"A simple choice, nothing more. This or that, either or." -Thoroughly Modern Millie

If/Then

Here's how it starts

And here's how it ends

Two different hearts

Maybe lovers or friends

No one knows where the long road bends

Once every day your life starts again

No one can say just how or just when

Somehow the world turns inside out and then

You wonder what if?

Elizabeth strolls through Madison Park as memories started pouring themselves back into her brain. There's the spot where she met her best friend, Kate. There's that slide where she bumped into Lucas. It had been so long since she had been in the city. Arizona was great but New York was her home. She wondered how she'd survived without the comforting, protective skyscrapers surrounding her and the hustle and bustle of people moving in their own busy world. She sat down on a bench and sipped her coffee while looking at the beautiful trees and wildlife, then past them at the towers on 5th Avenue. It was so loud and so peaceful at the same time.

"Elizabeth! You didn't tell me you were visiting the city!" Elizabeth turned to see Kate running at her with open arms.

"I'm not visiting," Elizabeth replied, "I'm back for good! James and I...we had our differences and...I...I left him," she took a deep breath, "And now I'm running back to square one and starting my life over back here in New York."

"Aw honey! I'm so sorry...but I'm beyond happy that you're back! Life is so boring without you here, Liz! Is that okay? Since you're starting over, why not grab a new name? Liz is now. It's new, it's modern." Kate hugged Elizabeth again with her chocolatey arms.

"Hmm...I think Beth sounds better for you, don't you think? You were always more of a laid back person, anyways." Elizabeth's old business partner Lucas strolled into the gathering grinning like an ape, "Welcome back, Elizabeth."

"Lucas! Well, I..um…" her voice trailed off as Lucas began to speak again.

"You know what? I'm organizing a protest tonight down in Herald Square. I'd love it if you'd join me! I have an extra shirt and everything! How about it, Beth?"

"Wait! There's a rock band playing down at Madison Square Garden tonight and I have an extra ticket. Wanna come, Liz?"

Suddenly, Elizabeth felt a weird sensation starting in her stomach then slowly spreading to the rest of her body. It was as if her soul was being split from her physical person. She tried to shake it off but she couldn't. The world around her spun. She tried closing her eyes in case it was a dizzy spell but when she opened them, the image in front of her was different. After a few seconds, she realized she was looking at herself. The moment froze. She listened as she heard her own voice speaking-

"Sorry Kate. But I think I'll go with Lucas tonight...you and I can reconnect later...next Monday here at five?"

"That's okay...see ya girlfriend!" Kate walked away, tapped away on her phone. Beth and Lucas walked out of the park towards Herald Square.

Wait, what?! She wasn't sure that was the choice she wanted to make! She needed to think on it longer!

"Hey, that rock band sounds fun! Sorry, Lucas. I'll see you later, 'kay?" The two friends chattered away as they walked towards Times Square and reminisced on old times. Suddenly, a young man in an army uniform walked by. "Um, excuse me...hey, I'm Josh! Are you new around here?" A young man in an army suit was walking up to Liz.

"Hi…? Yes, well, no. Kind of. I grew up here, and I'm just returning after having spent 20 years in Arizona. I'm Liz. Did you need something?"

"No, just wanted to introduce myself…" Josh paused awkwardly as he tried to think of something else to say. The noise of the subway hummed behind them, "I...would love to…I mean, if you wanted to...maybe we could...meet somewhere later?"

"You're a stranger! Why would I...no!" Liz backed away, she'd also forgotten the creepy side of New York.

Then, Elizabeth understood. She was watching two paths of her life play out, what each choice would have earned her...she kept watching, eager to learn what would happen next.

"Now look, where you've landed us, Lucas!" The entire protest group had been sent to the police station after one member decided to assault a passer-by.

"I'm sorry! But, hey, at least we're getting to spend some time together." Then, one of the policemen came over and told them they were free to go? Confused, but happy, Lucas and Beth walked out.

"Elizabeth! Why didn't you tell me you were back? I only realized when I saw your mug shot! Still getting into trouble after all these years, eh?" Her college friend Stephen smiled as he walked up to her. "I sprung you guys! So what have you been up to? I never hear from you!"

