“This is really good, Angela,” I said, shoveling peas in my mouth. “You totally outdid yourself tonight.”
Vanessa set down her fork. “What did you call me?”
I looked up. “Pardon?”
Vanessa’s eyes widened. “Did you just call me Angela?”
I blinked and swallowed my peas. “Not necessarily.”
“You did. And not only that, but your face is turning red.”
“Is it?” I dabbed my forehead with a napkin. “Maybe my metabolism is kicking in because I’m digesting all this delicious food. Did I tell you how delicious it is? It’s really very delicious.”
Vanessa scrutinized me. “Colane? Do you have something you want to tell me?”
I looked at her, then cast my eyes to my plate, spearing mushrooms.
“Colane?” Vanessa’s voice took on a darker, more ominous tone.
I swallowed and set down my fork, folding my hands. “OK. It’s about time you learned. Vanessa — I have something to tell you.”
I could see her holding her breath. “Yes?”
“It’s a secret. Something I haven’t told anyone else.”
She bit her lower lip. I could see it quivering ever so slightly. “Yes?”
“It’s something that I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time, but I just didn’t know how.”
She blinked several times, rapidly. “Yes?”
I reached across the table and took her hand. “Vanessa?”
She closed her eyes. “Yes?” Her voice was a hesitant, toneless whisper.
“I come from a parallel universe.”
She opened one eye. “Huh?”
“And I travel between the two universes, against my will. I’m sort of like the multidimensional version of Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five. I’ll go to bed in one universe and wake up in the other universe. It’s like I’m constantly hopping between two different realities.”
Vanessa opened both of her eyes, her head tilted. “Eh?”
“See, we live in a multiverse, not a universe. And in the multiverse, there are an infinite number of concurrent timestreams,” I said. “Fortunately, I inhabit only two. Although they’re similar in many ways, there are numerous, subtle differences between them.”
Vanessa stared at me. “I, ah … did I buy the wrong kind of mushrooms, or something?”
“In my alternate timestream, I date a woman named Angela,” I said. “See, you don’t exist in that other reality. You were never born. I know: I researched you, but I couldn’t find any records. It’s like you’re not meant to be there.”
Vanessa sucked in a breath. “Maybe it’s the way I cooked the peas and mushrooms? Maybe they had botulism, or something. They seemed a little soggy.”
“But that’s not the only difference,” I said. “In my other reality, I write a blog called The Colane Catastrophe. It’s also a humor site, but it has a different logo. Plus, the tagline doesn’t reference beer, because I don’t drink alcohol in that timestream.”
“Wait a minute. You don’t drink alcohol?” Vanessa looked at me. “Tell me more about this other reality. I’m already starting to like it.”
“Well,” I said, taking a swig from my beer, “in my other reality, we don’t have the Berenstain Bears. We have the Berenstein Bears. A subtle spelling difference, for sure, but to those of us who travel across dimensions, we pick up on it right away. It’s hard to miss.”
“Wait a minute,” Vanessa said. “I’ve heard of this. It’s called the Mandela Effect, right? Lots of people remember Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s, when in fact he really died in 2013.”
“Exactly,” I said. “Those people who remember that are like me: we come from different realities. And because I indiscriminately travel back and forth between timestreams, I have memories of both.”
Vanessa folded her hands atop the table. “So tell me more.”
“Well,” I said, “in my other timestream, the Beatles are all alive, and they’re still together. In fact, they and the Rolling Stones recently celebrated their fiftieth anniversaries by scheduling a world tour.”
“You don’t say?”
“Uh-huh. And unlike in this reality, Barbra Streisand has an ‘a’ in her first name. Plus, we have Jiffy Peanut Butter. Here, it’s just Jif.”
“I remember Jiffy Peanut Butter,” Vanessa said. “They shortened the name sometime in the 1990s, when I was a kid. I remember.”
I shook my head. “They never shortened the name in this reality. Look it up. It’s always been Jif.”
“Then why do I remember Jiffy?” Vanessa asked. She looked at me. “Wait a minute? You don’t think that I’m a dimension-jumper too?”
“A what?” I asked.
“What you are. That I travel between two concurrent realities?”
