Fractal Myth

THE TOWERS

Romance

[Michelle Chapman ©2001]

EEEEEEEK! Never again will I attempt to look inside the secret mind of a teenage girl! EEEEEEEEK! Such machinations and manipulations even Machiavelli would have been proud of. Could this really be my sweet, innocent, little Mum? EEEEEEEEK! Sorry, but it is going to take me some time to get used to what I've just read. Like most of the males I know, I have always presumed (though 'hoped' is probably a closer word) that a man chooses the woman he is going to marry. I know for certain that my Dad believed his relationship with Mum was his idea. He even told me he felt guilty for asking her to marry someone so far beneath her social status. Having read Mum's diary, however, I have discovered that she didn't care less about status, and had decided to ruthlessly hunt down my father from the first moment she saw him. Poor, shy Dad, he never stood a chance. It's not like he had anything to complain about though. Apart from my grandparents, my parents were the happiest and most compatible couple I ever met.

I have already mentioned that Mum's family had been city people for as long as there had been a city, but it is also important to tell you that, in addition, they had been tower people for as long as there had been towers. In fact, my great-great-great-grandfather on my mother's mother's side was the architect responsible for the design of the city's first skyscraper. Given the way things have turned out, maybe I shouldn't feel too proud of that, but he at least was one of the first to address the problematic link between population expansion and the necessary expansion of the city. At the time my parents first met, over forty per cent of the city's population lived in a tower apartment, and those who still lived in the belt of houses around the outskirts of the city were talked about as a disadvantaged class by those who felt themselves to be the more fortunate few. It was simply assumed that the others were either waiting for a vacancy in their preferred tower, or that for some reason the City Committee had deemed them antisocial, unsuitable, or otherwise unfit to inhabit even the tiniest apartment on the lowest floor of the most remote tower. Very few of those who lived in the towers were prepared to consider the possibility that some people might prefer not to join them. Having experienced the safety and comfort available in the towers, how could anyone consider returning to all that housework and gardening and maintenance, with none of the modern conveniences that had been designed into the towers to help you with such tasks? Who could again face the necessity of daily commuting through heavy traffic, instead of simply stepping into a lift, walking down a corridor, or if you really needed to visit a different tower, jumping into an air-car for a quick hop across the city? Surely things were so much better now?

As I'm sure you've guessed by now, my Dad's parents didn't subscribe to this point of view at all. They were essentially still nostalgic for their little farm nestled among the jungle-covered foothills, with its spreading apple tree and neatly planted rows of crops. As far as they knew, however, there was nothing left of their previous idyllic existence. So, they pushed their memories stoically behind them and cheerfully set about making the best of their thin-walled ramshackle house with its postage stamp of a garden. This alternative viewpoint caused a small amount of friction in my grandmother's dressmaking business, for instead of nodding in sad agreement when rich ladies commiserated with her on her lack of a tower apartment, she was always tempted to ask them whether they weren't suffering from a lack of sunshine and fresh air. But I am getting further and further from the tale of my parents' romance, and I know you're all out there waiting with baited breath.

Since reading Mum's diary, I find I've got another problem. Previously, I mentioned my discomfort in referring to people so closely related to me by their first names. Now I'm experiencing exactly the reverse. I just can't seem to write about two teenagers falling in love, while calling them 'my Dad' and 'my Mum'. They didn't become my parents for several years after they met, and at the time I am presently concerned with, they were very much young individuals named Benjamin and Miriam, with an unknown future stretching out before them. I, myself, was no more than a sparkling twinkle in their eyes when they looked at each other, so no wonder I'm having trouble arbitrarily forcing them into a frame of reference that was foreign to them at the time. I shall just have to tell you the story of Benjamin and Miriam, and let them revert back to 'Dad' and 'Mum' at the appropriate place in my story. As a teenager, Mum kept an incredibly detailed diary, even making verbatim records of many of her conversations, so I, as always, am going to have to paraphrase a bit. If you want to read the original - well, you should know where you can find it by now.

I believe I have already mentioned that Miriam and her parents lived on the twelfth floor of the Brazler tower. She was sixteen. Her father ran a small weekly newspaper that he inherited from his father. It had a circulation of about a thousand copies, but Miriam's father was being somewhat optimistic in his belief that a third of these were actually read from front page to back. The actual figure was closer to a quarter, but he was a popular man and widely liked, so many people bought his paper even though they had no intention of perusing its contents. What they would have found there was harmless enough: primarily propaganda for the towers and the tower way of life, with the occasional social justice article, and short stories and poetry submitted by any tower inhabitants who were so inclined. Eighteen year old Benjamin had been reading the paper for as long as he could remember, as a natural outgrowth of his parents' interest in literature. His mother (my grandmother) had even published a poem in it herself. She had been initially disqualified because she was not a tower inhabitant, but Miriam's father had appreciated the talent demonstrated by her poem so much that he had written a social justice article supporting her right to publish in his paper. Since then his readership had increased, as many of those who still preferred to live outside the towers began offering contributions of original work, and then bought copies of the paper so they could present their published work to friends and family. Despite their indirect influence on each other, my paternal and maternal grandparents never met until they were introduced to each other by their children.

Miriam's mother managed an exclusive dress shop, high up in the boutique shopping centre, at the top of Brazler tower. She had a tall, imposing figure, and was always immaculately attired and coiffured. Many of those who came to shop in her store found her intimidating, but they were always eager to buy the outfits she sold, in the hope that the innate perfection of the clothes would in turn make them intimidating to others. Too often, however, they found that their new outfit only made them intimately aware of an innate imperfection which the intimidating shop manager did not share! If she was intimidating to others, in her own home Miriam's mother was always delighted to drop the mask of unruffled composure and let her hair down. To her husband and daughter, she always looked much more perfect during these times of relaxation than she ever did when she was dressed up for work.

Miriam had inherited her mother's long gold hair and well-proportioned figure, but she had also inherited her father's love of words and their ability to bring to life the images of another's imagination. She was an avid fan of his paper, and had served as his proofreader since she was six, and his right-hand Editor from her tenth birthday. To her mother's occasional despair, even at sixteen she seemed much more interested in getting her fingers inky, than in browsing among the luxurious gowns in the upstairs Boutiques. Then, one day, things began to change, with the catalyst being her first glimpse of a lithe, tanned young man, with an unruly mop of long curly brown hair. For more than three weeks she tried unsuccessfully to find out who he was, and where he came from. She had only seen him for a moment, as he bent down to drop a coin in the collection box, and pick up his paper from the rack in the tower's foyer. She, herself, had just come down from the first floor where her father's printing presses were located, with an armful of papers to replenish the supply on the rack. She was so taken by the handsome face she had seen that it was only when the lift doors again opened onto the twelfth floor that she realised she was still clutching the pile of papers, having neglected her errand. Trying to shake off what she told herself was only a momentary distraction, she again took the lift down to the foyer, almost holding her breath as the doors opened, as if she expected to see him there again, living the same moment over and over again forever like some sort of ghost caught in a time loop. Her disappointment when she realised the foyer was empty was extreme, and once again she almost forgot to deliver her newspapers to the half empty rack. This time she caught herself standing motionless like a wax dummy before the lift doors closed, and was able to force herself to cross the threshold into the foyer, which still felt as though it had been somehow enchanted by his mere presence. Although Miriam had had her usual share of boyfriends and romantic encounters, she had always in the past been absolutely sure of her self-control. Now this boy had managed to make her knees go weak - without even looking at her! It was incredible. Absolutely unbelievable! By the time she had neatly placed the papers into the rack, she had almost convinced herself that she had made the whole experience up, and there had never been anyone in the foyer at all, let alone a young man who looked like he belonged in the heavens instead of the streets.

