The Tallest Man on Earth


It didn’t take long to get Wren to sleep, the excitement of the day had tuckered him out and for that I was grateful. He lie sleeping beside me in one of the double beds in the two bed room Josh had booked for us, his little chest moving with every shallow breath he took, tiny snores acting as the soundtrack to my night. I’d considered tucking myself into bed with him, but I knew it was too early for me to actually fall asleep, so instead I sat scrolling through my phone, mindlessly. There were posts from people I’d gone to high school with, some of whom were exploring the world, and others who were getting married and starting their lives earlier than the average. I scrolled passed a picture of my younger sister Madeline and clicked like without giving it a second look. Something about scrolling through the highlights of people’s lives was depressing. I tried to remind myself that there was more than what I was seeing, but the engagements, vacations, and fun nights out all had me green with envy. 

Beside me Wren stirred, pulling me out of my scroll induced trance. I knew it was silly to want anything other than the life I had with him, but it didn’t stop me from wondering just how different things would have been if I didn’t get pregnant at seventeen. 

Grace had been dead for two months and seventeen days when I realized I was late. In the blur of mourning and rearranging my life without her, I’d let the time slip by. At first I chalked it up to stress, surely losing your older sister could put a wrench in things, but when seventeen days turned into twenty-seven, I knew I needed to find out.

 It was past midnight when I snuck out of the bedroom I’d once shared with my sister and drove two towns over to the only gas station I knew would be open. The drive felt endless as I drove towards my fate, the static of the radio filling the air in the car. I was too distracted to change the station, instead letting it fade to nothing as I drove. I’d considered calling Josh, having him drive me, share in my fear, but it seemed easier to do it on my own. Despite being together for years, Josh still never said the right thing in times of stress. Everything was fixable in his life, he had the money to make everything okay.

 I waited anxiously for the absence of the second pink line. Sitting on the toilet in the grimy washroom, praying harder than I’d ever prayed. I wished Grace were there with me, holding my hand and cracking jokes, because that was how Grace dealt with things. I envied her for that, her ability to laugh at any situation, I was the serious one of the family. Not as quiet as Kevin but not as fun as Grace, or as charming as Madeline. 

“Dear God, please be negative, please be negative, please be negative,” I chanted as I flipped over the test and saw for the first time, my future, my reality, the beginning of what would become Wren. 

I didn’t see Brendan the next day, or the next week. In fact, I’d almost forgotten about him. Life resumed its usual routine, between work and taking care of Wren, I didn’t have time to wonder what he was doing or if I’d ever see him again. I told myself it didn’t matter, because whatever slight feelings I’d developed in reaction to the way the light hit his face, or how he smiled at me, it didn’t matter. I was a twenty year old single mother, not exactly the top prospect for an NHL player.

“Can we pick up these toys?” I asked Wren as I sat on the floor of the living room, surrounded by his trucks and stuffed animals. “Please?” I added, trying to pull his attention from the sprint he was apparently practicing for as he raced around the apartment. “Wren, it’s time to clean up before we take a bath.” I tried to keep my voice light and playful despite how hard it was to keep my eyelids open. I’d been at work before seven that morning to sign for the delivery and spent the entire day organizing and sorting through flowers. In the end I’d gone home with a bouquet of nearly wilting roses, but I was beyond ready to sleep. 

Wren ran another lap and I sighed to myself, picking up his trucks and putting them in the colourful bin against the wall. I’d learned early on that there were battles to fight and others to let go, and picking up his toys was not a hill I was going to die on that night. Leaving him to run around, a forced myself to walk to the bathroom and filled the old bathtub with water and a cup full of bubble bath. The frothing bubbles covered the yellowing porcelain and mysterious stains that had been there long before I moved in. 

He’d fought me the entire way to the bathtub, kicking and screaming that I’d ruined his fun and in some ways I sympathized, I hated having to be the bad guy. I was forever telling him ‘no’ or cutting his playtime short for things like dinner or baths, without a partner to take on some of the duties of child rearing, I was always the boss. He stopped screaming when I set him in the tub and tossed in a few bath toys.

 “Mummy tired?” He asked as I yawned for the millionth time that night.

 “Mummy’s tired,” I nodded. I had to stop myself from nodding off on the toilet seat as he splashed around. 

When he was finally tucked into bed, I finished the dishes from supper through bleary eyes and crawled into my own bed. It was only 8:32pm according to the clock radio beside the bed, but I was ready to end the day. I had closed my eyes and was drifting off when I heard my phone vibrate. I was content to leave it until I heard it again, then a third time. Begrudgingly, I rolled over and grabbed it off of the side table. Facing Wren so the light wouldn’t wake him, I unlocked my phone to find two texts from Josh and one from an unknown number. 

I have a babysitter for this Friday night. We’re going out.

