A Chance to Dream Again
A Short Story by Altimexis
Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction based loosely on the events of September 11, 2001. Although a leading financial services company plays a major role in the plot, the events depicted are in no way meant to imply the actual policies, procedures or activities of any real company. None of the characters described is representative of a real person and any similarities are purely coincidental.
Note that there are graphic scenes involving sex between two consenting men of legal age. Obviously, anyone uncomfortable with this sort of thing should probably not be reading anything of this nature in the first place. Further, it is the responsibility of the reader to ensure that downloading this type of material is legal where they live. The author maintains copyright for the contents of this work of fiction.
Dedication: This story is dedicated to the memory of the thousands who lost their lives in the terrible events of September 11, 2001, and to the tens of thousands of ‘first responders’ who gave of themselves selflessly, only to be saddled with permanent health problems and disabilities that persist to this day.
Posted September 21, 2011
I awoke quietly, unsure of what it was that woke me. I felt disoriented, as if I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Reaching over, I felt for my lover on the other side of the bed, only to come up empty. Slowly as semi-consciousness returned to me, I remembered that it was Tuesday, a workday, and that Clark had undoubtedly already left for work. I took my time to become fully awake, nuzzling my head deeply into his pillow.
Glancing over at the clock radio on the nightstand, I saw that it was 8:47 AM; Clark would have left for work more than an hour ago. The market might not open until 9:30, but there was always plenty of work to be done in preparation. Clark was a broker at one of the most successful investment banking firms in the world. In the seven years he’d been with the company, he’d done very well, making billions for his clients and earning himself a prime office in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center, just one floor below the offices of top management.
Me well, I hadn’t been so lucky. I started out as an analyst but, after four years with the company, I was let go. The market had been going full throttle during the later part of the Clinton years - not even a sex scandal and impeachment could slow it down. The economy was doing great and the Feds were reporting huge surpluses for the first time in years.
At first it seemed that Bush’s election would push the market even higher, however uncertainty about the effects of the Bush tax cuts had spooked investors, particularly in the volatile bond market in which the company specialized. Increasing deficits would lead to competition for investment in the bond market. Although reduced taxes in the wealthiest segment of the population would put more money in the pockets of high-end investors, most of that money would be heading toward stocks, not bonds.
Of course the increasing reliance by the Feds on Treasuries to fund tax cuts for the rich was fantastic news for the company - we were responsible for a major percentage of T-Bills sales, worldwide, but we didn’t need so many analysts for that. Besides which, that wasn’t my area of expertise; I was a specialist in predicting the fluctuating values of bonds in the private sector - an area that was expected to contribute a diminishing share of our profits in the coming years.
A few months ago, a decision was made to reallocate resources within the company in anticipation of the expected shift in investment patterns. About a half-dozen analysts would be reassigned and another half-dozen let go, to be replaced with top analysts recruited away from our competitors.
New vehicles for investment were being explored, riskier vehicles in my opinion, but were seen as the way of the future. With exotic names like ‘derivatives’, they would re-shape investment for years to come.
For what it was worth, I was neither a seasoned analyst nor a ‘whiz-kid’. In the brief time I’d worked for the company, my market predictions had been solid, reliable and conservative - not at all what the company was looking for going forward. Therefore, I was one of those let go to make way for a new generation of analysts.
Still, the four years I’d spent with the company had been a good experience. I’d gained a foothold in the world of finance while working for one of the most respected names in the industry. Combined with a Harvard MBA, an internship at Lehmann Brothers and strong letters of recommendation from a couple of well-chosen superiors, I was certain to get another great job. I’d already had a couple of offers, but they were for positions that I felt were beneath me. Thanks to Clark’s success, I didn’t need to rush into things. I could take my time finding just the right job on Wall Street.
Clark - he was the best thing of all to come out of my time at the company. We met during my second week. We really were different people with different personalities but there was a natural give and take between us that seemed to be a rarity in most relationships - not that we had a relationship in the beginning.
Clark was tall while I was not. Clark was athletic whereas I was more of a geek. Clark was a Republican and I was a Democrat. Clark was Jewish and I was a Catholic. On the face of it, there didn’t seem to be anything to bring us together and yet, somehow we clicked. Clark may have been more athletic and I was more studious in my nature, but we both enjoyed a mix of classical, jazz and alternative music. We both enjoyed the theater, even though it took a huge chunk of our combined income, we both thought the MoMA was the best museum in the world and we both preferred a night spent watching the Nicks to a night watching the Yankees.
