What if you could've stopped 9/11? Sean Taylor must make a decision to help a high-strung blonde prevent as many deaths as possible. But what if she's lying? What if it's all real, and he messes up? What if none of it was real? What else can he do?
I walked through the streets of New York City with my hands in my dark blue jean pockets. I wore a nice black jacket with a scarlet and plum tie that rung around the collar of my white shirt. A brief case dangled in my hand like an unwanted tooth holding onto your gums by a string. I sat on a bench and thought about what had just happened.
It wasn’t that difficult to grasp. I’d been turned down by so many other companies that this barely seemed worth thinking about. I opened my briefcase again and looked down at my pictures. They were so vibrant and so beautiful. The first one was of a little girl cupping a butterfly in her palm. The little girl had white-blonde hair that curled around her cheeks. She held a blue morpho butterfly. How she came across the butterfly was beyond me. Her eyes were wide open with joy and he smile was just as bright as the sun behind her little head. I shook my head.
I didn’t know why the editor of New York Times turned them down. I caught the joy of the world in such small pictures that it even amazed me. I flipped to the next picture and saw the two pigeons on cable wires. I don’t know why I liked this picture, I just thought that it was better then some of the other things I took pictures of.
I just sighed and shoved the useless pages of art into the brown leather bag. I stood up and started walking down the road again. I was fifteen. That may be another variable to why no one will take my photographs. They all see my lovable green eyes and raven black bangs and think, “There’s no way I’ll hire this kid.” I probably wouldn’t hire a freshman in high school either, but I was different. I captured true and memorable times. I was one in a million.
I kept walking down the gray and mellow streets. I never even liked New York City. I have this huge fear of people that has been stalking me since I was just a child. I had to force all my courage up today just to talk to the editor. I was never brave like my brother, John. He was the tough football player who got straight A’s and was headed for Harvard. John was muscular and brawny and always helped out.
I was sort of like him. I might be tall and scrawny but whenever the community needed help I was always there. My friends were limited to the guys at lunch that only put up with me because my brother was being the nice guy and said that I needed someone to hang out with. I didn’t have time for friends anyways. I needed to get my career going. Every career starts with college, every college starts with a résumé, and every résumé starts with volunteer work and small jobs.
I walked up to the brick apartment building and opened the door. Summer was over tomorrow and that meant I’d have to go back to pretending to be a jock. Life for me was definitely beginning to take a turn for the worst. I set my bag down in the corner to the right of the door and threw my jacket onto a hook. I smelt a vegetable stew boiling in the kitchen, where my mom was most likely awaiting to hear about my day.
“Sean?” she called, “Sean, are you home?” I walked through the squeaky wood floor hallway and entered the kitchen. Dirty white tiles checkered the room and were accompanied by barren white walls with the occasional picture or little memento hanging off the wall. My mother stood over the small kitchen quarter with her hair dangling out over her face. Her brunette hair was thin and light in a bun behind her head. She wore a spring green tank top with white Bermuda shorts and a white apron. Sweat beads dotted across her forehead and made her body droop tiredly.
“Right here mom,” I answered walking over. Her head popped up and she smiled her usual shy smile. Her eyes were worn out to the core, making the lovely blue color fade away into an icy pale glow. She kept stirring the vegetables and herbs bubbling inside the metal pot. The smell of potatoes, carrots, and the various herbs were intoxicating and made all his worries disappear. The intoxicating scent made him sweat like his hard-working mother.
“How was the interview?” She asked ecstatically. My eyes looked distant into hers, explaining without words that it went amiss. Her lips puckered and she looked back down at her cooking. My mom wasn’t that great with empathy, she never knew the words to say. She was just like our family’s personal cheer leader. She did everything she could to cheer us on. She used to be a writer until she had me and John.
When we were born, she knew that she had to give up her writing to raise us. She would give up her liver if it meant that we could have what we wanted. The good thing was none of us took her for advantage. My father was more on John’s side mostly because he was the coach of the football team he was on. I didn’t mind being the loner geek in the family. It meant they had no real expectations for me.
