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|Chapter #: 1|
Summary: Attorney Daniel Savage and his assistant Sara Rayne attempt to leave work for the Christmas holiday.
Updated On: 27 November 2005 - Words Count: 3541 - Number of Reads: 1422
"Going up, sir?" the attendant asked.
"Yes. Thirty-three, please," Daniel answered, shooting a quick glance at his watch.
In less than five hours, the Fairfax Towers would be nothing but a vacant office building, closed for the Christmas holiday. The flow of people moved faster than usual as the smell of freedom wafted through the halls. A maze of suits weaved in and out each other, finishing old business and shutting down systems. Nothing improved productivity better than the magical unit of time known as "the last minute."
Daniel Savage strolled by the row of identical desks with identical Dilbert calendars. The monotony of office jobs drew its strength from desk calendars, he decided. The gimmicky toys meant to spice up offices only exacerbated the problem - because everyone owned the same toys. As he neared his office, Daniel could see his last client of the year twiddling her thumbs in the seat.
"Ms. Madhat, I presume," Daniel said confidently, thrusting his hand out.
"You presume correctly." The old woman smiled.
"First of all, thank you for picking Robert & Savage. We appreciate your trust. We mostly deal in auto accidents and the like, but I see here you're suing--"
"My landlord," Ms. Madhat said abruptly.
"Yes, your landlord. Now, bottom line, what is the fundamental issue behind this decision?" Daniel asked, spinning a pencil with his fingers. "And by that I mean, why do you think this warrants a court battle?"
"Well, I've told him a thousand times that the cleaners he hires leave the floors as wet as a fish's backside every week or so, and they never post a sign," Ms. Madhat explained with some conviction. "And last week, I finally took a spill right outside my apartment. I nearly broke my hip on those hardwood floors."
"What was the extent of your injuries, Ms. Madhat?"
"My back has been sore ever since."
"Did you require hospitalization?"
"No, nothing that severe, but I warned him--"
Sara knocked a couple times, opened the door, and stuck her head through. "Daniel, those files are ready - on the Jackson case. Sorry to disturb you." She wore a not-so-subtle affectionate smile.
"That's perfectly all right, Ms. Rayne. In fact, step inside. You may be able to help me with Ms. Madhat," Daniel said, returning the same obvious grin.
"Who is this?" the old woman inquired, sounding half insulted.
"Oh, excuse me. This is Sara Rayne, one of our paralegals, or dare I say, our best." A wink followed. Sara took her place - leaning against the filing cabinet behind Daniel's plush leather chair. "Anyway, back to the matters at hand. I understand your landlord has said he'll fight the charges."
"That's correct," she answered stoically.
"I must advise you that, without any serious injuries, this sum you're asking for may be on the high side. I might do well to know what you're expecting. Since there was no hospital stay after--"
"What about mental trauma?" Ms. Madhat asked, her aged gray eyes open wide. With her dress multi-colored and fitted with beads, the old woman looked like a museum piece, maybe something from an old gypsy exhibit. She was thick with beaded necklaces, all haphazardly strung around her withering neck, no doubt adding at least two pounds to her weight. Hooped earrings hung like magicians' rings from her languid earlobes. The cumulative effect was one of a mystical cat lady, or maybe an eccentric former English teacher turned Wiccan devotee. Her stringy hair shot out from her head as if she'd been electrocuted.
Sara stepped forward; her hands crept down Daniel's back. He struggled to keep his composure. Seeing this, Ms. Madhat stopped in mid-sentence and stared at the two of them with piercing eyes.
"And what's this?" she said incredulously. She clenched the purse on her lap.
"What do you mean?" Daniel asked.
"I came into this office expecting professionalism, Mr. Savage, not a quarter peep show."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Madhat, if anything offended you. I assure you Ms. Rayne and I--"
"The very least you could do is save your hormones for later. This is a law office, Mr. Savage, and I did not agree to the both of you hearing my case."
"But Ms. Rayne will be working closely with me on your file--"
"No, she won't if I have anything to do with it!" The old woman grew a horrible red in the face.
Daniel stood up. "Please, Ms. Madhat. I apologize. Ms. Rayne, can I talk to you outside for just a moment?" Sara grudgingly complied. "I'll be right back, Ms. Madhat. I apologize again for this... so sorry really..."
Outside the office, Daniel scowled at his favorite perky paralegal. "What the hell was that, Sara? It's my last day of the year and you're coming on to me in front of a client?"
