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The subway rattled into the station, the doors opened and Carrie felt herself swept along with the huddled masses on the platform, barely even looking up from her hunched position in her woefully thin coat. It had looked better on the internet. Really. It had.
She resisted the temptation to snuggle into the body in front of her as the carriage packed even tighter than normal. Just about every train in the city had ground to a halt after the quick deluge of snow.
The streets had gone from tired, grey and bustling to a complete white-out with only vaguely recognisable shapes in a matter of hours.
An unprecedented freak snowstorm, they were calling it. In October.
In the middle of New York.
The news reporters were having a field daywell, only the ones lucky enough to be in the studio. The ones out in the field? Not so much.
And Carrie appreciated why. Her winter coat wasn't due to be delivered for another two weeks. She could die before then. Her fingers had lost all colour and sensation ten minutes ago. Thank goodness she didn't have a dripping nose because at these temperatures it would freeze midway.
'They've stopped some of the buses,' muttered the woman next to her. 'I'm going to have to make about three changes to get home tonight.'
An involuntary shiver stole down her spine. Please let the train get to the end of the line. This part of the subway didn't stay underground the whole way; parts of it emerged into the elements and she could already see the thick white flakes of snow landing around them.
A year in New York had sounded great at the time. Magical even.
A chance to get away from her own annus horribilis.
A chance to escape everyone she knew, her history and her demons.
The only thing she'd taken with her was her exemplary work record.
In the black fog that had been last year it had been her one consistently bright shining star.
She should have known as soon as her boss had invited her into his office and asked her to sit down, giving her that half sympathetic, half cut-throat look. He'd cleared his throat. 'Carrie, we need someone to go to New York and represent the London office, leading on the project team for the next year. I understand this year has been difficult for you. But you were my first thought for the job. Of course, if it feels like too muchor the timing is wrong ' His voice had tailed off. The implication was clear. There were already two interns snapping at her heels, anxious to trample her on the way past.
She'd bit her lip. 'No. The timing is perfect. A new place will be just what I need. A new challenge. A chance for some time away.'
He'd nodded and extended his hand towards her. 'Congratulations. Don't worry about a thing. The firm has an apartment in Greenwich Village in the borough of Manhattan. It's a nice, safe areaeasily commutable. You'll like it there.'
She'd nodded numbly, trying not to run her tongue along her suddenly dry lips. 'How long until I have to go?'
He'd cleared his throat, as if a little tickle had appeared. 'Three weeks.' The words were followed by a hasty smile. 'One of the partners will be leaving for business in Japan. He needs to brief you before he leaves.'
She'd tried hard not to let the horror of the time frame appear on her face as she'd stood up and straightened her skirt. 'Three weeks will be fine. Perfectly manageable.' Her voice had wavered and she'd hoped he didn't notice.
He'd stood up quickly. 'Perfect, Carrie. I'm sure you'll do a wonderful job for us.'
The train pulled into another station and Carrie felt the shuffle of bodies around her as the passengers edged even closer together to let the hordes of people on the platform board. It seemed as if the whole of New York City had been sent home early.
A cold hand brushed against hers and a woman gave her a tired smile. 'They've closed Central Parkone of the trees collapsed under the weight of the snow. I've never heard of that before.' She rolled her eyes. 'I'm just praying the school buses get home. Some of the roads are closed because they don't have enough snow ploughs and the grit wasn't due to be delivered for another two weeks.' Her face was flushed as she continued to talk. 'I've never seen it so bad, have you? I bet we're all snowed in for the next few days.'
Carrie gave a rueful shrug of her shoulders.
'I'm not from around here. I'm from London. This is my first time in New York.'
The woman gave a little sigh. 'Poor you. Well, welcome to the madhouse.'
Carrie watched as the train pulled out of the station. It didn't seem to pick up speed at all, just crawled along slowly. Was there snow on the tracks, or was it the weight of too many passengers, desperate to get home before the transport system shut down completely? Please, just two more stops. Then she would be home.
Home. Was it home?
The apartment in West Village was gorgeous. Not quite a penthouse, but part of a brownstone and well out of her budget. West Village was perfect. It was like some tucked away part of London, full of gorgeous shops, coffee houses and restaurants. But it still wasn't home.
