Home (Bitter)Sweet Home

I let out a slow breath and gripped my keys together, waved to the security guard already in place behind the lobby’s wide desk, and entered the open elevator. Only when I used a specific key and entered my specific code did the doors swoosh closed.

Today’s elevator music featured pianos and harps, though the noise left much to be desired thanks to the tinny speakers. Instead, it felt like an icepick was being driven through both ears. If the retched things weren’t four feet above my head, I’d ram my fist through them just to end the aural torture.

Three grueling minutes later, the elevator finally spit me out three levels above the research lab, sixty stories underground. I didn’t understand why—with all the technological advancements humanity had made over the past century—elevators still took their sweet time ferrying passengers either up or down.

In my office, I set my messenger bag atop my desk, eased my tired limbs into the ergonomic chair that I would never admit the cost of. I dropped the ring of keys next to the bag, wincing at the jingling. With as many keys as I carried, one would think I was the building manager. Some of them were familiar, ones I used every day.

Leaving and returning to my residence. Locking the office high rise’s lobby on my way out at the end of the day. Even accessing the research lab an additional thirty additional feet below my office.

One, though, was there solely for sentimental value. I rubbed away most of the design months ago, worrying away at it mindlessly day in and day out. I got this version of the key in another lifetime, when my world still made sense. Each version was a new design, each design a representation of that period of my life.

The final design?

A beautiful conglomerate of colors. Whites and purples and shades of reds and blues. The Milky Way covered the key’s bow, a reminder that I always had a safe place to land, no matter what life happened to throw my way.

The cuts and bitting were a little dull. What can I say, the key made a great last-minute cutting instrument when I had zero patience opening a delivery package. They were also visceral reminders of a place that featured in my life for nearly four decades.

Yet those same cuts and bitting, the blade and warding? They no longer served a purpose. They would never again provide access to the safe zone I took for granted for so long. I swiped the whole set into a drawer, dragged a hand across my eyes, and scooted up to the desk. The government wasn’t paying me to wallow in my regrets. They were paying me to—

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