The Loud Orange Button
Dumbfounded, he stared at the device in his hand, a simple piece of metal curved gently, covered in brightly colored buttons, one of which read in loud orange lettering: TIME TRAVEL. He shook his head. It couldn’t be! Time travel was a thing of science fiction, but he most definitely did not live in science fiction. He lived in reality, where the world appeared full of seemingly unfixable problems and everyone worked for himself, where people fell in and out of love on a daily basis, where hurting people called out for help but no one seemed to hear them over the sound of his own hurt.
No, time travel could not exist in a world so broken.
And yet, this oddly primitive device seemed to have worked. Minutes ago—seconds ago!—he had stood in his living room, chuckling at the hysterical prank David Curter, his bullying co-worker, must have left him. In that moment, when his eyes had first landed on those two words in their obnoxious shade of orange, his heart had leapt for joy. His life had fallen into shambles over the past year. He had lost his job, a job he had loved and dreamt about for years. He had lost his wife, Celia, an ugly divorce because of an even uglier affair. He had lost his best friend, who had chosen to hide himself away from the pain of reality via alcoholism. Only recently had he found a new job, the one with David Curter, a miserable job with a miserable boss and even more miserable co-workers.
If he could change things, turn his life back around, why shouldn’t he at least try?
With a childish, stupid hope rising in his chest, William Jacob Darby pushed the bright button and immediately the room filled with a burst of blindingly white light. Overwhelmed the brightness engulfing him, he closed his eyes, tightly, and thought of the day his wife met her lover. When he opened his eyes, ever so slowly, he recognized his location. The apartment he and his wife had shared when they first moved in together after the wedding. Everything looked the same as it did then: dingy white walls, sparsely furnished front room with a random painting Celia had done of a unicorn cat flying through outer space, low ceiling and worn carpet. Wistfully, he dragged his way to the tiny door to the tiny bedroom. It creaked open, revealing the room with one piece of furniture: the twin sized bed that they had shared, covered in ugly hand-me-down bedsheets and his mother’s afghan she knitted as a wedding present.
The front door opened and a voice called out, “William, I know you’re still at work, but I love you. With all my heart and with all my mind and with all my life.” When a mouse ran in front of Celia, she shushed it. “Don’t tell William, little friend. He thinks I’m not the sentimental type. Let him continue thinking that. Does him good.”
William tiptoed to the wall separating the entryway from the hall, peering around it. Celia looked so innocent and young, astonishingly pretty in the early afternoon sun streaming in through the one window as she crouched down to speak to the mouse which had stopped in front of her. She had always had this strange way with wild animals. William liked to tease her about, joking that she should voice the next Disney princess. Laughing, Celia would always slap him affectionately across the chest and reply, “Not in a million years, sweetheart.”
When Celia looked up, William barely made it out of her line of sight before she noticed him. He felt his heart racing in his chest. What a close call!
Suddenly, an idea popped into his head, a smile creeping across his face. Peering around the corner again, he spotted Celia in the kitchen, making a light afternoon snack. Quietly, William pulled around the corner and, his feet padding softly on the old wood floors of their apartment, glided over to Celia, ensnaring her in his arms, his hands wrapped around her waist and clasped in front of her stomach as he lifted her playfully off the ground.
Celia squealed, the butter knife in her hand clattering to the ground. “Billy!” When William returned her to the ground, she pushed him away from her, a frown forming across her darkening face. William stared into her eyes, glancing back and forth between the two, both a beautiful, glimmering blue but vastly different all the same, each with its own unique smattering of grey and green across the iris. He couldn’t read her. He could always read her.
A knock on the door.
Celia and William stared at each other awkwardly, neither one moving, neither one willing to move. Celia crossed her arms over her chest, settling into the position she always took when disapproving and disappointed, causing a slight chill to run across William’s skin.
The knocking grew louder, a pounding rather than the gentle rap that had come before.
William’s eyes darted to the door and back to Celia’s face. Her eyebrow raised a fraction of an inch, daring him to open it. Taking a slow step back and to the side, he wandered over to the door. “Are we expecting company?” he asked. Celia responded with silence. Upon reaching the door, he cautiously opened it, the hinges creaking loudly. Ah, the sounds of a first home of a young, poor couple in love.
He stuck his head out the door, his eyes landing on a tall, lanky man dressed smartly in a suit and tie. Immediately, he recognized him as the man Celia had had an affair with—or was that would have an affair with? “No solicitors.” He slammed the door.
Just as he started to return to Celia, the pounding sounded once again. Angrily, William threw the door open once again. “I said no solicitors. What I meant to say was leave me and my wife alone. She is mine and she loves me very much. I don’t care who you think you are or what you think you want from us, but all I know is this: you’re far too handsome to be hanging around with my wife. I may not be the perfect man—I know I’m not—but I love this woman. I don’t want you hanging around to tempt her when I undoubtedly make a mistake. Goodbye.”
And with those words, he slammed the door in the man’s face once again.
As he turned to face Celia again, however, a blinding white light consumed him, wrapping around him to return him to the present. It set him down heavily in his living room. The same one he had left, in the house he had rented when Celia asked for a divorce. His heart dropped, cracking in two when he realized this. He dropped his head into his hands as he set with his back against the wall, mourning the loss of the love of his life once more.
Then it happened. A voice rose up from the kitchen, “Billy, is it that you? Are you playing fetch inside again?” William’s heart jumped back together, gluing itself back into a whole, as he heard footsteps headed his way. Looking up, he broke into the loudest, most bellyaching laughter of his life. There before him stood his lovely wife, her blue, blue eyes staring down at him in confusion. They had a dog. And a house, not their dingy little apartment. When his eyes roamed from her face down, they widened as they landed on her belly.
Baby Darby was happening after all.
“Oh, stop it, Billy!” Celia chuckled, smacking his head in her playful, loving manner. “You don’t have to tell me every time I walk into the room how stunning I look pregnant. Dinner’s almost ready. Why don’t you come help me finish up?”
Her voice trailed off as she left the room, poor William still shocked on the ground. After a brief moment’s pause and reflection—it had actually worked after all!—he pulled himself to his feet and followed her into the kitchen. He would not waste his second chance at a happy family.
No matter what it took.
The prompt: a character who has nothing to lose, with the ability to go back in time and change one thing.