This is the final chapter. I've enjoyed the emails and comments, and thank you for taking the time to email me. I look forward to writing another story soon. –JJ JJ.firstname.lastname@example.org
Climbing the Corporate Ladder
Chapter Nine: And Miles to Go Before I Sleep
Today was going to suck.
Brian Atwater knew it. He knew he'd get some "you OK?" email from his friends and a "Hey just checking in" phone call from his brother. And yes, his attorney and the firm's legal counsel would want to talk. He knew people at the office would stop short when they saw him in the hall, fumbling their conversations, putting their heads down, pretending poorly they hadn't changed their behavior on a dime once they saw his face. It had happened before- too many times really. Despite being a repeated occurrence, Brian was still not accustomed to it.
His personal life was in the news. Again.
Last night he had gotten a call from Jackie, and that immediately signals trouble. Jackie never calls with good news at 9:30pm.
"Now what did I do?" he asked upon answering the call.
"Hello, Brian. This one is...complicated".
"Let's hear it".
"You had breakfast this morning at Café Napoleon".
"With a young man".
"Who came out of your building with you".
"What's the issue Jackie?"
"A photographer has a photo of you holding hands. Right as you were leaving your building".
He did spend Saturday night with Will. After dinner they spoke a little more about Harry, but then about dating, relationships, love, life, and they never had sex. It was the best night Brian thought they spent together. He remembered feeling particularly close to Will, especially after sharing so much, and maybe they were holding hands in the lobby, but he was sure they didn't do it in public. He must have held his hand a little too long.
"Can you kill it?"
"I've killed it for the most part. They won't have a story to print. But they are running the photo".
"Picture's worth a thousand words".
"Especially in this case".
"Can you see the other person's face?"
"I haven't seen the photo but my friend there tells me it's very clear who it is".
"Shit. But no name though?"
"No, no name. Look, Brian, I'm not looking to meddle in your personal life, but is there something I need to know about?"
"No. I'll take care of it. As for press, no comment. At all. Got it?"
"Brian, I have to ask".
"No insult, here Brian. No judgment".
"Anything illegal going on? Anything that might implicate a larger problem for you?"
"No. Tell the press no comment".
"You should take the day off tomorrow, stay away from the media".
"OK. Then at least come in late".
"No. I'm not going into hiding, Jackie. It's none of their business".
"They will make it their business".
"Then I will tell them to fuck themselves". Brian hung up with Jackie and immediately called Margaret. He explained what had happened, how Will had impressed him enough to get promoted to Executive Committee Manager, but then they had begun a relationship.
"We don't have any policy about interoffice dating, Brian. There's no offense".
"No, but it will make everyone speculate, and Will will lose all credibility. That could hurt us".
"Do you want my recommendation?"
"I know what you are going to say?"
"I'll talk to him now".
Will loved Sunday nights for one reason: The Walking Dead. He thought he would be great at surviving the Zombie apocalypse. Yes, it was a cocky thought. But he did have some valid points: not only did he know how to grow food, hunt and prepare animals, fix motors, and dig for irrigation, but he had better instincts than most people. Everyone on the show who died, Will thought, totally deserved to die. They made stupid decisions. It would not be hard to survive, and Will would not only survive, he'd be a leader.
Sunday nights were all about The Walking Dead. And Will's ego.
He explained the show quickly to Trevor, catching him up on enough details so he could enjoy. "I'll explain at the commercial" became Will's response to every Trevor question. The two boys sat on the couch (currently Trevor's bed) in shorts and tee shirts watching Will's favorite program on a $2,100, 56" LCD TV that was totally out of place in the sub-par studio. Halfway through the show there was a knock at the door. Will was surprised, nervous even. No one's ever knocked on his door. He hit pause on the TV.
"Yeah who is it?"
When Will flung open the door, the expression said it all. He didn't even need to hear the words. But Brian spoke them anyway.
"There's a problem".
Brian looked as out of place as the fancy TV in Will's apartment. Even when Brian dresses quickly, it means $700 shoes, a Gucci belt, a $4000 coat. Brian's "throw on some clothes" clothes cost more than most people's monthly income. He sat on the couch, Will next to him, Trevor on the floor. Trevor, after shaking his hand, offered to leave, but in Will's studio there was no other room to retreat to, and Brian didn't want to kick him out. No, Brian said, he could stay if Will was OK with that. Will was.
