Beads of sweat streamed down his back licking his shirt creating the beginnings of a giant sweat spot. He was late and he knew it. There was no way he was going to make it to the interview on time. He had worked so hard to get a spot to break into the journalism scene when his friend, also a journalist, vouched for him at The New York Times. The New York Times! If he had a shot at making it there, maybe his mother would stop nagging him about getting a ‘a real job’. But he was starting to lose faith he was going to make it to the interview on time.
He had spent countless hours spilling over his best work, all to line up some of the best articles he had created over the years. He was extremely proud of the first piece that went viral, about the baby being rescued by monkeys at the zoo. He didn’t think much of it himself, but many, both in his inner circle and online, praised him for how ‘riveting’ and how ‘well written’ it was.
Now, all his dreams seemed to be crashing in on him and there was nothing he could do. The morning started well enough but when there was a delay at grand central station of 35 minutes, give and take, he knew he would be getting there with no time to spare. He almost gave up when there was another delay on his exit that would take him to eighth avenue. But there was still some time before 9 A.M. He would just make it if he ran, so he ran. He ran as if he was racing Usain Bolt himself. He ran as if there was someone chasing him. He plowed through rows and rows of people all making their way to work. As if they were all part of the universe trying to get in his way.
He turned the corner onto eighth avenue and saw it, The massive building that is the New York Times. He was almost taken aback in awe of the place that might soon be his workplace, until he realized he had a little more than five minutes until nine o’clock. He sprinted into the building catching the eyes of a few security and some journalists. He slowed to a brisk walk inside and straightened out his suit and tie and marched straight to the desk clerk. ” I have an interview today at 9, and..”
“name.” she said holding the phone to her ear while tick-tacking away at the computer in front of her.
“uh, right, um, Steven Cochran, I was told to meet a..”
“Here’s your lanyard, please make your way to the elevator and make your way to floor 48. there you will meet another clerk who will lead you to where you need to go.” she said in a single tone without looking up. Some acknowledgment would be nice.
“Right, Thanks.” He grabbed the lanyard and made his way to the elevator. It wasn’t until he was in the elevator that he realized how disheveled he looked through the reflection of the walls. His combover, that he meticulously teased this morning to get into the perfect shape was now soaked in sweat and strewn about as if the wind took it by surprise. His undershirt shown through his dress shirt, and a his shirt tail was sticking out of his pants. He quickly, tucked in his shirt closed his jacket and played with his hair to get it into a reasonably good shape.
He froze when someone else walked in and noticed him leaning over the mirrored walls trying to fix himself up. He straightened avoiding eye contact. she seemed not to notice him. She just walked in and stood herself right in the corner opposite of him. She was wearing a dress shirt and knee-length skirt, her hair was short, in a bob, and heels which were little more than an inch tall. Overall, she almost looked like a kid dressing up as an adult with a book bag half her size.
More people climbed into the elevator soon after, until full, and as the elevator started he couldn’t help but take another peek at the girl. She seemed to be hiding, yet not really. It was as if she was trying to make herself invisible. Among the murmur in the elevator, as everyone said their good mornings and how-do-ya-do’s, he saw someone glance at her, eyes widening as if they were barely realizing she was there.
“Alyssa is that you?” the man said. “What happened?” That was all he could make out when the murmur turned into conversations and the buzzing and dinging of the elevator masked any further conversation. Floor by floor more people got out of the elevator until even the man left , the one who he had assumed known the woman. He lingered before he left but didn’t share any parting words as the elevator door closed and the soft humming of the elevator rising filled the car again. Now it was just the two of them. He wondered what floor she was going to. They had just passed 38 so she had only a few floors left to the top. What did she do there? Would he be working with her, that is, if he was hired? all the while they stood in the silence of a lone elevator cart. A chasm away she stood off in the corner not saying a word.
She glanced up at him, and it wasn’t until then that he realized he had be openly staring at her. He glanced away, feeling awkward, knowing that he had just made it ten times more obvious that he had been staring. There was a loud screech, then a sudden jolt as the cart stopped violently underneath him. he grabbed onto the rails behind him as the shift made him lose his balance and fall onto his knees. His back gave way and he folded over onto the floor like a lawn chair.
“What was that?” he said rubbing at his head.
“I don’t know.” the girl said in a whisper.
Jamming the buttons he willed the elevator to move but nothing happened. He should’ve realized something like this would happen. All the signs were there. The two delays on the subway. The mean clerk who led him here. It would’ve been too easy to get here on time and get the job he’s always dreamed of.
He kicked the elevator door and looked back at the woman standing in the corner. She seemed relatively calm for what just happened. Was she not worried about the situation. They were dangling maybe 40 floors up in an elevator that god knows what happened to it.
