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The Future Present
The thumping bass of the music enveloped the room. Strobe lights illuminated the dark dance floor, accompanied by the untz untz exploding from the speakers. Hordes of dancers started to form, flowing and ebbing like a wave to the rhythm. I should have been happy to be there.
"Want to dance?" Rosa asked, breaking me out of my train of thought. Rosa was my lab partner in Chemistry, who I had asked to the dance in a remarkable display of courage - courage I lacked under the flickering colors.
"No. I mean, I don't really dance," I admitted, tugging on the sleeves of my black jacket.
"Come on. It will be fun," said Rosa, pleading with her emerald eyes. If I could, I would have grabbed her hand and ran straight for the dance floor, but that was impossible. A feeling of dread consumed me, cursing me to stand forever frozen against the wall.
"I'll dance later… you go first," I replied weakly. I watched her maroon dress disappear through the crowd, until I was alone again, uncomfortable and frustrated. I wanted this night to move in fast-forward. In fact, I'd be thrilled if that happened to my whole junior year. So far, the year had been a miserable mixture of failed tests, stupid fights, and awkward nights like tonight.
Feeling defeated, I spotted Rosa clapping to the beat of the song, not so far away. As I watched her, something weird started happening: the world was leaving me behind. Everybody moved and danced faster, surrounded by an accelerated beat. My vision blurred, each movement and sound too swift to solve. When everything finally slowed down, I heard Rosa's soft voice calling out.
"Stuart! The dance is over! Where were you?"
"Huh?" I looked around, and the gym was half-empty. "What do you mean it's over?"
"They played the last song and everything. I'm sorry we weren't able to spend more time together." That didn't make sense. I just got to the dance! Of course, I wasn't disappointed that the night ended, and a wave of relief washed over me.
"Oh, I guess I wasn't keeping track of time."
"It's okay. I'll see you later, Stu." Rosa hugged me and pranced away, her sparkling dress flowing around her. I thought about what happened while I drove home. Hands tightly gripping the wheel, a nervous smile crossed my face. I survived through the dance and got a hug from my date!
The second time I fast-forwarded my life, I was in detention for skipping tennis practice. Coach had decided to hold an evening practice on a particularly lazy Friday, which led me to choose the couch over the courts. Coach quickly handed me a detention slip at practice the next day.
Detention was on Sunday, from ten a.m. to three p.m. The plan for the day was to keep myself busy with homework, but the incessant ticking of a nearby clock shattered any hope I had of getting work done. Unable to focus, my thoughts drifted away from detention, eventually landing on the dance and fast-forwarding time. Engulfed by my thoughts, I failed to notice that the tick tock of the clock had faded.
"It's almost three o'clock," the detention supervisor said, "Start packing up." His forceful voice snapped me back to reality. I checked the time on my phone, and surprisingly it read 2:58. A nervous rush of excitement jolted through my body, caused by the thrilling realization that I sped up time. However, what made my jaw drop was what I thought of next: I might be able to control this power.
The third time it happened, I was in a lecture. Then, it happened while I was shopping with my family. After that, time fast-forwarded so regularly that I lost track of how many times it happened in a week. Despite the thrill of rushing through high school, I realized how deeply disconnected from reality I was after talking to my mom. I was lounging on the couch in my pajamas one night, when she walked into the room.
"How is Joey's arm feeling?" Mom asked.
"Joey's arm?" I said, scratching my head, "Fine, right? Why wouldn't it be fine?"
"You told me he hurt it playing lacrosse," she said, returning the confused look I gave her. I hadn't talked to her in a week, which meant that I probably skipped over several conversations.
"Right. He's doing better." I didn't remember seeing any of my friends with an injured arm. Then again, I didn't talk to Joey this week.
"Have you been getting enough sleep?" She looked at me, worried.
"Yes, Mom. I had a long day at school."
"Well, get to bed. You have a dentist appointment tomorrow morning."
"I do? I mean, yeah, I do. Good night, Mom." I jumped off the couch and rushed to my room, not knowing anything that was happening around me. Worry started building in my body, but I continued to speed up time the following week. One week turned into two, and two into three. Then, at an all-school assembly, I discovered my power wasn't a power at all.
Our Chaplain, who had been with us for many years, was getting ready to retire. The school year was ending in a few weeks, so the school board wanted to commemorate his career.
"You think this will take the full period?" Joey asked, who slouched beside me in the back row of the auditorium. Joey still wasn't cleared by the doctors to play contact sports, even though he insisted that his arm was fine.
"Hopefully not," I said, "I need to get my history paper done."
