"This might be overstepping professional boundaries, but you need to move. You can't do nothing forever."
"Are you life coaching now?" I want to be anywhere other than in an office right now. There are a thousand good reasons I've never worked in one and I resent having to spend time in someone else's. I am not an office person.
"No, but as your financial advisor-" Max is very much an office person.
"Among other things." I'm in one of those moods today.
"Another overstepping of professional boundaries. And it was years ago. Do you have to keep bringing it up?" He shouldn't still have to ask, but he does. Every time.
"Anything to stop you telling me to get my shit together."
"You were. It's fine. And I should, but I'm not doing nothing. I'm figuring things out." I've lost count of how many times I've said that, out loud and in my head. It's become a mantra of sorts, somewhere between meditation and justification. The greatest of excuses.
"You mean you're still figuring things out?" A not-so-subtle nudge. He's good at those and part of me hates him for how well they work. Max has this way of twisting fate around his fingers and fate touches everyone, even me.
"There's a lot of figuring out to be done. I'm not rushing it." Procrastination. The word I was looking for is procrastination, although maybe that's not right either. Maybe it's fine to be waiting. When you arrive at the right moment, the right place, time lets you know. Or so I keep telling myself.
The desk phone rings and Max's left eye twitches. He presses a button and a familiar voice comes through. "Mr Hayden, I have the coffee Mr Thurston likes. Shall I bring it in?"
"Yes please Dev." Max rubs his eyes and leans back, shaking his head. His left eye throws in one last twitch and the door opens.
Dev has this way about him, like he's accustomed to being efficient but mostly invisible. He's very efficient, but he deserves better than invisibility. I get the feeling no-one's ever told him that and it would shake him too hard coming from me. He sweeps in and sets down a tray with a french press, two mugs, milk and sugar. I take my coffee strong and black, but Max prefers his as unlike coffee as he can make it. Traitor.
"It's the one you mentioned last time, from Kauai. I ordered it in when I saw you on Mr Hayden's calendar." Dev looks at me and a flicker of surprise crosses his face. It suits him.
"You alright? You look like someone walked over your grave." A smile tugs at my mouth and I give in to it a little.
"Yeah, sorry, I didn't recognise you for a moment there. I mean, I knew you were you, but you look...different. In a good way. I mean...sorry."
"No. Thank you. You're very kind. It makes a refreshing change from Max lecturing me about sorting my life out." I look at Dev like a fellow conspirator and he doesn't know where to put himself. He always gets nervous around me. People tend to. Sometimes it's alright. Sometimes it's tiring.
"You're welcome. I'll just-" and he leaves as quickly as he arrived. He never stays for long in a room with me and I wonder what I remind him of.
Max looks like he's working up another dose of determination, shoulders set firm. "I get it. The hair, the beard, the tattoo - which is very nice by the way - the lack of direction. I've seen a midlife crisis in action before. I've been a midlife crisis in action."
"No, you haven't." I pour coffee for him and then for myself. It's good coffee. Perfect. "You found two grey hairs and bought a motorbike you never ride. That doesn't constitute a midlife crisis."
"OK, I bow to your superior knowledge of age-based crises." There's a downward tilt to the corners of his voice, like he's finally giving up on steering the conversation in any direction of his choosing.
"Level with me. How are things looking? And be honest. None of your 'oh, but fifteen years down the line' business. Right now, how am I?"
Max ruins his coffee with three sugars and a cloud of milk, then takes a slow sip. "At your current rate, you could keep going for another couple of years, but then you'd have to think about cashing in some investments."
"Jesus, Max, a couple of years? Some investments? You're needlessly anxious, you know that?" This is so like him and exactly what I should have expected.
"You could do with being a little more anxious."
"Look, I've been anxious. I've been more anxious than I ever want to be again. Work wasn't exactly a walk in the park. You know that. I need some time." The job itself wasn't the problem, but the persistence of it, the clients, constantly demanding and in need of reassurance. People start thinking they get to control you, or worse, own you. I only ever had so much patience for that and my reserves ran dry a long time ago. Some things are not to be owned or controlled.
"You need to pay more attention to your finances."
"That's what I've got you for." I look at him over the top of the mug. "Among other things."
"Noah-" He visibly tenses.
"Sorry, fine, I promise to spend more time staring at numbers on a screen and worrying about them. So you can unclench now. Alright?"
We finish the coffee, or at least I do, and I leave. The street's crowded and people's reactions remind me of what I am. I'm accustomed to them moving out of my way, but I still notice it and I still don't know how to feel about it other than it is what it is, what it's always been. I am what I am.
I try not to meet anyone's eye because I don't want to deal with that today. I'm kind of done dealing with it at all.
I don't want to go home yet, but dark clouds are gathering and it looks like rain.
YOU ARE READING
Winter FollowsGeneral Fiction
One month, one city, five lives colliding with the forces of fate. A thrill-seeking tech genius with an appetite for dangerous extremes. A retired contract killer fighting to escape his past and himself. An underworld driver tempted deeper into a li...