Tommy heard nothing but the steady rhythm of his feet as he ran around the high school track. His breathing was ragged, but he was smiling as he backpedaled to a stop. He sagged against the chain-link fence, draped his arms across the top, and shook the sweat out of his hair, reveling in his pure exhaustion. The breeze smelled like fresh-cut grass.
When he opened his eyes and realized he’d been dreaming, his jubilation disappeared. He rolled over, and pain shot up his leg.
At exactly 9 AM, Tommy pulled his pillow over his head to muffle the bleating disaster siren and the female voice that reminded everyone to take their daily doses. I don’t feel like doing a damn thing when I take that stuff. I know, I know; some guy died when he didn’t take his dose. But maybe, just this once, a few minutes won’t make any difference.
He dressed in shorts, a sweatshirt, and high socks to hide his scar, laced his running shoes, and limped defiantly past the amber bottle on his way out the door.
When he returned home forty-five minutes later, Tommy felt triumphant—not the way he had in his dream, but more like he’d gotten away with some misdeed. He’d managed an uneven trot for almost half a mile without falling. He’d stayed focused and persevered, despite the discomfort. He felt so good, he was already planning to sneak in another early-morning workout before the siren tomorrow.
With effort, he climbed the stairs to the bathroom, anxious for a shower. He slumped against the cool tile as the steamy water relaxed his muscles.
Three drops later, dewy grass crept across the bathroom floor and tickled his left foot as he brushed his teeth. He tried to ignore it, then to kick it away, but the grass was insistent. It wrapped itself around his good leg and yanked it out from under him, and he fell, hard.
When he regained consciousness, Tommy peered through the mist and realized he was in the wreckage of his parents’ car. He could hear his dad saying “Get up. Get up, they’re coming,” but he couldn’t move because the grass was holding him down. He closed his eyes and heard the rush of people approaching. A flashlight beam cut a yellow slash through the darkness behind his eyelids. His mom called out for him, but he was powerless. Rough hands gripped his shoulders. He couldn’t save himself. I can’t save anyone.
Tommy curled his knees toward his chest and covered his head as the wail of sirens echoed in his ears. The female voice on the loudspeaker crooned, “You’ll never be what you should have been.”
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