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Remi had memorized this look. The wild movement of his hands. The way his hazel eyes widened and the gold flecks of his irises brightened, as if they had been awakened. The unintended exaggeration of his expression, the way he injected each and every word from articles to propositions with energy.

This was Theo, riding high on a wave of passion.

It was what had attracted her to him when they first met. He approached all things, even the mundane, with zeal, which flew in the face of her conditioned pessimism. If she could possess just a milliliter of his zest for life, she had once thought, it would be a potent enough dose to wipe the gray from her clouds and replace it with silver linings for a good while.

Today, the source of his joy was a story he had read about a local family who had been searching for their lost dog for nearly a year, all for the bulldog to wander into their front yard, no worse for wear.

“Can you imagine what that must’ve been like to see this part of your family who you assumed was gone… just… reappear?! It had to feel like seeing a—“ Theo’s face screwed up, his bowed lips pursing, thick eyebrows drawing close together. “Why are you looking at me like that? Do I have something on my face?” He reached up to scratch at his dark beard, as if crumbs of food had become caught in it.

“No, no,” Remi laughed and reset her own expression into one of placidity. She had turned wistful, she knew, caught somewhere between awe and heartbreak. She had a keen understanding of what it would be like to see someone you love reappear. “I just really like listening to you. You get so excited.”

“Yeah,” he chuckled. “My mom told me I have golden retriever energy.”

She knew. She had heard his mom make that statement many a time.

Theo, her hybrid human-puppy son, Lois had called him.

Like in those moments, Theo now bore the weight of embarrassment as he carefully lined up his knife and fork with the ridge of his plate, and scraped the sharp cut of his chin against the soft collar of his cotton shirt.

“Hey, everyone likes a golden retriever,” Remi said. “Better than the black sheep.”

He tilts his head at her. “Are you speaking from experience?” He had always been good at this, too, sussing out her emotions, including those hidden by layers of nonchalance and detachment. “Sorry if that’s a heavy third date talk.” And in any other circumstance, with any other person, he would’ve been right.

Remi tucked a wave of her platinum blonde bob behind her ear. “No, you’re fine,” she said. “A bit, although maybe not so much in my family as with society in general. I’m kind of a loner.” She tried to wrap the truth in a laugh, like if she could present the pile of shit that was her history in a beautiful foil-gift wrapped present, it would be more palatable.

But maybe it didn’t work. His eyes scanned her, his smile gone, and she had to wonder if she had dropped too large of a truth bomb on him. While her high comfort level had her defenses down, his were not. She had forgotten that. Shit.

Her shots were limited with this. That’s dating. Hell, it’s life. One thing, one overshare or misstep could completely throw you off a beautiful path and onto one that was contorted with rough bends and only led to a dead end. If this were any other date, she would’ve expected it. It’s how many of them had ended and this would’ve been par for the course. But this was Theo, and the fact that he was even sitting in front of her was a miracle. If she fouled it up, and he walked away … she couldn’t consider it.

She only had a few shots at initiating this conversation… the one she’s been terrified to have with Theo, and she could’ve fouled it up before she even got to the hard part.

He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could voice a thought she may not want to hear, Remi cut him off.

“Sorry, that was kind of foreboding. What I mean is my family was never close. I left home at seventeen, and friends aren’t always the easiest to come by when your life is in flux for years at a time.” Hard to invite someone to hang out when you live out of your car. At least that was the story of her late teens to early twenties. “Maybe you were right, and I should’ve kept that to date five or six.” She sliced into the steak on her plate and ate a bite, the flavor suffusing in her mouth.

Theo had suggested Fork in the Road at the end of their last date, sharing that it was his favorite restaurant.

It had become hers, too, and although he loved sampling each new dish that made it to the menu, from the time Remi tried their flat iron steak, she had to order it. Until everything lost its flavor, the world its color, and she cast off Fork in the Road completely.

Theo laughed, shook his head. “No, I appreciate you sharing it. I was just thinking that your honesty is refreshing,” he says, and relief lets her hands unclench. “It sounds like that would be tough to go through.”

“It was, and it wasn’t. Easier to breathe when you’re no longer somewhere you didn’t want to be, you know?”

“I do,” and he sounded like he genuinely did. Because as she would learn, there had been plenty of places, plenty of moments, he had felt suffocated and caged in. A golden retriever locked in his kennel.

“For the record, I’ve always liked the black sheep,” he said, his fingers—rough from playing guitar and violin—covering hers like a blanket of warmth.

She smiled, and tried to keep the wetness at the edges of her emerald eyes at bay.

Her heart ached with missing, not realizing that after months, it no longer had to miss. “Thank you.”

Theo’s hand squeezed hers, returned to his side of the round ebony table, and reached for his glass of whiskey. “Not to be a current events quiz, but did you see on the news, scientists are piloting this reset machine? Like you can go back in time and reset to a part of your life you’d prefer to be living in?”

Her breath caught deep in her throat, the place she has shoved her feelings for so many years. She hoped he didn’t notice. “Yeah, I did see something about that.”

“Do you think you’d ever use it? Would you reset to a different time?”

When she had first heard about the machine, she couldn’t have imagined ever using it. It seemed like too big of a risk, asking these scientists to turn back the clock on your life to do it over again, as if that could ensure the pain you wanted to erase never would exist. That was life, she had said then, no matter what you do, no matter what you wish you can undo, there is always more pain. As much as living means to love and to experience joy, it also means to hurt, to weep, to bleed.

But time and circumstances changed a lot in people. With experience, opinions evolved.

“Is that another question we should leave for the fifth date?” Theo asked, amused, when she hadn’t yet responded.

“It’s a good one,” she said, spinning the bottom of her martini glass with her fingertips, one rotation, then two.

The answer was easy. It was there, ready to leap from the tip of her tongue every time she spoke, carried in her gaze each time she looked at him. To tell him it, that was a different story. That was to rip the scabs from slowly healing wounds, and gouge those that hadn’t stopped bleeding.

Let’s say, three years from now, I’m sitting at work, and my desk phone rings, and our receptionist, Arthur, tells me there is someone there to see me. He directs me to a conference room, where two police officers are waiting, and they tell me that my husband一the love of my life, the person who made me believe the world wasn’t completely full of shit一was killed in gas station robbery gone wrong, as if they ever go right. 

Let’s say, I can’t get out of bed for weeks. That the people had been there in our happiest moments stopped checking in two weeks after he died. That I am having trouble finding a reason to believe life is worth it anymore. 

Let’s say my coworker, Millicent, tells me about a program called ReSet Button, and that I could have a chance to stop him from going to that gas station and keep him with me longer. She tells me there are some risks, that it could set off a butterfly effect, and that there are no guarantees that the reason I am seeking out ReSet Button will be able to be stopped or fixed. But there’s still a chance I could, and for months, all I wanted was another chance. And I thought that even if I couldn’t stop it, at least I could have time with him again. 

Time to pull him into my arms, and feel his heartbeat beneath my palm.  

To hear his voice through the telephone, telling me he’s on his way home. 

To sit across a table from him, look into those beautiful hazel eyes, share a meal, and remember what it was like to be in his light…

Remi took a sip of her martini, and smiled, “Yeah, in the right circumstance, I think I would.”

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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