, he didn’t see any point. Instead, he reasoned that the best chance he had of getting some semblance of an answer to this situation was to go back to the beginning. After taking several steadying breaths, he hesitantly got out of the car and climbed the steps. His hand rested on the doorknob for a few seconds before turning it and opening the door. He quietly closed it behind him and removed his coat. When he turned forward, he instantly saw Rose sitting on the stairs, mobile to her ear. Their eyes locked and he saw her sigh in relief.

“He’s back… Okay, I will… thanks, Jack…you, too. Bye,” she said softly and ended the call. They both continued to stare at each other, neither one making an attempt to move. Suddenly, Rose stood up and pulled her oversized sweater tight around her, then walked towards him. He stood there motionless, the urge to flee warring with the unexpectedly fierce desire to be near her. Before he realized it, she was standing in front of him. Her eyes were red and slightly bloodshot; obviously she’d been crying. He was surprised that knowing that fact pained him. He was overcome with the intense desire to pull her into his arms and comfort her, but he held fast. He didn’t know her, had only met her yesterday…if it really was yesterday.

Rose looked up at him, searching his face for answers he wasn’t verbally giving her. Without a word, she wrapped her arms around him and buried her face into his chest. He was taken aback, but then his arms wrapped loosely around her. He felt her tears seep through his shirt. All of sudden he felt a sharp twist in his side; she’d pinched him.

“Ow!” he yelped, rubbing his side.

Her face became serious and she eyed him squarely.

“Don’t you ever, ever do that to me again, ya hear me? Make no mistake, we will be talkin’ ‘bout this later, but right now, I just…”

She trailed off as she buried herself further into him. Against his will, his arms tightened around her as he inhaled her scent, unexpectedly relishing in the unique sensations it brought him. She trailed her arm down and grasped his hand, intertwining her fingers with his. Ian instinctively pulled away, unfamiliar with such contact, but Rose didn’t seem to notice. Instead, she held his hand and walked forward towards the main part of the home. He remained silent as they walked, unsure at what to say since there were no words anywhere within him. Rose stopped unexpectedly and turned to face him. There was an expression in her eyes that he could not read.

“Um…Mum’s here so just…brace yourself,” she said and gave him a quick kiss to the cheek. Again Ian just stood there, making no attempt to reciprocate. He followed her into the living room and took in the scene before him. A man was sitting on the couch and flipping through the channels on the telly. The ginger haired woman from Rendezvous was directly across from him and sitting on the floor. She had a small child on her lap and was flipping through what appeared to be a picture book. The child, a little girl, appeared no older than two and had two tiny chestnut pigtails on the top of her head. She looked up at the ginger haired woman, allowing Ian a glimpse of her face. He felt his breath hitch as he saw the little one’s eyes. They were a deep brown, mirroring his own. The resemblance was unmistakable and in that moment he knew who she was.

She’s…mine…

The room was beginning to spin again, and he felt a wave of nausea come over him. He turned to find the loo but was stopped by a sudden searing pain to his face. Startled, he took a couple steps backward. When his vision came back into focus, he saw an older blonde haired woman before him, nostrils flaring and eyes blazing.

“Where have you bleedin’ been?” she shrieked at him.

He rubbed his cheek, too dumbfounded to speak. He suddenly remembered that she was the woman in the picture ID for “Slap Happy.”

The man on the couch turned to face them. He furrowed his brow. “Jacks-..."

“Slap Happy” cut the man off and continued her tongue lashing. “Ya run outta here without a word. Don’t say where you’re goin’. Don’t answer your bloody mobile. Nothin’! Ya have us gettin’ ready to send out the dogs for you! Ya scared Rose half to death. And that’s the last thing she needs right now!” she shouted, raising her hand again.

Ian winced as her palm approached him, but Rose grabbed her wrist before she could make contact.

“Mum, that’s enough!” she scolded. Giving Ian a sideways glance, she whispered, “I told you to brace yourself.”

Before he could reply to either of them, “Slap Happy” turned her attention to Rose, her eyes softening just a tad. “A slap’s the least he deserves, believe me! Lord knows ya don’t need any added stress, not in your state,” she said worriedly.

Rose rolled her eyes but still instinctively put a protective hand to her belly. It was only then that Ian realized the small swell to Rose’s stomach. He felt his stomach drop in unison with his eyes bulging from their sockets.

“Y-you…you’re pregnant…,” he stuttered as he began to feel lightheaded.

