As Sarah started shoving books and papers into her messenger bag, she caught sight of the old man sitting in the corner of the student lounge, trying his hardest not to stare at her.
Where did he come from? she wondered, absently. Never mind, I have to get out of here and get home, Marc will have a fit I’ve been out so late and haven’t come to get the boys. . . .
“Why are you here so late, if I may ask?” rumbled the old man.
Sarah paused. No, Sarah nearly hit the ceiling in shock. But she managed to hold her reaction down to a minor start, and looked carefully around at her inquisitor.
Wow, he’s old, she thought. White hair tucked under some sort of black cap, bushy – very bushy – white beard, overweight, indiscriminate height . . . wearing a navy jacket with some kind of emblem picked out in white embroidery, over a flannel shirt and blue jeans; glasses, bushy dark eyebrows, and green eyes. Piercing green eyes.
“I – class ran late, and I had to finish my notes, and why am I talking to you?” Sarah closed her eyes and put a hand to her forehead. My head hurts. I’m tired. Why am I talking to this guy?
The old man shifted a bit in his chair. His mouth quirked up into a faint smile. “There’s nobody left in the building now, except maintenance,” he observed, “and you’re still sitting down here in the lounge like it’s no big deal. Not sure where you’re parked, but it’s dark out there and this isn’t the best part of town.”
Creepy, much? “I could ask you the same thing, why you’re sitting here after hours. You’re not maintenance, and if you got mugged, you probably couldn’t defend yourself if you tried.”
The old man hefted a cane she hadn’t noticed. “You’d be surprised. And you’d be even more surprised if you thought all I had was the cane. They won’t ban weapons on this campus for another few years, yet. Not that I’d care,” he added, thoughtfully.
Sarah shivered involuntarily. “What? What do you mean? What do you want?” She turned fully around and, in the process, put the table between them. She didn’t realize it, but her eyes had gone wide, and she was in full fight-or-flight mode. Not that she had a weapon – her pepper spray was in her bag – or a clue as to what to do either with or without one if it came down to cases.
The old man’s smile got wider. He’s kind of cute when he does that, she thought. Then, What? Where did that come from?
“To tell the truth,” he said, “I’m just here to talk, if you have time . . . which I know you think you don’t, but you can trust me when I say it will turn out you do. And I’d truly be honored if you’d take the time to listen to a few other things I have to say, because they’ll be important to you.”
“How could I have time I don’t think I have? I have to leave and go home . . . ”
“To your boys, so your ex-husband won’t have a fit. Yeah. I know.”
“What???” Sarah screamed. She started backing away from the table but simply bumped up against the one behind her. “Are you stalking me?”
The old man looked horrified. “Stalking you? Good Lord, woman, no, not stalking. I just . . . Damn it.” He shook his head. “Let’s try this again. I was never good at talking to you.”
Sarah just stared at him like he had three heads.
“I know about you because I’m not from here. Not from now,” he amended. “Now is 1984. I came from 2044 to talk to you. And I know,” he rushed, “you’re going to tell me I’m full of beans. But it’s the truth, and I’m not here to rape you, or kidnap you, or rob and kill you, or any of the other things probably running through your head right now.”
“Sure, right. You came from 2044.” She shook her head to clear it, and the headache intensified; she grimaced. “You know me in 2044?”
He looked sad. “I wish I could say I do. But I can’t.” He straightened up in the chair and looked at her, carefully – clinically. “But I can tell you why you’re having headaches all the time. And why you’re getting a rash on your face. And why you’re tired all the time.”
She laughed. “I know all of that,” she said, “it’s called ‘a divorce, two kids, an asshole ex-husband, a low-paying job, night school, and guys hitting on me all the time because I’m twenty-six, allegedly pretty, and not wearing a wedding ring’.”
“No, I’m afraid that’s not why,” he disagreed, then temporized, “although certainly none of it helps.”
“Well, then, O Oracle of My Supposed Future, I’m all ears. Tell me why I feel like shit.”
“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you. Profanity, on the other hand, somehow does.” The old man gestured to a chair. “Maybe you’d better sit down.”
“I don’t have TIME for this!”
“Yet I told you, you do. Trust me.”
Sarah hesitated, then sighed in resignation. Her shoulders slumped. She pulled out the chair in front of her, moved around it, and sat.
“Grab your bag and pull the pepper spray out, if it will make you feel better,” he said.
Sarah just looked at him, no surprise left. “Like I’d pepper-spray an old man.”
