Acknowledgement: I can't thank HollettLA enough, but I'm determined to try. I shall start with peach cheesecake.
A/N: A reminder: as I mentioned in the prologue, if you've seen "Remember Me," you will understand the possible triggers that could exist in this story. This is that chapter. xo
. . .
This, Bella thinks when she steps out of Tyler's building and onto the sidewalk, the air noticeably less humid than in the sweltering days of summer, the sky a clear, breathtaking blue. This was the type of day Tyler was talking about when he said fall was his favorite time in the city. Mothers and fathers hustle small children with backpacks along the sidewalk, one hand on the child as the other clutches a newspaper, a travel mug of coffee, a briefcase. A twenty-something guy with headphones covering his ears walks a cluster of dogs on a spiderweb of leashes; a bakery truck is unloading sacks of flour and yeast in front of a just-opened bakery.
There's a long line of people queuing to get into a small church on the corner of Tyler's street and Second Avenue; off her confused look, Tyler leans in. "Primary election day," he says, and she nods as they reach the subway station. She's more than a little bit sad to descend beneath the city streets and lose the feel of the cool breeze and the warm sun against her skin. Mercifully, the train journey is quick to the Chambers Street station, and as they reemerge into the warm morning, Tyler very nearly bounces up the concrete steps. Despite her pleasure at the day, Bella feels as though she is dragging herself up them behind him. Oddly, in spite of the doctor's assertion that she was past the point of the more unpleasant pregnancy symptoms, for the past few days she's been feeling faintly queasy and exhausted deep down to her bones. She hopes she isn't coming down with a cold; between getting her dorm room organized and cramming every waking moment with as much Tyler as she can between her new classes, she suspects she's simply run down. Still, Tyler doesn't miss the way her nose wrinkles when she smells the coffee he's stopped to purchase from a street vendor, nor the way she lets her body sag against the nearby metal pole. "You okay?" he asks, depositing his change in the pocket of the dress pants she hasn't seen him wear since the first time he took her to meet his father, the day they ate at what felt like the top of the world. Infinite visibility, she remembers randomly, gazing up at the crystalline sky.
She nods, straightening. "Tired. And a little nauseated."
"Do you want breakfast?"
She shrugs. "I don't know. I feel like I should eat something, but I don't really want anything." In a half-hearted attempt to distract him, she lets her eyes drag over his body. "Did I mention that you look ridiculously good in business attire?"
He rolls his eyes, pulling self-consciously at the cuffs of his dress shirt. Despite the break in the humidity, he'd declared it too warm for a suit coat; she suspects that it's as much an attempt to retain some small shred of defiance, in spite of the tentative peace with his father and the looming prospect of working under his guidance. "I feel like a monkey."
"Well, you look sexy."
Surprise lifts his eyebrows as he accepts the cup from the vendor, and she grins; he blows into the small hole in the lid, glancing at his watch. As if to prove he's no longer cramming his relationship with his son in between other, more important meetings, Charles Hawkins has scheduled Tyler first thing – 9 a.m. "Are we late?" Bella asks, falling into step beside him, and he shakes his head. Relieved, she slips her hand into his, twining their fingers together. "What a beautiful day," she murmurs, eyeing the sky. "I see what you mean about New York in the fall."
"I told you," he says brightly, ducking his head to blow into the cup again. "Speaking of fall…a little birdie told me it's your birthday this week."
Bella rolls her eyes. "A little birdie named Kelsey?"
He smirks. "I promised I'd never tell." But his smile is all the admission she needs, and she rolls her eyes again as she lifts a finger to press against the gold token dangling from the chain around her neck. "Well, I'll consider this my gift. Thank you. You don't need to do anything else."
Tyler mimics her eye-roll. "Yeah, right. I was going to ask my dad if we could use his cabin again this weekend. It's probably a little too early for foliage, but the Catskills are pretty in the fall. I already took the weekend off."
"A whole weekend with you?" she asks, slipping her fingers into his free hand. "That I will gladly accept."
