Feeling perfectly blissful, Darren lay intertwined with his girlfriend, Laura, and knew that in less than twenty four hours, they would be engaged to be married.
Darren had Laura book the weekend of their anniversary off work and did the same. They spent that Friday night in with a lovingly home cooked meal and a good bottle of wine. The couple destressed together; for the first time after seemingly endless weeks of work, they finally felt at ease. They talked all night and laughed so hard that they threw their heads back in total joy. They made stupid jokes that only they would understand. Their living room had become a box in space, completely alone in the universe – they could not be disturbed by anyone from outside of their own little world. It was the start of an enchanted weekend, and Darren was absolutely delighted in knowing that Laura had no idea about what was to come for them. As he had planned, it was the perfect predecessor to their Saturday night.
On the Saturday night, he decided on taking Laura to the restaurant they had their third date in, Delfino’s. He considered taking her to the restaurant they had visited on their first date, but it was a trashy dive – definitely not the place to ask Laura to marry him in. Delfino’s was decidedly nicer, and Laura talked often about wanting to go back there one night. So, he arranged it: he went to the restaurant in person to book the table and paid upfront to have it decorated with flower petals and nice candles. He told the host all about his plan, and she covered her mouth and cried out, “that’s so romantic!” Darren smirked knowingly in response.
Presuming that Laura would say yes to his proposal, Darren had cleared Sunday evening for visiting family and friends to announce their engagement in person. The Sunday morning and early afternoon was reserved for newly engaged lovemaking.
The Friday night ended the way he intended on Sunday afternoon ending. When the talking and laughing came to its natural, sleepy and tipsy end, Laura kissed Darren and they took each other to bed. They fell asleep, covered in each other, naked and elated. Darren slept well, smiling to himself, imagining Laura’s face when he presented the ring to her.
Darren and Laura were sleeping in bliss indeed, but the cosmos was scheming.
While the world slept, alternate realities came together and mixed and matched mischievously, playing with the lifeforms inside.
Deep in undiscovered jungles, birds high in the trees in our reality were swapped with snaked low on the grounds from another. Cupcakes in bakeries in a small town in England were swapped with chilli cakes from a universe with a penchant for spiciness. Our Donald Trump was replaced with Boris Johnson from another plane of existence, but no one really noticed that particular change.
For Darren, the most notable change was that his Laura was swapped with a version of Laura from a different universe. The version of Laura Darren woke up with on Saturday morning was not dainty, petite and beautiful Laura. He woke up with a wee ned named Lowell.
Laura was slim and small with long, honey coloured tousled hair. She tanned her skin and took care of it so that she was constantly a warm, healthy glow. Her smile was big and genuine and surrounded by sweet dimpled cheeks. She was perfectly beautiful to Darren – his dream woman completely.
Lowell did not look like Darren’s dream woman.
Though Lowell was small, it would be wrong to describe him as “petite” – rather, the most fitting description of his physical character was “wee guy.” A grumpy look held permanent residence on his face and his buzz cut looked too spiky upon his head; it looked like touching his hair would hurt your hand.
While Laura had gone to sleep naked that night, Lowell had not in his own world. In Darren and Laura’s bed, he wore his Ellesse jumper and matching joggers (which were dirty and reeked of cheap cider). As he materialised in Darren’s bed, the Addidas cap he was wearing fell off of his head and onto the bedroom floor. Despite his grumpy façade, he slept contentedly, snuggled under Darren’s arms in full acceptance of his place as little spoon.
The sun rose slowly but brightened as the morning progressed and eventually, pale light was streaming through the small gap in the curtains. When the room was no longer dark, Darren started to wake up, though he didn’t open his eyes. He squeezed what he thought to be Laura closer to himself, figuring that at some point in the night she had risen to go to the bathroom, as she often did, and put on a pair of pyjamas to sleep in for the night, again, as she often did. So Darren, not ready to get up yet, didn’t question the fact that his girlfriend was suddenly clothed.
Lowell, in his own reality, had spent his night drinking hard and cheap cider (in his reality, minimum unit pricing had not come into effect yet) and as a result, was in a very deep, coma-like sleep. He barely stirred as he slept, until a rumbling in his belly forced him to get up and search for food. He opened his eyes slowly and for the first time, felt his hangover. In fact, before he felt anything else, he felt the throbbing in his forehead and the queasiness in his stomach. Resolved to get up and force some painkillers down his throat, he threw off the blanket but found his was still confined in his bed; a hairy, muscly arm held him in place. He was furious.
