The Tallest Man on Earth


Thought you’d want to know that she liked them. 

The text came in at half past ten and I read it with groggy eyes, laying half asleep in bed with Wren passed out on top of me. Not recognizing the number, I tossed my phone back on the end table and rolled over, snuggling the little body I'd grown inside of me as close as possible. Somedays I wished I could put him back where he’d been for a long nine months. Not literally of course, but in a kind of protective way. I hadn’t realized it then, but things were much easier when I was pregnant, before I had to worry about keeping him out of harm’s way. Worrying about Wren felt like a full-time job on its own but I had to worry for two parents instead of just one. 

I hadn’t thought about Brendan after our interaction at the flower shop. Well, I’d thought about him, but not willingly. Anytime his slight smirk came into my mind or his voice ran through my head I forced myself to think of something else. There was no use letting myself day dream about someone I barely knew, especially not when he wasn’t just any other guy. I pushed the memory of the warm feeling I’d got when he stood beside me asking questions about different flower as far away as I could and told myself it wasn’t productive to hold onto the excitement he’d sparked inside of me when he touched my hand as he paid for our creation. After all, I’d probably never see him again anyway. 

I didn’t reply to the unknown number, not intentionally, I just got lost in my own world of Wren and work and trying to keep my head above water. Our days were usually the same; we’d wake up later than we should, I’d rush around making breakfast and getting dressed, then I’d drop him off at daycare and spend the rest of my day with the flowers. Other than the nights when Wren would curl up beside me, the flowers were my favourite part of the day. Being around them brought this kind of peacefulness that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else. You had to be careful with the delicate blooms, but they were far more resilient than they seemed, kind of like Wren. He was so much stronger than I realized, hardy almost, unflinching when it came to the chaos that surrounded Josh and me. He didn’t flinch when his father brought him home from a weekend away, and every second week he became less bothered by my leaving him with Josh. It was harder on me to say goodbye for those two days than it was for him. 

“What are you doing this weekend?” Josh asked when I answered his call, having just put Wren to bed and beginning my never ending pile of laundry to fold.

 “I’m dropping Wren off with you then going about my usual routine,” I sighed, there was nothing I wanted to do less than talk to Josh about my personal life. Hell, talking to Josh in general was painful enough without trying to avoid the landmines that were the details of my day-to-day plans. 

“Are you working?” he pressed and I knew he had a reason for being so interested. 

 “No Josh, I’m not working. I’ll probably spend the weekend cleaning and talking to my brother on Skype,” I was trying to bite back my frustration but after a long day I couldn’t hide just how irritated I was to be having this conversation with him.

“Would you relax Charlie?” he said in the same jovial but commanding tone he’d always used to try to control me. “I was thinking about taking Wren to Ottawa for a game and was hoping you’d want to come.”

 “Ottawa?” my voice cracked. He’d planned to take my son out of the province without so much as a warning. “When were you going to tell me you were taking him on a trip?” I cried. 

“I’m telling you now.” 

“No you’re not, you’re asking me to go, not asking me if you can take my son out of the province to watch some stupid hockey game!” I dropped the shirt I was folding and clenched my fists.

 “He’s my son too, Charlie. It’s not like I’m taking him out of the country, It’s a two hour train ride,” he laughed as if I was being completely unreasonable, because that’s what Josh did, he mocked me, he acted like everything I worried about was ridiculous and I was some kind of paranoid crazy person. “You should come, it’ll be fun,” he softened, as if sensing that I was about to have a fit.

 “I can’t,” I told him flatly, hardly giving myself time to come up with a reason. There were more than I could count, but none that I could tell him. He wasn’t the type to understand things like money being an issue, or that the idea of us spending any time together was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat, because I’d sooner slam my hand in a door than be confined in a train car with him for four hours of our lives. 

“Are you sure? I think Wren would really like it, he needs to know that we’re a family even if you hate me.” Low blow, it hit me right in the heart, he knew Wren was my weakness and I’d do anything that might benefit him. 

“I don’t hate you,” I grumbled. Lies, just like saying I couldn’t go. I did hate him, which is why it wasn’t that I couldn’t go but rather that I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to pretend to be a family with the man who had pulled me away from my own and treated me like I was overreacting when I told him I was homesick. In that instant the only thing I wanted to do was call my sister and tell her how insufferable he was. Closing my eyes I tried to imagine what Grace would say if she were in my shoes. Take the free ticket and conquer that town, my mind told me. It sounded like something she would do. Grace was fearless though. She was everything I wasn’t.

