Sorry, or Running Late?

Submitted into Contest #249 in response to: Write a story about a character running late for a job interview.... view prompt


Contemporary Inspirational Speculative

“Did you remember your project, today, Nathaniel? At any rate, you’ll have to turn it in at the front office, now; you do remember how to get down there, don’t you?,” his third grade teacher lectured. Nathan did not, in fact, remember how to get to the front office. Nathan was not entirely certain as to where he was, to be honest, but it was reminiscent of the high school he attended in his youth.. “You knew the project was due today…and why are you wearing that monstrosity!?,” Ms. Scarlet added, sneering, snapping Nathan’s attention away from the homework he had forgotten to complete and to the cheerleading uniform he was suddenly dressed in.

“I-I’m sorry, I thought I had grabbed my shirt this morning! I was in a hurry, I woke up 

late!,” Nathan stammered back, his mind racing, panicked, as his classmates snickered. In that instant, the bell rang, loud enough to drown out the laughter from his peers, but not loud enough to drown out Ms. Scarlet’s voice. 

“And now, you’re late for gym! IDIOT!,” his teacher yelled at him. Before he could open his mouth to make a rebuttal, Mr. Hendricks, Nathan’s high school gym teacher, walked through the door behind him. 

“Nathaniel! What the hell do you think you’re doing, getting undressed in the middle of Spanish class!? And why weren’t you in class? That’s detention!!” Nathan was further confused. Ms. Scarlet was staring at him, mouth agape, a look of utter disgust etched into her otherwise generic features. Nathan looked down. His cheerleading outfit had been replaced with his pale, nearly-featureless skin. He couldn’t see it, but he was certain that the mole on his left butt cheek was all that modestly adorned him. The bell rang again.

Nathan turned and, ducking past Mr. Hendricks, rushed out the door. He had no idea what class he was supposed to be in next, but that was the least of his problems. He had to find clothes, a pair of pants, something. Hell, even the cheerleading uniform would suffice at this point. Running through the congested hallways of his high school, Nathan felt the gaze of hundreds of strangers as he made every attempt at making himself smaller…He heard Amanda Bellaruz, his ex girlfriend, laughing. He saw Austin Smith, the lumbering slack-jawed quarterback of the football team, pointing at him and laughing with his posse. Sam Gardner, his childhood buddy, Samantha Rodriguez, his middle school crush, Mr. Richmond, the principal of his elementary school, Mr.Smith, the custodian, Mr. Raft, Ms. Eller, countless other teachers, administrators, friends, acquaintances, all crammed into the hallway, yelling at him, pointing, laughing… the bell rang. 

The hallway had emptied as quickly as it had filled; the ghosts of academia past were replaced with the sounding passing bell, which seemed to be stuck on repeat. Although, there was a different quality to it that Nathan had not noticed before; it sounded familiar, certainly, but this wasn’t the droning, atonal bell that Nathan relied upon to get him from class, to lunch, to home, no–it sounded like…wind chimes?


Nathan woke with a start, sweaty, heart racing. He reached up to touch his eyes, hovering over them for a moment as he collected his thoughts. His phone’s alarm was still chiming away, a loop of cascading bells ringing in harmony that was supposed to sound peaceful, but only made his already aching stomach hurt even more. The shirt he had worn to bed the night before was soaked in sweat, but at this moment, he was briefly overjoyed to find that he was clothed, regardless of how much discomfort it brought him as it clung, cold and wet, to his clammy skin. Drawing his hands down his face, Nathan felt his beard, a prerequisite to graduating from college with a Bachelor of Arts in English. 

High school was a thing of the past–or, more aptly, his days as a high school student were. Nathan was used to waking up from the dreams by now. The content would vary ever so slightly, but the dread feeling of anxiety seizing hold of his chest, the unhappiness he met most mornings with, the panic he felt as he went over his lesson plans over and over and over in his head… Nathan, or Mr. Wright, as he was more formally referred to in his waking hours, let out a sign of relief. He had left his sub plans on his desk the afternoon before, had double-, triple-, quadruple-checked the stack of reading assessments he had left for his students to complete in his absence, and had resigned himself to bed early that evening in preparation for his interview this morning. 

