Approaching the elevator, Bethany breathed out a sigh of relief. A cup of scalding hot tea in her left hand, a bowl of cereal in her right, and a plate with a wholewheat bagel precariously balanced on top of it made the walk from the cafeteria a little challenging.
With her right elbow, Bethany pressed the "Up" button on the elevator panel and turned towards the table against the back wall. The paper cup had no protective sleeve on it, and Bethany's fingers started playing the piano, trying to get a reprieve from the hot surface. Just as she was about to place the cup on the table, a fork flew out of her plate and onto the floor.
"Of course!" she sneered, rolling her eyes.
But it was just a fork. She still had the spoon for the cereal and knife for the cream cheese. All was still good with the world. Bethany placed her items on the table and then rearranged them in her hands - cereal bowl in her left hand, tea in her right, with the bagel on top. The elevator chimed, and Bethany turned towards it.
The elevator was empty. "Great!" There would be no awkward 'who goes first?' Bethany did not mind the elevators, but she was of the opinion that people had the tendency to turn everything into a challenge or even a nightmare. Was it not obvious that you get off the elevator first, and then you enter? Of course, that does not apply to people who have their noses stuck in their phones and do not realize they have reached their destination until the door is closing. Bethany was happy to avoid that kind of situation, especially with her hands full.
As the elevator door began to close, a hand appeared from around the corner. The man smiled and gave a slight nod towards Bethany as the elevator door reopened.
Oh, how Bethany disliked that. "Stop delaying me. I just want to get to my room and sip this tea without scorching my fingers!" she wanted to say but knew she could not. It would be considered rude and socially unacceptable if she did utter it out loud. But, of course, we should also be unapologetically ourselves. The contradictions made her smile, but she quickly wiped it off her face just in case the man thought she was smiling at him.
"Stupid," Bethany scolded herself, realizing that she was wearing a mask, and no one could see whether she was smiling or not. But the man was not wearing a mask and was now getting on the elevator with her.
"One person per elevator," she blurted out, spotting the notice on the side of the elevator. "Please," she added with a smile, hoping that would shield her from appearing bitchy. Bethany did not really care how she came across, but she sometimes liked to act differently to see what impact it had on others. "Thank you!" she yelled out as the man walked off the elevator, and the door began to close again. The pandemic was not all that bad, after all.
Just before the door closed completely, the man turned around and shot Bethany a scornful look. "I guess the smile in my voice did not help as much as some might think," she shrugged, making sure that the motion would not disturb the items in her hands. "Have I seen him somewhere before?" Bethany wondered, chewing on the inside of her right cheek. No, he was not in the cafeteria when she was getting her breakfast. Her thoughts then went to the previous night when she was on the dance floor, and her heart stopped.
At the same time, the elevator jolted and then came to a halt. Bethany was already tired of the morning not going according to plan. First, the breakfast was very limited due to the pandemic. If they were worried about the spread of the virus through an open buffet, they should have offered room service. Then, the stranger slowing down her elevator. She did not need any more problems. With her left elbow, Bethany pushed the "Open Door" button. Nothing happened. She then jabbed all the floor buttons, hoping that something would work. Still no movement. Bethany pushed the emergency button and waited for a response. She heard a dialing tone, then, after a moment, a busy signal came on, and then silence filled the elevator again.
After placing the breakfast items on the floor, Bethany dug into her back pocket. Brown sugar packets flew onto the floor, and Bethany grunted, thinking of the fork she left behind on the 1st floor. She picked up the packets with her left hand, making a mental note to wash her hands when she got to the room, and then pulled out her phone. There was no signal, and Bethany sighed audibly as she placed her phone back in her pocket. She smashed the Help button on the elevator panel a few more times before sliding down the wall and onto the floor.
Bethany was not like other girls. She was not going to panic just because the elevator malfunctioned. Her co-worker came to mind who once came crying to her because the elevator stopped too early (or too late), and she had to take a step up to get off the elevator.
"What if it got stuck between the floors, and I could not get out?" Bethany's co-worker asked, blowing her nose, sobbing.
"Then I would not have to be talking to you right now," Bethany wanted to reply but bit her tongue.
No, Bethany was not one to cause unnecessary drama. She knew that things like this happened all the time and that any second, someone would tell her to stay calm through the speaker, and then the elevator would start back up. She just had to be patient.
Just as she thought that the light in the elevator went out, and Bethany's mind traveled to the previous night. She was shaking what her mama gave her when a man brushed against her. At first, she thought it was on accident, but the guy put his hands on her hips and started swaying to the beat with her. Bethany was not interested. Just because she was dancing alone did not mean that she did not have a life partner. Or that she was asking for any kind of male attention. All she wanted to do was to lose herself in the music and shake off all the stress from the workweek.
