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Out of Reach

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Laura swats at her phone in attempt to silence the alarm she sets thirty minutes before her online lectures are due to start. There was once a time when that same alarm had to account for getting ready for the day and a forty-five minute long commute, but that’s not so much the case anymore these days. She guesses that’s at least one good thing that’s come out of all this.

 She begrudgingly pushes away the blankets and swings her legs off the edge of the bed, her sockless feet finding purchase in fluffy house slippers. She moves to stand and does a stretch, shivering a little at the cool air that leaves ripples of goosebumps along her bare arms. There’s a grey zip-up that’s hanging off the back of her desk chair that she slips into then shuffles off towards the bathroom before her bladder bursts.

Laura falls into her usual morning routine and finds herself in the kitchen a bit later turning on the kettle. She gathers her faithful Tardis mug, a deep bowl, spoon and cereal box. While the kettle boils, she rests her elbows on the counter and eats her breakfast with a longing sigh.

Looks like another eventful day in Lockdown, Laura thinks as she takes another spoonful.

She turns on the news in hopes of any new developments but five minutes in and she can already tell there’s nothing interesting to report: stay home, wash your hands, essentials only, etc. Same old, same old. When the ever-changing statistics blend into the sound of the kettle whistling, Laura sets off to make a coffee before moving to her desk in time for class.

Before the whole world practically shut down, Laura was probably one of the rare students that actually liked going to university. Granted, the endless assignments and pressure to succeed academically were a lot but there were other aspects that she enjoyed. She loved going shopping for new notebooks and colorful pens and highlighters at the start of the semester. She loved meeting new people and she was genuinely interested in most of her subjects. She didn’t even really mind the forty-five minute train ride to campus; at least, she doesn’t anymore now that she’s confined to the four walls of her apartment. What she would give to be able to be out in the world again, taking in all the sights and smells.

 Well maybe not all the smells. She could go without having to smell hot city garbage ever again.

But university isn’t at all what it used to be now.

Most days consist of boring online lectures that are heartbreakingly void of the usual classroom banter which has been replaced with the ongoing battle of remaining focused despite being surrounded by distractions. She tries to keep a relatively normal routine; class, study break and lunch, back to class, snack time, and more class. But the longer the lockdown persists, the harder Laura finds it to stay productive. The act of staring at the computer screen for hours while her professors fumble through lecture slides in monotonous voices makes her want to pull her hair out and really miss the days when she’d physically be in class with her friends. Now she’s just reduced to texting and an occasional phone call here and there, but she’s finding it harder and harder to not feel so alone.

On top of all that, her professors are still assigning heavily weighted assignments as if everything’s normal! The class she was most excited for in her second year, Features and Storytelling, is now one she dreads. How is she meant to get any inspiration while trapped in her tiny apartment? And without access to the campus library and all the glorious materials there, how the hell will she manage to get a decent grade? True, most of it is accessible online now but still! There’s something about being in the library that really got her journalistic blood pumping. What is she meant to do now? The confines of her apartment don’t offer up much on the inspiration front, if anything her writer’s block is even worse now.

But, there is one idea she’s been rolling around in her head for awhile now. She hasn’t acted yet mostly out of fear of being caught by the landlord, but there’s something about this day that’s different. Maybe it’s the way the afternoon sun trickles in through her blinds and how its warmth has already started to heat up her bedroom and it makes her miss the days of lounging in the sun on the South Lawn as she did her homework.

Or maybe it’s the fact that if she doesn’t get out of this room soon she might go completely insane.

Nevertheless, she closes the lid of her laptop and trades her slippers for some real shoes. She grabs her keys and phone off the kitchen counter and makes her way out into the hallway, the door of her apartment closing behind her with a loud thud. There’s a determined but hesitant look in her eye as she takes the stairs up to the top floor. It’s eerily quiet in the dimly lit halls and if she wasn’t aware that everyone was most likely home, she’d think the place was deserted.

