Disclaimer: I spent most of my brain cells this week working on the NYC Midnight Challenge, so this is bascially a second draft. I may post a revision later this week. I like where it’s going.

Prompts: A plumber in training, is mistaken for someone else and an old photo album.

A photo book with a croissant and a cup of coffee.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

A Time Before Selfies

Joshua hated Starbucks coffee. To him, it was overpriced, overrated,  and overrated. When he thought about coffee, he thought of his grandfather. Pops said that individual coffee orders were responsible for the lack of civility in the world. Coffee, to Pops, should be shared. A huge pot, percolating on the gas burners until just the right shade of brown appeared in the glass bulb on top of the pot. None of those phony Mr. Coffee drip machines for him. Even in the late 1990’s, when Joshua was a kid, Pops would start the pot the minute he saw the family car pull up in the drive way. 

But here Joshua sat, at Starbucks, with Samantha. She was still wearing her plumber uniform, proclaiming that no service was more reliable than Bruce’s Plumbing. He wondered why a cute red head like Sam would go into plumbing as a career. Surely there was something cleaner to do. He took a sip of his Americano and decided next time he met Samantha for coffee, they would meet at the IHOP. Sure, it was out of the way, all the way on the interstate, but they put a pot of coffee on the table. It was the only restaurant Pops would go to for coffee. He wasn’t sure why he was associating Sam with Pops, but somehow, he felt like IHOP would be more honest, or maybe at the IHOP, Sam would be more honest. 

“So you only asked me here so I can hook you up with Turk, right?” Sam asked as she licked whipped cream off her finger. Pops would definitely not do whipped cream on coffee. “Well, I haven’t seen him since I saw you last.”

“So, you haven’t been making more of the green goo and traveling back to 1969 again?”

Sam laughed. “No, I learned me lesson. That stuff makes weird things happen, including your friend Arthur. You know he is really weird, right? Like out of some old spy novel.”

Joshua thought about whether he should tell her that Arthur was born in the 1840’s and still had some trouble in Joshua’s home time line. No, he probably shouldn’t tell her, because that would lead to a discussion about home time lines and other things that should probably not be discussed in the middle of the afternoon at a busy Starbucks. 

Sam twirled her straw in the whipped cream, stirring it into her drink. She was about to say something, when an old man approached their table. 

“Samantha!” He exclaimed. “You, you haven’t changed at all?” To Joshua, he looked like he was seeing a ghost.

Sam looked at Joshua, he thought he saw a bit of panic in her eyes. He spoke up, “Sir, how do you know Samantha?”

“She was my girl, back before I left for ‘Nam. She disappeared when I was gone.” The man felt around in his pockets and pulled out an old black and white photograph. He held it to Samantha, See, it’s me, your Charlie!”

Sam’s eyes widened as she studied the photo. “It does look just like me,” she said, passing the photo to Joshua.

He looked carefully. There was the man, smiling and looking like he was fresh out of college with a University of Texas letter sweater. He stood with his arm around a young woman who did suspiciously look like Sam. But then, also in the photograph was someone very familiar. He held the photo back to Charlie.

“You knew my grandfather, Oliver Anderson?”

Charlie smiled, “Yes, yes it did, and you do favor him. What’s he up to these days?”

Joshua paused a moment. Pops was certainly still alive, but he was at the Time Academy full time now. He didn’t visit this timeline any more, too many memories of friends long gone, he said.

“He’s no longer with us,” Joshua finally said. It wasn’t a lie.

“Ah, Ollie, we called him. He was one of my best friends, But then he went to work for the government, and we lost touch. I still think of him now and then. I had this watch that I could never wind properly, and he somehow always got it back running again.”

“He was always good with clocks.” Joshua had to agree with that. He looked over at Sam, who was staring at the photo.

“Maybe, Sam, did you have a grandmother, or aunt that you were named for? Maybe that is who is in the photo.”

Charlie shook his head. “No, it was you.” 

Sam’s hand were shaking on her coffee cup. Joshua started to think that she was not telling the truth about Turk, and the green goo. It was the only explanation. She time traveled again. He wanted to pull out his chronoscope and see if there were any disturbances near her. But not with Charlie right here. 

Sam jumped up. “I have to get back to work. Lunch hour over, there are clogged toilets all over town that need my magic touch!”  She left her coffee and hurried out the door, running into other customers as she fled. 

Joshua ran into the parking lot after her. He would find Charlie later, he thought, and maybe talk more about Pops. But for now he saw Sam climbing into her van. Before he could get to the van, a man in a black suit stepped out from between two cars.

“Arthur? What are you doing here?” Joshua stopped in front of his mentor.

“Your friend there, she’s been a bit of a time tourist again, hasn’t she?”

Joshua started to move toward the now moving van. “She’s getting away,” he said, pointing to the van.

“Feeling guilty is she?” Arthur said. 

“This old man in the coffee shop, he has  a photo from his past. He thought Sam was the woman in the photo, he old girlfriend.”

“So,” Arthur asked. “Was it her?”

Joshua nodded. “It sure looked like her. And Sam started acting guilty and then ran off.” He watched as the van pulled into traffic and moved farther away. “We’ve lost her now.”

“It’s not like we don’t know where to find her.” Arthur said.

“There’s one other thing,” Joshua said, “My grandfather, he was in the photo too.”

Arthur lifted an eyebrow. “Really? Fascinating. Joshua, this is a talented young woman. How did she escape us when she was school aged?”

Joshua wanted to ask what he meant, but he knew. Why wasn’t Samantha at the Time Academy?

Charlie came out of the Starbucks, walking slowly with a cane. He saw Joshua and headed his way.

“You don’t think it was really her, your friend in my picture.”

Joshua looked at Arthur, who nodded. “Actually sir, I do. Do you have any other photos?”

“Son, I have a full photo album of us together. We dated for two years.”