This is another short story that I wrote several years ago. It was originally written for a writing contest with a prompt of "Dream Come True". I was inspired to pull it out again and tamper with it this week when an online short story group I recently joined posted the topic "Back in Time" for their prompt. It is a little different from what I normally write, so let me know what you think. As always, I appreciate any feedback!
The Physics Test
by James Meadows
When a forty-five-year-old single accountant wakes up in the morning, he expects to see his bedroom ceiling and feel the familiar sheets of his plush bed. As my consciousness left the world of sleep, I experienced neither of these sensations. The bed was hard and unfamiliar. The sheets were thin and ragged, very different from my normal linens.
I opened my eyes and gazed around the blurry room, allowing my vision to focus. The bed chamber was definitely not mine. This was not my house. The room was very small. There needed to be more space for the bed, small desk, and nearby dresser. High on the wall, a long thin window ran perpendicular to the foot of my bed. The small window was just large enough to flood the entire room with the bright light of the early morning sun.
The shock of finding myself in the unexpected surroundings caused me to bolt upright in bed gazing around the room. I knew this room. This was my college apartment. I lived here during my junior and senior years. What was I doing here?
As my stunned mind attempted to digest the revelation, I heard footsteps outside the door to my room. The knob turned and my already puzzled mind was greeted by an even more incredible sight. Sarah entered the room.
“Good morning sleepy head,” she cooed, running her hand through my hair as she sat beside me on the bed. She noticed the odd expression on my face. “Are you okay?”
I didn’t know what to say. My mind was swimming. I just sat there for a second.
“I am…incredible,” I said.
“Well, you better be,” she teased, giving me a quick kiss. “You have your physics final today and better not fail it!”
She rose from the bed and walked toward the doorway. As she passed through, she added, “You better get cleaned up. I’ll have breakfast on the table in a few. I’m making your favorite.”
Sarah gave me a wink as she disappeared around the corner. My eyes flew open in alarm. I remembered this day. This was the last day of my junior year. The details soared back into my mind. I had struggled with physics all semester and needed an ‘A’ on the final to pass the class. My parents had told me, if I failed physics, they would take me out of college and bring me back home. Sarah had spent all week, neglecting her own classes, helping me study for the final. We both knew what would happen if I failed the test.
I thought about her as I went to my closet and got dressed. Funny how I still remembered where everything was after all of these years. I grabbed an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt before heading into the bathroom for my shower. After bathing and dressing, I stopped to look in the mirror. I ran my hands down my face. I couldn’t believe how young I looked. My body was strong, healthy, athletic, and agile again. This wasn’t possible.
My first instinct was to lower my arm and pinch myself very hard. It hurt. I turned the shower onto full heat and placed my hand underneath. The burning water scalded me. I even cut myself shaving. It stung like a bee. I wasn’t dreaming. How was this happening?
Washed, dressed, and shaved, I walked into the kitchen and sat down across from my girlfriend. She was tying her long black hair into a braid. Her deep blue eyes stared happily at me. I stared back. I had forgotten many things over the years but I had never forgotten how beautiful she was. Still, no memory could do justice to the reality before me. After a few moments, she started laughing.
“What are you looking at me like that for?” she giggled, “Eat your food!”
I took my eyes off her and began eating the eggs and bacon she had made for me. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her for long, though. I still loved her. And I missed her.
Today was a special day in our relationship. I did make an ‘A’ on the test. In our excitement afterward, we made love for the first time. She would move in with me for my senior year. Afterward, I would ruin everything.
Following my senior year, I was offered a job in Seattle, about as far away from Sarah and College Station as physically possible. I left her behind to take the job. She had to stay to finish her last couple of years of college. Long-distance relationships were not easy in the early-90s prior to the advent of the internet and smartphones. We didn’t make it. I lost her.
Two years later, I lost my job as well. I never met another woman like her and spent the rest of my life praying, wishing, and dreaming for a second chance. I didn’t know what miracle had brought it about but somehow, someway, this was that chance.
I finished my food, still staring at her in wonder. She rose from the table and went to my room. A few seconds later, she came back holding my backpack. I thanked her for the breakfast and rose to put on my backpack.
“Good luck,” she said, giving me a soft kiss on the lips and the beautiful smile I remembered only too well. She turned to get the dishes. I couldn’t contain myself anymore. Years of dreaming, longing, and wishing seized ahold of me. I raced up behind her and threw my arms around her.
“I love you, Sarah,” I said, pulling her close to me. “I love you so very much!”
She smiled and pulled me close. Together we embraced and kissed with unbidden passion. Then she patted me on the chest and took a step back.
“Go do me proud,” she smiled and turned back to the dishes.
I didn’t want to leave her. I didn’t want to take my eyes off her. But I knew what was at stake, so I hurried out the door. I was within walking distance of the campus. Once again, to my surprise, I remembered the way to my old class as though it were yesterday. As I made the long trek, I thought about the incredible potential of this suddenly realized dream.
