Day 195 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Write about a character watching an opportunity pass them by.
Erin: “We’re going to have a great spring break,” my best friend insisted.
“Yeah,” I agreed with the excitement of a kid getting driven to the dentist.
“We live right on a beautiful beach,” she reminded as we looked out to the sun setting over the ocean.
She was right. We were lucky. I just really wanted to go to abroad and study my language. It was the only way I was going to become as fluent as I needed to be to be a successful translator. I knew I would only be able to afford one trip though and I was putting that off till senior year. “Nowhere I would rather be,” I lied and the last light of the sun disappeared to the side of the world I was wishing to be.
Shannon: Stop freaking out. Stop freaking out, my mind was screaming at me as I hyperventilated in the bathroom stall. You didn’t wait in line for seven hours to go home without at least getting the judges’ opinions. Why was I panicking again, it was irrational? If they said “no” it didn’t mean I had to give up on my dream, it just meant it wasn’t the right time, or role, or whatever. I need to turn in my card before they skipped me, so I had to leave bathroom. Sometimes I had to think of it one step at a time to make myself move.
I barely managed the willpower to push the door, and once I was out I had to review the next step. Walk. I went up to the booth and handed over my card without a word.
The lady looked up sympathetically shaking her head, “I’m sorry, but we called your number and…”
“It’s fine,” I cut her off, snatching the piece of paper back, and headed for the exit. I had been in this position many times before, so I knew the drill, but I hated myself for always getting in my own way.
What chance is slipping out of your character’s hands?
With my eyes closed, I imagined I was somewhere, anywhere, else, living my life without worrying about what anyone was thinking about me. Squeezing my lids tightly under the crackling fluorescent lights, I pretended the buzzing was cicadas in tall grass and the constant, loud rumble was the rush of a waterfall crashing on a rocky bed. Around me, the wind blew frigidly against my bare arms and face, but, in my mind, it was just a light breeze that was swept from a sandy beach. It was too difficult to pretend that I wasn’t thinking what I was thinking when I had my eyes closed.
As a long, low whistle shrieked from down the tracks, I opened my eyes and faced the cold imperfection of reality. All around, tracks spanned as far as the eye could see under the horrible electric lights, hover-trains hurtling above the rails at breakneck speeds in every direction. I was leaning gratefully against a billboard that kept swapping between a high-tech acne treatment and investment firm that was apparently hiring. People in stark silver and blue clothing milled about as they waited for transportation and greeted acquaintances at the station. Dotted here and there, people dressed in yellow or red scuttled around, though I could have sworn I saw someone in neon green hidden among the crowds.
Glancing down at my dark grey dress, I sighed heavily and picked up my suitcase, fully intending to hop on whatever the next train was. When one slowed to a stop in front of me, proclaiming to be headed for the capitol, I hesitated for a moment and it was gone. Two people who’d departed from the car side-stepped me easily, mid-sentence, and continued through the crowded station without noticing my existence. Though that was customary for someone like me with no career path, it still hurt a bit that no one of rank even acknowledged my being in the way.
This was my last day, last chance, to travel the world in search of a path before the fates would hold my future in their unseen hands; I had come of age one year from tomorrow, so I’d already wasted the entire year not choosing a vocation for myself. My sister had seen me to the station first thing in the morning, begging me to reconsider giving my choice up, but I had barely moved from the spot since. Before we left, my brother and father told me to leave and not come back if I couldn’t make up my mind before sundown. Peering through the tall metal posts that held up the entire station, I glowered at the pitch sky, the moon having already risen to take the sun’s place.
As a gaggle of young people congregated in front of the tracks in matching dull grey clothing, I cringed at the memories of my peers heading out together last year. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so it hadn’t seemed worthwhile to leave, but now I was running out of time. When a girl in pigtails, carrying an over-filled duffle bag, noticed me and pointed me out to a tall, lanky guy next to her, I hid my face and dropped my own bag on the platform. I willed them to have not seen me, or to at least have the common courtesy to not laugh.
“Hey, are you okay?” she asked, her voice chipper and light. Turning to them, I recognized her from school, though I couldn’t place the boy with his limp, blond hair and crooked smile. She held her bag behind her back awkwardly and kept shifting around to check on their friends.
Staring down into the tough cotton shoes I’d almost worn through, I nodded stiffly and whispered to my feet, “I’m fine, thank you.” It took me a while to realize, unable to see much past my suitcase, that the couple hadn’t left my side.
“Look, uh, do you want to travel with us? We’re heading out to the country to explore for a few days, then we’ll make our way across the ocean probably,” she exhaled, bouncing on the balls of her feet excitedly, though it could have been partly from the cold. Peering up into her cheerful features, and the placid expression on her partner’s face, I felt a further pang of sorrow and regret hit somewhere near my heart. “I’m Tia, and this is Sandy, by the way.” There was an icy edge to her last remark that I took to mean she wanted to connect with me on some level; I suppose those of us who were undecided ought to stick together, but I was too ashamed.