I shrugged. “Maybe. If you do, it’s a different reality than mine. Do you recall KitKat bars having a hyphen?”
Vanessa frowned. “Not really, no,” she said, shaking her head.
“OK, because they do in my reality. Kit-Kat has a hyphen. Plus, the U.S. has 52 states, and chartreuse is a maroon-like color.”
“Chartreuse is a maroon-like color,” Vanessa said. “It’s red.”
I shook my head. “Not in this reality. It’s a yellowish-green.”
“Look it up,” I said. “It’s true.”
“That’s crazy,” Vanessa said. “I had crayons when I was a girl, and I specifically remember chartreuse being red. I remember because I used to color lots of hearts.”
“I used to color monsters with red blood spurting out their chests because a knight stabbed them with a sword,” I said.
Vanessa looked at me. “Why do boys always draw such violent stuff?”
“Because it’s rad,” I said. “And girls always draw stupid things like ponies and rainbows. And hearts.”
“Hearts are not stupid,” Vanessa said, her voice rising.
“I think we’re wandering off-topic,” I said. “Back to parallel universes. Do you believe me?”
“Well … I’m not sure yet.” Vanessa leaned back in her seat, crossing her arms. “Tell me more about Angela.”
“Yes. She’s my replacement in this alternate universe, right? I want to know all about her.”
I shrugged. “There’s not much to tell. She’s from Taured, and she’s been living in the U.S. for only three years.”
“It’s a country. It doesn’t exist in this reality.”
“Of course. What else? Does she know about me?”
I shook my head. “I haven’t told her yet that I can cross realities.”
“Why do you think?” I asked. “It’s clearly not something that comes up in casual dinner conversation.”
Vanessa crossed her arms. “It came up in our dinner conversation.”
“But that’s only because you brought it up.”
“I didn’t bring it up,” Vanessa said. “You brought it up. All I wanted to know is why you called me Angela. You could have lied and told me she’s a friend at work, or something. You didn’t have to tell me about this whole crazy parallel-universe thing.”
I nodded. “In retrospect, lying would have been the wiser choice.”
“No it wouldn’t!” Vanessa said, yelling. “You should never lie to me! That should never be an option.”
“But you just told me to,” I said. “Jeez! Make up your mind. At least Angela doesn’t talk in riddles.”
“Don’t compare me to that multidimensional whore!” Vanessa screamed, jumping to her feet. She jabbed a finger into my chest. “You’re cheating on me!”
“Are so! You just told me her name!”
“It doesn’t count as cheating if it’s in a different reality!” I said. “Besides, it’s you I want. The problem is, you don’t exist over there!”
“If I don’t exist there, then you shouldn’t be dating! How do you think I feel knowing you spend half your time with another woman?”
“So you want me to die miserable and alone in that other timestream?” I asked. “Is that what you want?”
“Keep it up, and you’ll be dying miserable and alone in this timestream!” Vanessa said. “I will not stand by and tolerate your polygamy.”
“Babe,” I said, “calm down! Please! It’s not polygamy if it’s in a different reality.”
“It’s certainly not faithful commitment!” Vanessa yelled. She took a breath, closing her eyes. “Just tell me something. Is she prettier than I am?”
“Oh, please,” I said, shaking my head. “Of course she’s not prettier than you are.”
“Then why are you with her?”
“Well.” I shrugged. “She’s a heck of a good cook.”
“Better than me?” Vanessa asked, her eyes widening.
“You jerk!” Vanessa picked up a plate of food and hurled it at me. Overcooked peas and soggy mushrooms flew everywhere. “You moron! You jerk! Get out of my apartment!”
“Vanessa, calm down!” I said.
She shoved me toward the door. “Get out, you dimension-jumping freak!”
“But where am I supposed to go?” I asked.
“Why don’t you go to your other reality and watch a Beatles concert — with her!” Vanessa said, shoving me into the hallway.
“But I’m still hungry!” I said. “I didn’t get to finish my dinner!”
“Then I suggest you buy some Jiffy peanut butter and make yourself a sandwich!” Vanessa yelled, slamming the apartment door in my face.
I stared at the closed door, seething. My face was growing warm, and I knew that no matter what dimension I was in, it had to be turning a colorful shade of chartreuse right about now.