A Falling Man, Part 5

Author: Mel Brownlee /

Helen.




New Years Eve, 1998.





This man, standing in front of me, telling me his life story, rambling on about how he works out for 5 hours every day - oh, sorry, even on the weekends - and pursing his lips to try and give him the smouldering look was getting on my very last nerve. I hadn't invited him over, far from it. I had accidentally glanced in his direction and, as with all men, that was clearly the invitation he thought he needed to come and pester me for the better part of the night.

He had been going on for a while now, and me being me I continued to smile and nod and pretend I was even listening to what he was saying, let alone giving a damn. He had his arm spread across the bar and was gradually getting closer to me. I could feel his breath on my face - he stunk of Jack Daniels and it put me off him even more.

"Where you going after this?" He asked inadvertently.

God, was this my invitation?

"Home, probably." I replied bluntly.

"So you haven't got any plans?"

"Well, not as such. Plans with my bed, perhaps."

He raised his eyebrows and whispered in my ear, "What about plans with my bed?"

Oh no, he hadn't just said that. I was at war with myself, one part of me wanted to punch him in the nose whilst the other part wanted to laugh in his face. I had heard some pick up lines in my life, but that may have just usurped the number 1 spot from "Did it hurt when you fell? Because you must be an angel". That one knocked me dead.

I leaned in closer to him and, just as he had done to me, I whispered in his ear: "Does your mummy not mind you having girls over late at night?"

His eyes narrowed, I could see his brain working in over time trying to come up with a kick ass come back, "No, I'm sure she wouldn't mind joining in once she got a good look at you."

This had just gone from laughable to considerably perverse in a very short space of time. If I hadn't been fidgety and dying to leave before, I certainly was now.

"And how would we all fit in your single, batman bed?" I laughed.

"Well - " Suddenly, he was cut off by someone who it seemed he had never seen in his life and someone that I certainly did not know.

The man who had cut my mommy's boy off was ridiculously tall. He towered over the both of us and I was a little intimidated. He cupped his hand on my shoulder and said, "Sorry I'm late, baby, I got held up at work. Who is this?" He pointed his chin towards the man who had been chatting me up for what seemed like years.

At first I was a little scared, a little concerned, and a little confused. But then I realised what this man was doing. He was saving me. If I was going to make my great escape, now was the time. I decided to play along with this stranger.

"Just someone who I have befriended, darling, and he is eager for me to meet his mother."

"Oh," he laughed to himself, "how sweet."

Mommy's boy quickly shuffled his stuff together and made his apologies for having to head off so suddenly, and I felt a huge wave of relief come over me.

Although, now I felt like I had another loser on my hands. What kind of guy pretends to be a woman's boyfriend just so the man hitting on her does a runner? He must want something.

"And you are?" I asked.

"Robbie." He sat down in front of me and looked awfully cocky.

"Robbie who?"

"Do you even care?"

I was shocked by this, not because it wasn't true, but because I didn't realise I was so easy to read.

"Well, not entirely, but you did just save me from the clutches of New York's creepiest scrub."

He laughed, flashing a perfect set of white teeth, a perfect smile. My heart pounded slightly, unexpectedly and I suddenly felt quite uncomfortable as if I had to put on my game face to try and impress this man.

"You could do worse." He said, as he rose from his bar stool.

"You're leaving?" I felt a little disappointed.

"Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but you don't seem terribly thrilled that I am trying to talk to you. So why bother?"

And all of a sudden, I was very interested in him, very thrilled that he was talking to me.

"Maybe I could get you a drink? It's the least I can do."

He smiled sweetly and took his seat again.

"So," I began, "what's your story?"

"Excuse me?"

"Well, you're not from around here, are you? I picked up on the English accent as soon as you opened your mouth."

"My, aren't we the observant one?" He laughed to himself again, as if he had an ongoing joke about me that only he found funny.

"Pretty hard to miss."

"Well you're not wrong. I moved over from London a few months ago. Got sponsored here."

"Oh yeah? Where are you working now?"

"The World Trade Centre." He smirked, as if he was trying not to sound impressive but was perfectly aware of how impressing it was to work in such a place.

"Nice. Very nice." I said, pretending not to be bothered.

"And you?" He asked.

"I'm psychology teacher in secondary school, not quite as fancy."

I felt a little embarrassed, even though I still did not know what he did for a living, by default it had to be better than me.

"That's really cool, you must have a lot of patience to teach secondary school kids." Was he genuine or was he just trying to be nice? I studied his face for a little bit, looking for a patronising glimmer in his eyes or a tiny sarcastic curl to his mouth. Nothing. I think he was actually being genuine.

"I have an unlimited storage of patience. But yes, it does get quite testing at times." I admitted.

There was an awkward silence for a couple of minutes, in some strange way the whole room had shifted, the atmosphere had changed and something in me felt very different. I didn't like it. Robbie was ordering another drink for the two of us and I felt bad, but I couldn't stay.

"I'm really sorry but I think I am going to take off."

He looked at me in shock as I gathered my things together and held my hand out to his. I shook it, quite aggressively, and thanked him once again for saving me.

"Really, I owe you." I said as I hurried myself to the the door.

I didn't look twice at him as I rushed out, but instead came face to glass with the door to the bar and fell straight to the floor.

The impact hadn't knocked me out, but it had knocked me for six. Robbie came rushing over to me and held my head off the ground. "Just stay still," he whispered, "wait for the room to stop spinning."

It stopped spinning soon enough, and all I could see was him. Yes, something had changed in me and I knew that I had absolutely no control over what was going to happen in my life after this moment.

I looked up at him and mumbled, "I'm Helen, by the way."

He smiled, "Nice to meet you, Helen."




Helen.




September 11th, 2001.
11.30am




I had watched along with the whole country, the whole world, as the North Tower collapsed. It went down so graciously and I thought of the hard work that had gone into making the tower, only for it to be completely destroyed within a matter of minutes. The power and the skills of mankind were so futile, I thought to myself. Nothing could save the tower, and ultimately nothing could save Robbie.

I thought back to that New Years night, the first moment I heard his voice, the first time I saw his face. He had saved me that night, and now I was powerless to save him.

After a while, I dragged myself off the sofa and waddled to the bathroom.
My heart was pounding so fast I feared it was going to burst through my chest. I felt physically sick, I felt alone. I kept telling myself that this wasn't real, it wasn't really happening. It was all just a dream, a very prolonged, agonising dream that felt like it would never end.

But then I realised that I had to stop pretending this pain was going to go away, that in a couple of seconds I might have to be strong for someone else, I might have to put another life before my own and that life needed me to be brave, to accept the facts and to move on with my life. If I didn't move on, I would never stop longing for the past and would ultimately take for granted what was right in front of me, what was my future.

I crept into the bathroom and took a deep breath as I stared down to see what the little stick read.

My heart stopped pounding, it stopped aching. It just stopped all together.







Positive.



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