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Immoderate Conception

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Amy had known it was going to be bad. Midterm elections gave the voters their first real chance to stick it to the president, and they rarely missed their chance. It was gonna be the night of a thousand kicks in the head, and the only thing making it worse was the surprise of politicians who should’ve seen it coming.

‘None of us want to be here, Amy,’ Sue said. ‘Looking at your watch will not speed the passage of time.’

‘Neither will your sarcasm,’ Amy said, walking past rapidly.

‘Zing,’ Mike muttered.

Selina was stomping around somewhere. Amy would have preferred her staying out of the spotlight. POTUS would be looking for a scapegoat, and the fucker was likely to randomly point at the next person he saw.

Amy stopped in the middle of the corridor. She grabbed the arm of the next shambling cretin to walk within range: it turned out to be Jonah. ‘Who is... Is that who I think it is?’ she asked.

Jonah followed her pointing finger. ‘That is the man. Kent Davison. K-Dog himself.’

Amy gave him a look of pure disgust. ‘He does not refer to himself as K-Dog.’

‘That’s true,’ Jonah admitted. ‘But –’

‘And if he ever heard you call him that, he would strangle you with your own vest,’ she said.

Jonah straightened his tie. ‘You were on the campaign trail together. You know him a little bit?’

Amy tightened her grip on her folder. ‘A little bit. Why?’

Jonah lowered his voice. ‘I don’t think he likes me very much. Do you know any way I could get on his good side?’

‘Nobody likes you, Jonah,’ Amy said. ‘As for getting on his good side: be efficient, talk as little as possible, don’t whine, and like sci-fi. Failing all that, a tight, knee-length dress, a bottle of whiskey, and a stern manner.’

Jonah’s face lit up. ‘I like science-fiction!’

Amy scrunched up her face as she looked at him. ‘Or ignore ninety-nine percent of everything I said like the lazy fucking ass that you are.’

It was a relief to talk to Jonah. Not because he had stopped making her skin crawl, but because it was a distraction, and because shunting her aggression onto Jonah was a victimless crime.

***

Selina took it personally. Kent wasn’t just back, he was back to mess with her, to prevent her from talking to POTUS. Uh-huh. In the last two years, Selina’s “weekly” meetings with POTUS had happened twice – the first time a few days after the inauguration, and the second a month later. Amy figured that if Kent were out to “get” Selina, for some reason, then he’d probably aim for something a bit more meaningful.

Amy’s cell vibrated in her hand. She read the text, replied immediately, then read it again and again. No. No. No. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be happening

***

Her heels skittered on the slick hospital floor. Jesus, it felt like at any second she was going to lose her tenuous balance and crash to the ground.

‘Oh, now you turn up,’ her sister Sophie said.

Amy shoved her aside. ‘Why are you even here?’

‘To support my family.’

‘You can support me by getting out of my face and letting me talk to a doctor,’ Amy said.

Milla went out with Amy’s parents and sister. She looked like she’d been crying. Shit. How did that help anyone? She’d probably be demanding overtime or something.

Amy juggled her belongings as she cornered the doctor. ‘Well? How bad is it? What do we do?’

‘It’s an inguinal hernia,’ the doctor said. ‘A loop of bowel is bulging through into his groin. It’s potentially very serious, however fixing it should be a relatively simple operation and, barring complications, he would be out the same day.’

Amy narrowed her eyes. She knew nothing was that easy. ‘He would be?’

The doctor clasped his hands together. ‘He has a very rare blood type. There isn’t much available and neither you nor your family are a match. We need to locate some as soon as we can.’

***

Fat wolverine. Fat wolverine. Fat wolverine.

Kent glanced up when Amy walked into the room.

‘Demoted already,’ he said.

‘What?’

‘The vice-president has been here twice already,’ he said. ‘Are you not here about the same issue?’

‘No.’ Amy shut the door. ‘I need your blood. Hopefully. That is, hopefully you’re the right type. What type are you?’

Kent frowned. ‘AB negative.’

‘Great! Let’s go.’

‘What’s wrong with you?’ he asked.

Amy’s hands clenched. ‘What’s wrong with me is that my two-year old son needs an operation but he can’t have one because he has stupidly rare blood.’

She saw him realise. Let him say one thing. Just one wrong thing.

‘Oh.’ He stood and reached for his jacket. ‘I can donate only one pint at a time. Will that be sufficient?’

‘He’s two feet high. How much blood do you think would fit?’

Kent followed her out, waving off questions and queries from staffers with a flat assertion that he would return shortly.

‘Shall we take your vehicle?’ he suggested. ‘I may be woozy afterwards and, in any event, I assume you’re more experienced at breaking the speed limit than I am.’

‘Whatever,’ Amy said. ‘As long as we fucking go.’ She was running on fear and adrenaline. Her nerves felt as if someone had yanked them out and sketched them all the way to the hospital.

Thank Christ that Kent didn’t ask any questions. In the car, he worked on his tablet and answered messages on his cell.

Amy glanced at him. He didn’t look much different to the last time she saw him. A little thinner, maybe. She wasn’t sure about the beard, but it was better than just the moustache.

She knew what she was doing. Her mind was wandering so she didn’t think about the tiny body lying in a strange bed. His hazel eyes full of heavy tears.

She punched the wheel. ‘Why the fuck do you have such rare fucking blood?’

Kent was silent for a moment. ‘You’ll be glad to know I had a physical a few days ago. I’m perfectly healthy. That should help.’

‘I asked you a question.’

‘Really? I thought you lashed out in a desperate attempt to offset your natural fear and unnecessary guilt.’

She glanced at him. ‘You just concentrate on how you’re gonna explain where you’ve been.’

‘As you like,’ Kent said.

The rest of the trip passed in silence. Amy didn’t notice, too busy churning a thousand things over in her mind. She cut off two other cars and responded to their furious honking with an automatic middle finger. She almost did the same when the parking attendant at the hospital greeted her.

They got out of the car and Kent tucked his ID into his pocket.

‘They don’t know,’ Amy said. ‘About... anything.’

He straightened his tie. ‘Who is “they” in this case?’

‘Anyone. Everyone. Specifically, my family.’ She tossed back her hair. ‘I’ll get the doctor to sneak you in.’

‘Very well.’

She almost wanted him to say... something. One sarcastic comment. Something she could take offense at. Some excuse to shout until she was hoarse. To purge all the fear and rage squatting in her chest.

In the elevator, Kent licked his lips. ‘What’s he called?’

Her face screwed up in disgust. ‘You don’t get to ask that! You don’t get to ask anything about him.’ She poked him in the shoulder, hard. ‘You never gave a single shit before.’

Kent started to say something, but changed his mind.

‘What?’ Amy demanded.

‘It’s unimportant.’

She folded her arms. ‘Just fucking tell me.’

‘You don’t wish to hear anything reasonable or rational I might say,’ he said quietly. ‘I shouldn’t have asked. You’re clearly... troubled. Apologies.’

The doors opened. Amy stomped out with Kent in tow. She found a nurse lurking at the station.

‘Brought a donor,’ she said to the nurse. ‘I wouldn’t like to swear to how much blood he has in him.’ Amy gave Kent a glare. ‘You might need to wring him out.’

Kent rolled his eyes.

‘Let’s see, David Brookheimer,’ the nurse said.

‘David?’ Kent said incredulously.

‘Have you ever given birth?’ Amy snapped. ‘I was out of my mind on painkillers and my mom was going on and on about what was I gonna name him. Okay?’ she demanded. ‘Don’t fucking read anything into it. You’re nothing to him. Got it?’

She wanted him to be furious, insulted, hurt maybe. Anything but pitying.

‘Of course,’ Kent said gently. He turned to the nurse. ‘Is there somewhere we can do this where I won’t run into the family?’

***

 

‘I brought you a coffee.’ Dan waggled the cup.

‘Thank Christ.’ Amy grabbed the cup. ‘There’s a visitor area down the hall.’

‘How’s it going?’ Dan asked as they walked.

‘I think I might kill Sophie,’ she said. ‘But I’m in the right place to dispose of her body.’

Dan nodded as they sat down. ‘Forge a donor card for her and it’d be a net gain.’

Amy nodded. ‘Sophie would finally do some good for society.’

Dan leaned back. ‘Maybe I could do the same with Jonah.’

Amy shook her head. ‘All those oversized body parts would be a total give away.’

‘Shit. Yeah.’ Dan grinned. ‘Apart from that one wildly undersized body part.’

Amy nearly choked on her coffee. ‘I did not need to think about Jonah’s dick.’

‘Well, nobody needs to think about Jonah’s dick.’

Amy pulled a face. Then she sighed. ‘They had to operate on David.’

‘Fuck,’ Dan said. ‘Is it... I mean...’

‘He’ll be okay.’ She ran her thumb around the lip of her cup. ‘He has stupidly rare blood. I had to find some.’ She rubbed her forehead. ‘I had to drag his bio-dad in.’

Dan raised his eyebrows. ‘Everyone still thinks you used donor sperm.’

‘I did. It just happened to be from a person I knew and not some anonymous straw from the sperm bank.’

‘You dragged your sperm donor in to hospital and hit him up for a pint of blood? It’s the middle of the night.’

Amy swirled her coffee around in the cup. ‘I don’t give a shit about that. He should be glad that David didn’t need a heart transplant. I’d rip that fucker right out of his chest.’

Dan sipped his coffee. ‘I’m glad I didn’t get you pregnant.’

‘As if I’d let that thing near me without a condom.’

‘Plus, I don’t have a heart,’ Dan said cheerfully. ‘You’d be digging around in there forever.’

Amy looked at him over her cup. ‘You’re clear with Furlong now.’

‘I wasn’t worried,’ Dan claimed.

‘Then you’re either a fucking idiot or a psychopath,’ Amy said.

‘I think we both know the answer to that.’ he said with a smirk.

‘So whatcha doing here?’

He shrugged. ‘The VP is worried about you.’

‘Meaning she wants to know if I’m coming back before the morning shows.’ Amy crossed her legs. ‘My kid just had surgery.’ She pushed back her hair. ‘Not that it’d slow Selina down if it were her kid.’

‘That’s the spirit.’ Dan said.

‘Okay. Lemme go say goodbye to David. He’s up in post-op.’

Dan shifted. ‘I’m not comfortable with sick people.’

‘You’re not invited.’

He grinned. ‘Great!’

***

Kent was stood outside the observation window. Amy yanked his shoulder, spinning him around.

‘What the fuck are you doing back here?’ she hissed.

‘Ow! What is with you people assaulting me?’

Amy blinked. ‘What?’

‘Selina Meyer hit me in the eye with a lipstick,’ he said. ‘It was extremely painful.’ He tilted his head. ‘Do I have a black eye?’

‘No,’ Amy said. ‘Why the fuck are you gawping at my kid like he’s a fucking fish in an aquarium?’

Kent sighed. ‘Amy, you have not said one thing to me in the past few hours that was not a demand, an accusation, or an insult. I understand that you are frightened and distressed, but that is not my fault.’

‘Why are you looking at him?’ she growled.

‘I’m curious.’

‘You’ve had two years to be curious.’

He squeezed the bridge of his nose. ‘Amy, you never told me. The conversation we had in your room was our last discussion on the matter.’

She deflated a little. ‘You knew I was pregnant.’

‘I also knew that you were using donor sperm. For all I knew I wasn’t the only man you asked for assistance.’

‘I didn’t ask, you offered! And I told you I couldn’t do the donor that month because of the campaign.’

Kent held up his hands. ‘This is getting us nowhere. I didn’t realise and you didn’t tell me. I’m not a parent, Amy, and I never will be. I was merely curious as to what David looks like. If that is a breach of etiquette, then I can only apologise.’

Amy sank into a chair. ‘I’m a good mom. Okay?’

‘I have no doubt,’ he said. He sat next to her. ‘I don’t even like children. I have no desire to somehow steal yours from you.’

She rubbed her eyes. ‘I’ve been up for more than twenty-four hours, Selina wants me to go back to the Eisenhower, and David got rushed to the hospital in the middle of the fucking night.’

Kent touched the back of her hand for a tiny moment, and then pulled his hand away.

‘If you wish to remain here and blame me I won’t protest,’ he said. ‘She doesn’t have to know you aren’t doing something at my behest.’

Amy sighed. ‘Except that Dan Egan is waiting downstairs for me already.’

Kent stood. ‘No matter.’

Amy tapped her foot. ‘Is David what you expected?’

‘I didn’t go in the room,’ he said. ‘But he looks rather like my sister.’

‘Yeah?’ Amy moved her bag up her shoulder. She was trying not to look Kent in the eye. She’d never noticed before that he had had hazel eyes. ‘Any other medical problems I should know about? Are you part unicorn?’

He smiled slightly. ‘Nothing I’m aware of.’

She looked away. ‘Thanks. For... you know.’

‘I was glad to help.’

‘He’s a good kid.’ She looked him in the eye. ‘And if you ever tell him that you’re his biological father, I will fuck you up.’

Kent raised his hands. ‘I gave you my word at the time. I have no intention of breaking it.’

‘Good,’ Amy said. ‘Great. Let’s never, ever discuss this again.’

***

Amy dragged herself into the room. David was sleeping easily now; his pale skin a little pink and his ash blond hair curling across his forehead. His plump little hand was resting on the pillow beside his head. Amy gently moved his hand under the covers.

David made a soft noise and looked at her from under heavy-lidded eyes.

‘Mama?’

‘Shush. Go back to sleep.’

He blinked at her. He had hazel eyes; green around the iris and flecked with brown. Eyes that seemed far too old for his face.

‘Teddy?’ David asked.

Fuck. Was he allowed one? Why hadn’t Milla brought one? Amy dug in her bag and found her emergency stuffed toy. David grabbed and hugged it tightly.

Amy kissed his forehead. ‘Go to sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ She took a breath. ‘I love you.’

‘Love you, Mama.’

Amy cried in the elevator. Then she touched up her makeup, found Dan, and went back to work.

Chapter Text

It was five a.m. Her parents bitched constantly about David waking up so early. She should put him to bed earlier, she shouldn’t let him out until she was ready, blah, blah, blah.

She was ready enough. At five a.m., she got up, made them breakfast and then they played, and read stories, and... things. Okay cuddled. It wasn’t weird. It just felt weird saying it. Milla arrived at seven-thirty and would get David ready while Amy showered, made up, and dressed. She was at the Eisenhower by eight-thirty. Milla would bring David to a nearby restaurant for lunch and again for dinner. Amy would read him a bedtime story at seven. A lot of the time she had to go into her home office afterwards and carry on working remotely. But she did it. She always did it. When she had to travel, Milla and David stayed nearby. It was insane, people always said so. Amy said that was their problem, not hers.

That was what normally happened. What happened today, was that Amy woke up on the cot next to David’s bed, and found him cranky and unhappy about being away from home, his toys, and especially his breakfast.

Amy got him something to eat from the vending machine, but he was distracted and weepy. At six-thirty, a nurse came to take him for scans, so Amy went home, had a shower, listened to the news, cursed Kent, got dressed, and went to work.

Selina was picking her outfit for the day.

‘I’m glad to see you so early,’ she said. ‘I appreciate you trying to make up all the hours you didn’t work yesterday.’

Amy smiled blandly. ‘Yes Ma’am, when I was at the hospital with my infant son.’

Selina paused. ‘Oh. Why did I think it was your dad?’

‘No idea.’

Selina looked at Amy. ‘Is David okay?’

Amy’s shrug was so sharp that she could have cut the tension with it. ‘They operated, which was awful, and they’re hopeful he can leave this morning. He’s miserable and he’s in some pain. So, basically I’m in hell.’

Gary rolled his eyes. Amy made a mental note to do something awful to him. Maybe have Sue “forget” to include him on Selina’s Christmas card list.

Selina vaguely patted Amy’s arm. ‘He won’t remember. They don’t at that age.’ She turned back to the racks of clothing. ‘You being there probably wouldn’t help. You’d get upset. He’d get upset. You wouldn’t get any work done.’

‘I know,’ Amy said.

‘If you had a husband, he could be there,’ Gary murmured.

He was definitely off the Christmas card list. Even if she had to bribe Sue, Gary was going down.

***

Selina ranted about Kent all the way to the Eisenhower Building, and then all the way to the West Wing. Amy had no first-hand experience with belligerent sexual tension, but she knew it when ranted at her for what felt like hours. She’d say that they should just have sex, except she knew that wouldn’t work. Selina loathed her ex-husband and no amount of fucking ever seemed to change that.

Amy’s shoulders clenched when she saw Kent and Jonah walk out of Kent’s office. Kent had promised he wouldn’t say anything. He had no reason to say anything. He’d never said anything about their... arrangement. If he had, it would be all over D.C. She had no reason to get tense when she saw him.

He kept glancing at his watch. Rude, even for him. Amy nearly said something about it, but Selina was on a roll.

Kent met Amy’s eyes twice. The first time he looked cautious and thoughtful. The second was almost amused. Almost. Amy didn’t have much of a sense of humour and Kent’s was so dry as to be practically desiccated. Whatever he found funny, or almost funny, about the situation, Amy wasn’t seeing it.

‘I fucking hate him,’ Selina muttered as they headed back to the Eisenhower.

‘Which one?’

Selina snorted. ‘Jonah isn’t worth hating. He doesn’t deserve my hate.’ She wagged her finger. ‘Don’t waste your hatred on a man who won’t appreciate it.’

‘I’ll remember that.’

‘You had the right idea getting knocked up without a man,’ Selina said. ‘No matter what I do, I am tied to Andrew for the rest of my life.’

Amy ignored Gary’s expression. He didn’t push it, but she knew how he felt about choosing to raise a kid without a dad.

‘I’ve never regretted it.’ Amy said briskly. She’d gone into it expecting indifferent sex and a healthy, intelligent baby. She had been pleasantly surprised in both respects.

***

Amy shook her head as Dan walked off to “get in” with Kent. Just making the effort would push him away. For someone so willing to adapt to please his political masters, Kent was weirdly repulsed by subordinates doing the same to him.

If Amy had been minded to give advice, it would have been this: be intelligent, not “smart,” be quick to listen and slow to speak. Above all, don’t be charming and don’t be “smooth.” He hates that.

So, Dan was basically doomed. Dan was doomed and Kent was going to have an annoying time between Dan and Jonah trying to hump his leg.

Amy smiled to herself. That’d teach him to come back.

Sue walked into the office with a card for someone or other. She thrust it silently at Amy.

‘I don’t know why I’m wishing this random asshole a speedy recovery,’ Amy said. ‘I’m the one with a kid in the hospital.’

‘You’re not,’ Sue said. ‘This is a condolences card.’

‘What? Shit! Why the fuck does it have a picture of a teddy-bear on it?’ Amy demanded, scrabbling with the liquid paper.

‘Because he is survived by his five-year-old son.’

Amy narrowed her eyes. ‘You’re making that up.’

‘I don’t make things up,’ Sue said. ‘I don’t have an imagination.’

‘Colour me shocked.’

Sue accepted the card. ‘How is David?’

‘Recovering, they’re gonna release him sometime today.’ Amy flipped her pen between her fingers. ‘I’m thinking I might go to the hospital and work on this statement there.’

‘Hospitals are appallingly inefficient,’ Sue said. She turned suddenly and left the room without another word.

***

Dan arrived at the hospital with coffee.

‘Hey, buddy,’ he said to David. ‘How you feeling?’

David glowered at him and kicked his feet.

‘He’s an excellent judge of character,’ Amy said.

‘Little kids always hate me,’ Dan said cheerfully.

‘That’s because they know you’re a soulless abomination.’

‘So are most kids.’

Amy took her coffee. ‘Did you win over Kent with your charm?’

‘Not yet.’ Dan winced as he sat down. ‘I think I’m gonna be walking funny for a week.’

Amy almost choked on her coffee. ‘Wow, you obviously got on with him much better than I expected.’

Dan gave her a self-deprecating grin. ‘I wish. He was doing Pilates, so I went on the next machine. I think I tore something. Kent’s barely breathing hard and I was sweating like –’ He paused at Amy’s warning expression. ‘Like the thing you think I’m going to say which would completely traumatise your sweet little angel.’

‘Thank you.’

Dan worked quietly for a few minutes. ‘Is he gay?’

Amy raised her eyebrows. ‘He’s two years old. Even if he understood the question, I’m sure he doesn’t have the vocabulary to answer.’

Dan sniggered. ‘Not David. Kent.’

Amy tilted her head. ‘You wouldn’t seriously... cuddle with him,’ she said, glancing at David.

Dan gave it some thought. ‘If he made it worth my while I might be up for some hand-holding, some cuddling.’ He leaned forward. ‘I might even let him read me a bedtime story.’

Amy’s nose screwed up. ‘I don’t know what that means but somehow it sounds disgusting.’

Dan grinned as he leaned back. ‘Do you think he is?’

‘No, definitely straight.’ Amy’s fingers tapped on the keys. ‘He broke up with his girlfriend while we were campaigning.’

Amy bit her tongue. Why had she said that? Dan was bound to ask how she knew, and why nobody else ever mentioned it.

‘He could be bi,’ Dan suggested.

Amy stared at him. ‘I... guess,’ she said. ‘Are you bi? I’m starting to think you’re a little too wedded to the concept of... cuddling your way into Kent’s affections.’

Dan scratched his ear. ‘I think I’d probably know by now,’ he said. ‘Maybe I’m just attracted to power.’

‘That I can easily believe. Ooh, you should try... playing with Ben. Fat guys are always more grateful.’

‘Amy, I’m shocked at your cynicism.’

‘It’s the company I keep.’

Dan sipped his coffee. ‘What’s the deal with Kent and Selina?’

Amy snorted. ‘She can’t decide if wants to... kiss him or... oh...’

‘Spank him?’ Dan said brightly.

‘Maybe both.’ Amy moved over to the bed, to pick up the cardboard book that David had dropped.

‘Cuddle, Mama,’ he said.

Amy gave him a squeeze and kissed his forehead.

‘Maybe I should try that with Kent.’ Dan suggested.