Before you ask, she’s reputable and it’s not up for debate. 

I groaned and rolled my eyes, it was just like Josh to be making plans for us when we weren’t even together. I didn’t bother replying to him, I was too annoyed to say anything nice. Scrolling to the third message, I assumed it would be spam but opened it anyway.

Still waiting for you to text me :) 

My brow furrowed and I had to think for a moment of who it could be, but the message above from a few weeks prior was a giveaway. I blinked in disbelief. It didn’t make sense that Brendan would be texting me again. I wondered if it was some kind of joke, but he didn’t seem like the type. Typing out a message, I erased it immediately. What could I possibly say to him. Now wide away, I thought on it for a few minutes, in the meantime Josh had sent another message asking if I was ignoring him and I cursed the read receipts. Going back to Josh’s message I wrote a simple Fine, and hit send, then went back to Brendan’s trying to come up with the perfect reply. I settled on a simple response, nothing too flirty or forward. Just a simple Hi, how are you? Then pressed send. 

With both messages sent I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep, but my mind was too busy to settle in. I lie awake for another five minutes before my phone vibrated again. I held my breath as I unlocked the phone, but it was only Josh, telling me that Fine wasn’t an excited enough response for him. Sometime between 9:30pm and 10:00pm I finally fell asleep without another text from Brendan.

I didn’t hear from him for the rest of the week and I tried to brush it off, he was probably busy, it had nothing to do with me. Still a kernel of disappointment had wedged itself inside me. Maybe I hadn’t replied with enough enthusiasm, maybe he was just being friendly. 

By the time Friday came, I was an anxious mess. Largely because we had never left Wren alone with anyone who wasn’t family, and partially because I still didn’t know what Josh had planned. I kicked myself for agreeing to whatever he had in mind as I ran my fingers through my curls, trying to make myself presentable. I was applying a pinkish shade of lipstick when I heard the front door open and Wren squeal in excitement. Despite having never lived here, Josh still made himself at home, not thinking to knock. When I emerged wearing a pair of darker jeans and a lower cut sweater, Josh and Wren both turned to watch me. 

“You look good, Charlie,” Josh remarked as he got Wren into his shoes and coat. 

“Good Mummy,” Wren echoed, clapping his hands together. 

I ruffled his hair as I walked by and smiled, reaching for my own jacket. 

Josh had arranged for the babysitter to watch Wren at his place, he argued that there was more room for them and there was better security, but I wondered if he just didn’t want to be associated with my tiny apartment and less than glamorous living conditions.

Saying goodbye to Wren broke my heart. Despite spending every other weekend away from me, he still cried when I left him with the new woman. She seemed nice enough, a little older than me with short hair and a backpack full of books, but to him she was a stranger. I didn’t speak when we got into Josh’s car. Part of me resented him for making me leave Wren when I could have been snuggled up at home with him watching Toy Story for the hundredth time. I was sure I’d sooner that than wherever we were headed.

 When we parked outside an oversized house, I looked at Josh with confusion. I’d expected a restaurant, some ill attempt to win me back which I would reject. The house though was almost as large as his parents’, with a beautifully landscaped lawn, despite it being March.
Looking over at him, I wrinkled my brow in confusion, a little worried about what he had up his sleeve. I knew better than to trust Josh not to do something reckless and ill-thought. For the briefest of instants I wondered if he’d bought the house, but shook the thought from my mind when I noticed the other cars and saw movement through the front windows. 

 Noticing my look, Josh snorted and undid his seatbelt. “It’s a party, Charlie,” he said, almost sounding exasperated, as if I had no reason to be confused. Josh was the kind of poorly planned grand gestures. After I told him I was pregnant, we got into a fight, his solution was to buy me a puppy as an apology gift. Just what every pregnant seventeen year old needs. To this day Daisy lives with my dad and is a reminder of just how little foresight Josh actually has.

Sighing, I looked out at the house, trying to prepare myself for a social gathering where I might know no one.I wasn’t the most social person to begin with, but put in a room with strangers and I had a habit of going completely mum. Josh on the other hand was a social butterfly, the life of every party. 

 Leading me in through the front door, Josh held my hand like our palms belonged together, like he had any kind of claim over me. Music was playing from the living room, but the sound of voices was louder so I couldn’t make out the song, just the heavy bass that nearly shook the floors. Surfaces were littered with drinks and people filled the room, spreading into the kitchen and dining room. I recognized a few faces as we made a stop in the kitchen for drinks. A few of Josh’s friends greeted us, hugging him and smiling politely at me. After each interaction Josh would reach back for my hand, almost as if he were afraid I’d flee if not anchored to him. I stood by as he talked to his friends, not speaking unless spoken to and even then barely contributing to the conversation. I was sure his friends thought I was a total bore, but I just didn't have much to say to them. They were all wealthy and beautiful, with disposable incomes and hobbies that weren’t taking care of a child. Truth be told I wasn’t sure how Josh met most of his friends, he just seemed to attract people. 

