If Tomorrow Even Comes
I just want today to last forever.
The thought is pinwheeling in my head during my morning walk, when my phone buzzes in my pocket and breaks the loop. I stop under an oak tree to make sure it’s not an emergency, because my obsessive brain is always ready for bad news. As I tap the screen, a gravelly voice yells out behind me.
A mass of wild auburn hair flies past and I stumble off the sidewalk. Rude, I think, but then, a plop of bird poop lands in the exact spot I had been standing. I spin around and watch the same guy stop a stray shopping cart from crashing into an abandoned electric scooter. He rolls onward, until he arrives at a laundromat and rushes inside. I stare at the branch where the bird was perched, then at the scooter.
It’s like he knew what was going to happen.
I shake my head, wondering if my neurodiverse brain has me making connections that aren’t there, and tap on the message from my best friend, Casie.
I know you don’t want to talk about tomorrow, but I miss youuuu.
An uptick in my chest begins and my hands tremble. Some would say tomorrow marks the first day of the rest of my life, but to me, it feels like my life is over. At least as I know it.
Because tomorrow, everything changes.
Tomorrow, I leave for college.
The idea of it leaves me breathless, which is why I had planned to spend today the same way I’ve spent every other summer day. OCD has me grasping for any sense of normal within reach, and hoping that maybe, if I hold on tight enough, I won’t have to let go. Casie, on the other hand, moved last week to get a head start on whatever the future holds. We’ll reunite tomorrow, but then there will be so many new things to miss.
I bury my phone in my pocket and squeeze my eyes shut. Sure, I’ve been through changes in my life before, like the instantly regrettable decision I made to let Casie give me bangs in eighth grade. I cried for a week, then swore I’d never make another big change again.
I bury my phone in my pocket and squeeze my eyes shut. Sure, I’ve been through changes in my life before, like the instantly regrettable decision I made to let Casie give me bangs in eighth grade. I cried for a week, then swore I’d never make another big change again. I’ve been getting by with few interruptions since. That is, until last summer, when my parents spilled the news that when I graduated, they’d be leasing our house and traveling across the country in a teardrop trailer, upending my plan to live at home. After endless therapy sessions to deal with the sudden news, here I am, about to fall face-first into the biggest change of my life.
I’d almost rather get bangs again.
Panic rises in my chest, so I look around, spotting each color of the rainbow until I’m calm enough to keep moving toward my original destination.
Lorenzo’s is an Italian bakery, owned by my grandparents. The scent of freshly made crumb cake drifts down the street, but as I reach the door, Skateboard Guy rushes out of the laundromat and straight into a salon. I hesitate briefly, but find myself walking to the window to peek inside. Someone with magenta hair is thanking him, for what, I have no idea. He sprints toward the door. Toward me.
Before I can stop him, he curves past me and darts forward. I hold my breath as he waves down a car before it hits a squirrel. I squint against the sun and watch him skate away. Curiosity is fighting my compulsive need to get back to my usual routine. I should be eating my mid-morning crumb cake and avoiding questions from my grandparents about whether I’m ready for the ‘big day’ tomorrow.
On second thought, if I don’t find out what’s happening, it’s going to start a whole new loop in my brain, one where I convince myself that Spiderman just saved me from virus-infected bird crap. I’ll just catch up to him, ask what the deal is, and spend the rest of the afternoon as planned.
There’s no way the truth can be as wild as I’m imagining.
Thanks to a few more rescues that slow him down, I catch up to him in a backyard, where he’s standing at the foot of a tree, with an old rope leading up to a treehouse.
“Hello?” I say.
He jerks his head in my direction, as if he’d forgotten where he was in space and time. His blue eyes lock on mine and grow wide, sending a tiny army of fireflies flying through my stomach, because he has a smattering of freckles across his cheeks that make me feel lit up inside.
“It’s you,” he says, almost a whisper. I watch his eyes dart around and land back on me. “You never come here.”
It’s a fact. I’ve never been here. “I saw you out there, protecting the streets like you have some sort of Spidey Sense?”
A hollow laugh escapes him. “Something like that.”
He looks away. “You wouldn’t believe me.”
“You’d be surprised how easily I get invested in a story.”
He sighs, then meets my eyes. It’s unfamiliar and comforting at the same time, like some sort of Deja Vu. Like maybe I’ve been here before, although I’m certain I haven’t.