The man was average looking. Average height. Average weight. Just plain average on all fronts. His hair was ashen and his eyes a dull green. Or so Bethany imagined. She could not forget the grimace on his face when she moved his hands away from her. Even in the dark club, she could see that he was visibly hurt. But that was not Bethany's problem.
The look he shot her today after she asked him to get off the elevator was less of hurt and more of anger.
Bethany swallowed hard. She took a few sips of her sugar-free tea, wondering if it was possible that it was that guy who was behind the technical difficulties with the elevator. "It cannot be." She took a deep breath and looked at her watch - 8:45a.m. It had been 15 minutes since she left the room to get breakfast. Probably nearing 5 minutes that she had been stuck in the elevator. That was way longer than she had expected, so she pulled out her cell phone again - still no signal. She walked around the elevator in hopes that maybe she would get a bar. Nothing.
"Hello?" came through the speakers.
"Oh, praise the Lord!" Bethany made a sign of the cross. "Yes. Hello? Can you get me out of here?" she asked in a raised voice. She was now one of those old people who yelled while speaking on the phone with someone oceans away. As if that was going to make a difference.
"To troubleshoot, I need to know what is going on on your end."
"The elevator stopped abruptly when I was on my way up, and shortly after, the light went off. I tried pushing all the buttons, but nothing seems to work. I am not one to panic easily, but I think I might be running out of air soon."
"Yes, the power went out, but it is now back on. I will reset the system and then get you back into your room. Hopefully, that will not take long."
Bethany looked around the elevator. She had watched enough movies to know that there should be a way out through the ceiling. But there was no way she could reach that high up. Plus, she could not risk getting on top of the elevator, and then it moving and crushing her against the top. She had never felt so powerless. There was nothing she could do but wait for someone else to rescue her. Bethany frowned. Powerless was not a state she enjoyed.
"While I wait for the system to come back on, tell me what you think about social distancing."
"I think it is important to try and stay safe as much as possible and to extend that courtesy to others." In reality, Bethany thought that it was the greatest thing since sliced bread because it kept people from violating each other's personal space. She did not really care about the virus. In fact, she was curious to see how she would handle it.
"Even if it means one person per elevator? Wasted time. Wasted electricity..." the voice trailed off.
Bethany raised her eyebrow. "Safety first. Right?"
"Right. You definitely are safe now."
"Excuse me?" Bethany began to worry. "How much longer until this thing moves?"
"When it is time, Bethany. When it is time."
"How..." Bethany began to mumble, unable to form a complete sentence. Her heart started beating faster, and she took a step back to lean on the back wall.
"I have done my research. You have great dance moves." Bethany thought she had a smile in the speaker's tone.
'Emergency calls only,' Bethany's phone displayed. Well, this was definitely an emergency.
"OK. It is up and running. Are you moving?"
With a jolt, the elevator started back up.
Bethany did not answer, wondering what awaited her next.
"Someone will be there waiting for you once you get off on your floor. I apologize for the inconvenience."
"Ugh!" Bethany was so angry with herself. She made a mental note to carry at least a knife with her at all times. Aside from a plastic knife and spoon, she had nothing to protect herself with. The guy was probably going to drag her into the nearest room and do 'God knows what' with her. She knew she had to scream.
With a ding, the elevator opened on Bethany's floor. She quickly grabbed the still-warm tea to throw it in her assailant's face.
The tea collided with a male face.
"What the hell?" Roy asked, wiping the hot liquid off his face.
"Roy? What are you doing here?" Bethany blinked, staring at her boyfriend with a bouquet of red roses.
"Thankfully, your tea was not scalding hot! You could have burned my face off." Roy wiped his face again and then got down on one knee. "Will you marry me?"
"What is going on here?" Bethany looked around for a hidden camera. "Roy, I was stuck in an elevator-"
"I know. I asked Connor, who works as maintenance here, to help me. Traffic was terrible, and I knew I would not get here on time."
The elevator pinged again, and the all-around-average man stepped off the elevator. "You forgot your breakfast," Connor said, handing Bethany her bowl and plate.
"But yesterday-" Bethany was bewildered.
"Yes, I wanted to see how you would act if a hot guy who was not me showed you some attention. You passed the test!"
Bethany wanted to laugh at the different definitions of "a hot guy" that she and Roy had but decided against it.
Roy cleared his throat. "Please answer this time, or I will get worried. Will you marry me?"
Bethany knelt and took Roy's face into her hands. "The stress you put me through in the past few minutes has been insane. But 'YES.'" She kissed her fiance passionately.
As Connor was walking away, he stole one last look of Bethany's rump. "Ooh, yea..."