He opened his eyes and looked at the most beautiful woman in the world. She smiles warmly back and runs her hand across his bare chest. He counts the freckles on her nose. Only a dozen, but they stand out against the slightly sun-kissed skin. Strands of light brown hair lie tumbled across her face. Blue piercing eyes peek seductively through the locks. He drifts back to sleep.

He wakes up some time later and only a slight indentation of where she had slept. The room was a tad brighter with the sun now fully casting rays of light through the open blinds. He hears the steady stream of the shower down the hall and gets up. He walks down carpeted stairs into a living room with a large rectangular television mounted on a wall showing a muted workout infomercial, an empty bottle of wine with two red stained glasses on the coffee table, and remnants of clothing haphazardly strewn across the furniture and floor. As he heads to the kitchen to start some coffee, he can hear the water turn off upstairs.

After placing some of the previous evening’s dinner plates in the dishwasher, he spots her walk into the kitchen. She is wearing the clothes she wore last night and her brown hair is now wet and flat against her head. His heart flutters at the sight of her. “What’s for breakfast?” her heavenly voice asks.

Before he can answer, the front door opens and two small children come running in. They are laughing and calling for their dad. A woman’s voice calls out for help with the luggage, and his stomach nearly loses everything from last night into the sink. The kids stop in their tracks, confused looks on their faces. “Who are you?” his son asks, a quizzical expression on his innocent face.

“Richard, are you awake?” a woman calls as she struggles to get three suitcases through the front door and into the living room. She turns her attention to the scene before her and instantly drops to her knees. As she covers her face with shaking hands, the children begin to cry as well, not understanding what was happening and taking a cue from their mother.

“Diane,” he finally manages to croak. “I-I can explain…”

Things go dark and he finds himself sitting in a cafe with a small cup of black coffee that had gone cold an hour before. He was waiting for her…for the love of his life. There was a small chime as the door opened, his heart leaping into his throat, but just an older gentleman looking for the nearest bathroom.

His pocket vibrated and he instantly dug out the phone. He sees the number, joy washing over him. He presses the small green check mark on the screen and answers. 

There was silence for nearly a full minute before he heard her voice. “Hi.”

“Hi, hello, how are you?” he asks. When she didn’t answer right away he replied to the silence with, “I’ve got us a table by the window. I know how you like to people watch.”

“Look, Richard-” she began, but was quickly cut off.

“Are you almost here? I-I can order you a drink if you’re going to be here soon.”

“Richard, this isn’t going to work,” she blurted out. “I can’t see you anymore.”

He felt a sharp pain in his chest. “No, no, no…no you can’t…please, I-I-”

“Look, we had fun. But, I can’t stop thinking about that day. How our selfish actions just destroyed your family in seconds. I’m not innocent, I knew the risks, but to see it unfold before me…I-I just can’t.”

“But, don’t you see? This means we can be together now. Just like we planned. Sure, the divorce isn’t final yet, and I’m probably not going to see the kids much, but that just means you and I can move forward.”

There’s another long stretch of silence. He can feel his grip tightening on the phone as the seconds slip by.

“Look…we can work this out…please. Don’t do this to me,” he begs. He tastes salt, and realizes there are tears falling down his face. He also notices the stares from the other patrons. He turns his back to them, lowering his voice slightly. “Can I just see you? Just…just one more time to say goodbye?” She is silent for some time. 

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’m sorry, Richard.”

The phone goes silent as she disconnects.

***

The snap back physically tosses Carter Hayes in the small reclined chair. There are comforting hands pressing him down and calming voices coaxing his attention to them. He realizes he is crying. Sobbing might be a better word. When he realizes he’s no longer in the memory, he begins to relax. The hands and voices leave as he calms down and stops resisting their help. Carter decides to sit for a little bit. He hadn’t expected such a disturbing twist with this memory.

She’d never disappointed before and the same couldn’t be said about this trip. But, he had yet to go through a memory with someone who had gotten so close to her. Always a first or second date that never went beyond a polite hug or quick passionless kiss, but this was beyond anything he could have imagined. She had loved this man and he had lost himself to her.

Carter took a deep breath and got out of the chair. He glanced around at the two other seats in the room. One held an elderly woman who was smiling from ear to ear. It was probably the wrinkled skin, but it still looked almost cartoonish and drew a small chuckle out of him. The other chair was occupied by a young man who was grimacing horribly. He could only imagine what memories these two were going through.

Carter walked down the narrow hallway, having to try his best to hug the wall as an obese man stomped past. He glanced into the rooms as he headed to the entrance. Each held three chairs and each seat was occupied. When he finally made it back to the waiting room he stopped at the front desk to book another appointment.

There was a young man sitting in a squeaky chair, head completely shaved except for a tiny wisp of hair at the top that was heavily gelled into a fragile looking spike. “Name?” the receptionist asked, obviously wishing he was anywhere but here.

“Hayes, Carter…I’d like to reserve another session.”

The young man silently nodded, hands dancing across a large touchscreen monitor. When he had the account up, he asked, “What would you like to experience?”

“My history should have my preferences.”

The young man sighed, interest lost long before Carter even arrived here today, and went into his account history. “So, another session featuring a memory with this particular identification number?” Carter leaned in to make sure he was pointing to the correct sequence.

“Yes,” he answered. “I prefer new memories, or any that I might not have gone through yet.” The young man was putting these notes into the next appointment ticket. “I was hoping to be back in a month.”

The rest of the process was even more unpleasant and took a lot longer than was necessary, but at least Carter knew he had to only wait four weeks before he saw her again. He did not know her name, as it was always scrubbed from the sessions since she was still alive somewhere. She was his soulmate, and he would patiently comb through the world’s memories hoping to one day find her and fill the emptiness he had carried through his entire life. Even if they met on their last day on this planet, it would have been worth a lifetime of searching.