Today, in the midst of this snowstorm, she wanted to go home to the smell of soup bubbling on the stove. She wanted to go home to the sound of a bubble bath being run, with candles lit around the edges. She wanted to go home somewhere with the curtains pulled, a fire flickering and a warm glow.
Anything other than her own footsteps echoing across the wooden floor in the empty apartment, and knowing that the next time she'd talk to another human being it would be with the man who ran the coffee stall across the street on the way to work the next morning.
She wrinkled her nose. It might not even come to that. The sky was darkening quickly. Maybe the woman next to her was right. Maybe they would end up snowed in. She might not speak to another human being for days.
She shifted the bag containing the laptop in her hands. She had enough work to last for days. The boss had been clear. Take enough to keep busydon't worry about getting into the office. If the snow continued she couldn't count on seeing any of her workmates.
The people in her apartment block nodded on the way past, but there had never been a conversation. Never a friendly greeting. Maybe they were just used to the apartment being used by business people, staying for a few weeks and then leaving again. It would hardly seem worthwhile to reach out and make friends.
A shiver crept down her spine and her mind started to race.
Did she have emergency supplies? Were there any already in the apartment? How would she feel being snowed in in New York, where it felt as if she didn't know a single person?
Sure, she had met people at work over the past two months. She'd even been out for a few after-work drinks. But the office she worked in wasn't a friendly, sociable place. It was a fast-paced, frenetic, meet-the-deadline-before-you-die kind of place. She had colleagues, but she wasn't too sure she had friends.
The train shuddered to a halt at Fourteenth Street and the door opened. 'Everybody out!'
Her head jerked up and the carriage collectively groaned.
A guard was next to the door. 'This is the last stop, folks. Snow on the tracks. All trains are stopping. Everybody out.'
Carrie glanced at the sign. Fourteenth Street. One subway stop away from the apartment. She glanced down at her red suede ankle boots. She could kiss these babies goodbye. The ground outside was covered in thick, mucky slush. She didn't even want to think about what they'd look like by the time she reached the apartment.
The crowd spilled out onto the platform and up towards the mezzanine level of the station on Fourteenth Street. Carrie could hear panicked voices all around her trying to plan alternative routes home. At least she knew she could walk from here, no matter how bad it was outside.
The sky had darkened rapidly, with thick grey clouds hanging overhead, continuing their deluge of snow.
Snow. It was such a pretty thing. The kind of thing you spent hours cutting out of paper as a kid, trying to make a snowflake. Then sticking on a blue piece of card and putting on the classroom wall or attaching to a piece of string and hanging from the Christmas tree.
It didn't look like this in the storybooks. Thick wads of snow piled at the edges of the street, blanketing the road and stopping all traffic. The whiteness gone, leaving mounds of grey, icy sludge.
There was a creaking noise behind her and across the street, followed by a flood of shouts. 'Move! Quickly!'
In slow motion she watched as a large pile of snow slowly slid from a roof four storeys above the street. The people beneath were hurrying past, blissfully unaware of what was happening above their heads.
It was like a slow-moving action scene from a movie. All the inevitability of knowing what was about to happen without being able to intervene. Her breath caught in her throat. A woman in a red coat. A little boy. An elderly couple walking hand in hand. A few businessmen with their coat collars turned up, talking intently on their phones.
There was a flash of navy blue. The woman in the red coat and little boy were flung rapidly from the sidewalk into the middle of the empty street. The elderly couple pressed up against a glass shop window as some frantic shouts alerted the businessmen.
The snow fell with a thick, deafening thump. A cloud of powdered snow lifting into the air and a deluge of muddy splatters landing on her face.
Then, for a few seconds, there was silence. Complete silence.
It was broken first by the whimpers of a crying childthe little boy who had landed in the road. Seconds later chaos erupted. Onlookers dashed to the aid of the woman and small child, helping them to their feet and ushering them over to a nearby coffee shop. A few moments later someone guided the elderly couple from under the shelter of the shop's awning where they had been protected from the worst of the deluge.
'Where's the cop?'
'What happened to the cop?'
A policeman. Was that who had dived to the rescue? Her eyes caught the flicker of the blue lights of the NYPD car parked on the street. It was such a common sight in New York that she'd stopped registering them.
Some frantic digging and a few choice expletives later and one of New York's finest, along with one of the businessmen, emerged from the snow.
Someone jolted her from behind and her feet started to automatically move along the sludgy sidewalk. There was nothing she could do here.