The sick feeling in his stomach was beginning to settle, his heart rate returning to a more even-keel rhythm. Nathan stopped his alarm, making a double-take at the time as he set his phone back down. Nathan’s blood ran cold…he had managed to sleep through his alarm for a full two hours. He had to make the fifty-five minute trip across town to the insurance company, his golden ticket out of the classroom and into the boardroom, in forty-five minutes. 

Nathan had never shit, showered, and shaved faster in his entire life. To that extent, Nathan had never been running so late in his entire life, either–especially to an interview. Altogether, Nathan had spent a grand total of fifteen minutes getting ready for his interview. Great timing for a normal day; exceptional, even. However, today’s routine felt like a time bandit, no matter how many corners Nathan decided to cut. Whether it had always been in his anxious manner, or his current profession had finally beaten the necessity of preparedness into him, Nathan had fortunately had his best (and only) suit hanging up and ready to go the night before. 

His roommate, Rodney’s, keys were dangling loosely upon the same, overworked clothes hanger; having never had the money necessary to purchase a car (nor the need, really, with public transportation) Nathan had called in a favor from Rodney. Having left his own profession as a graphic designer only a few months prior in an effort to pursue his own art, Rodney had discovered that he suddenly had fewer places he needed to be, as well, and was happy to lend Nathan a hand. Nathan hastily layered himself into his interview attire, making sure to put his pants on first so that he could slip Rodney’s keys into his pocket, first, so as not to misplace them. 

Pocketing his roommate’s keys, Nathan mentally calculated the route he would have to take to make it to his interview on time as he slipped into his dress shirt and jacket, taking into account the time of day, the traffic through town, and where he imagined the majority of the cops would be stationed so as best to avoid them as he broke whatever traffic laws he had to in order to be on time. Speed limits? More like speed suggestions. 

As he slipped through the apartment door and made his way to Rodney’s rundown beater of a Ford Taurus, a shade of mustard yellow Grey Pupon wouldn’t endorse, Nathan mentally prepared himself to have to make a phone call on the way to his interview, apologizing profusely for how his alarm had “never gone off–maybe he could blame it on a brown out? Or perhaps his charging cord had been faulty–whatever the excuse, Nathan was certain that he would figure out the right string of words to make his story believable. 

Nathan had always had a knack for that sort of thing, making up stories. He used to do it all the time, all the way through college, even. In fact, he’d even managed to get a taste of success when a few of his stories had been published for various online collections–nothing big, but enough to ignite a small, fragile flame. It wasn’t until he ventured into the public school system that the late nights spent between himself, a hot cup of coffee, and a playlist tailored to fit the current scene he was hammering out on the keyboard were replaced with lesson plans, grading mountains of half-assed late assignments, responding to “urgent” parent and admin emails, and seriously considering ordering a custom-made rubber stamp of his “why” for the insurmountable number of professional development seminars he found himself voluntold to attend…

Nathan had to shake his head to regain his focus–that rabbit hole could be explored (again) later. For now, he had places to be. Important places, with important people, discussing important things. Nathan pulled the keys from his pocket, hands shaking ever so slightly, and opened the door to Rodney’s Ford Taurus. Turning the key in the ignition, Nathan heard the engine turn over once…twice…three times, before the sputtering died away to a few sad pops, and then…nothing. Nathan turned the key again and again, and after losing track of how many times he tried to get the engine to cooperate, he slammed his fists, hard, against the steering wheel, the sound of the horn just barely masking the inflammatory “Are you fucking me!?” that betrayed Nathan’s typically calm, cool, and collected comportment. 