He slumped over the corner of the elevator when he heard a buzzing near the buttons.
“Hey, is anyone there,” came a voice from a speaker box. Steven jammed the communication button,
“Hey, HEY! hey, we’re trapped in here! Do you have any idea what happened?
“Seems to be a malfunction, we are looking into it, is anyone hurt?”
He looked over at the girl and she shook her head. “No, nobody is hurt, it’s just two of us. Do you know how long this will be?”
“We are working on it, just stay calm and we’ll get back to you in a bit.”
Slumping against the wall he looked at his watch. 9:03. He should’ve been in his interview right now. He brought out his phone and noticed there wasn’t any signal. Just perfect.
“How are you so calm?” he asked the woman still leaning against the rails.
“I’m not calm,” she replied looking at him.
“well you sure hide it well. I’m over here having a heart attack, while you’re over there looking as if you’re walking through Central Park on a sunny afternoon.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Well you sure don’t look worried, in fact, you almost look relieved!”
She glared at him. Silence filled the air between the ever growing chasm between them. They sat there for moments that stretched for hours. Why did he have to open his big mouth.
“Hello, You guys there?” The intercom clicked after what had seemed like hours later.
“Yeah, we’re here.”
“Looks like it’ll take longer than expected but we should be able to get you guys out within the next couple hours, just hang tight.”
“Waitwaitwait, we’re gonna be in here for hours? There’s no way to speed up the process? I had a meeting, a job interview! I can’t be here for hours.”
“Look sir, I can’t do anything about that but I’m sure if you call they’ll get back to you. For the mean time just hang tight.”
The intercom clicked off.
Time passed slowly in the elevator and all Steven could do was walk around and check his watch. He couldn’t even look through his phone, send text messages, or listen to music. All he had was the silence to comfort him which was no comfort at all when he knew the girl was probably still mad at him.
“You had an interview today?” She said suddenly.
“Uh, yeah, I was supposed to go in to meet someone about a job here as a journalist. I had spent a week preparing for this day and just like that, my chances of getting this job are basically zero.”
She said nothing. She was leaning back on the railings in the corner of the elevator looking down as if she was contemplating something. Her face looked tired. Of course he would never tell her that up front because he knew what would happen if he did. He had two sisters and they always warned him not to say anything about a woman’s looks. She seemed to be wearing a whole new outfit though. Her skirt was pleated nicely around the thighs, her blouse was brilliantly white and stain free, where his shirt probably had a coffee stain or two hidden behind his suit jacket. Even her hair looked freshly cut. she wore little to no makeup from what he could tell but he didn’t think she needed it. Her eyes were soft and glowed a brilliant green color, her nose was small and cute and her lips glossed a bright red though hardly for any makeup.
She looked up again, and he quickly realized he was staring. He looked away flushed.
The awkwardness filled the room again and his distracted mind turned back to his ordeal.
“Guess my mom was right, I should’ve stayed in LA.” he chuckled.
“You come from LA?”
“Yeah, well, some city near there. Glendale? if you are familiar with it.”
“No, I’ve never been.”
“Oh okay, well its just a few miles out from LA. I had a stable job, benefits, a car.”
“That sounds nice, what made you leave?” He rubbed his neck.
“I just.. I don’t know. I wasn’t happy. I wanted to get away from it all. Start all over. Go after my dream. I thought if I went somewhere new and I was all by myself then I would have to make things work. I could meet new people. Get away from the old ones.” He stopped. He barely even knew her, why was he telling her his life story? She, probably sensing the awkwardness, just nodded in agreement.
“I thought the same thing.” she said, “Sometimes you just want to get away from it all and experience something different. Sometimes those problems have a way of following you wherever you go.” he looked at her.
“What are you trying to run from?” he cringed at his own question. That was so direct. She was not going to answer, that seemed too personal. She stood there awhile, seeming to contemplate what she was going to say next.
“My dad.” she said.
“oh,” he said. He wasn’t one to talk since he was technically doing something similar. He wanted to say something but felt that saying ‘he understood’ was too cliche and it wouldn’t be right to pretend to know, when he really probably didn’t. So, he took in the silence and stood there. Time passed between them like the ripples of water droplet pronounced by the clicking of his watch. It rung out and filled the room, reverberating off the walls in an exasperatingly slow tempo. Like the dripping of a leaky faucet, the watch clicked until finally he couldn’t take it anymore.
“My mom, she uh, she is a big reason for my coming to New York.” he said.
“I assumed so but, Why?” she said tucking her brunette hair behind her ear, revealing her cheeks and neckline.
