On 09/12/01, at 1:30 am, Nick's phone rings. The call changes both their lives.
At 1:30 in the morning, September 12, 2001, Nick’s cell phone rang. Looking at the time, Nick wondered who would call at this hour. “Hello, this is Nick.” He was a simple man, and always answered the phone in that curt manner.
“Rick! Oh man, I’m so glad you are okay!”
“I’m sorry, but this is Nick, not Rick.”
“Rick, listen please. I don’t know if you remember me, but we met at lunch yesterday. This is Sara. Sara McCluskey. Susan introduced us, and it seemed we clicked right away. We talked for a while, and I found out you worked in the World Trade Center. After what happened yesterday, I had to call to make sure you are okay. Forgive me please, I’m babbling, but I’ve had a bit to drink tonight. I…”
Once again Nick politely cut her off and said, “I’m sorry, but really, this is Nick.”
“Listen Rick. I just need to talk to you. Please. After yesterday…. seeing the towers come down and knowing you worked there…. I had to call you. Can I just talk to you? I need someone to talk to, someone who’ll listen, I thought maybe it could be you. At least for tonight.”
Nick sighed softly, but knew he would listen. It was one of his strong suits, just like his father, and brother. They were all good listeners, and were often told things they didn’t need to know.
“You said you are Susan…”
“No Rick, Susan introduced us, this is Sara. Sara McCluskey. I’m the brunette with curly, shoulder length hair. You commented on my blue eyes, and how captivating they are. Remember now?” As she spoke, Sara idly twirled her hair with her fingers, slowly pacing in circles around her room.
“Yes, I do.” Nick lied. “It’s just late, and like you said, after what happened yesterday, my mind was off in another world when you called.”
“Well, I’m just so glad you are alive. I have a lot of things going on in my life, and having a friend I can talk to would really help.”
The call went on for another thirty minutes or so, with Sara often sobbing at the events of the previous day. After a while her words started to slur, her speech slowing as she spoke. Nick listened as long as he could until he realized she would soon be asleep on the phone. He was finally able to step in and break her monologue, “Listen, it’s really late. Let’s both get some rest. Sounds like you’re about to fall asleep yourself.”
“Oh my God, look at the time! You’re right. I’ve kept you up far too long. I’m sorry Rick! Thank you for listening. May I call you again just to talk?”
Nick sighed, the last thing he wanted was some woman calling him for advice whenever she felt the need. At the same time, he felt a connection with her, and knew he’d listen whenever she called. “Yes of course. Call me when or if you need to. You have my number after all.”
“G’nite Rick. Get some rest.”
“G’nite Sara, you too.”
Nick was surprised at how fast he fell asleep. His mind had been churning all day, unable to let go of the memories of what happened. It seemed as soon as his head hit the pillow he fell into a deep dreamless slumber.
Sara also fell asleep quickly. She had been so distraught over what happened the previous day, talking to Rick had really set her mind at peace. She was asleep in minutes, and dreamed of a man who guided her decisions. In her dream, he was almost faceless. She knew it was Rick, but his face was obscured a bit, almost as if a cloud was between the two of them, no matter how close they were.
The next morning Sara woke up late. She wasn’t hung over at all, and felt refreshed, ready for a new day. A new world. As she ate her breakfast, she looked at her recent calls list, intending to call Rick to apologize for calling so late. As she looked at his number, she felt something was odd, and grabbed the slip of paper that he’d written his number on. She gasped as she looked at it, and realized she’d misdialed the number by one digit. Horrified, she knew she had to call this man again. Not only to apologize for calling so late, but for thinking he was Rick all that time.
Nick’s phone rang as he was relaxing in his garden. Looking at the number, he was pleased, yet annoyed to see it was Sara again. “Hello there Sara.” Nick wasn’t sure why he didn’t answer in his usual curt manner. Maybe there was more of a connection than he thought.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry! I called you late last night, and thought I was talking to Rick, a man I’d met the day before yesterday. You sound a lot like him, but I can’t believe I misdialed his number! Please forgive me.”
“Nothing to forgive Sara. I was still awake. It was obvious you needed someone to talk to, I wanted to get my mind off things too, so it was good for both of us.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! You mean you didn’t mind talking to me for almost an hour?”
