"You have no idea what time is going to do to you."
The girl was certainly no older than me, certainly. In fact, she looked at least ten years younger than me, and her dark blue, smock-like top the drugstore chain made her wear at the register made her look even younger and more childish.
If I allowed myself a moment of superficiality right then, I would have said there was nothing special about her: not her hair style, not her face, not her body, not her smile, not her eyes or even the tone of her voice. In fact, there was something slightly non-pleasing about all those elements of her, but I couldn't quite put my finger on exactly why. Maybe everything about her was just a little "off' by the world's standard of what was beautiful and what wasn't. Regardless of that, though, I realized that at 2:00am, when I was the only customer in the store full of everything a person could need at 2:00am, it was an odd thing for her to say to me as I walked in and passed the checkout counter.
"I'm sorry, did you say something?" I gave her the benefit of the doubt and asked her the question to make sure that she hadn't just said something as bizarre as that to a customer.
"You heard me. You know I'm right." The reply was as close to being a sneer as it could be without actually being one. Maybe it wasn't a sneer, it was just the way her face looked to me.
"Right, well, thanks. I'll keep that in mind. I need to go get some paper towels and decongestant. I'll be back to check out."
I didn't actually know where anything was in this store as I usually frequented a competing drug store chain, but I wasn't going to ask her for help. I made my way down an aisle where I thought the decongestants should be. I got about halfway down the aisle when I realized she was standing at the far end of the aisle ahead of me. She had run all the way down another aisle and beaten me to the back of the store. She had the same possibly disdainful look on her face as she did at the register. I still wasn't sure what the look was. It was disdainful, but then it wasn't.
"Sir, you seem to be confused. Time is your mortal enemy, and you are ignoring how it will slowly destroy you."
I put my hands on my hips, feeling rage build inside me. "First off, that's what time does. As you move through time, you get older! Secondly, who are you to start lecturing me about the effects of age and what I'm doing about it? Are you trying to push me into buying some anti-aging products?"
She shook her head, seeming to feel sorry for me and being disgusted with me at the same time. I turned away from her and looked at the shelves. The decongestants were right there, and I chose a well-known brand. When I looked back in her direction, she was gone.
I turned around to head to the front of the store, and she was right there: nose to nose with me.
"You don't get it. You don't move through time!"
I leaned back a bit to stop feeling her breath on my face. Then I stepped away a bit. "Lady, you have a very odd sales approach. But I just need paper towels and then I'm out of here."
She was gone in a blink. She was there one moment, and then she was gone. Admittedly, I just stood there for a moment, blinking. Right then, I began to wonder if I should just leave and go another mile up the road to go shopping at the other 24-hour drug store.
Slowly, though, I made my way down the main aisle until I saw the paper goods aisle. There, of course, was where the paper towels were. And, there, of course, is where she was waiting for me.
"Sir, you need to understand this. I just figured it out while standing there at the counter and I see the whole world differently now."
"You figured what out?"
"Right before you came in, I was just standing at the checkout when I realized that maybe we didn't move through time. Maybe people and animals stayed in one 'place' on the 'space-time continuum' and time was some force that degraded them. Sure, the earth rotates around the sun while it spins, but that's just a circular, repeating motion. It doesn't really go forward or backward. It just remains constant. Maybe time isn't a line, but something that is designed to break us down and renew all living things."
Her concept was interesting, but I just needed paper towels. "I guess I can see your point, but... I just need paper towels."
"No, you don't, because you won't leave this store ever again, but you will always leave it."
She disappeared and then in a moment she was back. She was wearing maternity clothes and looking very pregnant. She looked at me, pointed to her stomach and said "This is yours."
She vanished again and came back in her drug store outfit holding a small boy by the hand. He was almost a twin of me when I was a small child. "See? It was definitely yours."
When she vanished again, I ran. I ran straight for the front doors. I hadn't run that fast in years, but I made it past the greeting cards and around the first check out lane in record time only to stumble when I saw she was there blocking the exit doors. She held out to me a knitted wool blanket that I remembered quite clearly having been made by my grandmother for me when I was a small child. That blanket had been gone for over twenty years, but there it was plain as day in her arms.
"Time isn't time," she said. "Time is force that breaks you down so that the planet renews itself and evolves. Once you understand that, you can be anywhere at any point in anyone's existence, including your own. That's how I knew."
I felt a little light-headed and felt myself sway a little bit. "That's how you knew what?"
"When I finally understood what time was, I was able to go through all the points in my existence that were to happen or had already happened but go through them in my current physical body. I didn't have to be a child to live my first school play again or be decrepit when I moved to a small apartment in Florida after retiring. I did it all in this body. I did it without aging. I'm doing it right now as we speak. And that's when I saw."
I leaned against the check out counter, feeling like something was about to overwhelm and consume me. "Saw what?"
"That almost right after I understood it all, just right then a stranger would come into my life who would understand what I understood and we would live outside traditional time and start a family together. We would try to educate others, but we would be one of the few enlightened who actually achieved full understanding of time. That stranger was you."
"And when do I achieve understanding of this?" I felt warm and cold at the same time.
She didn't answer me. I answered me, right then, when I appeared next to her.
"Now." I said simply.
In that moment, I could see me next to her while I could see me standing across from her.
But then I didn't.