Nathan was sweating, now. Rodney had clearly forgotten to mention that the Taurus needed gas, and it was far too late to do anything about it now. Nathan stepped angrily from the car, making sure to slam the door in the process. Putting everything he could into the action, Nathan expected the loud “slam” of the car door; what he did not expect was for his cell phone to come careening out of his pocket as he made the exaggerated movement and position itself perfectly between the car frame and the door. The “slam” melded with a short, sickening “crack” as the door and the phone screen met, and Nathan realized in that same moment that there would be no phone call made that particular morning. 

Shit. Shitshitshitshitshit. 

Nathan’s face felt flushed, his stomach began to hurt, and he could feel sweat beginning to pool under his arms. Nathan’s mind was surpassing all posted speed suggestions as he began to fight for a solution amidst the worry and self deprecation. “The jacket’ll hide the pit stains,stupid idiot” Nathan reminded himself as he fought to right the reins of his reeling mind. “The jacket’ll hide the pit stains, and I still have a bus pass, how goddamned stupid can I get, and I can show them the screen when I get to the office, and my resume still impressed them enough even though only righteous dumbasses pull stunts like this, and I still have a bus pass, and…I still have a bus pass”. Nathan grabbed hold of the realization like swimmies in the swell–he knew the idea was flimsy at best, but it was certainly better than nothing. He couldn’t even check the schedule to know for certain whether he would be successful in boarding a bus close to where he was at this particular hour, but he had to try. Nathan made a mad dash for the bus stop, damning time, sweat, and Ford Taurus car doors as he went. 


Just under two blocks’ worth of panicked running later, Nathan found himself approaching the bus stop and the end of his rope; athleticism “fit into his genes about as well as he fit into his” was a common mantra of his, especially when someone left an unmanned box of donuts in the teacher workroom at school. Nathan, fighting to find a rhythm to his breathing that would match his frenzied pace, did not notice the sound of a diesel engine and slow gear shifts approach from behind and pass him, putting his extreme efforts to shame. 

The bus was arriving (breathe, breathe, SON-OF-A-BITCH, NO) had arrived (HURRY, HURRY, HURRY, ALMOST THERE) opened its doors at the smoker’s hut (DAMMIT I’M ALMOST THERE, JUST HOLD ON) let off a small smattering of passengers (I’M GOING TO MAKE IT, ALMOST THERE, ALMOST THERE, PLEASE, JUST A MINUTE LONGER) and SMACK! Nathaniel’s view of the bus was replaced with stars and a view of the clear, baby blue skies from what he could only imagine he was experiencing all the way from rock bottom. 

“Hey, man, are you alright?” Nathan felt strong hands grab hold of his forearms and lift him to his feet, just in time to hear the iconic sigh of bustling public transport as it rejoined the hustle and bustle of downtown traffic. “You hit your head pretty hard on that scaffolding–I’m surprised you’re not bleeding,” the voice continued. Nathan’s eyes refocused as he lost sight of his last shot at making his interview, thankful that, as the throbbing in his head began to set in, he was, at least, insured. The fact that the irony was not lost on him reassured him that he would be fine. 

How he had completely missed the sidewalk construction before was beyond him, but the self-pity Nathan was feeling was rapidly being replaced with complete and utter humiliation–yet another sign that he still had his faculties about him. “You gonna be alright? You got a name?” the voice pressed. Nathan peeled his eyes from the taillights of the bus and focused them in the direction of the strong hands and loud voice that had pulled him up from the ground. 

“Yea, I’ll be alright. I’m sorry, I’m running late,” was all Nathan could think to say to the man with the shaggy, unkept, gray beard and matching long, unwashed hair in a greasy, tattered overcoat, stained white t-shirt, and oversized, dirty bluejeans. 