In spite of our differences in political and religious affiliations, we held similar views when it came to our overall philosophy. We were both political moderates in a world of increasing extremes and we both saw religion as mankind’s attempt to explain what could never be explained. Not that we didn’t believe in God - on the contrary, we both did, but we saw God as being all-encompassing and accepting. God would never turn her back on her children, regardless of how they chose to worship her or whom they chose to love.
Clark and I had been eating lunch together for several weeks when he asked me if I’d like to take in an exhibit at the MoMA with him that weekend. At first I thought he intended for it to be a ‘bachelors’ weekend out’, but then he made his intentions very clear when he suggested that we could maybe have dinner afterwards, and then take in a movie. My jaw practically dropped to the floor and it was several minutes before either one of us said anything.
Finally, Clark chuckled and responded, “You didn’t know?”
“You’re just about the last person I would have suspected of being gay,” I replied. “Me, well, it’s kinda obvious. I don’t ‘prance’ or ‘lisp’, but I’m not exactly masculine . . . and then there’s the fact that I live in The Village. But you . . . you’re athletic and very, very masculine.”
He took my hand in his, which I’m sure got more than a few looks from those around us. “Tom, to me you’re very, very masculine. You may not be all that athletic, but you’re smart, you’re witty . . . you have a wicked sense of humor . . . you enjoy the same things that I do. Maybe you’re not Jewish and for reasons I’ll never understand, you’re a Democrat of all things, but otherwise you’re everything I’m looking for in a boyfriend.
“You’ve become a good friend, Tom . . . my best friend . . . and I was hoping maybe we could be something more.”
So I went out with Clark that weekend. We went to the MoMA and then to dinner at a great Italian restaurant nearby. Afterwards, we decided to go back to his place and download a movie rather than going to the theater. We never did download that movie - and I never went back to my apartment in The Village. About a month later, I terminated my lease and moved in with Clark, into his apartment in Seward Park on the Lower East Side.
I remembered my reaction to seeing his place for the first time. The Lower East Side wasn’t exactly known as being a safe haven for gays. Sure, gays live all over the city now, but Seward Park is located at the juxtaposition of China Town, Little Italy and the East Village, and it borders on several large housing projects that are predominantly Asian, Hispanic and African American. The predominant ‘flavor’ of the Lower East Side, however, is Orthodox Jewish, with men in wide-brimmed hats and long beards.
The co-ops voted to become market rate housing, thereby opening them up to younger, more affluent individuals - people like us who work on Wall Street and the like. Because the Orthodox pretty much stuck to the lower floors, so they wouldn’t have to use the elevators on the Sabbath, that left the higher floors for us.
And oh, what a view Clark had! His apartment was on the twentieth floor, which was the top floor. He had a fifteen-hundred-square-foot apartment - enormous by Manhattan standards - that he’d picked up for a song back before the prices shot up - and then he modernized it. He broke down many of the walls to give the apartment a more open feel, and he replaced all the cabinets, countertops and appliances. The effect was simply stunning.
The real highlight, however, was the terrace. By New York standards, it was huge and it had a spectacular view that encompassed the East River with Brooklyn across the way, the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, the entire Financial District and the World Trade Center, where we both worked. It was unlike any view I’d seen before.
As I was reminiscing about all of this, I couldn’t help but become aware of the incessant sound of sirens. They were everywhere. Perhaps that’s what woke me up! Of course, as a New Yorker, I was used to the sound of sirens - they were a fact of life - a constant sound that mostly faded into the background. This was different. The sirens seemed to be coming from everywhere, and it seemed there were hundreds of them. Not since the World Trade Center bombing had there been anything like it. Of course I was still in college back then, at NYU, so I was not so far away. I’d never forget that day.
My mind once again started to wander when I smelled the smoke. It was a horrible smell, like burning plastic and burning kerosene and burning paper - and something else I couldn’t quite identify. Walking out of our bedroom, I saw that the sky was thick with dense, black smoke. I ran to the terrace and flung open the door, instinctively knowing what I would see even before the World Trade Center came into view.
Tears streamed down my face as I watched the tower burn. I stood transfixed, barely aware of the feel of the cold steel railing of our terrace as my genitals brushed up against it. Much later I realized I’d stood naked on our terrace in plain view of our neighbors. I seriously doubted that anyone even noticed me as they too stood in horror at the sight before them. It looked so surreal - a giant phallus - a burning torch sending thick black smoke into the sky.
