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Too Late

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My heart is pounding out a panicked rhythm in my chest. ThuhThumpThuhThumpThuhThump. I distantly hear the forgotten music droning from the ear buds barely balancing on the edges of my ears, ready to fall unnoticed and dangle by my side. The bus lurches to a sudden stop, snapping my head forward as if I have no spine. Maybe I don’t, I can’t remember. I launch off the steps, out the door, and take off running. There are crowds of people everywhere; chattering voices swirl around me trying to overtake my senses. I can’t pay attention to that, there is no time. I throw a nervous glance over my shoulder, then left, right, and face straight ahead once more; nobody is going to stop me demanding I apologize for my rude blundering. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Alarm sets in again when I see the stairs. There are about three flights going up the side of the hill. This is not the problem, though. I knew the stairs were there and I was prepared. What really sends fear through me is the bright yellow caution tape fluttering in the breeze. Behind it, bright red stands stark against the overcast skies. Yellow and red, red and yellow, that’s all I see. I vaguely register that the entire left side of every flight is blocked off. The entire right side is filled with people trundling up step by step in single file like robots; mechanically and slowly. I can hear my blood rushing in my ears, all I can think is “NO!” I frantically scan the grounds. This can’t be happening, it can’t end this way.

Seconds that seem like hours go by before I get myself under control. Everything is going to be okay, panicking will not help. I take off at a dead sprint, my feet scrambling for purchase in the dewy, early morning grass on the left side of the stairs. My sneakers are no match and I slip, falling face-first almost as if in slow motion. Reflexes take over and my right hand shoots out like a rocket to grab the slick stair railing. I force my hand to let go and ungracefully clamber the rest of the way up the hill. There is barely time to catch my breath before I gather myself and take off toward the looming buildings.

Gasping, I reach the third building and fling the door open. I am so winded from running and so worried that I am too late that I can barely see. I close my eyes for a couple of seconds, gathering my wits and look up. A surge of victory washes over me; I made it, I really did it. I almost start laughing with the feeling of triumph circulating in my veins, and that’s when it happens. In the middle of my mental victory dance I hadn’t seen the grim faced worker walk around the counter with what looked like the end of a broom handle in his hands. He looks me straight in the face as if he knows what I just went through to get here. That doesn’t stop him from what he does next. Slowly, almost painfully, he raises the pole and carefully slides the breakfast menu out of sight. I’m too late; it is now lunch.

I sadly look down at my hand that is still smudged with crimson red. I glance at the tables full of people. If my alarm clock had gone off this morning, I would be one of those people. I would be sitting there enjoying my fresh cinnamon roll drinking my cold chocolate milk. Instead I was standing there panting; sweat just starting to bead on my forehead. All I had to show for my effort was a red stained palm and a stair rail that would forever bear my handprint in its freshly applied paint. Defeated, I shove my headphones back in my ears and turn to shuffle back out the door; it’s too early for me to have lunch. This time I’m patient and wait my turn to robotically traipse my way back down the stairs with an empty stomach.



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