“Well, which is it, then? Are you sorry, or are you running late?,” the man replied, far more quickly than Nathaniel had been prepared for. What was he? If he was sorry, then what was he sorry for? He had been certainly running late, but for what? He hadn’t thought once since he had woken up this morning how excited he was to be potentially welcomed into the wild world of insurance adjustment and small claims. In fact, all he had thought about was how frustrated he had been with his current lot in life. He had felt cheated–jaded, even–and had allowed those emotions to fuel an eventual headlong dash face-first into sidewalk construction to catch a bus that would have led him…where, exactly? 

“I…,” Nathan hesitated. “I’m…sorry?,” he stammered as the realization settled in. He hadn’t woken up to interview for a new job this morning. Nathan had woken up to run away from one source of unhappiness in his life to trade it in for another. His synapses must have been reset after greeting the construction scaffolding with his forehead, but now that he was on his feet, it felt as if they were working to make up for any lost time. “Sorry, and thank you, I really appreciate the help,” Nathan said, taking out his wallet and offering a 10 dollar bill to the strange, old man who had shaken Nathan to his core with his quick wit. “The next round’s on me. Do you know where a guy can get a coffee and some quiet?”

The old man looked at Nathan as if the goose egg that had appeared on his forehead were about to go into labor. “Uh…yea, man, just up the street,” the man said, taking the wrinkled bill from Nathan. “ Look, you take it slow, and take it easy. You sure about the cash?” 

“Absolutely. Money’s easy—purpose is a son-of-a-bitch”. The old man walked away, making an effort to put as much distance between himself and the weirdo who’d just headbutted a metal pole at full sprint. 

Nathan began walking in the direction the old man pointed him in, feeling the pain of chaffing, of overexertion, of a massive, throbbing bump on his forehead, and of a piece of himself that he had allowed to wilt, fall off, and die in the name of professionalism. Up ahead, he noticed a magazine stand that just happened to have a rack of composition notebooks and a cup full of cheap pens for sale. Nathan didn’t have a lot of money, but he had always been able to afford a notebook and a writing utensil when he needed them most, and almost by reflex, he approached the stand, selected a notebook and a pen in rapid succession, paid for them with what little cash he had left in his wallet, and continued on his journey, a plan slowly forming in his mind. The interview wasn’t going to happen, that much was clear to him, now. 

Confusing it for his head at first, Nathan noticed a buzzing on his leg. He wondered if maybe he hadn’t accounted for all of his injuries, and should, instead, go to a hospital, when he realized that it was his cell phone. Reaching into his pocket, surprised that the glorified paperweight could still accept a call, he clicked the side button, expecting it to be an angry representative of the insurance firm calling to chew his ass for standing them up for his interview.

Putting the receiver to his ear, still unsure whether the phone would work, Nathan answered the call. 


“Hey, man, its Rodney. I totally forgot to tell you last night, but the Taurus needs gas before you head out in it today–I didn’t have time to fill it up before I gave you the keys”.

“No worries at all, man. I actually changed my mind about the whole thing. I’ll be back in a bit. I’m just stopping off for a coffee before I head home”. 

Nathan’s phone screen went black at that moment, but for the first time in a long time, he saw a brighter future ahead of him as the ink from his new pen left its first mark on the blank page before him.

May 11, 2024 03:43

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Brynna Sinkie
01:58 May 16, 2024

I loved this!! The humor in the last message really sent it to the next level. Great work!!


Show 0 replies
Myranda Marie
16:40 May 15, 2024

And the lesson is; pay attention to the signs from the Universe, for if you ignore them, they will keep coming, quite literally hitting you over the head. Great story !


Show 0 replies
Helen A Smith
16:35 May 15, 2024

Great lines here: Shit, shave and shower. Speed limits? More like speed suggestions. Voluntold to attend. Impressed with the way the story built up. Couldn’t help feeling sorry for Nathan, as everything just went from bad to worse. In essence, it was as if nothing much had changed from his schooldays but it looks like he had an epiphany. I liked the ending as he came to the realisation of what he wanted to do. Can really relate to this character. I enjoyed reading.


Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.