He grins as they are swallowed by the crowd of commuters pouring out of the World Trade Center PATH station. "Terrific." Bella allows her head to tip back and her eyes to scale the side of the imposing twin skyscrapers looming before her; even if she were to stay in New York for years, she can't imagine a time when their grandeur won't catch her attention. Then again, Tyler's looking sideways instead of up, his amusement at her wonderment apparent, and she bumps him gently with her shoulder.
"Shut up," she says, despite his lack of verbal taunt, and he bumps her right back.
"Never gets old," he replies as they step into the plaza at the foot of the buildings. Ahead of them is the black marble fountain with the enormous gold sphere at its center, the metal surface gleaming in the early morning sunlight, planters of green growth and flowers flourishing around it. To one side is the elevated stage set up for outdoor concerts, a sea of precisely aligned white folding chairs open and waiting before it, as if expecting an audience any minute. The sea of commuters hustles along, seemingly unmoved by the surroundings, the power-walk across the plaza a warm-up-style prelude to the tempo of the Wall Street workday.
Bella looks up again, at the buildings gleaming against the breathtakingly clear sky, and as her nausea once again washes over her, her steps falter slightly.
"Hey," Tyler says, his amusement pushed aside by a sudden wave of concern. "You okay?"
Bella nods. "Yeah. Just got a little dizzy." Suddenly, she remembers her first trip to the towers, the rocket-like elevator ride into the sky and the subsequent somersaulting of her stomach. "The elevator ride isn't going to be fun."
Tyler draws to a halt, pulling Bella to one side near one of the planters. "Still feeling rough?"
"A little," she allows, and he reaches out to ghost a touch against the front of her shirt.
"My kid giving you a hard time?"
Her heart leaps at the affection in his voice: for her, for them. "Already," she replies, and Tyler glances at his watch again. Following his gaze, she can just spy the numbers: 8:35. "Okay," he says. "This is a one-time offer, so you should enjoy it while it lasts. There's a Borders bookstore on the other side of 5 World Trade; I want to make it clear that generally I am not okay with you cheating on the Strand. But in this case, given your delicate condition, I'm willing to make an exception."
She feels mildly guilty at the relief that sweeps through her. "Well, you should know that despite what women say, size matters. So I'll always be partial to the six miles of books."
He grins. "In the interest of full disclosure, this Borders is three floors, and the street-level floor is entirely alphabetized fiction shelves. Nothing else."
"Uh-oh. You could be in trouble."
His grin turns mischievous. "Good thing I went and knocked you up, then, huh? Now you're stuck with me."
For the thousandth time, she's slightly stunned by his obvious joy at their situation, his complete lack of panic about the fact that they're going to be parents before either one of them has a college degree. "Good thing," she echoes, and she can hear the faint thread of wonder in her own voice.
Tyler's own expression softens, and he gazes at her for a minute before reaching into his back pocket. When his hand reappears between them, he's holding his worn black leather journal. After a brief hesitation, he holds it out to her. "The project with Caroline; it got me thinking."
"About what?" she asks, taking it reverently.
"About my notebooks." When she doesn't say anything, he offers a mildly self-conscious shrug. "What's the point of writing letters to someone who isn't here to read them? Letters are for the living." She nods, and when he speaks again, he looks down at the book that she's still clutching between them. "I'm starting a new notebook."
She thinks briefly about his sister's glee at their project, the theme of their book. "For Caroline?"
He shakes his head. "For the baby. And for you." A long finger taps the leather cover of the journal in her hands. "I don't need this one anymore. But I thought you might still want to read it."
She nods. "I do." She wants to know every little thing about him, even the dark, difficult things, and not for the first time, she wishes she could confess to him the darkest, most difficult things in her own past. Maybe someday. Somehow.
He glances at his watch again, and even though they're still quite early for his appointment, she knows he wants to be ready and waiting in his father's office before Charles Hawkins even arrives. Something about advantages; she hadn't really been listening when he'd woken her up with hot fingers skirting down her body. She gently slides the journal into her bag.
"Good luck," she says, rising to her toes and pressing a soft kiss to his mouth. When she pulls back, he's gazing at her intently. "But remember: you don't have to do this for me, or for us. We'll be fine, no matter what. So…if it doesn't feel right, don't do it. Promise me."