“No, I kind of enjoyed it.”
“Well, what’s your name then? I remember telling you I need someone to talk to. And I do.”
“I know you do. Everyone does at some point in time.”
“Then….” Sara hesitated here, unsure of how to ask her question.
“Yes Sara, you can call me. I’ll listen.”
“But what’s your name?”
“Just call me Rick. It seems to be a name you are comfortable with, so call me Rick.”
“But I’d like to know your real name.”
“My name isn’t important. I can be Rick for you, and happy to be so.”
“Well, okay. It’s a little odd, but if that’s how you want it. Do you have time to talk?”
“Not right now. I’m a little busy, but call me later this evening. I’ll make myself available to you, and listen all you need me to.”
Nick wasn’t really busy, but he’d resolved to spend time in his garden each day to soothe his mind, and help him get over his recent losses. He also had an idea that he wanted to look into. He knew it would be a long project, but he needed to spend of lot of time researching things before he started on it.
Sara called as planned that night, she and Nick talked for three hours. Nick couldn’t believe how much she had to say, much of it stuff she just needed to get off her chest. Finally she said, “Rick, I’m at a cross roads in my life. I’m twenty seven, single, eligible in every respect. But I haven’t found a man I click with in that special way. At the same time, I’ve finished my bachelor’s degree, and I’m ready to start a career. Any suggestions on what kind of career I should get in to?”
“Where’s your degree from, and what field is it in?”
“Uhh, Business. Columbia University.”
“No specific field though, huh?”
“No, I’m not sure what’s right for me.”
“Have you thought about public speaking? This could get you in to a number of fields in business. A business leader has to be well spoken, and able to speak in front of the public.”
“Me? I could never do that! I tremble at the thought of being in front of people.”
“Really? Look how you’ve opened up to me in less than twenty four hours.”
“This is different. We’re on the phone, we haven’t met, I don’t know you.”
“And you won’t know the people you speak in front of either. Join Toastmasters. It’s a great avenue to get used to speaking in front of people.”
“Oh I can’t. I know I’ll fail.”
“I don’t think you will.”
After a little more chat, the call was ended. Nick sat back and wrote notes of all that had been discussed between them, as was his custom. The next day he made it a point to look up Sara McCluskey at Columbia. He had fond memories of that school. It had been a while, but he had fond memories. Seeing her picture on the website, he was pleased to see she was a brunette with short curly hair. She looked like she led an active life, and was not surprised to find she had been a member of the tennis team.
He made a couple of calls to friends about Sara. He wanted her guided properly, and knew these men would help him. Over the next few weeks he monitored the Toastmasters website, and was pleased to see she had joined it. Once in a while he would attend a session incognito and listen to Sara speak. She was always passionate about her topic, and presented herself far better than she thought she could. She was a good looking woman, he noticed her hair was now cut in a different fashion. She had the look of an experienced businesswoman. She did not appear aggressive, just confident in herself. He found her very attractive, and fascinating.
Throughout this time she would call Nick from time to time. She didn’t always seek advice, often she called just to talk to him. Nick realized that there was a deep bond between the two of them, despite having never met face to face.
“Hello again Sara. How are you today?”
“Hi Rick, things are great here. Hey listen, we’ve never met, and I think it’s time we do meet. I mean it’s been seven years since my initial call to you. What would you say to dinner this week?” Sara couldn’t believe she was asking a man she’d never seen to dinner.
“Sara, I don’t go out much.” This was a lie of course, but Nick did tend to stick to himself now, rarely venturing out except to see how Sara was doing. “I don’t like crowds and get extremely agitated around large groups of people.” Another lie. Nick didn’t mind crowds, never had. But he had taken to living alone on his estate, having his necessities either sent to him, or sending someone to get what he needed.
Sara frowned, glad that Rick couldn’t see her face. She knew she was falling for this ‘invisible man’, and wanted to meet him. Sara could sense Rick’s unwillingness to meet, and let the subject drop. “I’ve progressed well in Toastmasters, as I think I’ve told you. In fact, I’ve taken a couple of new members under my wing, mentoring them, just as you’ve mentored me from afar all this time. Can you believe it’s been seven years? Man, I tell you, I never thought I could do something like this, what did you hear in my voice to make you realize I could?”