Amy nodded. ‘If you’re gonna do that let me know. I wanna make sure I capture every moment.’

***

She was allowed to take David home in the afternoon. Her mom and sister insisted on “being” there” for her. Urgh. Milla got an unexpected afternoon off, and Amy spent an unhappy ride to the house with stereo complaints of ‘if you had a man we wouldn’t have to be here.’

‘You don’t have to be here,’ she said for the eighth time.

‘We want to be there for you,’ her mom said.

‘Not that you’re familiar with the concept,’ Sophie said.

‘Hilarious, Sophie, since I was there for all of your deliveries and you weren’t there for mine,’ Amy said.

‘Well, I had other priorities, Amy. What do you have, your little fetching and carrying job with the vice-president? Call me when you get a life.’

Amy threw up her hands. ‘A parade of men is not a life!’

‘When was the last time you got laid?’ Sophie asked.

‘I don’t have time to get... cuddles,’ Amy said, glancing meaningfully at David.

She could have answered, if she wanted to, as she knew exactly. It was when David was conceived.

Her cell chimed. The number flagged up as “Kent Davison.” Amy stared at it. There was no way that him texting her was a good thing. Was there a problem with Selina? With Catherine? Was Dan floating dead in Kent’s pool?

Wait. That was nuts. Kent wouldn’t have a pool.

Amy thumbed open the message.

How is your son doing?

Fuck. Fuck... Fuck!

***

‘Where’s your head at, Amy?’ Selina asked.

‘Apologies.’

Selina looked at her thoughtfully. ‘David okay?’

‘Yes.’ Amy rubbed her brow. ‘It’s just... his donor got in touch and has a few questions.’

‘They can do that?’ Selina asked. ‘I thought it was anonymous.’

Amy hesitated. ‘It was a private arrangement. Not through a clinic.’

Selina’s expression made Amy’s stomach clench.

‘He has parental rights?’ Selina asked.

‘What? No. He’s not on the birth certificate.’

‘It’s not my field of law, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t matter,’ Selina said.

Amy pushed her fingers through her hair. ‘I can get him to surrender those.’

‘Sure, sure,’ Selina said. ‘If he’s a deadbeat dad or like a junkie or a rapist. If you can prove the kid will be better off. Helps is there’s a step-daddy waiting to adopt.’ She took in Amy’s expression. ‘But you wouldn’t have asked a junkie deadbeat rapist to father your kid.’

‘No. Weirdly enough, I did not.’

Selina shrugged. ‘Ask him nicely to back off?’

Amy blew at her cheeks. ‘I can do that.’

***

Be nice. Be nice.

Shit. Ben was already in Kent’s office, haranguing him about the hostage crisis. Oh yeah. That.

Amy managed to slide into the conversation. She got on with Ben pretty well. He was a drunk depressive with no ability to ‘be nice’ even with people he liked, but he was also competent and he loathed Jonah. They were factors that were strongly in his favour.

Amy watched him stomp away, still muttering about noodles. Amy shut Kent’s office door. He looked at her. He was still futzing with his noodles.

Amy put her hands on her hips. Be nice. Be nice.

‘I feel that I should call for help,’ Kent said. ‘Are you here as the vice president’s assassin?

Amy licked her lips. ‘You sent me a text.’

He shook a step back. ‘I did,’ he said cautiously.

Amy took a breath. ‘I know that when we were on the campaign trail that you and I were... friendly. But I think we need to have a conversation about boundaries.’

She didn’t recognise the expression that passed across his face.

A slight flush rose in his cheeks and he looked away.

‘I believe I have given you entirely the wrong impression,’ he said, his voice a little tight. ‘For that I apologise unreservedly. I had no intention of... initiating romantic or sexual relations.’

Amy’s mouth dropped open. ‘Oh. Uh.’

Kent took a large book from the corner of the desk. He waved it vaguely. ‘I am attempting to improve my social skills and strengthen my interpersonal bonds,’ he said. He finally glanced at her. ‘You’re a colleague for whom I have significant respect and I know that your child has been unwell.’ He straightened his back. ‘Asking after him seemed like the friendly thing to do.’

Amy nodded slowly. ‘I can see why you would think that.’

He sighed. ‘I find social interaction quite a challenging endeavour. If I have given you cause to feel uneasy or if I have overstepped my position, then I am very sorry.’

Amy blinked. ‘I didn’t think you were sexually harassing me.’

He sank down into his chair. ‘Thank God.’

‘You really don’t seem the type,’ Amy said.

He poked his noodles with his fork. ‘There’s a type?’

She shrugged. ‘Normally they try way too hard to be friendly so they can get in and stroke your hair or touch your knee. They try to make it seem natural. That way if a woman complains then he can say she’s overreacting.’

‘Ah.’ Kent squeezed the bridge of his nose. ‘Dealing with people is complex and often ultimately unsatisfying.’

‘Yeah. I fucking hate people too,’ Amy said. ‘If I could throw them all in the sea and watch them drown, I would be by the shore with a pair of binoculars.’

Kent nodded. ‘I appreciate that my overture to you was evidently both inappropriate and unwanted. It won’t happen again.’

Amy waited. It sounded so normal and straightforward. He tried to be friendly, she told him not to, and he was apparently fine with that. Except he was avoiding looking at her again.

‘It’s just the text,’ she said.

He groaned. ‘Wrong medium?’

‘Yes,’ she said firmly. ‘And the content. Plus, I hate social interaction, so maybe start being friendly with someone who doesn’t think a party is one of the circles of hell.’

Kent nodded. ‘I’ll keep that in mind.’

Amy turned to leave.

‘You didn’t answer,’ Kent said. ‘The text.’

Fuck. Amy pushed her hair back. ‘He’s fine.’

Kent tapped his fingers on the desk. ‘I’ve overstepped a line by asking.’

‘I’m not comfortable discussing him with you,’ she said, holding up her hands. ‘We agreed that you weren’t going to be part of his life. Let’s stick to that.’

She couldn’t tell if he was annoyed or disappointed.

‘As you like,’ he said.

‘I don’t want him to get confused,’ Amy said.

‘Confused,’ Kent said flatly.

‘We’re both adults,’ she said. ‘It’s not like I’ve applied to have you stripped of parental... not that I could. Unless you get a lot more interesting.’

Kent blinked at her. ‘I have no idea what that means,’ he said.

Did he sound upset? That couldn’t be right. Robots didn’t have feelings to hurt.

Amy gave up. ‘I’m going. Don’t forget what I said about the vice president.’

He stared at her for a long moment. ‘Sure.’

Chapter Text

 

 

‘It’s not that bad,’ Dan said, looking at the photograph from the situation room.

‘It’s not great,’ Amy said. ‘People are gonna Photoshop out the cell in her hand and have her holding god knows what.’

‘Dicks,’ Jonah said.

They looked at him.

‘There are already some floating around,’ Jonah said. ‘Mr Cafferty printed some out. She’s got one in her hand and she’s pulling that face.’ He sniggered. ‘Pretty funny.’

‘This is all your fault,’ Dan said. ‘You handed her the phone.’

‘That’s right.’ Amy scowled at Jonah. ‘You probably did it on purpose to undermine her.’

Gary gasped.

‘No I didn’t!’ Jonah protested. ‘It was just –’

‘Treason,’ Dan said.

Jonah was going alarming shade of red. ‘Kent’s the one who chose the photograph!’

‘But he didn’t give her the cell,’ Dan said.

‘I don’t have to take this abuse,’ Jonah said, heading for the door.

‘What kind of abuse would you like?’ Mike called after him. ‘I hear your mom is very reasonable.”

His smirk died in Sue’s glare.

‘I will not put up with misogyny, Mike,’ she said.

‘No,’ he said. ‘Sorry.’

Selina swept into the room. Mike tried to brush the printed-out memes from his desk, but only succeeded in pushing them onto the door.

Selina snatched one up, screwed it into a ball, and pitched it at Mike. ‘Clean these the fuck up already.’ She kicked the papers away, walked into the office, and slammed the door shut.

‘Conversation with Kent went well then,’ Dan said.

***

Amy kicked off her shoes and ran up the stairs. Milla was joggling David in her arms as the water poured into the tub.

‘Mamama,’ he said, holding at his arms to Amy.

‘Have you had a good day?’ Amy asked taking him.

‘Bunny,’ David said. ‘Bunny movie.’

‘We watched an animated movie,’ Milla said. ‘There were rabbits.’

Amy nodded as she looked for something to say. ‘Bunnies. Good.’

She gave David his bath as Milla went to have her dinner. Bath time could go either way; playing and laughter, or fighting and tears. Tonight, was a good night. David was giggly, splashing the water and squeezing his toy duck so that the air whistled out. His wide hazel eyes watched Amy intently as she ran the washcloth over his little barrel stomach. She tried not to look at the livid purple wound that was healing. It was going to be a hell of a scar. After she rinsed him, emptied the bath, and dried him, she put a dressing over the wound.

‘Is that too tight? David, pay attention, is the dressing too tight?’

David shook his head. ‘Nuh-uh.’

‘Okay, use your words, does it hurt?’

‘Not hurt, Mama!’

He wanted to dress himself and Amy had to tuck her hands into her armpits to resist the urge to help.

‘Those are pants,’ she said after several seconds. ‘They go on your legs, not your head.’

He lifted them up and giggled at her.

***

Amy rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand. ‘Three books, David. Three is this many.’ She held up her fingers.

He scrambled over to his bookcase and looked through the collection of large, brightly coloured books. Everyone bought him books. Books or stuffed toys, Amy couldn’t keep up with either. She sat on his bed and waited. After a minute or so he trundled back with two well-worn books and one new one: My Daddy and Me.

Fucking Sophie. That had to be her.

Amy knew that most of the books David read and TV he watched featured nuclear families. Kids’ entertainment was weirdly nostalgic; telephones were rotary dials, cows and chickens roamed fields, and every kid had two parents with no step-parents, half-siblings, or single parents to be seen.

She knew the day was coming when David was going to ask about his father. But there was big a fucking difference between knowing the question was coming and deliberately taunting him. Sophie’s kids barely saw their dads either for the fuss that Sophie made. They were some useless, deadbeat assholes.

Amy hadn’t chosen Kent on a whim or because she liked the way his ass looked in a pair of jeans! He was intelligent. He was accomplished. He had an insane amount of interests and hobbies. He was tall. He was good looking. He was in good health. For all that he had some weirdly old fashioned moments, she had never heard or seen a single racist, sexist, or bigoted comment, action, or opinion from him. He had always treated her with respect. Could Sophie say that about the fathers of her kids? Fuck no.

Kent had dropped everything to donate blood for David. He didn’t have to do that. Once he realised David’s paternity he was curious. Sophie had to beg and plead her exes to have anything to do with their kids. Not that Amy wanted Kent to be involved, but he was still head and shoulders above Chad and Randy.

***

Amy was sick to death of hearing about the fucking photo and the goddamn “Vic Allen Dinner.” Who was fucking Vic Allen anyway?

‘Maybe we could ask them to release another photo,’ Mike suggests.

Selina shook her head. ‘Kent claimed it was the only one POTUS didn’t look jowly in.’

‘Gee, imagine a man who is eighty-percent jowls looking “jowly” on a photograph.’ Amy said dryly.

‘It’s bullshit,’ Selina said. ‘So is his “I can’t change history” shtick. He’s plenty dirty when it suits him. He’s just out to get me.’ She looked at Dan. ‘You’re trying to crawl up his ass. How’s that going?’

Dan shrugged. ‘It’s not. He totally brushed me off. I can’t get close.’

‘Huh,’ Selina said.

‘It’s almost as if to be a senior government strategist you have to be a good judge of character and also know when you’re being played,’ Amy said.

‘Almost,’ Dan agreed.

Selina slapped the desk with her hand. ‘One of you better do something.’

Mike dug in his pocket. ‘Heads I try to make friends with him. Tails you do, Amy. Ready?’

She rolled her eyes. ‘Sure. Whatever.’

‘Tails!’ Mike said.

Amy checked her watch. ‘I will try to think of something to say something to him after lunch.’

‘He has good muscle tone,’ Sue suggested.

They looked at her.

‘It’s surprisingly good for a man his age,’ she said.

‘I’ll keep that in mind if the conversation flags.’ Amy said, exchanging a look with Dan.

It was true, of course, but that didn’t make Sue saying any less weird. Kent was in the sweet spot between slim and buff. Toned, but not in a way that suggested hours in the gym. There was little less attractive to Amy than a man who was obsessed with his own body. The only reason that Dan wasn’t a beefcake was that he didn’t have the patience. He was as easily bored as a toddler. Amy shook her head. That wasn’t fair. No toddler was as easily bored as Dan.

She arrived at the restaurant a minute early, but knew that they would already be inside. Milla was always five minutes early to everything. It was an attribute equally admirable and infuriating.

David bounced up and down in his chair when he saw Amy.

‘Mama! Mama! Milla and me and bear swim and ran and saw gigons!’ He made little fluttery hand motions when he said “swim.”

‘Wow.’ Amy tidied his hair as she sat down. ‘Where did you see the pigeons?’

‘Um,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘Don’t know.’

Any ordered food for them all and checked her cell. ‘Is he eating today?’

‘Oatmeal and fruit for breakfast,’ Milla said.

‘Tweets?’ David said hopefully.

‘No treats before lunch,’ Amy said automatically. ‘If you eat all your lunch then you can have some ice cream.’

‘Mama swim?’ He made the little fluttery gesture again.

Amy shook her head. ‘Not today. Maybe we can go at the weekend.’

It was all a negotiation. Even babies had their own minds, let alone toddlers, and David could be every bit as stubborn as Amy herself. There were times when she absolutely put her foot down, but they were rare. Normally she could find something else, a trade, or some other tactic. She never begged. Sophie alternated between begging and screaming. Amy was never doing that.

She tapped the phone with her thumb. Negotiate. Right.

‘Look me, Mama!’ David demanded.

Amy put down her phone. ‘You have my undivided attention.’

***

Kent’s assistant, a snarling woman in her sixties, told Amy that he had gone out on his lunch break. Amy was not a woman given to sweet talking or charm. It had taken far too long to convince Elizabeth to cough up the specifics: running. He had gone running.

‘Why?’ Amy asked, baffled.

‘You would have to ask him.’ Elizabeth looked at her watch. ‘He should return to his apartment in about fifteen minutes. Here is the address. Do not delay him. He has a full schedule.’

‘I’ll shout to him through the door while he showers,’ Amy said.

Elizabeth pulled a face. ‘If you must.’

Kent had rented an apartment in Georgetown. Amy figured it must be been expensive as hell, especially at such short notice. If it had been short notice. If being savaged in the midterms had been likely to her, then Kent probably saw it coming months ago. He didn’t have the social skills of a newly hatched crocodile, but when it came to his work he was the best.

She was on the steps when she saw him run around the corner. He was wearing a lightweight running suit and athletic running shoes, the sort that real runners wore. He noticed her but didn’t alter his stride, instead easily loping along the sidewalk and up the steps. He was only very slightly out of breath.

‘Your assistant said you’d be here,’ Amy said.

He nodded. ‘I didn’t think you were stalking me.’

She followed him into the building. ‘Kinda surprised that she told me.’

He shrugged. ‘She probably hopes that you’re going to seduce me.’

Amy gaped at him. ‘What?’

He started up the stairs. ‘She has rather... old-fashioned ideas in some respects.’

Amy huffed as she followed him. ‘That’s less old-fashioned and more fucking insane.’

‘Elizabeth doesn’t believe it’s normal or healthy for men to be single.’ He dug in his pocket as they reached his door. Nonetheless, she is quite pragmatic.’ He gave Amy a wry look. ‘She has suggested I visit certain websites and recruit a “sugar baby.” I declined.’

Amy desperately attempted to dismiss the image that rose up. ‘What the fuck is that?’

Kent took off his running shoes. ‘The counterpoint to a sugar daddy.’ He walked over to door. ‘I need to jump in the shower. I’ll be less than ten minutes. Have a coffee if you wish.’

Amy waved her hand. Sugar babies. Jesus. It wasn’t enough they were prostitutes with delusions of grandeur? Now they were being infantilised on top of it.

After a minute or two, she went into the room with the kitschy retro “kitchen” sign on the door. It was small but very clean. She turned on the coffee machine and then went through the cupboard. She rolled her eyes at the health foods, herbal teas, and the mound of fresh vegetables. The bottles of wine were much more her speed. The neatly bagged pot in the fridge stopped her dead. Where... what... That couldn’t be his. Had a previous occupant left it there? He must have noticed it surely? She turned when she heard the door open.

‘Why the fuck do you have pot in your refrigerator?’ she asked.

He folded his arms. ‘Why are you in there?’

‘Looking for milk,’ she claimed. ‘For the coffee.’

He narrowed his eyes. ‘Sure. Amy, why’re you here? From your demeanour, I assume that this is work related.’

‘Yes.’ She put the pot away, splashed, urgh, soya milk into the cups of coffee, and handed him one. ‘The photograph, the memes, it’s getting out of hand.’

He shrugged. ‘Your faith is touching, but I can’t control the internet.’

‘Selina thinks you deliberately used an embarrassing photograph because you’re out to get her,’ Amy said.

He sipped his coffee. ‘Is that what you think?’

‘No.’ Amy warmed her hands around the mug. ‘I think, that you think, that she’s a useful smokescreen for some shitshow that I don’t know about yet.’

He looked at the ceiling for a moment. ‘If there was something from which we wished to distract attention, and if there was an essentially harmless, but mildly embarrassing, photograph of a possible leadership rival, then it might be thought prudent to deploy such a photograph.’

‘You get all that from your social skills book?’ she asked sarcastically as Kent turned.

‘You know how the game is played. You would do the same in my place. No, you would do worse. You’re ambitious, Amy. I’m merely practical.’

Amy tapped her hand against her hip. ‘Possible leadership rival?’

‘She’s surprisingly popular,’ he said. ‘This potential nonsense, the “shitshow,” might perhaps shake loose a few alliances.’

‘Huh.’ Amy brushed back a lock of hair. ‘I need you to release one of the other photographs. One showing her being attentive and commanding.’

‘No.’

‘Yes,’ she insisted.

He frowned at her. ‘Amy, this is work. I cannot allow my respect for you as a colleague to undermine my judgement. I told Selina the truth, POTUS looks far below optimum in all the photographs. Releasing one wouldn’t help the vice-president and would only lead to POTUS being further mocked for his weight issues.’

Amy tapped her foot. ‘You won’t help me? You won’t even negotiate.’

He spread out his hands.’ Ask me for something I can give you. In this respect, the answer must be no.’

‘This is why people call you a robot,’ she said, heading for the door. ‘Cold, inflexible, and fucking unyielding.’

He sighed. ‘You’re being childish,’ he said.

She knew she was. That was the worst thing. ‘Fuck you,’ she said, slamming the kitchen door as she walked out.

***

‘It’s not that eviscerating Kent to isn’t making Selina deliriously happy,’ Dan said, ‘but what made you suggest singing about him?’

Amy looked innocent. ‘He said we should have a sense of humour about ourselves. This is his chance to put his money where his mouth is.’

Dan gave her a look. ‘You think he has a sense of humour?’

‘Generally? Sort of. About himself? No,’ Amy said.

‘He is going to be furious with you,’ Sue said, shaking her head.

‘He’s not going to give a shit,’ Dan said. ‘It’s just a song. She’ll sing. People will snicker. it’ll all be forgotten about the day after.’

‘I hope you’re right,’ Sue said. ‘Look what he did with the morning shows after the lipstick incident. The man holds a grudge.’

Dan and Amy exchanged a look.

‘We’ll tell him it was Gary’s idea,’ Dan suggested.

‘Or Jonah’s,’ Sue said.

‘He won’t believe we listen to Jonah,’ Amy said.

‘Or Gary,’ Dan said. ‘How about Mike?’

‘He likes Mike,’ Amy said.

Dan leaned back. ‘Definitely Mike. He can take the hit.’

‘Okay,’ Amy said. ‘That works.’

‘What works?’ Selina asked, walking in. ‘Amy, did you get anywhere with Kent Davison?’

Amy shrugged. ‘His assistant thinks he needs to get laid and he kinda admitted the meme thing is a distraction for some emerging weaponised cock-up that he didn’t share with me.’

Selina put her hands on her hips. ‘Jesus, Amy, you don’t have to sleep with him.’

‘I wasn’t suggesting –’

‘Unless you think it would help,’ Selina said. ‘Christ, what a horrific image.’ She shuddered. ‘Do you think he has a penis or is there like a socket he uses for various attachments?’

‘He definitely has a dick,’ Dan said.

They looked at him.

‘I’m terrified to ask,’ Selina said.

‘I went to Pilates while he was there,’ Dan said. ‘Vigorous exercise plus small shorts leads me to be very confident that he has a dick.’

Selina shook her head. ‘Well, great. I’m glad that we’re managing to achieve so much recently.’

***

Amy was indifferent to social events generally, although she did enjoy dressing up. She’d found herself appreciating it more after David had been born. After a day working, and an evening being vomited, urinated, or defecated on, it was easy to devolve into a sweat-pant based lifeform. Slipping into a slinky or glittery dress and upgrading her make-up was a welcome shock to the system. She wasn’t thrilled at having her parents babysit for the night, but it stopped them complaining about how little they saw David, and it gave her some grown-up fun time. Relatively fun. Politicians trying to be clever, witty, or “cool” generally went as well as any middle-age, middle-class person trying to be “down with the kids.”

Jonah looked like he’d stolen his suit from a formally-dressed scarecrow. Kent... hmm. Well he was always pretty well turned out. His suit looked new and was well-tailored and glossy black.

He caught Amy’s eye and inclined his head. Oh shit, what did he want?

‘Excuse me.’ Amy said. ‘Kent Davison appears to be trying to get my attention.’

‘Don’t tell him about the song,’ Selina said, maliciously happy. ‘I want it to be a surprise.’