"A photographer spotted us coming out of my building this morning. And they have a photo of us holding hands".
"There's no story. But they will run the photo, probably with some caption like `Brian Atwater spotted leaving his building in the early morning with a young man'. It will be in tomorrow's Post".
"You're not serious".
"Sadly, I am very serious. And I am very sorry".
"Man that blows", Trevor chimed in.
"They don't know your name, so at least you will be anonymous. But I've heard your face is clearly visible".
Will was silent for a second, thinking, planning. "So, who cares? I'm not important. I don't care that people see".
"It's not that simple, Will".
"Isn't it? So people see me with you, and people think we may have a relationship, and who cares if they do?"
"Do I not factor into this at all?"
Will's face went blank. Brian was right... this whole time Will had been thinking about himself, and he hadn't even asked Brian about what this meant for him. He couldn't believe he had been so selfish. "I'm sorry. Of course, it's a big deal for you, too. I don't mean it wasn't", he said sheepishly.
Brian smiled. "Telling Charlie yesterday was a big decision for me. But it was a decision I made on my own, when I was ready. I'm not ready for tomorrow. You may be, but I'm not".
"I'm sorry, Brian. I hope it's not too rough for you. How do you want to handle it?"
"I think I can deny it till I'm blue in the face, or I can just own up to it and move on. And that's what I'll do. It's just not how I wanted to do it. I'll be fine though. You are the one who has a lot more to lose".
"I don't care if people know", Will said confidently.
"I agree with you there. But think of your standing in the office. You are the youngest person by far in that position, and tomorrow morning everyone in the firm will think they know why".
"Oh, fuck" Will mumbled. He hadn't even thought of that.
"I haven't had to justify your promotion. Your work has exceeded expectations, and that's verifiable in the bottom line. But I'm concerned for you. I can't allow you to have a reputation that you slept your way to the top".
"Jesus Christ", Will mumbled. He couldn't believe he had heard that phrase associated with himself. "So what do I do? Do you need to fire me?"
"No, because that implies we did something wrong".
"Do I quit?"
Brian nodded. "I'm sorry, Will. I think that's the right move".
Will started to turn red. "Fuck", he mumbled.
Brian reached out and hugged him. "I hate to do this, Will. You know I do. But it's the only way to keep you from getting a tarnished reputation. Sadly, even with all the weight I have in the firm, I won't be able to stop people from disrespecting and discrediting you".
"Don't I have a contract thought?"
"Yes, and there is a clause about `at the discretion of the CEO' in your contract. I think this qualifies. We'll buy out the rest of your two years".
"Goddamn it. I have to find another job".
"Not right away. And when you are ready I can help. CEOs know things like this are all bullshit. Every one of them has had to reassign someone for some impropriety. It's just part of the game. One phone call from me explaining your portfolio, you'll have a job as soon as you want one. But don't think about getting a job right now. First let me give you this". Brian reached into his pocket and extended Will a check.
"I'm not taking your money".
"It's not my money, it's your money. This is 2.5% of the profits from our projected copper positions over the next 5 years. It was our agreement. Now, if the amount is wrong, and we know it's not, then I will reimburse the firm out of my own profits. If we are right, then you keep this and we'll send you the additional profits should this not be the full amount". They looked at one another. "Take it, Will. You know I'm right".
Will finally accepted it. He did not look at the amount.
"This is enough money to almost retire, if you want. It's enough to start your own firm, though I'd advise against it. You don't want to compete against me", he said with a wink. Will finally smiled. "But here's what you need to do. Tomorrow I'll have a car outside at 7AM and it will take you and Trevor to my house in the Hamptons. Stay as long as you want. Both of you need to think about where you are in life, and you should do that together".
Trevor shifted his weight and leaned forward.
"I'm not turning tail and fleeing" Will protested.
