DONALD KEPT THE thick folder tucked inside his jacket and hurried through the rain. He had chosen to get soaked crossing the square rather than face his claustrophobia in the tunnels.
Traffic hissed by on the wet asphalt. He waited for a gap, ignored the crossing signals and scooted across.
In front of him, the marble steps of Rayburn, the office building for the House of Representatives, gleamed treacher-ously. He climbed them warily and thanked the doorman on his way in.
Inside, a security officer stood by impassively while Donald’s badge was scanned, red unblinking eyes beeping at bar codes. He checked the folder Thurman had given him, made sure it was still dry, and wondered why such relics were still considered safer than an email or a digital copy.
His office was one floor up. He headed for the stairs, preferring them to Rayburn’s ancient and slow lift. His shoes squeaked on the tile as he left the plush runner by the door.
The hallway upstairs was its usual mess. Two high-schoolers from the intern programme hurried past, most likely fetching coffee. A TV crew stood outside Amanda Kelly’s office, camera lights bathing her and a young reporter in a daytime glow. Concerned voters and eager lobbyists were identifiable by the guest passes hanging around their necks. They were easy to distinguish from one another, these two groups. The voters wore frowns and invariably seemed lost. The lobbyists were the ones with the Cheshire Cat grins who navigated the halls more confidently than even the newly elected.
Donald opened the folder and pretended to read as he made his way through the chaos, hoping to avoid conversation. He squeezed behind the cameraman and ducked into his office next door.
Margaret, his secretary, stood up from her desk. ‘Sir, you have a
Donald glanced around the waiting room. It was empty. He saw that the door to his office was partway open.
‘I’m sorry, I let her in.’ Margaret mimed carrying a box, her hands at her waist and her back arched. ‘She had a delivery. Said it was from the Senator.’
Donald waved her concerns aside. Margaret was older than him, in her mid-forties, and had come highly recommended, but she did have a conspiratorial streak. Perhaps it came with the years of experience.
‘It’s fine,’ Donald assured her. He found it interesting that there were a hundred senators, two from his state, but only one was referred to as
Margaret nodded and sat down in front of her computer. Donald turned towards his office.
He looked back. She pointed to her head. ‘Your
He ran his fingers through his hair and drops of water leapt off him like startled fleas. Margaret frowned and lifted her shoulders in a helpless shrug. Donald gave up and pushed his office door open, expecting to find someone sitting across from his desk.
Instead, he saw someone wiggling
The door had bumped into something on the floor. Donald peeked around and saw a large box with a picture of a computer monitor on it. He glanced at the desk, saw the display was already set up.
The greeting was muffled by the hollow beneath his desk. Slender hips in a herringbone skirt wiggled back towards him. Donald knew who it was before her head emerged. He felt a flush of guilt, of anger at her being there unannounced.
‘You know, you should have your cleaning lady dust under here once in a while.’ Anna Thurman stood up and smiled. She slapped her palms together, brushing them off before extending one his way. Donald took her hand nervously. ‘Hey, stranger.’
‘Yeah. Hey.’ Rain dribbled down his cheek and neck, hiding any sudden flush of perspiration. ‘What’s going on?’ He walked around his desk to create some space between them. A new monitor stood innocently, a film of protective plastic blurring the screen.
‘Dad thought you might need an extra one.’ Anna tucked a loose clump of auburn hair behind her ear. She still possessed the same alluring and elfin quality when her ears poked out like that. ‘I volunteered,’ she explained, shrugging.
‘Oh.’ He placed the folder on his desk and thought about the drawing of the building he had briefly suspected was from her. And now, here she was. Checking his reflection in the new monitor, he saw the mess he had made of his hair. He reached up and tried to smooth it.
‘Another thing,’ Anna said. ‘Your computer would be better off
He sat down and realised he could no longer see the chair across from his desk. He slid the new monitor to one side while Anna walked around and stood beside him, her arms crossed, completely relaxed. As if they’d seen each other yesterday.
‘So,’ he said. ‘You’re in town.’
‘Since last week. I was gonna stop by and see you and Helen on Saturday, but I’ve been so busy getting settled into my apartment. Unboxing things, you know?’
‘Yeah.’ He accidentally bumped the mouse, and the old monitor winked on. His computer was running. The terror of being in the same room with an ex subsided just enough for the timing of the day’s events to dawn on him.
‘Wait.’ He turned to Anna. ‘You were over here
She raised an eyebrow. Donald realised it wasn’t something one learned — it was a talent that ran in the family.