Amy nodded. ‘I give you my word I have absolutely no intention of telling him anything about it.’ She crossed the door, skirting far too many grasping hands. It was too early in the evening for grown men to act like frat boys. By the time she reached Kent, Jonah had been dispatched in search of drinks.

She thought, for a moment, that Kent’s cold gaze ticked over her dress. He didn’t say anything about it, thank Christ. What would a Kent compliment even sound like: you appear capable of sexual reproduction?

‘Amy’, he said.

‘Kent.’

‘I’ve been giving some thought to your comments regarding the meme and... related issues,’ Kent said. His hands made vague shapes in the air as he tried to explain.

Fuck.

David did the exact same thing when struggling some complex situation, like the final muffin being eaten while mama wasn’t looking but, definitely not by David. Nuh-oh.

Amy licked her lips. ‘And?’

‘I regret being unable to release another photograph, however, I do acknowledge the vice president’s, and your, unhappiness with the situation.’

Amy frowned. ‘That’s not it?’

‘No.’ He clasped his hands together. ‘I’ll speak to the vice president tomorrow, but strictly between you and I, I have persuaded POTUS to offer an olive branch. The trip to Finland. Pop diplomacy, you might say. It would raise the vice president’s profile both here and abroad.’

Amy nodded. ‘And provide some opportunities to look like stateswoman rather than some fuckwit screwing around with a cell phone.’

Kent’s mouth twitched. ‘Do you approve?’

Amy flicked back her hair. ‘As olive-branches go it’s not terrible.’ She nodded. ‘I approve.’

‘Excellent.’ He relaxed a little. ‘I’m curious how she means to entertain us now.’

Amy smiled awkwardly. ‘Oh, you’ll see.’

***

Amy took off her shoes as she walked up the stairs. David slept even more lightly than she did. She crept into his bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed. David was lay on his front, with his face turned to Amy. She adjusted the covers, tucking them around his shoulders. She brushed an eyelash from his cheek.

She’d never been as frightened before as she was the moment she held him for the first time. She didn’t feel some great warm fuzzy rush. She felt terrified. Terrified that he was going to fall foul of the thousands of things that could possibly go wrong. Terrified that nothing so tiny and fragile could possibly survive in such a fucked-up world.

When she had told her parents that she had used donor semen to get pregnant, they had asked her why she didn’t get a “nice man.” Like they grew on trees. Like she was even sure she wanted to date. She had wanted David. Wanting him had been a rock-hard certainty. Dating... Maybe Sue had a point. Maybe she was getting too insular. Maybe she should at least try it. Not because she needed a man. She didn’t. That was fine. Really. It was totally fine that she didn’t need one. When she was a teenager she had bounced from boyfriend to boyfriend the way that Sophie did. Amy had grown the fuck up, Sophie hadn’t.

Amy had been happy on her own. Now she was happy with David. She didn’t need a man and maybe that was good. She was in a good place to enjoy spending some time with another adult. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t date anyone in D.C., although she hardly spent time with anyone else. She sure as fuck wouldn’t date anyone at work. Dan and Jonah were beyond unappealing, Gary was scheming, and the rest were married, or Mike. Mike barely qualified as a man, let alone one she’d consider dating.

David made a little noise as he rolled over, facing away from Amy.

‘Hey, I wasn’t done watching you sleep,’ she muttered.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

‘Hi sweetie, wow, you’ve gotten so big!’ Selina said brightly.

David hid his face in Amy’s chest.

‘Pretending to be shy, huh?’ Selina said as she sat down on Air Force Two. ‘You don’t fool me.’

‘He’s a little tired,’ Amy said, handing him over to Milla, who scooted away with him.

‘He’s so well behaved,’ Selina said turning her attention to her paperwork. ‘Catherine was always so clingy and whiny. God, she was such a pain in my ass.’

‘I think having a crèche at work for the first year really helped,’ Amy said. ‘He’s used to seeing me throughout the day, and having people around.’

‘But be careful with the nanny,’ Selina said.

‘Milla?’

‘Yeah. You let them get too attached and they’ll steal the affection right outta there.’ Selina wagged her pen at Amy. ‘They’re sneaky!

‘Is she like Mary Poppins?’ Jonah asked.

‘Nobody is talking to you,’ Dan said.

‘I love that movie,’ Jonah said.

‘Yes, Jonah,’ Amy said. ‘I pay a magical woman to take my child on adventures with dancing penguins and then when I get home in the evening we sing about female emancipation.’

‘Sounds like a good time to me,’ Selina said.

‘You know the only reason he’s asking is because he wanted to fuck Julie Andrews,’ Dan sneered.

‘Language,’ Selina scolded.

Dan paused. ‘Oh. Okay,’ he said uncertainly.

‘There’s a tiny little boy just down there,’ Selina said. ‘Watch yourself.’

Dan and Amy exchanged a look.

‘Don’t try to pick up my nanny,’ Amy said to Jonah. ‘It took me a long time to find her, whereas you could be replaced by a cardboard cut-out of Herman Munster.’

***

‘Does she think that we can’t smell the cigarette smoke?’ Amy asked Dan.

He rolled his eyes. ‘Maybe I should apologise for that too.’

‘Can’t hurt.’ Amy stole a handful of appetisers and stashed them in her bag.

He shook his head. ‘Being Mike fucking sucks.’ He liberated half a bottle of champagne and handed it to Amy. ‘Might as well make your private party go with a bang.’

‘I wasn’t planning on getting drunk with my son and nanny,’ she said. But she took it anyway.

‘I always wondered why women carried bags,’ he said. ‘It’s for the booze.’

‘And clutches are for the pills,’ Amy agreed.

‘Now it all makes sense.’ Dan swirled his wine around in his glass. ‘I can’t believe that Kent chose Mike over me.’

‘Kent hates you,’ Amy said. ‘Get over it.’

‘But we’re the same!’ Dan protested.

‘Maybe that’s why.’

Amy’s cell chimed. She unlocked it and opened her text messages. It was a photo of a wide-eyed David watching Finnish television.

‘Problem?’ Dan asked.

‘Just Milla a checking in.’ Amy sipped her wine. ‘David is watching Finnish TV, so I can look forward to him sounding like the Swedish Chef for the next few weeks.’

‘Up kinda late isn’t he?’

Amy gave him a look. ‘I’m not asking my child to totally change his body clock for three days. ‘

***

The only weird thing about Selina being groped was that she was the vice president. Men were assholes. Male politicians were giant gaping assholes. Amy had been propositioned ten times as much since she came to D.C. then she ever did before. Propositioned, leered at, and sometimes grabbed at. Grabbed at, rarely did they make contact. She usually saw them coming. The one time she’d been grabbed was at a fundraiser. A senator had put his hand on her knee. She’d jabbed a fork in his hand. Even Jonah hadn’t been dumb enough to put his hand on her. Actually, Jonah was all talk. It was repulsive talk but she’d heard worse. Some of the stuff Dan said made her skin crawl.

Kent had asked permission before he touched her. Jesus. They’d gone to her room specifically to have sex and he asked permission. Each time. Dan was like an octopus, hands everywhere. Amy had thought that was what passion was supposed to be like; torn clothes, rug burn, and a frenzied attack that didn’t add to much. Kent had been slow, careful, and methodical. He talked. He asked questions. Who the fuck did that? And that wasn’t the half of it.

Selina would be okay. She’d get over it. She was a tough old bird. Hell. Once she got a few drinks in her, she was likely to offer herself to anyone who took her fancy, or press her own attentions. During the campaign, Amy had seen her make out with Roger Furlong, and grab Kent’s crotch. Furlong had been thrilled. Kent had been appalled. Selina had acted like she didn’t remember either event. Amy called bullshit on that.

Amy took off her shoes and held them as she watched the elevator doors shut. God she was tired. Milla and David were on regular time, everyone here was on Finnish time, and Amy felt she was on Mayfly time. Any second now she was gonna flop face first into a river or a parked car.

‘Mama, mama, mama!’ David ran to meet her, fell over, got up, and kept running.

Amy knelt and wrapped her arms around him. She felt him give a huge sigh.

‘Are you okay, David?’

He nodded, still pressed against her.

Amy looked across at Milla.

‘He is feeling cuddly,’ she said.

Amy rubbed his back. He had these moods, from time to time, when he wanted to do nothing but cling to her. It had nothing to do with her hours or how much time they’d spent together. He just got it into him that he wanted to be close to her. It wasn’t anything Amy had ever felt. She had no idea if there was something she should do to “fix” the situation. So she let him cling to her or follow her from room to room. She let him curl up next to her on couch, and she got into his bed with him when it was bedtime.

‘I’m going to my room when you’re asleep,’ she would said. ‘So if you wake up and I’m not here don’t worry,’ she would say.

He would nod solemnly and wriggle under her arm.

Amy stood up, pulling him into her arms, and rubbed his back. ‘Wanna watch some cartoons on my laptop while I probably fall asleep?’

She felt him nod.

‘Okay then,’ Amy said.

***

‘Do you think he knew?’ Selina asked, as they were travelling back on Air Force Two.

Amy looked up from her cell. ‘Ma’am?’

‘Do you think Kent knew this was going to happen?’ she asked. ‘Dan being so useless, Osmo groping me, was this some gigantic, intricate revenge plot?’

‘No,’ Amy said.

Selina thumped her fists on the table. ‘He’s a sneaky fucker, Amy! I mean... oh...’ She glanced back to where David was playing with Milla.

‘A mean and nasty man?’ Dan suggested.

‘Right! He is totally the type to get revenge for the song,’ Selina said.

Amy was tempted to say she didn’t think any man who had a picture of his cat as his lock screen was a Machiavellian genius.

‘Could be, Ma’am,’ she said. ‘And he certainly doesn’t like Dan, but he’s not psychic. He could have no way to foresee Dan’s ineptitude or Osmo groping you.’

Selina coughed and took a sip of water.

‘If he hates me so much then why is he sending me a highly confidential document?’ Dan asked.

‘Mike emailed that to everyone,’ Amy said. ‘Look, you can see if you check the headers.’

Selina raised her eyebrows. ‘Mike emailed something highly confident of Kent’s? My day just got better.’

‘It’s about the spy,’ Amy said.

‘What?’ Selina asked, wide-eyed.

‘Polling questions about the spy,’ Dan said. ‘But it’s coded. You wouldn’t know it unless you already knew about the spy.’

‘Like what?’ Selina said. ‘Who’s your fictional spy of choice? American spies pretending to be students: yay or nay?’

Dan looked at Amy.

She rubbed her forehead. ‘It looks more like Kent’s trying to determine how bad it would be if it came out,’ she said.

‘I’m guessing pretty fucking bad,’ Selina said. ‘And it’s out there. Maybe thanks to Kent.’

‘And that is maybe thanks to Mike,’ Amy said.

The colour drained from Selina’s face. ‘Oh, fuck. Kent’s gonna think I did this on purpose. Amy, you... you have to shut this down. Make it clear Mike was off the reservation.’

Amy hesitated, just for a moment. ‘Yes Ma’am, I will do that.’

That was just what she needed.

***

Sue was still in a mood about not going to Europe. Amy waved off her sarcasm as she tried to come up with a plan for dealing with Kent. Selina had been typically vague. Was Amy supposed to throw Mike under the bus? Should she defend him? Maybe she should’ve fired him already. But then what? Dan clearly couldn’t handle the press, and Amy had no intention of attempting it. That way madness lay.

‘Amy!’

She turned. She was being addressed by a tall, reasonably good-looking staffer in his thirties.

‘Hi,’ he said. ‘I was hoping to see you.’

‘Hi,’ Amy said. ‘Ed, right? Oh, Wilson?’

‘Webster.’

‘Right, right.’

He was nodding. ‘How’s your baby?’

Amy flicked her hair back. ‘He’s not a baby anymore. He’s doing much better.’

Ed blinked. ‘Oh. Was he sick?’

Amy hesitated. ‘Yes, but... hardly small talk. What can I do for you, Ed? If you’re hoping to speak to the Veep, you’ll have to go through her appointment secretary, Sue Wilson.’

‘I don’t want to see the Veep,’ he said. ‘I wanted to see you. Would you like to have dinner with me?’

Amy stared at him. ‘Oh.’ He was good-looking, a treacherous little voice said. He smelled good, it continued, and he’s in politics. ‘Yes,’ Amy said. ‘I would like that.’

***

She was humming as she tapped on Kent’s door.

‘What?’ he barked. He held up his hand when he registered her presence. ‘Apologies, I didn’t realise it was you.’ He looked as if he hadn’t slept, and sounded like he’d gargled sand.

Amy shut the door. ‘You sick?’

‘Only in the context of “and tired,” which I certainly am.’ He put his hands on his hips. ‘Is the vice president blaming me for something or complaining about something?’

‘May I sit?’

‘Now I know it’s serious.’ He pulled a chair out for her.

Amy stared at him for a second before she sat down. Kent ran his fingers through his hair as he took his own chair.

Amy crossed her legs. ‘The vice president heard about the issue with the file that Mike sent –’ she trailed off at his raised finger.

‘Computer virus,’ he said.

‘Computer virus?’ Amy repeated.

Kent leaned back in his chair.’ A computer virus is responsible for a file being emailed throughout various departments and offices.’

Amy narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. ‘Okay.’

‘Anything else would raise all sorts of unpleasant and uncomfortable issues,’ Kent said.

Amy nodded. ‘A computer virus does seem the most probable cause.’

Kent rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. ‘The vice president has no need to be concerned. If anything had happened, which it didn’t, but if it did, then it would be clear that it was an error caused by incompetence rather than malice.’

Amy clasped her hands on her knee. ‘Meaning Mike is a fucking imbecile, and if his role came out, then you would look bad for letting him anywhere near incredibly sensitive data.’

He met her gaze. ‘I’m not accepting or dismissing that analysis of events, merely acknowledging hearing it.’

‘That’s what I thought,’ Amy said.

Kent glanced at as his phone when it rang. He rolled his eyes.

‘You gonna answer that?’ Amy asked.

‘No.’ He shrugged. ‘It’s my Finnish counterpart. They’re panicking. Apparently, there was some talk of nuking Helsinki,’ he said dryly.

‘Oh,’ Amy said. ‘Gosh. I can’t imagine why that would be.’

Kent tilted his head. ‘Is she... okay?’

A muscle jumped in her cheek. ‘Who?’

‘Amy, I am not having a good week,’ he said. ‘I don’t have the emotional energy to play games about the vice president being sexually assaulted.’

Amy’s tense expression tightened. ‘Who told you?’

‘Mike, attempting to distract attention from his disaster, suggested leaking the assault in order to draw press attention away from the alleged spy.’

Amy’s lip curled up. ‘You are fucking kidding me.’

‘I wish I were.’ He straightened his tie. ‘I suspect that you can’t punish him either.’

‘No,’ she said. ‘Because then I would look like an asshole for letting him near such sensitive data.’

Kent smiled sardonically. ‘The imbecile wins again.’

‘Fuck! Who else knows about the groping?’

Kent shrugged. ‘Announcing it in a corridor is no way to keep a secret. Mike told myself, Ben, Roger Furlong, and Andrew Doyle. I haven’t told anyone and I would expect Doyle to be discrete.’

Amy clenched her pen in her hand. ‘Furlong and Ben have probably told everyone.’

Kent nodded.’ You’re about to break your pen.’

She flung it onto the desk. ‘Selina specifically didn’t want you to know and now you and everyone else are gossiping about it.’

‘What?’ He leaned forward. ‘Why specifically not me?’

She waved her hand. ‘Because of the axis of dick. She hates you, she thinks you’re out to get her, and she thinks you’ll use the assault against her.’

Kent stared at her for several seconds. When he spoke, his voice was low and quiet. ‘Why would she think that?’

Amy had to look away. ‘You’re not exactly Mr Sensitivity,’ she said ‘You weaponised that photograph. Why not this?’

He looked like she’d slapped him. ‘A mildly embarrassing photograph is in no way comparable to an assault.’

Amy licked her lips. ‘I know that. Plenty of men don’t.’

‘As a vocal minority may speak over the silent majority, I imagine it might be compelling to believe disrespect for women in endemic among men,’ he said.

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Spare me the “not all men” bullshit.’

‘We’re not talking about all men,’ he said. ‘We’re specifically talking about me. I’m... disappointed, Amy. I thought you knew me better than that.’

She sighed. ‘I do know you better than that. Fuck. Selina’s completely fucking paranoid and I guess it’s getting to me.’ She pushed back a lock of her hair. ‘She’s convinced you’re gonna wreak some terrible revenge on her for the song.’

‘I did,’ he said.

Amy flinched. ‘What did you do?’

‘I waited,’ he said.

‘You did nothing.’

He shook his head. ‘Waiting is not doing nothing. I knew the song was being recorded. I knew someone was bound to be idiotic enough to release it into the wild. I knew more persons than myself would take issue with it.’

Amy smoothed down her skirt. ‘You were really pissed, huh?’

‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘I enjoy having work I take very seriously derided and demeaned in front of all my peers. I like being publicly humiliated.’

Amy could feel herself growing red. ‘You said we should make fun of ourselves,’ she muttered.

‘But she didn’t make fun of herself,’ he said. He poured a glass of water. ‘Was it your idea?’

She squared her shoulders. ‘You’re a fucking grown-up, Kent. Quit whining.’

He sipped his water. ‘Forgive me. I’m unclear why you seem so angry at me. We used to be on good terms.’

She re-crossed her legs. ‘Can I get a drink?’

‘I have water and herbal tea.’

‘Tea is fine.’ She watched him making tea for them both. There a little touch of ritual to it. She remembered noticing little behavioural ticks when they were campaigning: wanting to be near windows, saying something and then immediately repeating the words in a different order, eating the same thing for breakfast every day.

He gave her the tea. She took a sip.

‘Things are different now,’ she said. ‘I have David.’

She wasn’t sure which was worse: the blank confusion or the realisation. ‘Amy, I’m not a threat to your family,’ he said.

‘But you are.’ Her smile wasn’t friendly or warm. It was the anxious grimace of someone who might as easily attack as flee.

Kent held up his hands. ‘How? I have no moral or ethical right to be in his life. I could not in good conscience refer to myself as his father. I merely contributed genetic material.’

‘Nobody gives a shit about your conscience.’ Amy pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead. ‘Legally you’re his father. You could... you could demand access. You could fight me for custody!’

Kent started to laugh.

‘What is funny?’ Amy demanded.

‘That is preposterous,’ he said. ‘I have contributed nothing to his life. We have no relationship. I have neither the ability nor the inclination to raise a child. On what possible grounds could I apply for visitation let alone custody?’

Amy relaxed slightly. ‘I work a lot.’

‘And? I work no fewer hours I’m sure.’ He gazed at her. ‘I appreciate a fierce maternal instinct and I understand your fear of losing him. When my sister gave birth, she had nightmares for weeks about someone kidnapping her daughter. Nonetheless, your fear is of the abstract and I am concrete. Perhaps there’s some legal method for rendering me harmless in your mind.’

Amy shook her head. ‘I already looked into it. To give up your parental rights it has to be in his best interests.’

‘Isn’t it?’

Amy pulled a face. ‘Literally the first thing you did after finding out his paternity was drop everything so you could donate blood to him. That’s not exactly high on the shitty dad scale.’

Kent’s eyes seemed to twinkle a little. ‘Ah. Apologies.’

‘You’re really not interested in being his father?’ Amy checked.

‘I have no answer to that which would make you happy,’ Kent said. ‘I admit some curiosity. However, I’ve contributed nothing meaningful to his life. I don’t deserve to be his father,’ he said gently.

‘I don’t need your money,’ Amy said. ‘I don’t want your money.’

Kent shook his head. ‘Although it’s true that I haven’t contributed financially, that wasn’t my meaning.’ He tapped his knuckles on the desk. ‘If the day came when you did need money, for any reason, I would ask no questions nor impose any conditions.’ He stood up and offered her his hand. ‘Perhaps we can begin again.’ ‘Yeah, she said, taking his hand. ‘Maybe.’

***

He hadn’t any right to make her feel shitty. None. He worked in the White House. If he couldn’t take some abuse then he should drag his skinny ass back to Robonia or wherever it was he came from. He needed a thicker skin.

Selina waved her into the office.

‘Ma’am?’ Amy asked.

‘Did you get everything shut down with Kent Threepio?’ she asked.

‘We shook hands on not holding grudges,’ Amy said, honest more in spirit than fine detail.

Selina walked across to her desk. ‘How mad was he really about the song?’

Amy crossed her arms tightly. ‘He’s over that. Bigger problems.’

Selina winced. ‘Like the spy thing? Did you have to throw Mike off a cliff?’

‘The official story is that there was a computer virus.’

‘But he knows it was Mike, right?’

Amy nodded. ‘He also knows it was Mike being Mike and not an evil scheme of yours to get revenge.’

Selina sat down. ‘Great. The computer virus story seems nicer then he needs to be.’

Amy barely hesitated. ‘I think Kent would really like to put all the aggression and antagonism to one side.’

Selina raised her eyebrows. ‘Huh. I guess we’ll see how that goes.’

‘I guess.’

‘Good work,’ Selina said. ‘Thank God I didn’t send Dan.’

***

Chapter Text

The sex was okay, she supposed. Amy had sex on a first-date or she didn’t do it at all. She didn’t have time and attachment to waste if she didn’t want sex or if the sex was bad. By “slept” she meant a quickie in Ed’s apartment before she headed home. Her expectations had been low so she wasn’t excessively disappointed. Ed was good natured. Over time she could probably get him to step up his game. Sexually he was a fixer-upper.

For their fourth date, they were going to Catherine’s birthday party. Amy ignored Sue’s snarky comment about her finally getting laid. Sue seemed to think that going through boyfriends at a rate of knots made her some kind of expert. Amy thought she was probably too annoying to keep one.