"No, it's not fleeing. It's figuring out what you want to do next. It won't take the press long to find out who you are, and then they will come knocking on your door. You don't want that kind of attention right now. Go away for a while and figure out what you want to do next. And in a week or so, when this dies down, we can talk about what your next steps should be on Wall Street".
"What about us?"
Brian took his hand. "I'll be here when you get back. And we'll talk about that, too. Will, you have no idea how grateful I am to you".
"Wait, this sounds like a break-up speech" Will protested.
"Wait were you guys really dating or just hanging out?" Trevor interjected. Brian extended his hand to Trevor, in an impolite "stay out of this" gesture.
"First it's not a break-up speech. I'm not saying goodbye to you. But I do think we need to move into a new type of relationship. Look, I've never made our age difference an issue".
"It never has been".
"Never. But right now I'm making it an issue, and as the older guy, I'm telling you, the young kid, that you have to listen to what I say. I was about your age when Harry died, and I stopped living for the past 30 years. Now I'm starting a new chapter in my life, in many thanks to you. I look at you and realize how young I was, and how much of life I missed. I won't let you miss your young life. You need to go and live. Go and have the life I wanted for me and Harry. I need you to do that for me".
"What about you?"
"Me? I don't plan on dying anytime soon. I've got many years still, and I will figure out what that means. The past two months you gave me a lot of life back, but I'm an old man, and you're a young stud. I can't live like I'm 25, and I don't want you to live like me. This isn't goodbye, Will. Honestly, I need you in my life. I still hope to see you regularly. You are too important to me and I need you. But I need you to find your Harry". He looked at Trevor. "He's a lot closer than you may realize".
Will didn't cry. He felt like he should, but somehow he knew, as difficult as it was, he knew Brian was right. The last couple of weeks were fun, and sexy, and hot, and exciting. Brian made Will feel like he had "made it" in New York. Will helped Brian feel ready to love another man again. Their relationship had mutual benefits, had served its purpose, and now would move on in a new capacity. It was not meant for forever.
Brian hugged Will at the door before exiting his apartment. "Like I said, this isn't goodbye. You will always be part of my life now, and I'm lucky for that". He kissed Will on the head. "You call me when you know what you want to do. You call me whenever you want, and I'll always be there for you".
Will looked at him childlike. "You mean you'll take care of me?"
Brian choked up. "I'll take care of you, Will".
Brian walked to his waiting town car at 7:15am as photographers snapped his photo and shouted questions. He held his head high, and said nothing.
"Are you gay, Brian?"
"Who was the boy?"
"Was he a prostitute?"
"Brian was he legal age?"
"Does your office know you are gay?"
He had the limo drop him off on Lexington Avenue, and he walked into work through the front lobby. The Executive Committee meeting was in a few minutes, and they would want an explanation.
"I've got nothing to explain. Will McIntyre made better, more lucrative decisions in his two months here than some of you have made all year. I reluctantly accepted his resignation. It's a loss to the firm, especially when another firm picks him up. But I respect his decision. A lot of people may judge our relationship as the cause of his promotion. But looking at the numbers, and the revenue he generated, you all know that is an enormous sack of shit".
He stood up and paused, getting the full attention of his senior staff. "Besides, it's not like I'm the only one at this table who had a relationship with a junior member of this firm. How many secretaries did I lose to become your second and third wives?" The men all laughed and slapped the table, appreciating the analogous example of the boys club with its executive privilege.
"So, I don't want to talk about my personal life any more. The Post will do what it does, and I will lead the life I want. If anyone here has a problem with that, he can officially fuck himself. Are we good?" Everyone nodded their heads. "Good, now, before departing, Will had done the prelim on our bauxite positions. Where do we stand?"
The Executive Committee continued their meeting, purchased and sold tens of millions of dollars of stocks and commodities, and Brian communicated in his body language and attitude, that he was in control, and that life would go on at the same break-neck, cut-throat Wall Street pace to which they were accustomed.
By 10am Will and Trevor had arrived at the Hamptons, and Trevor explored all 5 bedrooms of Brian's magnificent house. Brian's property manager had left a note with a set of car keys. In the garage was a Jeep Wrangler they could use to buy food and go into town. Will was still a little bit in shock. Suddenly financially secure, and also unemployed, a little sad, and overwhelmed with happiness for Brian who was ready to take a big step. They would both be OK. That he was sure of.
