Martin's watch ticked 8 AM as he hurried through the crowded doors that were the entrance into the tower. Tourists and employees were hurrying into their early mornings, whether that consisted of seeing the city from a top floor observation point or calling French engineers to sort out a mishap with some American washing machines.
Martin clambered into an elevator and made sure that the bellhop pressed the button for the 97th story, where his financial company was centralized. The elevator, just like the other ninety, was filled with suited businessmen and chatty tourists anxious for the 107 stop at the very top of the tower, where they would have a crisp September view of the Hudson River mouth and the rest of New York City.
After about fifteen minutes of stopping and starting, Martin reached his floor. He greeted his friend Rick, who was headed to the floor beneath them, where a coffee machine was hooked up for all of the 90's floors to use. Martin straightened his tie and entered the office.
"Good morning, beautiful!" he said cordially to Sam, the cute receptionist at the front desk.
"Mr. Johnson, you're too kind!" Sam responded, chuckling. She pushed her auburn hair out of her eyes and looked up at him with a vibrant glow.
"How many times do I have to tell you to call me Martin?" he asked, grinning. Sam laughed.
"Probably at least one more time, Mr. Johnson. Here's some messages that you've gotten, sir!"
Martin took the post-it notes without looking. "Thank you, Miss Smith!"
Sam glared at him playfully. "Now that's not fair, Mr. Johnson."
Martin shrugged. "I'm sorry, Miss Smith. We have to stay cordial!"
Sam rolled her eyes and looked down at her computer. "Have a good day, Martin!"
Martin grinned as he walked away.
Martin's personal office was on the other side of the floor as the elevator entrance, but Martin didn't mind the rather lengthy walk. The corner office was worth it, and for being only 27 years old, he was damn proud of where he'd gotten. It'd taken four tough years at Fordham and several difficult internships, but now, here he was, coordinating international trade like no tomorrow. He was comfortable, he was content. The hour ride by public transportation from his New Jersey apartment didn't even bug him anymore. He loved the city and never wanted to leave.
"Je desolé!" Martin yelled into the phone in broken French. "Ici, Monsieur Carteaux. I will personally call the CEO of Sears and discuss this with him!" Martin spoke in slow English, and received what he assumed was a tongue-lashing of not-so-nice french from the older man on the other line, before he was hung up on. The language barrier was the only part of his job that was unfortunate.
Martin checked the clock. It was already 6:30, and he had gotten off at 6:00. Sighing and leaving himself a note to call Chuck, a representative of Sears' CEO, he stood, pulled on his suit jacket, turned off the violent fluorescent lights to his office, and hurried out.
"Bye, Martin!" a cheery voice called from the water jug. Martin turned around and found Sam unplugging the device while she cleaned up.
"'Night, Sam," Martin said, grinning, and continued his slow meander out of the building.
Suddenly, Martin stopped. He wheeled around on one foot and spoke: "Sam, what are you doing tonight?"
Sam looked surprised, but grinned nonetheless. "Well, I was going to go home and work on a paper for school…"
Martin grinned. "Well, if you're hungry, I'd be happy to treat you to dinner first."
Sam studied him to make sure he wasn't kidding. Satisfied, she grinned. "I'd love that," she said. She put down the papers she had been organizing, took Martin's hand, and they walked out of the room, already talking, still grinning.
The night passed wonderfully, and Martin found himself waking up in an unfamiliar bedroom. It took him a few minutes to comprehend what had happened and where he was. Suddenly, he remembered. He turned to where Sam's resting body should have been, but found no one.
"Looking for someone?" a voice asked. Martin turned towards the bedroom door. Sam was standing there, wearing Martin's button-down dress shirt and apparently nothing underneath. She held a steaming cup of coffee. Martin grinned. He got out of bed and pulled on the pants that were in a wrinkled heap on the floor, much farther from the bed than he would have thought. He checked the clock. It was almost 7.