“The story is that I’m stuck in a time loop. I’ve woken up on this day at least one hundred times. I think. You lose track after living the same day over and over.”
“Oh,” I say. As a person with a constantly looping brain, I’m intrigued, even if I should maybe be concerned.
“You’re not laughing or rolling your eyes.”
“Is that what I usually do when we have this conversation?”
He shakes his head. “We’ve never spoken.”
I skim through a string of thoughts lining up in my brain before landing on, “besides when you warn me to move off the sidewalk.”
His brows furrow. “Wait, you believe me?”
I shrug. “Why wouldn’t I? You knew everything that was going to happen back there.”
“I could be messing with you.”
He sighs. “I wish.”
“Reliving the same day sounds great to me. I love a routine.”
A shy smile creeps across his face. “And yet, you’re here.”
I just want today to last forever.
My whole body tenses. He’s right. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m wasting my last normal day in a strange backyard with someone I don’t know. “I should go.”
“Me too, ” he says, hoisting himself up the first foothold on the rope, “I have to save a kitten. ”
I shut my eyes, wondering if this is a dream, but I’m as sweaty as a glass of lemonade, and as far as I know, you don’t sweat in dreams. When I open them my mind flashes through a variety of ways I could fall to my death from a treehouse, but I start climbing anyway, until I reach the doorway.
“I don’t even know your name,” I say.
He’s grinning, like he’s not surprised I’m up here. “Ian.”
“I’m Gemma,” I say, breathless. “Are you sure you didn’t know I was going to follow you?”
“I hoped. It’s been awhile since I’ve done something new.”
“Haven’t you saved this kitten before?” I ask.
“Not with you.”
My cheeks burn and I look around to avoid his gaze. There are drawings of rainbows, rockets, and a llama tacked to the wooden walls. A purple shag rug brings the whole space together. “Nice place.”
“It’s my brother, Henry’s. Check this out.” He presses a button and twinkle lights glow above us like a midnight sky.
“It’s kind of magical.”
He nods. “Colonel Mustard should be showing up any minute.” I must make a face because he laughs. “That’s the cat. ”
“Ah, ” I say. “Henry is a fan of Clue?”
“Oh yes, games are one of his obsessions.”
My chest constricts. I’m not sure if he’s throwing around the word “obsession”, or if his brother is like me.
“I get that,” I say. “I have OCD.”
Ian nods, but there’s no trace of judgment, or worse, amusement, on his face.
“What’s that like?”
“My brain makes a lot of rules without my permission, and once they’re made, it’s hard for me to ignore them.” I’m surprised how comfortable I feel answering him. I didn’t always have the words to explain it.
“That must be hard sometimes.”
“It can be.”
“I have ADHD. It’s physically painful for me to stay still,” he says.
I notice his foot hasn’t stopped tapping against the wall. “It can’t be easy for you to be stuck then.”
“When you’re reliving the same day for eternity, time means both nothing and everything.”
“That’s relatable,” I say. “Have you tried to break the loop?”
His foot taps against my sneaker and the fireflies return, short circuiting nerve endings in my toes I didn’t know existed. “Tried everything. Read all the time loop books in the library. Watched all the movies. Made amends. Saved random citizens from bird-related disasters.”
I cover my face, but a laugh escapes.
“Eventually I accepted that this isn’t a movie or a book. It’s my life now.”
“Thanks for the assist, by the way.”
He shrugs. “The first time I saw it happen, you had a panic attack on the sidewalk.”
I nod. “That tracks.”
“I try to make it over there every day now, so you don’t have to go through that again.”
Something warm passes through my chest and I’m overcome by the urge to take his hand. I hold back though, because that’s what I do. Whatever this day is, I can’t catch feelings for someone the day before I leave for college.
He clears his throat. “So, Gemma, any bucket list items you want to get to?”
He’s probably talking about skydiving or robbing a bank, but my eyes land on his lips, and my cheeks flush.
“Nope,” I say, but my voice cracks, and I look away.
“Well, either you’re in the time loop now with me, or tomorrow you’ll be reset, and forget this happened. Either way, you’ve got a consequence free day ahead of you.”
I scowl. Consequences exist for a reason. “Assuming I’m just an extra in your time loop and don’t wake up in my own, which honestly doesn’t sound like the worst thing, I have to go to college tomorrow.”
“Sounds amazing to me.”