“She is a loving mom, she just can be overbearing at times. She just wants me to be more like my sister. little miss perfect. But no matter what I tried, I just couldn’t live up to it. She got married, has a nice house, just all around doing well for herself. Where I on the other hand..” He shrugged and sighed.
“Don’t have those things?” she said quietly.
“Yeah,” he said smiling,” So, I decided to take a risk, and here I am, stuck in an elevator.”
“At least you made it to the building.” She said. he laughed, genuinely for what felt like the first time in a while.
“Is that supposed to be sarcastic?” he said still chuckling.
“Im trying to look at the bright side.” she said smiling. She had a nice smile.
“Yeah, you definitely nailed it. At least I got to the building. I’ll call my mom tonight and let her know.” he joked. she rolled her eyes smiling.
“What about you? you have to admit you are pretty calm right now.”
“I, uhh, got fired recently,” her face was visibly cringing.” I’m just here to collect my things.”
“Ohh, I’m so sorry about that. So.. does that mean that the job I’m interviewing for..”
“Yeah most likely,” she said gazing elsewhere. It was awkward again. Man, just when he thought that was all over with. He didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t go asking her how she got fired, though he was genuinely curious. He also couldn’t possibly ask her what the job was like. So he just sat contemplating his next move.
” You know, my mom actively lobbied for me not to come. When I sold my car online, I went to drop it off to the buyer and it turns out she was the buyer and she posed as someone else in order to keep the car for me and convince me to stay.” Steven laughed, ” At the time I was furious because I felt she was trying to control me.”
“Thats a little intense.” she said smiling.
” a little? it’s pretty psychotic if you ask me.” They both laughed. she had a nice laugh.
“When I was in high school, I had a boyfriend my dad had no idea about. My mom found out one day after school when she came early to pick me up and saw me walking with the boy down the hallway. She was the intuitive one. But my dad didn’t find out for months. I would tell them I was going over to a friends house, but really I was hanging out with that boy. One day, I told my dad that I was going to the drive in with a couple of my girl friends and left without a second thought. Little did I know that I left my wallet behind and my dad decided to go take it to me. He said he searched all over the place for me, so he called one of my friends and my friend didn’t know that he didn’t know, so she told him everything. He found out the description of his car and well he found us.. in the car.. together.. not watching the movie. all I remember was the guy being ripped out of and slammed against the car. I yelled at my dad the whole way home, crying and screaming. I don’t even remember what I said to him. all I remember him saying was that I was grounded until I was forty. Now that was psychotic.” they laughed that kind of laugh that was mutual understanding and nostalgic to the point where they teared up.
“The things family does out of ‘love’,” he said wiping tears from his eyes.
“Your telling me.” she said,” My dad was so protective of me. He was the kind of guy where he would bring out his gun to show off to my boyfriends so they knew what they were getting into.”
“My mom was basically the same. I had no privacy growing up. She knew the name of any of my girlfriends before i could even tell anyone about it. We would be at dinner talking about the next family road trip to big bear and she would casual say something like. ‘So are you bringing Monica to the cabin trip. I think she would like it.’ at a certain point I would stop acting surprised about it. I think she was secretly trying to say that I was still under her thumb, or something like that.”
“She would already knew the name?” her eyes wide with surprise.
“Yeah, I still don’t know how she did it. It baffles me completely. that’s why I had to get out of there. I haven’t talked to her since.” he sighed leaning against the wall.
“Really? you haven’t talked to her? Don’t you think she’s worried about you?”
“I’m sure she already knows. With her skills.”
“Well it seems that you want to talk to her to me.” She said putting her hand on his arm. he looked at the hand and then at her eyes, the kind of eyes that you could get lost in. He didn’t even realize they had gotten closer and closer as they talked.
He got up quickly and paced the elevator. ” I mean I’m sure she’s fine. I already know what she’s going to say to me. She’s going to tell me how disappointed she is that I left, that I should come back home, that I shouldn’t have left my job and I don’t know probably something crazy like how is it going with Alyssa or something.” he was chuckling when he noticed she was looking at him quizzically. Thats right, they never even shared each others names.
“I heard your name earlier, when that guy came in and asked you what happened.” he said not looking into her eyes and rubbing his hands on his pants.
“Did you hear anything else?” she said.
“No, after that it was all drowned out by the other people talking.”
“Oh, Okay,” she said. he glanced at her, her face grew cold again. The chasm he had felt had been closing since they began talking slowly started to get bigger. She was closer than ever before but she felt almost untouchable now.
