Well, this isn't the worst way to spend a weekend. Great climate, which means Nyles finally gets to put his favorite Hawaiian shirt to good use. When you add in the complimentary alcohol and the mini tart towers, the sum is surprisingly not awful. Besides, it must be keeping the pastry chefs and florists of Palm Springs in business. Nyles is all about supporting the local economy. Even if he can’t imagine ever coming back to Palm Springs.
It's okay. It's one weekend. And if Nyles knows anything, it's how to make his own fun. He chalks it up to growing up without cable.
Family events are always a little weird, especially when it’s not even your own family and their messed up lives. On one hand, it’s a relief to watch everything play out and have no stake in it. On the other, Nyles has been hugged by more strangers than he can count. All perfectly nice people, but still kind of weird.
Ah well. Free hugs had to help the universe’s karma, and Nyles owes the universe after gently tapping some Prius’s bumper last weekend.
If Nyles ever gets hitched, he wants something small and weird. Like maybe saying vows while skydiving, or riding alpacas. (Could you even ride alpacas?) He tries to imagine a wedding with Misty, their hands delicately touching from alpaca-distance.
The mental image isn’t coming together.
(The problem is, he can’t imagine him and Misty doing the big traditional thing either. And that thought is just as low-grade uncomfortable as these color-coordinated banquet chairs that have been giving him a wedgie all night).
Misty has been gone for at least an hour now. The asshole part of his brain keeps pointing out that Trevor has also been gone for at least that long.
He’s on his third craft cocktail of the night.
Nyles really hates his asshole brain.
Whatever is going on with Misty, they’ll talk about it tomorrow. He knows he can be better than this. So Nyles puts down his drink and dances to the Macarena with someone’s slightly tipsy (but very enthusiastic) grandmother.
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Tala’s sister (Sally? Sarah?) trying to disappear into her seat. Nyles used the “making speeches” section of the evening to discreetly catch up on Candy Crush, but even he remembers Sarah’s deer in the headlights expression before someone took pity on her and let her flee back to the bar.
Sarah’s bridesmaid hairdo is giving up the ghost. It puts her out of place in this tent of color-coordinated tablecloths and carefully selected outfits, but she also looks more real. Like she’s the only one who dares to deviate from today’s script. Nyles isn’t into making a scene at weddings, but he can appreciate how Sarah challenges the wedding script.
In another world, when Sarah wasn’t having the worst kind night of her life, Nyles could see himself starting up a conversation, just to see if he could make her laugh. She probably has a wicked sense of humor.
From the other side of the tent, Nyles raises a toast to Sarah. She doesn’t see it.
Like ships passing in the night, he thinks. Cheesy, but if weddings aren’t the time for poetry, when is, really?
Outside, something rumbles in a way that's kind of foreboding, but also a nice change of pace from the flawlessly coordinated events of the day. He has nothing else to do, so Nyles gets up and heads towards the sound.
Misty’s boyfriend must have put something extra special in his drink, because he’s shaking Abe by the shoulders and demanding he tell him where the hidden cameras are located.
Sarah is astounded (and grateful) that someone is having a worse night than her own. And that's saying something, given she made two references to tampons in her wedding toast.
“I’m onto all of you!” Misty’s boyfriend shouts. The look on his face is either horrifying or hilarious. Maybe both? But either way, Sarah’s convinced that he believes...whatever he’s yelling about.
(What was this guy’s name anyway? Giles?)
One of the other groomsmen, a WASP-y looking guy, is strong-arming Kyle (?) away from Abe and towards an empty table.
“Just take it easy,” he says. “Can you sit down and breathe with me for a couple of minutes?”
Miles’s (?) shoulders slump. "I don't need to sit down, I need to stop fucking time looping.” The words come out choked.
Groomsman just nods. “I’m gonna get you some water.”
Kyle (?) shakes his head as WASP-y Groosman turns to go. “Did you even listen to drunk driving school? Water doesn’t actually help.”
Would-be-helper Groomsman turns around. “Drunk driving school?”
“You know, where they play videos about the different ways you’re going to kill yourself as soon as you get your license.”
From one table over, Sarah nearly spits out her drink, and then spends the next few seconds trying not to choke. Fucking cheap wine. But that at least gets a laugh out of Misty’s boyfriend, and the panicked spell around him eases.
“Take it easy,” he tells her.
“You should be talking,” she says, giving one more cough.
“Fair." Misty’s boyfriend grabs a half-empty glass of wine from across the table and raises it. Sarah grabs the remains of a champagne bottle and toasts him back.
“To really crappy days,” Sarah says.
“To many, many, crappy days,” Giles (?) echoes.
“I’m Sarah,” she offers, because the last 24 hours are so far gone that she might as well talk to high-as-a-kite guy. She needs a good mistake to get the memory of Abe as far out of her mind as she can.
He smiles, and suddenly there’s a whole different person in front of her. “Hey Sarah, I’m Nyles.”
The DJ queues up YMCA. WASP-y Groomsman gets dragged away by an enthusiastic plus one, and Sarah, Nyles, and Nyles’ outburst are forgotten.