Selina was being just… It was giving Amy migraines thinking about her and Andrew. Selina getting fucked on the regular was always a shitshow. The woman had a unique ability to get into the unhealthiest, most screwed-up relationships. Amy hadn’t been with Selina during her divorce from Andrew, but Gary had been. Amy had heard his autopsy of it far too many times and in far too much detail. Amy genuinely believed that if Gary had a plan for a perfect murder then he would’ve killed Andrew. The plan wouldn’t have worked, because he was Gary, and because he would’ve confessed the first time that the police looked at him funny. But he’d have done it.

Ed handled himself well at the party: respectful about Selina, brushed off Dan, and put Jonah in his place. Amy needed that. Between her family and her colleagues, her social circle was nowhere for the weak or the faint of heart.

Ed wasn’t very happy that the night after Catherine’s party there was a second evening of sitting around and watching Selina flirting with Andrew while Catherine looked increasingly irritated. Amy wasn’t very happy either, especially when people started tweeting photographs of the meal, but least of all when her cell began ringing and Kent’s name popped up.

‘Gotta get this,’ Amy said, putting the phone to her ear and heading to the door. ‘A moment, Kent.’

She hadn’t seen him much in the last week. The spy business was still rumbling away. Selina had done well to slide away from that disaster. The more POTUS wriggled the guiltier he looked, and that fucker seemed designed by committee to look guilty. She didn’t envy his staff. Trying to make Hughes look stately and presidential was like stuffing a boar into a corset and calling it a male model, and they’d have better luck trying to make Jonah look innocent.

Amy took up station by the exit and cradled the cell to her ear. ‘Go ahead, Kent.’

‘POTUS has decided not to support the budget deal that the vice president has brokered,’ he said.

‘What? I must have misheard, because you could not have said what I think you just said.’

He gave a small sigh. ‘POTUS has been persuaded that allowing a shutdown will distract from the situation with the spy.’

Amy set her jaw. ‘This is bullshit. Selina worked insanely hard to agree that budget.’

‘Her hard work is not the issue,’ Kent said. 

Amy cursed silently. ‘So he’s screwing her over again.’

‘Historically the American people are more likely to forgive scandalous behaviour if the alleged perpetrator is seen to be efficient, and preferably likeable. A budget shutdown is the antithesis of presidential efficiency,’ Kent said.

Amy tried to decode it. ‘Are you saying that this wasn’t you?’

‘POTUS has my complete support at all times,’ he said. ‘It would be inappropriate for me to suggest otherwise.’

Amy tapped her foot. ‘It was Ben?’

‘It was Andrew Doyle,’ Kent said.

‘He thinks he can still be the president one day,’ she sniffed.

Kent’s voice took on a slight but definite sardonic edge. ‘I believe that all politicians secretly harbour that desire, be they a councilman or vice president.’

‘The vice president is enthusiastic to support the president,’ Amy said. ‘If only he felt the same.’

If she hadn’t known better then she would have thought she could hear a smile in his voice.

‘I wouldn’t care to pass comment on that.’

Amy turned and glanced back through the glass of the door. ‘Okay, this has been… definitely not fun.’

‘I thought you should know,’ Kent said. ‘Before she reads it in the papers.’

Amy straightened her back and took a breath. ‘Yes. The heads-up is appreciated.’

‘Enjoy the rest of your evening.’

Amy shoved her cell back into her pocket. If Kent had been anyone else, she would have gladly told Selina that she had forged a direct line to a West Wing senior aide. If she had been anyone else, she would have attempted to take advantage of it. However, he was Kent, and she didn’t have that luxury.

***

If Amy never heard the word “furlough” again it would be too soon. Jesus, why did they need the opposition when they had Gary and Chung screwing them over?

‘You aren’t keeping up,’ Sue said severely.

They were in a rather nice bar just outside the usual haunts of D.C. insiders. Sue had insisted on going out for drinks. She did every so often, and although Amy was always initially reluctant, it was generally quite good stress relief.

Assuming that Amy left before Sue got drunk. Amy rarely got drunk in public. She avoided getting drunk in front of other people generally. It was too… no. And she had David now. Sue seemed to regard getting drunk as a prerequisite of a successful evening. She was at least a fairly cheerful drunk, more cheerful than when she was sober.

Amy took a sip of her wine. ‘I can’t stay late.’

‘You never do,’ Sue said. ‘It’s quite tiresome.’

‘Well, I have a small child and parents babysitting him to think of,’ Amy said. ‘Don’t you have to get back to Sean?’

Sue crossed her legs and cast her gaze around the room. ‘If I was dating Sean then I would certainly not be running home on his whim.’

Amy gulped her wine. Sue was never single, she was only ever temporarily between relationships. If they had broken up then she would be prowling around looking for a replacement.

‘Selina’s about to start seeing Andrew again and you’ve broken up with Sean,’ Amy said. ‘It’s a world gone mad.’

‘Selina does not “see” Andrew,’ Sue said. ‘She contracted him years ago and suffers periodic flare-ups. Like herpes.’

Amy drained her glass. ‘Selina gets the sex and the rest of us get the nausea.’

Sue raised an eyebrow. ‘She says the sex is excellent.’

‘She tells you stuff like that?’

‘No,’ Sue said, pouring another drink. ‘But she doesn’t always remember to turn off the speakerphone.’

Amy shuddered. ‘She always seems an inch away from telling me all about the sex. They hate each other. I don’t get how the sex can be good with someone you hate.’

‘Passion,’ Sue said. ‘And selfishness. If you hate them then you don’t have to accommodate their preferences.’

Amy frowned. ‘That sounds worse.’ She raised an eyebrow at Sue questioningly.

‘Yes,’ Sue said. ‘It was junk food sex. It left a bad taste. Not the worst sex I ever had but it was close.’ She gave Amy a sly look. ‘I suppose you only sleep with men you are dating and then only on the third date.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Am I supposed to believe that you’re an amazing sexual athlete?’ 

‘I am,’ Sue said. ‘But I do not sleep with every man I am interested in any more than I buy every pair of shoes I try on.’

‘Neither do I.’ Amy glanced at her cell. ‘I’m choosy.’

‘I’m not convinced that I trust your judgement,’ Sue said. ‘You slept with Dan.’

‘That was before I knew him,’ Amy said. ‘It wouldn’t happen again.’

Sue looked unconvinced. ‘If I were to sleep with someone at the office it would not be some low-level staffer. You are young, Amy, and not unattractive. You should be dating up.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘I’m dating Ed.’

‘And we’re all glad that you’re getting laid,’ Sue said. ‘But he won’t help your career. You should consider a congressman or a senator.’

Amy gulped a mouthful or wine. ‘They’re almost all married,’ she said. ‘And old.’

Sue tilled her head. ‘You’ve never dated an older man?’

Amy hesitated. ‘Not dated, no.’

‘Then what?’

Amy folded her arms. ‘It was... sort of a one-night stand. It’s complicated.’

Sue raised an eyebrow. ‘Older men should be dated. They have money and memberships to clubs. Sometimes they have season tickets to the theatre or the opera.’

‘Wow.’

‘What was it like?’ Sue asked.

‘Huh?’

‘The sex. What was it like?’

‘Weird,’ Amy said. ‘He was trying to get me to relax. Giving someone a backrub when you’re already going to have sex is like eating two appetizers before your entrée.’

Sue raised an eyebrow. ‘Is there a reason you chose eating as your metaphor of choice?’

Amy looked at her glass. ‘He certainly had more of an appetite than Ed. I think he thought it was all-you-can-eat buffet.’

‘I find mature men have more patience,’ Sue said. ‘They’re in less of a hurry. I don’t see how that isn’t agreeable.’ 

Amy checked her phone. ‘We both know how it works: if you can get them down there at all then they do the bare minimum and expect a round of applause. They don’t keep at until you’re six inches away and only then supply the six inches. That’s fucking weird.’ 

‘The fact that you think a man wishing for you to come first is “weird,” is heart breaking.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘You don’t sound heartbroken.’

‘I was speaking in the abstract.’ Sue answered a text. ‘Was he successful in his endeavours?’

Amy licked her lips. ‘Yes. He was very... efficient. There was less discussion after the first time. That was better.’

‘You said it was one night,’ Sue accused.

‘I said it was one night, not one time. It was two times, three is you include the morning.’

Sue narrowed her eyes. ‘You had sex with this man three times in short succession and your description is only that is was “weird.” Really?’

Amy could feel her face growing hot. Jesus, she had drunk that much? She leaned forward. ‘That’s what it was. No man should be that interested in whether I’m enjoying the sex or not.’

Sue sipped her drink. ‘I see, and the reason that you aren’t dating him?’

‘Urgh,’ Amy said. ‘He’d be constantly checking if I was okay, did I want anything. I’m a grown woman. I don’t need a man waiting on me hand and foot, obsessing about making me happy.’

Sue was quiet for a few seconds. ‘Is he single at the moment?’

Amy stared at her. ‘I have no idea.’

***

Kent was furloughed and had actually gone home. Normally that would be fine, or at least Amy wouldn’t care, but Selina had got the idea that POTUS was deliberately riling up the press against her. In the absence of Mike, and Dan’s proven terribleness with the press, Amy was trying to deal with it. That meant dealing with Kent’s furloughed ass.

Kent’s furloughed ass wasn’t answering his cell. Jesus, of all the times for him to start obeying the law. Where was that diligence when he decided he needed his noise cancelling earphones?

So, she drove to his apartment, fought for a parking spot, clattered up the steps to his building, and realised the door needed a code to enter. Fuck. There wasn’t an intercom either. The inhabitants didn’t want anyone calling who didn’t already have their numbers. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Amy knocked on the door. Then she thumped on the door. She kept thumping on the door until it was yanked open.

‘Will you kindly desist?’ the tall woman demanded.

Amy managed a smile. ‘Hi. I need to get upstairs to talk to my colleague. He’s on the top floor. His name is Kent Davison?’

The woman, who was emaciated as a supermodel, drew herself up. ‘He’s not going to hear you from there, is he?’

Amy managed to force something approximating a smile. ‘Could you let me in? It’s really very important.’

‘Do you have identification? How do I know you’re not here to steal something?’

Amy handed over her pass. ‘I work for the government, Ma’am.’

‘You’re all thieves,’ she sniffed. ‘What’re you doing about this shutdown? We pay your wages.’

‘We’re working on it,’ Amy said, her fixed smile growing strained. ‘And if I’m a thief the only person who needs to worry is Kent.’

Her ID was thrust at her and the woman gave her a dirty look. ‘Wait here.’

The door slammed shut. Amy threw up her hands.

‘I was being facetious!’

She tapped her foot as she waited. Passers-by glanced at her with polite curiously.

After about five minutes the door opened. Instead of Kent there was an attractive, dark woman in her late thirties. She looked Amy up and down and spoke rapid-fire Spanish into the cell she had pressed to her ear.

‘You, what’s your name?’ she asked in a thick Brooklyn accent.

‘Amy Brookheimer.’

There was more Spanish and then the phone was tucked away. ‘He says you can wait. He’s on his way,’ she said, opening the door to let Amy enter.

‘How long is he going to be?’ Amy asked.

‘How long’s a piece of string? That’s how long.’

Amy’s smile slipped another notch. ‘Great. Thanks.’

She was shown upstairs and into the kitchen. The woman turned on the coffee machine. ‘I’ll make you a coffee but then I gotta go. He don’t pay me to stay late chatting to young women.’

Amy put her bag and jacket down. on a chair. ‘We’re colleagues.’

‘I don’t care,’ she said. ‘You don’t look like you scrub floors so I’m not gonna worry about you putting me out of work.’

Amy looked around the spotlessly clean room. ‘Definitely not a threat to you,’ she said. ‘Where did Kent say he was?’

‘He’s out riding. One of these days he’s gonna break his neck.’

Amy sat down. ‘Kent doesn’t seem like a horse guy.’

‘Not a horse, a motorcycle.’

Amy stared. ‘He’s riding a what?’

***

The cleaner left after about ten minutes. Amy sat in the kitchen for perhaps a couple more before growing restive. It was Kent’s decision to leave her sat here and his fault if she looked around. It wasn’t a surprise that his place was bigger than hers, and in a nicer part of town. Annoying, but not surprising. She knew better than that.

The pot was still in the refrigerator, although she thought there was a bit less of it. She’d forgotten about that. Why the fuck would he have pot? It was like finding out that Gary had committed road rage. Or Jonah spent his weekends helping orphans. Amy’s stomach rumbled. She’d missed lunch again. Most of the food Kent had she either didn’t recognise or dismissed as healthy bullshit.

Fuck it.

She took a little cupcake from a baggy. It smelled like chocolate, although knowing Kent she didn’t rule out it being bran or oatmeal lurking in it.

She nibbled the cupcake as she riffled through the kitchen. There wasn’t much worth looking at, no secret stash of robot food, or manual on how to pass as human. Selina would be disappointed.

She wandered out of the kitchen and into the living room. There were a lot of photographs of the sea and some of the desert. No people. Antisocial asshole.

On the shelves, there were more classic books then she was expecting. They were well-thumbed. Lots of DVDs. Two game consoles.

Game consoles. Amy shook her head slowly. He was a grown man why was he fucking around with games and... and motorcycles?

She brushed the final cupcake crumbs into the trash. Then she meandered into the hallway. She went into the bathroom, which actually has a bath/shower combo. It smelled faintly of the cologne that Kent wore, a subtle lemon fragrance. It had always bothered her, that scent.

Okay, not bothered, exactly. It didn’t smell bad. He didn’t smell bad. It just didn’t seem to fit. Selina thought he was robotic and he could be, sure. But he was very... male. Not macho. Male. He had body hair; chest and arms, which had really surprised Amy, and his skin had a mild but distinctively musky scent. The way he talked, the way he moved, the way he touched her, it all added up to an elusive but inescapable masculinity.

Amy relieved herself, washed her hands, and looked in the medicine cabinet: painkillers, vitamins, and a small bottle of eyedrops. No Viagra, so that hadn’t changed.

Urgh, she was still hungry. She went back to the kitchen and had another cupcake and a second cup of coffee.

Okay! Bedroom. If she was gonna snoop then she was gonna snoop properly. Amy stumbled a little as she pushed open the door. Stupid floor was uneven or some shit.

Amy looked around the room. Definitely not the bedroom of a guy who won a lemon-scented cologne. The drapes were heavy black damask, the wallpaper was a slightly muted red. The sleek, black furniture looked expensive. There were Klimt paintings in silver frames around the room: the only actual paintings she’d seen in the house. The bedclothes were a creamy ecru and were beautifully neat.

At the bottom of the bed, utterly incongruous, was a small stuffed toy. Amy picked it up and turned it over in her hands. It was a toy frog with a ring pull in its back. When she pulled the ring, the toy vibrated in her hands, but nothing else. The plush was worn in places and there were tiny pinholes in small clusters. Amy put the toy down and opened the bedside cabinet: a box of tissues, a tablet computer, a sheaf of paper folded in half, and a very faded photograph of a young woman.

Oh shit. Was that the door? Amy closed the cabinet and pulled open the bedroom door. She just made it into the corridor as Kent walked in.

‘Oh, hey,’ she said casually. ‘You’re home. That’s awesome. So… fucking awesome.’

‘Are you drunk?’ he asked incredulously.

‘What? No!’ she wagged her finger. ‘Some of us are working today.’

Kent walked over. He gently tipped up her chin and starred into her eyes.’ Did one of us help ourselves to a cupcake?’

‘What?’ She looked away. He had nice eyes but they were way, way too... something...

‘Did you eat a cupcake from the refrigerator?’ he asked.

‘Nope.’ She turned to the living room door.

‘Amy...’

She waved a hand. ‘Two cupcakes!’

Kent sighed heavily. ‘Wonderful.’

‘I need to ask...’ Amy paused. ‘Things. For work. For Selina Fuckface.’

Kent started laughing. ‘Why don’t we start with you sitting down and having a nice cup of camomile tea while we wait for the pot to wear off?’

He guided her to a chair and gently pushed her down.

‘You don’t seem high,’ Amy said suspiciously.

‘I’m not, but you... you might benefit from a lie down.’

Amy snorted. ‘Fuck that idea in the ear. I don’t take weed.’

Kent nodded. ‘I absolutely believe you.’

***

‘Selina keeps calling,’ Amy complained.

‘You’re in no sensible frame of mind to talk to her,’ Kent said. ‘You might address her as “fuck face,” which would be… problematic.’

Amy wrapped her hands around the cup. It was empty but the lingering warmth was comforting.

‘What makes you think I would ever call her that?’

Kent shrugged. ‘The fact that you described her so to me.’

‘Shit.’ Amy frowned. ‘Hey, what’re you wearing?’

He looked down as if he needed to check. ‘My leathers. Well, leather jacket and jeans. I just came in from a ride.’

‘On a motorcycle.’

‘Yes.’

Amy sat back. ‘Like some pathetic teenager.’

Kent clasped his hands together. ‘If you’re going to be abusive then you can leave.’

Amy pursed her lips. ‘I thought you were tough enough to play with the big boys.’

‘I am the big boys,’ he said. ‘I don’t have to take that from you, Amy, and I won’t.’

She shivered. There was something thrilling about Kent telling her off, and that was creepy as hell.

Amy took a few deep breaths. ‘Can I ask why you have pot cupcakes?’

Kent took off his jacket. Underneath he was wearing a grey tee. She could see the definition on his arms.

‘Smoking it has health risks, but the body cannot process THC unless it’s heated.’ He stood and strolled to the closet. ‘And I enjoy cupcakes, in moderation.’

‘Not why cupcakes,’ Amy said. ‘Why weed?’

He hung up his jacket before answering. ‘I have a prescription,’ he said.

Amy stood up and stretched. ‘Do you have a glaucoma or something?’

‘Or something.’

She shivered again, but this time she didn’t know why. ‘Is it serious?’

She thought, from the way he looked at her, that he was going to refuse to answer. Instead he shook his head.

‘It’s nothing life-endangering.’ He reached for her cell and gave it to her. ‘You sound significantly more like yourself.’

Amy stared at her cell. ‘If people found out about this...’

‘Then don’t tell anyone.’

She crossed her legs. ‘Can I tell Selina that you’ll help?’

‘With what?’ Kent asked.

‘The hammering she’s getting in the press. POTUS making her his scapegoat.’

Kent licked his lips. ‘That’s why you’re here?’

‘We’re getting desperate,’ Amy admitted.

‘Evidently, if the vice president is asking me for help.’ He ran his fingers through his hair. ‘I will endeavour to assist.’

 

Chapter Text

Kent drove her home in her car. Neither of them were convinced that she was safe to drive. It was uncomfortable being in such a small space with him. The lemon cologne was going to linger she was sure. She was very aware of his body heat, and his denim-encased thighs.

‘Do you have to sit like that?’ she asked.

If he minded her tone then he didn’t show it. He just glanced at her.

‘It’s comfortable,’ he said.

‘Can you put your legs together?’

‘Can you sleep on your front?’ he asked.

Amy narrowed her eyes. ‘I do.’

‘Since when?’

She started to retort and then stopped. They had slept that night. Him flat on his back, and her curled tightly into the foetal position.

‘One of your neighbours yelled at me about the shutdown,’ she said.

Kent sighed. ‘Politicians are very bad at being passive,’ he said. ‘Some situations, like the CIA operative issue, are best endured patiently, but politicians will insist on trying to do something, and in doing so exacerbate the problem and extend the duration.’

‘That fucking spy,’ Amy said. ‘I could apply some advanced interrogation techniques myself if I ever met him.’

Kent glanced at her. ‘Are you coming to the Rose Garden party?’

‘Take my kid to work for the day? Yeah, you better believe I’m all over that,’ Amy said. ‘Why, will the spy be there?’

‘POTUS is meeting the hostages in the morning,’ Kent said.

‘The vice president doesn’t know anything about this!’

Kent grunted. ‘She should be happy to avoid it. The reminder of the situation is not helpful.’

‘If it’s so toxic then why is POTUS doing it?’ Amy asked.

Kent turned into her block. ‘It was already arranged. Cancelling would draw negative attention. Nor can he exclude the spy as that would inevitably identify him to the others and the press.’

Amy grimaced. ‘You’re right. She’s best a long way from that mess.’

***

‘What are you doing?’ Amy asked as Kent took off his seatbelt.

‘Getting out of the car.’ Kent raised an eyebrow. ‘This is your car, remember. I can’t sit here all night.’

Amy’s hunched shoulders dropped an inch. ‘As long as you didn’t plan on coming in the house.’

‘You were in my home,’ he said. ‘Twice. Beside which, I need to use your bathroom.’

Amy threw open her door. ‘I can’t imagine why you’re single with small talk like that.’

Kent frowned as he followed her to the house. ‘Why do you assume I’m single?’

‘I’ve been in your home. Twice. Not a trace of a woman anywhere, and you have jerking off tissues in your bedside cabinet.’ Amy rolled her eyes up to the ceiling and took several breaths. ‘Did I say that out loud?’

Kent set his jaw. ‘You did.’

She looked at him.’ Am I going to remember saying that when I’m sober?’

‘Probably,’ he said dryly. ‘Why were you in my bedroom?’

Amy unlocked the door. ‘I don’t know. I was high and I was bored. You left me with my thumb up my ass for nearly an hour.

‘I’m on furlough,’ he protested. ‘I shouldn’t be talking to you at all.’

The door opened and David leaped into Amy’s arms.

‘Mama! Mama! We go zoo with piggies and lions and gaffes and... and... and...’

Amy stood up with him in her arms. She rubbed his back and kissed his forehead. ‘That’s really interesting, David. Which was your favourite animal?’

His face creased up in intense thought. ‘Lefant go brrr!’ he giggled, thrilled at his own joke.

‘Elephants,’ Milla said. ‘Oh, hello again,’ she said to Kent.

Amy shot him a look.

‘We met at the hospital,’ Kent said meekly.

‘Up the stairs and first door on the left,’ Amy said sharply. She marched David into the living room. He was still talking, telling her about his day. She understood about seven words in ten, but that was enough to grasp most of the meaning.

‘Papa lefant and mama lefant and baba lefant,’ David said, then he paused and pointed at Amy. ‘Mama.’ Then at himself. ‘Baba.’

