Today was the day.
Justin took a sip of his black coffee and scribbled around the date on the large calendar covering his desk.
The abortion was today.
Would she go through with it?
Tiffany wavered back and forth in her resolve to see this thing through. He should have stayed home from work and gone with her. She’d begged him to do it. But today’s breakfast meeting at Windows on the World was the most important one of the year so far. The brokerage he worked for would have been quite unforgiving if he missed it. She could do this thing alone. It wasn’t like she was that far along anyway.
“Justin, I’m pregnant.”
He remembered the phone call that started this journey for them. He hadn’t believed it, at first.
“Not a funny joke, Tiff.” He’d been in the office that day too.
“I’m not joking, Justin.” There were tears in the words. “This is real. I’m pregnant.”
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. They had their plans made, the timeline for their lives in place, the proper order all thought out. She had to finish her MBA and then they’d get married, buy a home on Long Island or in Jersey and do the whole American dream and family thing. That’s why he was working these crazy hours trying to get to the top of his game in his career. So they could have kids and a full life. In the future. A baby now would totally rearrange the blueprint.
He’d shut down the voices of protest, voices that tugged at him with sermons and Bible verses and the faces of his parents, voices that reminded him of all the wrong choices he’d made that put him in this situation. This wouldn’t happen. He wouldn’t let it. He would take care of this.
And he’d stayed firm the whole time. They’d made the appointment at the clinic. September 11. The day that his world would be right again.
She’d looked wan and pale this morning when he left. “Please can’t you go in late today? I’d really like for you to be with me.”
“Tiff, we talked about this. I just can’t. But I’ll take off early and come home and take care of you, okay?”
She’d nodded and hugged herself. “Hurry home.”
“I will. You’re going to be okay, all right? When I see you next, it will all be over.”
He gave her a light kiss. “See you in a little while.” And he’d had to run all the way to the subway station because of the extra time saying goodbye.
Now, he swiveled back in his chair and took another look at the Manhattan skyline to calm down before the meeting. It would only take a few minutes to take the elevator up to the 106th floor. He could afford a few minutes of alone time. And the city was beautiful this morning, the buildings rising like gleaming temples under a gorgeous blue sky, not a cloud to be seen. He bent over to grab his attaché case.
The jolt pitched him out of his chair and across the room. For a minute, Justin couldn’t tell what happened. It was dark and he started coughing. The fumes were incredible. And there was a lot of heat. He tried to leverage himself to stand and his hand slipped under him. It felt wet. And sticky. The floor was covered in shards of glass.
“Bev? His voice sounded hoarse. It was hard to hear above the sirens going off in the building and other whooshing and roaring noises. He got up and put his hands out in front of him, feeling his way to his desk and then to the door of his office. He had to jerk it a couple times to get it open. The emergency lights were on in the outer office. Beverly wasn’t in her desk chair. “Bev?”
He coughed and squinted. She was standing by the wall, pounding on the window. “How do you get this thing open? We’ve got to get some air!”
“Where is everyone else?”
“I saw Howard go into his office just a few minutes ago. I haven’t seen him since this happened.”
“Do you know what happened?”
“No. It sounded like a bomb. How can we get some air?”
“Get out of the way.” Justin grimaced and picked up one of lamps from the waiting area. He raised it as high as he could and heaved it at the narrow office window. He couldn’t hear the shattering sound, but a gust of wind blew in. And now he could see the sky outside was gray, with jet black plumes of smoke billowing up from somewhere below them.
“Try the TV. I’m going to see if Howard is all right. Then I guess we’ll need to find out how we get out of here!”
Justin got down on all fours and headed across the hall to the Vice-President’s office. There was a little less smoke on this side, and he could see better.
The man was sitting on the floor, holding his head in his hands, blood trickling down between his fingers. Justin hurried over to him and pulled his handkerchief out of his suit pocket.
“Here. Are you hurt badly?”
The older man grimaced. “I don’t think so. But we’ve got to get out. Now! I don’t trust this building in this kind of situation.”
“Right. Let’s get to the stairs.”
Justin pulled the man up with him. “Bev? We’re going for the stairs! Come on!”
They walked out into the hall, trying not to step on debris. “Bev? Where are you?”
He almost knocked her down. She was holding out her cell phone to him. “You got to talk to him!”
“My brother. He’s still home, watching the news.”
Justin grabbed the phone. “This is Justin Mills. We’re on the 102nd floor of the North Tower. What’s going on?”
“A plane just hit the other tower.”
“The other tower? What do you mean?”
“Your tower is on fire. And now a big jet just plowed into the other tower. They’re both on fire.”
“So, what do we do? Are they sending rescue teams?”
“Yeah, I see lots of firetrucks and emergency personnel. I’m sure they’re coming for you.”
“Well, we’re going to try the stairwell. I’ve got your sister here. She’s not hurt. We’ll call you back when we get down.” He handed the phone back to Beverly. “We’re going. Now.”
The stairwell door was hot. Justin put his hand in his suit jacket pocket and grabbed it, yanking it open. He took two steps and gagged. Suffocating smoke was pouring up the vacuum of the stairwell. He took another step and had to turn around. He pushed his way out past his colleagues.
“We can’t get out that way.”
“What are we going to do?” Bev’s eyes were wild. She was holding a hand over her heart and breathing in stops and starts.
“I don’t know. Let’s go back to Howard’s office. It was the least smoky.”
They limped and dragged each other back and collapsed on the floor. Justin tried the television and the phone, but neither responded.
“Call your brother.”
“Here.” She dialed and handed the cell phone to him.