"You're up early," Martin said, grinning. He kissed her, passionately. They kissed for at least a minute, and Martin, by no means, wanted to stop.
"We do have to go to work, you know," Sam said, chuckling.
Martin rolled his eyes. "Let's just skip today," he said. "It's a nice day outside, let's just hang out in the city!"
Sam grinned. "I would love to, believe me. But you know Rick will kill us if we do."
Martin sighed. "I know. We'd better get going."
Sam nodded. "There's some toast on the counter for you. I'll go ahead and iron your stuff." She pointed at his pants, and he rolled his eyes and let her have them.
A half-hour later, they were on their way. The cool Wednesday morning greeted them like an old friend. Sam lived much closer to the tower than Martin did, and they arrived around 8, just on time. The sun lighted up the tile floor of the building, reflecting Martin's warm feelings.
"Martin, you dog!" a voice called when the two stepped out of the elevator. Martin grinned.
Rick walked up, grinning. His shiny dark head creased with happiness. "I swear you wore the same thing yesterday."
Martin looked at Sam, who blushed and hurried to her desk. Martin checked to make sure she wasn't listening. "Score!" He exclaimed, and exchanged high fives with Rick.
"It's about time, too!" Rick said. "We were beginning to wonder if you two would ever get together."
"Hey now!" Martin said, grinning. "Good things take time!"
Rick nodded, "just don't mess it up."
Martin looked Rick in the eye. "I don't plan on it."
"Listen, Chuck, France is pissed about that recall. They want full reimbursement with interest…. Yes, I told them that it was impossible to do that, that it wasn't even your fault, but they are insisting."
Martin rolled his eyes and sighed as Chuck proceeded to explain things that Martin already understood. The first forty minutes of work had gone fast, most likely because his mind was definitely on something else. Sam's face flashed in his mind and he grinned again.
"Yes, Chuck, I know and I told Carteaux that. He's insistent. He wants to make some kind of deal…. Chuck, would you just—,"
Suddenly, a huge crash shook the entire office. Martin jumped out of his seat and looked at the clock. It was 8:46. Chuck was still rambling into the phone.
"Look, Chuck, I'm going to have to call you back." Martin hung up the phone without even listening for a reply. He stared out the window of his office, which faced southwest, and saw nothing. He heard people scrambling outside and some shrieks of fright, and he raced out the door.
When he got outside, his heart stopped.
The north tower was on fire. Billows of black smoke were pouring out of the opposite side of the tower.
"What happened?" Martin shouted. He saw Sam pushing through the crowd, and he grabbed her arm.
"A plane," she whispered, her face white with fear. "A plane flew into it."
"Holy shit." Martin said, his hand instinctively covering his shocked and confused mouth. "What do we do?"
Rick appeared next to Martin. "It was probably an accident," he said, sounding worried but not stressed. "Maybe a plane just accidentally hit it."
"An accident?" Sam asked, dumbfounded and still pallid. "So the pilot just didn't notice the fucking huge building in front of it?"
Rick shrugged. "Maybe he was drunk. Who knows? Let's get back to work."
Sam turned to Martin as Rick walked away. Martin was still staring at the building, thinking of all of the people in there that were probably dead now.
"I want to get out," Sam said. "I don't give a shit what Rick says. That was no accident. You didn't see it. The guy was deliberate."
Martin was confused. He looked into Sam's eyes. She looked genuinely terrified.
"Okay. Let's go."
Sam and Martin fought their way out of the company's office, through the throng of employees from different parts of the floor that had come to see what happened. The hallways were beginning to fill with worried workers from higher stories who were trying to get out. Sam wrapped her hand in Martin's, and they dove in.
"I got a text from a friend," the voice of a maintenance guy, most likely a college student, spread to everyone cramped in the 95th floor staircase. "He's on a flight from Boston. He said that they turned around. He said there was some sort of fight on board. Flight 175."