"Well, first of all, it's Beth now! I've been teaching city planning in Arizona, but then James filed for a divorce and I realized that teaching city planning in Arizona is like teaching breathing on the moon, so I've moved back to the city and I'm ready to start painting my life story on a clean palette." Beth brushed her long, black hair out of her face as Stephen continued the conversation.

"You know, Beth, a few years after you left, I got promoted to President of the city planning department in the New York government and I need a Head Planner on my team...the last one retired. What we need is a fresh, brilliant mind like yours! Imagine us two designing parks, skyscrapers, plazas together! It'll pay well too, you know, it's a government salary."

"Whoa! I mean, wow! I…this is such an amazing opportunity! How could I say no? Of course I'll join the team, Stephen!"

"Then I'll see you tomorrow morning at nine at City Hall? We're gonna make a map of New York, you and me!"

"You can count on me!" Beth started walking towards her apartment with Lucas.

"Can you believe it, Luke? I was arrested then offered a government job all in one day! Well, good night...I'll see you around! I'm so glad to be back."

"Whew! My heart is still pounding from all that adrenaline at the concert! I've forgotten how exciting everything always is in the city." Liz took a moment to catch her breath on the subway ride home to her apartment. Coincidentally, it was only a block away from Kate's.

The subway came to an abrupt stop.

"UGH really? This thing was always so unreliable! New York life is so unpredictable...I love it!"

"Oh, Liz, you were made to live in NYC not that slum in Arizona! Hey look, it's that army dude again!" The same guy she had talked to in the park in the afternoon was walking towards her again and was opening his mouth to talk.

"Oh my god," Liz tried to walk in the opposite direction but Kate pulled her back.

"Aw come on Liz! You meet the same guy twice in this maze of a city? It can't be coincidence! You two were written in the stars!"

"Kate, real life is not that romantic!"

"Fine. Let's ask all the other people in this subway car, then!"

"Kate, no-!"

"LISTEN UP, EVERYONE! Yesterday, this woman met this man in Madison Park quite randomly and by chance. But they met again just now, in this tunnel in the dark. Could it have been mere chance again? Or is the universe sending them a message?"

"Nope." Liz was utterly mortified, as the entire car had fallen into a hushed silence and all eyes were on her and the man who called himself Josh.

"They're destined for love! It's a sign. You know, like when the stars align or when the clouds open up! Like a rainbow after eight days of rain! Like-"

"KATE! Okay, if I agree to go out on a date with him will you stop this nonsense?"

"Aaaannnddd MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!" Kate sat down looking quite contented with herself.

"So tomorrow back at the park then, Liz? You never know what can happen. The last thing you want is to be thinking 'What if?'" Josh's smile stretched from one ear to the other.

"Okay, Beth, I'll need you at the opening of that new business building over on Lexington and 52nd tomorrow morning at 8am sharp, got it?" Stephen said his goodbyes for the night and headed home. Beth followed closely behind him. The first day on the job had gone well. It was great to do some real city planning again...to design something with more than three stories.

She stepped onto the crowded subway, wrapped a hand around a pole, and prepared herself for the ride. A few minutes before reaching her stop, she saw a young man in a soldier uniform making his way towards her all the way from the opposite end of the car. Their eyes interlocked and she felt as if she could look into those eyes forever.

"Hi...I'm Josh. Beth, right? I think I saw you talking to your friends yesterday in the park. Couldn't get a chance to introduce myself, though. Do you think that you and I could maybe, you know, hang out sometime?" Beth pushed all her feelings aside and reminded herself what had happened the last time she had foolishly fallen in love with a man. It couldn't happen again. She turned away.

"Beth! At least talk to me!"

"Listen here, young man. I am a city official. I am higher up in the world than you ever will be. I refuse to meddle with men, especially stupid ones like you. Have you ever thought about the fact that I could already be married?" Her stop came and Beth stepped off the subway and headed towards her apartment without looking back. She returned home and went to bed. After all, she needed her energy for the opening of that building tomorrow. She decided to immerse herself into her work.