The doorbell rang with a quick and sharp buzz. My head flew up slower than my body. By the time I was at the door, my eyes had finally focused on my feet moving. My hand gripped the golden doorknob. Before I could really open it, it was shoved open, pushing me behind the door. My back cracked against the wall and I tried to regain my lost breath.
“Great work, John!” my dad chanted. I narrowed my eyes in aggravation. I was ignored by my father, yet again. I heard John laugh as he shut the door. My knees buckled from the sudden change in pressure and I fell to the ground with a large thump! John looked back, his smile radiant and his eyes blooming with confidence. He stretched his hand out to me as an invitation. I ignored it and stood up.
“Hey squirt,” my dad mumbled towards me. I picked up my briefcase and my jacket. “How did the… uh, wildlife photography classes go?” I ignored the fact that he was flagrantly wrong and just answered with my usual, “Fine.” My dad had broad shoulders and a strong jaw that made him very masculine. He had his beard stubble that matched with his rusty-colored hair. He usually wore a silver whistle around his neck incase John needed some extra impromptu training.
“John,” my mother called, “Someone called for you earlier today.” John looked back and she passed a paper to him. I walked through the living room with a distant heart and callous eyes. Maybe if I got one of my pictures published… maybe my dad would look at me through the same eyes he sees John through. Maybe he’ll finally be proud of what I do. Maybe I’ll make my own friends.
I threw my case to the floor and jumped on my bed. What was I thinking?
Like my father would ever be proud of me. I looked at my pictures again. I had a photo of a sunrise over a pond at the park. The orange flaming skies and yellow tendrils of the sun gleamed off the ripple-free deep blue water. I remember smelling the crisp and fresh air mixed with the new dew drops that sparkled off the grass. It was a chilly morning, but it was one of the most beautiful things you could’ve caught in New York.
I heard the creaking steps of the floor parting for my brother. My head looked up to John sitting down on my bed. His face was glum. I stared at him. I knew my brother had mood swings, he was sixteen for crying out loud, but this seemed too tragic. His brows lulled over his clear blue eyes and made his face sag. I had never seen John this depressed. Who called?
“Sean,” he whispered. My eyes became suddenly attentive. What voice was this? It sounded almost as if he was begging for me to understand. I couldn’t pinpoint the darkness that had overwhelmed him. “I know that you think I don’t support you and your photography, but I do. And now,” his voice croaked, “I need you to help me with something.” I inched closer to him in sympathy.
“What?” I almost choked on the words myself. He looked up into my eyes. The sadness overwhelmed me. John wasn’t the kind of guy to show sadness or any weak side of him. It almost paralyzed my body when I saw this ruined face.
“Dad wants me to double my efforts towards sports,” his face twisted almost as if in disgust.
“You’re strong,” I started encouragingly. “A few more practices aren’t going to-.” John roared in frustration. I froze. Wasn’t stepping up his training a good thing? John loved being on dad’s good side. If he doesn’t want to double the training, then what exactly does John want?
“Sean,” he began with a calmer complexion, “No one pressures you to take pictures. You never had a tight schedule to run on, quite frankly you just go about your business as you wish. The thing is…” his eyes wandered about the room, “I don’t want to play football anymore.” My eyes widened. John, the quarterback girl magnet, didn’t want to do sports anymore? “I never have,” even more surprising news. “The truth… the real truth is,” his eyes closed, “I want to be an actor.”
My brain was going to explode. I never even thought that there was a side possible for this. John was going to quit the football league, crash his scholarship, disappoint dad and curse his reputation just so he could go after what he believed in. I was barely able to take it all in.
“Think about it this way,” John interrupted my thoughts, “The people who stand by me through this are the people who really are my friends and the people I can really depend on.” It made sense. If someone let you down because you wanted to let your real self out then they really didn’t know you. I took a deep breath and hit my brother’s shoulder lightly.
“Think you could get me to meet Leonardo Dicaprio?” I asked jokingly. John’s face lit up again as he pulled me into a tight hug. I made an annoyed grunt and wriggled free. Sometimes John was an embarrassingly loving brother, but he was still one of my best friends… my only real friend. Dad entered the room, announcing dinner was ready.
