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Everyone on the street could see what was going to happen. The girl, wiry muscles tentatively supporting the teetering mountain of books, drew nearer to the boy, whose eyes focused solely on the large cardboard box balanced precariously between his hands. The space between the two moving figures lessened but no one shouted a word of warning, a call of caution.

Three steps to go. The two remained oblivious to the imminent crash.

Two steps to go. Neither looked up to see the oncoming obstacle.

One step to go. The girl strained her neck to peek around her tower of books. But her foot was already swinging forward into the next step. Too late to change paths, she braced herself for the impact of the collision.

Books came toppling down onto her body, scraping her nose and bruising her cheekbone, punching into her gut and clobbering her knee caps. Brown hair a mess and glasses askew, she sat up on the filthy New York sidewalk and glanced at the equally disheveled boy in front of her.

“Sorry,” he said, blowing a brown curl away from his eye. “I should have watched where I was going.”

“Yeah, well…” she mumbled back. She instantly regretted her cold response. It wasn’t his fault she had to carry these books thirteen freakin’ blocks.

“Here, let me help you up,” he said. Without hesitation, he reached down, grabbed her hand, and yanked her from the ground. “Chip,” he said.

“Excuse me?” She raised an eyebrow.

“My name. It’s Chip.”

“Oh. Emily.”

“Nice to meet you, Emily. Let me help you with these books.”
As he gathered the books, Emily noticed the box he had been carrying—it was full to the brim of cameras, lenses, photography screens, and ink.

“You’re a photographer?” she questioned.

“Aspiring,” he said with a half-smile. “Right now I just get to run errands for the photographers.”

“Ah, well, good luck with that then,” Emily said as he handed her the stack of books. She turned to continue down the street.

“Hey, wait!” Chip yelled. “You don’t think I’ll let you get away just like that, do you? Come get coffee with me.”

“No, I really have to get going. These books won’t carry themselves, you know.”

“Come on,” he urged. “Just a cup. I mean, you do owe me. You totally ran into me.” He smiled, the creases next to his eyes turning upward, nearly drawing her in.

She blinked away his trance. “I really can’t,” she said, second-guessing herself even as she said it.

“All right, well, at least let me get a picture.”

“What?” she said, confused.

“A picture,” he said, “of you. It’s the least you can do. I can put it in my portfolio—maybe use it to get a job.” As Emily continued to stare apprehensively at him, Chip added, “Plus, then I will always remember that at—” He glanced at his watch. “—around 8:45 on the morning of September 11, 2001, I met the prettiest girl in New York City.” His smile widened as a grin broke out on Emily’s face, both acknowledging the cheesiness of his line.

“Okay, make it quick,” she said, sounding annoyed but clearly entertained.

He dug through the cardboard box at his feet and pulled out a black digital camera and a short lens. “Okay, stand still,” he said. “Don’t move a muscle.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” she said, rolling her eyes. But she couldn’t help smiling at his eagerness and charm.

“Wow, the landscape in back of you looks incredible,” he said in awe. “The Twin Towers look like they’re glowing.”

His forefinger moved to push the button on the camera. Just as the shutter closed, the landscape exploded into a mass of fire and dust, suffocating the whole city in a blanket of hurt.





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