Surreal as it might have been, there was no doubt of what I was seeing. It was Tower 1 - the north tower - the tower where my wonderful Clark worked. The fire was near the top of the building . . . and so was my beloved Clark. I wasn’t sure how long I actually stood on our terrace staring at the gruesome site before it dawned on me that if he were still alive, Clark would try to call me.
Running back inside, I grabbed my phone from off the nightstand where I'd left it, unplugged it and checked for messages. Sure enough, there were already seven voice mails from Clark. Tapping on the first one, I listened.
“Tom, dammit, I know you're there. Please call me back right away.” The next one was similar. “Tom, I need to talk to you. Please call me right back if you can.” The third one sounded more desperate. “Tom, God dammit. Quit standing on the terrace and gawking. I may not have much time and I want to talk to you . . . I want to say goodbye.”
It was as I was listening to the fourth message that I heard Clark’s distinctive ring tone and saw his beautiful face fill the display on my phone. Of course I tapped on the ‘answer’ button and put my phone to my ear.
“Tom, you jerk, where have you been?” he began, but then answered his own question with, “Sorry, I know you must’ve been out on the terrace.”
Before I could get a word in edge-wise, Clark continued, “Listen, I probably don’t have much time. I’m not gonna mince words with you. It’s bad, Tom . . . real bad. A bunch of us have barricaded ourselves in an office on the far side of the tower, away from the worst of the smoke and the flames.
“But the whole place is filled with smoke. We had to close the doors and stuff wet paper towels underneath to keep the smoke out, and we smashed out the windows to give us some fresh air, but it’s only a matter of time, Tom. It’s only a matter of time before the smoke and the flames overcome us.”
“Clark , , .” I started to reply, but he interrupted me again.
“Tom, there isn’t much time. It won’t be long before I die. It’s just a matter of time, and there’s too fucking little of it left. The one thing I know is I don’t want to die gasping for air. I don’t want to burn to death . . .
“Some of the people . . . some of the people here have jumped. They’ve jumped to their death rather than have to die a horrible death. They chose to end it quickly rather than suffer. Well, it’s not all that quick. It takes several seconds to reach the ground from this height, but at least it’s pretty painless.
“Tom, that’s what I’ve decided to do. I’ve decide I’m gonna jump. I don’t want to suffer. I can’t stand to see everyone with fear on their faces. I just had to say goodbye to you first, Tom.”
“Wait!” I shouted back into the phone in horror at the thought of what Clark was about to do. “Don’t do it, Clark! Don’t do it. You never know what might happen. Maybe you’ll be rescued. Maybe someone’ll come for you.”
“No one’s gonna rescue us, Tom,” Clark replied. “No one’s coming for us . . .”
“I don’t want you to die, Clark!” I shouted in return.
“I don’t want to die either, Babe, but there’s fucking little I can do to prevent it. Tom, we’re all going to die . . . it’s only a matter of when . . . not if. It’s my time, Tom. It’s my time. Just please, promise to remember me, and promise to fine another partner. I couldn’t stand it if you lived the rest of your life alone.”
“Wait!” I shouted again in desperation. “What if . . . what if there are people on the ground? What if there are people down there. Of course there must be. Clark, there are people down there! If you jump, you might kill someone on the ground. You might kill someone. Could you live with yourself, or die in peace knowing you killed someone?”
There was a pause on the phone before Clark finally answered, “No, of course not. You’re absolutely right . . . it would be selfish of me to take a chance. I’ll stick it out . . . or at least I’ll try. Just stay with me. Please stay on the phone.
“You know,” he continued, “my grandmother used to tell me there’s a legend that if two people love each other . . . really love each other . . . that if they spend their final moments together on Earth, they’ll always be together throughout all eternity.
“Please stay on the phone, Tom. Please stay with me on the phone. I want to spend forever with you.”
“I promise,” I replied. “I’ll stay on the phone with you.” Then I had a flash of inspiration and I started to sing.
“Always and forever
Clark joined in, singing the next stanza with me.
“And I know tomorrow
Pretty soon I realized that Clark had been joined by his co-workers singing and harmonizing in the background.
“Every day / love me your own special way / Melt all my heart away with a smile.
Take time to tell me you really care / And we'll share tomorrow together.
I'll always love you forever / Always forever and ever.
“There'll always be sunshine / When I look at you,
It's something I can't explain / Just the things that you do.
“And if you get lonely / Call me and take
A second to give to me / That magic you make and
“Every day / love me your own special way / Melt all my heart away with a smile.
Take time to tell me you really care / And we'll share tomorrow together.