We walked out into the living room and sat on the periwinkle couch with our plates on our laps. My mother turned the TV on to Nickelodeon. It was five o’clock, like clockwork, when we ate dinner. Drake and Josh was playing on TV. It was the episode where Drake dated a blonde girl who liked Josh behind Drake’s back. I lost amusement in this TV series some time ago, but it was either this or the news.
Later that night the thoughts of John quitting football raced through my head. He was so brave to do this. I was the furthest thing from brave. When I wasn’t going in for an interview or a review with somebody important, I usually dressed in black just to scare people. I didn’t want people messing with me so I just scared them off. I was the quiet gothic boy at my school. It was true that girls liked me, some girls older than me found me attractive. I just wasn’t at all interested in girls.
There really was no point to dating. If I wanted to be successful, I had to focus on my studies and my photography. Having a distraction [girlfriend] would just get me confused and worked up. I wouldn’t know what I should do or how I should act. I’d take up so much time trying to keep a healthy relationship that I’d get sidetracked.
I looked at my desk and saw the rust colored book with golden pages and the elegant manuscript writing titled ‘Drift Weed’. I wasn’t a huge fan of poetry, but my favorites had to be Robert Burns, Shakespeare, Thaxter and Pinsky. There are people who can see the concept of poetry and perceive the hidden meanings. You have that special talent. That’s what my mom said when I tried explaining a quote from Shakespeare to her.
“Never made it as a wise man,” I woke up with a jolt. I turned to my radio and listened the Nickelback sing their song. I took my first morning groan and kicked my legs to the side of my bed. I looked up to the single mattress across from me where I’d last seen John. His bed was empty and made. He was probably out training. If he was, then he was probably going to tell dad.
“And this is how you remind me,” I got up and walked over to my dresser. I took out my black Guns N Roses shirt with my black jacket hoodie. I threw on my black cargo pants and slipped on my black Etnies. I took a glimpse of myself in the mirror. It was obvious that this wasn’t my character, but how else was I supposed to protect myself? I grabbed my black messenger bag and headed out for my first day of high school.
My mom was still lying in bed, unaware that today was the first day of school. I grabbed a strawberry Poptart out of the cabinet and walked off to school. The streets of New York were as boring as ever. People walked around, some looked like they were hiding something under their jackets.
I looked up a moment and saw a man walking quickly with purpose. He was dark skinned with wiry black hair and a menacing face. He had a white shirt, light blue ripped jeans and a tan jacket. I made a sharp glance, telling him to back off. The man didn’t seem to notice my message, only trying to hide something in his jacket pocket.
There was nothing different from this day than any other.
At high school I walked through the front doors of the school, remembering vaguely that freshmen had to meet in the cafeteria. The halls were blank and bare, like the ones at my house, with a dirty gray carpet and plastic lining near the walls.
My footsteps echoed menacingly through the hallowed vestibule. I came to the double doors that would greet me to the cafeteria and enroll me in my first day of school. I took a deep breath, feeling sweat bubble beneath my skin threatening to expose itself to the students. I focused on breathing properly and took hold of the handles. I flew the doors open with the twist of my wrist.
People who crowded around the doors quickly looked to me. I looked down, averting my glance slowly from tile to tile. The room grew quiet, but not silent. The room was large with tiles that patterned throughout the area. Cheap plastic tables that were supposed to look like wood supported as seats. I didn’t need to look around to understand where people were standing.
The geeks stood in a corner near the back of the room. The skateboard/punks (where some people think I should be) stood near the walls hidden behind a square pillar. The creative kids stood near the back side of the stage wall. The cross-between-cool-and-drool people (more than half the population) stood in different sections according to lifetime relationship. The jocks and popular kids stood nearly in the middle of the room with light smiles and raised eyebrows. I was welcomed with laughs and smirks.
Hanging out with my brother’s friends didn’t bother me, but it didn’t very well amuse me either. They mostly talked about how cool they were and how easy it’ll be to get on the teams. Usually nobody really talked to me, they just gave me a glance every once in a while. Today, though, they tried to get me to chat.
“Sean,” Justin, defense on football, perked my interest, “Why don’t you try out for softball with Jay this year?” Jason was the pitcher on our softball team. I shook my head. He asked why and I just stayed quiet. Another weird thing was Rose kept looking at me from time to time. Rose was the captain of the cheerleading squad, the bleached blonde beauty with blue eyes.