“It was the way you spoke to me. The tone of your voice, little things. I heard a lot of uncertainty, a lot of pleading, but a lot of confidence at certain times. That’s all.”
“Rick, I’ve asked you for advice many times, along with quite a few inane questions. Somehow, you’ve answered every question I’ve ever asked. It’s like you are an answering machine, not a living, breathing human. Is there anything you don’t know?”
“Of course there is. You’ve just asked questions on subjects I have some knowledge on.”
“Well, I know I’ve said it many times to you, but thank you Rick. Thank you for mentoring me, having faith in me, and guiding me. I don’t know where I’d be without your advice and friendship.”
“It’s been my pleasure really. I look forward to hearing about your progression into new fields, new accomplishments.” The connection was ended. Sara wondered about Rick. She didn’t know what to think of someone who wouldn’t go out anywhere, and wondered once again about her true feelings for him.
Nick pondered the call for a while. He had been waiting for Sara to ask to meet, and knew they couldn’t. She had no idea what he looked like, his age, or anything. He felt guilty about having seen her without her knowing who he was. At the same time, he was glad he had been able to see her in that manner.
It was six years later that Nick was able to fully start on that personal project he’d wanted to work on. As an electronics engineer, he and his brother had worked on many ideas. They had been major contributors in designing the original I-Pod, and the follow on I-devices. Now retired from that, he spent the majority of his time working on new ideas. He knew how the new I-Pad tablets were being designed, and decided he would build something similar, but very unique. He couldn’t do it at his estate, it would have to be done in a factory. But since he was going to make just the one device, he knew he could call in a few favors and have it built without anyone snooping into his plans too much. It took a lot longer than he wanted, but in less than two years, he had a working prototype.
One day, Sara received a small flat package in the mail. Opening the box, she saw a small notecard. “Sara, please do not open this yet. It’s not time. But, if you’d like to meet, please come to 66 Brielle Avenue, Staten Island the day you receive this. Bring it with you, open it when directed please. Be here about 3pm. Tell the gatekeeper your name, and that you are here to meet me. He’ll get you to me. Rick.”
Sara had to read the note twice to be sure she read it correctly. The smile that lit her face while reading it was bright enough to light the entire New York City skyline. Sara dressed quickly. She wanted to look her best for Rick, but didn’t want to look too businesslike. She finally settled on a pair of blue Dockers slacks, a pale yellow top, and comfortable shoes. Hailing a cab, she hopped in and gave the driver Rick’s address. She didn’t notice the rise in the driver’s eyebrows as she spoke.
As she sat back to relax, Sara realized how little she knew about Rick. Staten Island? She pulled out her cell phone and used Google maps to look at the area. ‘Wow, he lives in a pretty expensive area!’ she thought to herself. For some reason though, Google maps could not pinpoint her destination.
The cab finally arrived at its destination, or what seemed to be her destination. All Sara could see was a closed gate with a small call box to one side. She read the small placard next to the box and lifted the phone. “Hello, this is Sara, I’m here to see Rick.”
“We’ve been expecting you. I’ll be right there.” The voice on the other end did not sound like a man Sara’s age, but someone a lot older. She saw a golf cart coming down the road on the other side of the gate, and wasn’t too surprised when a man who looked to be well past middle age get out. “Sara, so nice to meet you! I’ve heard a lot about you. I’m Sam, the guardian of this estate. Please, come in.”
As the gate opened, Sara stepped through, and sat in the seat as directed. Sam closed the gate with a button press, and put the cart in gear. “Where are you taking me?” she asked.
“You’re here to see Rick, right? Well, I’m taking you to him.”
The cart headed up the slight incline, but did not stop at the large house. As they rounded the side of the house, Sara gasped involuntarily in amazement. A large meadow lay before them, and Sam slowly drove the cart down a well-trodden path. “This is where you get off young lady. Please turn that device on now. I will be back when you need me.”
Sara got out of the cart, a perplexed look written on her face. She was alone in a small glade at the end of the path. Wondering just what she’d gotten herself into, she opened her package and found an electronic tablet. It powered on with the press of a button, and a man’s face popped up from the screen.
“Hello Sara. Nice to finally see you.”
