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The Future Tree

A moment that shifted my life down a different course, and my pity for whichever version of me went the other way.

By L.C. SchäferPublished 7 months ago Updated 7 months ago 5 min read
Runner-Up in Passing Ships Challenge
The Future Tree
Photo by Bruno Kelzer on Unsplash

We lay naked on the bed, a little sticky. His eyes grey and serious in the dim light. He was normally so silly, but there was no humour in his face now.

"Do you want to be with me, or not?"

There was a sense of coming to the end of something. A pathway, not ending, but splitting in two. My life turning on a ten-pence piece. I could feel it.

We hadn't been serious, you see. It was just a bit of fun. Both of us had just split up with someone else. You were supposed to be single a while first, right?

But we weren't single. Not really.

As somebody's grandad probably said, we were neither one thing nor t'other.

Not really single, and not really together.

But it was easy this way. Not committed, not really. But all the niceties of being in a couple. Particularly a couple in the honeymoon phase.

How much do you let yourself invest in someone if they don't feel the same way? If they don't want the same from this thing that you do?

So here he was, asking me to shit or get off the pot. Be together, properly. No more hedging my bets. No more keeping him at arm's length with I'm just not ready for another relationship. Jump in with both feet. Or cut ties and go cold turkey.

It was sensible. Brave. Healthy. It was a gamble, I guess. Putting the pressure on like that could have ended it all right there. But it was the right thing to do. It took guts and self-respect. This is it. Decide whether to keep investing in this thing, and if not, step away.

It all comes down to this. It is up to me. Childish, I don't want it to be. Selfish, I want to whine, Why can't we just carry on like this?

I look at his face, and I know why.

Do you want to be with me or not? I was not ready for this. The question hung. Oppressively, I think. Thickening the air. Spinning tension from it. Eating away at the seconds. You don't have long to answer something like that. Awkwardness blossoms in this type of soil. Very soon, the silence becomes an answer all by itself.

The world held it's breath.

I don't know.

I like him a lot (obviously) but do I love him? I think I do. Am I ready though? I don't think I am. But am I ready to let him go and miss this chance? I think I am even less ready for that.

Did Time hold still for that moment, while my brain raced? Split into a tree, branches spidering off into the different futures?

I try one on. Like a pair of jeans. See how it fits.

In this one, this stops. No more late nights drinking wine and watching TV. No more syrupy Sunday mornings unwinding softly 'til lunchtime. This easy closeness. The life together we might have had, a home shared, a family... Pops into non-existence. Someone else is lying on my bed. My ex. Or someone else. Someone OK, or someone horrible. Or it's empty. What's it like? Do I remember him? Miss him? Wish for the life I turned my back on?

In the space of a breath, I test this version of my future. Imagine it strongly for these few brief heartbeats. Make it real. What does it feel like? Is this what I want? Is it fun? To be free? Or does it hurt? Does it taste like regret?

The world unfreezes and keeps turning. Time breathes again.

"Yes. Yes, I want to be with you."


It's so many years later, now. In this version of my life, I have a home and a family, and a job I love.

Sometimes - not very often, just every now and then - I stop, and reach back across the years to test that other branch. I can hardly even find it. It's a long way away now, in another world. I imagine what it would have been like to stay free and only worry about myself. Would it have been better?

I dreamed about it once. That's the realest it's ever been to me, and it was more of a nightmare. There was a persistent sense of wrongness. On that branch - the dream one - I'd married some other person, and I hated it. I realised two things when I woke up. The first was that I was very relieved to wake. The second was that the whole time I'd been dreaming, I'd been trying to find my way back to the other branch - this one.

It's good. Sturdy. Comfortable. Pretty. Fruit and whatnot, you know. I like it. I am happy.

This is right where I am supposed to be. Hard to wrap my mind around the fact I so nearly let it all slip away. I hesitated. I teetered on the ten-pence piece. I could have tipped in either direction. My life could have careened off down a completely different path. I hardly even knew I was going to say Yes until I heard the whisper coming from my own mouth.

