Tenderfoot

Fiction: Moments

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by Howard Ng

Five

This is it. This is actually happening.

It’s only the two of us left in the room. We are finally alone together and I am trembling. I clench my fist and pray that she doesn’t notice the shaking. She doesn’t. Against all odds, she conjures that magnetic smile of hers and I can feel the radiating heat envelop my body. I return her smile with one of my own.

“Ready?” She extends her hand and I’m finding it hard to breathe.

I reach for her hand, with no plans of ever letting go.

I leap.

 

One

I met her on my first day of work.

It was nerve-wracking, walking into the lobby that morning. It was a finance firm, one of the ones that have their offices in those massive skyscrapers in the middle of the city. In this case it was four hundred and seventeen meters tall. There were one hundred and ten floors in the building, and the firm owned four of them. I worked on the ninety-seventh.

Yeah, I have a certain fondness for numbers. Said fondness was the very thing that got me hired in the first place. They recruited me a few weeks before I finished my degree, and it was a pretty big deal. Well, it was to the folks back home anyway. Home is now twenty-six thousand, two hundred kilometers away. It sure doesn’t seem like a deal of any size any more.

I was late for work. My first day and I was already late. I have always been a punctual person, but I was new to the city and I had just moved into my apartment the day before. Adrenaline was pumping through my veins, and everything around me was a huge blur as I bolted towards the elevator. People were already inside, ready to go. “Holdthedoorplease!” I yelled as politely as I could. I was sure he had heard me, this bloke in his fancy Italian suit. I enjoyed a millisecond of relief when I saw him reaching for a button to hold the doors for me. They started to close instead.

“Hey!” The futile plea escaped my lips, but I was already slowing down in defeat. It was too late. I stopped right in front of the elevator, panting heavily as I expected the metal doors to shut. Instead there was a loud thud: a hand had shot through the closing gap in the nick of time and slammed on the left door, forcing the automatic sensors to slide them back open.

“What the hell are you doing?” That accusatory tone belonged to Italian Suit, the one who closed the doors on me. Well, tried to.

“What your mom apparently forgot to teach you to do, asshole. It’s called being a decent human being. You should try it sometime.”

I turned to see her as the metal doors finally closed. She was already turning to face the front, and I caught a glimpse of her hair waving back in place. “Thanks!” I muttered a little too loudly with a nervous smile, having forgotten that my lungs were still heaving from the run. Embarrassment flooded my cheeks.

“No problem.” she replied, and that smile – it was magnetic.

 

Two

“Stalker (noun): A person who harasses or persecutes someone with unwanted and obsessive attention.”

I let out a sigh of relief as the definition flashed across my computer screen, half-assured that the term did not apply to me.

“Uh, Adam?” I jumped in my seat, startled by the suddenness of the voice behind me. I scrambled to minimize the browser before turning to my colleague.

“For Christ’s sake - Jim! You scared the shit out of-”

“Why were you asking Jeeves about the definition of ‘stalker’?” Jim interjected, his right eyebrow raised as his curious gaze moved from the computer screen to meet mine. “Are you stalking someone, matey?”

“Am I- course not!”  I whisper-yelled, scanning around to make sure no one had heard what he just said, “…not technically! That’s still not an Australian accent by the way. You just sound like a pirate.”

“I’ll take it. Pirates are cool. Besides, it’s better than being a stalker.”  Jim shrugged in his usual nonchalant way as he looked at me mockingly. I could tell he was amused with the whole thing already. That was his greatest talent really; his ability to spin the straws of every situation into amusement gold for himself. I leapt up from my seat, determined to explain myself to my half-interested colleague, but he responded with a dismissive chuckle.

“Relax Adam! I’m just messing with you,” he chimed, playfully patting my back. “Is this still about Elevator Girl?” Jim leaned against the pillar and paused for an answer, but my silence was a good enough response.

“Uh-oh. What did you do?”

“Nothing!”  I scratched the back of my head. “I just… might have… maybe lingered a little longer before getting into the lift every morning, that’s all. Nothing wrong with that, right?”

“Hmm, creepy and impractical, I love it. Well, has it worked? Did you see her again?”
I shrugged resignedly as I shook my head. It had been two weeks since our brief first encounter, with an unsurprising lack of success from my elevator-based strategy.

