It was the first sunny day of the week. Children ran around in a soggy school yard, laughing and shouting and throwing mud at each other. One boy, however, was not outside with his friends. He sat in a classroom with his head down on his desk. He was crying.
"Do you know why you aren't allowed out, John?" his teacher asked.
"Yes," he replied.
The teacher paused, as if waiting for him to elaborate, and then continued. "Next time you'll do your homework like a good boy, won't
The boy looked up at her and his bright blue eyes met her warm brown ones. "Yes, ma'am," he promised.
"Good." The woman smiled. She folded her arms across her chest and returned to her book.
The boy sniffed and stopped crying. The clock on the wall had caught his attention. His eyes followed the hand counting off the seconds as it made its way around the clock face over and over again. A minute passed, and then another. There was something calming about the sound. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. It was a guarantee. Until the clock ran down, each and every tick would always be followed by an answering tock.
It was 6:00 in the morning on Cape Charles. The light from the rising sun was so brilliant that it outshone the stars, which faded into the ever-brightening sky. A boy and a girl of about eighteen were sitting together on the sand. They had been there all night. The sound of their hushed conversation was nearly inaudible due to the waves breaking noisily on the sand, and creeping forward to touch their toes.
"I know you don't agree with me, John," the girl said agitatedly. "You've made that
"I just don't want you to regret your decision," he replied. "You got into Cal Tech, Emma. I've never heard of anyone getting accepted into one of the country's top schools, and then turning it down to go to... trade school."
"I know what I'm doing," she responded indignantly. "It's too late to change anything now. Classes start in a month. And what about you? What happened to the kid who doesn't want to end up like his parents? I never see you taking care of your sister anymore."
"I'm not going to be like my parents. I've just been busy."
"Well I don't want to be too busy to notice the world."
"Em, don't miss out on what you have the potential to achieve!"
"John, don't miss out on what you already have."
The girl stood up, turned her back on the broad expanse of flat ocean, and walked away from it. The boy didn't protest, even as he heard her car drive away. He barely even noticed she had gone. He simply stared out at the sea, and was utterly captivated by its vastness.
The last leaf on an old maple tree flickered in the chilly November breeze. It was brown and almost completely dead, yet it hung onto its tree with the last of its strength. Without warning, a gust a frigid wind arose and the last trace of life on the old tree fluttered to the pavement, where it joined hundreds of other dead leaves waiting to be crushed by the nearest pedestrian.
A tall, black-haired man trudged down the sidewalk with his eyes on his Blackberry. He took no notice of the leaves crunching under his feet, or the way that the sunlight emerging from the clouds seemed warm in contrast with the gray sky. He climbed into a black town car and hummed a lively tune as his driver navigated the whirlwind of cars, pedestrians, and foul language. He finally brought the car to a halt outside an imposing neo-mediterranean home.
"Have a good day, John?" asked a pretty blonde woman as the man walked through the front door.
"Daddyyy!" a little boy cried as he bolted down the stairs and attached himself to his father's left leg.
"Fantastic, Jill." the man responded cheerfully as he brushed the boy to one side. "One productive meeting after another. All my clients were cooperative today- yes, even Mr. Stevens."
"Daddy, guess what day today is!" The boy jumped up and down, pulling at the man's sleeves.
"Did you pick up my dress at Bargello's?" asked the woman.
"Sorry, what dress?" the man asked distractedly as he answered an e-mail on his phone.
"My dress for Namira's wedding. I've told you twice dear."
"I'll send Anna for it first thing tomorrow."
"Da-ddy! It's my birthday! Where's my present Daddy?" The child looked expectantly at his father.
A look of anxiety flickered across the man's face, but it was gone in an instant. He feigned a wide smile and exclaimed, "Happy Birthday Johnny!" He searched his pockets and then proceeded to remove his watch from around his own wrist and hand it to the boy.
"What's this for," the boy asked.
"To tell time. It cost me one hundred and twenty dollars."
"Oh." The boy walked away, looking at the watch with an utterly confused expression.
The blonde woman cast the man an disapproving look. "You may want to tell Anna to stop at the Swatch store tomorrow as well."
"No need," the man said, "We'll trade tomorrow. A watch for an Xbox."
"Anything for my family."
A young woman tucked a strand of straight black hair behind her ear and smiled as she sat on a park bench reading a thick novel. Every few minutes she checked her watch and looked around, as if she were waiting for someone. Occasionally she put her book down and gazed contemplatively at the little clouds dotting the vivid blue sky, or closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of freshly cut grass. She was entirely unaware of time passing, until an elderly gentleman trudged by. The woman stood and threw her arms around the old man's neck.
"Grandpa John, guess what!" She exclaimed. Without waiting for an answer she announced, "I'm getting married!"
The man smiled. "Congratulations Mary," he said. "I've always like Micah. When?"
"May," she told him, barely able to conceal her enthusiasm.
"Next May?" he asked, alarmed. "You're not going to finish college first?"
"Micah's going into the army, Grandpa. He's going to have to move a lot. We decided to get married next year so we can be together in one place for a while, before he starts traveling."
The old man looked at the girl with concern. "Mary," he said sternly. "You don't need that kind of life. You need a secure future. You need a husband who will always be around to take care of you."
"I'm sorry you don't understand Grandpa," She said slowly. "but I can't spend my life looking for something more convenient. I don't want to miss out on what's right in front of me."
The old man opened his mouth to respond, but hearing the girl's last sentence, closed it again. He was silent for a long time. Then, a single tear rolled down his wrinkled face and he spoke.
"You're right, Em."