“What the hell? Er, I mean, uhh…”
“It’s okay Sara, I sort of expected this. I’m Nick, that’s my real name. You’ve known me as Rick for almost 15 years now.”
“I don’t understand! What’s going on?”
“You wanted to meet me, now you have.”
“No! I wanted to meet the man I’ve talked to on the phone all these years. Not a hologram!”
“I know Sara. I wanted that too. But it wasn’t possible. Please walk past the trees you see at the end of the path. I’m there.”
Sara still couldn’t understand what was going on, but did as requested. Once past the trees, she stopped, her mouth moving to say something, but no sound could escape. Finally she collapsed to her knees, sobs wracking her body. In front of her was a simple headstone.
April 10, 1945 - May 5, 2015
He loved many things, even a woman he never met.
Through her sobs Sara heard Nick’s voice as it tried to soothe her. “Sara, we couldn’t meet, much as you and I both wanted. I wasn’t healthy enough to get out. My body was frail, my mind was not.”
“Rick… I mean Nick, how is this all possible? What is this thing you gave me? How are you able to talk to me as if you’re here?” These questions and many more bubbled to the surface as Sara fought to control her sobs.
“You know, I never had a name for this gadget. You’re going to help me name it though. This was created for you, only you. It’s a one of a kind device, programmed by me to allow you to continue asking me questions whenever you want.”
“You built this?”
“Well, I didn’t build it. But I engineered and designed it. I had to call in a few favors to have it manufactured for me.”
“What does it do?”
“It’s like your own Google. I’ve used my voice, and programmed it to talk with you, converse with you as if I’m here.”
"How will you answer questions I ask from here on? Especially if it's about something that's happened after you... after your..." Sara found she couldn't say that Nick was dead, couldn't say the word died.
"Well, I need to tell you a little about this gadget. The initial power on by you is the only time you can turn it on without using a password. When you turn it on next time, it will ask you to create a password. Since I can help you with most any question, I felt this had to remain secure, so your password will expire every 45 days. So don't forget your password! Obviously Wi-Fi is enabled on this, so get it in range of a Wi-Fi signal, and you can connect me to it. If it's password protected, you'll prompted to enter the password for the signal. That's all you can do to this (me), the rest is done by me while I'm connected to the Wi-Fi network and on the internet."
"This is all automatic?"
"Yes Sara. I did not want someone to be able to hack in to this once I put 'me' into it, nor did I want you or anyone else to download anything from the internet. So once I'm connected to the internet, only I can write to this, only I can choose what is placed in the memory here."
Sara sat thinking about everything that had transpired since she had arrived at Nick's estate when a thought suddenly struck her.
“All these years you’ve answered every question I’ve asked. Now you leave me with a gadget here to do it for you. Let’s see how good it is. Who was Rick, the man I met in September 2001.”
Nick’s voice sounded sad as he answered, “I knew you’d ask that question. Please walk over the hill behind my headstone. We’ll talk more once you’re there.”
Sara walked up the small hill to a small copse of trees. Seeing an opening, she entered. Once again, she was overcome with emotion, and fell to her knees. In front of her were two small monuments.
Rick Griffiths Jr.
August 12, 1960 – September 11, 2001
Beloved brother of Nick, the real genius behind their projects
Rick Griffiths Sr.
January 31, 1922 – September 11, 2001
The father, the patriarch, the one who made us possible.
“You see my father and brother here. It was my brother you met, my brother who you called that night. Our numbers were very similar, with only one digit different in them. They were both in the World Trade Center when it was attacked. Sara, I’m so sorry to hit you like this, in this fashion. You have to realize I couldn’t tell you. Not when we first met. Over the years, my pain ceased and I found a new reason to keep on living.”
It was quite a while before Sara could calm down and stop sobbing. Her hair was a mess, makeup smeared, eyes red and swollen. Finally she could think again, and said, “What became your reason to keep on living?”
“Helping you. Advising you. Watching from a distance as you matured and grew.”
Sara sobbed once again, but quickly regained control. “I know what to call this gadget you’ve given me. But first, can it be duplicated? Can more be manufactured?”
“Of course! That was in the plans all along. You get the first one, then if you decide to have more manufactured, do it. You have the business acumen now, go with it. Run with it! What are you going to call it?”