And then, as if on cue, I saw her.

There she was, standing right at the front desk, talking to Tracy the receptionist. Jim was still speaking, but his words became muffled noise. What was she doing there? Was she asking Tracy about me? Did she know who I was? I started raising my hand to wave at her, but halted halfway when I saw my boss walking out to meet her. Mortified at the possibility that she had caught the half-wave, my body instinctively collapsed back into the chair. Reading the room, Jim followed suit and hid behind the pillar.

“Why are we hiding? Who’s that?”

“That’s her!”

“Who?”

“Elevator Girl!”

“The Elevator Girl? This I gotta see.” Before I could say anything else, Jim tilted his head and peeked out from behind the pillar with that amused grin still lingering on his face. “Not bad, my tall Australian friend. She’s quite the looker.”

“Oh, shut up. You reckon she saw me?”

“I don’t think so. Either that or she’s ignoring you on purpose.”

I stood back up as soon as I felt it was safe to do so. She had already turned around.

“Looks like she’s having lunch with Chairman Mao,” Jim quipped, referring to my terrifying first impression of our boss during orientation. He had not taken well to my being late on my first day. “Well, this is your chance, matey. Gonna go talk to her or what?”

“Uh…” The voice in my head was screaming out for me to walk up to her, but it was quickly replaced by the deafening silence of fear when I thought about doing it in the presence of my boss. “No, I can’t. Not in front of…” There was no need to continue. Jim was already nodding in acknowledgement. All the interns were terrified of the Chairman. I let out a long, defeated sigh.

“Maybe next time.”

 

Three

The monitor on the treadmill told me that I had been running for three kilometres. Home to fifty-two meticulously arranged treadmills, the gym claimed to be the biggest one in the city. Not that its size mattered to me anyway. I was an intern with little free time on my hands – proximity trumped everything else at that point, and the gym was within walking distance from the building where I worked. A nice five minute stroll. Three if I power-walked.

I had invested in an MP3 player, so naturally “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen was on repeat. There was just something comforting about Freddie Mercury’s voice cheering me on. ‘I'm burning through the skies yeah! Two hundred degrees that's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit –’

“Hey!”

I was so caught up in the moment that the sudden intrusion sent a jolt through my body. I jumped off the treadmill instantly, and would have fallen face first into the tracks if I hadn’t been holding onto the handles for dear life.

“Jesus.” Two firm hands wrapped around mine, supporting my upper body as my legs flailed around to eventually stand back up.

“I’m so sorry!” said a voice as I started to catch my breath. I could have sworn there was a hint of giggling embedded in that apology.

“No no, it’s uh- it’s fine...” I finally looked up to meet my assailant, and stopped dead in my tracks when I realized who that voice belonged to.

“You’re the elevator guy, right? I thought I recognized you from somewhere,” she said, with that smile. I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out.

“You sure you’re alright?” she continued. “Sorry to literally derail your run like that, just wanted to say hi…”

“No!”  I choked. “I mean, no worries. You can derail me any time.” I could feel everyone in the gym cringe as those words escaped my lips. “Hi, I’m Adam.” I marched on, praying to god that she had suffered from temporary deafness and hadn’t heard what I said. I extended my right hand, amending my prayer to not having sweaty palms as I anticipated touching hers. “Thanks for saving me… again. All my front teeth are very grateful.” I don’t know how I still managed a smile after the world’s greatest showcase of embarrassment, but I did.

“Jane.” She shook my hand. “And you’re welcome… again. You can thank my superhuman reflexes for that,” she bragged jokingly as she readjusted her pony-tail. I might have chuckled a little too hard.

“Yes, thank you, Super Jane,” I said, as my brain went into overdrive processing what I should say next. I felt a brief moment of bliss at the sound of her laughing at my joke.

“Super Jane, I like that.” She nodded in amusement. That was it. That was my chance. Ask her ask her ask her.

“So Jane, I was think-”

“Oh shit,” she interrupted, looking at her watch. “Sorry, I have to go or I’m going to be super late.” She quickly grabbed her gym bag and swung it into her shoulder. She might as well have slammed my face into the treadmill tracks herself.

