Getting Back In The Game: Running Late

“Alyssa, if it’s not already packed, it’s not coming on the trip! The Uber is downstairs and we’re leaving NOW.”

Eric didn’t hear what was shouted back at him from the bedroom, but he knew it wasn’t good. Their perfect luxurious vacation hadn’t even started and already they were fighting. He grumbled to himself as he triple-checked his luggage for everything important.

“If we miss our flight because she can’t find a pair of shoes that she wants to wear, I swear to god…” He patted his pockets in rapid succession, a habit that had quickly formed over the last few hours. “Wallet, passport, phone, and…ring. God, I know I had to take it out of the box because it would be too obvious in my pocket, but I think I’m going to have a heart attack from always thinking I lost it. Not that it’ll matter if we never make this flight.”

He yelled once more as he turned around “ALYSSA, I – oh.” His girlfriend stood right behind him with an expression of anger and bemusement. “Let’s go already,” she said in a mocking version of his voice. “The Uber is downstairs!” She shook her head as they grabbed luggage and headed for the elevator. “God, you’re worse than my dad. You know our flight leaves in, like, two-and-a-half hours, right?”

Eric opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off, using the weirdly deep and nerdy voice she used to mimic him when he annoyed her. “But Alyssa, the TSA rules and regulations clearly state that one should arrive at the airport 5 hours early for international flights.” She grinned at him, clearly entertained by her own impression.

He shook his head and chuckled. “Just get in the Uber.”

*   *   *   *

Standing in the security line at the airport, he checked his phone for what seemed like the millionth time. His eyes unfocused as he attempted to do mental math. “Ok, it’s 11:41. Our flight doesn’t leave until 1:25, but it boards at 12:55, so we have a little over an hour to get to our gate. Which should be enough time if THIS DAMN LINE EVER GETS MOVING—” Alyssa’s hand on his arm jolted him out of his inner turmoil.

“Babe, you’re getting crazy eyes again. Just put the phone away. We have plenty of time. When we get through this line let’s grab a drink or something at the bar. I think you need to relax. Plus, we’re on vacation!” She half-sang the last portion of her statement, shaking his arm and smiling at him in a clear effort to ease the tension, to no avail.

“I’d rather just get to our gate and we can have a drink on the plane, he said stoically. If we get on the plane that is.” They both took deep breaths, Eric to mitigate his stress levels and Alyssa to mitigate her increasing desire to kick Eric in the shins. Luckily, a gate agent broke the tension with a lazy wave, telling them it was their turn to approach the podium.

The woman had seen thousands of couples fight, break up, and make up in her security line, and the fake smiles plastered on Alyssa and Eric’s face didn’t fool her for a second. She gazed at them with a bored expression, glanced down at their passports, and after pausing for the required two seconds, stamped their tickets.

“You’re good.” She stated emotionlessly, with the gravelly voice of someone whose life was spent waiting for her next cigarette break. The walked past her to the line that seemed the shortest and immediately started the frantic undressing and separating of their luggage into bins. Eric muttered to himself as he removed articles of clothing.

“Jacket off. Shoes off. Can they go in the same bin? I swear they change the rules every time. Phone, keys, and wallet go in my shoes. What else? Oh shit, my belt. Can I keep my hat on? Who knows?” A TSA agent interrupted his thoughts with a booming announcement that had been made a million times. “Please remove all electronic devices from your luggage and place them in their own bin. Laptops, tablets…” He continued to drone as Eric frantically looked through his luggage. “Shit, where’s my Kindle? Do I even need to take it out? It’s practically the size of a cell phone, and that’s fine to leave in. Fucking TSA.” Finding the device, he pulled it out, jogged back to the front of the line, and grabbed another bin for it. He breathed a sigh of relief, touched his four bins, and looked at Alyssa’s setup.

“Babe, you have to separate those, you can’t put everything in the same bin!” He whispered urgently, only to be met with rolled eyes. “Eric, it’s fine. I do it this way every time and it’s never been a problem. Just go through the scanner, you’re holding up the line.”

Responding with an eye-roll of his own, Eric turned to walk towards the scanner. The TSA agent next to him continued to repeat instructions. “Please take all items out of your pockets.” He turned to look at Eric. “Anything in your pocket? Keys, wallet?” Eric scoffed as he patted himself down. “Nope, everything’s in the…” He trailed off as his eyes widened in panic. The ring. He still had the ring in his pocket. He looked back towards his luggage, which was already entering the X-ray machine. “The agent, noticing his distress, handed him one of the little bowls they use to put last minute items in. Eric shook his head wordlessly. He looked back at Alyssa, who was looking at him with a puzzled expression.

His world slowed down as his heart rate sped up. Everyone was looking at him. He couldn’t take the ring out of his pocket. He was supposed to propose on the white beaches of the Mediterranean, not a carpet that had last been washed during the Clinton administration. He looked up at the TSA agent, willing him with his eyes to understand the situation. The man just stared at him blankly. “Sir, do you have everything out of your pockets or not?”

Eric swallowed hard. There was only one way out. He had ran through every possible timeline and found the only way to survive. “Uh, n-no.” He stuttered. “I’m good.” He turned and walked into the scanner. Time seemed to move in slow motion as he stood on the yellow feet marks and watch the giant arm of the machine woosh past him. He planned his next moves with the precision of a bank heist.

“In approximately 5 seconds they’re going to detect something in my pocket and ask to scan me. That scan will reveal a metal object in my pocket. They’re going to ask my what it is. I’m going to respond that I don’t know. They’ll request to pat me down. I’ll tell them I’m not comfortable with that and demand a private room. Once in that private room, I’ll show them the ring and explain the whole thing. This conversation will occur while Alyssa is in the scanner, so she won’t be able to hear. Once I’m released from the private room, I’ll tell her that it was a random selection, and she’ll be none the wiser.”

His mind was laser focused. His hands didn’t shake as he walked to the agent who watched the screen, determining his fate. He knew what he had to do.

“OK, you’re good.” He stared at the TSA agent who had just spoken to him as if he was emerging from a trance. Surely he couldn’t have heard her right. “I’m good?” He asked. “Yup.” she replied dryly. “Unless you want to hang out here a little longer.” He choked on his laugh awkwardly and walked over to his bins. He turned and smiled at Alyssa, who was waiting for her verdict. He gathered his belongings with just one thing on his mind.

“Thank god the TSA sucks at their job.”

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