Elizabeth watched as the next three years of her life passed by. Both seemed pleasant. Beth earned heaps of money and lived in a beautiful apartment in Manhattan on her own and was quite happy. Liz fell in love with and later married Josh and had two beautiful girls. She got a job teaching city planning at NYU. It wasn't a government salary, but she made enough to support her family. In both cases, life went on.

"Beth, I need to talk to you!" Beth turned to see Stephen running towards her, "So guess what? My son had twins yesterday!"

"Wow! It seems like just yesterday we were at his wedding! Kids already?"

"Yeah, I know...and it got me thinking. Time goes by fast and before I know it, I may be gone. I've been such a workaholic my whole life and I need time with my family. I'm not getting any younger." Stephen took a deep breath. "I've decided to retire early." Beth's eyes got big but she remained silent. After a few seconds, she opened her mouth to speak.

"Stephen...it'll be so different without you…" Before she finished lamenting, Stephen started talking again.

"I wasn't finished. As you know, I am the President of the City Planning Department of NYC. It's an extremely high position and one of the most important, I mean, New York is known for its buildings. It's a hard position to replace and...and I can't think of anyone better to take over than you."

"Stephen...I'm honored that you thought of me but I can't-"

"Beth, Beth, I know you can! You graduated with doctorates in city planning and architecture from Columbia! You were always ahead of me in school. You were born to do this. You've got it in you to make that map of NYC...without me." The two friends hugged each other for what seemed like eternity. A tear dripped down Beth's cheek-

"I'm gonna miss you."

"I'm home!" Liz sighed and put down her things on the couch after a long day of teaching.

"Mommy!" Her two daughters ran up for an embrace.

"Hey, Liz."

"Oh my god Josh, sometimes I love my students to death but other times I get so frustrated with them! I've been trying to get the same concept across for weeks now and they still can't grasp it!" Liz collapsed into her husband's arms, thoroughly exhausted.

"Lizzie...I have to talk to you. Can you step into the bedroom for a sec?"

"Sure…" A little scared, Liz walked into the bedroom with Josh.

"Listen, the government needs soldiers over in Iraq. I have no choice but to go. I've denied three times...that's the maximum. First, we were newlyweds, then, we had Louise, then Sherri came and Liz, I'm out of excuses…"

"You're going back to the army? Back to war? Aren't I a reason not to go? The girls? Does this family mean anything to you?"

"Lizzie, Lizzie, please… In my life, I haven't made many promises, just one to them and one to you. You know me like no one has ever known me before. This is my duty. You know I have to go."

"I HATE YOU!"

"I know."

"I love you."

"I know."

"Don't go-"

"Liz."

"I know." Silence ruled the couple for the next minute.

"Liz. I'm part of the medical team. I'm a nurse. I'll be in an air-conditioned tent miles from the action."

"I hate you. I love you. I hate that I hate you. I hate that I love you. I-" Josh wiped the tears off his wife's face and they reappeared on his own. He pulled her in for a hug and yearned more than anything else in the world to stay there forever.

Beth closed the door behind her as she stepped into her apartment and poured herself a glass of wine. She went to bed with an uneasy feeling in her stomach, like something bad was going to happen. She laid her head down on her pillow and closed her eyes. Her mind drifted off and she thought about that army man who greeted her at the subway station. She wondered where he was.

Every day was Hell on Earth Day the week after Josh left. Liz looked at her two beautiful children. When she looked into their eyes, she saw Josh. At least I have them, she thought. She tucked them into their beds and watched as they fell asleep.

"In my life, I haven't made that many promises, just one to him and one to you two-that I would never let this world take me away from you. I brought you both here. Whatever comes, whatever I have to do, I'll see you through. It will always be me and you." Liz hoped her daughters somehow heard her voice whispering to them in their sleep. They were all she had now.

No matter how hard she tried, Beth couldn't shake off the uneasy feelings for the next few weeks.