“Wit the fuck is that aw aboot?” he screamed immediately, flailing about from under Darren’s arm, kicking off more blanket and fighting pillows off of him. “Get the fuck off me!” he continued to yell, following it up with some homophobic profanities.
The noise and commotion caused Darren to fully wake up and he, after seeing a strange man in his room, grabbed the blankets and wrapped them around himself, hiding his naked body. He began to yell as well, shifted suddenly from utter peace to indescribable confusion and rage. “Who the fuck are you?” he cried out, rising and grabbing hold of some joggers he kept on his bedroom floor. He shuffled and manoeuvred himself into the bottoms without dropping the blanket and not revealing his manhood to Lowell.
Lowell’s jaw dropped. “Darren? What the fuck is this aw aboot?” he repeated, somehow angrier.
Darren repeated himself as well: “who that fuck are you?” Laura’s continued absence through all this noise and the fact that this stranger knew his name was becoming more and more worrisome.
“Am Lowell, fucks sakes!” Lowell cried out. He picked up his cap off the floor when he spotted it on the ground. “Wit is actual going on with you? I wake up cuddled up to ye and now you’re acting like you don’t know who ah um?”
“I don’t know who you are!”
Lowell fixed the cap on his head and looked at Darren as though by putting on his hat, he had made himself recognisable. That didn’t work.
After some confused and combative silence, Darren demanded, “Where’s Laura? What have you done with her?”
“Who’s that?” Lowell spat.
Darren started to make his way to Lowell, stampeding towards him, ready to grab him by the neck and throw him against the wall as roughly as possible. He was going to interrogate this stranger, the man who he believed to have broken into his home, and he was not going to be the ‘good cop,’ not at all. Darren was a big guy; he was bulky and tall, so Lowell the wee guy braced himself for impact when Darren started coming for him.
It was when Darren was closer to Lowell that he realised something striking: a similarity. Dimpled cheeks. Under patchy bits of mousy coloured stubble and acne scars, Darren saw dimples on Lowell’s cheeks. They were just like Laura’s. They were so much like Laura’s that it stopped Darren in his tracks.
Standing in front of Lowell, he took in the wee guy further; he had big brown eyes like hers and his hair was a shade of blonde akin to Laura’s without all the dyes she had put in it. He was very pale, but so was Laura when she didn’t tan herself. When they stood facing each other, Darren could plainly see that the wee guy was the same height as Laura as well. “What is this…?” Darren mumbled to himself.
Seeing his attacked confused and at a complete halt, Lowell swung up and as hard as he could. He managed to smack Darren right on his cheek bone, just under his eye, in just the right place. The punch, along with the striking similarities he saw, caught Darren much too off guard and sent him falling backwards, down onto his bedroom floor, completely out cold.
An hour or so later, Darren woke where he fell and heard the distant sound of Grand Theft Auto being played. He kept his console in the living room and so decided that the sounds were coming from there. He got up unsteadily to his feet, reaching out for the wall for support. Laura hated video games, he thought; why would she be playing his game?
He realised that his encounter with the wee guy earlier was not a dream far too fast; there the wee guy was, far too comfy on Darren’s couch, surrounded by empty crisp packets and empty cans of Laura’s diet Coke, crunched up and thrown wherever.
Lowell heard the door creak open and looked up to Darren. “Did your mum come by and do up your flat, mate?” he asked. “Candles everywhere, smells quality wae the flowers too. Like a woman lives here.”
Daren snarled, “a woman does live here,” as he made his way quickly to the couch. He crouched in front of Lowell. “Are you her brother or something?”
“Whose brother?” Lowell asked, pausing the game.
All around the floor, Darren observed the snacks strewn about: Worcester sauce crisps, magic stars, diet Coke; it was like Laura had had a cheat day here, though when Lowell spoke, Darren could smell the strong aroma of Worcester sauce. “Laura’s. My birds,” Darren barked.
Lowell scoffed. It was way too cheeky for Darren’s liking. “You don’t have a bird,” he said authoritatively. “Lassie’s dinnae come near you.”
“Aye they do!” Darren nearly screamed. “Laura did! Your sister, or cousin, or whatever the fuck she is to you. Laura’s my girlfriend and she lives here with me!”
“This is some fuckin’ hangover man,” Lowell commented.
“I barely drank anything last night.” Darren told him.
“We both had a massive bottle ae Frosty Jacks last night: ye drank a fair bit.”
With his hands squeezing his head, Darren hissed, “I don’t have a clue what you’re on about.”
