The best first date is the one you've already been on
Jonie would have taken a bullet for her husband, but she no longer liked him. She loved Tripp, and part of her was sure he loved her back, but he frequently shut her out, opting instead to spend longer hours at work and with his friends. She didn’t think he was cheating, the signs weren’t there, he was a good person and he never hit her. Of course, he was a sniper with his words, like the one time he blamed her for her own miscarriage. But at least he remembered all the important dates. Except March 22nd; that was the first important date he’d forgotten in 15 years of marriage. Not only was March 22nd Jonie’s birthday, but it was the day she was supposed to receive her Brilliant Minds In Science Award. The night would have been perfect had Tripp actually showed up.
That night he’d sluggishly walked in from the office around 2am and switched on the lights. Jonie was cradled on the couch in the pink chiffon Vera Wang gown clutching the almost empty bottle of champagne, both bought for the awards ceremony. Tripp, realizing his faux pas, began profusely apologizing, but Jonie just unleashed 15 years of repressed insults in his direction. And Tripp, never one to be out-shouted, hurled insults right back. Their angry voices bellowed back and forth until Jonie screeched out a defeated “I’m done!” and crumpled to the floor. Tripp, desperate to blow off steam, took a Fast and Furious style cruise down the PCH.
That was how Tripp ended up clinging to the side of a mountain.
It was the middle of the night so his screams were unlikely to be heard by anyone. Tripp continued to plead for help, accepting the fact that he might die there. But just as he came to terms with his fate, an arm reached down and pulled him up, uttering a reassuring “I gotcha.”
Tripp crawled back onto the leveled highway, grateful to be alive.
“You always make a habit of rock climbing at 4am?” The stranger joked.
Tripp couldn’t tell anyone, even a complete stranger, that his tears had clouded his vision, making it impossible to see that sharp curve that propelled him out of his car, through the front window and onto that cliff’s edge.
“I fell,” Tripp lied
“Yeah alright Mr. Fell. You want me to drive you to a hospital? Or home? I’m sure your wife’s worried about you.”
Tripp looked up into the night sky. Truthfully, he didn’t think she was worried about him. He’d let his resentment towards her almost kill him. Honestly, if he was in her shoes, he wouldn’t be worried about himself.
“Tell me something, Tripp,” the stranger said, “Is it Jonie’s success that makes you uncomfortable or the idea that you may not be able to provide for your family the way you want to?”
Tripp’s mouth hung open, his heart suddenly racing a mile a minute. How did this good samaritan know anything about him? Know everything about him? As if reading his thoughts, the stranger chuckled.
“I could take hours explaining to you how I know what I know but none of that is important. She’s hurting, Tripp. You’re hurting, Tripp. She’s long gone and you’re not the type to stop her. You’d rather sit in your pride and wish you did better. So I’m going to give you the opportunity to do better. I’m going to send you back to the moment she first fell in love with you and at the end of your trip, you get to decide if you want to keep her or let her go”
He had so many questions but as he choked them all out at once, struggling to articulate, the stranger just shook his head.
“Tripp. You don’t have time. You have to go.” His words echoed as Tripp fought his suddenly heavy eyes.
You don’t have time…
You have to go…
You have to go, Tripp…
“TRIPP!” His roommate yelled.
Tripp’s eyes shot open.
“Dude, not gonna lie, I thought you died,” the familiar Shaggy look-alike laughed.
“Collin?” Tripp said in disbelief.
“Yes. Me Collin. You Tripp. You late for date with hot girl.” Collin said in his best caveman voice.
Tripp sat up from the couch and looked in the mirror. The pizza stain and cropped Rolling Stones t-shirt alone should have told him he was 25 again, but instead, it was the calendar pinned to the wall with May 17th 2006 circled. Confused, Tripp scanned the room for some sort of answer. Instead of answers, Tripp found a crumpled note in the pocket of his basketball shorts.
“Do better this time.”
The note offered no logical explanation, but Tripp decided to play along. He checked the clock, 2:35pm. If he really had been sent back in time, then he was 35 minutes late for his date, again. Tripp jumped up and raced for the shower. If he really was about to date Jonie again, he at least wanted to smell nice.
The taxi driver obeyed every traffic law to the letter, resulting in an even later Tripp. When he finally arrived at the park he scanned the area for Jonie. Her perfectly plump lips played out a movie in his head “third bench to the right. 2pm. Don’t be late Michael.”
Tripp counted the benches. No Jonie. She’d probably left. The time was 3:02. It would make sense for her to leave. Who would stay? She probably thought he’d stood her up.
“Michael?” A gentle voice called out. He turned slowly. A younger Jonie stood before him with a folded blanket under her arm and picnic basket in her hand.
“Jonie” He breathed out. Even in her frustration he couldn’t help but gawk.
“What are you doing? I said 3 down to the right. This is the left. Is this where you’ve been for an hour?”