"Now girls, you be nice to Miss Kate, okay? Mommy loves you both so, so much." The soldiers' camp was allowing for one weekend and nothing was going to keep Liz away from her love.

"Thank you so much for taking them, Katie. What would I do without you?"

"Have fun with Josh this weekend, Lizzie!" Liz waved goodbye to her friend.

"Hey, Beth, did you read the news this morning? They sent a new batch of soldiers over to Iraq. This war is getting insane!"

"Sooner or later it'll be over!" Beth chuckled with fake optimism. She couldn't help but think of that soldier on the subway. Was he sent to Iraq? Is he okay?"

"Flight 368 to Iraq boarding now." Liz stepped onto the plane, found her seat, and started to edit her students' essay.

"Put on your seatbelts and turn off all electronics; we are taking off!" Liz took one last look at New York City and then pulled her window down. It was the last time she would ever see the sky.

"Beth! Look! More pictures from the war!"

"Oh Elena, why are you so into this war?!" Beth loved her assistant but she admitted that she had some strange interests. Elena left the newspaper on Beth's table and left. Beth picked it up and looked at the picture. She saw a shot from the field hospital and could have sworn it was that soldier from the subway.

Liz was suddenly shaken awake from her sleep by a wild bout of turbulence.

"Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts." Liz had felt turbulence before but never this bad.

Planes really need to be stronger she thought to herself. Suddenly, the turbulence stopped for a brief second, as if they had hit the eye of the storm, then started up again worse than ever. Liz heard a word she never wanted to hear on a plane,

"Brace." Liz grabbed the seat in front of her and covered her head. She'd done this a million times in drills. She followed her muscle memory.

The moment exploded into thoughts of all the things she'd left undone and flashes from this amazing life she'd just begun. Into all the chances she didn't take and everything she'd missed out on. Into every stupid choice she'd ever made. She thought of her children and of Josh. She just wanted to see him one more time…

The engine stopped, the plane dropped, and the moment exploded.

Beth checked the newspaper everyday to see if that man from the subway would appear again. She prayed that his picture wouldn't be in the eulogy section.

"Hey, Josh! I've got a letter for you!"

"It's probably from Liz...she was supposed to come and visit yesterday. Something must've come up." He opened the envelope. The letter looked more official than the ones Liz usually sent. At second glance, he saw the seal of the US government.

Mr. Josh Snyder-

I regret to inform you that last night, the airplane that your wife was on, flying from New York CIty to Iraq, had a faulty engine that stopped mid flight. There were no survivors. I am deeply sorry for your loss.

How could a few words change a man's life so much? Josh's tears flowed from his eyes to the paper. His friends surrounded him and whispered consolations but Josh didn't hear anything. He felt as if his world had ended. He almost just crumpled the letter and threw it across the desert, but he saw that there were more words written.

I understand that there are no other legal guardians for your children. For this reason, your term in Iraq will end tomorrow and you will be taken back to the States to care for your children.

Beth picked up the newspaper on her lunch break and opened it. No sign of the soldier accompanying the news of the war. As she was closing the paper, she saw his face on the back. On the page with the eulogies.

"Oh, god," she whispered to herself.

...we believed the RPG attack to inflict the maximum casualties in the medical facility. Mr. Snyder was working his second shift that day. The numbers of lives he saved while serving…

"What if I had let myself fall in love again?"

"Beth, if you had fallen in love with him, your heart would be broken. It might even be worse than when James left you. At least you know James is alive. You made the right choice."

Elizabeth took it all in. If she chose Lucas, she would live a long, happy life as the President of the City Planning Department, earning immense fame and critical acclaim, not to mention heaps of money. If she went with Kate, she would marry and start a family, become a professor at New York University, then die in her early forties. Which would you pick?

All her life, Elizabeth had searched for her purpose and now she knew what it was. To find love and save a man's life.

"Hey, Kate, that rock band sounds fun!"

Here's how it starts

And here's how it ends

Two different hearts

Maybe lovers or friends

No one knows where the long road bends

Once every day your life starts again

No one can say just how or just when

Somehow the world turns inside out and then

You wonder what if?