Not only could I save my relationship with Sarah, I would be rich. I knew the results of every major sporting event for the next twenty-plus years. I knew the best stocks in which to invest. By the time I was forty-five again, I could be a billionaire. The world was at my mercy!
For the rest of my walk, I consumed my mind with visions of wealth and the endless possibilities awaiting me. Soon I was at the door to my class and choosing a seat in the auditorium. As I sat down, the teacher entered and ordered everyone to put all of their belongings beneath their desks except for scantrons and pencils. He then began handing out the tests.
A dark cloud passed over my mind. Perhaps my previous twenty-year-old self knew the answers to all of the questions on my test, after a full week of studying. I, however, had not spent a full week studying. I hadn’t studied a word of physics in more than twenty years.
The teacher placed the test in front of me, along with a spare sheet of paper to work math formulas on. I scanned the questions. I didn’t have the vaguest idea on any of them. The equations for calculating various masses and ratios were long absent from my mind.
A chill went up my spine. If I failed this test, I would lose Sarah anyway. I would be taken home to the northeast, many days drive from Texas. She would be here at college. She was still a sophomore with several years left in school. The long-distance relationship didn’t work in Seattle. I had no reason to believe it would work from the other side of the US. She would meet other guys; find other loves. I would be left alone, again.
I tried to rack my brains. Somehow, I had to pass this test. The information had to be in there somewhere. I was back in my twenty-year-old body and, even though my mind was maintaining the memories and thoughts of my older self, my brain must still be my twenty-year-old brain. Somehow, after a week of study, some of the information must still be accessible somewhere.
Focusing my thoughts like a yogi, I attempted to clear my mind. If I could just access the memories stored somewhere within my younger brain, I would find the answers. I stared at the question and gradually, like a blurry image cleared to reveal a vibrant picture, the memorized learning from weeks of study took form inside my mind. I could remember the answers. I quickly bubbled in my answer to the first question; then the second question; then the third.
A smile spread across my lips. I could still remember everything, even after….after….I couldn’t remember. How old was I before? I looked up in surprise. I was forty-something, I thought. How can I forget my previous age? I could remember everything about my life after the test. I could remember the job in Seattle, losing Sarah, my new career, sporting events, etc. Strangely, however, the images were growing blurry. As I concentrated on them, they became clearer.
Confused, I returned to my paper. I couldn’t remember the answers to the questions anymore. I focused my mind on my twenty-year-old memories, just as I had before. Again, the answers became clear. I started bubbling in my selections again. I would pass the test. I would stay here with Sarah. And, this time, I would not leave for the job in…where was the job in?
I looked up again. The memories were growing blurry again. I couldn’t remember where I had taken the job. I couldn’t remember my previous age. Everything from before I was given this second chance was growing blurry. After some effort, I was able to remember most of the details, much to my relief.
The memory was little consolation. Each time I focused on being in the mind of my twenty-year-old self, the memory of my alternate future grew blurry. I looked at the various questions in front of me. I still had most of the test left. I needed to pass this test to keep Sarah. But I also needed to remember the mistakes and errors of the future or I would repeat them and lose her anyway.
Frustration flared inside of me. My sudden dream of getting a second chance was turning into a nightmare. I was caught in a lose-lose situation. I didn’t know what to do. I looked at the clock on the wall. Time was ticking away. There was only an hour remaining. I had lost a third of my time trying to answer the first few questions. I had to do something. I couldn’t lose Sarah again. I wouldn’t lose Sarah again.
I needed to pass the test. At the same time, I had to find a way to make sure I didn’t lose Sarah. I looked at my piece of notepaper. I could write a note, some words to my twenty-year-old self, to prevent me from making a mistake. What could I say?
My mind flashed to all the sports scores I knew, all the stock knowledge I remembered, all the things I wanted to say to myself. There was not enough time to put them all down. I needed to complete the test and already I was under time pressure. I would only be able to tell myself one or two things. What should I do?
I pictured myself as a millionaire, rich from stocks and sports betting. I pictured myself living in plush mansions with beautiful cars and wealth. In those pictures, though, I was without Sarah. On the other hand, I looked at myself with Sarah, poor and yet with her. If I were rich, I could have other women: I could have supermodels, actresses, and star-female athletes. Yet if I gave them all up, I could have her.
I looked down at the piece of scrap paper beside me. Raising my pencil, I wrote these words: “Justin, this is your future self. If you remember nothing of your life before being given this second chance, remember this: Whatever you do, do not take the job in Seattle, and do not leave Sarah. Stay with her, love her, and treat her as I wish I had treated her the first time. Nothing else matters.”
Folding the paper, I stuffed it into my pocket. I gave a small sigh and allowed my mind to drift back into the memories and thoughts of my twenty-year-old self. I looked back at the test and its many questions. The answers came to me. With each new question, I could feel my future self, my alternate self, fade from existence. I smiled.
Most people could only dream of getting the chance to relive their life, to fix their mistakes, or even just write a note to their past selves. I had gotten my chance. I wouldn’t waste it. I may lose myself, my memories, all my knowledge, and even the fortune I might have otherwise. But I would not lose Sarah. This was all that mattered.