‘That’s right,’ Amy said, kissing his forehead. ‘You’re my baba.’

His forehead furrowed. ‘Mama, baba...’

‘Milla,’ Amy said. ‘Granddad, grandma, Aunt Sophie.’

David grinned, and then looked over her shoulder and waggled his fingers.

Amy turned around. Kent was tucking his hands into his pockets. He cleared his throat in an awkward, chagrined way.

Mr Robotic had been waggling his fingers at her two-and-a-half-year-old son.

‘Just leaving,’ Kent said.

‘Okay then.’ Amy shifted David to her other side. ‘See you.’

***

‘You’re kidding,’ Dan said. ‘Your baby daddy met David?’

Amy scowled. ‘He is not my “baby daddy.” He’s just a guy who donated genetic material.’

‘And blood.’

‘Blood is also genetic material.’

Dan lowered his voice as Mike wandered past Amy’s office door. ‘Yeah, but the pregnancy was years ago and the blood was only a few months. Plus, when he got you pregnant he got to bang you, and let’s be honest, you are pretty bang-able.’

Amy checked her phone. ‘You know you’re a pig, right?’

‘I’ll admit that, if you’ll admit that it wasn’t exactly a hardship. Giving blood in the middle of the night is a different ball game,’ Dan said. ‘Unless you fucked him that time as well.’ He grinned. ‘Did you?’

‘No!

‘You gonna?’

Amy looked up from her screen. ‘Ew, no. He’s... no and I’m dating Ed.’

Dan snorted. ‘Oh yeah. Ed. Does he know about David’s donor?’

Amy shook her head. ‘It’s none of Ed’s business.’

Dan smirked to himself.

***

It was Dan’s fault. The whole disaster of an interview was Dan’s fault because he’d put the idea into Selina’s head. The problem was that neither Dan or Selina would ever admit being wrong. He had the nerve to rant at not knowing Selina was screwing Andrew, like that was the problem. A problem, sure, but not the problem.

He had the fucking gall to tell her to calm down. If she was a man it would be nothing to yell at that sexist prick producer for ignoring the rules they had carefully established. If Ben had torn the guy a new asshole then Mike wouldn’t have suggested he sing a fucking nursery rhyme.

‘Amy, what’s going on with you?’ Selina asked. ‘I can hear your teeth grinding from here.’

Amy managed a small shrug. ‘I’m a little stressed. Ma’am, but it’s nothing I can’t cope with.’

She’d like to cope with the expression on Gary’s face. She’d like to wipe it right off.

Selina turned to him. ‘Gary, can you give us a few minutes? We’re gonna have some girl time.’

‘I can be a girl,’ he said.

‘Not one I would want to spend time with,’ Amy muttered.

Selina pointed at the door. ‘Out, Gary. Go on.’ She walked around to the sofa and sat down as he left. ‘Sit down, Amy,’ she said firmly.

Amy sat.

Selina clasped her hands together. ‘Noticed you getting kinda testy with the producer.’

‘Ma’am, with respect, you wouldn’t say that if I was a man,’ Amy said. ‘Also, he was a prize dick who was breaking all of our agreed rules and threw a tantrum when he was called on his bullshit.’

Selina thought about it for a moment. ‘You’re right,’ she said, ‘and it’s your job to protect me from this sort of fucking farrago.’

‘I try, Ma’am,’ Amy said cautiously. ‘Admittedly I had some... personal stress, with David being ill and needing the operation.’

‘Uh-huh.’ Selina crossed her legs at the knee. ‘Amy, this is me.’ She pressed her hand to her chest. ‘I understand who we wanna fuck isn’t always rational and sensible. Believe me, I know!’

Amy blinked, trying to decipher this apparently non-sequitur babble. ‘Ed isn’t Andrew,’ she said. ‘He’s very rational and sensible.’

Selina looked at her blankly. ‘Who the fuck is Ed?’

‘The man that I’m seeing,’ Amy prompted. ‘The lobbyist?’

Selina’s foot tapped against the air. She reminded Amy of a cat twitching its tail.

‘Uh-huh,’ Selina said. ‘Okay. Amy, come on, what the fuck is the deal with Kent?’

Amy opened her mouth but found she could think of anything to say. She felt the blood drain from her face.

‘Wha… what?’

‘You’ve been spending plenty of time being pally with him,’ Selina said. ‘You ran off during Midterms and he disappeared too. Then the other day you went off to ask for him to help and I didn’t see you until the next day.’

Amy licked her lips. ‘I wasn’t well. I had to go home.’

Selina narrowed her eyes. ‘I’ve seen ya drag yourself into work with a fever of a hundred and two. Look. I’m not mad. But I refuse to have that prick laughing at me and I won’t have him fucking you to get to me.’

Amy threw up her hands. ‘I’m not sleeping with Kent.’

‘Don’t piss on my shoes and tell me it’s raining!’ Selina retorted.

Amy pressed his hand to her forehead. She took a breath and tried to think of something, anything, to say other than the truth.

Selina raised an eyebrow. ‘I’m waiting, Amy.’

Amy groaned softly. Fuck, fuck, fuck. ‘Kent is David’s sperm donor.’

Selina’s face went through a variety of expressions before settling on bafflement. She shook her head. ‘What?’

‘Kent is David’s sperm donor,’ Amy had to force out the words.

‘He’s Kent’s dad?’ Selina asked.

Amy shook her head. ‘No, no, only in the… only biologically. He’s David’s sperm donor. That’s it.’

‘I… I don’t know how to respond to that,’ Selina said. ‘What does that have to do with the Midterms?’

‘David and Kent have the same stupidly rare blood type,’ Amy said. ‘I made Kent donate blood so David could have his operation.’

‘Jesus.’ Selina played with her hands. ‘How do you even find blood in Kent?’

‘I can’t even imagine,’ Amy said.

Selina groaned. ‘Why the fuck did you ask Kent to get you pregnant?’

Amy had been dreading the question. ‘I was using a sperm bank,’ she said. ‘But do you remember when you decided to stay a day extra so you could get those shoes? We got to the next hotel a day late and my delivery had already defrosted. It was ruined.’

‘You’re blaming me because you were so desperate that you had Kent pony up his goop?’ Selina asked.

Amy managed a thin smile. ‘I’m not blaming anyone, Ma’am, I’m actually completely happy how things turned out. I’d been using the bank for months without any success. Apparently, what I needed was an actual living, breathing person.’

‘Or Kent,’ Selina said. ‘I guess he can just about pass for one.’ She shuffled a little closer. ‘So, did he like jack off into a cup or did you actually... did you have...’ She registered Amy’s expression. ‘That would be an inappropriate question.’’

Amy nodded. ‘I’m not really comfortable...’

‘Sure.’ Selina nodded. ‘Darn, I have a lot of questions. All of them so totally inappropriate.’

‘Nobody else knows,’ Amy said. ‘I’d like to keep it that way.’

‘Hell yeah! I wouldn’t want to tell anyone either.’ She scratched her nose. ‘But Kent knows, right? He must do.’

‘He knows now,’ Amy said. ‘I had to tell him about the blood.’

‘Right, right. Oh, this is why you were talking about him surrendering parental rights,’ Selina realised. ‘Yeah, there’s no way a court would think that was in David’s best interests. Kent’s a cold fucker but he’s got a good job, decent money, and no criminal record. He’s hardly gonna get high and trade David for crack.’

Amy folded her arms tightly. ‘Kent insists he doesn’t want custody,’ she said. ‘He said it was ludicrous or preposterous to think a court might give it to him. One of those Kent words.’

‘He’s right.’ Selina vaguely patted Amy’s hand. ‘Access, yeah, probably. But you could counter-sue for child support. Not that you’d want child support or he’d want access.’

Amy stared in surprise. Selina gave every impression of having no interest in the interests or motivations of staffers, so it was always shocking when she proved to have an exceptional grasp of them.

‘It’s just an awkward situation,’ Amy said eventually.

‘So, the other day when you went to his place and didn’t come back, were you giving it the old college try to get David a brother or sister? I understand that three or four is good age to do that but this is a fucking awful time for me,’ Selina said. ‘It’d would be really inconvenient for you to fuck off on maternity leave.’

Amy shook her head frantically. ‘I didn’t… I wasn’t gone all afternoon because I was fucking Kent! When I got to his apartment he wasn’t home and his work phone was turned off. His cleaner let me in and I waited for a fucking hour. Then I got pissed and raided his refrigerator.’

Selina rolled her eyes. ‘Was it booby trapped? Does he sleep in it?’

Amy checked her cell. ‘I accidentally ingested some of his medication. I felt like shit, so after he got back and we talked, he drove me home.

‘How the fuck did you do that?’ Selina’s eyes widened. ‘Was it brownies?’

‘No,’ Amy said firmly. ‘And it’s his privacy, you know?’

‘Sure, sure,’ Selina said. ‘God, I want it to be brownies. I want him to have some normal, human trait like getting baked on pot. Or off his face with mushrooms.’

Amy tried to imagine it. ‘I’m sure he doesn’t do mushrooms.’

Selina sighed. ‘Yeah, but it was an appealing idea.’

‘Or appalling one or the other,’ Amy said.

Selina stood up. ‘But he has a dick, right?’

‘Yes.’

‘Is it tiny? Selina asked. ‘I really want to be tiny.’

Amy shook her head. ‘I wish I could say he had a micro penis, but no.’

‘Small?’ Selina suggested. ‘Below average in any way?’

‘No,’ Amy said. ‘And that’s all I’m saying.’

It wasn’t until later that evening that she realised she had inadvertently admitted to having sex with Kent.

***

Ed got dressed. He didn’t have to: Amy didn’t give a shit if he fell asleep as soon as she left his apartment. But he got dressed and he walked downstairs with her.

‘You know,’ he said, swinging his arms, ‘if we went to your place then you wouldn’t have to rush off anywhere.’

Amy gulped coffee. ‘That doesn’t work for me.’

‘I could sneak out before David wakes,’ Ed said. ‘Or...’

‘Yeah, that’s a terrible idea.’ She brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. ‘If he has a bad dream or feels sick then he climbs in bed with me.’

‘Or you could introduce me to him,’ Ed said. ‘Then nobody has to sneak around.’

Amy stared at him. ‘We’ve been dating a couple of weeks.’

‘Months, actually.’

‘Whatever,’ she said, dismissing it with a hand wave. ‘The point is, I am not going to risk David bonding with you and then you abandoning him.’

Ed shook his head. ‘What, so I never meet him? Amy, that’s nuts. He’s your son.’

‘Not never.’ She folded her arms. ‘Just not until I’m sure things are serious.’

Ed hesitated. ‘Okay. That makes sense.’

‘Right.’

Amy left without giving him a kiss on the cheek. She didn’t like kissing at the best of times and this wasn’t the best of times. Not by a fucking mile. Who the fuck did Ed think he was, pushing to meet David? She’d rather Ed never met him then have David develop an attachment that was lost when, if, she and Ed split up. The idea caused a knot of rage in Amy’s stomach. It was one reason, among many, why she had chosen to have a nanny rather than continuing to use the crèche at work.

It was relatively easy to ensure that Milla remained in her employ: Amy paid well and provided excellent benefits. Preventing crèche workers leaving would have been nigh on impossible. It had almost been a relief when David had taken an instant dislike to Dan: she wouldn’t have to worry about David being upset if he disappeared. Not if, when. Dan was slightly less reliable then wet fireworks. Not that Dan was an actual romantic prospect: he was totally selfish, completely unreliable, and the sex was, at best, mediocre. Dan was too self-absorbed for it to be anything else. The last good sex she’d had was Kent and that was a truly horrifying revelation.

Chapter Text

 

Amy didn’t much like other people’s children. But she didn’t much like other people. Even so, she enjoyed the Rose Garden party. Staffers brought their kids for some much-needed running and screaming. She always brought David and Selina always made an appearance. Amy could never understand how Selina could like kids so much and yet hate adults with an equal intensity.

Ben’s two youngest children ran past, screaming. As the party was staffers only Joyce wasn’t present, and Ben was nowhere in sight.

Amy and Selina exchanged a look.

‘I’ll get them,’ Selina said. ‘You corral Ben.’

‘Yes, Ma’am.’

‘See you soon, sweetie,’ Selina said tweaking David’s nose.

He smiled uncertainly. He never seemed quite sure about Selina.

Amy walked into the West Wing with David padding at her side. He was starting to chafe sometimes at holding her hand, but never in a crowd.

Big boys didn’t hold their mama’s hand, unless it was scary or dangerous. There were a lot of things that big boys did and didn’t do, according to David. Big boys especially disliked it when their mama called them “my baby.”

‘He’s two-and-a-half,’ she had complained to Milla. ‘Where the fuck is he getting this stuff from?’

‘Television,’ Milla shrugged. ‘Books. Growing up is an aspiration.’

It shouldn’t be. Growing up fucking sucked. Amy looked down at David pattering along beside her, his hand in hers, and hoped he wouldn’t grow up for a long time.

Ben was lurking in a corner of the garden with... fuck. With Kent. Amy cursed silently. She almost picked David up, but that would raise him almost to eye level. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

‘The vice president would like you to know that your children are running riot,’ Amy said to Ben.

She saw Kent’s mouth twitch. His sort of smile. He wasn’t looking at her. He was looking at David, who was waggling his fingers in greeting.

‘Them running riot is the whole point of bringing ‘em,’ Ben said. ‘They get it out of their system without trashing my house.’

Amy narrowed her eyes. ‘You think that’s safe?’

‘POTUS and the VP are here. This is literally the most heavily guarded place on earth,’ Ben said. ‘It’s not like someone’s gonna abduct them.’

‘If they did it would be a huge problem for the administration,’ Kent said.

Amy pushed David behind her. ‘Also for Ben’s kids,’ she said sharply.

Ben hunkered down and addressed David. ‘Hey, sport, what’s your name?’

‘Daid Bwookmer.’ David said confidently.

‘That’s a good name,’ Ben said. He looked up at Amy. ‘They’re so cute when they’re still mixing up their letters.’

‘The speech therapist says he’s doing well,’ Amy said, reddening.

‘There’s nothing wrong, surely?’ Kent asked. ‘Imperfect speech is a part of the process.’

Now Amy pulled David up into her arms. ‘It’s not something to risk going uncorrected.’

Ben stood up. ‘My eldest sounded like Elmer Fudd until he was seven. He got plenty of stick for it from the other kids.’

‘Exactly,’ Amy said. She kissed David’s forehead. ‘The vice president is waiting, Ben.’

Kent raised an eyebrow. ‘Before you reply, remember there is a small child listening.’

Ben shrugged. ‘Having your kid yell out an obscenity is a rite of passage for parents. Not that you’ll ever know about that.’

Kent winced. Amy saw Ben notice, and frown.

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Off we go.’

‘Bye,’ David said, waggling his fingers at Kent.

She didn’t know which would be worse: if Kent replied or if he didn’t.

He returned the wave and David grinned.

***

Selina had been... okay, not “good” to Amy, she couldn’t claim that, but Amy had worked for her for a long time. She was invested. But Amy wasn’t sentimental, she couldn’t afford to be. If Selina was going down in flames, as Dan said, Amy wasn’t going down with her. Amy was smart, she was capable, she was ambitious. She was also not going to be groped, leered at, and subjected to innuendos. That cut down her options. A lot.

She was surprised the idea of leaving didn’t bother her more. She blamed Selina for that. The woman could alienate a coat of paint. The crack about maternity leave had been particularly aggravating. Amy had worked until she went into labour, taking a week off, and come back with David. She’d breastfed him her damn desk.

She hadn’t even thought about another kid. Not before Selina had mentioned it. The same father… No. Sperm donor, not father. The same sperm donor made sense. David was cheerful, bright, aside from the weird hernia he was healthy, he was warm and affectionate. She didn’t know how much any of those Kent’s contribution directly affected, but it had to be some. His height, definitely. David was well above average height. That had to be Kent. Height for men was like physical attractiveness for women: it wasn’t supposed to be important, but it could be the difference between getting the promotion, the pay rise, or even the job. And, okay, she was biased but David was good looking. Handsome. She’d been approached by a modelling agency. Of course, she’d said no, but that wasn’t the point. Good looking people had it easier. That was just a fact. Why shouldn’t she want her kid to have every possible advantage? That was just good parenting.

***

Selina was somewhere in orbit. Amy had seen her drunk plenty of times, but not high.  The most notable part of it was that she was suddenly nice. It was creepy and uncomfortable.

Amy ushered everyone out of Selina’s room, including a weirdly happy Gary. Didn’t he know this was all his fault? Giving her his “herbal remedies”! Jesus! Most of the time she just sort of pitied Gary, but there were moments when he genuinely worried her.

‘Hey Ames,’ Selina said, rolling onto her back. ‘I was jussssst thinking about you.’

Amy froze. ‘Oh. Great. Thank you.’

‘You can answer a question,’ Selina said. ‘Important question.’

Amy waited. This was going to be bad, she could tell.

‘Here’s my question,’ Selina said, portentously. ‘Does Kent have a cum face?’

Amy looked up at the ceiling and counted to ten.

Selina asked. ‘I bet he goes like a fucking piston, doesn’t he?’ She sat up and balanced on her elbow. ‘Hey! Come on. Answers!’

Amy put her hands on the hips. Despite Selina’s unfocused eyes, Amy recognised her expression. She was gonna keep pushing until she got an answer.

‘I... I don’t think I saw it. I came first and I think I had my eyes closed.’

Selina frowned. ‘Made you come?’

Amy walked towards the belter door. ‘I should...’

Selina hurled a pillow against the door.

‘Hey!’ Amy protested.

‘Next one is between your eyes,’ Selina said, and laughed. ‘We’re girlfriends, Amy. You gotta tell me this shit. I’m never gonna find out for myself.’

Amy threw the pillow back onto the bed. ‘I sure hope not.’ She crossed her arms across her chest. ‘Kent... prides himself on the quality of his work, all his work. That’s all I’m saying.’

Selina lay back down. ‘Was it some creepy, kinky shit?’ Her voice changed slightly, becoming dreamily thoughtful. ‘I bet he wanted to tie you up and –’

‘No! Absolutely no.’ Amy caught herself. ‘He was very respectful.’

‘That’s fucking boring,’ Selina grumbled. ‘You can’t tell me he fucks like a human being. There’s gotta be something gross, creepy, or strange.’

Amy shrugged. ‘The strangest thing was the questionnaire.’

Selina rolled onto her side. ‘Like a poll? Did he poll you before he poled you?’ she asked, sniggering. ‘Or was it after? Did he ask for feedback?’

Constantly, Amy thought, but didn’t say. ‘Before. It was likes and dislikes. Rimming: 1-5. Biting 1-5. Lots of different stuff. He asked me to fill one out at and gave me a copy of his.’

‘I bet his was pervy as fuck.’ Selina said sagely.

‘He was really into kissing.’ Amy shuddered. ‘I’m not, so we didn’t. The questionnaire was marked up as “basic.” If there’s a version with… kinky stuff on then I guess it’s advanced or whatever.’

Selina’s expression was unpleasantly knowing. ‘Yeah, if I was fucking you then I’d assume you wouldn’t be down for pervy shit either.’

Amy didn’t know why that was annoying. She didn’t want people to think she was interested in the darker and stickier corners of sex. But it was still annoying. She was even annoyed with Kent, retrospectively, and that was fucking insane. His “basic” questionnaire included things she either hadn’t heard of or hadn’t known the names of. Admittedly Kent had marked most of them either a one for didn’t like at all or a three for neutral.

She hadn’t wanted to ask what “the wrap around” was, or why he was so keen on it. The kissing thing was strange enough without any deeper glimpse into his mind. You think you know a person and then they pull that on you.

***

David waggled his large rabbit toy. ‘Baba! Baba!’

Amy crossed her legs. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Mama rabbit looking for baba rabbit,’ David explained.

Amy leaned over the bed, and picked up a smaller rabbit.

‘He’s here.’

David pressed them both to his chest. ‘Naughty baba rabbit. Not holding mama rabbit hand!’

Amy brushed her fingers through his hair. ‘That’s right. Babas have to stay with their mamas so they don’t get lost.’ She patted his pillow. ‘Okay, lay back I’ll read you a story. Which oh do you want?’

David thought about it. ‘Moomy.’

‘Moomins? Okay.’

Amy found the Moomins disturbing, but David was devoted. She had bought him one of her own childhood favourite novels only for him to sob hysterically. For a person who generally had little to do with children, learning that even toddlers had their own tastes and desires had been startling.

David was frowning as she read.

‘What’s wrong?’ Amy asked.

He touched the page. ‘Moominmamma. Moomintroll.’

‘That’s right.’

He touched his finger to the page. ‘Moominpappa?’

Amy’s heart sank. ‘Right...’

David help up his rabbits. ‘Mama rabbit. Baba rabbit.’ He held his hands up and out in a gesture she had seen Kent use. ‘Where Papa Rabbit?’

‘Um, at the store.’ Amy said.

David looked at her face very seriously. ‘Papa Rabbit at store?’

‘Yes.’

She waited. Dreading the question that she knew was coming and begging that today wasn’t that day.

‘Okay,’ David said.

***

‘Well you’re boned,’ Dan said.

Amy swallowed her mouthful of sandwich. ‘That is possibly the least helpful answer ever.’

Dan grinned. ‘Come on, you have a plan for this. You wouldn’t be you if you hadn’t gone into this with plan.’

Amy gulped a mouthful of water. ‘I have this cute little book from the sperm bank about a lady who buy magic seeds so she can have a baby.’

Dan’s eyebrows were nearly in his hairline. ‘Magic seeds?’

‘It’s a metaphor,’ she hissed. ‘It’s also the level a kid his age can deal with.’

Dan shrugged. ‘Do that then.’

Amy lowered her voice. ‘Doesn’t really work if his donor is on the scene.’

‘Is he on the scene?’ Dan asked. ‘And it’s exactly the same. David’s two. Don’t get hung up on details.’