The assembly started with a statement from our headmaster, Mrs. Simmons, who summarized the contributions our Chaplain had made to the school. As she droned on, I focused on Joey tapping his fingertips on the armrest. Willing the irritating sound to accelerate, I felt the familiar sensation of moving faster. It always started with the small things, like Joey's tapping or Mrs. Simmons' blinking. Then, everything would speed up until it blurred. Finally, abruptly, everything would slow down, a few hours ahead of where I left off.
For a moment, I didn't know anything was wrong. I sat there, scrunching my eyes, waiting for the blur to stop. However, the blur continued to speed up instead of slow down. I was getting dizzy, my stomach flipping over itself. I willed time to slow down, but I sensed there was nothing I could do. I was at the mercy of my power.
When the whir around me finally stopped, I was still sitting in the auditorium. After taking a quick look around, I not only saw a different group of people but was also in the front row. Joey was replaced by a row of graduates, dressed in blue caps and gowns. The Chaplain's face on the big screen hovering above the stage was exchanged with two big words: Congratulations Graduates!
I tapped the girl to my left, looking at her with apprehension. "Hey, are you graduating?" I knew the answer, but I couldn't wrap my head around it.
"Shut up. Of course, I'm graduating," the girl whispered. Somehow, I had fast-forwarded all the way to the end of junior year. An overwhelming distress took control of my heart, but what made it stop was what the girl said next. "You are too."
I looked down at my body and saw I wore the same gown as the rest of the students. My head spun, and I couldn't breathe. I was at the end of my senior year. The next few hours transformed into a haze of panic and confusion. I paid little attention to the ceremonies on stage, willing myself back to junior year. I prayed, and I clenched my fists, but none of it worked. Finally, I relaxed my body, and bowed my head. It felt like I was destined to stay in this future I knew nothing about.
The ceremony ended in a flash, and I said empty goodbyes to classmates, teammates, and friends I hardly recognized. I knew their names and faces, but nothing about their lives or futures. Turns out, I didn't really know them at the assembly either. I saw this power as a gift, but it was a curse. I was cursed to abandon my friends and family, living in pure isolation. I was cursed to stand alone, which I thought I wanted all along, cut off from the people who loved me.
Eventually, I found myself in my parents' car, still as frightened and forlorn as I was the moment I arrived at graduation. I wished for the universe to answer my prayers. My parents radiated excitement and joy, even after I shut down their attempts to talk to me. I couldn't find my voice, and I barely knew them anymore. I wanted to fast-forward time to lead a happier life, but I failed to see that I left that life behind the day I skipped the dance. Time isn't a torment to be suffered, it's a precious resource meant to be appreciated. I couldn't understand that until now. I leaned against the window, looking at the beautiful day outside. How many days like these had I missed?
The car fell into a sluggish creep, surrounded by a sea of brake-lights in the afternoon traffic. Beaten down and bored, I yearned to go home. Was this traffic jam something I could skip through? Quickly, I shook away those thoughts.
"I wonder if there's an accident ahead," Mom said. I had to stop skipping time. These were the conversations I gave up on, and I couldn't afford to miss another.
"I hope not," I piped up, "Wouldn't be a good omen for my post high school life, right?"
"You're going to do great at college, Stuart. Some car accident isn't going to change that," Dad said.
"I know. Are you guys going to miss me?"
"Of course!" Mom exclaimed, "But we are going on the cruise trip in October, so don't expect us to miss you that much." She laughed, and the mood in the car was cheerfully uplifted.
"What are you going to do on the cruise?" I asked, hoping to rekindle the connection with my parents.
"Oh, it's going to be so exciting!" Mom squealed with laughter. "We're going to tour through most of the Hawaiian Islands, but it'll be good to catch up with all our old college friends. We haven't seen David since the reunion last year, haven't we, honey?"
"That's right," he replied, "We did see David's wife and children at the Lee's Christmas party though. I think his wife's name was Becky?"
"I love Becky! And do you remember the girls? They were the cutest." My parents continued talking, and their voices were soothing. Closing my eyes, I let their happiness envelop me. As I listened to my parents gossip about their college friends, I concluded that I still had a lot to look forward to. I had plenty to be grateful for even if I couldn't go back in time. That was the last thought I had before falling asleep.
Suddenly, my eyes fluttered open, jolted awake by the booming untz untz of the bass. My parents and the car disappeared, and I was back against the wall of the school gymnasium. I looked around in shock, waiting for this to just be a dream. My thoughts were quickly interrupted by Rosa, who approached me in the same happy way she did before.
"Want to dance?" I studied her maroon dress and emerald eyes shimmering like stars. I smiled, but this time I felt calm. Rather, I felt a hopeful and heartwarming grin flow through me. Finally, things were back to normal. Grabbing her hand, I rushed to the dance floor and celebrated with my classmates like I should have done in the first place. I was home with a second chance.