That night, Miriam recorded the episode in her diary before she went to sleep. Two hours later, she was awake and writing again by torchlight under the covers, having had a vivid dream in which she saw the young man's face, but in which he still refused to look at her. By morning, her imaginative mind had mapped out a complete plan of attack for finding out the identity of the unknown young man, and forcing him to look at her, after which he would doubtlessly fall head over heels in love with her, and they would live together happily ever after. Things didn't go exactly as she had decided they would, but they rarely do with matters of the heart. For a start, she had no idea who he was, or how to find out anything about him. He was obviously not a resident of her tower, because she knew everybody under twenty who lived there, from the annual tower Christmas parties. What was worse, he didn't look like he lived in a tower at all. He had been too comfortable walking about in the streets. Once anyone spent a certain amount of time living in the safe seclusion of the towers they became paranoid about the streets, and if ever they were forced to venture out through their tower's foyer door, due to an air-car strike, or for some other unforeseen reason, they invariably scampered like frightened rabbits from one foyer door to the next until they found the tower they wanted. In contrast, the less than sixty per cent who still lived outside the towers tended to stroll along as though they didn't have a care in the world, enjoying the freedom of the breeze in their hair and the sun on their backs (where the increasingly tall blocks of towers had not yet stopped the sun from reaching the streets). Unless they had to go into a tower. Then they seemed to shrink and become furtive, expecting any minute to be ordered back to their natural habitat, and always afraid of transgressing one of the towers' many rules which were completely incomprehensible to all except the tower inhabitants who had grown up with them. Miriam was pretty sure that neither of her parents would approve of her associating with someone she had literally chosen off the street. If she was going to be successful, she was also going to have to be very careful, and incredibly sneaky.

To start with, she decided, she would confide in her best friend, Julie. Julie could be trusted to keep a secret, and she could also be trusted to help to the utmost of her ability, especially as she had a selfish interest in the matter. As a child, Miriam had been a close playmate of a certain Martin Greene. Miriam's parents approved of Martin, because he had ambition and was likely to rise quickly to the top of the towers. Miriam enjoyed living in Brazler tower, and having all her friends close by, but she had never even considered choosing who she was going to spend the rest of her life with based on how high his apartment was. She had begun to find Martin basically unappealing ever since they had both hit puberty several years ago, but Martin seemed unable to take the hint. To make matters worse, Julie had been infatuated with Martin for as long as she could remember, but no amount of match-making on Miriam's part had ever been able to get him to transfer his affections from her to her best friend. Now, perhaps, if she was successful in finding the boy who had invaded her dreams, Julie, too, might finally stand a chance of winning the object of her affections. Not that Julie was unattractive. It was just that with Miriam around, few boys noticed anyone else. Of all the teenage girls in the tower, Julie was the least jealous of Miriam's good looks, and the two girls had often spent hours together crawling around the printing presses in the basement where Miriam's father printed his newspaper, and making up their own stories and poems for anonymous publication. Miriam was not allowed to put her own name on her work, because her father thought it looked like favouritism to print his own family's writing. He refused to advertise her mother's Boutique for the same reason, but Miriam didn't mind. She and Julie always had endless fun making up new pen-names and aliases for themselves. All that seemed very far away, and rather childish to Miriam, now that she had a new quest which promised to be just as much fun and even more rewarding.

To her initial disappointment, Julie had even less idea who the new boy could be than Miriam did, especially as Julie hadn't even seen him yet. They decided their first plan of attack had to make use of the only piece of information they had about the mysterious young man so far. They knew that he had purchased one of her father's papers, and that he had walked off reading it. Logically, they surmised, he would probably be back next Friday, when the next week's edition rolled off the presses and were stacked into the rack in the foyer. Miriam found the thought of waiting a whole week until Friday excruciating, but she could think of no other way to be sure of seeing him sooner. In her impatience, she too to spending every spare minute she had perched on a crate in the foyer watching the occasional person walk past on the street outside. Although she had a book with her, she was only using it for the excuse that she wanted somewhere to read where she wouldn't be disturbed. She had apparently chosen her spot perfectly, though, because for the first week not a single person entered the building through the foyer door. Then Friday arrived. Miriam knew that this was the day when her father emerged from the basement only to add the newly printed papers to the stack outside his door, which were awaiting delivery. Friday was also a busy day for Miriam's mother, as on Friday the representatives from the Boutique suppliers visited with their huge suitcases of samples for her to choose amongst. Even though Miriam had first seen the unknown young man, whom she and Julie had taken to referring to as 'HIM', late in the afternoon when she had finished school and gone to help her father, she was not going to take any chances of missing him if he came earlier. With Julie covering for her absence, she made her way down to the foyer soon after her parents had left for work. As a disguise, she carried a large cardboard box under arm. It wasn't much of a disguise at present, but she and Julie had made sure that if she lowered it over herself while she was sitting on her crate in the foyer, she immediately blended in with the other clutter that lay around, and she could still see perfectly well through the unobtrusive eyeholes they had made. Truancy was taken terribly seriously in the towers, and she didn't want to be caught dodging school if she could help it.

After sitting quietly in the foyer for most of the day, Miriam began to wonder just how sensible her plan had been. It was one thing to sit on a crate and watch passers by for half an hour every now and then. It was quite another thing to try and sit motionless under a large cardboard box, with a limited point of view, especially when absolutely nothing was happening. Suddenly a thought struck her. What if he did turn up before school finished, while she was still supposed to be hiding under that ridiculous box? What was she going to do? She couldn't just leap out from under the box and yell 'Surprise!' to a total stranger. It was too juvenile a prank, even for her. It would be far too embarrassing, and even if it did break the ice and they became friends, she would never be able to live it down. No. she couldn't do that to herself. There was only one answer. If he arrived before Julie came to tell her school was finished for the day, she was just going to sit and watch him, without revealing her presence. It would mean she still didn't know who he was, but it was a much better solution that the outright embarrassment she otherwise foresaw.

The bell dismissing school for the day had rung long ago, but Miriam remained huddled in her box, now more than half convinced that the moment she exposed herself, he would arrive. Almost at the exact moment when she felt that she could remain passive no longer, the foyer door was pushed tentatively open, and the object of her affections entered. Miriam held her breath. He truly was as good-looking as she had remembered. She hadn't thought that was possible, and had often accused her memory of exaggerating, over the past week. Now there was no longer any doubt. Miriam's eyes were glued to the box's peepholes, drinking in every detail of the boy before her. Once again he seemed completely oblivious to her presence, and Miriam was slightly chagrined for a moment, until her good sense reminded her that that was what she had decided she wanted - this time at least. 'You are going to see me,' Miriam silently promised him, 'even if I have to stalk you to the ends of the earth.' She used the hunting imagery unconsciously, but was immediately struck with how appropriate it seemed. She had always assumed that she was the prey, a delicious and delicate morsel just waiting to be snapped up by the most successful hunter. Now here she was, a crouching predator, peering out from her cover to assess every detail of her prey's looks and behaviour. She could almost feel her whiskers and tail twitching, and her ears and nose seemed to become hyper-sensitive. She could hear the swish of an untied shoelace dragging behind his boot, and she could smell the warm, sticky sweat beading on his forehead. It was cool and airconditioned in the foyer, as it was in every room of every tower, but outside, a hot, dry, dusty wind whipped through the streets. The boy pushed his hair back off his forehead, paid for and took his newspaper, and then commenced fanning himself with it while he considered the weather outside. The foyer of Brazler tower wasn't very big, and if she had been brave enough, Miriam might have reached out and touched his leg while he stood looking out the window, enjoying the change of temperature. Her sense of self-preservation prevailed, however, and seconds later the boy and his paper were gone.

Leaving her cardboard box in the foyer, Miriam disconsolately took the lift to the twelfth floor, unlocked the door to her family's apartment, went into her room, and lay down on her bed. The fictitious headache Julie had invented to excuse her absence from school had become a pounding reality, and she was overcome by her sense of anti-climax. To have actually seen him and been close enough to touch him, but to be no closer to finding out who he was, or whether he might be interested in her. It was heartbreaking. Before she could stop herself, Miriam was crying uncontrollably, the sobs keeping time with the refrain in her mind which kept repeating 'I'll never find him, and if I do, he won't want me.' Unable to stop, she soon cried herself to sleep, waking only when Julie rushed into her room.

"You weren't in the foyer any more, so that means you saw him, didn't you? Was he as good-looking as last time? Did you speak to him? What's his name? ... Come on, don't pretend to be asleep. Give me all the gory details. When are you going to see him again?" Once Julie got started, she was almost impossible to stop. Without waiting for Miriam to answer, she was off again, telling Miriam about everything she had missed in school that day. Miriam lay back and let the wave of chatter wash over her, without really listening. What did she care about which algebra questions had been assigned as homework when her heart was about to break. ...

"Hang on! What did you just say?"

"I thought that would get your attention. Lisa Jones is getting her end-of-year formal dress made by a dressmaker who used to live near their family, before they moved into the tower. And this is the bit that's going to interest you. The dressmaker has an eighteen year old son, who is studying law. He often comes with his mother when she visits the towers. From what Lisa said, he sounds exactly like your boy: tall, dreamy eyes, brown curly hair, white teeth, perfect skin ... did I miss anything? Lisa says she's wild about him, and she asked him to go to the formal with him, but he apparently said something along the lines of 'Thanks, but no thanks', much to Lisa's immense disappointment."