I'll always love you forever / Always forever and ever.
“Loving you is the thing that I plan / For a very long time
Me and you, you and me, we as one . . .”*
*Always and Forever, written by Rod Temperton, sung by Heatwave, Luther Vandross and others.
Just as the song came to an end, I heard the sound of crashing glass and then I heard screams. Horrible, agonizing screams. Then I heard Clark say, “Goodbye my love. I’ll always be with you, no matter what.” With that, the line went dead.
Vaguely, I was aware of the sound of a low-flying plane, and then I heard a horrible sound, like an explosion of some sort, but none of that mattered. My Clark, the love of my life, was gone.
I was in bed and vaguely aware that something had woken me up. Gradually as I regained consciousness, I realized I was hearing the sound of the alarm of Clark’s cell phone going off.
As I felt him stir under my arm, which was encircling his muscular chest, I pulled him in closer and whispered into his ear, “Don’t you dare think of getting out of bed just yet.”
My cock was already hard a steel as I felt him flip around to face me, his own hard cock coming into contact with mine. “Whatever do you have in mind, Babe?” he asked.
With a sly smile, I replied, “Oh, I don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll think of something.”
Sighing loudly, Clark responded, “Much as I’d love to start the day with a little romp under the sheets, time is money and in the financial world, yesterday’s superstar is today’s has-been if they fail to perform. There are probably twenty people waiting in line to claim my office, should I fail.”
“What good is all that money if we can’t enjoy ourselves now and then,” I countered as I slowly started stroking him. “I love you, Clark, and I’d like to show you just how much I love you.”
“I love you too, Tom,” Clark replied, “but with you out of work, we can’t pay the mortgage and feed ourselves on love alone.”
“It’s not like you’re on a clock, Honey,” I pointed out while I picked up the pace, “and if you’re good enough, no one’s gonna care if you’re a little late every now and then.”
“Tom, don’t,” Clark responded. “Don’t . . . don’t . . . don’t . . . stop . . . don’t stop . . . don’t stop . . . Oh God!”
Just as he was about to go over the edge, I stopped and held him there, kissing him passionately. Just breathing on him then would have set him off, but I wasn’t about to let him come just yet.
Once he had calmed down a little and his breathing had returned to normal, I swallowed him whole and, once again, brought him to the edge but not beyond. I was torturing the poor guy.
Clark was putty in my hands. There was no way he was going anywhere until I gave him the release he so desperately craved. Several times I brought him to within a hairsbreadth of ecstasy only to leave him panting and begging for more. Of course I was torturing my own self too. I needed release every bit as much as he did!
Finally, when neither of us could take it anymore, I slowly and gently unrolled a condom onto my life partner’s member, taking care not to set him off by this act alone. Adding a little lubricant to his throbbing cock and to my crack, I slowly lowered myself onto him, marveling in the way he filled me so perfectly.
Riding up and down, I very gradually increased the speed and depth of his thrusts into me, carefully controlling myself, bringing both of us to the brink at just the right moment. I literally saw stars as my spunk rocketed out my pulsating cock. So powerful was the blast that it shot over Clark’s head and landed on the wall above our headboard, on the headboard, on Clark's face and in his hair and, lastly, all over his chest and abdomen.
Totally spent, I collapsed onto my wonderful boyfriend, partner, lover and best friend. After laying like that for several minutes, Clark said, "Wow, Tom, where did that come from?”
“From my balls and my prostate,” I replied with a laugh.
“Silly you,” Clark answered me as he shoved me up into the air and then over onto my back, landing on top of me. A drop of my semen dripped off the end of Clark’s nose and into my open mouth. I couldn’t help but smile adoringly at this beautiful man, and then we kissed passionately yet again.
Sighing, Clark lifted his body off of me and said, “Much as I'd like to continue this all day long, I’m really late now, thanks to you.”
"Thanks to me?” I asked incredulously. “As I recall, you were every bit as much a part of it, and I sure didn’t hear you complaining!”
With a smile on his face, Clark responded, “No, I certainly didn’t complain, even if it was you that started it all. You know I can never refuse you, Tom. I’m hopeless when it comes to you.”
“And I with you,” I replied as I rubbed his thigh. When I grabbed him by the balls, however, he gently, but firmly grabbed my wrist and removed my hand from his privates.
“Sorry, Tom,” he admonished me, “but I really do need to get to work now. As it is I’ll have to skip breakfast and take a taxi.”