“This is Justin. We can’t use the stairs. It’s getting really smoky here and hot. Do you know what happened?”
“A plane just hit the Pentagon.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Believe me. These can’t be accidents. Something big is happening.”
Justin nudged Beverly. “Here, you need to talk to him.”
She took the phone. “Why? Aren’t we going to get out?”
“Just talk to him.”
Howard was panting and leaning his head out the window. The older man was sweating profusely. “I can’t breathe! I feel like I’m suffocating.”
“Just be careful, Howard. Don’t get too close.” Justin inched across the floor to him.
“Why not? We’re not getting out!”
“Howard, no! Don’t say that.” Justin jerked his head toward Beverly. She didn’t need to hear that.
The man gave him a wild look. “It’s been nice working with you, Mills. Guess I won’t get to enjoy that pension after all.” He swung one leg out and straddled the window ledge. “At least, I can breathe here.” He leaned out even farther, his head hidden by smoke, his dress shoe barely touching the office floor.
“Hey, Howard! You’re getting too far out. . . Howard!”
Beverly screamed as their coworker disappeared out the window. “Oh, dear God, no!” She started screaming uncontrollably.
Justin grabbed the phone and dialed his apartment. No answer.
Come on. Pick up, Tiff.
And then he remembered. She wasn’t there. She was on her way to the clinic. To have an abortion. It was today. September 11.
Hello, you’ve reached Justin and Tiffany. We’re not here because we’re out loving our life! So, leave us a message!
Justin took a deep breath.
“Tiff, this is Justin. Our building’s been hit. I don’t know if you can hear me. It’s hard to breathe and there’s a lot of noise. I just wanted to tell you that I love you. And I don’t want you to do it. Don’t go to the clinic. You were right all along. Give our baby life. For me. And if I make it out of here, we’ll raise him together. Because I want to marry you. Right away. It’s time to make things right. I should have done this long ago. I have to go now. Oh, and Tiff, tell my parents that I remembered what to do. They’ll know what I mean. Okay. Bye. “
“And that was all?”
Tiffany nodded. “That was all. I don’t know what happened to your father after that. He made that phone call about 9:45. And the North Tower collapsed at 10:28. Neither he nor Beverly made any more phone calls after that. At least, none that we can find record of.”
“And so, you were already gone to your appointment when he called?”
“Yes, I was trying to get back to the apartment when he called.”
“But I’m here. So, you didn’t have the abortion. Why? You hadn’t heard his message.”
“I was on the subway when the first plane hit your father’s tower. So, I didn’t really know what was going on. But then I saw the second tower get hit as I stood outside the clinic. And I knew it changed everything. It was like God saying, ‘Do you really want to bring more death into the world?’ And I knew I didn’t. I knew I was going to keep you at any cost.”
“And by the time you heard the message on the answering machine, it was too late.”
“Yes, he was gone.”
“And why did you decide to tell me all this just this year? I mean, I knew my father died on 9/11, but I didn’t know that I almost died too.”
Tiffany reached across the couch and stroked her son’s hand. “Next year, you will be eighteen, graduating high school, starting college. It’s time you knew the full story. I want you to start your adult life knowing just how powerful choices can be. Your father and I made some sinful choices before you were born. But, on the day he died, your father turned all that around. For you. For me. For himself. He made things right with God in that smoky room before he died.”
Her son raised his eyebrows. “How do you know?”
“He said ‘Tell my parents I remembered what to do.’” She swallowed hard. She’d probably never talk about him without crying. “He remembered how to call on the Lord for salvation, son. He made the very best choice ever just minutes before he died.”
“And then you did too.”
“Yes. I did. After a while. I hadn’t grown up in church like your father. It took me a while to grasp the fact that Jesus died for my sins. But yes, I did. It was the best thing I ever did.”
He stared at the framed picture on the coffee table. “It’s odd, having a father you’ve never seen. A father who didn’t want you until minutes before he died. It seems kind-of hard to believe, mom. I’ve always been proud that he died on 9/11, but now I’m struggling not to be mad at him.”
“I get that. Of course, you’re struggling to accept this. It’s a completely different perspective. But I want you to know that your father would have loved you. In his last moments on earth, he realized he wanted you after all. It’s when we’re close to death that we really see what we value most. So, I gave you his last name. Because he would have married me, and we’d have been a family.”
“And would he have liked the name Joshua?”
Tiffany smiled and squeezed his arm. “He would have loved it. Joshua means ‘God rescues.’ God rescued you and then used you to rescue your father.”
“What do you mean?”
“If he had gone with me like I’d begged him to, he wouldn’t have died in the tower. But you would have died. But, because he was in that tower, you lived. And he found eternal life.”
Josh sat back and exhaled. “It’s not every day you find out your life was saved on the day your father died. When they read his name at the ceremony today, I’ll have a whole new appreciation for how God brings good even out of something evil.”
“Then it’s time to give this to you.” Tiffany handed him a manila folder. “I found it one day when I was walking near Ground Zero. I don’t know where it came from, but it’s significant to me.”
Josh pulled back the flap and reached in. Inside was a plastic sleeve with a small scrap of paper, a charred scrap of paper. From a desk calendar. The small square was for the date September 11. And it was circled with scribbles of ink.
(Joshua Mills will be entering Bible College after he graduates. His life is a testament to grace and redemption. And on Justin Mills’ gravestone, the inscription reads “His final choice was his best. Redeemed and Rescued.”)
Though this is a work of fiction, perhaps there are stories like this that we cannot know now but may know someday.