He pushed himself up off the crouch next to Lowell and retreated to his bedroom. He pulled his blanket over him on the bed and grabbed his phone off the table next to him. He searched through Facebook and looked at pictures of himself and Laura. The last picture she posted of the two of them together was only three days ago. It was a family photo – his family and her.
Next he went to Laura’s profile to show himself further that she was real, and she was his, and most importantly that she wasn’t a wee neddy boy. He looked at Laura’s picture like it was the first time he’d seen her face in years, not hours.
Then Facebook alerted him to a status update. Laura was active.
She had written on her wall, “what actual is my family?” and she followed that up with a few laughing, crying emojis. “Been calling me Lowell all day and asking what’s happened to me??? Darren’s acting like am his pal, not his mrs??? Weird prank to wake up to, no clue what’s happening but they’re not stopping!!”
Darren stared blankly at the post for a long time. A few likes appeared on it. Eventually, Laura’s mum added her say: “What are you on about, missis?” she wrote. Her dad and sister wrote similar things.
That’s when Darren got up and made his way back to the living room. He asked the guy on the couch, “You said your name is Lowell didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” Lowell grunted, not taking his eyes off his game.
Darren took a place on the couch next to him. He grabbed his laptop from his coffee table in front of them, opened it and started a Google search: “what the fuck is going on?” and deleted it.
He had no idea as to how he should phrase his question; he had no idea what to say that could lead to him actually getting answers. Eventually, he asked Google: “my girlfriend swapped with male version of herself?” At a loss, he clicked search and scrolled through the results. He found something promising on the fourteenth page: a conspiracy blog that had updated around the time in which Darren was unconscious. The blog was arguing that alternate realities were a reality.
The blogs writer, whose screenname was WorldAintReal, or WAR, had written about how alternate realities were a sure thing and how some glitch in the universe had caused those worlds to shake up and mix around. He linked the reader to news articles, again published that morning, that detailed small oddities around the world: a diner found all their cutlery replaced with chopsticks and their American food menus replaced with Chinese food menus; a curator of a museum woke to find all his sculptures in his house replaced with My Little Pony figures; a director went to work to find his leading actress seemed to lack all of her talent and knowledge about the film on which they were working – in fact, the woman in the director’s actresses shoes claimed that she hadn’t acted a day in her life.
WAR concluded that the glitch in the universe took our world and another world and swapped things about – some mischievous God or being or something else handpicked things in one world and put them in the other. WAR went on to say that some Chinese restaurant in the other world will have forks and knives and no chopsticks, as well as American diner type menus on its tables. He argued that an experienced actress was living in another world as a confused nobody.
Darren looked at Lowell and all of his similarities to Laura and then he reread the blog. He saw no other explanation to the appearance of Lowell and disappearance of Laura – he saw no other reason for the confusion she detailed on Facebook.
“Lowell, are your parents called Dean and Samantha?” Darren asked him.
Lowell scoffed. “You know they are,” he told him. “You’ve known them for ages.”
“And your sister is Sammy, after your mum?”
“Aye,” Lowell said shortly, seeming a bit fed up with the line of questioning. It was somehow the most boring but random conversation he’d ever had.
Darren sighed heavily. “Right. Well. We’re going out for dinner the night, remember. We’re going to Delfino’s.”
Lowell grinned and laughed a high pitched, squealing laugh. “Fuck ye mate! Fuckin’ love Delfino’s.”
Darren had considered accepting Lowell in his life as Laura’s replacement and living on as he planned to do so with Laura. He did not dress up as he would have, had he been taking out Laura that night, but he still took his little box with the ring that was held for her.
But by the time the night was over, Darren had not proposed to Lowell. Of course he didn’t propose to him because he didn’t want to ask this random guy to marry him, but he also didn’t propose because he wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity. If Lowell wasn’t stuffing his face with mozzarella sticks and pasta, or washing it down with the cheapest beer on the menu, he was talking absolute shite about games or their pals from his dimension, or the birds he fancied himself (Darren found that a lot of the women Lowell seemed to fancy were the same women that Laura hated) or about how desperately needed to move out of his maw’s house.
Darren let Lowell blabber on for the whole train journey home about random shite as Darren deliberated silently; would he spend his whole life with this guy? Seemingly in Lowell’s world, the two of them were best pals. To Darren, this seemed to be a cosmic message; he and Laura were meant to be together in some way or another despite what universe they lived on, or what gender they were. How could he ignore something like that?