"She hasn't been able to get a date yet, so I don't see why she should think she can start at the top. How dare she try and poach my prize?" There was that hunting imagery again. Miriam made a conscious effort to sheathe her claws. Lisa was a nice girl and deserved to find a nice boy, even if she was overweight and had mousy coloured hair. Still, Miriam couldn't help being pleased that this unknown boy had refused her. It meant she was still in with a chance. Listening to her thoughts, Miriam could hardly believe the emotional roller-coaster she was riding. A few moments before, she had felt totally pessimistic. Now, although nothing had really changed, and she was as far from meeting this boy as ever, things seemed bright and rosy, and full of hopeful promise. "Did Lisa happen to mention a name?" Miriam asked, after she had brought Julie up to date on the failures and successes of their cardboard box scheme.

"She couldn't really remember. You know how Lisa is. She thought the dressmaker's name might have been Mrs 'Kip' or 'Dip' or something. As for the boy, she looked all coy, and wouldn't tell us, because, as she said, 'for once she had a secret worth hanging onto!' You know what Lisa's like. Always trying to prove she can keep a secret, so that someone will choose her for a best friend. You've got to admit - even if she's not very popular, she's certainly reliable."

"Did she say when the dressmaker was going to visit her next?"

"Yeah. Next year! Lisa reckons this year's dress is finished, but the lady did such a great job, they're going to ask her to make Lisa's graduation dress for the end of next year, too."

"Bum. It looks like I'm back waiting until Friday when he comes to pick up his paper again, then. But we've got to think of something better than a cardboard box this time. Put your thinking cap on, and get back to me as soon as you can. It's got to work next time, or I don't know what I'll do."

"Don't you think you're being just a wee bit melodramatic?" Julie asked. "After all, he is just a dressmaker's son from the streets. He's not a tower person."

"I know. I know. But when did you become such a snob?" Miriam couldn't help feeling the validity of Julie's criticism. It was what everyone else was going to be saying. A boy from the streets was a perfectly good catch for someone plain like Lisa Jones, but for one of the tower's golden girls to throw herself away like that! Miriam still remembered the gossip about Rachel King, who had eloped with the street-boy employed to clean the windows of her twentieth floor apartment. Consequently, Rachel's parents had been demoted ten floors down, to atone for the 'shame and disappointment' the tower's reputation had suffered as a result of their daughter's behaviour. The 'natural' progression of the city required people to strive to move up in the towers, not down, and Rachel's parents suffered keenly from their sense of disgrace. Despite her stubborn determination to follow her heart's desire, Miriam was equally determined that her parents would not suffer for her stubbornness. She would not elope and leave them to face the music. Instead, she would rein in her impatience as best she could, taking each step slowly and carefully. If she played her cards right, she would be congratulated for bringing such a talented youth into the tower, rather than being reviled for having robbed the tower of her talents. Her guardian angel must have kept her from revealing herself today. That might have been disastrous as well as embarrassing. She had come far too close to jeopardising her parents' position, and even if they forgave her for it, she would never be able to forgive herself. No. Slow and steady was going to have to win this race. Fast and furious would only get everyone into trouble.

Although she had determined to bide her time, Miriam didn't find the waiting any easier. Every morning when she arrived at school, Julie would meet her, brimming over with imaginative ideas about how they could find out the boy's name, and arrange for him to meet Miriam. In her excitement about helping Miriam, Julie had momentarily forgotten her own hopeless passion for Martin Greene. As a result, he began to miss looking up and finding her adoring eyes watching him, and he started to realise that when she wasn't trying to tag along with him, his life seemed to feel unusually empty. Thus the tables were reversed without either of them realising it. During their lunchbreak on Thursday, to her immense surprise, Julie looked up from her intense discussion with Miriam about whether they could gain access to the video surveillance tapes of the foyer, and discovered that for once Martin was sitting staring at her. To make sure, she asked Miriam to walk away from the bench they were sitting on. Miriam stood up and left, but Martin's eyes never even flickered. He had finally realised that, even if Miriam had been willing to have him, it was Julie who loved him, and without that love he could never be happy. Miriam magnanimously surrendered Julie's attention to him, but she didn't really have much choice. Neither of her friends seemed to be able to see her, now that they only had eyes for each other.

Friday dawned, the second Friday since she had first seen the boy whose name she still didn't know. Martin and Julie had spent the rest of Thursday afternoon holding hands and giggling, so Miriam had been unable to arrange for Julie to cover for her absence, and besides, Miriam did think it looked a bit suspicious to be absent two Fridays in a row. Plus, her favourite teacher had asked for her help in preparing some lesson plans for the little kids after school. Miriam was usually delighted to help, and she couldn't think of any good reason why that might suddenly have changed. There was no way out of it. If he turned up in the foyer today at the same time he had last week, and the week before, then she would just have to let him pick up his paper without her. The Brazler school covered the fifth floor of the tower, and Miriam's only hope of glimpsing her target was through the large windows of the lunch rooms, which overlooked the foyer. Students, however, were only allowed in the lunch rooms during recess, from half-past ten until eleven in the morning, and during lunch, which went from twelve noon to half-past one. If she was going to be able to see him, he would have to enter the building during the two hours when she was not required to be in class. Her chances were slim at best. Several times during the day she was reprimanded for her inattention to her lessons, which was hardly surprising, for, from the moment the bell released her to the moment it called her back, her entire being was concentrated on the half-a-metre of pavement outside the foyer door, which was all she could see from the canteen's fifth floor window. She saw several possible figures which might have been him, but none of them made her heart thrill and sing as it had the last two times she had seen him. At the end of the day she went sadly home, trying hard to hide her disappointment from the radiantly glowing Julie, who clutched Martin's hand as though she were never going to let it go. Although Julie tried hard to sympathise with Miriam's plight, there was no way she was going to let it spoil her own new-found happiness. Miriam couldn't help feeling slightly resentful of Julie's relative success, but at the same time she had to acknowledge that Julie had worked long and patiently for what she had achieved. In the past, everything that Miriam wanted had always seemed to come dropping into her lap, almost as soon as she had expressed a wish for it. Now, just when she needed it most, her luck seemed to have deserted her. Still, that didn't mean she was going to give up. Just because she'd never had to work or wait for anything in her life didn't mean she wasn't prepared to start now. She firmly believed that she had made the right choice. Now she just had to convince the boy, and the rest of the world, that she knew exactly what was best for her.

By this stage, Miriam's parents were becoming rather worried about her. Their normally cheerful daughter had become preoccupied and withdrawn. While both made several separate attempts to communicate with her, neither had much success, and it was only when they both spoke to her together that weekend, that Miriam began to realise her behaviour could adversely affect her parents in more ways than one. It wasn't just a case of keeping them safe from the judgments of the City Committee. She also had a duty to make sure that they weren't worrying about her too much, and that she wasn't otherwise increasing the stress they were under. Once she had realised the true extent of her responsibilities, Miriam began making a conscious effort never to mope (except occasionally, in the privacy of her own room), and to resume her normal place in the household, helping her mother with the housework and cooking, and dropping in after school to give her father a hand with his newspaper. As a self-imposed penance for neglecting her parents, Miriam also resolved that on the coming Friday (which was her parents' wedding anniversary), she would make absolutely no effort to once again see the mysterious boy who continued to appear nightly in her dreams. After all, it was due to her parents that she had had things so easy up until now. The least she could do was make a small sacrifice for their sake. For the whole week she dutifully concentrated on making her parents realise just how much she loved and appreciated them. At school, she even managed to be her bubbly old self as she congratulated Julie and Martin on their blossoming relationship. By Friday, the strain of being constantly effervescent, when she felt flatter than she ever had before, was beginning to show. Her parents had noticed the effort she was making, and had expressed their appreciation of the anniversary present she had made, but although they could sense that she was upset about something, they had no inkling of what might be wrong. The mere possibility that their beautiful, intelligent and successful daughter might be suffering from unrequited love never remotely occurred to them, and they simply put her moodiness down to growth pains and the notorious unpredictability of adolescence.