“Not me. How am I supposed to know what to expect?” My throat dries and all my muscles stiffen.
“Did you know what would happen when you climbed into this treehouse?” he asks.
“Well, first of all, I was promised a kitten, and so far, there are exactly zero kittens here.”
He chuckles. “The Colonel really should have showed up by now.”
“Isn’t everything supposed to be the same for you every day?”
“Ironically, I think you’ve disrupted the balance of this time loop,” he meets my eyes, “you, Gemma, are not an extra. You’re a plot twist.”
I gasp and grab my chest. “How dare you! I’ve never been a disruption in my life.”
He throws his head back in laughter this time, and the fireflies light up inside me like a bonfire.
“Wait, do you think that means your loop is broken? Did I break the space time continuum?”
“I guess we’ll find out at midnight.”
“What if I did break the loop, what’s the first thing you’ll do on a brand-new day?”
He looks at me, eyes glinting. “I’m going to college.”
Instead of bawling, I laugh. It starts as a giggle but explodes. The exact thing I’m avoiding, he’s been waiting for. Tears stream down my face, but they aren’t sad. I feel giddy, which is terrifying in its own way.
“Talk about opposing goals.”
He nods and shrugs. “My parents don’t want me to leave. They have a real estate business and I help take care of Henry. They were hoping I’d go to college here, but I’m ready to move on. Especially after all this,” he throws his arms in the air. “I love my brother, don’t get me wrong, but I’m ready for something new.”
“Have you told them all that?”
He looks away. “I’ve tried. Over and over. I can’t explain it without sounding like I’m trying to abandon Henry, who, by the way, told me he’ll be fine without me.”
“Do you think that’s why you’re stuck?”
He looks at me, leg shaking faster. “Maybe the problem is that I’m not supposed to want to leave?”
“I’m no expert on change, but I think if you’ve relived this day a hundred times and still know exactly what you want, you already know the answer to that question.”
“Do you think there’s something you need to figure out, Gemma?”
I scrunch my nose at him. “It’s not that I don’t want to go to college, I’m just not good with change.”
“And yet, here you are.”
I feel some pressure in my chest release, replaced by the shape of his smile. He’s right. Maybe it’s because I know I might not remember this tomorrow. It doesn’t count as change because it barely feels real.
On the other hand, it feels so real that I don’t ever want to forget it.
“You know, I thought I wanted to stay in this day forever so it could be familiar, but nothing about today has been normal.”
“Is that bad?”
“So far, no.” I say.
“Want to go do something you’ve never done before then?”
I suck in a breath. I might regret this.
Thirty minutes later, I’m standing at the edge of a roller rink, wearing a pair of used skates, and I can barely swallow past a sense of dread mixed with the smell of dirty socks. In fifth grade, I came to a party here at Skate City. I sat at a table with a cold piece of pizza in front of me for hours, trying to hype myself up to skate, but I was too afraid of falling.
“You ready?” Ian asks.
I want to be, but I’m frozen. My reflection glows from the disco lights in the shiny wood flooring, and it feels like more than facing a fear of falling. I’m not sure how to let go.
Ian offers his hand. “If you want,” he says.
We’re the oldest patrons by at least ten years, besides the parents of the little kids scattered across the ground. I take his hand and step onto the slick floor.
“One step at a time.”
A young girl takes an epic fall into the center of the rink and then gets right back up and keeps going. I grip his hand tighter. My balance is shaky, my fingers sweaty, and I’m slightly dizzy from the neon lights and blaring pop music, but I’m moving forward.
Oh, and I am holding hands with Ian.
“Having fun?” he asks.
“I am,” I say, and then, with a sudden wave of confidence, “I’m going to let go.”
A kid flies past us pointing and laughing, and before I know it, I’m laughing too, and so is Ian, and falling isn’t such a bad thing, because before I hit the ground, it felt like I was flying.
I skate off on my own. One foot in front of the other, and I doubt it’s graceful, but I’m doing it. Even as I lose my balance and my left foot slips out from under me and I land square on my butt, I’m smiling. Ian skates up next to me and tries to brake too quickly, which causes him to land in a heap next to me. A kid flies past us pointing and laughing, and before I know it, I’m laughing too, and so is Ian, and falling isn’t such a bad thing, because before I hit the ground, it felt like I was flying.
We spend another hour skating, and the next time I hold his hand, it’s not because I’m scared. It’s because I want to.