He shakes his head. "Bella, I—"
"Promise," she cuts him off. "Only if it feels right. Not otherwise."
Tyler blows out a breath and pushes his hair back off his forehead before banding his arms around her waist. "Okay," he says softly. "I promise." He gazes down at her for a beat before leaning forward, pressing his forehead to hers. "How'd I get so lucky, huh?"
"Tough to say," she replies, the now-familiar balloon of pleasure inflating in her chest at his obvious adoration.
"Think it'll be like this forever?"
"Like what?" she asks, pulling back. He moves his hands to her hips, his thumbs gently brushing the curves of where her belly is only just starting to protrude.
"Crazy happy, regardless of anything else?"
"I dunno," she admits. "But I'm willing to give it a shot." At his smile, she steps back, and his hands drop to his sides. "You'd better get going, or you will be late."
"Corporate 9-to-5," he mutters, tugging at the knot of his tie. "Think I can pull it off?"
"Absolutely," she says, and he grins as he tilts his head to one side, morning sunlight bouncing off the crisp, white shoulders of his shirt and making him look almost as though he's glowing. He nods once, grins at her, and turns, folding seamlessly into the crowd of workers making their way into the lobby of the North Tower. She watches him go, thinking that, despite any initial reservations, he certainly looks the part. When he's been swallowed by the throng of people, she turns and makes her way back past the gold sphere and toward Vesey Street.
Though she'd been teasing Tyler when she said it, the minute she steps into the vast Borders bookstore on the corner of Church and Vesey, she feels vaguely like she is, in a sense, cheating on the Strand. Still, the lure of shelves upon shelves of books is too great a temptation to resist, and she steps toward the first shelf, where Chinua Achebe starts the collection. She wanders slowly, almost glacially, finger darting out every so often to touch a familiar spine: Alcott, Allende, Atwood.
Her mind wanders briefly to all of the ways in which Tyler's permeating her life; one shelf into her perusal, she already has two reminders of him: Tuesdays With Morrie, which his father admitted to having read, and Little Women, which Tyler confessed was on the "Bella-shelf" he'd started. Making a mental note to ask him to see the shelf next time they're in the store, she keeps moving, eyes scanning the shelves. Pausing at Julia Alvarez, she glances at her watch: 8:45. She tries to imagine Tyler sitting in the waiting area outside his father's office, but, never having seen the office, she finds she can't. Instead, she hopes that Charles Hawkins isn't so much of a power-tripper that he'd make his own son sit in the waiting room like any other associate if he is, in fact, already in the office.
Suddenly, she wishes she'd powered through the mild nausea and braved the elevator trip into the sky; she wants with an unexpected desperation to be sitting beside him, holding his hand in reassurance. Instead, she settles for one of her mother's favored methods: sending positive thoughts out into the universe and hoping they settle squarely on his shoulders.
I love you, she thinks, then brings her hand to her stomach. We love you.
She is pulled from her silent, serene reverie by the roar of a low-flying plane.
That's weird, she thinks, returning her gaze to the shelves. In her almost-year as a New Yorker, she's never been able to hear the sound of a plane at such a volume over the hum of city noise; before she can think anything more, however, the sound of a heavy thud and the screech of metal-on-metal, almost like train brakes, rings through her ears. She could almost swear she feels the earth shudder beneath her feet.
Eyes wide, she scans the space. A few shelves over from her, a man looks up from the dust jacket he'd been reading. When he meets her eye, he shrugs once, as if to say, "New York; what else is new?" When he goes back to his reading, Bella attempts to lose herself once again in the rows of spines, but she can't quite shake the unease that has settled over her. Her eyes scan over more spines, more titles, even as her mind is struggling to disregard the feeling of premonition that has taken up residence. Just as she's reached the I's and is stretching to pluck Irving from a high shelf, her stomach rumbles, and it occurs to her that she hasn't eaten anything all morning. The World According to Garp in hand, she turns and attempts to locate the café from which she can smell the telltale aroma of coffee beans. Her attention, however, is diverted by a commotion near the front of the store. She edges closer to where a woman is talking to a male store employee, gesturing wildly with her hands.
