It’s late, and I really wish I could go home, but there’s so much more work to do. Kinnesberg eases away from the conference table with a heavy sigh, and I grapple to understand what I’ve done wrong this time.
“No, no, no. You cannot say that.” She sounds as tired as I feel. Strands of her brown hair have been working free of her usually tight bun, giving her a definitive after-work hours look. That, coupled with the fact she’s dispensed with her suit jacket and even pushed up her sleeves, tells me how far into the night we are without looking at my phone. That’s not allowed, anyway.
I’m not supposed to check on the outside world when we are working like this. I can’t even check on my campaign’s social media. I have someone to do that for me now. I seem to have someone to do everything these days, apart from wiping my own backside. I’m sure Kinnesberg has interviews planned to appoint someone to that role tomorrow, though. My staff continues to grow at an almost alarming rate. I’m told it’s a good thing.
More people want to turn up and help get me elected, but it just seems to make everything so much more involved. I’m used to being a one-man operation. Sure, I’ve often doled out jobs to others. Entrusted them with responsibilities, but it was always with me in the background, gently controlling everything. Leaving Kinnesberg to handle all matters of my campaign, often without informing me, is starting to feel a bit unsettling. Even now, she’s watching me with that look. I can tell she’s trying to work out which way I’m going to go and what she needs to do to keep me on course for what she’s planned. I have several options, and with weariness filling my tone, I settle for, “What was wrong with what I said?”
“You cannot praise all the detectives who have been investigating the former mayor’s murder.”
I’m starting to lose my patience with all this practice for the big debate between me and my rivals. Every question she throws at me, my answer doesn’t meet her exacting standards. I thought I was a perfectionist, but she is something else. My next words come through gritted teeth.
“And why the hell not?”
“Because you are failing to mention all the uniformed cops who are involved in the investigation. That’s an oversight.”
“Detectives or cops, aren’t they all the same?”
Her hands go from her hips to the sides of her head.
“For god’s sake, Darnell, don’t let them hear you say that!” I simply glare at her like a petulant child. “Don’t make me explain it to you.” I slide the notes that have been prepared for me across the table’s top.
“Can’t we give it a rest?”
She steps forward, hips swinging as she closes in on me.
“What will you do when you’re elected, and someone drags you out of bed in the middle of the night because of a major disaster?” Her gaze is expectant, but before I can reply, she whirls away from me and stomps her feet on the floor. “Don’t ask me what to do! I’m too tired. Ask me in the morning. Waaahh, waaahh.” Now her fists are at her eyes, rubbing them like she’s a baby.
“Is that what’s happening with this media circus, then? Will all the other candidates be in their pyjamas, too?”
“Darnell, please!” It’s her turn to look worn down. She paces the length of the room, her heels leaving little marks on the carpet as she moves. “It takes us so much longer if you insist on arguing about everything.”
“Can you stop giving me things to argue about, then?”
Another look at the ceiling. I’m certain she’s counting. For a second, she looks completely different. The way the light casts down on her features. It elongates her nose and jawline. Momentarily, she’s almost angelic. Then she’s not. Her head dips down, her eyes full of annoyance. Shadows pool under her eyes, nose, and chin. Now she looks like I shouldn’t be messing with her.
“Can’t you accept what’s going on here? So many people are trying so hard to get you the job you want. None of us came to you and told you to do this. Yet we’re all pulling together to help you. So read the words we’ve fu—” She catches herself. “Read the words we have written for you. Show you can do that, and then we can go home to bed.” I open my mouth, ready for a quick quip, but she shuts me down with a look. “And don’t make some god-awful joke about whose bed. I’m not that sort of worker, all right?”
I nod slowly before I give in to temptation.
“Because if you were, you wouldn’t get much business with that grump on, would you?” I think she’s going to blow, but she’s fast with her own retort.
“This face would make plenty of money, as would the rest of me, before you get any smarter.” She cracks a smile, and I can’t help but reciprocate.
“It’s certainly said by many in the office that you could lose a dime in that backside of yours.” No one has said that, but the words improve her mood and mine.
“Oh, honey,” she giggles as she places her hands on her knees and bends slightly. “You couldn’t get a dime up here.”
“My mistake. I meant everyone says you are a legendary tight-arse.” Now she goes blank, her eyes flicking between her stuck out posterior and me. “Have you never heard that before?”
“Go on,” she straightens. She’s not unhappy, but the little gleam has disappeared from her smile.
“Have you never been insulted in an English pub?”
“Unsurprisingly, I’ve not been anywhere near one of those.”
“Well, what do you do in a pub?” It’s not easy explaining something when you can only be dishonest.
“Drink?” She hazards as she sits down next to me.
“How do you get those?”
“I pay for them.” She brightens, trying to recapture the lightness of a moment ago. “With something called toad in the hole.” I laugh, and it feels good.
“And what do you call someone who doesn’t buy drinks for anyone else?”
“A tight-arse.” Her voice wafts across to me as she falls in. “So it’s someone who doesn’t like spending money. The guy who disappears before it’s his round, that sort of thing.” I beam at her until she speaks again. “Just like you.”
“Don’t you think I’d buy you a drink if you ever let me out of this eternal hell?”
Her eyelids bat at me.
“Who says I want to go for a drink with you?”
I draw up. I hadn’t meant it that way. I’m lost for words. A vision of a redhead floats across my mind, her expression so blank, so dead. I know my mouth has dropped open, and I ease it shut before gulping hard. I find Kinnesberg again, but she can’t meet my eyes. I move my jaw, but nothing comes out. It’s difficult to know what to say after what happened before and what I did to the love of my life. I have sworn off women. Not that Kinnesberg knows that. Why should she? All we do is discuss work. We know nothing about each other’s personal lives. She could be married for all I know. Well, no, she can’t be. She wouldn’t do the hours she does with me if that was the case. No one would hang around for a setup like that, would they? I sigh and then realise I’ve done it. Her head turns towards me.
“I…errr…” I start, but she stops me.
“Shall we just get this practice over with, and then we can both go home.” She quickly adds, very pointedly, “Separately. To our own beds.”
I pull the sheets of paper towards me, and we return to rehearsing. I have trouble focusing, though. Tonight has been a sharp reminder of where I am in my life. How difficult it has been for me recently. I am trying to be better, even though my past actions still haunt me, especially because they still do.
I need to keep my guard up, though. Maintain a distance from others. I don’t need to mess around. I’m not a kid. I’m a god, and maybe, just maybe, it’s time I started acting like one. Or at least, I should apply the same work ethic as some of the other immortals. Maybe it’s the only way I can really wipe my slate clean and make the most of this fresh start.