“Not if you’re quick about it,” I countered. “It’s scarcely past eight o’clock. I’ll have you out the door in ten minutes, tops. Then we can get a quick breakfast together on the way to work. It won’t take that much time and you really shouldn’t skip the most important meal of the day. You won’t be that late.”
“Ten minutes?” Clark asked with a look of surprise on his face. “OK, you’re on.”
Jumping into the shower with him, I had Clark shave while I quickly shampooed him and lovingly washed his body, washing off all the evidence of our lovemaking as I simultaneously did the same with me. I didn’t bother to shave myself, as it didn’t matter with me out of work.
After getting out of the shower, we applied deodorant and cologne to each other, brushed our teeth side-by-side and I then helped Clark get dressed. For myself I slipped on some shorts and sandals and grabbed a shirt to wear when we got to the restaurant.
As we exited the apartment, Clark remarked, “That was fifteen minutes . . . not ten.”
“OK, so I exaggerated a little,” I replied with a shrug of my bare shoulders.
It was a glorious, sunny late summer day and the sun felt good on my back as we turned onto East Broadway and started our walk downtown. As we walked, I brought up a favorite subject of mine - the failings of the Bush presidency, a topic that was bound to generate an animated discussion between the two of us.
When we reached the foot of East Broadway and the end of China Town, we ducked into our favorite dim sum place and ordered a variety of dumplings, spring rolls and other delicacies for us to share.
We continued our discussion as we ate our breakfast, undoubtedly not eating as quickly as Clark wanted to, thanks to the passion we each felt for the subject matter.
Finally, Clark said, “Tom, this discussion isn’t going anywhere. It never does and it never will. Let’s finish our breakfast so I can get to work and earn the money we need to have our next breakfast together.”
“Fine,” I said as I took a bite of moo shoo pork, much to Clark’s disgust, and then added, “but you know, I had the weirdest dream last night. I dreamt that . . .”
Just then, there was the sound of a jet flying overhead. It was unusually loud, like it was flying close to the ground - too close. Suddenly, there was a very loud crashing sound, followed by the sound of an explosion. There was the sound of glass breaking nearby and then we saw papers - hundreds of sheets of paper - floating by outside the restaurant window.
“What the fuck was that?” Clark asked.
We ran outside, leaving our breakfast behind and not even bothering to pay the bill, only to be greeted by the most appalling site. High above us, Tower 1 of the World Trade Center was on fire, just a few blocks away.
“My God,” I exclaimed, “if we hadn’t made love . . .”
“I’d be up there right now, trapped by the flames,” Clark said, finishing my sentence.
“Good morning, Babe,” Clark said as he sat down on the terrace with me, handing me the front section of the New York Times as he took the sports section for himself. I poured Clark a steaming mug of coffee to match my own and I glanced at the headline proclaiming the tenth anniversary of 9/11. There would be a huge remembrance hosted by Mayor Bloomberg and Presidents Bush and Obama at the site of the yet unfinished new World Trade Center and 9/11 Memorial. Only the survivors of those killed in the attack were invited, however.
As first responders, neither Clark nor I were invited to the main event, although there would be another official ceremony for us. Like most of the first responders, we were boycotting it. Not that we begrudged those who lost loved ones that day, but we were actually there, and we stayed there until it was evident that no more body parts would be found. Instead, we would meet with fellow first responders later in the day to celebrate privately and quietly, in a much more dignified manner.
It’s been a rough ten years for Clark and me. Inhaling all those toxins, our lungs were scarred for life and we’d developed a number of other chronic health issues too. It took many years, but Congress had finally set aside funds for us to pay our medical expenses, most of which weren’t covered by private insurance for those lucky enough to be employed and still have health insurance. We’d yet to see a penny of that money.
Yes, it had been a tough ten years, but neither of us would have had it any other way. We’d done what we had to do and, although we paid a price for it, we‘d done it together. Although Clark was never able to return to work, the company had been very generous to us out of gratitude for the efforts the two of us made in attempting to recover the remains of so many of our colleagues.
I’d long ago told Clark about my dream and about the legend. It was funny, but his grandmother really had told him that legend when he was a youth. Was it a dream or was it an alternate reality - a reality that was effectively canceled by the forces of the legend at work?
Did I subconsciously make love to Clark that morning because of the legend, or perhaps because of the dream? Whatever the answers, I felt as if we’d been given a second chance - a chance to dream again.
The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope in editing and Low Flyer in proofreading this story, as well as Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Nifty for hosting it. A Chance to Dream Again was originally published as part of the 2011 GA Fall Anthology.