[November Breaks] NOW | 23 | Brett

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TUESDAY 22ND JANUARY 2019

Max’s desk is glass like mine was. Is. I’m sure the desk is still glass, but it isn’t mine anymore, or it won’t be soon. The desk and I are both in limbo at the moment, half free and half still in the possession of our previous owners. Whoever sits behind it next probably won’t have a film projected on the inside of their consciousness about what it would be like to smash it with their fists and drag their hands back through the broken edges, flaying their fingers and shredding their veins.

Anyway.

“Brett, did you hear anything I said?”

Fuck. No. Not a fucking word. “Yeah, I was processing it all. I appreciate the explanation, but I don’t mind how you do it as long as the funds are released and it doesn’t bring down disasters on anyone. Keep it as legit as you can and hide whatever you need to hide. Tell me what I need to sign and I’ll sign it.”

Max’s left eye twitches a couple of times. “I’d feel better if you fully understood every step of the process.”

“I’d feel better if I didn’t have to. Noah trusts you, so I trust you.” At least fifty per cent of that trust comes from knowing how much exceptionally questionable shit Max has kept a lid on over the years he’s been doing what he does, but the other fifty per cent has a lot to do with my trust in your trust. My thoughts have become one side of a conversation with you, and it doesn’t even seem strange anymore. When did that happen? When did it become normal?

The phone on Max’s desk rings and he looks almost grateful for the interruption. I’m frustrating him. This is what I do. He mouths, “Coffee?” at me and I nod because I’m grateful for the interruption too and apparently I don’t drink vodka in the morning anymore. Other people definitely don’t, but they probably didn’t use to either.

Max lifts a hand, signalling to someone outside the office.

A minute later, the door opens and his assistant comes in. Dev. I met him briefly earlier, and he still seems as nervous as he did when I walked in. He looks like nervous might be his default setting. “I’m sorry,” he says, “I thought we still had some of the coffee Mr Thurston likes in case Mr Archer prefers it too, but we don’t, so I only have this other one from the kitchen. I hope it’s all right.”

“It’s fine. Instant would be fine. I’m not the way Noah is about coffee.” I smile at Dev and his discomfort visibly increases. He sets the tray with the french press, milk and sugar on the desk between Max and me. I can’t tell if he’s uncomfortable with me in particular smiling at him or if attention from anyone unsettles him. I think it might be attention in general, but I still give him a look that makes him almost trip over his feet as he leaves because I refuse to be outdone by a more everyday kind of neurosis.

Max doesn’t notice. He catches my eye and nods towards the coffee, still making sounds of acknowledgment into the phone. I pour mine and leave it black. I’m not drinking it for the taste anyway. He adds at least half the milk and three sugars.

“OK, thanks, bye,” he says, hangs up the phone and focuses on me again. “Sorry about that. So, have you considered potential next steps yet?”

I don’t think I can talk my way around the truth. “No. Not even slightly. Can I leave that up to you as well?”

Max’s fingers curl and vibrate slightly before he very intentionally relaxes his hands. “I can put something together for you, a few solid options, offer advice and refer you to my colleagues for guidance in specific areas, but the final decision really needs to be yours.”

The last thing I want is to make decisions, but at least it doesn’t have to happen yet. I’m suddenly tired. More than tired. Profoundly exhausted in body and mind. I’ve been up since three this morning and it’s just past eleven now, but that shouldn’t be enough to make me feel like there’s lead in my veins. I need to say the right thing, whatever will open the door of this office and let me leave. “That would be really helpful, thank you. Would a couple of weeks be long enough to get something ready?”

“I could do it much sooner,” says Max, his knuckles tense.

“A couple of weeks would be all right, even a month if that suits.” I drink half of my coffee in one go. “I have some things I need to deal with about my job before I officially leave the company, so that’s taking up a lot of energy right now. I want to make sure I can give you, this, my full attention when the time comes. I know how important it is.” I know, but I can’t make myself care as much as I’m supposed to.

He exhales and sits back, stretching his hands. That was the right thing to say. It was something I’m sure he’s never heard from you. He smiles, and it’s genuine. Max officially likes me, which will make everything easier from here on in. He’ll fix things for me. He’ll want me to be happy. He might still be demanding of my attention and it may be easier to give him that on his terms sometimes, but it will, ultimately, work in my favour.

“Great,” he says. “Shall we make an appointment for you to come back in?”

“Would it be all right with you if we didn’t right now? I’m not sure where I’m going to be with work, and I don’t want to end up having to reschedule at the last minute and complicate things for you.” I am a good person. I am thoughtful and kind. I am not at all high maintenance and difficult to deal with.

“I suppose we could—”

“Great. I’ll give you a call and set something up. I’m looking forward to it.” I finish my coffee, stand up and start walking towards the door.

He gets up and follows. “Do have a think about what I said earlier though, please.”

“Of course.” I have no idea what he said earlier. With one hand on the door handle, I reach the other towards him. “Max, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time. Noah has never had anything but good words about you and I’m grateful you were willing to take me on as a client at such short notice.”

He shakes my hand, flustered at the compliments.

I grip his knuckles a little too tightly, for long enough that he has to notice, but not long enough for him to be absolutely positive it was intentional. Then I fire one last sharply targeted smile at him and leave.

Outside, the pavements are slick and reflective with rain and passing buses send waves over the kerbs. My boots kick puddles, water runs in rivers from my hair and I become part of the downpour.