‘He practically gift-wrapped the election for you,’ she said flatly.
Donald reached for the folder and riffled the pages like a deck of cards. ‘The illusion of free will would’ve been nice, that’s all.’
Anna laughed. She was about to tousle his hair, he could sense it. Dropping his hand from the folder and patting his jacket pocket, he felt for his phone. It was as though Helen were there with him. He had an urge to call her.
‘Was Dad at least gentle with you?’
He looked up to see that she hadn’t moved. Her arms were still crossed, his hair untousled — nothing to panic about.
‘What? Oh, yeah. He was fine. Like old times. In fact, it’s like he hasn’t aged a day.’
‘He doesn’t really age, you know.’ She crossed the room and picked up large moulded pieces of foam, then slid them noisily into the empty box. Donald found his eyes drifting towards her skirt and forced himself to look away.
‘He takes his nano treatments almost religiously. Started because of his knees. The military covered it for a while. Now he swears by them.’
‘I didn’t know that,’ Donald lied. He’d heard rumours, of course. It was ‘Botox for the whole body’, people said. Better than testosterone supplements. It cost a fortune, and you wouldn’t live forever, but you sure as hell could delay the pain of ageing.
Anna narrowed her eyes. ‘You don’t think there’s anything
‘What? No. It’s fine, I guess. I just wouldn’t. Wait — why? Don’t tell me you’ve been…’
Anna rested her hands on her hips and cocked her head to the side. There was something oddly seductive about the defensive posture, something that whisked away the years since he’d last seen her.
‘Do you think I would
‘No, no. It’s not that…’ He waved his hands. ‘It’s just that
A smirk thinned her lips. Maturity had hardened Anna’s good looks, had refined her lean frame, but the fierceness from her youth remained. ‘You say that now,’ she said, ‘but wait until your joints start to ache and your back goes out from something as simple as turning your head too fast. Then you’ll see.’
‘Okay. Well.’ He clapped his hands together. ‘This has been quite the day for catching up on old times.’
‘Yes, it has. Now, what day works best for you?’ Anna interlocked the flaps on the large box and slid it towards the door with her foot. She walked around the back of the desk and stood beside him, a hand on his chair, the other reaching for his mouse.
He watched while she changed some settings on his computer and the new monitor flashed to life. Donald could feel the pulse in his crotch, could smell her familiar perfume. The breeze she had caused by walking across the room seemed to stir all around him. This felt near enough to a caress, to a physical touch, that he wondered if he was cheating on Helen right at that very moment while Anna did little more than adjust sliders on his control panel.
‘You know how to use this, right?’ She slid the mouse from one screen to the other, dragging an old game of solitaire with it.
‘Uh, yeah.’ Donald squirmed in his seat. ‘Um… what do you mean about a day that works best for me?’
She let go of the mouse. It felt as though she had taken her hand off his thigh.
‘Dad wants me to handle the mechanical spaces on the plans.’ She gestured towards the folder as if she knew precisely what was inside. ‘I’m taking a sabbatical from the Institute until this Atlanta project is up and running. I thought we’d want to meet once a week to go over things.’
‘Oh. Well. I’ll have to get back to you on that. My schedule here is crazy. It’s different every day.’
He imagined what Helen would say to him and Anna getting together once a week.
‘We could, you know, set up a shared space in AutoCAD,’ he suggested. ‘I can link you into my document—’
‘We could do that.’
‘And email back and forth. Or video-chat. You know?’
Anna frowned. Donald realised he was being too obvious. ‘Yeah, let’s set up something like that,’ she said.
There was a flash of disappointment on her face as she turned for the box, and Donald felt the urge to apologise, but doing so would spell out the problem in neon lights:
‘You really need to do something about the dust.’ She glanced back at his desk. ‘Seriously, your computer is going to choke on it.’
‘Okay. I will.’ He stood and hurried around his desk to walk her out. Anna stooped for the box.
‘I can get that.’
‘Don’t be silly.’ She stood with the large box pinned between one arm and her hip. She smiled and tucked her hair behind her ear again. She could’ve been leaving his dorm room in college. There was that same awkward moment of a morning goodbye in last night’s clothes.
‘Okay, so you have my email?’ he asked.
‘You’re in the blue pages now,’ she reminded him.
‘You look great, by the way.’ And before he could step back or defend himself, she was fixing his hair, a smile on her lips.
Donald froze. When he thawed some time later, Anna was gone, leaving him standing there alone, soaked in guilt.