Lowell had demonstrated that he was like Laura in more ways than one. He enjoyed the same snacks she did and ordered what she would have at dinner; he looked like her in that they had the same eyes and dimples; they even spoke similarly as well. So, Darren thought that though he may not marry Lowell, he may be spending his whole life with the wee guy anyway.
Drunk and exhausted, Lowell decided to sleep at Darren’s. If Lowell hadn’t come to that decision on his own, Darren would have talked him into it, to spare Laura’s mum the trouble and distress of seeing what would have happened had her child been a son. Darren acknowledged that he’d have to introduce Lowell to his new family at some point regardless.
Darren brought Lowell pillows and a blanket from his and Laura’s bed and even loaned him a spare pair of joggers to sleep in and wished Lowell goodnight. Before he slept, Lowell had one last can of sleep and indulged in an episode of Family Guy. As Darren brushed his teeth, he heard Lowell laugh uproariously.
Although he had the whole bed to himself, Darren kept to his own side. He lay on his side as he would have, had Laura been snuggled in next to him as his little spoon. He even positioned the spare pillows as though she were there and took in the faint, lingering smell of her hair and sweet perfume. He felt himself choke as he started to cry just a little.
He pushed the sadness down his throat and squeezed the pillow as hard as he could, pressing his face into the softness. He felt the presence of the ring box on his bedside table. He supposed he’d sell it on Monday and him and Lowell could enjoy a new TV and maybe some Chinese food with the money.
Tossing and turning the whole night, Darren did not enjoy a peaceful sleep. His bed was too empty without Laura. He felt half-awake throughout the whole night.
During the night though, something felt better and he held onto whatever it was. Maybe it was that his pillow had finally warmed up enough to be at Laura’s temperature. Maybe some divine being decided that the world ought to go back to the way it was.
The couch had emptied, though the crisp packets and cans of diet Coke and cheap beers remained and Family Guy was still playing as no one turned off the late night marathon.
It wasn’t until the morning came about and the sun had risen that Darren woke up and saw he was holding onto an Ellesse tracksuit. Had Lowell joined him in his bed? He was about to push the wee guy away roughly, but first he had to push the honeyed curls out of his face first. Wait…
His eyes shot open and immediately, he took in tanned skin, dimples without whiskers. He saw that acne scarred, blotchy skin was replaced with glowing goodness.
“Laura!” he jumped to his knees and grabbed her up by her shoulders.
She was groggy as she rubbed her eyes and then took him into her arms with more affection than he had ever felt.
“Baby!” she cried. “I had the weirdest dream! You were some neddy cunt and not my boyfriend and I was living at home and everyone thought I was some Ellesse obsessed wee weirdo! It was such a nightmare, Darren.”
He pulled away from her to see her teary face. He wiped her cheeks dry and laughed. “It wasn’t a dream. I don’t know what the fuck happened, but was all for real.”
“How do you know that?” Laura asked, still holding him close.
“A real da passed and other people felt similar things. I spent all day with a wee guy called Lowell who looked a bit like you.”
She gasped. “That’s what they kept called me! Lowell!” It was so weird.
Darren laughed and agreed. At the corner of his eye, he saw the little while box. Unfortunately, he had spent his romantic night with a ned in a cheap tracksuit and felt the gaze of confused wait staff all night, but figured that he could always rebook a dinner for celebration’s sakes. He separated himself from Laura and grabbed the box.
He didn’t have to say a word, which was good because he had no idea what to say. All he had to do was open it and let Laura see the flash of the diamond on the ring. She was on him again, laughing and crying. He managed to get the words out between her giggles: “will you marry me?”
She sobbed “yes” over and over again, and they held each other for a long time.
Eventually, they separated for long enough for Darren to slip the ring onto Laura’s finger. It was a perfect fit. He knew it would be.
They embraced and kissed. As Darren had planned, they then spent the whole day in bed and then late in the afternoon, they finally rose to ready themselves for their dinner at their favourite restaurant that managed to make some space for them.
Meanwhile, Lowell found himself in his own bed in his own world. “Did that cunt call ma da?” he wondered aloud, rising from what he thought should be Darren’s couch.
It was 2pm, so he went downstairs for breakfast. His mum and dad immediately told him that he was much prettier as a girl, and much more polite as well. His dad said, “She woke up at nine, went for a run, made herself breakfast and everything. Don’t know how that lassie was but I miss her already!”
Lowell ate his fill of sausages and bacon and texted Darren to say that he was coming over. When he got to his mates flat, Darren expressed the same sentiment as his dad: “you’re not as much as a shag as you were yesterday mate, are you?”