Her own heart was pounding in her chest. Fat use she would be anyway. She didn't have a single medical skill to offer, and the street was awash with people rushing to help. She could see the cop brushing snow angrily from his uniform. He looked vaguely familiar but she couldn't place him. He was holding his wrist at a funny angle and looking frantically around, trying to account for all the people he had tried to save.
A tissue appeared under her nose. 'Better give your face a wipe,' said another woman, gesturing towards her mud-splattered coat, shoes and face.
Carrie turned towards the nearest shop window and did a double take. She looked like something the cat had dragged in. 'Thanks,' she muttered as she lifted the tissue to her face, smudging the mud further across her cheek. Her bright green coat was a write-off. The dryclean-only label floated inside her mind. No dry-cleaning in the world could solve this mess.
She stared up at the darkening sky. It was time to go home. Whether it felt like home or not.
Daniel Cooper coughed and spluttered. His New York skyline had just turned into a heavy mix of grey-white snow. Wasn't snow supposed to be light and fluffy? Why did it feel as if someone were bench-pressing on top of him? A pain shot up his arm. He tried his best to ignore it. Mind over matter. Mind over matter.
There was noise above him, and shuffling. He spluttered. Snow was getting up his nose. It was strange being under here. Almost surreal.
He didn't feel as if he was suffocating. The snow wasn't tightly packed around his face. He just couldn't move. And Dan didn't like feeling as if things were out of his control.
The scuffling above him continued and then a few pairs of strong arms pulled him upwards from the snow. His head whipped around, instantly looking to see if the mother and child were safe.
There. On the other side of the sidewalk. He could see the flash of her red coat. Throwing them towards the street probably hadn't been the wisest move in the world, but the street was deep in snow, with not a car in sight. People were crowded around them but they were both safe, if a little shocked. The woman lifted her head and caught his eye. One of her hands was wrapped around her son, holding him close to her side, the other hand she placed on her chest. She looked stunned, her gaze registering the huge mound of snow that they would have been caught under, the horror on her face apparent. Thank you, she mouthed at him.
He smiled. The air left his lungs in a whoosh of relief. Snow was sticking to the back of his neck, turning into water that was trickling down his spine. As if he weren't wet enough already.
The elderly couple. Where were they? And why was his wrist still aching so badly? He spun back around. The elderly couple were being escorted across the street towards a sidewalk café. Thank goodness. He gave a shiver. He didn't even want to think about the broken bones they could have sufferedor the head injuries.
'Buddy, your wrist, are you hurt?' A man in a thick wool coat was standing in front of him, concern written all over his face.
Dan looked down. The thing he was trying to ignore. The thing he was trying to block from his mind. He glanced at the pile of snow he'd been buried under. There, in amongst the debris, were some slate shingles. Who knew how many had fallen from the roof above. He was just lucky that one had hit his wrist instead of his head.
Darn it. His eyes met those of the concerned citizen in front of him. 'I'll see about it later,' he muttered. 'I'm sure it will be fine. Let me make sure everyone's okay.'
The man wrinkled his brow. 'They've called an ambulance for the other guy.' He nodded towards the sidewalk, where one of the businessmen was sitting, looking pale-faced and decidedly queasy. Truth be told, he felt a little like that himself. Not that he'd ever let anyone know.
He tried to brush some of the snow from his uniform. 'Who knows how long the ambulance will take to get here. We might be better taking them to be checked over at the clinic on Sixteenth Street.' He signalled across the street to another cop who'd appeared and was crossing quickly towards him. 'Can you talk to dispatch and see how long it will take the ambulance to get here?'
The other cop shook his head and threw up his hands. 'The whole city is practically shut down. I wouldn't count on anyone getting here any time soon.' He looked around him.
'I'll check how many people need attention' he nodded towards Dan 'you included, then we'll get everyone round to the clinic.' He rolled his eyes. 'It's gonna be a long shift.'
Dan grimaced. The city was in crisis right now. People would be stranded with no way of getting home. Flights were cancelled. Most of the public transport was shutting down. How much use would he be with an injured wrist?
A prickle of unease swept over him as he looked at the streets crowded with people. He should be doing his job, helping people, not sloping off to a clinic nearby.
He hated that. He hated the elements that were out of his control. He looked at the crowds spilling out onto the sidewalk from Fourteenth Street station and took a deep breath.
Things could only get worse.