Home > Falling for the Boss (Fun For the Holiday's #6)

Falling for the Boss (Fun For the Holiday's #6)
Author: J. Sterling

 

 

ULTIMATUM


JOSEPH

“I’m tired of the cold,” my mother said as she looked out my office window on the thirty-second floor.

Without even glancing up from my desk, I knew she was staring at the snow-covered park across the street. New York had been ravaged by storms lately. A cold front unlike any other in past years blanketed our city with thick white snow. It was beautiful to look at, but it sucked to live in.

My mom sounded almost bored, as if the city disinterested her somehow. To be fair, she probably was. I’d heard this particular sentiment many times over the years from her, but for some reason, it felt a little different today.

“You always say that.” I finally looked up and waited for her to face me and make her point. I knew that she had one. I could sense it coming. My mother didn’t make unnecessary statements.

She turned, as if on cue, her weathered blue eyes meeting mine, even with the Botox. “I do, don’t I?” Her lips curled up into a small smile and her face wrinkled with it.

“It’s almost winter, Mom. We’re always tired of the cold. And then we’re tired of the heat in the summer. We’re New Yorkers; we’re not supposed to be happy.”

My mother laughed as she nodded in agreement. “Fair point.”

I waved my hand toward one of the couches in my massive corner office. “Sit down. Tell me what’s really going on.”

“Am I that obvious?” she asked before following my direction without arguing and taking a seat, her legs crossing at the ankles.

I stayed in the chair behind my desk and closed my laptop, so I could see her fully, giving her my devoted attention.

Ever since my father had been killed on 9/11, it’d been me and my mom against the world. Losing him had been awful and ugly, and we were painfully reminded of it each year on its anniversary. Thankfully, it didn’t hurt quite as bad as it once had, but the memory still seared like a red-hot poker at times. I couldn’t watch any documentaries on what had happened that day without breaking down into hysterics. And TV shows or movies where buildings fell to the ground caused me to have mini panic attacks, where I fought to catch my breath.

It’s not pretty, and it would be embarrassing if I gave a fuck. Which I don’t.

That day had been mass chaos and panic, and if you hadn’t been in the actual city, you had no idea what it’d felt like to be here. Pictures and television screens were one thing, but nothing compared to seeing it with your own two eyes, being worried with your own heart, and smelling the air that I could never accurately describe.

 

My dad had had a meeting with some finance guy at nine a.m.

“On time is late,” he used to say, and I always naively agreed. That was, until getting there twenty minutes early had literally been the death of him. If he’d been on time, he would have survived. But no, he’d had to be early and stepped off the elevator on the one hundred first floor of the North Tower five minutes before it got hit by a fucking airplane.

I heard the horrific sounds from my classroom that morning, but I had no idea what it was until all hell broke loose. All of our teachers were hysterical, and even Principal Rogers couldn’t stop crying in the assembly room, where we’d all been forced to gather and wait. Principal Rogers never showed any kind of emotion, except anger. That was when I knew it was really bad. None of us could check anything though. Cell phones had stopped working; the networks were overloaded.

“Both towers were hit with planes this morning,” Principal Rogers informed us, and my twelve-year-old brain played it off like it wasn’t a big deal at first.

An accident, I thought to myself. Why is everyone freaking out? The Twin Towers are massive. They’ll be fine. It’s not like they can fall. We all know they were built to stand.

Another round of noise I couldn’t begin to describe engulfed us, and the ground started to shake. We all frantically looked around at each other, but no one said a word. It was eerily quiet. A room filled with teenagers, not one of us making a sound. Principal Rogers excused himself and returned quickly, his face pale, his hands shaking.

“One of the towers just fell,” he announced.

The assembly room exploded with cries and shouts. We all talked over one another, our utter shock apparent. Many of my classmates had parents who worked in the buildings.

When my mom finally showed up to take me home, it was the first time I’d stepped outdoors since it’d happened. By then, both towers had fallen, and the sky was an unnatural shade of gray, thick with debris that hurt to breathe in. My eyes burned.

“Your father,” Mom started to say, her hand squeezing mine way too tight as we walked across the street and toward the building where we lived.

I was too old to be holding my mother’s hand, but I allowed it.

I stopped walking. “What about him? Where is he?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

I pulled out my phone and tried to call him, but the networks were still fucked. When they did work, the calls went straight to voice mail, and we prayed that he was just somewhere and couldn’t reach us. Roads were closed. Mass transportation had halted. It wasn’t out of the question that he was simply out of reach and would walk through our front door at any moment.

But when he still hadn’t shown up or reached out by evening, Mom and I made our way to where the towers had once stood, pictures of him in hand to put up just in case anyone had any information or had seen him. We weren’t the only ones. Hundreds had the same idea as we did, taping photos of their loved ones to walls with phone numbers, desperate for information that no one could give them.

To this day, it was still the most surreal and horrific experience of my life.

We’d eventually learned that not a single person from the company my dad had been meeting with got out alive. There was no way to exit the building after the plane hit. Every stairwell had either been destroyed or was filled with debris or packed with smoke.

Dad never came home.

And instead of falling apart, Mom stepped up. She ran our staffing business, overseeing the daily operations and making sure everything was in the same tip-top shape my dad had left it in. We both grieved in our own ways, but we weren’t alone. The entire country mourned with us, especially in Manhattan. It was helpful at times, but it was also exhausting. We couldn’t go anywhere anymore without someone asking if we were okay or without running into someone who was mourning a loss of their own, barely holding it together. We were forever bound to thousands of strangers by one horrible moment in time.

 

After high school, I’d wanted to come straight here, to the company, but my mom had forced me to go to college, like she and my dad had always planned for. She didn’t want to take away my youth when so much of it had been stolen already in grief.

I begrudgingly agreed with her but ended up dropping out after three years when I realized I was doing nothing but wasting time. My end goal had always been to run my father’s company, and I hated waiting for what felt like no good reason, except to party and get laid. I didn’t need to be in college to do either of those things. So, I left, came straight here, and learned more about my future than I ever could have by staying in school.

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