[November Breaks] NOW | 21 | Brett

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FRIDAY 11TH JANUARY 2019

Weed agrees with you. It relaxes you, unties the knots in your muscles and allows you to drift. It brings out an unexpected warmth. Not that you aren’t charming all the time. You are. Charming, smooth, unshakably polite, almost hypnotically so. You don’t put people at ease as much as calmly arrange them into exactly the right position, and they’re so captivated by you they don’t consider there might be a difference between what you want and what they want. We both do a version of that, but not with the same energy.

There’s a distance to it with you, a barrier that’s part habit and part something built around you by other people’s perception. Weed lowers it until you’re leaning back in your favourite chair, turned to face the view. Your feet are on the windowsill in front of you and your arms are raised, thumbs absentmindedly kneading the knots where your neck meets your shoulders. You’re watching the rain lashing down outside, sheets of it crashing from an angry sky. And I’m watching you.

Earlier today, a motorcycle courier delivered a package. From Jordan Rogen, for Brett Archer. May be signed for by Noah Thurston. Hand deliver to recipients only. Do not leave unattended. You dropped it into my lap and said, “Your assistant is missing you.”

It was a box of chocolates. Handcrafted, organic, whatever, accompanied by a card that said Medical-grade recovery fuel. -J. Concealed beneath the top tray of chocolates was a neat row of pre-rolled joints, pure grass, no tobacco. Jordan has been getting particularly good weed lately, and he’s reliable, subtle, and skilled at predicting my requirements. Regardless of where either of us works, now or in the future, we will stay in touch.

I lit one of the joints and you gave me a look. “You aren’t supposed to have that.”

“Legally, no-one’s supposed to have this.”

“I mean you, personally, right now.”

“No, I’m not supposed to have vodka. Cannabis has not yet factored into any serious injuries.” I smoked the joint down halfway and handed you the other half. Time stretched and yawned and cradled us. You in your chair, your soul half in your body and half drenched in January collapsing outside. Me on the couch, stretched out and warm. And I did it. I quit. That part of my life is not so much complete within me as sedated and restrained, buried alive and peacefully running out of oxygen.

When you called Byron yesterday to tell him I was recovering at home, he said he was working on ways to waive my notice period, given the circumstances, as if that would be your priority. He’s probably shitting himself in case I sue. He said I rarely took time off and almost never used any remote time, so they could build that into my notice as long as I come in to tie up loose ends at some point over the next three months. I will. Not yet, but I will. And then perhaps that part of my life will quietly suffocate on its own unreleased carbon dioxide and I can move on.

Now, music floats from speakers perfectly spaced around the room, something angry from the mid-nineties and I try to imagine you younger, wearing leather and eyeliner, dancing in a heaving crowd with sweat dripping down the walls. I tell the speakers to turn it up and you pull your focus away from the rain to raise an eyebrow in my direction. “Is that good for your head?”

“It’s drowning out everything else.”

“What else is there?”

“What there always is. Everything.”

A haze in the air, soil-grown, crystals and leaves. Seconds fall, torrential, sliding down the windows until the familiar cracks and crunches of your spine pull me back into the room when you stand up and stretch. You smell faintly of cedar and sandalwood as you settle on the floor next to the couch.

I turn onto my side and light another joint with the silver lighter you don’t let anyone else touch. Silver like the strands interrupting the dark of your hair. The strap of your watch. The hood over the free-standing open fireplace that made me fall in love with this house at the same time the high ceilings told you this was the place we were looking for.

A vague recollection of a grounding exercise floats up from the recesses of the single therapy session I ever attended, forever ago. An overpaid suit in a badly decorated office asked me to choose a colour. I couldn’t decide. His fingers tightened on the arms of the fake leather chair as he explained slowly with forced patience that I could calm my mind by naming five things I could see around me in a colour of my choice. I told him to go fuck himself.

That one session must have gotten into my head though, because I still find fives soothing. Silver like the back of my phone, face-down on the glass coffee table, out of reach. That’s five now. It’s going to be all right.

You reach a hand back for the joint. “Brett?”

“Mmm?”

“Tell me a secret.”

I hand the joint to you. “One of mine or one of yours?”

You take it and inhale deeply. “I don’t know how to feel about you being able to tell me one of my secrets.”

“It shouldn’t bother you. You can do it too. Maybe not in exactly the same way and you might not have thought about it in those terms, but you can.”

“Can I?” You return the joint.

I smoke it down to the end and resist a sudden urge to put it out on the back of my hand. “Of course you can. People are just systems. Whether you’re making them do what you want, disrupting them, or shutting them down, it doesn’t matter. There’s a way of understanding, of seeing into them. It makes us good at what we do.”

“Did.”

“Did what?”

“What I did. I don’t do it anymore.”

“I guess I don’t do what I did anymore, either.” I lean forward and bury my face in your hair, taking a deep breath and mumbling against your skull, half whisper and half kiss. “In the hospital, when I said I didn’t remember falling. That wasn’t true. I did remember. I do. I remember the whole thing in slow motion.”

“That’s not the secret.” You twist around and look at me, only for a moment, but it’s enough to be comforting, enough to reassure me you haven’t entirely given up on trying to solve me.

One deep breath of you and the truth comes weightlessly and without hesitation. “When I was falling and time slowed down, I felt like maybe this is finally it, this is the end, and how since I met you, I always assumed you would be there when it happened.”

You turn to face me again, thunder-blue eyes counting cycles of eternity in a series of slow blinks. “Good. Now tell me one of mine.”