It was now three weeks since Miriam had first seen the boy, and to her immense and growing frustration, she still didn't know his name. Despite all her resolutions about being patient, she found herself chafing at the restrictions she had placed on herself. If things continued like this, she would never even see the boy again, let alone meet him. Luckily for her, Julie and Martin had quickly gotten over the first stage of their obsession with each other, and were now able to look out through the rosy glow of their own happiness and see her relative misery. Julie set to work on her own parents, who were immensely pleased with their daughter and her promising new boyfriend. She had to have a new dress to wear to the end-of-year formal, she told them, and the only dress that would do was one made by the lady who had made Lisa Jones' dress. If this dressmaker could make Lisa look that good, she could make Julie look fantastic. Julie's parents quickly gave in, and by Wednesday, Julie's mother had spoken to Mrs Jones and found out the necessary details. Julie flew to Miriam's apartment to tell her the good news.

"Pip!" She exclaimed breathlessly as soon as the door to Miriam's room closed behind them. Miriam looked bemused. "The dressmaker!" Julie explained, once she'd caught her breath. "The dressmaker's name is Mrs Pip. She's going to make a formal dress for me, and my first fitting is on Saturday. You know half his name now. Why don't you come along and see if you can learn the other half?" Miriam shivered with temptation.

"No." She steeled herself to refuse. "It's not time for us to meet just yet. I'm not going to make a fool of myself by butting in where I'm not wanted. You have your fitting, and see what you can find out, but let me know what time they'll be leaving, and I'll try to arrange to be in the corridor at the right time. I think it would be better if he saw me first, before I confess my undying love, don't you?" Julie agreed that her plan was sensible, and they sat together giggling and plotting, until Martin came to claim his girlfriend. Miriam's parents had not yet heard about the new relationship, and when they saw Julie and Martin together, they immediately put Miriam's melancholy down to the double loss of her best friend and her most persistent suitor. They were trying so hard to be sensitive and supportive that Miriam couldn't bear to explain to them that she was actually very pleased to see Julie so happy, and to have Martin being taken care of by someone other than herself. It was still far too early to try and explain the real cause of her distraction. The best she could do was to try and pretend she was happy, and since she was by nature a happy person, it never took long before her buoyant spirits rose once more and Miriam again became as happy as she could be, under the circumstances.

By Saturday, Miriam had real cause for celebration. Julie's design was to try and keep Mrs Pip talking until exactly five fifteen, by which time Miriam would have finished helping her father, and could be waiting in the corridor outside Julie's apartment. Everything went exactly as planned, and Miriam was ready and waiting at the appointed time. As soon as she heard Julie's door open and then close again, she rounded the corner and found herself face to face with the boy she had been dreaming about for so many weeks. There was an almost electric hum in the air when their eyes met, but it only lasted for a second, for the boy recoiled as if he had been shot, and immediately tried to hide, half behind his mother, and half behind the huge basket of fabric which he carried for her. Miriam was confused, but not wanting to push her luck, she smiled brightly and wished the kindly-faced Mrs Pip a 'Good Morning', before continuing on to Julie's door. It took a few moments for Julie to stop talking about the new dress she was having made, and remember what was really important to her friend.

"All right." She said. "You can stop bouncing up and down. His name is Benjamin. Benjamin Pip." Miriam repeated the name to herself over and over again like a mantra. It sounded perfect and rolled easily off her tongue.

"Miriam Pip." She said, just to hear how it sounded. "What else did you find out about him?"

"Very little." Julie admitted. "His mother told me his name when she introduced him. He's apparently very shy around girls. At least, I couldn't get a word out of him, and believe me, I tried. He spent quite a while talking to my brother, Luke, but when I asked Luke what they'd talked about he just said 'politics'. As you know, with Luke that could mean anything from whether animals should be allowed to live in the towers to a discussion about the constitution and history of the City Committee. Luke seemed pretty pleased with the discussion, so I suppose that means your Benjamin is an intellectual, 'cause it takes someone smart to entertain that monstrous little brother of mine."

Miriam thanked Julie for her efforts and together they began to form their strategies for phase two of her attack. They decided that Julie would find out from Mrs Pip who else she was working for, and on which days. Miriam would then arrange to be somewhere in a corridor nearby, whenever Mrs Pip and her son emerged from an apartment. She hoped that if she made herself a familiar enough figure then Benjamin would have no choice but to talk to her, no matter how shy or stand-offish he was. In theory, the plan worked perfectly. Almost every time Mrs Pip and Benjamin entered the Brazler building, which was almost every weekend for several months, they were certain to see Miriam somewhere in the corridors. Sometimes she would pretend not to see them as she vanished around a corner in front of them. At other times she would walk directly towards them, always smiling and wishing Mrs Pip a 'Good Morning'. To her immense frustration, however, nothing changed. Benjamin remained as aloof as ever, always avoiding that moment when he might have met her eye. Miriam's initial confusion remained. Was Benjamin shy, or was he just completely uninterested in her? It was impossible for her to tell, and by the time Julie's dress was finished Miriam was no closer to deciding than she had been at the start. What's more, Julie had found out that Mrs Pip had no other work to bring her into Brazler tower, until the end of next year, when the need for formal dresses and graduation gowns would again bring her back.

Miriam had a birthday coming up, so she resolved to take a small gamble, and see if she could push things along a little. For nearly six months now, she had been enthusing to her mother about the quality and style of Mrs Pip's designs. Miriam's mother had been professionally interested, but when her darling daughter suddenly expressed a wish for a dress made by Mrs Pip as the only thing she wanted for her birthday, Miriam's mother felt forced to draw the line.

"Really, dear." she reasoned. "My Boutique is full of gorgeous clothes, and I'm sure you'll find exactly what you're looking for. It will be good advertising for the shop, too, and you know that people who live in the towers need to support the tower shops, otherwise we'll all go out of business. Come on up on Tuesday after school, and you can have the pick of the shop for your birthday. I know you'll find something you like." And so that avenue was closed. Miriam next went to work on her father's social conscience.

"But Dad, she needs us to buy clothes from her. You're always saying we should treat those who don't live in the towers as our equals. Isn't this the perfect chance to practise what we preach?" Her father considered the proposition for a moment.

"It might be, if you were inviting her to your birthday dinner, but that is not what you have asked me. Aren't you really just continuing the towers' exploitation of her skills? You want to her to spend several months making you a dress by hand which the manufacturing plants can churn out by the hour, and you want to pay her much less for it than you would for any machine made outfit in your mother's Boutique. No, I think I'm in agreement with your Mum on this one. Choose something nice for yourself from her selection, and I'll happily pay whatever they're asking for it. I know you're just trying to save me money, but it's not necessary, pet. We make enough to survive, and we can even afford to spoil you with little luxuries now and then. Just get something that will make you happy." After a speech like that, Miriam could hardly explain that she didn't particularly care about the clothes, so she submitted with good grace, and resigned herself to waiting for Mrs Pip to come back and make Lisa Jones' graduation dress, at the end of next year.

Every Friday afternoon after school for the next twelve months, Miriam could be found somewhere in the vicinity of the foyer, sometimes rearranging the already neat rows of newspapers on the racks, and at other times sitting quietly on a crate and reading the paper or a book. Occasionally, she would get lucky and Benjamin would come by to collect a paper. Although they were getting quite used to the sight of each other, Miriam still hadn't succeeded in getting Benjamin to talk, and she felt she was no closer to defining his true feelings for her. From his behaviour so far, she found it impossible to tell whether he liked her and was shy, or he hated her, and was just polite. Miriam had firmly promised her pride that she would not make him aware of her feelings for him until she knew where he stood, one way or the other.

Things continued in this unsatisfactory way until the year began to draw to a close, and the girls in Miriam's class started to think about what they wanted to wear for graduation. Many girls planned to buy their gowns from Miriam's mother's boutique, but others, like Lisa Jones and Miriam's friend Julie, planned to have their dresses individually designed and made by Mrs Pip. Once again, Miriam's parents had convinced her that she should choose her dress from the Boutique, but she didn't mind so much, this time. Miriam had decided that eighteen months was long enough to wait for a boy to make the first move. One way or the other, the next time Benjamin entered the tower, Miriam was determined to find out exactly what he felt. She and Julie had it all worked out. Now that Julie was graduating, she and Martin were making marriage plans, and Julie felt guilty about leaving her best friend behind. She had sworn (with Martin's knowledge, I might add) that she would never leave her parents' apartment until she knew for certain that Miriam was going to be happy as well. As a result, Miriam also had Martin and Luke working on her side, because both had a vested interest in getting Julie out of her parents' apartment. Martin for obvious reasons, and Luke because he wanted to move into Julie's room, which was much larger than his own. The plan was simple. She had waited long enough, and now she was literally going to throw herself at his feet. Both Julie and the boys had recommended a direct approach, if she really wanted to find out what his real feelings were, and Miriam was finally ready to take a chance.