“What do you want to drink?” Josh leaned down to whisper in my ear, his voice loud enough that I could hear. Glancing at him I noticed a beer in his hand. If he was already drinking either we’d be there for a while or I’d have to drive. Shaking my head I told him I didn’t want anything but he persisted. “You can have a few drinks, Charlie,” he pushed and handed me a cooler, he knew I hated beer. Taking it, I shut my mouth and decided I’d have a few sips then find a way to ditch it. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck at a party where I knew no one but Josh and his friends. 

We stood in the kitchen, Josh’s friends still talking about god knows what as I stood by cradling my drink and looking around. The conversation shifted to something about Wren and someone asked me a question when I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. Smiling politely, I reached for my phone and found a new text message. 

Look to your left.

 Confused, I looked around, stopping when my eyes fell on him. My polite smile shifted into a wider grin and and I raised my hand to wave. Tucking my phone back in my pocket, I felt my energy shift as Brendan approached us. “Gally!” Josh cried when he saw him, finally leaving my side to greet his recognizable friend. I deflated a little when the attention turned to Brendan and I remembered that he wasn’t there to see me. Kicking myself for my pathetic crush, I took a drink from the cool bottle of pink alcohol in my hand. He looked as handsome as ever in a pair of dark jeans and long sleeved shirt. It was simple, and unlike Josh’s outfit probably hadn’t cost him hundreds of dollars. Or maybe it did, I was never good at guessing that sort of thing. 

The conversation continued, I wasn’t even trying to pretend to pay attention, instead my focus was on Brendan, catching him from the corner of my eye and admiring the way he smiled and moved so comfortably in his own skin. The night shifted from a conversation to beer pong at the kitchen table and I politely stepped to the side, letting Josh and another man I recognized from the hockey team play while I watched, feigning interest. For the first time all night Josh wasn’t holding my hand or standing uncomfortably close beside me and I felt like I could breathe. They were down to the final cup when Brendan drifted from the other side of the table to stand with me. 

“How’s your night going?” He asked, having to raise his voice over the chatter and music. 

“Okay,” I nodded. “Yours?” 

He replied but I couldn’t make out what he said. Realizing I was struggling to hear him through all the commotion, he leaned in close, so close that I could smell his cologne and feel his breath on my ear. “You wanna go outside?” He asked and I immediately nodded, a bit too eagerly for my own liking and he grinned.

 Following him into the crisp air outside, I tried not to shiver as the wind blew through me. Sitting on the edge of the garden wall, I crossed my arms to preserve my warmth as he sat beside me. I couldn’t help but wonder exactly why he’d asked me to join him outside, but I wasn’t complaining. The more I looked at him the more attracted to him I was. High cheekbones and a straight nose, I noticed the stubble above his lip and the blue in his eyes. I tried not to get lost in his features and had to pull my gaze away.

 “How’s Wren?” Brendan asked just as I looked away. Turning my head back to him I smiled, relaxing a little for the first time since we’d arrived at the giant house.

 “He’s good,” I smiled. “He’s talking up a storm, and thanks to Josh he’s got a growing obsession with hockey.” I could go on about Wren, about how his coordination was getting better and he was starting to pronounce his rs after his ts, but I knew most people didn’t want to hear the details. 

 “Oh yeah?” He said excitedly. “Think he’ll get some skates on him soon?” 

“Yeah, right,” I snorted. “He’s only just mastered walking, I don’t think he’s ready for skates yet." 

“I started skating when I was around his age. Who knows, he might be the next big thing,” Brendan laughed and nudged me with his shoulders.

 Smiling, I thought about future Wren playing hockey, thinking of Wren as a teenager terrified me. “I don’t think Josh can even skate so I don’t know who would teach him.” I knew was soon as I said it that I shouldn’t have. It wasn’t that I had any real loyalty to Josh or his secrets, but it seemed wrong to tell Brendan something that could be personal. 

A grin spread across his slips and his eyes all but disappeared. “You’re kidding,” he laughed. “Josh can’t skate? That’s priceless,” he roared. 

“Please don’t tell him I told you that,” I blushed, shaking my head.

Still laughing, he took a swig from his drink. “It’s alright, your secret is safe with me, Charlotte.” I melted at the way my name fell from his lips. I loved that he didn’t call me Charlie, that he seemed to know I hated it. “And don’t worry, I’ll teach him how to skate.” 

♠ ♠ ♠
I don't know if anyone has any interest in this anymore. Maybe the time for it has passed, but I felt like writing it. I miss writing, I miss y'all.

Let me know if you want more.

xx- T