“No, she just swallowed a melon,” the redhead smarted off. “Of course she’s pregnant, Dumbo. What exactly have ya been smoking? Have y-...”

“Alright, that’s enough,” the older man said authoritatively, throwing the remote control onto the couch as he stood.

All eyes turned to him. “What’s important right now, is that Ian’s back an’ he’s safe. W-..."

Rose’s mum cut him off. “Pete, he left our-..."

“I know, Jackie. But they need to discuss it with each other before they do with anyone else. So you, me, and Donna are gonna go and let them take care of this,” he said decidedly.

Pete and Jackie stared each other down for a few moments before Jackie begrudgingly yielded, muttering threats and swears under her breath. She gave Rose a quick peck to the cheek and Ian another piercing glare before stomping off towards the front door. Donna stood and put the little girl in her playpen. She walked up to Rose and gave her a tight hug. She then turned to Ian and surprisingly pulled him in for a quick hug.

“Don’t think you’re getting off that easy,” she threatened with a whisper. She pulled back and smiled at him, a mischievous, almost foreboding look glinting in her eyes. She patted his reddened cheek and followed after Jackie.

Pete walked up to Rose and kissed her forehead. “You sure you’re okay, sweetheart?” he asked softly.

“’M fine, Dad. Thanks,” she assured him with a smile, the first one all morning.

Pete smiled warmly at her before giving her another quick peck. He looked at Ian squarely. Ian took a hard swallow, feeling more intimidated by this protective father than he was by the mother. Pete took a breath before walking past him and exiting with the two women.

“I thought he was going to hit me,” Ian said, sighing in relief.

“He still might,” Rose said, half-jokingly. She began to pick up the toys and books off the floor and put them in the toy bin. When she got to a blue banana, she picked it up and wiggled it in front of the little girl. She squealed with delight, and Rose giggled at her reaction.

“Ya like this one, do ya?” She beamed at her. Walking over to her pen, she held it out for the little girl. “Here ya go, Livy.”

Livy snatched it out of Rose’s hands and promptly began chewing on one of the hanging peels. Ian continued to stand there, his attention divided between Rose and Livy.

“You gonna stand like that all day?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Um, I guess not,” he mumbled and plopped onto the couch, diverting his gaze to the muted telly.

Rose stood up straight and eyed him curiously. “Ya hungry?”

Ian shook his head ‘No.’

“Cuppa?”

He nodded, keeping his eyes straight ahead. He heard a frustrated sigh from Rose as she left and he rubbed his forehead. What was he supposed to do? Pretend like he knew what was happening? Act like he loved this woman, this child who he’d never laid eyes on till now? Granted, he had felt something when she wrapped him in an embrace, but that meant nothing. She was a beautiful woman—who wouldn’t feel something if she decided to pay them attention?

Rose appeared again in the living room and held out a mug to him. He finally looked at her and took it, mumbling his thanks. She joined him on the couch, sitting on the end with her legs curled up and facing him. She silently sipped on her steaming tea. After several minutes, she finally broke the strained silence.

“Tell me what’s goin’ on.”

He met her eyes hesitantly, leery of what he’d find there. She was looking at him earnestly, confusion and worry mixing with what he sensed was anger.

“I-I…don’t know,” he said slowly.

Her eyes narrowed. “What do ya mean you don’t know?” she said, her voice rising slightly.

“I mean I don’t know!” he shouted, jumping up and sloshing tea. The steaming contents splashed onto his hand, scalding him. Ian hollered in pain and dropped his cup onto the floor. Rose was instantly on her feet.

“Lemme see,” she said worriedly and reached for his hand.

He pulled away. “I’m fine.”

“Just gi-..."

“I said it’s fine,” he snapped, partly because of the pain and partly because he was just frustrated beyond belief.

Rose’s eyes flashed with anger. “Cillian! Give. Me. Your hand!” she demanded.

Mutely, Ian held his hand out. No one called him ‘Cillian.’ In fact, he made sure to never use it or tell anyone about it. It was an old family name and he wasn’t particularly fond of it. The fact that she knew it and used it…well, he just added it to the list of things of which he couldn’t make heads or tails.

“C’mon,” she said, leading him by his arm to the kitchen, careful to avoid the large reddened area of skin on his hand.

Once in the kitchen, Rose walked over to the windowsill and broke off a piece of a green spikey looking plant. She walked back to him and went to put it on his skin, but he jerked his hand back. She looked up at him severely, her eyes demanding compliance. He moved his hand back.