Once the decision was made, the rest was easy. On the day that Mrs Pip came to give Julie her first fitting for her graduation dress, Miriam was once again to be found lurking in the corridor near Julie's apartment. As she waited for Julie's fitting to finish, she was surprised by how furtive she felt. A quote from Felix Holt, one of the few novels in her father's small library, ran in a constant loop through her consciousness:

"a woman's keen sensibility and dread, which lay screened behind all her petty habits and narrow notions, as some quivering thing with eyes and throbbing heart may lie crouching behind withered rubbish."

Ever since her first reading of that line, Miriam had been attracted by George Eliot's imagery, but, to her surprise, she now found herself in true empathy with the simile. Never before had she felt so exposed and vulnerable, so reliant on another person for her continued happiness - and as far as she knew, that other person was completely indifferent to her existence. The mere thought that Benjamin might be forever out of her reach brought a lump to her throat and tears to her eyes. At the same time, another more cynical part of her mind seemed to be sitting superciliously in the background, keeping up a running commentary on her silliness, and accusing her of behaving like a spoilt child. "Spoilt child or not," Miriam said to the voice in her head, "I am never going to give in. If this direct approach doesn't work, I'll have to try something even more drastic." She had no idea what this drastic something might be, she simply felt, deep inside, that to cease thinking about Benjamin was as impossible as it was to voluntarily cease breathing. This internal argument had been going on for so long now that Miriam's normally steady nerves were reaching breaking point. "If something doesn't happen soon I will stop breathing, and it won't be voluntary!"

At that moment, as if in answer to her silent prayer, Miriam heard the door to Julie's apartment open. Then, exactly as they had rehearsed it, she heard Julie draw Mrs Pip back inside the apartment on the pretext of asking her some delicate questions about hand-made undergarments for the trousseau she was planning. Meanwhile, Benjamin was left standing in the corridor holding the heavy basket of sewing. The moment she heard Julie and Mrs Pip retreat into the apartment, Miriam launched her attack. After surreptitiously peeping around the corner to ascertain Benjamin's precise position, she began to run at top speed towards him. When they collided Benjamin literally did not know what had hit him. One minute he had been quietly standing in the corridor, minding his own business and waiting for his mother. The next, he was sprawled on the floor amidst the contents of his mother's sewing basket. To Miriam's disappointment his first concern seemed to be for the clothes, in various stages of construction, which were now scattered around the hallway. As he carefully picked them up and returned them to the basket he muttered something under his breath about clumsy and inconsiderate people who spent all their lives in a tower and didn't care who they trampled on or what they destroyed. He didn't even look at Miriam, or appear to notice her increasingly frantic apologies. This result was so far from what Miriam imagined that her self-control finally gave way completely. Clutching one of the sleeves from Julie's graduation dress, Miriam burst into tears as she tried to make herself invisible by shrinking into the all too solid wall behind her. She felt overcome by the magnitude of her failure. Not only had she failed to attract his attention, she had actually managed to change his feelings towards her from indifference to anger. Suddenly Miriam felt an electric touch on her shoulder.

"I say," Benjamin said, leaning over her, "I am sorry. I hope you haven't hurt yourself. It was probably my fault, anyway." The absurdity of Benjamin taking responsibility for the failure of her plan only made Miriam cry harder, for it provided further proof that he was just as nice as she believed him to be. "Please, don't cry," he continued, kneeling down beside her. "Tell me where it hurts?"

"Here" she replied, without thinking, clutching Julie's sleeve to her heart. The next thing she knew, Miriam felt a gentle touch parting the hair that hung over her face, and saw a pair of worried brown eyes gazing into her own.

"It's you!" Benjamin exclaimed in amazement. "Of all the hundreds of people in this tower that I could have upset, I have to go and upset you!"

"Oh, no," Miriam sobbed. "It's my fault. I knocked you over, and I spilt your basket. I'm so very sorry. You were right. Just because I have lived in this tower all my life I seem to expect everything and everyone in it to get out of my way. I do hope I haven't done any permanent damage."

"We Pips are pretty indestructible, and Mum makes her clothes to last, so you don't have anything to worry about there. Anyway, stop trying to change the subject. I still think that you have managed to hurt yourself."

"Me? I'm fine. Really. That's my best friend's apartment just there, and once I've washed my face, I'll be as good as new." As she spoke Miriam began to stand up, but as soon as she put her weight on her left ankle it tried to collapse beneath her. She screamed, and once again she found herself heading for the floor. This time, however, Benjamin was ready for her, and caught her before she hit the ground. The feeling of Benjamin's arms actually around her, after a year and a half of dreaming about it, combined with the pain now shooting from her ankle to her thigh was too much for Miriam, and once again she broke into tears. Effortlessly, Benjamin scooped her up like a child and cradled her against his chest. Her arms instinctively snaked around his neck and she hid her face in his shoulder.

"Shush now, don't cry," he whispered with his lips against her hair. "I know it hurts, but you'll be better soon, and you'll forget that you ever bumped into a big clumsy oaf from the streets who couldn't even stand in a corridor without breaking someone's ankle." There was a catch in Benjamin's voice as he finished his statement, and Miriam stopped trying to hide, and looked into his face. Their eyes met and locked, and a new conversation began on the visual wavelength, a conversation without words, but nonetheless conducive to the formation of a complete understanding between them. The moment their eyes finally met, they felt like they were transported to another plane of being, a place out of a romantic fairytale where red rose petals showered around them, and the air was coloured with innumerable rainbows. To the two participants, it felt like this enchanted trance lasted for hours, and neither was prepared to make any move which might break the spell.

On comparing notes with Julie later, however, Miriam found that the whole episode, from the moment Julie and Mrs Pip had closed the door behind them to the moment when they came rushing back out to investigate the scream they had heard, had taken ten minutes at the most. Still, as she said to Julie, they were the most significant ten minutes of her life. Miriam only vaguely remembered what had happened after Julie and Mrs Pip had appeared in the corridor. Benjamin had carried her into Julie's apartment, and had remained with her while the doctor was called. Apart from the necessary explanation of how Miriam had hurt herself, both she and Benjamin sat in silence, both cherishing an emotion that was too new to be shared with the world just yet. When the doctor arrived, Benjamin excused himself, and after obtaining Miriam's address and permission to call on her the next day, he vanished without another word. Julie's eyes had nearly popped out of her skull when she had opened her door to find Miriam being carried in Benjamin's arms, and the effort of restraining her curiosity made her so jumpy that the doctor had to ask her to leave the room so he could concentrate. Miriam's ankle wasn't broken, it was just badly sprained and she had torn several tendons. Although she didn't need an immobilising cast, it was going to take at least six weeks to heal - longer if she didn't obey the doctor's instructions to the letter. As soon as she was comfortably bandaged, the doctor unfolded the wheelchair he had brought with him, and prepared to personally push her back to her own apartment. Although Julie offered to undertake the task instead, the doctor firmly ordered her not to visit Miriam until the next day.

"She needs rest, and the way you are bouncing up and down, she's never going to get it. She can tell you whatever it is that you're dying to know tomorrow. I can guarantee that you won't be killed by curiosity before then. I delivered you, so I know you're human and not a cat! Besides, she can't talk to you tonight, even if she wanted to. I've just given her a sedative. The only thing this young lady will be doing tonight is sleeping. I will take her home and explain to her parents. I'm going to have to repeat the instructions I gave her to them. Whatever is on your mind is obviously on hers as well. I don't think she heard a word that I said. Who'd be a teenager in love?" The doctor stopped and thought for a second. "Oh yeah! That's right. I would, if you gave me half a chance..." Humming an antique love song, the doctor strode off down the corridor, pushing drowsy Miriam in the wheelchair before him. By the time they reached her apartment, she was sound asleep.

The next morning, as soon as she woke up, Miriam called her parents into her room and gave them a short account of her meeting with, and feelings for Benjamin. I f he was going to visit today, it would be better if they were fully prepared, and she had no way of knowing what ideas the garrulous old doctor might have put into their heads last night while she slept. As it happened she was right, for the doctor had thoroughly confused them by rattling on about Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the boy in the street and the girl in her balcony, and the utter inability of their parents to keep them apart. Neither of Miriam's parents were particularly pleased to learn of their daughter's infatuation, and both were innately suspicious of this unknown young man's motives. Still, they had no intention of driving Miriam into his arms by forbidding her to see him, and the fact that he had asked to visit her at home gave them the perfect excuse to check him over before making a final decision about him.

