No Regrets

The machine let out a mellow chirp- a light-hearted sound that betrayed the gravity of the situation.  Officer Julius W. Young raised a frail, quivering hand over the large transparent button, the light inside now glowing a soft green to let the user know that the chamber was primed and ready.

It was such a simple sight, yet it still brought tears to his eyes.  To think of how much time and effort he had devoted to this moment!  It had taken him seventeen years simply to be promoted into the Chronoguard, and another five before upper management would let him go solo.  They had to be convinced that he didn’t have any ulterior motives for wanting to police time and space.

He fingered the stub of paper in his pocket to calm his mind.  He had lied, of course.  How many close calls had there been?  It was almost a miracle Internal Affairs had never stripped his badge.  Carmichael was sentenced ten years just for arresting the drunk driver who would have killed his son.  Smith’s repeated attempts to remove his grandfather’s cancer before the official discovery of a cure would have landed him at least fifty years or more, if his mother hadn’t been killed during one of the standoffs.  Smith no longer existed- officially, he had never been born.  And Adams… well, that had happened before his promotion into the Chronoguard, but there was a reason no one on the force was allowed to predate humanity.

No one ever suspected shy, considerate Officer Young.  And yet, the automatic safeguards had almost ruined everything.  After the successful assassination of Anton Cermak, disguised as a failed attempt on President Roosevelt, the timelines of all important government figures were placed on total lockdown, by order from the very top.  Public Opinion favored the move, thanks to the media’s portrayal of Zangara as only one of many would-be temporal assassins who strove to end Capitalism before it started.

The safeguards on 21st century politicians had been silently removed last week, due to funding concerns.  If Young hadn’t been on the inside, he’d likely never have known.  It wasn’t something the authorities wanted to bring to public attention, after all.

Well, that was about to change.  Young smiled, checking the date on the console one last time.  January 22nd, 2015.  He briefly pondered if he’d remembered to purge any references of Barack Obama from his search history before leaving.  Not that it mattered now.  He’d come too far to back down now.  If he failed now… what was the point in living?  He patted the sidearm on his belt for comfort, and rubbed the stub of paper in his pocket for good luck.  Taking a deep breath, he stepped through the time gate for the last time.

“But it just says ‘error’,” she said, dropping the calculator down on the page with a frustrated thud.

“No, no, that’s good,” he said.  “It means the inverse doesn’t exist for theta.”

“Then what’s the answer?”

“I… Heidi, that is the answer.  The inverse does not exist.  You only solve for theta if the function exists.”

“I don’t understand any of this,” she said, shoving her work off of the table- calculator, books, and all.  She used the space to bury her head in her arms.  “You’re too kind, Bill.  Helping a complete idiot like me attempt to pass trigonometry… I don’t know why you put up with me.  I don’t know why anyone puts up with me.”

Bill felt his cheeks burn with embarrassment as Heidi tried not to cry in the center of Snow Hall.  He looked nervously around the room, but aside from an elderly professor grading papers in the corner, the study lounge was completely empty.  Usually there were more people here- were that many people preparing to listen to the President speak?

He took a deep breath, and placed his hand supportively, but cautiously, onto her shoulder.  He tensed up for the inevitable rejection, yet she said nothing.  He relaxed his arm, conflicted between enjoying the moment and taking advantage of her pain.

“I… well, anyway, it’s 10:00 now… I know you said you needed to leave…”

Heidi slowly lifted her head.  “Yeah, I need to… Chad couldn’t skip his morning lab, so we’re going to head down together.”

Bill felt his heart sink.  “O-oh, I didn’t realize you guys were, ahh…”

She shrugged, kneeling down to gather her things.  “Well, we’re both music majors, right?  He asked me yesterday if I wanted to go with him, since we both have tickets, and I… well, I didn’t have any reason to say ‘no’…”  She paused, swaying slightly in place as she stared at him, an odd look on her face.

Bill averted his eyes.  He couldn’t bear to look at her as he tried to tug his heart back in place.  “Yeah, I mean, that’s… well… have fun.  I’ll see you next week?”

“Yeah, I’ll see you next week.”  Bill looked up, but she was already out the door and halfway to the stairs.  He let out a sigh as he pulled his own ticket out of his pocket.

“Sorry to interrupt,” said the professor, startling Bill as the old man looked up from his papers, “but if you were looking for the right moment to make your move… that was it.”

Bill flushed with embarrassment, the emotions churning in his gut doubling their intensity.  “She’s so beautiful, though.  Why would she ever settle for me?  She’s so beautiful, and kind, and-“

“No excuses, no regrets.  Just do it.  If you don’t, you’ll never forgive yourself.  You’ll just spend the rest of your life wondering what could have been.  Trust me, it is better to fail than it is to never even try.  There will be plenty of time to drown in anxiety and insecurity later.  Now is the time for action.  No regrets.”

Bill pondered his words before launching out of his seat.  “Heidi, wait!” he yelled, as he sprinted down the corridors, catching up with her in the third floor staircase.  He must have looked ridiculous standing there, panting for breath.  “I… I thought maybe we could… well, I… that is… would you like to go with me instead?”

“Oh, Bill, yes!” she exclaimed.  Bill suddenly found himself enveloped by her arms.  He slowly wrapped his hands around her waist, returning the hug.  The weight of her head on his shoulder was foreign, but… nice.

“I… yeah, okay!  Great!” he said, excitement pulsing through his limbs.  “I… I’ll be right back, I just have to grab my stuff first!”

Bill sprinted back up the steps, failing to prevent a wide, dopey grin from spreading across his face as he ran.  “She said yes!” he said, standing in the doorway of the student lounge.  “I can’t thank you enough for the encouragement, sir, she said-“

But the room was empty.  The only sign of the old man was a single ticket stub, rubbed blank and worn with age.

Neil Siemers grew up in Derby, Kansas, a comparatively small town south of Wichita. He moved to Lawrence to attend the University of Kansas, and hasn't left since. Neil likes to pretend that he is a big shot full time writer, although it's probably closer to a hobby. Either way, it's funded by a full-time job in the insurance industry, where he happily works as a cog in the machine for The Man so that bills can be paid.

1 Trackback

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.