When Darkness Falls
She was midway through cooking her dinner, when her apartment went black. Fear and panic overwhelmed her. He had found her. He was here. She had to leave. She had to get out before he got in. As she panicked and darted to the bedroom to grab her bag, sh fearfully glanced out to her balcony, afraid that she'd see him there. Her first thought was, nope, not there. It took a moment for what she actually saw to sink into her fear soaked brain. The whole neighborhood was dark. It couldn't be him. He wouldn't do something that absurdly noticeable, besides he didn't have that kind of power or skill. She sank to her knees grateful it was just a power outage and she hoped it would be over soon.
When she was still in the dark twenty minutes later, she knew she had to do something. She was now quite hungry and her very airless apartment was becoming stiflingly hot on this mid-July night. She grabbed her flashlight from the silverware drawer and dug her emergency camp stove out of a cabinet. It took two trips to get her dinner and her supplies all out on her balcony but the cooler air made it worth it.
Sharyn cooker her dinner by flashlight and thanked the heavens for all the experience she'd had over the years dealing with blackouts and dinners back home in rural Idaho. She watched her neighbors, both in her building and across the street, drift out onto their balconies as the hot stuffiness of the indoors began to get to them. Some looked frustrated but many more looked frightened, blackouts were not a common occurrence here in New York City. The behavior of an older gentleman in her building caught her attention. His balcony was catty-corner below hers and so she had a good view of the amused expression on his face. He had a small lantern lighting his balcony and he was kicked back, enjoying the blackout. Sharyn had to know what was funny about a blackout, so she shouted down to him.
“Sir, excuse me, sir?”
“Yes, young lady?” he hollered back.
“Might I ask what's so funny?”
“You might, miss, but the answer is not the type of thing one shouts to the entire neighborhood.”
“Not here, not now. You ever have the time, you come see me and we'll discuss blackouts and other things I find funny.”
That said he ducked back into his apartment and Sharyn was left to wonder why anyone would find a blackout funny.
The power came back on around ten (to much rejoicing in the neighborhood) which left Sharyn with about an hour to enjoy it before turning in. She spent her hour surfing the datastream looking for news reports on the blackout and was shocked not to find any. She went to bed very confused and determined to find out what had happened.
The next morning at work, she told her supervisor and friend, Mikel, about it. He assured her that nothing was wrong. Brownouts and short-lasting, rolling blackouts were common during the summer in New York City. Fifteen minutes without power was no big deal. When she told him that her power had been out for more than four hours the night before, he told her to stop exaggerating. When she insisted, he suggested that maybe something had happened to the section of the grid feeding her neighborhood. She asked why there was no news story. He wasn't sure. He'd have his friend, Ty, look into it and get back to her.
Thomis “Ty” Fisher felt ready to strangle his best friend. Using his journalism contacts to track down the facts about a large (and largely unreported) blackout the night before had been fun for him but Mike suddenly becoming too busy to deliver it smelled like a setup to him, and then to find out he was delivering it to a cubicle drone on the call floor really ticked him off. He was quite tired of his friends deciding they could pair him up with whomever they pleases just so he wouldn't be single anymore. Then, he saw her and it didn't matter that she was just another operator, he wanted to get to know her.
Sharyn didn't hear him knock on her cubicle because she was in the middle of a call with a very disgruntled customer. Fifteen frustrating minutes later, she had managed to sort out the woman's problem and satisfy most of her requests. She heard a soft smattering of applause behind her and whipped her chair around to see which of her coworkers was making fun again. Her jaw dropped.
“Well done, Ms. Lyons. It seems you have a real talent for soothing ruffled feathers.”
“Thank you, sir. Mr. Fisher, is there something I can help you with?”
“I have the information Mikel asked me to dig up for you.”
“You're his friend, Ty.”
“I am. Mike and I have been friends since childhood.”
“But you're the head of the company, why would he ask you to waste your valuable time digging up information for a peon like me.”
“My degree is in journalism, like he said. I just never got much chance to use it because my father died and someone had to run the family business.”
“Thank you so much, sir.”
“Please, Sharyn, call me Ty.”
“Oh I couldn't, I don't know you that well.”
“At least call me Thomis.”
“Okay, s-- Thomis.”
“Thank you, Sharyn.”
“I should be thanking you, so... Thank you, Thomis. Have a nice day.”
Her phone rang and she turned back to her computer and he was left to wonder what kind of excuse he could use to wangle another meeting between the two of them.
As fate would have it, he didn't have to think up a reason for them to meet; one was provided for him. The next day around 10 a.m., a blackout rolled across the city, shutting everything, including the subways, down. Thomis kept the offices open for an hour or so, but soon they were hot and stuffy and boredom was getting to everyone. He sent them all home, making sure everyone who ordinarily took the subway had a ride home.
Sharyn was sitting in her cubicle waiting for Mikel to be ready when he appeared. What was he doing here? Why was he giving her a ride? Mikel was supposed to, but apparently he had to go pick up his girlfriend and kids. Then she would walk. Thomis refused to allow that, it was much too hot. After fifteen minutes of arguing, she agreed to accept his ride. They walked down the fifteen flights of stairs to the parking garage in painful silence, neither knowing quite what to say. Sharyn was surprised to see that Thomis drove an economical compact car, she would have expected the head of a well-established company to drive something more flashy and she said so.
“I prefer to keep a pretty low profile, besides my father reconfigured the pay scales to be more equitable and fair when he was in charge so that the highest levels of management make only about twice what a floor supervisor does.”