"It just…exploded!" she exclaims, and Bella inches closer. "There's smoke and fire pouring out of it."
"But it's not even cloudy!" the book clerk replies, gazing out through the front doors, even though it's impossible to see the sky from where he's standing. Still, Bella follows his gaze, and her attention is diverted by twin sheets of paper, floating down from the sky, an idle, directionless descent. The sidewalk pedestrians are walking even more briskly than is typical of New Yorkers along the sidewalk out front and, in more than a few cases, running. "How does that even happen?"
"I don't know," the woman says, following his gaze out through the doors, but the bookstore is facing the opposite direction from whatever's happening, and Bella edges nearer. "I guess some people shouldn't try to fly their own planes."
Immediately, Bella's mind flashes back to the roar of the overhead plane, and she closes the distance between herself and the pair. "I'm sorry," she says softly. "Did something happen?"
The woman shakes her head. "Some idiot flew into the World Trade Center."
Bella's heart falls into her shoes. "What?"
The man, despite not having seen the accident to which the woman is referring, shakes his head. "On a day like this? He'd have to be blind."
"Which building?" Bella asks, ignoring the man's commentary.
"What?" the woman asks, forehead creasing deeper.
"Which building was it?" she repeats, dread a rising tide in her chest. "North or South?"
"Um. The one with the antenna on top, I think."
Bella drops the paperback she'd been holding on a display table and runs to the front of the store, pushing open the tinted glass door and stepping out onto the sidewalk. The few sheets of paper that she had observed drifting toward the sidewalk have been joined by many more, the street littered with sheets of white paper amid chunks of concrete, glass, steel. A drizzle of burning confetti rains down, becoming ash on its descent from the sky. Absently, she watches another sheet drifting toward the sidewalk and, oddly, she's transported to her first date with Tyler, the memory of the white plastic bag floating above the sidewalk like a ghost. Shaking off the recollection, she begins to run, trying not to focus on the fact that the people along the Church Street sidewalk are running, too – most of them in the opposite direction. She passes the bank and the Krispy Kreme factory store on the corner of 5 World Trade, and as she rounds the corner, she slows to a walk.
She doesn't look up.
She doesn't look at the faces of the people around her who are still running, some covering their heads in a vain attempt to protect themselves from the shower of burning debris descending from the heavens.
She doesn't take her focus off the pavement before her, littered with papers and glass and chunks of office.
But when she inhales, the air doesn't smell like it had a short time earlier: like autumn and city streets and doughnut sugar. Now it smells like jet fuel and smoke.
She drags her eyes up from the concrete and tips her head back. When she sees the building that houses Charles Hawkins' office, her heart stops in her chest.
Instead of the grid of steel she'd only just begun to get used to, the northern face of the building is a wall of fire near the top. From the outside, she has no way of knowing what floors are ablaze, but the fire is high enough in the sky that terror rips at her chest.
Fingers shaking, she digs her cell phone out of her pocket and hits "send" to call the last-dialed number. It goes straight to voicemail. "Tyler," she chokes out, but can say nothing more as she stares into the sky, at the looming tower burning from the top like a matchstick. The smoke billowing from the building is an evil, angry black.
She feels someone reach out and pull her beneath the overhang of the building; she doesn't react, doesn't realize until the faint cry of sirens becomes a scream as fire trucks appear in the plaza, that she's still holding the phone to her ear, recording silence into Tyler's voicemail.
Letting it close, she allows herself to be herded backward by a police officer.
"You need to go," he yells at her and the few other people standing near her, watching with similar expressions of shock and horror on their faces. "Keep walking and don't look up. Try to cover your heads." He turns and begins talking to another police officer, and Bella disregards his advice, her eyes finding the gaping wound in the side of the building just as her phone vibrates in her palm. Glancing at the screen, she spies an unfamiliar number.
"Tyler," she says, her voice thick with unshed tears. "Oh, God, I tried to call your phone. Tyler, the building…"
"I know," he says, voice soft but strained. "Bella, I know."