“Steven,” he said reaching out his hand quickly. she looked up and it was like she was visibly coming back to life. It was as if the world of black and white was blooming with new colors. she smiled and stood up and took his hand.
“Alyssa,” she said. he smiled back. the tension he felt was building earlier lessened a bit but not completely.
They sat back down, a bit more distant than before.
“Do you think she would know about me from one incident?” she said.
“I’m sure she would find out eventually.” They laughed.
“I think you should talk to her whether or not things pan out for you here.” she said.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,”
“Why not? don’t you think she will be worried from not hearing about you for a while?
” I guess, but like I said I just know what she’s going to say. I need to get this job before I do anything like that.” he shrugged.
“Okay, okay. I hope you get the job then.” she stood up and started stretching out her back.
“So what about your dad? have you talked to him about whatever it is that brought you here.” She looked away.
“I…haven’t yet but I will.” she said. He didn’t want to push any further on the subject. If she wanted to talk about it then she would. some time passed and they filled it out with more talk about the dogs they are up with and their favorite vacation spots. At one point they were laughing hysterically over a long running joke about how when Steven was younger he set the the stove on fire at his first job. They kept it going with running gags about how someone had asked for the burgers well done and the fries extra crispy. Then, once they settled, they sat there just letting time pass.
“Hey Steven..” she looked at him a grim expression on her face and paused for a moment seemingly to gain her composure. she stood up and looked at Steven.
“My dad..” The elevator suddenly shook and a screeched, throwing Alyssa off balance. Steven grabbed her by the hand to prevent her from falling and helped her to the floor. they grabbed on to the railing and braced themselves for the worst. the elevator started dropping suddenly a few inches at a time but enough for them to feel like the end was near. Then it all stopped. The silence that followed was deafening as they held on, their arms and legs shaking as they waited for what was next. Then there was clang and a whirring as if something was being pried open. the door to the elevator opened suddenly and a bright light from the hallway rushed in blinding them.
“What’s up guys, looks like you guys got cozy.” said a man stepping into the elevator and reaching out his hands. Steven realized he was still holding her hand and grew hot letting go of her and reaching for the mans. The man pulled them both up with an “alley-up” and launched them up to their feet. They grabbed their stuff on the way out and were handed off to other workers and firefighters who apparently had been working on the elevator as well.
Without another word they were ushered through the building and downstairs to the assisting ambulance. They were separated and brought to different physicians who asked them questions before letting them go. They gravitated to one another as two people would after a shared trauma and sat down in the lobby as they watched the firefighters pack up and leave.
Being out felt strange. What was once keeping them together no longer was and it felt like the chasm between them grew even larger. The real world seemed to create a divide that seemed insurmountable now as they sat and drank some coffee. A few words passed between them but nothing like they had in the elevator.
After a few moments the receptionist came up to them with a box and handed it to Alyssa who took it without a word. the receptionist turned to Steven and tapped him in the shoulder.
“The hiring committee would like to meet you now. They called the front desk asking for you earlier, checking to see if you had come in and when they realized your situation told me to let you know they will be waiting for you as soon as you are ready.”
Steven nodded his head and stood up and looked at Alyssa and smiled. She smiled back a bit half heartedly and looked down at her box.
“I’m sorry for offending you earlier when we first got stuck. it was uncalled for.”
“Thanks,” She said smiling. “It was nice meeting you Steven. oh and uhh.. you should really try talking to your mom.”
“thanks and nice meeting you too, Alyssa,” he said smiling though behind it he felt sad. Whatever had happened had made a connection between them and now that it was over he felt like he was losing something. he had never felt something like it before. It was strange, and he didn’t like it.
He nodded to the receptionist, and followed her as she led him to another room. he looked back at Alyssa one more time. She smiled and waved and he did too as he turned the corner.
The rest of the afternoon went by as a blur. He found himself a bit distracted during the interview, and fumbled a few answers but relatively felt good about it but at the same time he felt odd. He knew that technically he was taking Alyssa’s job and it somehow didn’t feel right. At the end they told him they liked him and that they would call him when they came to a conclusion.
As he walked out, he felt that things seemed different. the feeling that something was missing was even more palpable now that he was outside and the building he was taken aback by earlier just seemed like a regular building now. What would he do now?
From the corner of his eye he noticed someone approaching fast but didn’t have time to move before someone ran into him knocking them both on the floor.
“Ahh, dang it, sorry man.” the man reached out his arm and helped him up. It was that guy from earlier in the elevator, the one who seemed to know Alyssa. He must be off now. he looked at his watch and it said 5:50 P.M.
“you okay?” the man patted him on his shoulder.
“Yeah, im good. Hey, umm, weird question, you know Alyssa, right?” The man’s face turned cold.