"My wife called." Another voice, as they passed the 90th floor. "She said that the streets are filled with people watching. She said that people are evacuating buildings all around the city. She said that there's rumor that it's a terrorist."
"Let's take a break," Sam begged ten minutes into the journey. She was running down the stairs in heels. "Just for a few minutes."
They stepped onto the 86th floor, which seemed to be more or less deserted. People on the lower floors seemed to be more worried than Rick had been. Since their journey began, the stairs had just become more and more crowded.
Sam sat on a leather couch that was facing a window, which viewed the expanse of the Hudson River mouth, meaning it was south. She put her head in her legs, trying to catch her breath. Martin stayed standing, looking out the window and trying to wrap his mind around what had just happened.
Suddenly, in the distance, Martin saw a plane. It was low, about the level of what might've equaled the 75th story in the building. And it was heading straight for the south tower. Printed on the side in red letters was United Airways.
"Sam," he said, watching. She didn't respond. "Sam!" he shouted. The plane was within a mile and not slowing down. It was going to hit.
Sam stood and grabbed Martin. "Holy –,"
As the plane made impact, Martin grabbed Sam and held on as tight as he could. The windows shattered and the building shook harder than before. Flames whipped up the side of the building, catching the carpet and furniture on the 86th floor. The building seemed to sway with the impact, almost to the point that it should have just snapped. It didn't. The crashing sound echoed through the floor, through the building, probably through the entire city. Sam was screaming into Martin's chest and he felt tears and blood rolling down his cheeks. The glass from the windows had rained upon them, and both were cut up, but they were alive.
The shaking and crashing calmed down, and only then did Sam let go of Martin. They stared at the devastation around them. Windows were blown out and solid oak desks were burning with terrifying strength.
"What do we do?" Sam screamed, almost hysterical. She bent down, breathing deep and coughing violently. Her hair was frazzled and singed. Tears poured down her fragile cheeks as she lost control. "What the fuck are we going to do?"
"Sam!" Martin yelled, grabbing her and wrapping his shaking arms around her. She was shaking out of fear and sobbing uncontrollably. He wiped the blood out of his eyes, trying to convince himself that he wasn't crying. He already knew what was going to happen.
"I should have listened to you," she whispered, sounding almost like a child.
"What do you mean?" Martin asked, trying to sound soothing, though he was anything but calm. His voice caught and he let out a small, terrified sob.
"This morning. You wanted to skip work." Sam's eyes were bloodshot as she looked at him with more regret than Martin had ever seen.
Martin shook his head consolingly. "I wasn't serious," he said, using his soiled, dusty suit jacket to stem the blood from one of his many cuts. He tossed it aside. "Sam, look at me."
Sam refused. She buried her bleeding face into Martin's chest.
"Sam, look." Martin grabbed her face and looked deep into her eyes. He saw her fear, her worry, her terror. He did the only thing he knew how. He did what felt right.
"I love you," he said, and he kissed her.
It was the most powerful kiss that Martin had ever experienced. Even with the obvious taste of blood, the saltiness of their tears, and the scathing smell of smoke, Martin knew he had never felt a kiss so powerful.
Sam pulled away first. She was no longer crying—there was no more room for tears. "Let's jump," she said decisively, choking up on the word 'jump'. "The building is going to fall. Let's just jump. Maybe we'll make it."
Martin knew that they wouldn't. But he knew it was the only option. He took her hand, trying to quell his own terror. "Okay. Let's do it."
The two walked to where the window had been, and climbed onto the ledge. Martin refused to look down. Smoke continued to billow out of the hole in the south wall. The building shook with tremors and shifted. It was only a matter of time.
"Martin?" Sam said. She sounded braver than she ever had. He looked at her, saw her deep brown eyes. Something had changed in them, since even that very morning.
Sam cleared her throat weakly and spoke with heartfelt sincerity. "I love you, too."
Martin grinned weakly, and, clutching hands and watching the other, they jumped.