"You know this house is big and scary, and I'm not staying in a room by myself" Trevor said coming down the stairs.
Will laughed. "What's scary about it?"
"Everything's white. It's like a mental hospital and someone's gonna come out with an axe and chop me up".
"Big baby. Don't worry you can stay with me".
"There's a room with two beds. I'll put our stuff in that room". Trevor grabbed their bags and headed up the stairs, Will at his heels. He let Trevor go into the guest room, but he found another room, white, like the rest of the house, with a king sized iron canopy bed with white bunting. The room had a commanding view of the Atlantic Ocean, and Will opened the doors to the patio, letting a warm breeze in. Perfect.
"Hey Trevor" he called. "Come here".
Trevor came into the room. "What's up?"
"Let's stay here instead".
Trevor looked at him, and smiled. "Together?"
"Let's just go slow, and figure out what we want to do. That cool?"
"Let's do it while we take a nap. I'm fucking tired".
They took off their clothes and lay on the bed in their boxers.
"Can we go all the way?" Trevor asked.
"So much for taking it slow".
"No, I mean clothes. I want to feel you naked again. Can I?"
Will smiled. "Sure", he said. He stripped off his boxers, and Trevor did as well.
"Nice to see you again", Trevor joked. "I missed you".
"I'm here now". He put his hand on Trevor's face. They kissed softly, mouths barely open, Trevor gently licking Will's lips with the tip of his tongue. "Let's get into bed" he suggested.
Sea gulls squealed in the distance, and the rhythmic crashing off waves soothed their minds and hearts as the warm, salty air filled the room gently billowing the white curtains with its breeze. Will pulled a sheet over them, covering their nudity, protecting their privacy, not sharing their intimacy with the outside world. Trevor lay on his stomach with Will half on top of him, hugging him from behind, his penis firmly pressed against Trevor's bare, smooth ass, his arm over Trevor's shoulder, his hand on top of Trevor's hand, and his head nuzzled closely against Trevor's, cheek to cheek, breathing as one, their chest cavities rising and falling in unison, they fell asleep.
They were both at peace.
"Mr. Atwater, you have a guest", an assistant said at the door. "He said it's urgent".
"Who is it?" Brian asked without looking up.
"Jeff Greene from Summit Strategies".
`Son of a bitch' Brian thought. "Nerve to show up in person like this'.
"Yeah, send him in". Brian stood, fixing his tie as Jeff entered the room. He put on his best good mood voice. "Jeff, what brings you into enemy territory?" he said waving him to the couch.
"Brian, sorry to barge in like this but I'm glad I caught you", he said sitting. "I won't waste your time, but you can't blame me for what I'm about to ask".
"Will McIntyre. Can I make an offer?"
"You don't need my permission for that, Jeff".
"No. I don't. But I'm not as big a prick as you may think", he said with a smile.
"Yes, he is available. Though I think he's taking some time off. I can give you his contact information, if you want to reach out".
"Already have it".
"So what's your interest in Will?"
"Well, my sources say he's the reason for your recent commodities successes, and I need talent like that if I'm going to put you out of business", he said with a wink.
Brian ignored the jab, but liked the wink. "Will is an exceptional talent, and I'm sorry to lose him".
Jeff nodded, and his voice changed to a more natural, less aggressive tone. "So, can I ask if it's true?"
"What do you mean?"
"Were you in a relationship with him?"
"That's none of your business".
"No, I know it's not. It's just that... well, if you are currently available, I want to know if you'd like to have dinner sometime. That's all".
Brian was dumbfounded. "Are you asking me on a date?"
Jeff blushed a little. "Honestly, if I knew before today you were available, I would have asked you a while ago. It's...um... hard for guys in our position to do this. I figured I'd take a chance. No worries if you're not interested". He stood, embarrassed and crestfallen, and politely nodded to Brian. "Thanks for your time".