Amy poked her sandwich with a finger. ‘David’s nearly three and… I don’t know. I think maybe his donor might be more interested than he’s admitting.’  

Dan rolled his eyes. ‘David’s not an idiot, he knows cats don’t talk and that rabbits don’t wear clothes. Tell David the magic seed story and tell your friend with the magic balls to fuck off.’ He leaned back. ‘You wouldn’t have this problem if you’d asked me to be your sperm donor.’

Amy smiled. ‘If the day comes that I want a child who is a soulless psychopath, you will be top of my list.’

Dan grinned. ‘Souls are wildly overrated.’

***

‘I said she should say nothing about POTUS,’ Kent said. ‘Ben is the one who insisted that she make a statement supporting him.’

‘How was I to know she’d fuck it up?’ Ben demanded.

Amy kept her face carefully neutral. Kent did the same.

Ben hugged his large mug to his chest. ‘Nobody went broke underestimating politicians I guess.’

‘What do we do now?’ Amy asked.

‘You go away,’ Ben said heavily. ‘Selina saved herself with that fucking interview. She lied through her fucking teeth to made herself look like a straight shooter and POTUS like a lying sack of shit. Thanks.’

‘That wasn’t –’

‘It was a brilliant maneuverer,’ Kent said. ‘Accidentally so, no doubt, but brilliant nonetheless.’

Ben glowered at him. ‘You wanted to call in an airstrike on her!’

Amy struggled to keep a straight face.

Kent sighed. ‘My unhappiness at the vice president using it is a different issue from a purely tactical assessment of its effectiveness.’

Ben leaned against the desk. ‘If I kick you in your balls, as you lie on the floor, trying not to throw up, will you assess its tactical viability?’ He swung back his leg as if to kick.

Kent swung around the chair he was next to, wielding it like a lion tamer. ‘Try it,’ he growled.

Amy shifted uncomfortably. ‘Do you need some privacy to complete your arcane courtship rituals or can we carry on?’

Ben stepped back and turned to the door. ‘If anyone needs me I’ll be contemplating the screaming pit of my existential dread.’

‘We need copier paper,’ Kent said. ‘If you’re heading that way.’

Ben waved a hand in acquiescence as he left, slamming the door behind him.

‘I thought Gary was melodramatic,’ Amy said.

Kent sat down heavily. ‘He has good reason.’ He paused. ‘Ben not Gary.’

Amy folded her arms. ‘Is it as bad as people are saying?’

Kent looked her in the eye for an uncomfortably long time. ‘Potentially, yes. The president lied to congress. The vice president proved that when she lied that she had known. Impeachment is increasingly probable. Hearings are imminent.’

Amy licked her lips. ‘Are you... gonna be okay?’

He looked at her again, but it was less challenging now. ‘I was also initially unaware of the presence of the CIA operative. Happily, I can prove it: I keep scrupulous email, text, and other records.’

Amy ran her fingers through her hair. ‘This isn’t the kind of history I wanted to make. Jesus, if he gets impeached and then found guilty...’

Kent was shaking his head. ‘It won’t come to that. It would be too damaging to the party. A few staffers will be hurled under the bus but a deal will be done.’

Amy fiddled with her pen. ‘I feel like I should be shocked.’

‘Are you?’

‘Not noticeably.’

Kent nodded. ‘So young and so cynical. It’s inspiring.’

‘Maybe next time instead of sending Jonah to liaise you could just call me,’ Amy said.

‘Wouldn’t that cause undue comment?’ he asked.

‘Not if nobody knows,’ Amy said.

Kent tilted his head. ‘Why would I potentially imperil my career to help you with years?’

‘Because Selina making a giant ass of herself demeans all of us,’ Amy said firmly.

Kent nodded. ‘An appeal to the moral high ground is an intriguing tactic when asking to bypass Ben.’

Amy opened the door. ‘We work in politics. Deal with it.’

***

Papa Rabbit. Papa Elephant. It seemed like every other question David had was about nuclear families. So Amy sat him down with the story. He giggled at the rhymes. He listened intently to the dialogue. He traced his fingers over the pictures.

‘And in nine months, the mama had a baba, Amy said. ‘Do you know he was called?’

He shook his head.

‘He was called David,’ Amy said.

‘Baba?’ David asked, wide-eyed, pointing at himself.

‘That’s right.’ Amy scanned his face.

David gave it some thought. ‘Okay.’

‘So, you understand that’s why you don’t have a papa?’

He stared at her for a few seconds, and then his eyes filled with tears.

***

‘It was a complete fucking disaster,’ Amy grumbled over lunch.

Ed pulled a sympathetic face. ‘He seems maybe a little young for that conversation.’

Amy glowered. ‘I didn’t tell him for shits and giggles! He was working up to asking. I could see the wheels in his head turning.’

 Ed sipped his coke. ‘How often does he see your dad?’

‘Maybe a couple times a month.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘Don’t forget, he’s not even three. He’s not a troubled teen desperate for a role model.’

Ed played with his fork. ‘That doesn’t mean David isn’t curious. If a little girl was brought up exclusively by men then I bet she’d be curious about women too.’

Amy checked her cell. ‘If Selina doesn’t go for re-election, I would have a lot more time on my hands,’ she said. ‘Things between us might become more serious.’

Ed’s eyes shifted from side to side. ‘I’m not pushing to be his new dad or anything,’ he said quickly. ‘I know you don’t want to risk him being hurt.’

Amy sat back. ‘Maybe it’d do him good to have some kind of a male influence.’

‘Oh...’

‘Don’t look so freaked out,’ Amy said. ‘He already has a father who doesn’t parent. Nobody is asking you to be his stepdad.’

Ed relaxed. ‘Oh, thank God. I don’t think I’m ready.’

‘Nobody is ever ready,’ Amy said firmly. ‘You do all the research, you make all the preparations, and you think that you’re ready. But you’re wrong.’

***

It had been a long day. A stupidly long fucking day of Selina flip-flopping not over something petty and minor was normal but not over her future, her staff’s future, and maybe even America’s future.

Jesus, she really was tired.

She was expecting David to react to Ed as he recited to Kent; mild curiosity and friendliness. Instead he backed away and hid behind the sofa.

‘Shy, huh?’ Ed asked.

‘Not normally.’ Amy hung up her coat. ‘I’ll make some coffee.’

‘Oh, okay.’

It was a test. She felt a tiny pang as she went into the kitchen. Ed was a nice guy, she liked him, and they got along. But she had to hold him to a much higher standard than that. She couldn’t coast through dating guys just because she liked them.

She turned on the coffee machine and crept back to the living room. She stealthily looked through the doorway.

Ed was crouched by the sofa, blocking David from getting past.

‘What the f... what are you doing?’ she demanded, marching over and scooping David up.

Just... you know, being friendly,’ Ed said.

Amy pushed Ed onto the sofa and leaned over him, barely inches away. ‘Does this feel friendly?’

‘Not really,’ he muttered.

‘Now you know how he feels.’ Amy span around and stalked away. Being terrible at dealing with kids didn’t have to be the nuclear option. She wasn’t particularly good with them either. But you could learn that shit, she thought. She hoped.

When she was making the coffee, she put David down and he wandered out towards the living room.

Amy took a breath. She liked Ed. She trusted Ed. Mostly. She wasn’t going to check up again.

Yes, she was. Fuck.

Amy walked quickly into the living room, just in time to see David smack Ed in the face with a toy fire truck. It was wooden, and made a horrible crunching sound when it impacted Ed’s nose. Ed was too startled to shout. He grabbed his face and clutched his nose as Amy hauled him to his feet.

‘First aid kit in the bathroom.’

He nodded and staggered off.

Amy ducked down in front of David. He looked positively mutinous. ‘Why did you do that?’

He shrugged and avoided looking at her.

‘David, you are allowed not to like people. You are allowed to get angry if they upset you.’ She tipped up his chin. ‘But you’re not allowed to hit them because you don’t like them or because they upset you. Is that what happened?’

His lower lip trembled. ‘Yes, Mama.’

‘Did he hurt you?’

‘No, Mama.’

She sighed. ‘What do you if someone hurts you, scares you, or is mean to you?’

David sighed heavily. ‘Tell Mama. Tell Milla.’

Amy kissed his forehead. ‘When Ed comes downstairs I’d like you to say sorry. Can you do that?’

A nod. ‘Love you, Mama.’

Amy wrapped her arms around him and squeezed gently. ‘I love you.’

***

Ed’s nose wasn’t broken, but it was bruised and he had another bruise coming up across his cheek. He stood in the living room doorway while David quietly said he was sorry, and offered him a toy car, as a compensatory gift.

‘Maybe this isn’t a good time,’ Ed said awkwardly to Amy. ‘I don’t want to push him. He’s lethal with that fire truck.’

He laughed. Amy didn’t. She led him into the entryway. Ed cleared his throat.

‘Maybe we can try again next week,’ he suggested.

Amy tightly crossed her arms. She set her jaw. ‘No. I don’t think so.’

Ed’s eye started to twitch. ‘We can work this out.’

‘He hates you,’ Amy said. ‘It’s not your fault, exactly, it’s just what it is.’

Ed licked his lips. ‘He’ll get over it!’

‘Maybe,’ Amy said. ‘Maybe not. I can’t take that risk.’

Ed shook his head. ‘I get that David is your priority but –’

‘There’s no “but”, Ed. This has been fun and now it’s over.’

He stared at her, then left without a word, slamming the door behind him.

Chapter Text

Kent was hanging around, trying to catch Amy’s eye. The fact that he didn’t just march up to her and say whatever it was he wanted, made her very wary.

Sue was glowering her. Amy hunched her shoulders.

‘What?’ Amy asked.

‘You are cluttering up the office. Please go twitch in a horrendously stressed manner somewhere else.’

Amy waited until Kent was looking away and headed to her office. She understood that it was going to be helpful to have Ben and Kent working with Selina as she prepared to run. That didn’t mean that she liked it. Ben was stealing her job and he didn’t even want it.

Campaign manager, that was the brass ring to go for when she could. It’d raise her profile through the roof. She wasn’t interested in “fame,” but television coverage would give her tons of opportunities that she never had before.

Plus, it would really, deeply, piss off Sophie.

There was a tap at the door. Amy looked up and nearly groaned. ‘Hi Kent,’ she said, trying to sound harried. It didn’t require much acting ability.

‘Amy, I was wondering if I could ask your advice,’ he said, shutting the door.

She didn’t know if she was more surprised or worried.

‘My advice?’

He walked over to her desk. ‘Do you know much about Miss Wilson?’

Amy had to think about it. ‘You mean Sue?’

‘Indeed.’

‘Is she still thinking of leaving?’ Amy asked. ‘With Selina now planning to run for president…’

‘No, no. Her joining my dream metrics team was conditional on the vice president no longer needing her services.’

Amy shrugged. ‘Kent, what are you asking me?’

His hands pin-wheeled. She’d only noticed recently how much he moved his hands when he was talking.

He sat down in her guest chair. ‘I’m wondering about her on a more personal level.’ He paused, and evidently registered Amy’s confusion. ‘Her interests. Her life outside of work.’

Amy scowled. ‘Her what?’

Kent crossed his legs. ‘Do you know if she’s married?’

Amy snorted. ‘No. If she did get married I’d give it six months before she got fed up, and another to year to browbeat him into agreeing to absolutely any divorce settlement terms she wanted.’

Kent interlaced his fingers. ‘I understood you to be on amicable terms.’

‘We are, I guess. Why’re you asking?’

‘I respect your judgement,’ he said.

Cold acid poured into her stomach. ‘Jesus, tell me that you’re not crushing on Sue Wilson.’

His expression didn’t even flicker. No embarrassment, awkwardness, or guilt crossed his face.

‘She’s stimulating; an intelligent, efficient, strong-minded woman,’ he said. ‘She speaks her mind and she makes no excuses for it. I find those to be appealing attributes.’

Amy gaped at him. ‘Sue goes through men like Kleenex.’

He smiled slightly. ‘Soft, strong, and disposable?’

Amy hesitated. ‘That’s from a movie, right?’

Clue,’ he said.

Amy shook her head.’ How old are you?’ she asked.

Now a little colour rose in his cheeks. ‘You believe I’m too old.’

‘No just... look at Ben. Look at Doyle. Guys in your age bracket don’t date around. They get married. If that goes south they have an affair and end up marrying their mistress.’

Kent sighed. ‘I am aware that I am neither charismatic nor charming. Nonetheless, I am human. I find myself desirous of... companionship. Most women, even in my own age bracket, would not consider me agreeable company.’ He shrugged. ‘I believe that Miss Wilson might. It is not a common enough occurrence for me to automatically overlook it.’

Amy could feel her shoulders creeping up to around the level of her ears. Kent was not supposed to be like this. He wasn’t supposed to admit this sort of thing. It was horrible and uncomfortable.

‘That would a terrible idea,’ she said.

Kent let out a breath. ‘You believe that she would not entertain it?’

‘Maybe,’ Amy said. ‘She told me that older men should be dated as they have money, and season tickets to the theatre or opera.’

Now he winced. ‘I see.’

‘Whatever else, she’d chew you up and spit you out.’

He looked unhappy but not surprised. ‘My expectations of interpersonal relationships are always low,’ he said. ‘Yet that rarely seems to ameliorate the disappointment at failure.’ He stood up, clearly about to leave.

Amy picked up her pen. ‘Speaking of inevitable disappointment, would you consider… meeting David?’  she asked.

Kent’s face went blank. ‘Haven’t I met him? he asked. ‘Twice.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘You waved at each other. Look, he’s figured out that all the characters in his books and cartoons have fathers. And that he doesn’t. I thought a male figure in his life might be good, so I introduced him to Ed.’

Kent nodded. ‘Whom David struck with a toy of some description. I overheard Dan telling Jonah. They were both very amused.’

Amy folded her arms. ‘He’s never done that before. Or since.’

‘Perhaps he’s unwilling to share you,’ Kent said. ‘Small children can be jealous of their parents’ affections.’

‘It’s not a big deal,’ Amy said. ‘Once David learns he has a biological father he can stop wondering about it.’

Kent shifted from foot to foot. ‘I fear you are being naive. The genie is out of the bottle. He seems very young to be asking this particular question, but when he is old enough he will inevitably assume that the absence of a father figure is a damning indictment of himself. I did.’

Amy bit back her first response. ‘You were raised by a single mom?’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘The situation was entirely different, but yes.’ He interlaced his fingers. ‘I am aware that morally I have certain responsibilities to David.’

‘Bullshit,’ Amy snapped, suddenly furious. ‘He’s not yours.’

‘No,’ Kent said carefully. ‘I have no moral rights, that is an issue you and I already agreed upon. Nonetheless, I feel that I am coming close to assuming the rewards without meeting my responsibilities.’

‘I’m not taking your money,’ she said flatly.

Kent was quiet for a long moment. ‘Is it your intention to tell him that I am his biological father?’

She scowled. ‘I just want him to stop worrying about it.’

A hint of warmth crept into Kent’s voice. ‘He’s anxious?’

Amy shrugged tightly. ‘Not often. Sometimes he gets an idea into his head and he picks at it.’

‘He is not quite three, yes?’

Amy laughed bitterly. ‘Believe me, a three-year-old can obsess.’

Kent pursed his lips. ‘Yes. I remember.’

Amy tapped her pen against the desk. ‘Will you come meet David or not?’

‘I warn you now that I don’t like children,’ he said.

‘You can’t make a worse impression than Ed.’

Kent nodded. ‘Good to know.’

 ***

On Saturday morning, Amy woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep. She lay in the darkness, staring up at the ceiling. Kent was supposed to be coming around that evening. She hadn’t told David yet. She didn’t want to get him too excited. There was also the, admittedly extremely unlikely, possibility of Kent bailing. It was something she almost felt able to dismiss. Kent was a cold-blooded asshole, but he was a reliable cold-blooded asshole. She also felt confident that he understood that if he let David down, or hurt him in anyway, then she would rip out his lungs. Through his nose.

Amy had breakfast with David. She gulped her coffee and poked her yoghurt while watching him nibbling his cashew nut butter on whole wheat toast.

‘David, you’ve been asking about papas a lot recently,’ she said.

He looked up at her and reached for his sippy cup of milk.

‘Have you been asking me because you’d like to meet your papa?’ Amy prompted.

David chewed the spout of his cup.

‘There’s no wrong answer,’ she promised. ‘I won’t be upset either way.’

He thought about it. ‘Yes.’

‘You’d like meet your papa?’

David nodded.

Amy picked up her cell. ‘He’s going to visit tonight to spend some time with you. This is a photograph of him.’

David’s small hands carefully took her cell. Amy would trust him with electronics over Selina. He was a very precise child and rarely damaged anything.

‘Oh!’ he said, looking at the photograph. ‘My friend.’

Amy managed a smile. ‘That’s right. You met him here and at the Rose Garden party. He’s coming to visit tonight. Okay?’

David held out the cell to her in both his hands. ‘Okay, Mama.’

Amy took it from him, leaned across, and kissed his forehead.

***

It was incredibly rare for Amy to have the whole weekend off. Rare, and much cherished. After breakfast, she did some chores while David watched an Alphablocks DVD. He didn’t yet have the fine motor skills to write legibly, although he was getting better, but his reading was coming on well. Amy had learned to read when she was three and she knew that the best schools would expect a good level of literacy when he began. She was determined that he not fall behind.

Then they went swimming. Amy was a terrible swimmer. David damn well loved it, even though he was still in floaties. Amy got turned around in the pool, splashed from a dozen directions by screaming, squealing children, and had to fight to the surface.

‘David? David where… David where are you?’ She fought to the edge of the pool, her stomach cramping, her chest collapsing, unable to breathe, unable to think…

‘Mama! Mama!’

The rest of his words were muffled as she grabbed him, held him tight against her chest, and squeezed.

‘Don’t do that! You scared me.’

He started crying. Amy pushed her face into his hair.

‘It’s okay, sweetheart,’ she promised. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Mama hurting,’ he whined, squirming until he slid through her arms into the water. He landed with a splash that flicked water up into Amy’s face. ‘Mama wet! Mama wet!’

‘Oh, you think that’s funny?’ she scowled playfully. ‘Wait until I catch you!’

He squealed as he doggy paddled away through the water. Amy waited a couple of seconds and then followed him, waving her arms.

***

By dinner time Amy’s nerves were twanging. She chewed her thumb as she dished out the pizza. It was going to go okay. Kent was going to visit. It wasn’t going to be a big deal. He’d visit and be boring. David would get this whole thing done and that would be it. Simple. Straightforward.

David had a slight fever, but he hadn’t thrown up and he wasn’t producing quarts of bodily fluids. As far as sickness went, Amy called that a win. Before she had David, she had no idea what little vomit factories pre-schoolers were. At any given time, half of David’s contemporaries at his various groups and clubs were either sick, about to be, or recovering. Immune systems developing to be stronger in the future meant putting up with coughs, colds, and worse now. She didn’t call off Kent’s visit, because at this point a slight fever barely registered with her or David.

But she made sure he was warm enough as he sat in the living room watching cartoons. She checked her cell: Kent was due any minute.

‘David, do you want some juice?’

He shook his head.

‘Use your words.’

‘No juice, Mama,’ he groaned.

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Great, a vision of my future as the mother of a teenager.’

She turned at the sound of a tap on the front door. She took a deep, slow breath, checked the room was tidy, and went to answer the door.

Kent was wearing dark Levi’s, a black shirt with fine silver stripes, and hiking boots. He looked pretty good, actually. Amy had been half expecting flannel and dad jeans. As she followed him into the house, she noticed that he was wearing a different scent: something slightly warm with a woody hint.

Had he dressed up? She thought maybe he had. She wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

He held up a box, wrapped in silver paper. ‘In lieu of bringing a bottle this seemed appropriate.’

Amy hesitated. ‘Shit.’

‘It’s nothing of any significance,’ he said. ‘You did ask me to come so…’

She frowned. ‘Whatever. But no money.’

‘Understood.’

‘David,’ Amy said, moving aside so she could see both of them at the same time. ‘Your… guest is here. This is Kent he’s your, uh, he’s your papa.’

David turned around and looked up at them both.

‘‘Lo,’ he whispered.

Kent gave him a polite nod. ‘Hello.’

Amy clasped her hands together. ‘I’m… going to make coffee.’

A muscle twitched in Kent’s cheek but he didn’t argue.

It was going to be okay, Amy told herself as she headed to the kitchen. Kent wasn’t going to corner David. He didn’t even like kids, so he wasn’t going to be trying so horrendously hard that he freaked David out.

Right.

She made the coffees and put them and a sippy cup of milk on a tray. But she walked very quietly over to the living room door.

Through the gap, she could see that Kent was on the floor, cross-legged. The box had been unwrapped and the paper neatly folded. There was a selection of Duplo bricks and animals on the carpet between Kent and David. Jesus, Legos. Was there ever a more Kent gift?  

Kent was putting together some of the bricks. David was sat a few feet away, watching intently. After a few seconds, David shifted slightly closer. Kent glanced up but didn’t say or do anything.

Amy released a breath. She pushed the door open and walked in.

Kent moved to let her sit down and accepted the cup of coffee. David waited until Kent returned his attention to the bricks, and then cautiously leaned forward to pick two up. He held onto them until Kent glanced at him.

David slotted them together carefully and looked at Amy.

‘That’s right,’ Amy said.

Kent picked up the Duplo sheep and waggled it at David.

David giggled. Amy relaxed slightly. So did Kent.

 

 

Chapter Text

Amy had been unsure about Mike’s wedding. Specifically, she wasn’t sure about Mike and Wendy’s desire to have David as a ring bearer. But the little suit was adorable, and when she had asked David if he wanted to go to the wedding and hold the ring, he had been wildly enthusiastic. As he stood with his little cushion, vibrating with pride, Amy took photographs with the phone she wasn’t supposed to have. She sent them to her parents and to Sophie. She even sent a couple to Kent, and then wondered why.

