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“Don’t be ridiculous, Valerie!” Mrs. Daniels’ whispered harshly in Val’s ear. They stood behind the long red velvet curtain that separated the two of them from the grand ballroom. Mrs. Daniels’ fingernails dug into Val’s wrist as she tried to pull Val out onto the dance floor.
“No!” Val spat angrily. She struggled as Mrs. Daniels tried to push her through the curtain. Val tripped on her dress and burst out onto the dance floor, Mrs. Daniels at her side. The crowd surrounding the dance floor began to laugh and point. The room began to spin around her as she breathed heavily. The air felt thick and hot, and it weighed down on her chest. With a sob, Val turned and stumbled out of the room.
She found the emergency exit and hurled herself at it, collapsing on the sidewalk outside. An alarm sounded, but she heard it as if it were a mile away. People were flooding out of the hotel. Val picked herself up and looked frantically around the parking lot for her parents’ car. She spotted it just across the lot. She picked up her dress and hurried toward it.
Val let herself into the massive white Hummer and started the car. She pulled out of the hotel parking lot and drove until she reached the highway. There she sped up, driving as fast as the huge beast of a car would go.
Ben checked his watch. Then he checked the library clock. Then he checked his cell phone. All three said different times.
He stood up from the table where he was working to go inform the woman at the information desk about this mistake, but then he sat down again, realizing that would be stupid. She wouldn’t care.
It was getting late, and Ben new he should get going. His parents wanted him home at exactly eight o’ clock, and it was now seven twenty-two, twenty-three, or twenty-four (depending on which clock you looked at). He quickly calculated how long it would take him to get home, and determined that he should have left six minutes ago.
Ben stood up to leave, but then remembered that he hadn’t finished the paragraph he had been reading. He couldn’t very well stop reading in the middle of a paragraph, so he sat down to continue. He read each sentence carefully, being sure to read every word. When he missed a word, he had to start the sentence over. Finally, Ben finished reading. He stood up and started to gather his things. He placed his books in his backpack in order of largest to smallest, but he just couldn’t seem to get it right. They were all so similar in size….
Ben couldn’t take this anymore. He dumped out his books onto the floor, tossed his backpack aside, and sprinted out of the building. He tried not to count his strides as he ran to his little blue four-door sedan. He tried not to count the seconds it took him to unlock his car, get in, and turn on the ignition. As he pulled onto the street and headed for the highway, he tried not to calculate his average speed without looking at the speedometer.
“Come on, Hurst! Let’s go! Try and put out some effort for once! You are pulling this team down, and we’ll never make it to playoffs if you don’t get it together, kid!” Coach Boden shouted in Jimmie Hurst’s face as he completed what felt like his thousandth up-down. Jimmie could hardly breathe, and his whole body ached. He needed water, and more importantly, oxygen. He couldn’t keep this up. His body simply would not allow it.
Jimmie stopped. He bent over and put his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Then a sudden lurching in his stomach made him unsnap his chin strap and pull off his helmet. With all the strength he had left in his body, he heaved up the contents of his stomach onto the field.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing? I did not say you could stop! You no good, lazy, stupid loser!” Coach Boden bellowed. At this point, most of the team had stopped to watch the scene playing out between their coach and team captain.
Jimmie stared at the ground, too humiliated to even look at his coach, much less his teammates. “Look at me when I am talking to you, boy!” Coach Boden roared. Jimmie wouldn’t – couldn’t – and, frustrated, Coach Boden struck him across the face. Jimmie looked up into his coach’s hateful eyes, and suddenly his embarrassment was replaced with anger. A hot, horrible fury engulfed him, seeming to possess his body. Leaving all reason behind, he swung one huge, muscular arm at his coach, his enormous fist hitting his jaw with such force that the whole field seemed to shake. Coach Boden was down.
As his teammates dissolved into panic, Jimmie walked calmly off the field toward the parking lot, carefully removing all his pads and gear and leaving them strewn across the ground. In just his shorts and t-shirt, he made his way to his red pick-up truck, climbed in, started the engine, and headed for the highway.
Delilah Bunker sat quietly in her car seat in the back of her mother’s SUV. She gazed out the window at the darkening sky. The first stars were appearing, and Delilah tried to count them. She lost track, however, when her attention was drawn to the traffic on the highway. There weren’t too many cars out tonight, but she spotted a massive white hummer a few lanes over, as well as a little blue car and a red pick-up moving in the direction opposite the hummer.
She looked on as a little baby deer and its mother approached the road cautiously. The doe remained in its place, but the young fawn darted out onto the highway. The screeching of tires made Delilah slap her tiny hands over her ears as the three cars tried to swerve away from the animal.
The truck immediately collided with the hummer, and the driver of the truck was thrown through the windshield. He hit the hood once and flew into the street as the blue car bounced off the guard rail and slid over him. She caught a glimpse of the girl in the hummer, slumped over in her seat and motionless. She saw in the side-view mirror that the front end of the blue car was crushed, but she could not see the driver.
Delilah faced forward again and leaned back in her car seat. What had happened didn’t even seem real. It was like a dream to her, as if she had simply imagined it because she was bored. She focused on her mother, not wanting to look out at the road again.
Mrs. Bunker was arguing with Mr. Bunker again. “Now listen here, Rob,” she said in her most condescending tone, “there’s danger in frustration…” Delilah was no longer interested. She tilted her head back and stared up at the roof of the car. Soon she was fast asleep.