Attempt 1: Talk to her.
“Hi,” I say in the break room at Innovations Worldwide, though this is debatable. I might have only cleared my throat. Regardless, I am counting this as the first word I have uttered to Jennifer.
She looks up from her tablet. Her green eyes sparkle in the fluorescent light. She’s most likely reading Stephen King. That’s her favorite author. She’s been listening to the Misery audiobook in her cubicle (which is next to mine) every day this week. I want to tell her he’s my favorite writer too. (But one thing at a time.) “Do I know you?” she says.
“Hi,” I say. My brain has run out of words. An invisible hand tightens around my throat.
I do the only thing possible: I run away.
Note: Technology is your friend.
Attempt 2: Try again using Dr. Tomokats’ TimeTripper©.
“Aren’t you Dr. Tomokats’ quality-control officer?”
I think I nod.
Then I run away.
Note: Time travel solves nothing.
Attempt 3: Impress her.
I reprogram Dr. Tomokats’ BattleBorg©.
It enters the break room. “Destroy! Destroy!” the cyborg screeches as it lumbers toward Jennifer. Klaxons blare from its head, its eyes flash red and yellow. (That’s all I programmed it to do; it’s harmless.) I swoop into the room, ready to “save” my co-worker from the “killer” cyborg.
Jennifer taps on its head three times. It deactivates. I had no idea.
I make myself a tea and slink back to my cubicle.
Note: Recommend Dr. Tomokats configure more difficult deactivation protocol.
Attempt 4: Seduce her.
I sit at the bench that Jennifer passes every morning on her way to work. I had placed Dr. Tomokats’ Pheromone Amplifier Cologne© on all my pulse points. For good measure, I placed it everywhere else.
I try to keep calm by humming softly to myself, but my nerves kick into overdrive anyway and in time I’m soaked with flop sweat.
Before she turns the corner, I vomit.
Then I run away.
Note: Recommend issuing warning label for Pheromone Amplifier Cologne’s possible toxic reaction to perspiration.
Attempt 5: Write her a romantic song.
Words often fail me. So I use Dr. Tomokats’ AutoHitMaker©, which creates and then streams ten thousand songs about Jennifer. Among them: “Jennifer in the Sky With Diamonds,” “Jenny, I Need Your Loving,” and “This Guy’s in Love With You, Jennifer.” I play them all day long in my cubicle. I even sing along. (Under my breath.) I think I’m being pretty overt; in fact, my boldness is giving me a heart attack. But she doesn’t seem to notice.
It’s not until an hour before quitting time that I learn she is being transferred to our downtown facility after only two months here, and she had spent most of the day with her friends on the third floor saying goodbye.
When she returns to her cubicle, she listens to the Watership Down audiobook. It’s breaking my heart. I love that book too.
Note: You’re an idiot.
Abort Mission: Move on. Drown yourself in work.
It obviously wasn’t meant to be. I turn my focus on testing Dr. Tomokats’ latest invention, the Multiverse Viewer©.
The first thing I do when I enter Earth-Beta is look for my alternate self. You kinda have to do that, right? I’m living in the same Brooklyn, New York apartment. I pass through the door like a ghost. The place smells like potpourri and the decor is nicer. My Earth-Alpha apartment smells like a warm Ham & Cheese Hot Pocket. I enter the living room and my stomach drops.
Earth-Beta Jennifer and Earth-Beta me are snuggling on the couch watching Jay Leno. (On this Earth Jay never leaves The Tonight Show. It’s classified as a Grade-2 dystopia.) I exit the parallel dimension even more depressed. I’m totally jealous of my alternate self.
I jump into Earth-Tau, where the world is ruled by a werewolf-Hitler. Soon I discover that Jennifer and I are married and lead a band of resistance fighters against Nazi shape-shifters.
In Earth-Zeta, I watch as we board a generation starship that will eventually carry our great-great-great grandchildren to a habitable planet to ensure the continuation of the human race.
On Earth-Omega, a zombie apocalypse has turned us both into the walking dead. I look closer and notice we’re holding hands—and maybe it’s my imagination but our undead faces look kinda happy.
I visit one dimension after another, and we’re always together. So why aren’t we a couple on Earth-Alpha? Is this the one world in an infinite number of possible realities where we are not meant to be together? Am I the unluckiest of all the iterations of me? God, I hate being shy. But Dr. Tomokats hasn’t invented an anti-introvert pill.
Technology has failed me. What now?
It hits my Rube Goldberg of a mind like a ball-bearing that has dropped into a tiny basket, fallen down a length of string, and landed on a tiny bell. It’s so simple. It’s so damn terrifying.
I take a deep breath, I think of those brave bunnies in Watership Down. Then, my heart pounding like mad, I pop my head over the cubicle wall, and I–
Attempt 6: Ask Jennifer on a date.
Note: I don’t run away.
James Aquilone is an editor and writer, for fun and for profit. His fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s Edge, Weird Tales Magazine, and DarkFuse’s Horror d’oeuvres, among other publications. He has never owned a cellphone and hopes radio dramas make a comeback. Zombies don’t scare him. He lives in Staten Island, New York with his wife, Jennifer (who may or may not be the basis for the above story). Visit his website at jamesaquilone.com.
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