He chuckled. “Oh, you probably would, given just provocation. Well, OK, if you don’t want the pepper spray, reach in there and pull out your cold beer.”
She stared at him. “Huh?” Guess there was some surprise left.
He pointed at her messenger bag. She grabbed the strap, pulled it around to her, opened the flap, and her eyes went wide again. Reaching in, she hauled out a frosty brown bottle of unlabeled beer.
“How . . . what? When?”
The old man laughed. He has a nice laugh. “I have powers beyond those of mortal men. And, I did say I was from the future.” She looked up and watched him pouring something golden from another unlabeled bottle into a small tumbler . . . and she swore neither the bottle or the tumbler had been there when she’d looked down to check her bag. He put the cork back into the bottle, set it on the table, lifted the tumbler to her, toasted, “Salut!”, and took a sip.
“What is that?”
“Bourbon. Small batch, Elijah Craig, I think 2032.” He looked into the air between them. “Yep. It was a good year for corn.”
“What is this?” She indicated the beer bottle.
“Oh, that’s a nice lager my neighbor put up last winter. It will be similar to your local craft-brewed beers . . . in about 30 years.” He smiled. “For now, just accept it will be better than Budweiser. And for heaven’s sake, drink it while it’s cold. Just twist the top.”
She sat back, took the corrugated metal cap in her hand (she hated twist tops, they hurt her hands), gritted her teeth, and twisted.
It disappeared, leaving her hand unhurt, the bottle open, and a little vapor wafting out of the neck. “Huh,” she muttered. “Nice trick. Where’s the cap?” She looked around, not seeing it.
“Future tech,” responded the old man, to her puzzled look. “Never mind how it works, just enjoy the fruits of your labor.” Sarah rolled her eyes, lifted the bottle, and took a short pull.
“I do so love it when your eyes get big,” chuckled the old man.
Sarah swallowed, wiped her mouth on her sleeve, and said to no one in particular, “That’s the best beer I ever drank.”
She finally smiled. The old man looked happy. “Chris will be pleased you said so,” he said.
“My neighbor. My best man. Best friend, for that matter. Brother of another mother. Braumeister extraordinaire. None of which is part of this matter. Thank you for the smile,” he added, “you always had a lovely smile.”
Sarah frowned. “You keep talking about me in the past tense.”
“Indeed.” The old man took another sip of his drink, and considered. “Ready for some hard truths? I don’t have any easy ones, unfortunately.”
“Hit me with your best shot.” She settled in, beer in hand, and looked at him, skeptically expectant.
“Pat Benatar. 1980. Not relevant. OK.” He took another sip. “Sarah, here is the bottom line. You aren’t tired and headachy and have a rash because your life is shit. You have those things because in about three years you’re going to be diagnosed with,” and he pronounced the words carefully, “systemic lupus erythematosus.”
“What’s – ”
“It’s an auto-immune disease that strikes women disproportionally to men, something like two to one. Basically your immune system gets stuck in high gear and thinks you’re sick all the time, and it attacks your body. You probably have joint pain, too, which you’re probably dismissing as fatigue-related. The bad part is it ends up destroying your vital organs, and you die.”
She felt numb. The words just cascaded over her. They were too much, too fast. She closed her eyes, took another sip of the really-excellent beer, and struggled to assimilate what she’d been told.
“The good part,” he continued, “insofar as there is one, is medications exist that can treat the problem. They can’t cure it, but they can slow its progress, and a lot of people who have it live essentially normal and full lives. There can be side effects, but as my own doctor once told me,” he grinned, slightly, “a little tummy-ache or dizziness usually beats lookin’ at the turf from the dirt side.”
“You have it? This, this,” she struggled for the words, “lupus whatever?” she finished, somewhat lamely.
“No, I have other problems. Most antibiotics don’t like me. But this isn’t about me.”
“But I don’t understand,” she almost wailed. “Why would you – ” she paused, thinking how odd it was going to sound – “Why would you travel through time to tell me about this before I even needed to know?” She looked at him through pleading eyes. “I’m not going to die soon, am I?” My babies . . .
“Ah,” he replied, soothingly, “therein lies the rub. But no, you have a good number of years in front of you. The reason I’m here is because some of those years are not going to be good to you. Worse, you could have lived longer than you did, and lived better than you did . . . from a financial and mental standpoint, as well as from a physical and wellness standpoint.”
“OK . . . how?”
To be continued…
“Time Will Tell” is copyright © 2016 by Nathan Brindle. All Rights Reserved.