When Laura finally reaches the door labelled Roof Access: Authorized Personnel Only in bold letters she takes a moment to consider if she actually wants to do this. She has always had this fear of the door accidentally closing and getting trapped there, but desperate times calls for less time spent caring about the what-ifs. Laura eyes the door handle wearily but remembers the travel-size hand sanitizer she had stuffed in the pocket of her zip-up and pushes the door open with her elbow anyway.

When the burst of warm sunlight and fresh air washed over her, the first time in more than a week, she nearly fell over. Never again would she take being outside like this for granted she thought as she closed her eyes and smiled up at the sun.

She takes a brick that has been left off to the side of the door and uses it to keep it propped open before pulling out the hand sanitizer and squeezing some in the palm of her hand. She walks around the roof top, the satisfying sound of gravel crunching beneath her shoes with every step, as she rubs her hands together, the scent of vanilla mixing with the faint smell of smoke wafting from a nearby chimney. She surveys her new surroundings, relishing in the sounds of actual birds chirping. The new vantage point allows her to see a typically restless city now still and she thinks it’s almost peaceful if it weren’t for the certain circumstances that made it seem so uninhabited.

Regardless, the sun’s out and it’s not too cold atop the roof and for the first time in a long while she feels genuine happiness. It’s not the kind of happiness she felt when her dad dropped off the huge care package full of Laura’s favorites as well as a bunch of essentials and toilet paper just before the lockdown took place, but the kind of happiness that makes her feel childishly giddy.

She sputters out a laugh and begins to do a little dance. At any other time, this would totally be weird, dancing without any music, but she just doesn’t care now. She’s out on the roof, dancing in the warmth of the sun, and there’s freaking birds chirping! Who the hell cares? It’s not like anyone’s wat-

Laura’s movements come to an abrupt stop when her eyes land on a neighboring rooftop.

There’s a pale-skinned, young woman in a black blouse with dark sunglasses shielding her eyes facing her direction. Laura watches as she pushes the glasses to sit atop her head before moving to the roof’s edge. She tilts her head to the side, arms crossing over her chest, a puzzled look plastered on her face.

A gasp escapes Laura’s lips and she is quick to drop to her knees out of the woman’s sight, face already flushed from embarrassment of being caught having a music-less dance party alone. The woman probably thinks she’s weird and has gone crazy, but she’s the first person Laura has sort of seen in days and the budding journalist in her is intrigued. The longer she stays crouched out of view the more curious Laura becomes.

She moves slowly to peek over the edge but all she finds is a door that must lead to their roof slowly closing and the woman nowhere to be found. The sight makes her feel a little disappointed for some reason and she rises to her feet dejectedly.

Are my dance moves that bad? Laura thinks, hands on her hips, eying the spot the woman occupied.

After a moment, she shrugs her shoulders and turns her gaze out to admire the skyline once again. She soaks in the sights and sunlight a few minutes longer before returning to her apartment for her next class.

 

/

 

She ends the day with her usual routine of microwaving whatever leftovers she has for dinner and a movie marathon. The movie marathon is purely there for background noise in hopes to distract her from the loneliness and a way to kill time before her bed begins to call for her and she repeats the whole thing all over again tomorrow.

But again, this day seems different.

 

/

 

A couple texts cause her phone to vibrate on the coffee table and Laura reaches over to see who it might be. It’s not really a surprise when she finds the name of a group chat she’s in with two friends she met at university: Laf and Perry. They check in on her every couple of days, catching up on what she’s been up to and how she’s finding the university’s online platform. Other than her dad’s phone calls, they’re really the only ones she’s spoken to this whole time.

She usually doesn’t have anything new to report though, but today she tells them about the young woman she saw on the roof. Of course that leads to Perry scolding her for being up there in the first place when she doesn’t exactly count as authorized personnel, but Laf shows equal interest in this mysterious woman and wonders who she is and how she’s handling being in lockdown, you know, for like scientific purposes. Laura wonders too and that confuses her because she only saw a glimpse of her before she disappeared.

Don’t know. I probably won’t ever see her again, Laura tells her friends and the thought hurts a little.

She hopes that she’s wrong though.