[November Breaks] PROLOGUE | Brett

📝 View November Breaks’ information and table of contents here
☕ If you enjoy this story and would like to buy me a coffee, you can do that here

WEDNESDAY 1ST NOVEMBER 2017

“Jordan, what?” My assistant. I haven’t fucked him yet, but I’ve been thinking about it probably more than I should. Is there even a right amount to think about that? Thing is, he has good hands. I like his fingers. I want to feel them tighten around my throat until the floor falls away.

Anyway.

He’s calling from his desk, outside my office, where I’m not. I was there, but it was too much. That keeps happening. It keeps being too much and I keep having to not be there. I’m thinking in circles again. Layers of circles. Apparently people don’t think things like I’m thinking, but that’s a sweeping and wildly inaccurate generalisation, in my opinion. Maybe not everyone thinks about themselves like they’re watching their own brain doing whatever it does that they can’t keep up with and—

“Byron’s looking for you,” says Jordan, then he sets down the phone. He leaves it connected so I can hear what’s happening in his corner of the open plan stress pit inhabited by Allegra Technologies’ subservient agents of desperation.

Lucas Byron’s voice is loud enough to set me on edge, even through two phones and however many layers of concrete. “Have you seen Archer?” he barks, and I imagine everyone wincing at the sound, their shoulders hunched, teeth clenching against the assault.

The reply comes quietly. “I don’t know.” It’s the new guy. I haven’t fucked him either. Yet.

“You don’t know if you’ve seen him?” Byron isn’t even trying to reel in his aggression.

“I mean, I don’t know where he is. I saw him a while ago. Sorry.” New guy’s voice is shaking. I like the way he says sorry.

“Where was he when you saw him?” Now Byron’s moderating his tone. He’s not accustomed to dealing with lower-level employees. He barely tolerates having to deal with me, and I’ve been here for years, lining his pockets and putting up with his tantrums.

“The roof. That’s sometimes where he goes. As far as I know. He mentioned it before. Sort of.”

I only slightly hold it against new guy. I have mentioned the roof before, but I figured anyone within earshot would know I don’t come up here because I want to be interrupted.

“What’s he doing there?” I’d be getting a kick out of Byron’s stress if he wasn’t about to come looking for me.

“I don’t know. He said not to disturb him unless the building’s burning down.”

Good to know this is a catastrophe equal in severity to a large-scale office fire, for fuck’s sake.

Jordan’s talking again. To me, not about me. “He’s on his way. And Janek’s sitting here with his head in his hands saying ‘Brett’s going to kill me’ over and over again like a fucking Hail Mary.”

Janek. Janek. “I’m not going to kill him, but let him think I might. And tell him to apologise next time he sees me. OK. Later.”

I scan my physical presence and take stock of how I’m interacting with the objects and space around me. Something else people apparently don’t do. One foot’s tapping on nothing but high empty space to counts of five. The other’s pressing against the inside of the low wall I’m sitting on. My fingers are dancing across my keyboard at the speed of progress, and it sounds like comfort. Sometimes I try to turn off the stream of awareness of my actions and their immediate consequences, but I can’t. It’s only one stream of many. It doesn’t matter.

The roof access door clicks and slams. I didn’t know that door could slam.

“Archer, what the ever-loving fuck are you doing up here?” Byron’s words collide with a breeze that does nothing to soften them, and the two opposing swells of air come to a dead stop against each other. He moves through the world in a constant state of opposition, generating conflict.

I do too, but at a lower volume. “I can concentrate better.” It isn’t exactly untrue. Even when I close my office door and turn the glass walls opaque, it’s distracting to know there are so many other people nearby. It’s the wrong kind of noise and too much of it. Up here, it’s peaceful. Or it was.

Byron tilts his head towards my laptop. “If you drop that over the edge, it’ll kill someone. Do you know what our fucking insurance would be like after that?” His priorities are always on point.

“I’m not going to drop it.” I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it. I’ve thought about it five times in the last hour. Six now. Once every ten minutes, if you want to average it out. “And I like that you’re not concerned about me dropping myself over the edge.” That, I’ve also thought about, with slightly greater frequency. Not in a suicidal way. I have no practical interest in ending myself, but it’d be a hell of a trip.

I keep remembering a dream where I jumped off a building that wasn’t this one and landed on concrete and how unexpectedly conscious of everything I still was when my body burst open. I see it from every possible angle in the space behind my eyes and it no longer fully distracts me, but I notice it.

“That would be an expensive disaster too,” says Byron. “Come back from there. You’re making me nervous.”

“I didn’t think anything made you nervous.” I file away ‘edges of high places’ under ‘Byron, things to use against’ in the appropriate section of my mind for future reference.

“Fuck off,” he says, and the veins at his temples are pulsating. I imagine his head exploding. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about that either. It’s always a good image, one I pull out of the ‘unrealistic but satisfying’ collection in my brain when work pisses me off too much.

I plant both feet firmly on the roof and shut my laptop, resisting the urge to lean back just to see Byron panic. “Better?”

“Marginally.” His vertigo-by-proxy visibly fades. “Do you know what time it is?”

“Ten forty-one.”

“You should have been inside at half past.”

“Why? What happened?”

“That’s not what I… are you fucking with me, Archer?”

“No.” I usually am, but not now. Not entirely. Now that he’s mentioned it, I was supposed to be doing something, but I don’t remember what. This is unusual. I don’t not remember things. I remember things compulsively. I open the calendar in my head and I can see something blocked off in a hazy purple, but I can’t see the text. I squint with my mind’s eye, but it’s a blur. Still, it’s fine. He’ll yell about whatever it is and I’ll go back inside and do it perfectly and all will be forgiven. That’s how this works. It’s not a problem.

Byron takes a deep breath, and it hisses through gritted teeth. There’s a unique pleasure in frustrating someone with this degree of accuracy and persistence. It never gets old. On my first day at Allegra, he told me not to be a smug little asshole because there was no shortage of speed-addled, over-achieving graduates waiting to take my place. I’ve been getting on his last nerve for almost a decade and a half, but I’m still here because I’m excellent at what I do and he knows it.

“The meeting,” he says, as if that tells me everything I need to know.

“Right,” I say, as if I have any fucking idea what he’s talking about.

“The presentation.”

“Of course.”

And the writing becomes clear. The purple block solidifies to a deeper intensity of colour and the white text sharpens and it all makes sense. Everything makes sense again. It’s all right. I’m completely prepared for this and it’s fine. A new client. It doesn’t matter who. I could do this in my sleep.I stand up and shut down the second screen in my head, the one that mirrors the window I closed on my laptop when Byron arrived. I see it go dark from edge to centre, data from one of the personal projects I shouldn’t have been looking at on company time vanishing to a point. People don’t think things like I see. They just see. I’m doing it wrong. I’m watching myself from a distance again and—