Everyone loved her, but I was actually annoyed with her. She had a nasally voice that made her so unattractive. Not only that, but she didn’t care about anybody but herself. It was like the world revolved around her. It didn’t matter if she fell off the top of the pyramid at the final game of the season because it would’ve never been her fault.
The school bell rang and we all exited through the doors in a rush. My homeroom teacher was Mr. Carbone. He was a language arts teacher and the instructor for the drama club. I had a feeling that John would be good friends with him just as much as me (maybe even more than me). I turned a corner down the hall and entered to another boring room with books scattered along the opposing side of the room.
Single desks were lined up in rows. The groups were scattered throughout the vicinity like in the lunchroom. I sat at my desk by myself as usual. Some of the girls stole glances at me and whispered. Nothing changed this year. Everyone was still as amusing as ever. The only difference was this time, they were high school blockheads.
“Everyone, take a seat,” we all looked up to the white, frizzy haired Mr. Carbone. He had a light blue plaid shirt cuffed to his elbows and a brown vest over it with black pants and those nice shoes you get out of a ‘50’s movie. My eyes darted to the floor as I waited for the attendance call to begin.
“Rosaline Brown?” He asked. There was a quick smug laugh and a ‘here’ that followed. I rolled my eyes at the drama queen, and my day proceeded as such.
After school I walked down the street wondering how I already got a homework assignment from Miss Victoria, Mr. Carbone and Mr. Meyers, history, language arts and science. I didn’t really want to consider the thought that summer was over and not one time had my pictures gotten into anything. I sat down on the bench that overlooked the park with the glittering fountain.
Everything was calm today. The kids ran around and giggled their little lungs out. The adults sat with each other, drinking coffee or walking dogs. Some people were jogging around, trying to get the last of the nice weather. I’d seen this scene before, and it didn’t truly mesmerize me like when we first moved here.
My ears perked up when I caught the sound of a rant. I heard one voice begging people to listen, but it seemed as though they were getting no where with it. I turned my head casually and saw a blonde girl with a determined face running around the streets annoyed. Her eyes sparkled brilliantly in the midday sun showing off the great blue pools. She wore a white pleated skirt with red, green and yellow rubber belts that had little charms at the bottom. Her shirt was orange with green writing. She wore an array of colorful bracelets with white gloves and flimsy pink chains. I didn’t know it until I finally tried to tear myself away, but I was staring at her. Her radiance was impossible to miss and I didn’t understand how someone could just pass her and not ask what was wrong.
I stood up and walked over. Her interest was beginning to drop and she started wandering across the road. My eyes widened to a tall Shaws truck darting forward. Her head was to the other side, unknowing of the danger rushing towards her. I picked up my speed and sprinted off. Everything happened slowly. I felt like my legs weren’t able to move fast enough. Her eyes still looked away from the danger.
I ran into someone but I just said sorry and kept running. My eyes focused only on her. A breeze hit me as I made my last few steps past a red car and grabbed her hand. Her eyes widened as I pulled her back. The truck finally honked as it kept driving where the girl would’ve been. I stepped back into a bike rack and tipped one of them over. That bike then toppled another one until all the bikes stopped at a tricycle. I felt my face blush insecurely. The girl made a giggle.
“You’re strange,” she said. Her voice was smooth and melodic. I shook my head and looked away with my eyes rolling.
“You were stupid enough to step into a road with a truck about to crash into you.” I rebounded. She made a sly smile and sat against the bike rack.
“Touché,” she admitted, “But why would someone as…” she looked at my outfit; “ominous as you help someone as…” she looked at herself, “bright as me?” I turned my back to her. I could feel her smile burn into me like a blazing fire. Soon, footsteps synchronized by me. I looked up and she was there again. She smelt like the cross between roses and… cookie dough? I couldn’t quite identify what she smelled like, but it was sweet. I finally noticed that she wore four little chain necklaces the first one was closer to her neck and had a heart emblem at the bottom. A little further down her neck was a black spade. Just a bit further down was a purple diamond and then there was the inevitable green club. I turned towards her.
“That was a stupid move to pull in New York,” even though I’d pulled the same move myself. She shrugged.