"Keep on acting, little boy. You know you like it," Sara said, twisting a strand of her dark brown hair around her fingertip. Would she never learn?
"What do you think this is, a playground? Look, we agreed. Nothing at work. Nothing in public. Nothing. Remember?" Daniel felt a shower of sweat rushing to his armpits. This was no time to admit how turned on that last scene made him; he felt like the world was suddenly watching, recording every hint and out-of-place gesture.
"You know that won't last, Danny," Sara said, standing her ground. "A girl can only take so much secrecy."
"I'm behind, Sara. Work needs doing. I don't have time to stand here and trade suggestions with you. A client is waiting. A pissed off client. We'll be damn lucky if no one in the office hears about this. Hell, we'll be lucky if the entire building doesn't hear about this!"
"What?" Daniel asked.
"I don't see your angry client, Daniel. It looks like she's disappeared," Sara laughed.
"That's impossible. We were standing here the entire time. How could we miss that dress walking by?" He stared into his empty office. "Damn it!"
"Well, I'm heading back upstairs. Call me," Sara said, batting an eyelash. Daniel watched her slender body walk toward the elevator. As usual, she had chosen to don a remarkably tight suit that morning, one that drew her outline like a fine point pen. Her small but insistent breasts, her glossy hair - all of it spelled forbidden fruit. She was the only living thing in the building, Daniel thought. All the Dilbert plush dolls knelt before her as she waltzed down the aisles.
The office now seemed spectacularly lonely. The pictures of Devra might as well have been the unreal photographs that came with the frames. All the love had drained from them, leaving the images two-dimensional and artificial. Devra reminded him of their old creaking VW station wagon rotting in the driveway, just a utility now, nothing more. Eyes scanning the desk, he spotted a torn sheet of notebook paper on the chair across from him. He picked it up:
Moving up in the world, a novel idea,
But not without its costs...
Heading down memory lane, the sweetest bird,
And still more may yet be lost.
When the walls embrace, heaving with each breath,
You may think the window an escape...
But the trap is your creation,
And the slightest elevation informs your fate.
The letter contained to signature, no date, and yet the identity of the writer posed no mystery. Daniel reread the cryptic poem; it rolled off the tongue like a dire warning. Why the hell would Ms. Madhat storm off and leave me a pointless verse about escaping from windows? He flipped the scrap of paper over. A scribble on the other side read simply:
From number two.
Having failed creative writing 101 in college, Daniel gave up interpreting. He never understood why wrapping messages in complicated metaphors served anyone. His language was lawyerspeak, tangled and messy in its own way, but at least less open to interpretation. Still, the poetic forewarning troubled him on some instinctual level, one that mixed with his growing unease at the thought of even kissing his own wife. Daniel reached for his secret Jack Daniels stash in the bottom drawer of his desk. Outside he heard the sounds of his coworkers happily preparing for their short but highly-anticipated holiday vacations: taking the kids to the mall, double bagging gifts, tolerating the in-laws, and trying desperately to squeeze some old-fashioned fun out of Christmas. Meanwhile, all that awaited him at home was Devra's indifferent "Hello honey" and a brick wall of guilt.
The rest of the day drug on like a trombone concerto. Daniel plowed through the never-ending pile of paperwork that had built up over the past three months. He watched the other employees on the floor slowly say their goodbyes, pack up, and leave for the break. One by one, lights left the cubicles, computers shut down, and the commotion died away to nothing - nothing but the incessant, ambient hum of Daniel's computer tower. A few of his friends popped their heads inside his office to wish him happy holidays, and then rushed immediately out the door. He flipped open the blinds; outside a fresh snow gently fell to the ground. The flakes looked like a million falling stars against the black backdrop of the night sky.
"So, Mr. Savage - looks like it's just the two of us," a voice said. Daniel turned around to see Sara leaning on the doorway.
"Yeah, I think we're the last ones here tonight," Daniel said, organizing some papers on his desk and shoving them into his briefcase.
"Got any plans?" Sara asked.
"What time is it?" Daniel asked himself. He looked at the clock and then his watch. The clock read midnight, but his watch had stopped.
"Midnight on the nose," Sara answered. "Did you tell your wife you'd be late?"
"Devra knows not to wait up. She never does."
"I was thinking--" Sara started.
"Not tonight, Sara. The snow is falling. It's Christmas break. I'm tired," Daniel said, sluggishly putting away his things, and locking the cabinets.