"You have to hurry. You have to get down as fast as you can. It's…the fire. It's big, Tyler. It's really big. You need to get down here fast."
"I know," he says again. "We're working on it." In the background, she can hear yelling – the sounds of commotion, but not panic. "The elevators are gone. Someone just went to check the stairwell." A pause. "There's a lot of smoke in here."
"There's a lot of smoke outside, too," she tells him.
"I'm going to call you back. We're trying to find a stairwell; I'll call you back." Before she can respond, the line goes dead, and she stands, staring alternately at the phone in her hand and the fire raging in the sky.
Suddenly, the roar of another jet engine overrides the fire sirens; a second later, a ball of fire and smoke erupts from the second tower, showering the plaza before them in debris. Bella is jolted backward by the people standing near her, concrete and glass and burning fragments raining down around them.
"Go!" the police officer yells, forcibly pushing the man beside her away from the plaza. "You need to go!"
The crowd of people turns, as if of one mind, and begins pushing its way away from the buildings, away from the rainfall of rubble. Jostled and carried with them for a short distance, Bella struggles against the current, finally breaking free to huddle against the side of a building, watching as the towers blaze against the once-serene sky. The smoke streaming from the damaged skyscrapers looks even darker, even more wicked against the perfect canvas of blue, and she clutches her phone in her sweat-slicked palm as she lets her body lean against the cool brick of the building. Tears stream unchecked down her face, and she swipes a hand across her face to clear her vision so that she can watch with clear eyes.
She watches, wonderingly idly why the smoke is streaming out at a perfect angle from both buildings, when she would have sworn it was a day without wind.
She watches, trying to picture Tyler inside the building, ushering people down the stairs and out into the relative safety of the lobby.
She watches, stunned and horrified by the violence of the fires raging what feels like miles above her.
She stops watching when she realizes that some of the "things" falling from the buildings aren't "things" at all, but people.
She tries to tell herself that every minute that passes without a phone call from Tyler means it's more and more likely that they found the stairwell, that he's descending flight after flight of stairs, that he's getting closer and closer to being back in her arms with every passing moment.
Wrapping her arms around her body, she begins a steady litany of near-silent prayers, begging with a desperation she's never known in all her life.
She makes silent promises to every higher power she can imagine, makes a deal with a devil she's never believed in, pleads with anything that might be listening to spare at least one person inside those buildings.
She realizes that the near-deserted plaza that had moments ago been largely emergency personnel is now a steady stream of pedestrians fleeing; she grasps that these must be the workers from inside the buildings, bolting for safety. She begins studying faces, some stricken with panic, some caked with blood, some blank with shock. Bella looks at every single one, watching for the one she loves.
She looks for his white dress shirt. His dark slacks. His tie.
His unruly hair. His lopsided smile. His ocean eyes.
She sees a hundred other people's loved ones, but she doesn't see hers. Glancing at the screen of her silent phone, she sees only the time glowing back at her: 9:42.
When her phone buzzes again an unknowable time, an uncountable number of stunned faces later, she throws it open without even checking the screen. "Tyler?"
"Bella, the stairs are destroyed."
"There's Sheetrock plugging the stairwell. We can't even get into it." The calm in his voice only serves to heighten her hysteria, and she can feel the phone shaking against her ear, in time with the tremor of her hand.
"Okay, well, there are tons of firefighters here. They're coming up, Tyler. Just…hang on, okay? Cover your face and try not to breathe in the smoke. Get low to the floor if you have to."
"There are people jumping from the floors above us," he says, and there's a flat note in his tone that she's never heard before. It makes the panic begin to claw at her stomach.
"I know," she says, trying to stop the tremors in her body from making their way into her voice. "But you just have to try to stay calm until the firemen get there, okay?"
"Bella, the ceiling is buckling." And with those words, she identifies the note of flatness for what it is: resignation. Her hysteria spikes.
"Tyler. Tyler, listen to me, okay? The firemen are coming up. You're going to get down."
"No. Tyler, I love you. I need you. We're going to be a family, right? Just…hang on. It's going to be okay. I love you so much."