“Late for what?” It was already 5pm and the question just slipped out of my bitter lips as she tied her shoelaces.

“Well my sister, in her infinite wisdom thought it’d be a great idea that I meet this guy from her work…” She probably forgot who she was talking to, and realized that fact as soon as she stood up and looked back at me. “Just a dinner thing,” she rephrased with a smile, but a different one this time, one of those polite smiles that people give to relieve awkward situations. I should have said what I wanted to say. But instead, I said what I was expected to.

“Right. Well, have fun. It’s nice to officially meet you, Super Jane.”

“Likewise, Elevator Adam. I’m sure I’ll see you around!”

“Definitely!” I yelled out. All I could do was watch as she ran towards the exit. There were many things in life that I wasn’t sure of, but at that moment, I was certain about one thing: I was not a fan of her sister.

 

Four

I ran into her in the elevator again. This part… this is where it gets blurry. I remember greeting her nervously, hoping that I wouldn’t trip up with my words this time. I remember meeting her gaze and finding that she was actually pleased to see me again. I remember making small talk in the elevator, but what I really wanted to know was how her ‘dinner thing’ went.

“So… how did your date go?”

“What? Oh, that date. It went nowhere, actually. Turns out successful plastic surgeons are very full of themselves, who would’ve thought?”

“Really? I’m shocked.” I echoed her sarcasm, trying really hard not to spin around with glee. Before I knew it, we had reached her floor.

“This is me. It’s nice seeing you!” She looked at me and smiled before exiting the elevator.

“Okay, bye! We should do this more often!” We should do this more often? What a stupid thing to say. I felt like kicking myself in the head. The embarrassment was worth it though, as it earned a slight chuckle from her.

“Elevator talk with Elevator Adam? I wouldn’t miss it.” She would never know how much of an effect that sentence had on me. I watched her walk away as the metal doors started closing. There it was, within my grasp. I could feel it, but the opportunity was slipping away. It was an all-too-familiar feeling; an ache that I just couldn’t bear anymore. So I decided not to.

I caught the elevator doors in the nick of time. Adrenaline once again coursed through my veins as I went after her.

“Hey Jane, can I talk to you for a second?”

Now

This is it. This is actually happening.

She has her own office, with large glass windows that provide you with a nice view of the city below. The glass is completely shattered now, little shards falling off like snowflakes. There is nothing separating us from the city below anymore.

“It’s funny. I’ve been staring out this window for two years, and I’ve always wondered how… freeing it would feel.” Coughing into her fist, she tilts her head forward and takes a peek at the ground below. More shards fall away into the abyss.  My first instinct is to lie. Tell her that there has to be another way. Tell her that help is on the way; that we can wait this out. I settle on the truth instead.

“I guess… we’ll find out soon,” I say, trembling.

It’s only the two of us left in the room. We are finally alone together and I am trembling. Who wouldn’t be?

It all happened so fast: A deafening explosion. Two seconds went by. People screaming. Five seconds. The shower of debris. Eight seconds. Then there was nothing. Nothing but smoke and fire.

It’s all happening so fast. There is no time to process what’s going on. No time to call our families. Only time for one final moment. One last moment of human existence.

One last moment with her.

I clench my fist and pray that she doesn’t notice the shaking. She doesn’t. Of course she doesn’t. I can tell that she’s scared too.

But she’s trying her best to keep it together, and I get it. There’s no room for fear now. So I tell her. I have to tell her.

“Jane, when I came in, before all this… I was going to ask you out on a date!”

“I know.” She turns to look at me, and against all odds, she manages to conjure that magnetic smile of hers.

“You do?”  I can feel the radiating heat envelop my body. The fire is getting closer and closer. There is no way out but down.

“I had a feeling.” She is still smiling, even when the tears are rolling down her cheeks. “And- and I would have said yes, too.”

I want to cry, but instead I return her smile with one of my own.

“Ready?” She extends her hand and I’m finding it hard to breathe. The smoke is already forcing its way into my lungs.

“On three.”

This is it. This is my last chance and I know it.

“One.”

I reach for her hand, with no plans of ever letting go.

“Two.”

I kiss her. I kiss her for five seconds and I feel like maybe it is enough. It has to be.

“Three.”

We leap.