David had been pretty… cautious, that was the word, the first time Kent had come around to see him. Thank Christ that Kent hadn’t pushed him. She hadn’t been that surprised. She’d have never let Kent visit if she thought he’d get up in David’s face. David had been the one who edged a little closer and a little closer still, until he was only a foot or so away. Amy’s folded arms had tightened and her nails had scored little crescents into her forearms. But whatever else, you could rely on Kent to be Kent. He hadn’t changed his manner one iota. He and David had played with the Legos for a while and then David had asked to play with his cars instead. Kent had shrugged amenably and put the Legos away while David neatly lined up the cars. David was delighted to discover that, if he indicated a certain car, then Kent would tell him the make, model, and year of the car. David’s attention had just begun to wane as his bedtime approached.

Kent had wished them both a polite goodnight and left without demur. He hadn’t attempted to discuss the matter with her. It had been as successful as she could have hoped.

For about three days, and then David began asking when he could see his “papa” again. Amy had made excuses, and changed the subject several times, but David was never one to be easily distracted. After several more days, Amy had bowed to the inevitable. Kent had seemed surprised, and maybe a little uneasy, but he’d agreed.

But David did look adorable in his little suit. Even after he’d eaten dinner he still had less food on it then Mike after his. And he was considerably more charming.

She put David to bed, checked that Milla was good, and went to the evening reception.

***

Amy punched the alarm clock. Why the fuck had she set her alarm? Nobody got up early after a wedding. Especially after getting an Uber back home. Jesus, why had she thought that was a good idea? She should’ve stayed overnight at the hotel like the rest.

Then David clambered up onto the bed and wriggled under the covers with her and she remembered why.

‘Your feet are cold,’ she whispered, as he grabbed the television remote and turned on the television.

‘Sorry Mama,’ he whispered back.

Saturday morning meant sleepy cuddles while David watched cartoons. After working for Selina for years, Amy had learned to tune out all kinds of shouting and screaming. So she let the noise wash over her for fifteen or twenty minutes before she got up and went for a shower. Then she made breakfast for them both and they ate it in bed.

‘Eat Mama’s,’ David said, grinning at her.

‘You wouldn’t like mine,’ Amy said. ‘There’s cinnamon and nutmeg.’

‘Eat Mama’s,’ he giggled.

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Fine, whatever.’ She swapped the bowls over. She took two mouthfuls of his banana and apple oatmeal while he poked at hers.

He shoved a spoonful of her oatmeal into his mouth. ‘Eww!’

‘Told you.’ Amy pretended she wanted to keep his bowl before letting him take it back. ‘You better eat that up. You don’t want to still be in the shower when… when your guest arrives.’

‘Urgh!’ David threw himself flat, spilling oatmeal on his pyjamas.

Amy folded her arms. ‘Okay, I’ll tell him not to come today.’

‘No! No! No!’

She tapped his leg. ‘Then do as I say, tiny boy.’

David scowled. ‘I’m a big boy.’

Amy kissed his forehead. ‘Eat your breakfast. Then we’ll pick out your outfit for today.’

***

Dark blue jeans, a black and white striped t-shirt, a powder blue hoodie, and tiny hiking boots. Amy combed David’s hair and frowned. It was going to need cutting soon, that was always a trial. She gave him a sippy cup of juice and let him watch a cartoon while she stared at the hands of the clock creeping around.

Kent was on time. Christ knew that he had faults but he was never late and he was never more than a couple of minutes early. They had settled on Saturday mornings as a relatively convenient time for him to visit. Not every week. That would be nuts. Not once a month, because David got restive and asked for him far before then. That was… Amy tried not to think about that. It was too frustrating. Once every two weeks was passable, if it was a little too often for Amy it wasn’t quite often enough for David. Compromise was no size fit anyone.

Kent gave her a polite nod when she opened the door. Amy had no idea how he felt about the frequency of his visits. She hadn’t asked his opinion and he hadn’t offered it. Frankly she didn’t give a shit what he thought, as long as he didn’t disappoint David.

‘Papa!’ David ran over, threw his arms around Kent’s legs, and squeezed.

Kent’s expression probably matched her own.

‘It’s a hug,’ Amy muttered. ‘You should… return it.’

She knew he was into Pilates and Yoga and all that shit, so she wasn’t surprised that he could bend over to pat David’s back and squeeze his shoulders. Not surprised that he could, but more than a little surprised that he would.

David grinned up at them both, then ran suddenly over to the table. He flung himself underneath the table and peeked at them from between the legs, giggling.  

‘That’s gotta be you,’ Amy said. ‘I am not playful.’  

Kent nodded. ‘I’m noted for my frisky nature.’

She gave him a look. ‘You’re in a weirdly good mood.’

Kent twitched up his jeans at the knee as he sat down on the floor. ‘I fired Jonah yesterday.’

Amy put her hands on her waist. ‘How did I forget that?’

‘It was a bright spot in a particularly stressful day,’ Kent said.

‘It was a bright spot in everyone’s day,’ she said.  

‘How was the wedding?’

She shrugged. ‘Pretty dresses, free booze, revolting public displays of affection. Wedding stuff.’ She yawned. ‘Coffee?’

‘Yes.’ He reached into David’s toybox and pulled out a puppet. He pointed the puppet at David and squeaked it at him.

Amy left the room before she had to deal with the weirdness of Kent pretending to voice a toy hippo. In the kitchen, she could hear David giggling and squealing with laughter. A few months ago, she would have sworn that Kent’s sense of humour was so dry as to be incomprehensible to a child. But Kent couldn’t possibly so consistently reduce David to fits of laughter if he didn’t understand exactly what a three-year-old found funny, and that was nuts. He did it though, and it was definitely deliberate. She had seen Kent’s tiny, fleeting smile enough times to know that he was setting out to make David laugh.

Amy yawned again. She already spent half her life exhausted without going to bed late and drunk. But if Mike getting married didn’t warrant a celebration than Jonah getting canned definitely did. The whole collective IQ of the administration probably went up at least two points.

Amy took the coffees into the living room and sat on the couch. David was chattering about one of his cartoons and Kent was listening with exactly the same expression he used when Selina was on one of her rants. He glanced at Amy, just a glance, and then returned his attention to David. That was one of the reasons that she had finally decided to let them spend time together on a regular basis: Kent’s attention was on David first and foremost. She was an afterthought, more or less. From anyone else it would bother her, but from Kent, being David’s… being what he was, it made sense. It was right.

She drained her cup of coffee, lay back on the couch, and rubbed her eyes. David was still talking. Sophie used to bitch and moan that he talked too much, which was fucking rich, since her kids banged on about nothing. David had an active imagination and he had his own opinions. Amy wasn’t about to smother either attribute and fuck anyone who tried.

Damn, she was so tired. She just need to… to close her eyes. Just for a second. For thirty… thirty seconds…

***

It was probably the silence that woke Amy up. The eerie quietness when she expected David’s piping voice, the chatter of cartoons, and the clatter of him playing. Her stomach clenched tightly for a long moment, and then she heard a scrape of something in the kitchen. She sat up and put aside the throw that had been carefully placed over her. Her stomach eased slightly as she stood and walked into the kitchen.

David was stood on the little plastic steps that Amy had him use to pee in the toilet. He had an expression of intense concentration as he plunged his hands into a plastic bowl. Kent was stood next to him; monitoring, advising, but not interfering. Kent looked at Amy, when she came in, and jerked his thumb at the coffee machine. She nodded as she walked over to the kitchen table.

‘What’re you making?’ she asked David.

‘Bread!’ he said. ‘Cupcakes!’

Amy looked at Kent.

‘We are making bread,’ he said. ‘We have made some cupcakes.’

‘Jesus, how long was I asleep?’

Kent smiled slightly. ‘We used the cupcake mix you had in the cupboard. It took five minutes.’

She folded her arms. ‘I don’t know how long that’s been there. I actually think it maybe came with the house.’

Kent cocked his head. ‘It had another eight months before the expiry date.’ He checked his watch. ‘The cupcakes will be done in seven minutes. The dough will be ready in another five minutes and we’ll pop that into the oven. It’ll be baked in approximately thirty minutes, which will give you sufficient time to get to the Eisenhower building.’

Amy walked over to the coffee machine. ‘Are you in work today?’

‘No, POTUS is golfing and I have been given the entire weekend off,’ Kent said.

‘Plenty of time to plug yourself in to the wall and recharge your capacitor,’ Amy said.

She didn’t much like the look he gave her. It was too thoughtful and calculated. 

‘Should I have woken you?’ he asked.

‘Where did that come from?’ Amy asked, scowling.

He glanced across at David, and moved the bowl back from the edge of the table. ‘I’ve observed that you rarely echo the sneering comments of our colleagues, except when you feel threatened by my nearness or interaction with…’ He nodded at David.

‘I’m not threatened!’ she hissed.

David looked up, alert to any hint of discord. ‘Mama make bread?’

Amy stroked her hand over his hair. ‘I’m making coffee, David. You carry on, Kent…your… papa will help you.’

‘Have you finished?’ Kent asked him.

David regarded his dough-covered hands. ‘Yes.’

‘You got him to wash his hands before?’ Amy checked.

‘Washed and washed,’ David groaned.

Kent handed him kitchen towel. ‘Wipe the dough off, please, and then we’ll wash your hands.’

David gave a heavy sigh.

‘Life is difficult,’ Kent said to Amy.

***

Amy was hunched over her desk. Fucking POTUS. Who the fuck did he think he was suddenly announcing that he was pro-choice? He just threw it out there without a thought about how it would screw up her day. Fucking men.

Someone was in the room. Amy looked up. Sue was stood in the doorway.

‘What?’ Amy asked. ‘Are we being bombed? Are the Martians invading?’

Sue walked across to Amy’s desk and sat down in the guest chair.

Fuck.

‘I believe that during the campaign you and Mr Davison were… amicable,’ Sue said.

Amy, always as tense as a bow string, clenched her fists. ‘We worked pretty closely, yeah. Why, what’s he said?’

‘He admired my hair.’

Amy waited for it to make sense. It didn’t.

‘A few hours ago,’ Sue said. ‘He has complimented my skills in the past. This is the first time that he has praised my appearance.’

‘Did he ask you out?’

‘No.’ Sue crossed her legs. ‘But he is displaying all the signs of an incipient sexual attraction.’

Amy gritted her teeth. ‘What is it that you’re asking me?’

Sue clasped her hands together. ‘I would like to know more about him in the event that he does overcome his social awkwardness sufficiently to ask me out. I know very little about him, not even if he’s married.’

Amy sat back. She folded her arms tightly. ‘He’s not married.’

Sue raised an eyebrow. ‘Is that all you have to say?’

‘He’s not dating anyone else, I don’t think,’ Amy said. ‘He’s one of those married-to-the-job types. Plus, he’s completely shit at holding a conversation that doesn’t involve integers or math or who knows fucking what.’

‘I believe that he and Mike have talked about boats.’

Amy nodded and dredged her memory. ‘Yes. He likes boating, and riding a motor cycle, and… whittling, I think.’ She waved her hand. ‘The man has a ridiculous amount of hobbies.’

Sue’s expression didn’t change. ‘A motorcycle.’

‘Yeah, I was surprised too,’ Amy said honestly. ‘But he’s generally sober when he rides.’

Now Sue’s eyes narrowed a fraction. ‘Everyone in politics drinks. You drink.’

‘Yeah, but I don’t do weed,’ Amy said. ‘On purpose.’

Sue rolled her eyes. ‘I wasn’t aware that you harboured sexual feelings for him or I would not have asked you.’

‘What?’ Amy asked. ‘No. No, I don’t. I absolutely do not.’ She squeezed the bridge of her nose. ‘He’s a nerd, Sue. He probably didn’t see a woman naked until he was forty. His speed is like… lady nerds. Well-dressed lady nerds, sure, but you’re out of his league. He won’t know how to deal with someone like you.’

Sue preened. ‘I think you may be underestimating him.’

‘Hey, he’s an important part of the administration,’ Amy said weakly. ‘If he gets bent out of shape then it could be… difficult. I have no idea how he deals with rejection or romantic disappointment.’

‘Should he choose to pursue his attraction then I will keep that in mind.’          

Amy stomped to the little kitchen and made herself a coffee. David had just gotten used to having Kent regularly around. He liked his Saturday mornings with Kent. He looked forward to them. If it was a fucking mystery why anyone would look forward to spending time with Kent, let alone a small child. But he did.

If Kent disappointed David because he was too busy fucking Sue, or anyone else, then Amy would rip off his damn dick. He’d made a commitment. Not a political commitment but one that actually meant something.

‘Did you enjoy your ride with the coast guard? I’m quite envious.’

Amy turned around and nodded at Kent. ‘Yeah, it was okay.’

It was a small room and, even though she pressed herself against the cupboard, Kent had to pass very close to make himself a coffee. It didn’t make her as uncomfortable as it would have done once. Granted, Amy’s comfort levels were always in the basement.

‘I rarely have the opportunity to go on that sort of thing,’ Kent said.

Amy poured sugar into her coffee. ‘You’ve arranged the trip to Silicon Valley, right?’

‘Hmm, yes,’ he said, glancing at her. ‘It should be extremely stimulating.’

Amy raised her mug and sipped her coffee. ‘You remember Selina can’t even work her cell?’

Kent shrugged. ‘I didn’t say it would be stimulating for her.’

Amy sniggered. ‘Probably best to avoid getting her excited.’

He pulled a face. ‘That wasn’t an image that I needed.’

‘Jesus, I hope nobody needs it.’

Kent sipped his coffee. ‘Forgive me, Amy, but you seem even more tense than usual.’

Amy moved a little closer and lowered her voice. ‘I just had a seriously bizarre and disturbing conversation with Sue.’

He looked at her blankly.

‘You complimented her hair,’ Amy prompted.

‘I asked if she’d changed it,’ he said cautiously. ‘Was that wrong? From what I’ve read, appropriately acknowledging that a female colleague has changed some part of her appearance can aid social bonds.’

Amy stared at him. ‘You’ve been reading that book again.’

Kent put his mug aside and spread his hands. ‘I only wish to improve my interpersonal skills. Is there a problem?’

‘Depends if you’re gonna go running off to fuck Sue when David is expecting you to come around,’ she whispered. ‘Are you?’

Kent shook his head. ‘Amy, I am aware that when I agreed to spend time with David I entered into an implicit contract with him. I have no intention of breaching that contract.’ 

Amy’s shoulders dropped a fraction of an inch. ‘Good.’

‘May I ask what precisely Sue said to make you think I would… abandon my responsibility to David in pursuit of carnal pleasures?’

Amy briefly covered her eyes with her hand. ‘Sue has an ego the size of San Francisco and you complimented her hair. Now she thinks you want to fuck her.’

She heard him swallow sharply.

‘Is she going to make an official complaint?’ he asked.

Amy shook her head. ‘No. She’s being Sue, finding out all the facts. But if you push her then fuck knows which way she’ll jump’.

Kent sighed deeply. ‘It certainly wasn’t my intention to harass her. Please believe me, Amy, that I did listen to you and I did not intend to indicate sexual interest to her.’

They had to wait while an intern made a coffee. Amy glared at him until he ran away.

‘David is my priority,’ she said. ‘I have to protect him.’ She held up her hand before he could speak. ‘You say you won’t let him down. Fine. I happen to think that Sue will treat you like shit and dump you when she gets bored, but it’s your life. I dated Dan, what the fuck do I know?’

Kent lowered his voice. It was barely a whisper. ‘I’m not pursuing Miss Wilson,’ he said. ‘I do admire her greatly but I am no Casanova.’

Amy clenched her teeth. ‘Whatever.’

‘I have to be realistic, he said. ‘We both know that women are not flocking to spend time with me.’

‘Why is dating so important?’

‘It’s not,’ he said. ‘But I’m tired of solitary life. I would like some companionship.’ He shrugged. ‘Perhaps it will be more pain than it’s worth. Perhaps it won’t.’

‘I would rather be alone than date Sue,’ Amy said.

‘Understood.’

Chapter Text

Amy spent another three hours working, before collapsing into her chair and grabbing a pretzel from her desk drawer. She was stuffing it into her mouth when Selina wandered in.

‘Long day, huh?’ Selina said, and slumped down into Amy’s guest chair.

‘Been a while since I pulled an all-nighter,’ Amy admitted. ‘Midterms maybe.’

Selina toed off her shoes. ‘Fucking POTUS. Where would we be without fat, old white guys telling women what to do with their bodies?’

‘When you’re the president you can ban Viagra,’ Amy suggested.

Selina snorted. ‘I should have all the fuckers neutered. They can deposit sperm at a bank and have it back to make babies if they can prove they deserve it.’

Amy nodded. ‘It would solve so many problems.’

‘Right?’ Selina said. ‘See how those fuckers like being told what to do with their bodies.’ She closed her eyes. ‘Did ya see Gary and the fruit? I should’ve taken the melon and shoved it right up his dick.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Religious.’

‘Ben said he didn’t give a shit,’ Selina said.

‘Ben wouldn’t care if you did make vasectomies compulsory,’ Amy said.

‘You reckon he’s ever knocked up some chick and paid to get it taken care of?’

‘I’m sure Dan has,’ Amy said. ‘Except he probably didn’t pay.’

‘Men should pay for meals, cabs, and abortions,’ Selina said. ‘That’s just basic good manners.’

Amy was thinking longingly about another pretzel.

Selina sneered. ‘Kent probably thinks you should be able to abort up until five years old.’

‘Five-year-olds can’t vote,’ Amy said.

Selina nodded.’ You’re right. Abortions up until eighteen.’

Amy tapped the desk. ‘And euthanasia after sixty-five.’

‘He wouldn’t give a shit,’ Selina said. ‘He probably reproduces with spores.’

‘Just the one.’

Selina gave her a sideway look. ‘Ooh. I forgot,’ she lied.

Amy shrugged. ‘Not like I talk about it.’

Selina drummed her fingers on the desk. ‘Guess you and Kent figured out your differences, huh? No custody battles heading for court.’

Amy folded her arms tightly. ‘No. It’s not ideal but we’re getting by.’

‘Yeah?’

‘David is… very attached,’ Amy admitted. ‘Kent is Kent. He comes by every couple weeks, and they watch cartoons, play with David’s toys, and bake.’

Selina snickered. ‘Kent cooks?’  

Amy flipped back her hair. ‘He bakes cakes, bread, cookies, and pies,’ she said. ‘David does a lot of it so they’re always kinda wonky shapes.’

Selina pulled a face. ‘Do they taste like ass? Catherine made this salad one time for one of her classes and I swear to God it gave me E.coli. How is that even a thing?’

‘Kent got distracted one time and David put sugar in a batch of bread,’ Amy said. ‘But it tasted okay. I think Kent does most of the pies.’

Selina seemed to focus on something that only she could see. ‘Kent baking. There’s a weird fucking image. It’s such a pussy thing to do and he’s got this kinda weird… macho thing. You know?’

‘He rides a motorcycle,’ Amy said. She didn’t have to. She didn’t really know why she said it. But she did.

‘No fucking way!’ Selina crowed. ‘What kind?’

Amy blinked. ‘I have no idea.’

Selina snorted. ‘Pretty obvious you’re not schtupping him. Any guy has an accent vehicle like a motorcycle or a convertible, they bang on about it to whoever is warming their bed.’

Amy smothered an incredulous look. ‘That doesn’t sound much like Kent.’

‘And riding a fucking hog does?’

***

Children are of no value? Children are of no value? Amy ground her teeth as she stared across the room. Children were of no value and he was flirting with Sue. Jesus, it was enough to make her pitch a bottle at his head.

Not that she cared what he thought. Not that it mattered. Who the fuck cared what he thought?

When he left the room, Amy followed him. She grabbed his elbow to pull him into the utility room. He whirled around when she grabbed him, ready to protest, and then paused.

‘Amy?’

She pulled him into a utility room. That is, she yanked on his arm and he followed. She shouldn’t have been surprised that his arm was like a wire rope. She should have been surprised that he followed her meekly.

‘Children are of no value?’ she hissed. ‘Mike told me what you said.’

Kent set his shoulders. ‘Amy…’

‘I know my fucking name! What I want from you is an explanation.’  

He licked his lips. ‘I was speaking politically.’

‘Parents vote!’

‘Children don’t,’ he said. ‘And parents have wider interests than in patronising “family friendly” measures.’

Amy gritted her teeth. ‘You’re gonna tell me what parents want?’

Kent sighed. ‘My data is from polls and surveys. Yours is anecdotal.’

She shoved him. It was like pushing a concrete pillar, but he looked hurt. ‘You think that David has no value?’ 

He shook his head. ‘No, you know that I don’t. You’re confusing a political judgement with a moral one.’

‘I’m thinking the man who fathered my child, the man whose time and attention my child craves, just implied he was worthless,’ she hissed, punching his shoulder. It hurt her hand.

Kent went white as he shook his head. ‘That wasn’t what I meant at all.’

‘It’s what you said!’

He closed his eyes for a moment as he thought about it. ‘I wasn’t talking about David. I wasn’t talking about any child in particular but children as a concept.’

Amy put her hands on her hips. ‘That is a fucking weak excuse.’

‘When Selina makes sneering comments about women do you assume that’s she’s specifically talking about you?’ he asked. ‘Amy, you know that I don’t believe David is worthless. Much of your anxiety about my presence in his life is due to your concern that I will somehow take him away from you!’

Amy poked him in the chest. ‘He’s three-years-old and for some reason he thinks the sun shines out of your puckered asshole. So you better fucking make sure you live up to his opinion of you.’

Kent’s expression softened. ‘It’s quite a lot to live up to, don’t you find?’

Amy’s shoulders dropped a couple of inches. ‘Kinda,’ she said unwillingly. ‘The first time I yelled at him, I cried for hours.’

She didn’t know why she told him. She hadn’t told anyone. Now he was going to say some stupid, fucking thing and she was going to have to beat his head in with her shoe.

He put his hand on her elbow, squeezed gently, then touched the back of her hand, a little pat. It was strange: uneasy and almost paternal. It was also peculiarly warm and reassuring.