As he was leaving Brian saw Jeff in another light. Jeff was about his age, as competitive, as driven, almost as successful. Brian never noticed how attractive he was, how well his suit shaped a firm body, how he had pretty and soft eyes, or even that he was someone with whom he had a lot in common and could connect. No, he always saw Jeff as the competition, and therefore as someone to disdain. Maybe he was wrong...
"Jeff", Brian called out. "How about dinner tonight?" Jeff smiled.
They stood waiting for the elevator, two of the most powerful men on Wall Street, making small talk on a first date.
"I saw the spread on your South Hampton's house in architectural digest. It's really nice. Did you summer there as a kid?"
"No, my dad was a bus driver in Philly".
"Really? Here I am thinking you are a blue blood".
"God no. I grew up in Cleveland, and a big summer treat was opening the fire hydrant". They stepped into the elevator, and Brian hit the "L" button.
"So your experience at Cornell was probably a lot like mine at Princeton".
Jeff looked mildly amused. "So, you knew I went to Cornell?"
"I do my research on the competition", Brian said with a grin.
"What else do you know about me?"
"I'll let you know over dinner. And I hope to find out more". Jeff slightly blushed again at the suggestion, and Brian thought it very endearing. He was clearly not the tyrant prick he thought he was. He was actually... shy. "You know I got stuck in this very elevator a few weeks ago. 90 minutes in here".
"That's a long time. What did you do for 90 minutes?"
Brian smiled. "I'll show you later".
I already apologized to the Krafts.
Chapter 6 is my favorite chapter, and was the one I most enjoyed writing. It's the appeal of Downton Abbey, and that division between classes that fascinates us, especially in America. Gates and Buffett and Bloomberg are rich- no doubt- but that proportion of wealth seen in the 1870's- 1920's where a handful of families really controlled America will never be seen again (and thank God for that, right!).
Newport and the lifestyles/homes of those families are fascinating. Go see it.
I wrote the scene in the hospital before Will was even a character. Somehow I got that image in my head, and it seemed to never let go. The rest of the story evolved from that. People who lose loved ones where they never get to see the person again, not even a body, not a funeral- that lack of closure keeps wounds open forever. I feel like 9/11 did that to many, many people so I had to throw in a short reference.
The concept of "Climbing the Corporate Ladder" i.e. making yourself a success was really about Brian, not Will. He learned the hard way that money can't buy you everything. It couldn't bring Harry back, and once he achieved that level of wealth that he could buy out the Krafts, he was still unhappy.
Speaking of buying out the Krafts, didn't you love the idea of Brian sleeping in Harry's boyhood bedroom? That made me tear up.
I got several emails about my characters all being too "straight" and asking what my shame or cowardice is towards being gay. I ignored those emails, but I'll take the chance here to respond: I hate that there is very little room in the gay community for guys who aren't stereotypes. I think we do ourselves a lot of harm and prevent greater tolerance because gay people, I find, don't accept men who don't act the part. I'm never going to a Lady Gaga concert. I don't follow Perez Hilton. Can I still be gay? It's telling that in Hollywood the flamboyant "gay" characters are often played by straight men (Cameron on Modern Family or the chubby kid in Mean Girls) and gay actors play straight characters (Neil Patrick Harris, Matthew Bomer). Today's portrayal of gay couples is often silly at best, offensive at worst. They are bitchy, catty, complete fags. The best TV gay couple was on "30 Something", and that show went off the air 20 years ago. We aren't making progress, we're accepting typecasts. It would be a lot easier for guys to come out if they were offered examples of gay men who don't have to act intrinsically "different" than straight men. There are gay football players, gay athletes and plumbers, marines and cops. Young men in those professions don't have anyone to identify with, to emulate, to look at and feel part of a community. So they stay closeted or pretend to be straight. Even teen movies aimed at gay kids, shit the characters are so freaking gay, no wonder why they get picked on at school. I was gay in High School. Do we have to put all the gay kids in the drama program like that terrible, terrible show Glee? So- my critics- I'm not ashamed and not hiding. I'm just a part of a group of gay men who identifies with the "man" part first. Before being a gay man, I am a man. That's just basic metaphysics. I write about characters who feel the same way. I'm not criticizing anyone who lives differently. Be as loud and proud as you want. Just tolerate me, too. -JJ