I check my phone as we sit near the concession stand, eating soft pretzels. I’ve missed some texts from Casie. I don’t respond because I haven’t figured out how to explain this maybe-make-believe day to her. I’ll save my story to tell her tomorrow, if tomorrow even comes.
“I have to go to dinner with my family soon,” I say. My voice comes out hoarse.
“And I need to get to Henry’s recital. He forgot his costume. I can prevent a meltdown by bringing it before he realizes.”
My chest feels heavy again. At the thought of saying goodbye to my family after dinner, saying goodbye to my house in the morning, saying goodbye to Ian right now. I look around the skating rink. I need a coping technique, so I look for the rainbow.
The red tabletop.
Orange roller skates.
A neon yellow poster for nineties night.
Green flashing lights.
Ian’s blue shirt.
I usually get through the whole rainbow before my breathing slows, but I stop there, because he’s looking at me like he really sees me. We walk outside the skating rink in silence, him with one hand in his pocket, the other fidgeting with the wheels on his skateboard. Me, twisting the hem of my t-shirt.
“What happens if you’re awake at midnight?” I ask.
“The day fades to black, the universe hits refresh, and I wake up and start over again.”
“So, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow?” I say.
“Or today, again?”
The urge to hug him overcomes me, but flickers out.
As I walk up the steps to my grandparents’ house, a slow creep of anxiety crawls through me. I count back from five and walk inside, where Grandma’s marinara sauce has been simmering for hours, and the smell of the tomatoes and oregano fills my heart back up to normal size. She scoots out of the kitchen with a basket full of garlic bread, stopping short when she sees me.
“Gem, you’re here. We were worried.”
She hugs me, whispering that she’s going to miss me. Another wave of longing hits me. I back myself into the bathroom down the hall, shut the door, and slide down until I reach the cold tile. I can’t help but hold on tight to the familiar, but it’s going to slip through my grasp whether I want it to or not.
I find the rainbow in the tiny guest bathroom, and then breathe, remembering what it felt like, gliding around the skating rink. Maybe it’s okay to enjoy dinner with my family, even if it’s bittersweet. I can hold on to my past, while also making space for whatever lies ahead.
I’m going to fall sometimes, but I won’t get to fly if I never let go.
Back at home, I can’t sleep thanks to all the thoughts ping ponging around my head. If it turns out I’m stuck in a time loop, what will I do differently? If I’m not, will I regret not taking more risks today?
Maybe it’s not too late for at least one.
I can see the fairy lights twinkling inside the treehouse from the ground. I climb up the rope, steadier than this morning, but Ian’s not there. Dread fills my chest as I hear the creak of the rope. Someone else is coming. It could be an ax-murderer or a bloodthirsty animal or a mean middle schooler coming to make fun of my pajamas.
In the end, though, it’s him.
“I’m glad it’s you and not a serial killer,” he says when he sees me.
“Or a mean middle schooler.”
“Shit, yeah, that would be worse.”
He settles next to me. “What are you doing here?”
I stare out a window in the corner. I swear I see fireflies in the distance. “Couldn’t sleep.”
“Same,” he says.
I face him. “If I get reset, when you see me again, will you tell me about today?”
“Do you want me to?”
“Yes. Tell me everything.”
He meets my eyes. “Okay, I will. I’ll tell you about roller skating and how I finally talked to my parents and how this was the best version of this day so far and how I can’t stop thinking about how much I want to–” he stops there, a question in his eyes.
“Me too. I want to kiss you, Ian. But I want to remember it.”
“Let’s wait until midnight then. If we get reset, second chance,” he says.
“And if we don’t?”
“Then it’s the first day of the rest of our lives.”
He sets his phone between us as the clock blinks 11:59. My heart races in circles, for once not wanting time to slow down.
And then, it’s midnight.
We don’t fade away.
A tear streams down Ian’s cheek. I lean in and catch it with my thumb. He leans in too, until our lips meet, and we kiss like two people who have no idea what the future holds but are ready to find out.
Miranda Scotti is a lifelong writer and hopeful romantic. She lives outside Orlando, where she works in a library to maximize her time spent drinking coffee while surrounded by stacks of books. Miranda has been published by Voyage YA by Uncharted, has had stories featured in three anthologies, and has been a guest on the Young Adult Literature episode of the library podcast Check This Out with Angela and Adam. You can follow her on Instagram and Threads at @mirandasbooked.