The Nearly Girl

Mess around with time and world you know... could become a world you don't. What happens when Liam decides to use his knowledge of the future to save a stranger from her destiny, potentially disrupting history and everything the TimeRiders team has fought to preserve?

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3. 11 September 2001, New York

‘Where is it … where exactly is this new job?’

 

Jane Brookhill grinned at him. So proud of herself. ‘McGuire Investments. In the north tower. The view’s just incredible from up there!’

 

Liam smiled. Quite an effort to do that. Smile. ‘Well, that must be … something.’

 

She paused. Looked at him quizzically, noting the odd tone in his voice. ‘Oh, but it is. You can see all of Manhattan from up there! It’s awesomely inspiring!’

 

He nodded slowly. Looked away. Fighting an urge to say something … something to save her.

 

‘You OK there? Did I say something stupid? Or –’

 

‘No.’ Liam turned back to her and smiled again. ‘No. Not at all. I just remembered …’

 

‘What?’

 

Liam forced himself to get up off his stool. ‘I have to … I have to be somewhere shortly.’

 

Jane cocked her head uncertainly. ‘Oh, OK.’ She frowned, puzzled. ‘Didn’t you just invite me to sit down and join you for a coffee?’

 

‘I know. I did. I just … it’s just I remembered I have to be somewhere.’ He shrugged and pressed out a hard-fought cavalier grin. ‘And you, Miss Brookhill, have a wonderful new job to get along to.’

 

She nodded. Looked at her watch. ‘Yes, I suppose I better not be late. That would look totally bad on a first day, wouldn’t it?’

 

‘Aye.’

 

She hopped off her stool and grabbed her cappuccino. ‘Well, thank you for the coffee. That was so very gentlemanly of you.’

 

He nodded at that.

 

‘You know, Liam O’Connor, nobody has manners in New York any more. I mean, really.’

 

He knew she was stalling, hovering. Liam could see there was a question hesitating on her lips like someone waiting for a bus – just in case he didn’t ask it. She looked like she was going to ask it instead.

 

‘I think you’ll be late,’ he said a little flatly. Dismissively. ‘You should just go.’

 

Jane Brookhill closed her mouth. No. It appeared there wasn’t going to be a suggestion from this charming young man that perhaps they could meet for coffee on another day when there might be a little more time for them to get to know each other.

 

‘Right. OK.’ She nodded awkwardly. ‘Well, uhh … anyway, thanks again for the …’ She brandished her paper coffee cup clumsily, sloshing a frothy drip over the rim.

 

Liam watched her reach for the swing door of the diner. It bumped against her arm as an old man pushed his way in off the street. She caught Liam’s eye one last time and mouthed, Manners, huh?

 

He forced a smile and nodded, then watched her merge into the swift-moving pavement traffic: one smartly dressed commuter among hundreds heading south down towards Wall Street.

 

He pulled out the sheet of paper Maddy had given him and unfolded it to read the obituary once again.

 

… was pronounced dead on arrival by paramedics. The thirty-year-old apartment tenant, Jane Anne Brookhill, was known to have suffered several severe periods of depression in the aftermath of 9/11, diagnosed as ‘survivor guilt’ by her therapist, Dr Carver. She was also known to have been voluntarily sectioned a number of times over the intervening years. Brookhill is best known for having appeared on a number of daytime chat shows after she claimed to have been forewarned on the morning of the attack by a miraculous ‘visitor from the future’. She has no children and is survived by her older brother, Lawrence Brookhill, and her mother …

 

His forehead rested against the steamy window. He wiped the glass and could make out the top of Jane’s bobbing head in the crowd. She had the lively, purposeful up-down stride of someone eager to travel faster than her legs could carry her, eager to begin her day.

 

Liam could still have run out there, caught up with her and stopped her. Perhaps on another loop-around Tuesday morning he might just do that. Perhaps on another Tuesday morning he might find another way to delay her going to work, a way that involved not telling her he was a time traveller, perhaps telling her something else entirely.

 

I’ve just fallen in love with you. Say, could I buy you breakfast?

 

I’m from the FBI, ma’am. You need to come with me now. Explanations later, ma’am.

 

Help! I’ve lost my five-year-old nephew. He was just standing here moments ago.

 

Any one of them might work. Maybe not delay her for a whole hour, but for five minutes. Perhaps enough of a delay that things might have worked out slightly differently for her. That she might have caught an elevator down from the eightieth floor in time, or have been distracted or delayed from entering that doomed tower by some other random confluence of chance and event.

 

A million and one things that, spun out slightly differently, could have saved her.

 

Or maybe Foster was right: history does have a way it wants to go. History has those people it requires to die at their proper appointed time and those it needs to live to go and do whatever it is they’re meant to do.

 

He finally lost sight of her amid the crowd and knew that he probably wouldn’t be coming back to Tommy’s any time soon. The temptation to meddle with events, to save her, would be far too much for him. It was probably best he gave this place a wide berth at this particular time on a Tuesday morning.

 

A wide berth indefinitely.

 

The window was now fogged again by his breath. He sat back and looked at the fading oval of condensation for a moment. On impulse he finger-drew two letters in it.

 

J. B.

 

His memorial to a young woman who, under different circumstances, he might just have got to know a little bit better.

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