"Jesus, Bella, I love you too," he breathes into the phone, and the flatness is gone, replaced by a sad acknowledgement that scares her just as much. "God, I love you more than I've ever loved anything or anyone in my entire life. I want you to know that. Loving you has made my entire life."
"Don't," she says, shaking her head even though he can't see her. Now, she doesn't even try to wipe the tears from her eyes. "Please don't start saying goodbye to me."
"It's true," he says, and she tries to imagine that he's smiling that soft, indulgent smile that she loves so much. "Do you know what somebody told me when Michael died? She said that she'd always been a person of faith, and that she'd been taught to believe that when a person's time is up, it's because they've made their life on Earth as perfect as it can be." He pauses, and she cries into the silence. "I always thought that was a nice sentiment."
"Please," she chokes out, the idea that he's talking about his own death with such calm acceptance making her desperate. He's quiet for a moment, and she can hear the sounds of mounting panic behind him.
"I'm so sorry I won't get to meet our baby." It's the first time his voice shakes, and the barely-maintained composure she's been desperately clinging to dissolves.
"Tyler," she chokes out around a sob.
"Please, Bella, don't cry. Please don't cry. I can't face this like a man if you cry."
"I love you so much. I'll love you forever. Whatever comes after this, I'll still be loving you. Loving you is the biggest thing about me." She has no words, her sobs swallowing them all. "Can you…" There's a pause, and she hears a few disjointed voices in the background. "Bella, can you tell my mother that I wasn't scared? And tell Caroline that I was brave, okay? Tell them it was okay."
But it's NOT okay, she wants to scream, wants to sob, wants to remind him so that he'll fight, he'll run, he'll escape and come back to her. "Okay," she says instead, knowing she'll give him anything he asks of her.
"Be happy Bella, okay? You're so beautiful when you're happy. Promise me. I need to know you'll be okay, that you'll be happy."
"Tyler," she cries, shaking her head again, incapable of imagining happy if their story ends like this. She sinks to the ground, resting her forehead against her knees, pressing the phone to her ear as tightly as she can.
"Doomed Love," he murmurs.
"What?" she asks, even as she's transported to a giant bookstore, an eerily recognizable bookseller.
"Would you let me love you all over again, knowing everything?"
"Of course I would," she replies instantly, her voice catching around another sob.
"I'm so sorry, Bella. I'm so sorry you're going to hurt again because of me."
Again, he says, but she knows already that this hurt, the one she's only just beginning to accept, will eclipse any other. "I'm not. I'm not sorry for anything," she whispers, hoping he can hear her over the sounds of terror and destruction and devastation.
"Me either," he replies, but she can hear the regret in his voice anyway. He coughs faintly, and Bella closes her eyes, listening to the sound of his breathing, trying to exist just in this moment, to exist in the same world as him for as long as she can, before she can't anymore. She tries to focus on now, instead of what comes next. On Tyler, instead of a world without him.
"I love you," he says again, and she hugs her knees with the arm not holding her phone.
"I love you," she says fiercely, wishing she could stop crying but terrified that she never will.
"I love our baby," he says, and for the first time, she realizes that he's crying, too.
"Our baby loves you," she says, her words garbled by tears. "I'll tell it all about you. Everything. I'll tell it how brave you are, how strong, how brilliant, how wonderful. I'll tell it everything. I promise."
She hears him sniff, then cough. When he speaks again, his voice has gone flat once more. Accepting. "Bella, I have to go. Janine needs to call her husband and none of the other phone lines are working."
"No," she sobs, desperate anew. "Please, Tyler, please, please don't hang up."
"I love you," he says, and she thinks she can hear tears in his voice. "I love you, I love you, I love you. I'll love you forever."
"I love you," she yells into the phone. "Tyler, I love you."
Bella waits for his answer, but the connection is gone. She looks down, but she can't see the screen through the tears pouring out of her eyes, and she presses her forehead into her denim-covered knees, sobbing until she's retching, her empty stomach heaving as her tears blind her to everything.