Benjamin arrived promptly at eleven that morning, and immediately proceeded to win Miriam's parents to his side, just as he had won their daughter - by being himself. He was dressed impeccably in a fashionable outfit made by his mother, and as soon as she saw it, Miriam's mother's fingers began to itch to have it copied for her boutique. She had been thinking about expanding into men's clothes, but had been disappointed by the lack of available choices. Manufacturers who produced hundreds of different designs for women usually only offered one or two designs for men, if she was lucky. Now here was her daughter's new boyfriend wearing something completely original, and yet totally in keeping with the standards of acceptable dress for males in the towers. Benjamin immediately noticed her admiration, and after explaining that the design was his mother's, he tactfully suggested that Mrs Pip was very interested in the manufacturing and sales techniques employed in the towers, and that if Mrs Lacey (Miriam's mother) would like to invite his mother (Mrs Pip) for a cup of tea at the Boutique one day, he was sure they would find they had a lot of common interests to discuss. Miriam's mother was charmed by his good manners and willingness to please, and was instantly ready to certify him as suitable for her daughter. Miriam's father, however, was determined not to be so easily won over by a pretty manner and a fancy outfit. Seeing him standing scowling behind his wife, Benjamin approached and deferentially shook his hand.

"Excuse me for intruding on such a short acquaintance, sir," he began, sliding his knapsack off his shoulder, "but I thought yesterday, that since Miriam was going to have to spend a lot of time with her feet up while her ankle mends, she might get bored. I know this is presumptuous of me, as I can see you have a fine library of your own, but I have brought a couple of books which might entertain her while she is convalescing. My father has quite a collection which he brought from our farm in the country, and if they are of any use to you, you are welcome to borrow them." This was all said in a single breath, as if Benjamin was afraid of being interrupted and shown the door, but the moment he said the magic word 'books', and Miriam's father glimpsed a couple of the titles he held in his bag, all suspicion was banished forever.

"Come in, come in my dear boy. Don't stand there staring like a mooncalf! Guests who come bearing books are always welcome in my house. Come on now, don't be shy. The old fuddy duddies have detained you long enough. I'm sure it's Miriam you want to see. She's in her room. You two probably have a lot to talk about. Um..."

Divining Mr Lacey's unexpressed wish, Benjamin handed him the knapsack of books.

"Here you go, sir. Why don't you have a look at these first, and check that they are suitable. I doubt that Miriam would want to read anything you disapproved of."

"Well, as to that - Miriam has a mind of her own, and we wouldn't have it any other way. But bless you my boy, books are getting to be so rare these days. Most people prefer to watch the viewscreens instead. You should hear about the battle I had to make sure they kept teaching literature in the tower school. But that's a tale for another day. Here I am keeping you standing chattering again. Be off with you. Go and entertain Miriam before she comes hopping out here to find out what we've done with you. In the meantime, I'm going to sink my teeth into some of this fresh meat!" The predatory look he cast towards the books made Benjamin laugh, and after wishing Mr Lacey "Happy reading", he hastened to obey his commands and seek out Miriam herself.

Within the confines of the small apartment, Miriam's room was not hard to find. In helping his mother carry her sewing, Benjamin had seen the interiors of quite a number of apartments, and the thing which disturbed him most about them was the essential similarity of their design. All the towers had been arranged around the same strict pattern The higher up in the tower you lived, the more floor space you were allotted, but between apartments on the same floor there was little or no difference. On the Brazler tower's twelfth floor, where most of this story takes place, the front door of every apartment opened into a comfortable lounge room, with an alcove at one side for the kitchen, and another alcove on the opposite side which generally served as an entertainment area. In the rear wall of the lounge room, a door opened into a small hallway running parallel to the outside corridor. This gave access to three bedrooms and a bathroom. Up until now, Benjamin had only been invited into the front public areas of the various apartments he had seen, and he was a little shocked at the cramped hallway and tiny rooms which lay behind the door leading from the lounge room. It made his parent's ramshackle cottage seem immensely roomy by comparison. Just then he heard Miriam calling his name.

"Yes, milady?" he quipped, peering around the door into her room. "Your humble servant has arrived!"

"I can't believe you're really here, after all this time." Miriam was sitting on a small couch with her bandaged ankle resting on a low footstool. A wooden study desk stood against the wall under the tiny window, and a narrow bed covered with a frilly, floral spread took up almost all the rest of the space in the room. The wall above the bed was lined with shelves displaying a cluttered collection of books and bric-a-brac, and a half-open drawer beneath the bed disclosed a pile of neatly folded clothes.

"All this time?" Benjamin laughed. "We only met yesterday, and I couldn't have come any sooner!" Miriam blushed, and decided it would probably be better if she didn't tell Benjamin just how long she had been pursuing him. She didn't want to scare him off now she finally had him where she wanted him.

"Was it only yesterday? It feels like I've been waiting for a lifetime!" She smiled and batted her eyelashes at him flirtatiously. "Come and sit here beside me. I want to know everything there is to know about you!"

"There's not that much to tell," said Benjamin. He looked nervously at the space beside Miriam on the small couch, and then perched himself awkwardly on the end of her bed. "I've got a better view here," he explained. "You really are beautiful. I thought I must have dreamt that we had actually met, and I was almost too afraid to knock on your door this morning. Do you know, I've been trying to get up the courage to talk to you ever since I first saw you, more than a year ago now, but you always seemed so confident and sure of yourself that I didn't think you'd be interested in me!" As he spoke, Miriam felt an electric thrill run through every cell in her body. In one short sentence he had answered the question that had been plaguing her for so long. He had never been ignoring her. He had just been shy. In that case, Miriam decided, she had better not leave him any room for doubt about how she felt.

"Not interested in you? I've never felt so interested in anyone before in my whole life! Do you believe in love at first sight? I didn't, until I saw you! You'll probably think I'm terribly bold, and a hopeless chatterbox, but it would be awful to waste any more time on misunderstanding each other, don't you think? I can't believe that this has happened to me! I wish that I had crashed into you long ago, if that was all that was necessary to bring us together. Everyone always jokes about me being so clumsy, and tells me off for running in the corridors. Who could have guessed that hurting my ankle would bring me such happiness? Oh, dear. I'm babbling again, aren't I? Just tell me to shut up so you can get a word in edgewise. That's what Julie always does. You've met Julie, haven't you? Your Mum's made some dresses for her. Your Mum's terrific. I've always wanted a dress made by her, but I had to support my Mum's store instead. You know my Mum runs the Boutique upstairs, don't you? Of course you do. I heard you talking about it when you came in. That was a brilliant idea, bringing some books for my dad. He'll always be on your side now. Not that you need to bribe people to be on your side. I bet everyone likes you. There I go again. I must be nervous. I've never had a boy in my room before. Except for Martin, of course, but he doesn't count. He's just a friend. Do you know that he and Julie are engaged? They're so happy together. I hardly get to see Julie anymo - " Miriam stopped mid-word. Without saying anything, Benjamin had moved from the end of her bed to sit on the stool next to her injured foot. Now those soft brown eyes of his were once again looking closely into hers, and she suddenly found she could no longer remember what she had been saying. With a tentative gesture she reached forward and touched the curls that framed his forehead. She was almost shocked when he didn't vanish at her touch. He was really there, and to prove it he took her hand, and held it gently in his own.

Miriam held her breath as, with absent minded dreaminess, Benjamin measured her hand against his own larger one, then ran his thumb across each of her fingers in turn, stroking them from the knuckle to the fingernail, and finally, turned her hand over to lightly trace the lines on her palm with his forefinger. Without looking up to meet her eyes he bent his head and touched his lips to her wrist with a soft butterfly kiss. Miriam's lips burned to kiss him back, but for once she didn't act on her first impulse. She forced herself consciously to relax and to experience each delicious moment as it happened, instead of rushing to take control of the situation. She had been waiting for this for so long, and now she was determined to enjoy it. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back on the couch, feeling every nerve tingle as Benjamin's kisses crept from her wrist to her elbow and up to her neck. When she felt his breath on her ear she could restrain herself no longer, and she opened her eyes to find Benjamin kneeling on the floor and looking bashfully back at her. At the same moment they leaned imperceptibly towards each other, and when their lips met, Miriam felt she was going to explode with her overflowing happiness. The kiss was sweet and lasting, and it ended only when the young pair heard Miriam's mother stepping from the lounge into the hallway. Benjamin jumped as though he had been caught committing a crime, and by the time Mrs Lacey knocked on Miriam's door and looked in, he was sitting back in his initial position on the end of Miriam's bed, looking carefully at a curiously carved box which he, in his hurry, had knocked off the shelf above the bed.