 “Fine,” I said before I could choke on my own words. “But we aren’t sharing a room.” Where was this coming from. This sudden burst of confidence had me in awe of myself and I sat on the arm of the couch with my arms crossed. I had no idea how I’d pay for this little getaway, but it was too late to take it back. 

“Crackers?” I held up a baggie in front of Wren, trying to distract him from a complete meltdown. The train was halfway to Ottawa and he’d just woken up from his nap to find there was no place to run around. Tragic for anyone under the age of five. “Story?” I asked him, frantically searching for the book I’d packed in his backpack. He shook his head to both suggestions and I saw his lip begin to quiver. Panic had almost set in and I was at the point where I’d offer him a stiff drink if it would keep him quiet. Instead of finding a book, I found his stuffed rabbit, which he promptly tossed across the aisle in a fit. Josh of course sat on the other side of Wren doing nothing to help the situation.

 “Just let him run around, Charlie.” He suggested, sounding almost exasperated by such a trivial issue. 

“I’m not letting him run around in public,” I hissed, shoving the crackers back in the bag just as he started kicking his feet. “Do you let him do whatever he wants and run wild?” I clapped back as I leaned over to undo Wren’s seatbelt. Pulling him into my arms, he wriggled wildly, inevitably smacking me in the face. 

“I let him have fun, He’s a kid,” Josh replied, reaching over for the rabbit and trying to distract our son with it. “He’s not meant to sit for this long anyway.” 

“It’s only two hours, he has to learn,” he continued to wiggle, trying to break free from my grasp. 

“Charlie, seriously,” Josh turned to me gruffly. “Give him to me,” he reached over from his seat on the aisle. I wanted to hold fast to my resolution to have him sit still. I was determined to resist the urge to let my son run wildly up and down the train car, but Josh was demanding. He’d always gotten exactly what he wanted, both in life and from me.

“Fine,” I relented, metaphorically kicking myself for giving in so easily. Of course, as soon as Josh took him from me, Wren smiled and seconds later he was speeding up and down the aisle of the train. 

I spent the majority of the game watching Wren rather than the action on the ice. His wide eyes and sheer joy was far more exciting and I must have taken two-hundred pictures by the third period. It was halfway into the third when he crawled into my lap and lay his head on my shoulder, yawning and managing to fall asleep amongst all the noise and energy. Only when he was snoring softly in my ear did I turn my attention to the benches and see him. 

He wore number 11 and a look of determination on his face. Laser focused on the game, he barley flinched when his time to hit the ice came. Now gliding, I admired the way he bobbed and weaved his way through people, avoiding the massive bodies that came towards him. Brendan handled it with grace and courage, as if he didn’t know that one check could hurt him. He played fearlessly and I had to smile when he lost his footing and landed in the net instead of the puck.

 “He asleep?” Josh asked, jostling me out of my dreamy gaze. 

 I glanced at him, shooting a look as if to say Isn’t it obvious. Then returned my focus to the game. The score was 3-2 Montreal and as the seconds ticked by the crowd grew restless, Ottawa fans beginning to trickle out of the arena as their hope of a win faded away. The final buzzer startled Wren and he let out a terrified sob, removing his thumb from his mouth and looking at me as if I had something to explain. The tears rolled down his little cheeks and I tried to comfort him, but still he cried. Josh gave me a look of embarrassment as if our crying child was my fault and tried awkwardly to rub his back as Wren cried in my arms. I had to wonder how he handled him on those weekends I had to myself. Did Wren not cry for him? 

“C’mon buddy,” Josh urged him to stop and I stood up to let a group of people out past us. 

 “That’s how I feel too buddy,” an Ottawa fan teased as he passed and I laughed politely. I tried to rock him gently, a move I’d mastered when he was a baby but was becoming harder and harder as he grew. Juggling his backpack in one arm and him in the other, I stood, rocking him in the nearly empty arena, while his father stood by idly. 

“If you stop crying we’ll go get ice cream,” Josh told him and his ears perked up. 

“Josh,” I gave a warning tone. It was far too late for ice cream, never mind the fact that I tried not to feed him excess sugar. But Josh didn’t care, he never really had cared about what I wanted and my only saving grace was that the concessions were closed after the game.