Continuing to speak to my ratty shoes, I replied gruffly, “Well, it was a pleasure to meet you Tia and Sandy, but your train will be here any minute and I’m waiting for someone.” The lie wasn’t smooth or specific, but it did the trick and, with a flick of her long pigtails, Tia turned on her heel and joined the group.
With them back with their peers, jabbing their fingers in my direction as they spoke to their friends animatedly, I leaned back against the billboard and sighed again. When the signs above the first track changed over it was headed to the country and there was an excited hush that fell over the young people around. From behind me, more grey-clothed people gathered to wait for the train to freedom, some laughing, while others stood pale-faced and worried. If I could go back and redo last year, I would have bucked up the courage to stand before the precipice with my peers instead of shying away at the last minute; this was far worse than I could have imagined.
Zooming suddenly into the station was a sleek car that vomited well-dressed workers who ignored the kids on the whole. With a last glance at me, Tia stepped into the car and they were rocketing toward their bright futures. My possible future was taken away with them and I waved solemnly as the opportunity passed me by.
I looked up at the clock, as I couldn’t get an assignment until midnight, and was surprised to find that I still had a few hours before the opportunity would be gone forever. A crush of homeward bound workers trickled in as a line of cars let them out for the night, gushing across the thin walkway like an overflown bank, headed into the suburbs. Even though no one payed any attention to me, I could feel their disapproval at my presence and it stung like bees. When they died down, I was about to leave when a bony hand gripped my wrist.
Turning, I came face to face with a scraggly-haired woman in faded grey clothing and bare feet. She yanked my arm so she could whisper in my ear, “Dear, you’ve gotta get out of here while you still can. Don’t let them choose what you’ll do with your life; nothing good will ever come of it.” With piercing looks at the blue-hued workers, she continued forcefully, “I would have been a teacher if I hadn’t thought they would choose something better for me. They wanted a maid for the mayor, not a teacher.” When she released my arm, I stepped back from her with wide eyes. Where no one noticed those of us without jobs, those who hadn’t taken their assigned career were avoided as though they had the plague.
As she disappeared among people staggering back to give her space, I stood off to the side and considered her words intently. Suddenly, I looked up at the board, which was flashing with the schedule of trains for the next ten minutes. The car that was about to enter was the last out of city limits, thus my last chance at an occupation I wanted, so I heavy my case up and stood at the edge expectantly. After a few minutes the bell sounded its arrival and a capsule zipped up to the platform. Twenty or so people filed out in neat lines as I stood stock-still in the middle.
The doors shut as I stood frozen and the car left the station with a whoosh.
Hefting my bag up the steps to the ministry building, I sighed heavily at letting my last opportunity at a real life pass me by.
Heather looks at August as he puts the phone down. “…I have to get back to New York. The team needs me.”
“This is bigger than Josh has had to handle before,” he explains, “he doesn’t think he can do it.”
“August, you don’t have to explain yourself to me,” Heather says, smiling, “go. The Novelty needs their leader.”
He nods. He goes to pack his stuff. Heather sits down on a nearby chair. ‘So that’s the answer,’ she muses, ‘…okay.’
She watches August step down the stairs and walk out the door.
‘He’s not the one.’ She stands and waves to him as he gets to the car. He waves back and gets in the car. He’s on the phone with Josh, getting as many details as possible. As he drives away, Heather’s hand drops to her side.
Heather took care of her typical chores, hindered by her leg, but getting used to the constant low level pain that came with it. She came inside to sit down and eat, but didn’t feel as hungry. She would help Andrew with various things, and listen to his thoughts on his tech project. She was excited to see how he’s progressed with it, but she couldn’t muster up the same energy to show him that.
Later, she finds herself looking at the phone a little longer than necessary. ‘No,’ she decides when she realizes why, ‘I’m not calling them. They must be busy.’
She got outside and kept moving. Her grandfather had to tell her to sit sometimes. So, she went on a horse ride through the trails. Once she was alone and surrounded by trees, she can feel it more distinctly.
The ache in her chest.
It’s not a physical pain. But she feels it there, like there’s something empty. Her mind centers on it and then tears build as she considers what it could mean.
‘You said no!’ She thinks. She wipes her eyes. She takes a deep breath. “The answer was no, so get over it.” She brings Blaze back to the stable and finds more things to do. Then she sits down for lunch, and dinner. The pain builds more since she acknowledged it. And finally, as her grandmother was getting dessert out, Heather can’t take it. She bolts from her seat, ignoring everyone’s surprised claims for her to sit down.
She leaves the house, stumbles down the stairs, and runs as fast as she can to somewhere. She ends up at the edge of the fields, with the barn to the right. She then crumples to the ground, her knee protesting. But it’s nothing compared to the dull ache that has been blossoming in her chest. Heather cries into the dirt as she tries to deny what it means.
‘This was why I asked!’ She screams in her head. ‘This is why I was cautious! So why do I still…!’
She brings one hand to her chest and clutches the shirt there. She knows what it feels like; the beginnings of a broken heart.