"Sorry to disturb you two," Miriam's mother said, "but as it is lunch time, we thought that you might like to join us for something to eat."

"I'm afraid that I can't stay for lunch today," Benjamin replied. "I have an important errand to run for my mother." Noticing Miriam's look of disappointment, he went on to ask her mother's permission for a short postponement of the invitation, promising to return the next day at the same time, if that was convenient. Mrs Lacey took one look at the joy that replaced the disappointment on her daughter's face and instantly expanded the invitation to include Benjamin's parents. It was obvious Miriam was serious about this boy, and from the look on his face, he was equally besotted with her. Under the circumstances, and knowing her daughter's determination, she felt it would be better if she and her husband met Benjamin's parents before they became in-laws. Benjamin was happy to accept for himself, and promised to ask his parents to join them. Then, embarrassed to kiss Miriam again in front of her mother, he quickly shook both their hands and was gone.

The next day, promptly at eleven, Benjamin arrived with both his parents in tow. His mother had met Miriam on the day of their 'accident', and the account she had given her husband had made him intensely curious to see the young siren who had captured his son's heart. As a result, Mr Pip had broken his long-standing vow never to enter the towers for any reason. He justified the lapse to himself by focussing on this meeting's importance to Benjamin, and on his equally long-standing wish to meet Mr Lacey, in his capacity as the owner, editor and principal journalist of their favourite weekly newspaper. Mrs Pip was also looking forward to meeting the Laceys. She had corresponded with Mr Lacey in connection with the poem of hers that he had published, and she was especially eager to meet his wife, about whom she had heard much from her dressmaking customers. The two couples seemed to have everything in common except for their choice of where to live, and the meeting was going smoothly until Mr Lacey mentioned a rumour that the houses in the Pip's neighbourhood were about to be demolished to make room for a new tower. Mr Pip instantly exploded. He and his family had already been forced out of one home that they loved dearly so that the city of towers could be expanded. There was no way that anyone was going to get him to leave a second home. With a surprising absence of her usual tact, Mrs Lacey then asked about the solidity of the structure they called 'home', mentioning the rumours she had heard about substandard materials and workmanship.

"Surely," she reasoned, "the city officials were just trying to do what was best for everyone?" Seeing the look on his father's face, Benjamin quickly jumped in to try and soothe the troubled waters.

"Whatever the defects of the building we were assigned to may have originally been, my parents have spent every spare minute, for all the eighteen years I have been alive, improving the house and making it our own. Instead of making snap judgements from your cramped and uncomfortable tower, why don't you come down and visit us sometime? I can't believe that intelligent people like you would form your opinions on so little evidence."

Everyone stopped and stared at Benjamin, normally so quiet and shy, but now prepared to risk even his chance to make a good impression on Miriam's parents in order to defend his home and his parents. Then Mr Lacey started laughing.

"Good for you, boy!" he boomed, slapping Benjamin on the back. "Exactly what I would have said at your age. It's good to see you've got some spirit in you. Are you sure you don't want to work with me on the paper? You'd make it a lot more interesting than these mealy-mouthed tower kids I've got writing for me at the moment - they wouldn't say 'boo' to a ghost. Then again, they probably wouldn't even see it. They just look straight through anything that doesn't coincide perfectly with their view of how the world should be arranged. Please say you'll consider it? It will give you a lot more time to see Miriam - and it will get her back helping me like she used to, just in case you didn't think I had more than one selfish motive for wanting your help!"

Benjamin was slightly taken aback by Mr Lacey's unexpected reaction, but he was equal to the occasion. Rising slightly from his chair, he tipped an imaginary hat towards Mr and Mrs Lacey and his own parents. Then, making a florid bow to Miriam, he kneeled down at her side.

"Me deary," he said, adopting an outrageous accent, "it seems that your papa has decided to approve of me. Since he is willing to entrust me with his precious newspaper, I am encouraged to assume that he will not balk at entrusting me with his even more precious daughter! I know I be but a poor peasant from the streets, with no right to ask you to share my squalor, but I've worshipped you from afar for many moons now, and I can't let this wonderful opportunity pass me by. Will you be my lady wife, and walk by my side into eternity? Subject to our parents' approval of course." he added, looking cheekily at the beaming, if somewhat teary-eyed faces around the table.

"Subject to nothing!" Miriam replied, glaring at those same faces as if daring them to defy her. "After such an eloquent proposal, my peasant, I have no choice but to accept - with all my heart."

"But I have no ring to offer you as a token of my endless love." Benjamin seemed slightly crestfallen, despite the continued jaunty cheerfulness of his tone. He picked up a napkin ring from the table. "Perhaps this may stand in its stead until something more suitable may be arranged?"

Miriam held out her hand, and with great ceremony, Benjamin slid the napkin ring over the ring finger on her left hand. It was ridiculously large, and could almost have slipped over her wrist as a bangle.

"Come on now, son!" Mr Pip declared. "You can do better than that. Your Mum and I kind of had the feeling this might come in handy." From the pocket of his jacket, Benjamin's father drew forth a tiny velvet box and handed it to his son. "It was your great-great grandmother's," he explained. "Your great-great grandfather found the gold in the stream that used to run through our farm, and the stones came from a travelling man who became very ill and was nursed back to health by your great-great grandparents."

Benjamin carefully opened the box, and Miriam gasped. The antique gold had been carefully carved and moulded to suggest tiny leaves, and a small circle of five little diamonds with a ruby in the centre formed a tiny forget-me-not, nestled in the golden foliage.

"It's so beautiful," Miriam exclaimed as Benjamin removed the napkin ring and slid the delicate little ring onto her finger.

"So are you, my dear. We will be very glad to have you join our family, because we can see already that you are going to make Benjamin happy. The most we can wish for you is that you and Benjamin will be as blessed together as we have been." Mrs Pip walked around the table to give Miriam a hug as she spoke. "The diamonds are a symbol of eternity, the ruby signifies passion, and the forget-me-not setting means love. We hope that its message is fulfilled, and that you and Benjamin experience a life full of everlasting love and enduring passion."

"The same goes for your father and I," said Mrs Lacey. "But I think us oldies have had enough mushy stuff for one day. Why don't you two run along and spread the good news through the tower, while we sit here and arrange your future for you?" Seeing Miriam begin to bristle, she patted her on the arm. "Relax, darling. I'm joking. But don't you think you should give us a chance to get to know the Pips a bit better? I'm sure we're all going to be friends, but we'll never get the chance if you two keep fussing around us like nervous mother hens. Now be good chicks and go out and play!"

"Yes Mum!" Benjamin said, kissing both her and his own mother on the cheek, and taking Miriam's hand. Just as they were almost at the door, Miriam ran back to hug and kiss her parents, and then Benjamin's parents, and then her parents again.

"I'm just so happy," she explained, as she ran back to Benjamin's side. "I could hug the whole wide world!"

"Well how about starting with your future husband?" Benjamin suggested, and Miriam readily agreed.

Hi, it's me again - Richard K. Pip, your friendly and ever-obliging narrator. It's actually quite an achievement for me to be here, considering I haven't technically been born yet. Anyway, I suddenly realised that I've been rambling on and on with this story of my parents' romance, and it's probably not of that much interest to anyone except me. I'm still only half way through my Mum's diary, and I doubt any of you are going to want to keep reading to the end of it. If you do, well, I've already told you were to find it - in the History Hut with all the other documents which have survived the journey out here. As for me, I am going to summarise the rest of their relationship, bringing this story up to its most important point - and that, of course, is the point where I come into it. I could claim that without me there is no story, but that would be unjustifiable hubris, considering how much I grumbled about being chosen to write it in the first place.

Mum and Dad spent the few months which passed between their engagement and their marriage exploring the differences between themselves and their worlds. Mum learnt that the streets weren't populated entirely with hoodlums and that just because someone didn't enjoy the idea of living in a tower, it didn't mean they were necessarily antisocial maniacs, as she had often been told. On the other hand, Dad learnt that living in a tower did not entail a complete surrender of personality, and that contrary to popular opinion on the streets, many tower inhabitants were normal, friendly human beings without more than their fair share of prejudices. Of course, in both places my parents-to-be met with people who disapproved of their relationship, but as Grandma Pip used to say, 'even if you lived in Paradise, sooner or later you'd find someone who didn't like you, and someone else that you didn't like. The trick is not to let it spoil your day!' Mum and Dad must have taken Grandma's advice to heart, because I never knew of anything that managed to darken their happiness in each other. In fact, the only argument they ever had, so far as I can tell, was over where they should live once they were married, and even then the argument didn't take the path you might expect. You see, Dad insisted they should live in the towers, where Mum would have all the little comforts and conveniences she was used to. He would have plenty of customers for his new legal skills, and Miriam could continue helping her father with his newspaper, just as she had always planned to. Mum, however, argued that they should build a little house of their own, on the vacant block next to the Pip's, where they could be independent of the towers' rules and regulations. She felt that Dad would have just as many customers in need of his legal services, while she would be of even more use to her father as she would be able to write fresh and interesting stories for him about the world outside the towers. At least part of Mum's reason for wanting to live outside the towers had to do with Dad's cat.