 “It’s just ice cream,” he muttered, rolling his eyes as if I were always the one to ruin his fun. “I told the guys we’d meet them downstairs anyway,” he told me with a flash of arrogance, obviously proud of his connections. 

“Don’t you think it’s a little too late for Wren?” I asked carefully as we walked up the stairs and onto the concourse, all the while wondering what exactly he did with Wren on his weekends. “I really think we should get him to the hotel.” I was nearly pleasing, but instead we continued to walk until we came to an unmarked door with a staircase leading us to the ice level. Wren had finally settled down but was still heavy in my arms as I carried him through the bowels of the arena. It wasn’t until we came to a roped off area, at the bottom of the stairs and a long hallway, that Josh turned to me and held out his arms.

 “C’mere, Kiddo,” he said softly as he took Wren from me and I couldn’t help but soften at the calmness in his voice and the way he looked at our son. The moment of reduced hostility didn’t last long because before I could register what was happening, Josh was giving our names to a gate attendant and we were being ushered into the roped off area where Josh was immediately greeted by men wearing well fitting suits and smell of fresh cologne. I stood by awkwardly, realizing he’d only taken the toddler from me to look good in front of his friends, and wondering what exactly I should be doing, when I heard someone calling my name.

 “Charlotte?” the voice asked and I whipped around to find him standing there, all wide smiles and looking like he’d just stepped off of a magazine cover.

“Hi,” I blushed wondering what exactly I could say to the handsome man who stood before me. Glancing down awkwardly at my boots and sweater, I wished I’d put more stock in my appearance and bit my lip nervously.

“I’m really glad you guys could make it,” Brendan told me, his smile still plastered onto his face. “Hey Wren,” he took a step towards the boy and held out his hand. Hesitantly, Wren looked at him, then without a word slapped his little hand against Brendan’s and smiled before burying his head back in Josh’s neck. He was usually shy around strangers, which meant that Josh had taken him around Brendan more than I’d known.

“Congratulations on the win,” I told him nervously, suddenly feeling off in my own skin. “You played really well… I think.” My cheeks burned red and I silently cursed myself for bringing up a sport I knew nothing about. But it was as if he could sense my discomfort because instead of continuing the hockey talk, Brendan just thanked me. 

“Did you get my text?” he asked seconds later, as if he’d been waiting for a reply for days. 

“Text?” Josh’s ears perked up and he turned from the conversation he was having with a large man in a black suit. “You two text?” the words left his mouth as if they had a sour taste and he raised an eyebrow. 

Before I could come up with a response, Brendan took over. “What did you think I wanted her number for? To look at it?” he teased, laughing loudly and throwing his head back a little. His goofy reaction made me smile and I made sure to avoided Josh’s eye contact. 

 “Sorry I didn’t reply,” I told him more quietly, turning away from Josh.

“Thanks okay,” Brendan told me before I could continue. “Don’t worry about it.” 

I opened my mouth to speak but before I could another man approached us and greeted Josh and Wren. “Alex,” Josh clapped the man on the back, balancing Wren in one arm. “Good game buddy.” As the attention shifted from Brendan and me, I sunk back into my awkward silence.

It was decided without my knowledge that a post-game dinner was in order and a shot Josh a frustrated glance as we gathered into the taxi, Wren still on his lap and me shoved between his body and Brendan’s. 

 “Josh,” I found myself whispering quietly. “He needs to sleep.” But he didn’t respond, instead just continued his conversation with the other men in the back of the van. “Josh,” I said a little louder. “I think I need to take him back to the hotel.” Finally he turned to me and sighed.

When we arrived at the restaurant I stayed in the cab, buckling Wren into Josh’s now vacant seat and watching the men walk towards the rest of their night. Letting my head fall back I let out a breath and finally felt myself relax for the first time all day.

 “Where to?” the taxi driver asked and it dawned on me that I had no idea where I was going. Glancing down at the seat beside me I noticed a phone, and as if fate, the sliding door opened and Brendan appeared, grabbing the phone from the seat. 

“There it is,” he said softly and I looked at him with a kind of relief. After he gave the address of the hotel to the driver, Brendan gave Wren a pat on the head and smiled. “Text me sometime,” he said as he began closing the sliding door.
♠ ♠ ♠
Not sure if anyone is still interested in this but i thought i'd get back into it.