[November Breaks] THEN | 14 | Noah

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Answering my phone before my eyes are open is a habit I might never shake. It’s Max, because who else would it be at seven-thirty on a Monday morning?

“OK,” he says, “so I’ve picked through everything a bit more and it looks solid. Not much scope for expansion, though. I know you said you didn’t care about that, but still, consider your options. And I spoke to Lewis. He’s on board to handle negotiations.”

“Good. Thanks. But I still don’t care about expansion and I have been considering my options.” I stretch out an arm and the other side of the bed is empty and cold. “Who’s your new residential property person? Diana something?”

“Dinah Ford. She’s an absolute genius. Why? What are you thinking?” There’s a new tension in his voice and I know I’ve single handedly obliterated the positive effects of his morning yoga and meditation.

I pull on last night’s trousers. I’m not the kind of person who leaves last night’s trousers on the floor in the first place, never mind the kind of person who puts them on again the next morning, but here I am. “Moving. Buying. Selling. How much detail do you want before I’ve had coffee? I can’t promise it’s going to be coherent.”

“Enough to bring my blood pressure back down to a non-lethal level, please. This newfound decisiveness is unnerving. It doesn’t sound like you.”

I open the bedroom door and walk down the hall into the living room. “You know I want to buy a place on the coast. I told you I’d be doing that if things went ahead with Alchemy. I have very specific requirements and I don’t have the patience to deal with all the complications myself.”

“Now you’re starting to sound more like you.”

“And I’ve been thinking, I want to keep the place I’m in now and buy two others, in the city or the suburbs, maybe one of each, I don’t know yet. That’s what I want to talk to Dinah about.”

Max lets out a breath with a level of control that suggests he’d been counting to ten in his head while I was talking. “Where’s all this coming from?”

“I’m getting my shit together, like you keep telling me to do. You don’t get to be difficult about it.”

“Fine. I just… fine. When do you want to move on this?”

“Can you set up a meeting for us with Dinah and Lewis as soon as possible? Not today, but definitely this week.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“And ask Dev to get my coffee in. Max, I need to go, but I’ll talk to you soon. And thank you. Really.”

Brett’s sitting cross-legged on the couch, a laptop balanced across his knees, a tablet on the seat beside him, and a phone on the armrest. He’s working between all three devices and he seems calm, serene, deeply engrossed in his screens. He’s wearing last night’s trousers too and one of my sweaters, too big and somehow perfect on him. I almost can’t handle seeing him like this, on my couch, in my home, no pretences. It’s only been a week and a half, and nothing makes sense anymore.

He doesn’t look up. “Who’s Max?”

“My financial advisor.”

“Is he hot?”

“Is that relevant?”

“That’s always relevant.”

“Max is sharp and complicated. He can’t keep up with his own mind, and he’s unnervingly proficient at manipulating systems.”

Now he looks up, and it’s a punch to the gut. “So you have a type?”

“I have no rules and a lot of exceptions. And he’s my financial advisor. He isn’t—”

Brett’s phone rings. “Jordan, hey. What are you doing picking up messages at this time of the morning? I don’t believe you get paid enough to care this much… Yeah, I’m fine. I’m working from home, so forward all my calls until three. Then I have a meeting until the end of the day and it’s important, so no calls until after seven. Actually, fuck it, no calls from three this afternoon until tomorrow.”

I don’t want to seem like I’m listening, so I go to the kitchen to get coffee. I can still hear him.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I’ll see how I’m doing when I get up tomorrow. Tell Byron to chill the fuck out or I’ll go freelance and he can sue me over the non-compete.”

I push the door closed so the bean grinder doesn’t disturb him, then I open it again because of course I’m listening.

“Breathe, Jordan. I’m fucking with you. Tell him I’ll definitely call him later. I will politely explain to him that I’m about to hit peak burn-out, which he’s actually aware of already, so I’m going to start taking some of that remote time I’ve hardly used. He’ll survive.”

I wait until he says goodbye before I start the espresso machine.

When I come back into the living room, he looks at the two cups I’m carrying. “You didn’t ask if I wanted any.”

“If you don’t, I’ll drink both.”

“I do.”

“I know.” I set one of the cups on the table next to him and, without taking his eyes off his screens, he moves it off the coaster and onto the glass. I wince at the noise and the corners of his mouth lift slightly.

I knock back my own double shot and leave him. Twenty minutes later, I’m showered and dressed, but he hasn’t moved. He’s twisting the sleeves of his sweater, my sweater, around his hands. His forehead ripples through a series of small frowns.

I sit at the opposite end of the couch. “Take a break. Drink your coffee.”

“Huh? Yeah, all right.” He closes the laptop and sets it on the table, then sets his tablet on top of it and his phone on top of that, so everything is precisely in the centre of the object beneath it. Lifting his coffee in pale fingers, bruises faded, he looks exhausted and manic now, a marked difference from the workaholic zen of less than half an hour ago.

I want to know how often he flicks between those two states, but I don’t know how to start that conversation, so I go with something less complicated. “How long have you been up?” We went to bed around midnight and to sleep around one thirty.

He drinks the coffee like it’s vodka and sets the cup back down on the glass table. “Since two-fourteen for a couple of hours. Then again since five twenty-one. I’m good though.”

“Come back here after your meeting.” I should have phrased it as a question, but it wasn’t one, not really. He doesn’t say anything, but he stands up and stretches, sleeves still twisted around his hands so his sweater, my sweater, lifts when he raises his arms. The bruises don’t shock me because I know exactly how they got there, but I still can’t look at the scars without temporary paralysis seizing my throat. I also can’t not look at them. I keep having that problem with him. I’m not sure it’s even a problem.

He walks past me to the window, opens it and lights a cigarette from my pack with my silver lighter. “Smoke this with me.”

This is how we speak to each other, in statements and demands, questions reserved for only the least significant subjects. And I want to tell him everything, already, but I also know I won’t.