"Rough night, huh?" No good can come of talking to the crazy guy, but Sarah's always been great at bad choices.
"More like a rough bunch of nights."
In between what happened with Abe and her impromptu wedding toast, Sarah is in the same boat. "Well, I get you on that one."
Nyles smirks. “What happened to you?”
In for a penny, in for a pound. “Made the world’s worst bridesmaid speech. Slept with the wrong guy.”
Nyles chuckles sadly. “Sex and wedding speeches are temporary. Everyone forgets about them eventually.” He meets her eyes. “Sorry, not to make light, especially if it was really the wrong guy you slept with.”
You have no idea, Sarah thinks.
“Besides, I promise you I have heard worse wedding speeches.” Nyles looks down. “Many, many times.”
“Well, here’s hoping Abe and Tala do the whole until death do us part thing, because I am not doing that again.”
Could they have, without Sarah fucking it all up last night? Sarah took a long gulp of wine. “So what’s your story?”
“Wandered into a time loop cave,” Nyles says without missing a beat.
Well, that’s not what she was expecting.
“A time loop cave,” she repeats.
“Yeah,” Nyles sighs. “Got drunk the first time we had this wedding, accidentally wandered into the cave with the swirling vortex, and boom, time loop. My latest theory is that I’ve actually been on a reality show the whole time.” He points to a flower centerpiece. “Do you think they could hide a camera in there?”
Sarah’s life choices have taken a nosedive, but she is proud to say she’s never drunk the Kool-Aid. Yet.
So much for a kindred spirit in misery.
"I should be getting back to my hotel room," she says as she gets up.
“See you tomorrow?” Nyles offers.
“Uh, sure,” Sarah says under her breath.
Like any American, Nyles has seen Groundhog Day countless times. He understands that it’s super skeevy when Bill Murray gets that chick to sleep with him by saying they were in high school together.
In his own loop, Nyles has not been a saint. But he has standards, he swears.
Pain is real. Shenanigans are fun, but not at the cost of serious injury or harm. (Other than to himself, of course. Could you deny a man in his situation the joy of riding his very own blimp?)
Nyles won’t lie or cheat his way into anyone’s bed. But if he can win over partners with his own charm, fair and square? That’s a different game altogether.
There are two hundred guests at Tala and Abe’s wedding, plus the Palm Springs locals. Sarah Wilder is not the first face he thinks of for late night company. Sure, she’s very pretty. Sarah is also a walking trainwreck in 99% of his loops, and he just doesn’t have the heart to pursue her at first. Most loops she’s too trashed to walk, let alone give consent.
But when you spend a good decade or so inhabiting the same 24 hours...well, one, you get bored. (Really bored). And two, you get the time to see different sides of people.
Nyles never has the heart to screw up the wedding too much, no matter how many times he’s watched drunken boomers dance the Electric Slide. But that doesn’t mean his dried, shriveled up soul can humor any more wedding toasts.
Sarah gets his blackened heart. She is the only person who hates being here more than Nyles himself. In a universe of cheery lollipop people who just love being at this wedding, Sarah is such a nice change of pace.
Nyles commits himself to navigating around Sarah’s disasters. A word in the morning here, an interruption at the bar there, and suddenly her blood alcohol levels are at a level where she can appreciate Nyles’ hard-earned dancing skills.
“You wanna get out of here?” he asks her one night.
And they do.
They lie in her hotel bed after. Sarah is asleep and her foot brushes up against Nyles’s leg.
In another world, this could be one of those one-night stands that keeps happening. Maybe they would add each other on Snapchat. Nyles would send her bad jokes, and she’d reply with a custom middle finger emoji. He would let her know when he was in Austin, and they would go out for a drink when she wasn’t having one of the worst nights of her life.
Today could be the start of a countless number of stories. It could be one with Sarah.
But he’s here, and it will never be Sarah, because it’ll never be anyone.
Tomorrow, Sarah will go back to Austin and try to pick up the pieces. Maybe she’ll succeed. Nyles doesn’t know, because tomorrow, he’ll still be here.
He doesn’t know which of them is more alone.
Sarah pounds on Nyles’s door.
(Waking up in Abe’s room feels worse by the loop. The only thing she can say for having to relive that morning ad nauseum is how she’s perfected how quickly she can escape. Nyles’ room, though? It feels like a familiar place in the strange home that the loop has become).
“Get up, dipshit,” she calls. She's already in a t-shirt and jeans, her brain racing with how they’re going to pull this off. Nyles will be on board once she explains it - she just has to get them both out of here before her dad sees her, or she’ll get dragged into doing makeup, hair, and really awful mimosas.
Sarah loves her sister, but she has too much self-preservation to participate in any more rounds of wedding prep.
From the other side, Nyles grumbles. Sarah has exactly five minutes to get him out of the door while Misty is down the hallway talking to Tala.
“I’m tired,” Nyles moans from the other other side of the door. “Not used to getting up this early, Mom.”
“I got your mom up early last night,” Sarah replies without missing a beat.
Four more minutes. Nyles sounds like he’s moving, which is a good sign. “Yeah, well I wouldn’t know, I was too busy getting your mom off,” Nyles calls back.