"I'd say that makes it perfect," Sara said. "What else is there to do?"
Sara's outline in the door made Daniel's pulse race. She was like the devil waiting at the door, like a guard who wouldn't allow him to leave. He gathered his coat and briefcase and made for the door. As predicted, Sara didn't move.
"Ah, ah," she said. Daniel gave her a peck on the cheek. "Very well."
They both turned toward the elevator and started walking. With the offices deserted, the Fairfax took on a spooky atmosphere. All the computers finally rested. The coffee machine cooled. No phones rang. Only a few red power-standby lights remained. The rustle of files, the clicking of high-heels, the buzz of overworked printers - all had vanished. The elevator door swung open.
"You first," Daniel said, holding out his hand.
Sara smiled. They both reached to press "G." No Musak this time. And no attendant. The doors closed. For a while, they stood in silence. Neither of them knew where this relationship was heading. How could two married people suddenly up and divorce their spouses without any warning? It was doubly complicated. Each had rehearsed speeches for their partners should that day ever come, but neither of them had enough guts to actually follow through. Yet happiness hung in the balance, and they both knew how alive they felt together, and how dead they felt around their significant others.
The elevator announced in its robotic voice, "Floor 29," then "Floor 28." They both turned to say something at the same time.
But nothing came out. They dropped their briefcases, embraced, and launched into a full-fledged kiss - the long-awaited release from such a numbing day. Daniel put his hands around Sara's waist and moved closer; nothing ever seemed so right. He felt like he'd rejoined his college days, back when relationships were exciting and lively. Sara's nails drove into his backside. They both shot from zero to sixty in under fifteen seconds, and for a moment, all was right with the world.
Daniel let his mind go wild as he massaged Sara's supple thighs, envisioning every pent-up fantasy Devra couldn't fulfill. They were like two magnets inevitably drawn into one another; guilt never entered the equation, not even a fleeting thought of their loved ones. Sara leaned forward and pressed Daniel against the back wall of the elevator car and sighed, "Daniel, Daniel." He ran his fingers through her picture-perfect hair. He had no clue from where this sudden, jolting energy came. A moment ago, every bone in his body was screaming for a good night's sleep. A second wind had blown by the two of them, and neither could remember being so excited.
Daniel again squeezed himself closer to Sara. In all the excitement, they had jarred each other's clothing loose. Daniel noticed his pants drooping to one side, and Sara detected her bra straps slipping on both sides. Meanwhile, their sweat mixed as they held each other tighter... and tighter. Sara's eyes opened for a moment...
"Dan... Daniel....I think--"
"What is it?"
"I don't know. Do you feel something?"
"Something is wrong," Sara said, breathing heavily. "Something is very wrong."
"We've done this ten times, Sara."
"No... with us."
"What do you mean?" Daniel asked, pulling away. His sleeves felt thicker, and longer than usual. He tugged at his cuffs, and caught a glimpse of his watch. It's running backward! He rubbed his eyes and took a second look. The numbers were not only headed the wrong way - they were going at an alarming rate, too fast to even read. The months listed themselves in reverse: August, July, June... And the year read 1989.
Sara stared in awe. "Daniel, what's happening to us?!" Her hose was growing wrinkles and her heels easily slipped from her shoes.
"Floor 15," the elevator voice announced in the same monotone.
Daniel's coat sleeves looked several sizes too big. His pants, once securely belted, were slipping down his waist and crumpling around his feet. Finally, taking a second to look Sara in the face, he hit upon the realization; not only were their sizes changing, so were their ages. Sara, though beautiful at thirty-three, had lost any hint of wrinkles around her eyes. Overall, her body seemed undeniably slimmer, especially her waist. But he saw fear in her eyes.
"Stop this! Can you stop this?" she yelled at him.
"I don't know!"
"Get me out of here!" she screamed. Daniel lunged toward the buttons and pressed "14." The elevator came to a halt, and the exasperated couple spilled out onto the 14th floor, tripping on their oversized business attire. The elevator doors closed. They lay there gasping for a minute, examining themselves to make sure nothing even weirder was happening.
"It stopped," Daniel said, relief in his voice. He stood up and turned on the lights. As with all other floors at this hour, the 14th was empty as a graveyard. He surveyed Sara, who was lying in a mess on the floor. She managed to elevate herself to a sitting position. The straps from her dress kept slipping from her narrowed shoulders.
