The touch of dawn was light and gentle. It reached out with confidence on a world that longed to avoid its touch. Those in their beds dreaded its persistent arrival, and those who were up cast evil looks at the tiny tendrils of light that found its way through windows, blinds, and curtains.
Valerie was a combination of both. She had not heard the alarm that was to have gone off a half hour before sunrise announced its approach. Only the regular alarm to get her up and ready for an ordinary day in the office brought her to the land of the living. The notes of Bohemian Rhapsody tapped her consciousness as her memory whispered, “Plane leaves at eight.”
With a gasp, she shot up straight in bed and blinked. Cobwebs that clustered around her mind were shoved back and clawed to reveal the bright dial of her bedside clock to show it was nearly five in the morning.
“No!” The one word came out as a half sob and half scream. “No! No!” She tossed back the covers and raced to the bathroom. She was under the spray of the shower within half a minute, trying to push the rest of the hold sleep had on her.
Getting showered and dressed was done in record time. Teeth were brushed as she slipped on her loafers.. The important part was that they were comfortable.
Mouth rinsed, she grabbed her hairbrush and shoved it in her suitcase. The wet strands around her face that dampened her shoulders were ignored. Makeup was likewise crammed into her purse that had once been deemed rather large but currently appeared to be rather small. Last minute toiletries were quickly shoved into crevices in the small, carry on suitcase. Her breath came out in small pants as she rushed about gathering shoes and forgotten items as she finalized the Uber ride. One eye stayed on the time and caused her to move even faster.
Halfway down the hall and heading toward the living room, she whipped around. The suitcase she pulled behind her thumped into the wall. Valerie threw herself on her knees next to the bed and reached blindly underneath. With a shout of success, she pulled her purse out and slung it over her shoulder as rushed out again.
Her jacket was half on when her eyes widened. “Ticket!” She spun in place as her wide eyes scanned the room. They lighted on a stack of papers on the coffee table. “Ah,there it is.”
Five seconds later, she had ticket in hand and was rushing down the hall of her apartment complex and then jabbing the elevator button to take her down four flights. “Come on!” She jabbed the button again and willed the doors to open. When they did, she rushed in and repeated the button action for the ground floor.
Her phone pinged to announce her ride had arrived outside her building. She was still waiting on the elevator doors to close. Just as she reached to push the button again, they slowly moved together.
Valerie mumbled her breath as she straightened her jacket and tried to make her unbrushed hair semi-presentable until she could slide into the car and actually brush it. With a sigh, she pulled her hair up with a clasp. She felt droplets from her hair fall onto her shirt and soak to her skin. Another glance at her phone showed that she had a chance to get to the airport in time. She was just thirty minutes behind schedule, the same schedule that was already tight because she hated getting up any earlier than she had to. The same schedule that was only with…Damn! She hadn’t made any coffee.
Her mood darkened. She couldn’t get on a four hour flight with no coffee. Another glance at her phone. No time to stop at Starbucks. No time to even stop at the corner gas station. She had to have her coffee.
Three excruciating minutes later, the elevator doors opened again. She did not wait for them to open all the way before shouldering through sideways and catching her suitcase momentarily on the still moving doors. With a muttered curse, she yanked it through and strode though the small lobby and out the glass doors. Under the canopy, a car sat with the Uber sticker on it and the driver standing next to the passenger side door. His own irritated look matched the foot that tapped against the concrete.
He stood up straight when Valerie walked out and made a beeline toward him. “Valerie?” The man, the app called Felix, did a mediocre job of putting on a pleasing smile.
Valerie nodded as she moved forward without slowing down. If Felix hadn’t quickly opened the door for her, she would have bounced right off of it or burst through the door and still ended up in the back seat. With the door closed, Felix moved around the car and slid into the driver’s seat. No other words were said as the car was put into gear and made its way out of the parking lot and onto the still rather quiet street.
The soft music Felix played was ignored by Valerie as she scrolled through her email on her phone and kept her eye glued to the slow changing time displayed at the top of the screen. Only seconds had gone by since she had entered the car. She looked up to see they had only gone half a block down the road.
Fingers tapping on the arm rest, she bit her lip. How she wished she had gotten a cup of coffee, maybe two. Coffee was essential.