Somehow, he’d managed to get lost again. He half expected her to yell, but it wasn’t in her nature. Instead, Jonie burst out into laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Tripp asked, beginning to chuckle himself.
“The thought of you… spending our entire first date… on the wrong side… just staring at a tree!” Jonie laughed, doubled over.
Tripp rolled his eyes.
Jonie continued to laugh, seemingly harder. When she was finished Tripp was staring up at the sky, his feelings clearly hurt.
“Hey,” she said out of breath, “I’m sorry. But you’re an hour late. If I’m going to forgive you, you’re going to have to deal with a little hazing.”
Tripp shrugged. He should be grateful. She wasn’t even angry with him and without request she gave him a second chance. 40 year old Jonie, was like that too. She was all about second chances.
The two of them spread the blanket onto the soft green grass and began to unload the heavy straw basket. She picked up two glasses and poured the deep red merlot into each of them. He watched her take a sip, her bouncy brown curls catching the sunlight as she tossed her head back in bliss, relishing in the hints of chocolate and cherry. She offered him a sip from her glass and even though he had his own, he took the gesture as a peace offering and sipped. He nodded his head.
“That is good,” he admitted.
She took the glass back and went for another sip, her eyes studying him. Unaware, Tripp grabbed the bread and began making her sandwich. This he knew he could get right. Mayo on one side, relish on the other, two slices of turkey, Swiss cheese, lettuce and as many pickles as he could forage, then cut into fours. Jonie smiled at the culinary masterpiece he handed her. She was impressed. She’d told him once how she liked her sandwiches as a joke, but he remembered… how did he remember?
The two of them engaged in meaningless chatter, him beginning the conversation venting about the slow driving taxi driver.
“I swear I saw an old lady with a walker pass us by!”
Which reminded Jonie of a hilarious story about her Nana.
“I never touched her teeth again that’s for sure!”
And at pauses Tripp asked the meaningful questions.
“Why do you call me Michael? Everyone calls me Tripp.”
“Your mama named you Michael so I’m going to call you Michael.”
“You’re going to meet her one day soon.”
“I’d like that.”
They were teenagers again, falling in love with the way the other talked and laughed. The way Tripp’s ears wiggled when he was excited or how Jonie snorted while she gasped. With each passing moment and each sip of wine they found themselves liking the other more and more in a way they would lose 15 years from now.
“Come on,” Tripp said standing and offering her his hand.
Puzzled, Jonie stood. “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere,” Tripp pulled her close, “We’re going to dance,”
Jonie laughed, “To what music?”
Tripp pulled her close and began to sway. Jonie decided to play along, wrapping her arms around his broad shoulders.
“You hear it?” He said slowly box-stepping.
“I do,” Jonie whispered.
Tripp searched his mind’s CD collection for a song he liked, but he couldn’t find anything worth humming. Finally, he gave up and whispered a repetitive “bum, bum, buuummmm” into her hair.
“Is that Al Green?” She giggled.
“Huh,” Tripp laughed, “I guess it is. I think the taxi guy was playing it in the car.”
“See, he wasn’t so bad,” Jonie said leaning her head on his chest.
The two of them swayed in the California breeze as the sun began to set; Tripp lowly singing the words to I’m Still in Love With You and Jonie keeping him on beat to his own rhythm.
“And I look in your eyes… and all the years I see… Me lovin’ you… and you lovin’ me…”
As the bright sun illuminated his bronze face, and he felt the warmth of his wife-to-be engulf him, and as the sounds of the love song trickled off his tongue, Tripp found himself shedding tears he didn’t know he had. The stranger was right. She intimidated him. She always had but now, 15 years from now, he would turn that into disdain and absence. But that wasn’t fair to her. He pulled her closer, never wanting the purity of the moment to end, but the sun grew brighter and more blinding. He tightened his arms around Jonie only to find that she was gone.
Tripp stood still and alone in time. He remembered the voice of the stranger, “you get to decide if you want to keep her or let her go,”
He could hear Jonie’s laugh and see her wide smile. His eye’s welled up with tears again as he sank to the floor.
“I have to let her go,” he whispered, choosing to do what was right over what he wanted. Surrounded by his own mistakes, Tripp covered his face and continued to cry. He silently sobbed until he felt a firm object, a red ball, collide with his arm. He looked up. Tripp was back at the park, alone. His iPhone next to him buzzed. The text had no name assigned to it and simply read “Our past affects our present.”
Tripp looked around at the families in the park. Above him a billboard of Jonie and a man stood close together under the heading “The Most Brilliant Minds”. Tripp sighed and looked at his hands.
“I can’t stand that guy,” a familiar voice said.
Tripp looked up. There Jonie stood with a baby on her hip looking at the same billboard.
“Come on. We’re gonna miss Taylor’s soccer game,” she said walking away.
His phone buzzed again. From the same nameless sender it read, “Do better this time.”
Tripp smiled and raced to meet his wife and children.