"Daniel, look at you," she said, motioning for him to come sit down. He did, and they gazed into each other's fresh faces. "Why is this happening to us?"
The change had been so gradual neither of them had noticed while feeling each other up. But now, what had been a second ago glorious now seemed hopelessly awkward. Daniel's stubble had vanished, leaving him a high school junior in appearance. Sara's limbs had thinned immensely, leaving her skinny but no less attractive.
"I know. It's impossible." Daniel looked back at his watch, which now read: 12:05 AM, December 23, 1984.
"I must be dreaming," Sara said, sniffling.
"Then we're both having the same dream," Daniel asserted. "Sara, how old were you in 1984?"
"I don't know. Fourteen. What does it matter?"
Daniel drew even closer to Sara. "Then I would say you're fourteen."
"How do you know that?" she asked skeptically.
"Because my watch... in the elevator... it stopped just about the time we were leaving. Now it says, it's December 1984."
"Well, that's impossible. We couldn't have traveled through time. This building wasn't even here in 1984," Sara noted.
"But you were fourteen... and I would have been... sixteen or so," Daniel explained. "Look at me. Do I look sixteen?"
"Yeah, about sixteen," Sara conceded. "But people don't just hit worm holes in office buildings, Daniel." Her sides were still heaving from the excitement. They both fought off hyperventilitation as the conversation went on, neither one really believing what they were saying.
"Why?" Sara asked.
"I think the elevator must have had something to do with it. We were fine before we got inside," Daniel deduced, sweat still pouring off his forehead in floods. "Or I don't know - some divine punishment." Sara just stared at Daniel with an "oh, please" expression, one that looked decidedly cuter on fourteen-year-old Sara.
"Right...so God made us teenagers."
"Well, if you have any theories..." Daniel started.
"Do you think we can reverse it?" Sara asked the first obvious question.
"You've got me," Daniel said. "The only thing I know is we were our normal selves on the 33rd floor. We rode the elevator down, and now we're teenagers. I guess the logical thing would be to ride the elevator back up again."
"What about the stairs?"
"Worth a shot, I guess," Daniel said.
They both stood up, loosing minor accessories and pieces of jewelry. The shoulders of Daniel's jacket hung like football pads on him. After some experimentation, both decided to pick up their footwear and walk shoeless to the stairs. Sara followed Daniel's lead, all the while allowing herself to admire young Daniel's backside. Still cute, she assured herself. She imagined him as a late bloomer in high school, and by the looks of it, she was right. He may be sixteen, she thought, but that face looks fourteen.
Up ahead, Daniel couldn't help but contemplate his vision of Sara in high school. It was something seeing her so young, just around dating age. He pictured her as the toast of the school, definitely Prom Queen, and likely a cheerleader. She certainly looked the part. All the while, Daniel tugged at his pants, which dangled like low riders. He fastened the belt a few notches further; it wasn't a natural feeling. I've been on that notch for ten years, he thought.
"Well," Daniel said, approaching the exit door, "let's hope for the best."
"God, I hope so. All I need is a second dose of the eighth grade."
Daniel pushed open the door, held it open for Sara, and then proceeded to begin the climb. It would take several flights to know whether or not they had guessed correctly.
"Feel anything?" Daniel asked, cautiously navigating the steps.
"No, not yet. You?" Sara replied, her voice echoing in the spacious stairwell.
"We won't know until we get a few flight behind us."
By the time they reached Floor 20, Sara spoke up. "It's working, Daniel! My feet! They fit in the shoes now."
"So do mine," Daniel returned. "Thank God." He turned around in time to see Sara, circa twenty years old, looking more like the woman he knew. He ran his hands along his face and noticed his five o'clock shadow had returned unharmed.
With that, they raced up the stairs, finally reaching the hallowed 33rd floor. Daniel loosened his belt once again, and Sara proudly resituated her dress straps. And the night returned to what it had been only fifteen minutes before. They hugged.
"That was so wild," Sara said, examining her cleavage to make sure no part of her had remained in 1984. "So wild."
But their elation soon turned to that same strange quiet. The silence of the floor continued to haunt them both. As their breathing died down, Daniel unfolded a piece of paper from his pocket.
"What's that?" Sara asked, genuinely curious.
"It's a poem, I think."
"That old lady you scared away - Ms. Madhat - she left it in my office after she... disappeared."
"What does it say?"
Daniel turned to face Sara, his brow furrowed.
"What is it, Daniel?"
He whispered, "How are we going to get out?"
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