The point I'm trying to make is being a time traveler puts you in some scary situations, but this is easily the most terrifying.
Asking out a pretty girl.
(Insert shriek of terror here.)
I've been putting it off, shoving it to that dusty place in the back of my mind where I keep things I'm afraid of – like the fact that house centipedes exist – but it has to be now, before she goes back home.
I take a deep breath, my heart beating like a drum roll, and step into the lab.
And there's Ada, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, world's first computer programmer, and unquestionably 1840's sexiest woman alive.
She's bent over a laptop, her dark hair falling over her little serious face, dressed in jeans and a V-neck that are a far cry from the silks and gowns a countess would wear in her era. She makes my skin feel warm just looking at her.
"So," she says as I approach. "I've run a final check on the new operating system and it all looks good. I've worked out the kinks that caused that paradox, but there are a few new guidelines I want to run by you–"
I love the way she says paradox in her accent, with a long O sound that makes her lips get all round and pouty. Like when she says my name.
I blink and look up from her lips.
"Roz, did you hear a word I said?"
My nod is a vigorous, enthusiastic lie.
"Then if you want to test your machine–"
Her entire face stops like someone paused her video in mid-word and I just want to melt into a puddle of embarrassment.
"I'm... gorgeous," she repeats, her voice devoid of any inflection that would help me know how to fix this. Should I take it back? That seems offensive. Maybe I should tell her I don't mean it in a gay way?
But I do. I mean it in the gayest way possible. I mean it as the start of a relationship that will lead to us getting married in matching princess dresses and having babies and operating our own time travel business and–
Time travel. Duh.
"You know what?" I say, holding my hands up. "Let me try this again."
I leave her to her bewilderment and step outside. I set my wristwatch time machine back two minutes, and a blue glow envelops me. When it subsides, I go back in to find her bent over the laptop again.
She looks up when she sees me. "So..."
"Do you like girls?" I interrupt, because I am just the smoothest. When she doesn't answer right away, I add, "I do. And boys. And, in one very confusing instance, a cartoon fox. But the girl part is the most relevant now because I like you."
Out the door I go without another word, and back in time with a blue glow. We never used to have a blue glow; must be one of her improvements to the system.
This time, I go in with a plan, and that plan is poetry. What girl can resist wordplay!
And I have the perfect poem in mind. Before she can say anything, I launch into a passionate recitation. "Maid of Athens, 'ere we part. Give, oh, give me back my heart!"
Her initial amusement slips from her face, leaving her looking confused and... is that a teensy bit of disgust?
"Or since that has left my breast," I continue, "take it now and leave the rest. Hear my vow–"
I just remembered who wrote the poem.
Ada's perfect eyebrows knit together. "Roz, are you trying to woo me with a poem written by my father?"
"Yes. Luckily, I'm about to change history so you won't remember any of this when I get back," I say, and dash out the door. I do the Time Warp again.
I breathe slow, deep breaths and think of exactly what I want to say. I got Napoleon and Josephine together when a time rift erased the day they met. If I can do that, I can totally do this.
...is what I tell myself so I don't throw up.
"Hello, Miss Lovelace," I say this time, trying to stay calm despite a raging blush that has to be visible from space. "Do you have a moment to talk about something important?"
Ada is leaning over a closed laptop, a knowing smile on her strawberry cream lips (she borrowed my flavored lip gloss, so I know her kiss will be delicious). A jolt runs through me – does she want to talk about what I want to talk about? But she says, "Yes, I think we should go over some of the new features of your operating system before I leave," and I deflate just a tiny bit.
Did I imagine all the glances she stole when she thought I wasn’t looking? The flirtastic banter during all the late nights we stayed up coding? All the times her hands drifted from the keys and found my hand for no reason except that we're so obviously the leads in a romantic comedy?
I bite my lip and join her at the table. My confidence fizzles out like candles on a forgotten birthday cake, but I have to try.
"One of the changes I've made," she interrupts, resting her chin in her hands, "will hopefully prevent paradoxes." Pouty lips on paradox.
I mirror her posture and pay attention this time.
She speaks slowly, like she's teasing me with information. "I've implemented a safeguard to keep time travelers from interfering with their own timelines."
"If you try to go back and change your own history, the machine won't work. I've set it to flash a blue glow instead of an alarm."
But that would mean...
"So, for example, if you wanted to undo your embarrassing attempts at confessing your feelings, the girl would see you walk out the door, only to return a few seconds later to try again."
Frost replaces my heated blush as my blood cools to the temperature of a cherry slushie.
Can you die from awkwardness?
My mouth hangs open in horror, which somehow makes it all the more awkward when she leans forward to kiss me. All at once, my warmth returns, and I wish she hadn't made it impossible to go back in my own timeline.
Because I want to relive this moment over and over again.
Jennifer Lee Rossman is a science fiction geek from Oneonta, New York, where she cross stitches and threatens to run over people with her wheelchair. Her short story "Scrapefoot" is featured in Circuits & Slippers, an anthology of sci-fi fairy tale retellings. You can find her blog at jenniferleerossman.blogspot.com and Twitter at @JenLRossman.
Author & Editor's note: Ada is a real historical person. We cannot prove she liked women. (But it would be nice if she did... ^_~)