Sarah wonders for the millionth time what would an observer make of this conversation between two strangers who have never technically met. At least not in this loop.
Fuck it, those not currently stuck in a time loop weren’t allowed to judge. Sarah has spent her whole life feeling like her family’s greatest shame. She’s trapped here, but she’s also free of having to give a shit what anyone thinks.
Well, with one exception.
A minute later, the door opens and Nyles appears, rumpled but dressed. “Sorry, that wasn’t cool with the dead mom joke thing.”
Sarah rolls her eyes. Who cares if deep down she’s grateful that someone remembers she has a dead mom? “You can make it up to me.”
Thirty minutes later, they’re outside a diner by the highway.
“I dunno,” says Nyles. “Do you think this is the kind of crowd that would get musical theater references?”
Sarah takes a gulp of her coffee. She lives a really weird life now, but it’s hers, God dammit. And the company isn’t so awful. “We’re about to find out.”
Sixteen hours and a healthy dose of adrenaline later, they’re sitting on one of the rocks in the desert sands, aka the one place they’re guaranteed not to be disturbed. And since there is a fleet of mall cops still searching for them, privacy is awesome right now.
“That wasn’t the worst day,” Nyles confesses.
“Told you it would be fun,” Sarah says with a self-satisfied smirk.
From a distance, Sarah can see the glow of the time-loop cave. Her knees are scraped from their near-escape earlier and she twisted her ankle climbing out of the fountain. Normally she’d be tempted to pop in the cave and just start the time loop over, but this is nice, pain and all.
Sarah is used to living on her personal, self-powered rollercoaster. A bad decision here, a breakup there, and it gives her the momentum to power up the next hill or down the next drop. Given how many laws she and Nyles broke today, maybe this isn’t so different.
But the truth is, it’s nice to be riding the rollercoaster together with someone.
(Even if Nyles has atrocious grammar).
Sarah has an hour on Nyles before he wakes, meaning she’s always long-gone before his day starts. Sarah Wilder might as well not exist as far as his universe is concerned.
For Nyles, the inhabitants his loop are like objects at rest - completely still unless you move them. Sarah used to be like that. But then Pinocchio became a real boy. (Real girl?) Either way she crushed his heart and wandered off with the remaining pieces.
There was a time when Nyles was convinced that everyone was going to die alone, himself included, and he was totally okay with that. Nothing could break through his Time Loop of Solitude. And that was fine because nothing mattered anyway.
You sweet summer child, he thinks sourly.
The truth is these days he's not nearly as tough as he looks, and that wasn't saying much in the first place A few loops of Mr. and Mrs. Wilder singing “A Lover’s Concerto” and he starts bawling like a baby.
“I miss her,” he confesses to Jerry afterward, because why not.
Jerry looks confused as fuck, but he’s a good guy. “Wilder? I didn’t know you knew her.”
And that’s the worst part about it. Nyles has never met Sarah, at least as far as the physical, time-actually sticks universe goes.
That doesn’t change the fact that Nyles could recite by heart the story of Sarah’s first time smoking weed with her friends. The way she’ll laugh and it sounds more like a snort. How her dead mom used to call her Sarah Bear when she was little. Or the way her skin felt against his own.
Maybe Sarah was never real, the same way Nyles is sometimes convinced that nothing in his life before the loop was real.
He’s been through darker times. The crush of trying different ways to escape, only to wake up with fucking Misty every morning. He’s cool with it now. And Nyles is proud to say he hasn’t purposefully killed himself in...well, a long time.
He’s used to doing this by himself.
So then why does this suck so much?
A infinite number of November 9ths later and Nyles is here with Sarah in her Austin living room, trying to decide what to pack. They already made a stop to pick up Fred, Nyles’ very shaggy, but very sweet mutt. He’s currently sniffing Sarah’s haphazard pile of underwear.
“Fred, stop it,” Nyles chides. “I’m the only one who’s allowed to do that.”
Sarah rolls her eye, but can't hide the affection. Fred keeps on sniffing.
It’s only their third day of knowing each other, really. And isn’t it just like Sarah to run off with her sister’s best friend’s ex-boyfriend?
Sarah’s not too worried. (Just wait until everyone finds out she learned quantum physics overnight. Sarah’s pretty sure she can fund whatever they’re doing next by publishing a few choice papers.)
“The Monterey Bay Aquarium is open today,” Nyles offers.
“Seriously?” Sarah asks. “We were closer when we were in Palm Springs.”
“Yeah, but they were closed on November 9th.” Nyles leans back against a box of her winter clothes. “And the penguins are really fucking cute.”
“I’ll add it to the list.”
Neither of them are quite sure what “the list” is, but it’s growing at an astonishing pace. Trying pizza with fish on it. Going to Madagascar. Buying a lizard.
“Okay, hear me out, there’s a Groupon for swimming with the dolphins in Florida.”
The possibilities are endless, and Sarah feels like she’s on the top of a precipice. Sometimes it’s glorious, and sometimes she’s just waiting on the drop.
Maybe nothing has actually changed.
But for the first time that Sarah can remember, she’s not alone.