“Any way to get get there faster?” Her voice came out clipped.
Eyes flew up to the rearview mirror and narrowed. “Of course. Let me pull out my wings and we’ll soon be over the dead stop traffic that we are in the very middle of.”
Valerie’s eyes met the driver’s. “No need for sarcasm.”
“None intended.” The driver resumed watching the unmoving traffic.
Coffee. She needed coffee. A headache had already begun to gather at the base of her skull. Coffee!
Traffic began to move. Valerie took a deep breath and leaned her head against the seat. Breathe in. Breathe out. Coffee needed. Breathe in. Breathe out. Coffee not available.
She jerked her head up to offer another suggestion on how to get to the airport faster and noticed they had moved along and was now just a few blocks from the entrance to the airport terminals. Valerie nodded with a slight smile. Maybe she’d make it in time.
The terminal came into view. Valerie had her hand on the door handle before the car came to a complete stop. She was out and tapping her foot on the pavement before Felix had gotten out of the car and popped the trunk.
With a groan, she pushed back Felix and grabbed her own bags and headed toward the terminal doors. Felix stood by the car and shook his head.
The doors parted with a swoosh. The sound of Valerie’s bag clicked over the metal threshold. Cool air surrounded her flushed face as she scanned the area. Spotting the kyosk to check in, she rushed toward. She beat an older gentleman by five steps and quickly printed off her boarding pass. Ignoring the man still waiting, she headed toward the TSA line where she stopped abruptly and cursed under the breath. The line was a dozen layers deep.
Ten minutes later, Valerie had moved fifteen steps. She gritted her teeth. A child cried as he clung to his mother’s leg somewhere in the line. Multiple people talked on their cell phones as though they were in their homes alone with no one else to hear.
“Frustrating, isn’t it?”
Valerie turned to the woman who had spoken next to her. “Excuse me?”
“This line. It’s so slow. Frustrating when you need to get to your gate.”
“Uh, yeah.” Valerie turned back to move two more steps.
“Will you make it to your plane on time?”
Valerie closed her eyes and wished for coffee. “I don’t know,” she mumbled. She was not up for conversation. She needed coffee.
They shuffled a few more feet as the woman continued to chat away about nearly anything that was related to flying, standing in line, children, the weather, work, clothes, and the crying child. Valerie’s lack of response did not deter the friendly woman.
Another line formed as more scanners opened up. They moved forward slowly. A TSA agent slowly moved along the line, asking questions. Valerie watched at the unusual act and wondered what they were looking for. Several people were tapped and pulled out of line.
As the TSA agent got to Valerie, he gave her a warm smile. “Good morning. How are you today?”
Valerie glared. “It would be better if the line moved faster.”
He nodded in understanding. “Have you had your coffee this morning?”
“Of course not,” she snapped. “I was too busy rushing to get here and stand in line.”
Again he nodded which had Valerie wishing she could rip his head off. He pulled up the rope that seperated the lines and motioned her through.
“Come on. We’ll get that resolved.”
“What do you mean?” she asked as he took her by the elbow.
“New regulation. Those who have not had their coffee are redirected to a holding area. Coffee will be provided as your ID is checked.”
“What? I’ve never heard of such a thing.” She followed him despite her confusion.
They moved away from the line and toward two large double doors. The agent continued, “This was implemented this week after a passenger decked a TSA agent due to lack of coffee that morning. Since then, we have been ordered to make sure all passengers are sufficiently caffeinated.”
Valerie’s brows shot up. “That’s ludicrous…” Words left her as the doors opened to a room filled with the scent of coffee. The room was filled with passengers sitting back and drinking their cup of joe. Each one had a smile on their face.
A smile of her own crossed her face. “And I’ll make my flight?”
The agent nodded. “As quickly as we can get you happy and moving on. It’s the safest method for us.”
Within half an hour, Valerie was in line and moving towards the door that led to her plane. She had arrived with two minutes to spare, but she had a smile on her face.
“Boarding pass, please.” The airline worker’s eyes moved from Valerie’s coffee in her hand to her eyes, a large smile on her face.
Valerie handed her the pass and took another sip. The warm liquid spread over the surface of her tongue and electrified her senses. Yes, it was going to be a good day.