Phoebe met Leif on a time travel dating site. While physical time travel still wasn’t a publicized technology, digital technology was, and so lots of services had sprung up based on the idea. One company operated like DoorDash, except the customer could go back in time fifteen minutes for an instant delivery.
Phoebe dated a couple guys and a girl, all of them she’d met in person. Her last breakup before joining Timeless, the one with the girl, had left her in shambles. The girl had finished school and was moving to Chicago. Phoebe still had two years left in her graduate program and had to stay in Kansas City.
She’d been sitting on the couch in her apartment, crying under a blanket and the largest hoodie she owned, strings pulled tight around her face, and looking at Twitter when she saw an ad she hadn’t seen before.
“Tired of the right person at the wrong time? Download Timeless!” The appearance of the ad felt like fate, and so Phoebe downloaded her first dating app. Deep in the recesses of her mind, Phoebe hoped she would find her ex-girlfriend there, years in the future and back in the city. But there were millions of people on the app, and Phoebe never came across her.
Phoebe found Leif, though, and they clicked almost immediately. As the app advertised, she was in 2022 and he was in 2027, but they were both prepared for a meaningful relationship. They had similar interests, and it turned out that he was also going into the second year of his master’s program.
Phoebe was happier than she’d been in ages. There were a few drawbacks to such an untraditional relationship, though. For instance, she was always explaining to her friends that they couldn’t meet her partner in person because he was five years in the future. They’d told each other they loved each other, but they hadn’t even kissed.
One night, on time-travel enhanced FaceTime, Phoebe brought this up to him.
“Are you breaking up with me?” Leif asked, a shred of worry in his voice.
“No! It’s not that,” Phoebe responded. “I just want to know that someday this relationship will be real, physically, too.”
Leif was quiet for a moment, stroking his beard. “What if we met up tonight?” he asked. “My time? At my apartment?”
“How would that work?” Phoebe asked.
“Well, you would have to mark your calendar for five years from now, right? And, that night, you would come over and we’d start our relationship in person. How’s that sound?” He sighed. “I know it’s not perfect, and you’ll still have to wait a bit, but that way, we can start seeing each other in person as soon as possible.”
Phoebe agreed, reinvigorated now that they’d made these plans. The next day, though, Leif didn’t pick up when she FaceTimed him. She waited, expecting that he was busy and would get back to her when he could, but when several days passed without word from him, she Googled his name and current address in 2022.
He lived in a college town about an hour away from the city, Phoebe saw, and so she got in the car and drove there. Phoebe didn’t know what she was going to do or say to him when she made it there, but she rolled her windows down and breathed in the air, uncharacteristically cool and refreshing for a summer in the midwest, and felt she was making the right choice.
Phoebe pulled into the small parking lot near the townhouse she’d found listed as Leif’s residence. She watched through the blinds as a cat swung its tail lazily from atop a cat tree, trying to get up her courage to meet him for the first time. She turned off the car. She was about to get out when she saw Leif walk down the townhouse stairs and into view. He was wearing a suit and a tie, and he looked younger than he did on their FaceTime calls.
Just a few seconds after Leif, a woman came down the stairs wearing a cocktail dress and a pair of stilettos. She got halfway down the stairs and then held a finger out towards him, turning around and going back up. Leif looked at his wrist, at a watch, she thought, and heaved his shoulders in a sigh.
Phoebe’s heart sank. Leif was obviously dating this woman. Of course he was—he hadn’t been single the full five years before he met Phoebe. The woman reappeared, coming back down the stairs and kissing Leif on the lips. He strode towards the door, obviously annoyed they were late.
Phoebe started her car, wondering why she’d come. Leif looked up, his eyes meeting hers for one second, before she pulled out of the spot and drove away.
Phoebe stopped calling Leif. She blocked his number and deleted the app. Her ex-girlfriend moved back from Chicago, and they dated off and on for a few more years before mutually calling it quits.
One day in 2027, a Google calendar notification startled her. MEET LEIF AT HIS HOUSE, it read, followed by a string of kissy-face emojis. Phoebe wasn’t sure how the last five years would have affected his view of their relationship, if at all, but she grabbed her keys and headed for his place, this one in the city, unlike the townhouse.
When Phoebe got there, Leif was waiting at the door in shorts and a black tee-shirt. He swung it open for her with a smile. “You remembered.”
“So did you,” Phoebe replied.
“Well, yeah, but for me it was hours ago. I actually lost my phone somewhere—I was scared you might stand me up and I wouldn’t be able to ask you why.”
Phoebe shook her head, pretending the thought had never crossed her mind, and went inside.
About the author:
Kayla Wiltfong is an MFA student at UMKC. She writes weird speculative fiction and non-fiction covering identity crises and the effects of social isolation on women’s mental health. When she’s not writing, you can find her either reading or trying desperately to escape The Void.