“’S aloe. It’ll help with the burn,” she said as she gently glided the clear substance over his skin, focusing intently on her task.

Ian’s eyes were fixated on her as she worked. “Where’d you learn that?” he asked softly.

“My gran. She was always into home remedies. Don’t ya remember?” she asked, looking up at him inquisitively.

“Oh, yeah. Must of just slipped my mind,” he covered, looking away.

She faintly nodded her head. “There ya go,” she said and let go of his hand. She turned and grabbed a kitchen towel and moved towards the living room. Ian walked with her. Once there, she began to bend down to clean the spill.

“What are you doing?” Ian asked, grabbing her arm and stopping her.

“I’m cleaning up the mess.”

“I’ll do it,” he said and took the towel from her. He stooped and quickly sopped up the spill. Rose stood there and silently watched him.

When he was done, he stood up and briefly looked at her. “I’ll just…," he trailed off and left in search of the laundry. It was surprisingly easy to find, and once there, Ian put his hands on the washer, bracing himself. He closed his eyes and took a few breaths.

“'M sorry.”

He whirled around at Rose’s unexpected voice. He furrowed his brow in confusion at her apology. “What for?”

She ran a hand through her hair and sighed. “I just realized what’s going on.”

“You do?” he asked, his eyebrows now rocketing in surprise.

“Yeah. It’s the anniversary. Or it will be in a couple days,” she said, her voice full of understanding and love.

Ian’s eyes locked with hers and became serious. She couldn’t mean… There was no way she knew about that. He was tempted to ask what she meant, but he didn’t want to chance it. He couldn’t handle that on top of everything else he was struggling with, so he remained silent.

“I didn’t realize that you were having a rough go this time. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen ya like this and… I’m sorry, babe,” she walked over to him and brushed her lips against his before wrapping her arms around him again.

Ian was too stunned to react. Instead, he allowed himself to be comforted by her. Livy began to cry and Rose broke her hold on him. Briefly cupping his cheek, she turned and went to attend to the upset little one. He stared after her. This was becoming too much. He was in a home he didn’t know, with a woman he didn’t know, and with small child…and apparently another one on the way! And then the bit about the anniversary…the possibility still blew his mind. He ran a hand through his erratic hair and went to the living room.


The hours passed by rapidly. He spent the better part of the day rotating between sitting dazedly on the couch and avoiding any real contact with Rose and Livy. Rose continued to glance at him worriedly throughout the day. Whenever he allowed her close to him, she would sit next to him and quietly take his hand, lacing their fingers. Occasionally, she would kiss his knuckles or gently stroke his skin with her thumb. It startled him that such small gestures were actually providing a modicum of comfort and reassurance. Often times, he would pull his hand away, uncertain how to respond to such feelings. He hadn’t experienced them in so long they were practically foreign to him. Rose would appear hurt at times but she would continue to smile softly yet genuinely at him. It was almost as if she understood what was running through his mind, though there was no possible way she could.

Night finally arrived and around 8:00 P.M., Ian climbed the stairs—alone—and went into the bedroom. He tried not to focus on anything within the room, but one thing couldn’t help but capture his attention. On the table by the left side of the bed, the one he’d woken up on, there was a photo of him and Rose. It was clearly an unplanned photo. They were on a beach, the waves crashing behind them, and he had ahold of her. It appeared as if he had snuck up behind her and grabbed her. There was a brilliant laugh on her face, and he…the look on his face almost surpassed hers. Ian felt his throat tighten. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been happy like that. He wasn’t even sure he had. Tearing his eyes away, he walked into the loo and splashed his face with cold water. He hadn’t bothered to change all day, afraid to go snooping through “his” clothes. Mentally exhausted, he fell onto the mattress, not even bothering to pull back the covers. His eyelids heavy, it wasn’t long before he drifted off to sleep.


Ian turned over onto his side, allowing the sunlight to cast its rays over his face. He stirred, and then was hit with memories of a life that was not his own. He shot straight up and looked to his side. There was no one there. He looked around in another panic. He was back in his flat, no longer wearing the flannels and undershirt, but was in the pajamas he remembered putting on. Everything was as it had been, right down to the red box and tumbler on the nightstand. He leapt over and searched for his mobile. He pressed the Home button and checked the date. The color drained from his face and he staggered to the loo, dry heaving into the sink. It was Saturday, November 2.

2013.


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