“Sometimes we can’t all be held responsible for stupid moves,” she looked over at me. “Sometimes we need to blame others for actions that weren’t our own.” I stared at her. It was such a cheesy line for anyone, but the way she said it… with such a straight face and meaningful eyes. I just couldn’t-. Her face broke and she looked down with a light chuckle. I gasped unbelievably.
“You were joking?” I yelled. I couldn’t believe I’d complimented her so highly on a joke.
“It’s so much fun messing with you,” she admitted. Her eyes looked up into the sky with the same radiance from when I first caught sight of her. How could someone as evil as me fall for someone as bright and annoying as her? I looked down at the ground. I guess I wasn’t really evil as much as scared, but she was so brave. She was kind of an inspiration. John would love to meet her. “So what’s your name, stranger?” She asked suddenly. I looked over at her.
“Name’s Sean,” I answered. “And you?” She made a light smile and looked back into the sky.
“You can call me Amaranth,” she answered sincerely.
Amaranth. That was a strange name. It sounded very… majestic and mystical. It fit her easily. What was an Amaranth? Was it even a word, or just a name? I guessed it was a type of perfume.
I looked back at her for a moment. I’d never seen Amaranth before. I’m not going to say that I know everyone in New York from Geneva to Manhattan, but she was something different, hard to miss. You’d think that if you walked by one of the weirdest girls in all of New York that you’d remember her.
I casually asked where she was from. It was one of those ‘slip-in’ questions that you think are holding the world in orbit by a string and they think is just small talk like a grain of sand on a beach. She hesitated though, the string holding the world was stretching. Her eyes looked off into the distance like she was actually trying to remember where she lived. How hard was the question?
When she answered, the world fell into a black hole…
“I live in a place,” she said with a hint of sarcasm but with much defiance. There was a word for people like her. Annoying? No, there’s something even closer. Drama queen? No, she’s not too sentimental. Headstrong? No, she seems open to suggestion. What was the word? I put my finger on my chin. This was getting to be a kind of a nuisance. That was it!
“Vegan,” I concluded. Amaranth’s head perked up to meet my face with a puzzled look. “You’re a vegan.” I repeated. She rolled her eyes. “You encourage your own ideas, you’re a little on the optimistic side, and you have no common sense.” I saw her face darken as she raised an eyebrow. I made a quick shrug, hoping she knew what a vegan was.
She exhaled soothingly and looked back at me.
“What do you mean I encourage my own ideas?” She asked. I shrugged again.
“I heard you ranting about something behind me,” I began, “It sounded like you were trying to get people to stop eating meat or something.” Her face fell for a moment in thoughtfulness. I glanced down at Amaranth. What was it about her? What was this weird voluntary emotion that made me look at her? Her hair… I don’t think I’d ever seen anything sparkle like it before.
“I’m not a vegan, stupid.” I could’ve sworn an arrow hit my chest when she said that. “But you wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” her voice was challenging. She said it because she wanted me to ask what it was. She wanted to rant about it to me because she thought I’d actually listen.
“Tell me,” she was right. Amaranth leaned into my ear.
“Something horrible is going to happen,” she whispered.
“Listen,” I began, “I don’t know where you’re from, but this is the United States of America. Nothing horrible happens here.” I was completely right too. Sure, we’ve been in tons of wars with ourselves, but nothing bad has ever happened here. The girl didn’t believe me and shook her head annoyed.
“Ignorance,” she stated. “America isn’t the safe haven everyone thinks it is,” I laughed sarcastically.
“Ok, see you around Amaranth,” I said turning the corner to my house. Her hand gripped my jacket before I could take another step. I turned around surprised and faced her. Her face was desperate. She looked moments away from pleading me to believe her. I ripped my arm back and stared at her with my arm frozen in a defensive position. She had tear-filled eyes. I really wanted to take a picture of this, but that would be even more awkward to take a picture when she was really trying to get me to believe some stupid belief that the country was in danger.
“Sean,” she began with her voice stern, “tomorrow, 10:00 p.m. at the same place. Be there…” she turned around and ran away. I stood there frozen. She wasn’t serious was she? Tomorrow was Tuesday the fourth. My head fell down as I turned back towards my house.