Pets weren't allowed in the towers, and as Mum had rarely been into the streets except on school excursions, she had only ever seen domestic animals (or wild animals, for that matter) in the small zoo on the outskirts of the city, which survived by giving lecture tours to tower children. In the zoo, all the animals were ensconced behind thick glass viewing windows, and they seemed to be no more real to the children than the occasional image which appeared on their viewscreens at home. Even among the inhabitants of the streets, animals tended to be extremely rare, as the result of the draconian restrictions imposed by the city authorities. These restrictions were originally introduced to deal with the horses, cows, goats, chickens and other livestock which the evicted farmers tried to bring into the city with them when they were forced to leave their farms. Over the years, the animals had gradually passed away, but the city's regulations had remained in force. Dad had been working in a park with his father one day, when he was about fifteen. He had heard a strange sound like someone crying, and when he had gone to investigate, he had found a tiny bedraggled kitten struggling to tear its way out of a sack that contained the drowned bodies of its brothers and sisters. In an effort to avoid paying the registration fees for the seven new little cats that someone's old cat had produced, that 'someone' had attempted to solve the problem by tying the kittens into a hessian sack, and dumping the sack in the pond. They hadn't stayed around to see the results of their handiwork, and they hadn't noticed, or cared, that the pond was only knee deep. As a result, when the rock with which they had weighted the sack was resting on the bottom, the air-pocket trapped in the top of the sack stayed floating above the surface. By the time Dad found them, six of the little kittens had given up fighting to keep their heads above water, but the seventh had refused to succumb, and had actually managed to bite and claw enough of a hole in the sack to get its head and one front paw out. Luckily the sack was close enough to the cement edge of the pond for the kitten to latch on to it with its one free paw, while it struggled to free the rest of its body, meowing piteously all the while. It was very close to complete exhaustion when Dad gently freed it from its life threatening imprisonment, but it seemed to know that he was trying to help it, and it sat quietly on his lap while he rubbed it dry with his shirt. When he showed his little friend to his father, and told the story of how they had met, Grandpa was quick to welcome the new addition to the family. He had occasionally had to clean such sacks out of the pond himself, and he had nothing but scorn for those who disposed of their unwanted responsibilities in such a cruel manner. Following Grandpa's advice, Dad wrapped the kitten up snugly in his woollen jumper, and the tiny creature quickly fell asleep. They still had several young trees to plant before they could go home, and Dad made sure he dug the holes for those trees slightly deeper than normal, so they could also serve as graves for his little kitten's siblings. The surprising thing was, that where the other kittens in the litter had been black, the kitten he had saved was a soft grey, with a patch of bright white under its chin.

"I'm going to call you Mr Misty!" He informed the now warm and purring kitten, as he put a bowl of milk in front of it, once they reached home. "What do you think of that?" The kitten didn't seem to mind what he was called, so long as Dad was prepared to keep feeding him, and in the years that followed, Mr Misty grew into quite a happy and contended cat, who liked nothing better than to sleep on the sunny windowsill in Dad's room when Dad wasn't home, and to ride around on Dad's shoulder when he was. Mum, of course, fell in love with Mr Misty even faster than she had fallen in love with Dad. He immediately won her heart by hooking a claw into her hand so he could check that her hands were clean before he would let her pat him.

"I would never have guessed that such wonderfully intelligent creatures were possible, based on the natural history lessons they gave us at school. I suppose they had to keep it from us, otherwise everyone would want one. I can't believe you're serious about wanting us to live in a tower since it would mean leaving Mr Misty behind! Why can't we just live happily out here with him?"

"Because there are more problems out here than you realise," Dad would explain. "There is no real future in these houses around us, because every time we built something we were happy with, an order would come saying that it would have to be demolished to make room for a new tower, and we would have to start all over again, getting further and further away from your parents and friends each time. My Mum and Dad have had to move eight times already, not counting the first time when they were made to move off the farm. There's no stability out here, and its no place to think about starting a family. We'd be much better off in a tower, much as I hate to say it. Besides, Mr Misty loves my Mum just as much as he loves me. Probably more, because she feeds him and cuddles him more often. He probably won't even notice I'm gone, especially as we'll be back to visit every weekend. Come on, please be reasonable. I'm sure you don't seriously want to think about having a baby in a house that's likely to be torn down every couple of years. And we are thinking about having babies, aren't we?"

"We certainly are!" Mum would reply, "But I still don't see why we can't live in one of those houses with the big gardens around them that are right on the very edge of the city. Nobody's talking about knocking them down because they're too far away to bother with. It will be twenty or thirty years at least before the towers start to reach out that far."

"And who do you think is going to travel that far to visit us? And how are you going to visit your parents and friends? I know the streets are safer than you were led to believe, but there is still a risk, and as the towers grow, and the street people get angrier, the risk is likely to get worse. Besides, I know people who live out there, and all most of them ever talk about is how to get a spot in one of the towers. If any of them found out that we could have had a tower apartment, but we gave it up to live out there, they would think we were crazy and refuse to talk to us. At the same time, everyone you know in the towers would also decide we were insane, and refuse to know us in case it was catching. It sounds like a very poor and lonely life we'd be leading, whereas, if we just do what everyone expects of us, we can have the best of both worlds. You yourself convinced me that living in the towers wasn't so bad, and that way, we can give our children all the advantages you've had, as well as teaching them that the towers aren't the end of the world by taking them to visit my parents and Mr Misty. Personally, I'd prefer it is there weren't any towers at all, and my parents had been left to live peacefully on their farm, but if that had happened, I would never have met you, and now that I have, I want to do everything I can to make sure you are safe and happy. O.K.?"

"O.K." Mum had answered, finding his logic impossible to argue against. "I will live in the towers with you, on one condition."

"What's that?"

"Every weekend, without fail, we come and visit your parents, and this delightful pussycat, wherever they are, even if they have to move under the sea to get out of the way of the ever encroaching towers. Deal?"

"Deal!" Dad answered, sealing their bargain with a kiss. "Now I know why I love you so much."

"Why, because I give in so easily?"

"No," Dad replied, laughing, and then looking seriously at her. "Because even though you were born and bred in those unnatural towers, you seem to have a natural instinct that lets you recognise the important things in life."

"Come on then, you lowly peasant." Mum laughed back. "You promised to teach this poor, deprived tower girl how to hug a tree. If we don't get a move on, there won't be any left!"

"This city is certainly doing its best to get rid of them", Dad agreed. "The parks that Dad looks after are getting smaller every year. But at least they haven't completely vanished - yet. How would you like to see the elms we planted in Endeavour Park, when I was a kid? They're just near the place where I found Mr Misty, and they're getting pretty big these days. Dad's really proud of them. They were the last true trees he planted, before the city officials brought in the rule that he was only allowed to plant annuals, and small flowering shrubs, because they were more decorative - and less difficult to knock down when the time came to pave over them!"

Soon after their tree-hugging expedition, which Mum describes in great detail in her diary, Mum and Dad were married. They had finally decided on a double wedding with Julie and Martin. To Mum's intense satisfaction, Julie decided to wear one of the beautiful dresses from Grandma Lacey's Boutique, which left Grandma Pip plenty of time to design and sew an original wedding dress for Mum. She was quick to seize on any excuse which gave her more time to be with Dad, and she had quickly grown to love the cosy cottage that he and his parents called home. The weeks flew past, and almost before they knew it, Mum and Dad found themselves standing before the altar in the chapel of Brazler tower, pledging their eternal commitment to each other. Following the wedding, a large party was held in the reception rooms at the very top of the tower. As this party was attended by almost all the tower inhabitants, and all wanted to congratulate the newly weds, it was nearly dawn when my parents managed to escape to the peace and quiet of their own little flat, where they could finally begin the important work of creating me.

The Towers:

Exodus
~ Romance
Garden of Hope
It's a Beautiful World
From a Tower Tall

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