He winked at me from across the counter, assuring me of just how special his coffee was. However, I scowled, because this occurred at a time before the paradox was in place; a time before I believed in myself and believed in magic coffee.
I stopped believing in magic when I was five.
I became an agnostic when I was thirteen, and didn't even know what the word meant.
I started believing in coffee when I was nineteen.
When I was twenty-nine, I stopped believing in a higher power.
At thirty-eight, I stopped believing in myself.
And then I started believing in magic again at fourteen. Fourteen.
Yes. All of those things. All in that exact order. Because the me of fourteen was a me I could put my faith in, a me I could believe in.
Of course, I didn't believe any of it. Yet there I was, with my old and empty story journal in front of me. The one I scribbled all over but never wrote anything in. Not one diary entry. Not one poem. Not one short story. Just blank pages.
I stared at the first page intently, as I took my first sip. I didn't look back at the restaurant owner, for I feared the light that must surely be glaring off his smiling teeth.
I watched the waitress roast the beans in Ethiopian tradition, I assured myself as I took my first sip. There can't be any magic in it. Not even a psychotropic drug.
Am I hearing things? came another voice in my head.
I leaned back in astonishment, gripping my hot cup of coffee firmly. I could hear the smug giggle of the waitress.
We're both hearing things, darling, I thought to myself.
I said we're both hearing things. Now stay calm, and I'll explain this to you as concisely as I can, Rebecca.
How do you know my name? Who are you?
How do I know our name, you mean? I corrected her. And who we are is something I've failed to answer for all these years. Hopefully, you can do better with a little guidance.
Woah, did I just develop a second personality? I'm going crazy! I totally am!
No, you're not going crazy. I'm you. From your future, I told her. A future I want you to avoid. And as I thought the word 'avoid', I felt as if I was also thinking the word 'have', in a simultaneous contradiction.
Well then... prove it. Prove to me that I'm not going crazy! Tell me what's about to happen, this second.
I have no idea what you're experiencing right now, or at what precise day in my past I've established a connection with you at. However, I can tell you things about us that you've yet to tell anyone about.
That won't prove you're not just an extra personality. Can you not see what I'm thinking, visually?
No, this magic coffee only links us linguistically, thoughts expressed in words. It's the only way.
Do you have a memory of this conversation?
Umm... I think I have one forming, but trying to remember is making my head hurt. Oh! It's September 2009. We're lying on the couch watching TV after school.
Jump ahead, tell me what --
Spongebob is about to crash into Patrick.
Wait for it...
There! You proved it!
Good. I sighed, as I took another sip of coffee and continued to stare down at the journal's first page. Now, turn off the TV and never watch that show again, because you'll regret it later in life. Trust me.
Old habits die hard. Okay, what next, future self?
Open our schoolbag and take out the writing journal Grandma gave us. The one you sketched a young, half-naked Zac Efron on the back of, which we're never going to write in otherwise. I have it in front of me, creased but blank as a baby's blanket.
Blank as a baby's blanket?
Oh, I guess that turn of phrase hasn't caught on yet. Well, start with the first page. Use one page for each issue. Take notes in point form. I'm going to tell you what to avoid, of all the mistakes we've made in the last twenty-five years.
What!? Twenty-five. Holy crap, that makes you...--
Thirty-nine. We look like trash for thirty nine, 'Becca. We do. You've gotta change that. So listen to me carefully...
And when I was done telling her everything, and all of it was written out in front of me, I am not at liberty to say whether that took the stress lines from my face and the premature graying from my hair. Why? Because the rest of the story is for another me to tell. The me who just filled this journal that's sitting in front of me. Those instructions may very well be all that remains of my tortured past. Perhaps I no longer remember any shred of it, or any resembling variation.
But the final page was clear and definite.
This empty cup of coffee. And the empty one beside it. And the third one I felt too awake to finish.
The paradox had to be in place, or else it would both fall out of place and also stay in place, thus splitting the world into two dimensions. Or so he told me. Then again, he also told me not to disclose anything that wasn't personal. Any lottery numbers, or any events that could make me seem like a prophet. He said that if I said any sort of such thing, I would drop dead. I don't believe that for a second, mostly because I didn't believe any of it. But it kept me from trying.
My happiness was in her hands now, even if it may have been far more tangible to me as I left The Ethiopian House restaurant and walked back along Irwin Avenue to Yonge Street. Three blocks north was Bloor Street, so I took the subway home from there.
I may not have lived in the part of Toronto, or even in the same city as I did before I first came there for coffee this afternoon in the initial time-line. I may not have even lived with the same people. May hair might have been an entirely different colour. I may or may not have lost a breast to cancer.
My future is in her hands now.
But maybe it was a mistake to leave half a cup of magic coffee laced with my saliva sitting on that table.