“You gotta believe me,” Albert begged. The late-20s man kept his eyes downcast at the table. The plain white formica reflected softened fluorescent lights. He found her in the break room starting her lunch. The too-lean, waspy woman with stringy blonde hair unpacked a small bowl of fruit. Albert felt embarrassment at approaching Tessa; having to ask her for help was almost unbearable to his conscience. “I’m sorry,” he added again. His plea for help opened and ended with an apology; they both knew what it was for. “I wouldn’t come to you if I had any other choice.”
“Well,” Tessa sighed. “At least you apologized first.” She waited silently until he looked up and met her eyes. “Do you have any proof? Or am I supposed to trust you because you finally got out the apology you needed to practice for a decade?” Albert cringed at the stern words, again, but nodded his head. It wasn’t the first time she’d said it; it wasn’t the first time he came to her for help. But, she was the only one willing to even entertain his explanation. Everyone else dismissed him outright. She was the only one that listened.
“Kind of…,” Albert sighed heavily.
“You kind of have proof?”
“You don’t like me,” he said suddenly. It was a new approach. She burst out laughing.
“No shit. You made high school a living hell for me,” she shook her head. “If I could, I’d give you four years of hell too.” Albert shook his head.
“I know, but that’s the problem. I’ve come to you for help before. I already lost count how many times. Everything resets for me every day, so the only way I can prove it to you is if you tell me something I wouldn’t have any way of knowing,” he said.
“Makes sense,” Tessa nodded.
“Yeah, but, you don’t like me. So, you’ve been lying to me,” he sighed. “Your fruit bowl,” he nodded at the blue plastic bowl with an opaque lid. “The first time you told me what was in it so that I could use that as proof, but you lied. Then when I found out and told you, you said it wasn’t enough to believe me. And you’ve led me on like that for a while now,” he said. He refocused on the small table so that Tessa wouldn’t see the tears collecting in his eyes.
“That…,” Tessa paused to think, then nodded. “That sounds like something I’d do,” she said. Albert perked up immediately, that was something new. He started paying attention to keep things in mind for the next loop. Different was good, but so far it hadn’t meant an escape.
“So, let’s pretend I believe you. What do you want me to do about it?” Albert was stumped.
“I don’t know. I just wanted someone to believe me,” he said quietly.
‘Okay,” Tessa said. “I’ll believe you,” she glanced up at the clock hanging above the exit to the break room. “It’s already 1, and I still have a ton of work to do,” she pulled out a notepad and pen from her purse.
“You don’t have to, it’ll reset tomorrow,” Albert reminded her, but she shook her head.
“Even though I believe you, time loops can end suddenly. I’d rather not put my work off just to have the loop break. If you call me tomorrow morning, early, I’ll call in sick and we can brainstorm your problem,” she said as she doodled something on her notepad.
“I already have your number,” Albert said. “It took a couple of tries but you finally gave me the real one. But how am I going to prove anything over the phone?” Tessa tore the sheet off and gave it to Albert.
“Well, I didn’t know you had my number, but the picture is what’s important. Just describe that to me. It’s on my right thigh,” she said. Under her phone number was a doodle of a scythe with the number 14 on its blade. “I got it yesterday,” she said, then corrected herself with a broad smile. “Or I guess yesterday before you got stuck in a time loop.”