She tips her head back, but everything is blurry: smoke bleeding into the sky, fire melting into the buildings, the blue behind it all a reminder of the perfection of a few short hours ago. She sits, clutching her phone, letting the world fall apart around her, and tries to reach out, to feel Tyler's presence, to know that he's still here, still breathing, still a part of her world. Closing her eyes, she tries to feel him, to pretend that her world isn't ending ninety floors up, and instead to imagine him breathing, his heart beating, his skin warm and alive as his blue-green eyes look out at a still-blue sky.
The world around her starts to roar, and she thinks she might be on the verge of passing out when the stream of people around her begins to scream and run faster, dropping briefcases and kicking out of heeled shoes. As she looks up, she can see part of the South Tower splintering and collapsing in on itself, crumbling into a cloud of ash and debris. It's horrifying, terrifying, shocking, but all she can think in this one, singular moment is that it's not Tyler's building.
Someone scoops her into his arms, cradling her as the roar becomes deafening, and she is spun around as the person carrying her begins to run.
Wrong, she thinks immediately. Everything about it is wrong. The embrace, stiff as marble. The chest, cold and hard as stone, and silent. The smell, otherworldly and sickeningly sweet. "Hide your face, Bella." The voice. Melodic. All wrong.
"No," she murmurs, then begins to fight. "No!" Bella looks over his shoulder, watching as the cloud swells in the ever-growing distance he's putting between himself and the scene of devastation as he dashes uptown at an inhuman pace. "Put me down!" she shrieks, pounding at his unforgiving chest, shoulders, upper back with her fists. "Tyler!" She squirms and kicks, but Edward ignores her, cradling her in his granite-cold arms and dashing through the city streets with the speed that once made her dizzy, entirely ignoring the presence of humans around them, the blazing sunlight overhead.
She watches the dust cloud following them, not nearly fast enough to keep speed with a vampire, and she sobs as she tries to peer through the swirl of debris, tries desperately to see if Tyler's building still stands. When she finally spots the top of the spire beyond the cloud of dust and ash, she feels a faint flare of hope that she knows is futile flicker in her chest. Still sobbing, she struggles against Edward's iron embrace anew.
"Please, Bella," he pleads, his voice strained as he continues to run. Finally, she goes limp, losing her last thread of fight as the enormity of the truth settles over her like the cloud descending over the southernmost city streets.
Sobbing, she tries to return to her pleading prayer, but she can't muster the hope it would take to beg for the impossible. Instead, she lets Edward carry her away, lets herself pretend it's someone else, something else, until he slows and she picks her head up, watching as the once-racing cloud seems to lose its motivation to chase them, dispersing and crawling out over city blocks.
"Put me down," she chokes out, her voice rough and raw, and Edward draws to a halt, lowering her gently to the sidewalk and straightening, watching her with concerned, golden eyes. She takes an immediate step back, putting space between them, and turns back to where Tyler's building still stands blocks away, still burns, still spits smoke into the sky. She watches silently, standing beneath the shade of a storefront overhang, as her fellow New Yorkers stand with her, bearing witness.
Less than thirty minutes later, when the North Tower folds in on itself and crashes to Earth in a dust cloud mirroring that of its twin's demise, Bella's legs give out and she collapses to the city sidewalk.
I know it might feel like it's over, but it's not yet. Stay with me. xo
Also, for the people who were asking: this story will have five more chapters, plus an epilogue. I know this because they are already written. ;)
Note: A few small facts. Tyler's father's office in "Remember Me" was on the 92nd floor of the North Tower (Tower 1, or 1 World Trade). When Flight 11 impacted the tower, it cut through floors 93 through 99. People on the 92nd floor could not evacuate due to the blocked stairwells, but people from the 91st floor down were able to descend. Though the North Tower was the first to be hit, it was the second to fall, burning for a total of 102 minutes.
On that note, the book "102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Stay Alive Inside the Twin Towers," by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn is a poignant, compelling, amazingly detailed and deeply researched account of what happened inside the buildings over the course of those 102 minutes. I've read it three times, and I can't recommend it enough, whether you're a New Yorker or not, an American or not.