It was one of those moments when the world splits in two by the sheer force of Possibility. Like a cell duplicating itself. But one cells develops one way, and one turns into something different. I still maintain that I could feel it - the other version of the world crowding next to and on top of this one. Only a membrane's thickness away, and ready to break off. Like a soap bubble. The potential coalescing around me, crystalising into this one moment that was going to nudge me along one road or another.

Me, I came this way. And another, stupider, selfisher, unbrave version of me went that way.


My Yes echoes down the years, reverberating more strongly.

How silly I was to hesitate. How stupid I was not to know what I was gambling with, what I could have lost. How dangerous a game I was playing.

Yes, I want to be with you. Yes, this is what I want.

Yes, yes, yes.


Edit - I guess I never wrote my usual little "thank you" on this one originally, because I didn't expect hardly anyone to lay eyes on it. I didn't share it in many places. Truth be told, I hated it a little. This helps explain why. All the same, I am delighted that my little scribble resonated with someone, or several someones. Thank you for reading!

If you'd like to read more from me (they say there's no accounting for taste) may I recommend some microfiction, some short fiction, poetry, or writing about writing.

Happy trails, fellow scribbler 😁



About the Creator

L.C. Schäfer

Flexing the writing muscle.

Never so naked as I am on a page. Subscribe for "nudes".

I'm also Twitter if you'd like to connect elsewhere.

I value feedback, and reciprocate reads and comments.

Also writing under the name S.E. Holz

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (14)

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  • Joe O’Connor3 months ago

    I really liked the switching between thoughts then and thoughts now! The almost stream of consciousness is a great way of showing your mind in real-time. Beautifully written!

  • Miss^_^San4 months ago

    This poignant and beautifully written piece captures the weight of a pivotal moment in a relationship, the decision that can change the course of one's life. A heartfelt and captivating story! 🌟

  • Andrew C McDonald6 months ago

    I have been married to a wonderful woman for almost 38 years now and still, on the odd occasion, wonder what my life had been if we had not met. 38 wonderful years. Heartache and tears…, yes. Pain, occasional doubt…, absolutely. Love, closeness, a sharing and melding of souls…, Yes. Worth it? Absolutely. We now have 4 adult children, six grandsons, and with our first granddaughter due in October (Come on 10/10)! This story is a soul in reveal. Deep, complex, heartfelt, and yet simple in it’s naked truth. Great work.

  • Novel Allen6 months ago

    This is absolutely brutally honest, heartfelt, gripping and deep. The right blend of words which say exactly what was needed to say. One moment which changes a life. Wonderfully spun like a spiders silken journey,

  • Heather N King7 months ago

    So many possibilities, yet only one reality… or is there?

  • Alexander McEvoy7 months ago

    This story really struck me. Resonated in a very personal way. I’m in something of a similar position right now, stuck at the branching point. Unsure and scared of what comes next. Thank you so much for sharing :)

  • Excellent work, and sorry I missed this. Love is and congratulations on your runner up place.

  • Donna Fox (HKB)7 months ago

    LC, I really like how precise this story feels and how vividly you describe not only the imagery of the story but also the feels that go on in the narrators head. I also appreciate all your use of simile and metaphors in this story, my two favourites are the tree branches and the division of cells. The line “The work held it’s breath” really spoke to me, it felt relatable and realistic. That’s exactly how it feels sometimes when you need to make a hard life choice! Overall I loved going on this journey with you and appreciate all the insights it shared! Well done, LC!

  • J. S. Wade7 months ago

    How did I miss this. Your brutally honest transparency is refreshing in a world of fakery. We’ve all revisited the branches but you were brave and skilled enough to share it. Kudos on winning runner up. 😎🤩🥇

  • Brannan K.7 months ago

    Excellent job on this piece! One of my favorites. It is easy to ponder about the "what ifs" and look back at "opportunities missed", not realizing everything you've gained is tethered to a few brief moments. I loved this line "Split into a tree, branches spidering off into the different futures?".

  • Caroline Jane7 months ago

    Every facet of authenticity is woven into this and it is beautifully written too. Congratulations. Well deserved win. ❤

  • Andrei Z.7 months ago

    Yay, congrats!!

  • Donna Renee7 months ago

    Congratulations!! ❤️ previously read/hearted but so happy to leave this comment now! ☺️

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