She was impressed as he explained the reasons for the pay shifts and how they'd been able to attract better staff that way. The pay scale was part of what had attracted her to the job.
“Sharyn, did you get the chance to look at the information I gave you yesterday?”
“Yes, what I don't get is how these rolling blackouts could be so widespread and have been going on for so long and yet no major news outlets have reported anything about them?”
“I'm not sure. I do have some theories, though and I would love to sit down sometimes and discuss them with you.”
She was shocked to hear herself say,
“Would you like to come up to my apartment for some lunch? We could discuss these theories of yours?”
She never invited anyone to her place, certainly not a man she hardly knew.
He was delighted that she invited him up. He could tell by the look on her face that it was something that she didn't do often. He thought about turning her down because he had a feeling she was taking a step that she wasn't quite ready for. He agreed to lunch because he didn't think he'd get a second chance to get to know her and he really was looking for someone to talk to about his theories on the growing problem of rolling blackouts.
Sharyn was so nervous the entire six-story climb to her apartment. She kept mulling over her reaction to this man. He was infuriating and at the same time she felt compelled to spend more time with him, in large part because, though she hardly knew him, she felt safe with him.
He was amazed at how prepared she was for blackouts and knew immediately she wasn't from the city. He thoroughly enjoyed watching her deftly cook lunch on a small camp stove and an equally small grill. Most of her supplies were freeze-fried and thusly, shelf-stable, but he saw some equipment in the corner of her balcony that fascinated him. He recognized the items as military surplus, but he wondered where she'd gotten a hold of the tiny solar-powered generator with an equally small cooling unit hooked up to it. She grabbed some chicken and a few fresh veggies from it and began grilling.
“Sharyn, might I ask where your generator came from?”
“How very proper of you, Thomis. You may indeed ask, but I can't tell you because I don't know. It was a present from my sister when I moved away from the family a few years ago.”
“What an odd gift.”
“Not really. My family all lives in rural northern Idaho, where power outages are very common so nearly everyone has some sort of backup system for food storage. My sisters gave me very common housewarming gifts for Idaho because they didn't know I was coming to New York.”
Thomis could tell that her move to New York City was not something that she wanted to talk about so while they ate, he talked a bit about growing up in New York City and made other light small talk until Sharyn brought up the blackouts.
“How bad was the blackout the other night?”
“You said you looked at the data I gave you.”
“I did, but, not being very familiar with blackouts in NYC, I have no way of relating to the information. So in your opinion, how bad was it.?”
“It was, before today's, the worst I've seen in my lifetime. Today's near city-wide blackout is the worst in more than fifty years.”
“Wow, in Idaho we'd been dealing with blackouts that left much of the state without power for a week at a time since I was little.”
“And no one wondered about the blackouts?”
“There was always a logical explanation, a storm or traffic accident, something that disabled our part of the grid and took longer than anticipated to fix. In hindsight, we were probably incredibly naive to believe the story, but when you're in the middle of nowhere and there's nothing you can do about it, you just deal with it.”
“From the data I've been able to dig up, we may all need to buck up and deal with the fact that our power system is much less reliable than it used to be.”
“I think we need to some more research before I'm ready to come to any conclusions.”
“Can we maybe get together again soon to discuss anything new we might find?”
“How about we meet again in a week to go over our current data and anything new we might find?”
“Sounds good. Where?”
“Is here alright? I'll make us dinner after work, you bring over the cube you stored the data on and we can work with it on my system.”
“Okay, but can I bring dessert?”
Sharyn agreed and they parted company until the following week.
Saturday came and Sharyn decided to take her chances with the trains and make her usual trip to Long Island. Hanna Murphy was the only person in New York City who know Sharyn's whole story. They'd been best friends since kindergarten and Sharyn really needed to talk to her about Thomis.
“I'm shocked,” Hanna exclaimed after Sharyn told her what had happened during the previous week.
“The power outages weren't that bad.” Sharyn responded.
“Not by the power outages, silly. By the fact that you let a man you hardly know into your apartment.”
“Other than your dear husband, Eamon, Thomis is the first man who has ever made me feel safe. So safe, in fact, that he is coming back this Wednesday for dinner and more discussion.”
“I hope your 'gut feeling' about this guy is right. I would hate to see you hurt again, but I would love to see you find someone to love.”
“Hanna, we haven't even become friends yet.”
Sharyn spent much longer than usual with the Murphy's. She was afraid that power outages would start interfering with visits and soon she would have other Saturday commitments and wouldn't be able to visit. She would miss seeing Hanna but more than that she would miss playing with the little Murphy's. Brigid, Jamee, and Zakree could bring her out of any funk. The only painful Part about seeing them was how much it make her wish her life had been different. She stayed to put the kids to bed which was a rare treat for them.
Thomis had a similar experience Sunday when he had dinner with Mikel, Neena and their kids. Mikel was sure he'd finally found the woman Thomis would settle down with. Thomis suspected he might be right but wouldn't give his friend the satisfaction of knowing that. Neena asked what Sharyn was like and begged Mikel to stop pestering Thomis. Thomis capped his night by putting Sandee, Mikel and Neena's daughter, to bed with one of his 'famous' bedtime stories swirling in her head. He looked forward to the day when Kile, who was barely five months old, would be old enough to join in the fun. He also wondered if he would ever get to spin yarns for his own kids. The weekend ended with Sharyn and Thomis both looking to Wednesday and wondering what that dinner would bring.