“Yeah, I know her, why?”
“I was the one stuck in the elevator this morning with her, and I was just wondering, Why you were so shocked when you saw her.” the man saddened.
“Oh.. umm..I don’t know if I should be saying this to you but her dad passed away.” Steven’s jaw dropped,” he had cancer and it all happened so fast. She took off a few months to take care of her dad since she is the only family he has. Her mom passed away a couple years ago in an accident. It’s been a rough few months for her. We used to be close, but she just changed after her dad got sick. she quit because she said she needed a change of scenery.” Steven stood there shocked.
That explains so much. The encouragement and the sadness he saw in her eyes. the closeness he felt with her talking about their parents. it all made sense.
“I need to talk to her, do you know where I might be able to find her?”
“Uhh she’s probably going to the airport as we speak. She said she was leaving this evening, flight to LA?”
“Thanks!” he started to turn when the guy grabbed him.
“Please, help her if you can.” Steven nodded. the man nodded back
Steven ran, again for the second time today. He wasn’t sure what time she was leaving or exactly what flight she was taking but he just needed to see her. He didn’t know what he was going to say or how he was going to say it but he just needed to go.
He picked up a cab and head straight for the airport. Traffic was terrible at the airport so after a few minutes of a standstill he paid the cabby and jumped out of the car. He reached the entrance and ran over to the check in.
“im sorry, I just have one question, when is the next flight to LA leaving?”
The receptionist, confused, looked at her screen and skimmed across with her finger.
“It looks like it was scheduled to leave in about 30 minutes.”
Steven turned and rushed to the right terminal entrance. His heart racing, sweat dripping into the small of his back once more creating a pool of sweat. he knew he was going to be late. That was the trend for today. More and more people blocking him along the way. the universe once more blocking him from where he needed to be.
“Please let me find her,” he prayed.
Then all of sudden. like the parting of the Red Sea, the crowd dispersed. Breathing heavy, he found terminal 6 and started scanning the crowd. she had to be there now. He was not going to be able to get passed security so he would have to hope he beat her there but every minute that passed his hopes waned.
“Steven?” he heard a voice behind him and turned. Alyssa stood there in a new outfit. glasses that somehow made her eyes pop more, a plain white shirt and jeans. She now somehow seemed older. Her brown her pulled back in a bun covered by a New York hat, her blue bag rolled up next to her.
“What are you doing here?” she said, green eyes trained on him. He took a deep breath and walked towards her.
“I.. I.. Wanted to say I’m sorry.”
” You’ve already said sorry,” she said confusion in her face.
“No, I’m sorry about your dad,” he said looking into her eyes. She was taken aback.
“How did you..”
“I ran into the guy from the elevator. or he ran into me. Either way, I just want to say thank you. I know why you wanted me to talk to my mom. and I’m sorry about your dad. My dad passed away from cancer a couple years ago. i know how hard it can be and that you can feel so alone when you feel like you can’t go to anyone when the bad days come. My dad battled cancer for many years before passing away. after that I secluded myself. I didn’t talk to anyone and I wallowed in my own pain.” Alyssa looked at him with tears in her eyes.
“I know it can get hard, and I know you started opening up to me in the elevator but didn’t get the chance to. I want to make myself available to you because I know how hard it can get. We all need that someone we can talk to.” She grabbed ahold of him before he could finish the sentence, shocking him with the force with which she was squeezing him for such a small stature. He hugged her back and felt her sobbing into his jacket. they held on to each other for a long time and it was then he realized he no longer felt like he was missing something.
She let go and without a word gave her phone to him which he assumed meant to put his number in. As he saved his contact info on her phone she wiped her eyes. When he gave it back, she embraced him again.
“Thank you, I have to go but I will call you.”
“Sure,” he said smiling. She let him go and grabbed her luggage. she began to turn but stopped abruptly and turned back. she leaned towards him and got on her tip-toes and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He blushed and smiled, the biggest smile he had in a while. she smiled back and with another quick glance she rushed off and went straight through to security. Steven touched his cheek where she had kissed him and smiled again. He could still feel the warmth of her lips and the smell of her perfume lingering around him. He grew giddy and as he walked out felt like he was floating.
He felt more excited than he could remember in a long time. The ride home felt like a blur and the city grew alive with lights and noise but none of that bothered him. Everything seemed brighter and vivid and as he walked up the steps to his apartment the phone rang. He smiled. He answered the phone and put it up to his ear.
“Hi mom, sorry I haven’t returned your calls.” he said.
“I know, I know, don’t worry, i’ll be coming home soon.”
“Nothing, its just.. I met someone..”