‘If I yell at him,’ Kent said, ‘no doubt you’ll rend me limb from limb.’ His tone invited laughter. Even mockery. He was giving her an easy out from the hole she’d dug.

‘You bet,’ she said. ‘And use your head for a soccer ball.’

‘Given the things you generally threaten I’d be getting of lightly.’

Amy quickly swiped her eyes dry. Kent pretended not to notice.

‘Golf balls,’ she said.

He nodded sagely. ‘I admire your commitment to the sporting theme.’

Amy gave a shrug. ‘Gotta talk to you men in a way you’re gonna understand: sports, cars, all that shit.’

‘I’ll be sure to tailor my speech to you towards cookery, pretty dresses, and makeup,’ Kent said lightly.

‘Don’t be saying that shit in front of David,’ Amy said. ‘Children have no value. Doesn’t matter what your reason is.’

‘Understood,’ Kent said. ‘Careless words can cause the deepest damage.’

‘What’s your problem with childcare anyway?’ Amy demanded.

Kent folded his arms. ‘Her focus is too narrowly on people who have limited use for it and don’t vote.’

Amy was shaking her head. ‘A lot of women would work it they could afford it.’ She folded her arms. This could get a lot of young women out of poverty.’

‘Amy, women poor enough to qualify for this are statistically very young and with little or no education. They will be only be able to work at a job that pays barely the legal minimum, which will reduce the government support they receive while giving them the additional travel costs. They are very unlikely to escape poverty and the price they pay for this is less time with their children.’

Amy stared at him. ‘Fuck.’

***

Children’s birthday parties were the fucking worst. Hordes of kids all sugared up, screeching, charging around, and smashing shit was her idea of hell. David tended to regard it all with a kind of wide-eyed disbelief. He wasn’t used to large groups of children. He had his moments of yelling and running around, but only in short bursts and normally as part of a game. He wasn’t destructive. He wasn’t violent.

Amy chewed her thumb as she watched him tentatively playing with a little girl. She should arrange playdates or something. He needed to spend more time with other children.

Just not Sophie’s children. God, they were vile little brats. She didn’t want David picking up anything from them.

Her dad gasped heavily as he slumped himself into a chair next to her. ‘Hey, sweetie,’ he said squeezing her hand.

Amy flinched a smile and pulled her hand free. ‘Hey, dad.’

They watched David playing with the little girl for a few minutes.

‘Has your mom spoken to you about… anything?’ he asked.

Amy gave him a sideways look. ‘I try to get mom not to talk to me.’

He sighed deeply. ‘She spoke to David on the phone a couple days ago,’ he said.

‘Yeah, I know, I was the one who gave him the phone,’ Amy said. She’d given him the phone and then she’d gone into the kitchen to make a coffee. She hadn’t much thought about it then, but she was now.

‘Your mom is a little concerned about some of the stories David’s telling,’ he said.

Amy frowned. ‘Kids his age make shit up. It’s normal.’

‘Sweetheart, you know we support your decision to raise David by yourself.’

Amy gritted her teeth. ‘But?’

Her dad sighed. ‘David is telling people that he has a dad, that they make cookies. Weird stuff like that.’

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

Amy chewed her knuckle. ‘Did he say “dad,” or something else?’

Her father shook his head slowly. ‘I don’t… I don’t get how that’s important?’

‘It just is.’

He shrugged. ‘I think... I think he said “papa.” Are you thinking he has an imaginary friend? You used to. Do you remember? She was always yelling at you.’

Amy nodded. ‘Yeah. Yeah. Must be it. Imaginary friend. Good chat.’

Her dad leaned back. ‘You know, sweetie, I’ve seen you make up stories as well. I know what you look like when your fibbing.’

Amy covered her eyes for a moment. ‘Okay, yes. David has met the donor I used to get pregnant. It’s no big deal.’

Her father stood up. ‘No big deal? He met his father and it’s no big deal?’

‘Dad –’

‘What’s going on?’ Amy’s mom asked.

‘Nothing,’ Amy said.

‘David met his dad,’ he said. ‘That bastard just waltzed –’

‘No!’ Sophie gasped. ‘Look at you, Amy, standing there like your shit doesn’t stink.’

‘He’s doing me a favour!’ Amy snapped. ‘He’s just… a guy. We’re not dating. We never dated. I wasn’t getting pregnant with the clinic sperm and he helped me out.’ She pushed her hair back. ‘David was asking about his dad so, as a favour, I asked... his dad to meet him.’

Sophie whistled. ‘That’s a lot of child support to pay up.’

‘No, no, no,’ Amy said.

Her mother pursed her lips. ‘Is he married?’

‘He does have a responsibility to you,’ her dad said. ‘And more than that to David.’

Amy threw up her arms. ‘No, he doesn’t! He helped me get pregnant. He gave David some blood. He makes sure David doesn’t feel like he’s missing out. He doesn’t owe me anything! I don’t want anything from him.’

Sophie rolled her eyes. ‘But if he’s got money and you can get some of it then why not?’

Her dad put his hand on Amy’s forearm. ‘We’d like to meet him to –’

‘No,’ Amy said. ‘Absolutely not.’

***

‘Wow,’ Dan said over a hastily grabbed coffee. ‘That escalated quickly.’

‘I knew introducing him to his father was a mistake,’ Amy said.

Dan laughed. ‘You said they get on great.’

‘They do. Christ knows why.’ She shrugged. ‘That’s why David’s been talking about him. Milla says David tells her all about each visit at least twelve times.’

‘You got lucky that he’s willing to spend time with David,’ Dan said. ‘Plenty of guys wouldn’t.’

Amy pulled a face. ‘Yeah, I’m looking at one of them.’

‘Nobody puts up with in-laws if they’re not getting laid,’ Dan said.

Amy nodded and gulped coffee. ‘I know. I told my dad there was no fucking chance of them meeting him. Jesus, it’s bad enough he’s sniffing around for some pussy half his age who you just know is gonna get pissy about him spending time with us.’

Dan’s expression shifted fractionally.

‘What?’ Amy asked.

‘I didn’t say anything.’

‘You had a face,’ she said.

Dan ginned. ‘No, I didn’t.’

Amy punched his shoulder. ‘David is used to him being around. I don’t want that ruined.’

‘Right,’ Dan said. ‘For David.’

‘That’s what I said.’

Dan sipped his coffee. ‘So how old is Mr Bio-Daddy?’

Amy’s shoulders clenched. ‘What?’

Dan shrugged. ‘You’re worried he’s gonna dale some girl half his age. Your words. Either he’s an older guy or he’s our age and has some creepy taste in teenage girls.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘You don’t get to make comments about other guy’s taste in women.’

‘Hey, I’m just curious about the guy. You had the whole of D.C. to pick from and you didn’t pick me. I find that intriguing. I know you didn’t pick him for his money, so what is it?’

She drained her coffee. ‘I’m not telling you anything. You’re not fooling me into giving you info you can run off and... and do something with.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘What’s with the creepy little smile?’

Dan’s grin persisted. ‘He’s someone I know.’

‘I didn’t say that,’ Amy hissed.

‘He is,’ Dan said cheerfully, ‘and you’re worried if you’ll tell me anything about him then I’ll work it out.’

She scowled at him. ‘Why do you care?’

‘Because it bugs you.’ He shrugged. ‘Otherwise I don’t care,’ he said cheerfully. He crossed his legs. ‘You want some advice?’

‘No.’ Amy folded her arms tightly. ‘What is it?’

‘This is purely from listening to the blah, blah from chicks with kids whom I’ve dated,’ he said by way of disclaimer. ‘I don’t have a paternal bone in my body.’

‘No shit.’

‘Guys who are good dads stay good dads through break-ups, divorces, and hot girls half their age. Any guy who abandons his kid for a piece of ass was never a good dad.’ Dan shrugged. ‘If he’s a good dad single then he’ll be a good dad with a bimbo on his arm.’

***

He laughed at Sue’s dumb joke. It was annoying. Not because Amy cared what he did. She didn’t. She just wasn’t looking forward to Sue lording her conquest over everyone. She acted like having a partner was some kind of rare skill.

It was just… irritating, and Amy didn’t have the time to be irritated. Dan was whining, Selina was throwing a tantrum, Doyle was swaggering about, Mike was having some kind of breakdown, Alicia was hanging around like an unexploded bomb, and Jonah was lurking underfoot like a dog turd in the underbrush. Amy had no room to deal with Sue smugly showing off Kent’s regard like it was some sort of trophy.

The only people not grating on Amy’s nerves were Gary, Ben, and Kent. She always ignored Gary as much as possible. Ben and Kent were smart enough not to point out that they had said all along that childcare would never fly. But they had said it, and Selina might not forgive them for it.

Selina was still sulking. Her speech had been triumphant, sure, but she was still bitter about losing childcare. Bitter about Kent and Ben failing to support her.

‘What really gets me is the disloyalty,’ Selina said. ‘All the way through this thing Kent has said that childcare would lose us votes. When Doyle stood there talking about it being a money pit he just nodded!’

‘How dare he be consistent,’ Amy said.

‘Don’t give me that,’ Selina said. ‘He’s supposed to find data to support me.’ She tapped her foot. There’s been too much slackness recently. I need you people to focus. Not this running around laughing at each other’s jokes, and flirting when you should be working. This isn’t high school.’

Amy met Dan’s eye. He’d had a pretty shitty day himself that hadn’t been helped by him whining continuously. She’d almost laughed at Kent telling him to go make quilts in Oregon with his mom. That was more Dan’s speed. Amy knew that Dan was eyeing the campaign manager’s job. Amy was gonna get that job. She deserved it. She’d worked for it. Dan was a lightweight. He couldn’t be entrusted with a paper route, never mind a presidential race. Selina knew that.

Right?

She was right about the frivolity: Sue was definitely warming up to Kent. When he was laughing too hard at Sue’s lame joke Amy saw Sue check him out.

***

‘It’s weird,’ Mike murmured.

Across the room, Sue and Kent was stood close, talking. Almost whispering.

‘People having a conversation?’ Amy asked.

‘It’s like a Venus Flytrap and Gort have a date,’ Mike said.

‘What the fuck is Gort?’ Dan asked.

‘A robot,’ Mike said. ‘Great big thing.’

‘He’s not that tall,’ Gary sniffed.

‘Have you seen those little tall four-foot-tall robots the Japanese make now?’ Mike asked.

Ben joined them. ‘What the fuck are you whispering about?’

‘Mike thinks that Sue in a penis flytrap,’ Dan said, grinning.

‘Venus! Venus!’

Ben looked over at her. ‘I could see it.’

Sue stroked her finger over Kent’s lapel, brushing something away.

Ben and Dan made low ‘oohs.’  

Amy gripped her cell.

‘What?’ Mike asked.

‘They’re fucking,’ Dan said.

‘If they’re not now they will be soon,’ Ben said.

‘I touch the vice president all the time,’ Gary said.

Amy pulled a face.

 ‘You keep touching the Veep because you’re… you,’ Dan said. ‘A woman tidying a man up like that is grooming him. That’s a power move.’

‘She’s claiming ownership,’ Ben said. ‘Mom’s do it to their kids. Wives and girlfriends, do it to husbands and boyfriends.’

‘Nobody ever did it to me,’ Mike said.

‘Shocker,’ Amy said.

‘Dana used to do it all the time,’ Gary said.

‘Shocker again,’ Amy said.

‘Should we tell someone?’ Gary asked.

They looked at him.

‘Tell someone?’ Ben repeated. ‘Are you asking if should we inform the nation?’

Gary squirmed. ‘Like HR.’

‘Sue doesn’t work for Kent,’ Amy said. ‘She’s not in his reporting stream.’

‘He wouldn’t go near her if she were,’ Ben said. ‘He’s paranoid about that shit.’

‘You can’t trust men with facial hair,’ Gary said. ‘My mom always says they’re hiding something.’

‘Hey!’ Mike protested.

‘This is such bullshit,’ Amy said. ‘Kent isn’t a predator. He’s not doing anything wrong.’

‘He’s got a beard,’ Gary said doubtfully.

‘So’s fucking Santa Claus,’ Ben said.

‘Jesus! I’m the only one here who has been felt up more times than an unripe melon at a farmer’s market,’ Amy said. ‘Kent’s weird, and awkward, and he probably tries way too hard, but he’s not a predator!’

 

Chapter Text

‘Papa come to David party?’

Amy was curled up on the couch, wrapped in her robe, eating oatmeal. David and Kent were sat on the door, playing with some weird animal action figures. Jesus, some of them looked like the contents of a cheese dream.  

‘What?’ Amy asked.

David frowned. It was like looking into a mirror.

‘You should say “my party” not David party,’ Kent said mildly.

David tugged at her robe. ‘My party. Papa come to my party?’

Amy glanced at Kent, hoping for... she didn’t even know what.

‘I don’t know,’ Amy said, rubbing her eye with the heel of her hand. ‘I just woke up, David. I’m not ready to discuss your busy social calendar.’

‘We can celebrate your birthday,’ Kent said to David. ‘If not your birthday party then we can do something else together. Perhaps that would be more fun.’

David’s lower lip trembled.

Amy put her oatmeal aside. ‘David, uh, what about a movie? Papa could maybe take you to… see a movie. Would you like that?’

She didn’t look at Kent. He wasn’t the important part of the conversation.

David rubbed his eyes and looked at Kent. ‘Chuck E Cheese?’

‘After the movie?’ Kent checked.

David nodded sombrely.

Kent at Chuck E Cheese. Just the idea made Amy cringe. The deep intake of breath that Kent took definitely didn’t help.

‘Sure,’ Kent said. ‘If that’s what you want.’

David sniffled. ‘Okay.’

Amy caught Kent’s eye. He didn’t smile.

***

‘If the movies are a problem –’ Amy began as Kent opened the front door.

‘I’m very happy to take David out,’ Kent said, cutting across her. ‘I even understand you not inviting me to his birthday party. What I have a problem with is you not telling me there even was a party and that you only offered an alternative to prevent David from becoming distressed.’

Amy folded her arms. ‘Okay. That’s fair.’

Kent sighed. ‘You’re not wearing any makeup.’

‘What?’

‘You’re comfortable enough with me to allow me to see you without makeup and in a robe. However, you’re still uncomfortable with other people knowing that I’m David’s biological father. You’re still not comfortable with it as a matter of empirical fact.’

Amy hadn’t even consciously registered that she wasn’t wearing makeup, let alone that this had some sort of meaning.

‘Do you have a problem with me not wearing makeup?’

‘Now you’re deflecting,’ he said. ‘Amy, I have done everything that you’ve asked. I don’t ask that you like me, merely that you respect that I am doing my best to fulfil my cultural, social, and ethical responsibilities to David.’

‘It’s too early in the morning for this,’ Amy said.

‘Perhaps we can discuss it another time.’

Amy shook her head. ‘No I... I get it. You wannabe a good... You wanna do right by David. I get that. I appreciate that. A lot of guys wouldn’t want to spend time with him.’ She rubbed her face. ‘Can we grab lunch later? We can try to nail this down.’

Kent nodded. ‘I’d like that.’

‘Somewhere out of town.’

‘Of course.’

***

The annoying thing was that she didn’t dislike Kent. There, she said it. She didn’t dislike him or she’d have never told him about trying to get pregnant, never taken him up to her room. He was smart. He was respectful. He was funny in an insanely dry way. They got on. Nothing to dislike.

He was... He was a good dad. Fuck. There. She said it. He was attentive, he was responsible, he was reliable, he was calm, he never lost his temper. He was committed, and was awkwardly affectionate, which was the best you could ask from Kent. David adored him.

It was... She had put in the time and effort, the blood and tears, and David adored Kent.

‘He worries about you,’ Kent said.

Amy blinked. ‘What?’

They were in a cute little deli in the ass end of nowhere. There was a nook with a few toys and books. David was busily acquainting himself with all of them while Amy and Kent watched.

Kent nodded at David. ‘He worries about you. You’re his world, the depth and breadth of it, and he’s sometimes a little anxious.’ Kent spread out his hands. ‘I fear that might be my fault.’

‘The anxiety?’

‘Yes,’ Kent said. ‘He might grow out of it.’

Amy prodded her sandwich. ‘You had anxiety?’

‘Have,’ he said. ‘Sure.’

‘Bullshit.’

A man at another table glowered at her and then looked meaningfully at David.

‘I know he’s there,’ Amy said. ‘He’s my kid.’

Kent sipped his coffee. ‘I have stress relief techniques and I have medication.’

She looked at him. ‘I don’t get it.’

‘It’s not a joke,’ Kent said. ‘There’s no punchline.’

‘Like Prozac?’ Amy crossed her legs. ‘Aren’t there side effects?’

‘I have anxiety, not depression,’ Kent said. ‘I have a prescription for cannabis.’

She scrunched up her eyes in disbelief. ‘This is such a crock. You don’t have anxiety and if your weed was prescribed then it was from some guy in a white van and wearing a hat with “doctor” written on it in pen.’

He chuckled. ‘As insulting as your assertion is, I’m still glad than my issue isn’t immediately obvious. However, in addition to the possibility that you might not recognise my anxiety is the fact that you have never seen me unmedicated.’

‘I see you at work every day,’ Amy said. Her eyes widened. ‘You do not go to work high!’

Kent pulled a face. ‘No, I go to work medicated, in exactly the same way that Ben is medicated for his heart issues or the vice president has her antidepressants.’

Amy gulped her coffee. ‘You know about the antidepressants?’

‘Everyone knows about those,’ Kent said. ‘Nobody cares as long as she’s healthy. Medication is only a problem if it’s not being taken.’

‘But how can you work when you’re high?’ Amy asked.

Kent pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘I don’t get high. I have a small amount for my anxiety. It’s a prescription. I don’t eat two cupcakes and start rifling through someone else’s belongings.’

Amy rolled her eyes and slapped his shoulder lightly. He gave her a strange, slight smile.

She cleared her throat and looked away. ‘About the party.’

‘I’m not invited,’ Kent said flatly.

Amy ran her fingers through her hair. ‘You don’t want to go to it.’

‘I wasn’t given a choice.’

‘Now you know how I feel,’ she said. ‘None of this was supposed to happen.’

Kent pursed his lips. ‘You don’t think of three-year-olds as pushing their own agendas.’

‘But they have them,’ Amy said.

‘I have noticed.’

She sat back. ‘You don’t want to come because my family will be there. They’d spend the entire time interrogating you. Look, Kent, you’re... not a bad father to David.’

‘Not bad,’ Kent repeated.                                                            

Amy groaned. ‘Look, I don’t… I don’t have complaints. David loves you. I don’t wanna scare you off with my crappy family. The important thing is David. So, ignore the party and take him to see a movie.’

Kent wasn’t looking at her but over at David. She didn’t recognise the expression on his face.

‘You listening?’ Amy asked.

He looked back at her. ‘Apologies. I was thinking.’

‘This is me,’ Amy said. ‘Not bad is the best you’re gonna get.’

Kent didn’t smile, exactly, but his eyes were warm. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘I forget to translate from Amy to English.’

‘Do you wanna take him to the movies or not?’ Amy retorted.

He held up his hands. ‘I do. I have some anxiety but I do.’

‘Don’t be getting high before you take him.’

Kent sighed. ‘I don’t get high,’ he said. ‘You may rest assured.’

‘I know,’ she said.

Kent’s cell chimed. He checked it, colour touched his cheeks, and he sent a text.

‘Oh, Jesus, are you sexting right now?’ Amy asked.

The colour in his cheeks intensified as he looked up and put the cell away in his pocket.

‘I am having a discussion of a sensual nature,’ he said.

‘Sexting,’ she said, her face twisting up.

‘Not sexting,’ he said, holding up his anger. ‘We haven’t progressed to that point. We are still... negotiating and working out terms.’

Amy gulped her coffee. ‘Negotiating? Tell me you’re not paying her.’

‘No, no,’ he said. ‘But Sue is not an... open woman emotionally or otherwise and building sufficient trust takes time.’

Amy’s expression of mingled confusion and disgust deepened. ‘Can’t you just sleep together like normal people?’

Kent pursed his tips. ‘Only if sex was the primary purpose of our interaction. It’s no basis for a relationship.’ He turned his cup around. ‘I’m aware that you don’t approve.’

Amy tightly folded her arms. ‘It’s your funeral. Just don’t let your screw up anything with David.’

‘I won’t.’ Kent tapped his thumbs together. ‘I’m aware that there is no such thing as a happy ending. I have no expectations.’

‘We had sex and we get on,’ Amy said.

Kent gave her a small smile. ‘For the purpose of procreation. It didn’t come primarily from a place of desire or romantic affection. I’m certainly very... fond of you, Amy, but our friendship is principally predicated on David, with certain shared interests and traits a distant second. We’re not dating. It’s not the same.’

Amy looked away. ‘Just don’t tell her about David.’

‘I haven’t told anyone about David,’ he said. His voice had a tight, offended note.

‘Good,’ Amy said.

‘I appreciate you don’t wish our colleagues to know,’ he said. ‘Am I to take it that you don’t want my family to know because you don’t wish David to have any contact with them?’

He was watching her intently. Amy set her jaw.

‘You agreed to this,’ she said.

He looked away. ‘I did. Asking that was unfair. I apologise.’

‘I’ll let you know about the movies,’ Amy said.

‘Of course.’

‘You’re pissed,’ she said.

He raised his eyebrows. ‘A little.’

Amy crossed her legs. ‘Because of your family?’

‘A little,’ he said. ‘More that you felt the need to tell me not to tell Sue. I thought you trusted me more than that.”

‘Trust’s overrated,’ Amy muttered.

‘That’s a rather sheltered approach to life,’ Kent said mildly.

‘Why do you give a single shit if I trust you?’

He seemed to give it genuine thought. ‘Because I consider you a friend. Because I believe that I’m trustworthy. Because I’m socially conditioned to believe that female trust is hard won and all the more meaningful for being so.’

Amy felt her shoulders clench. ‘You ever think that you’re too trusting? I could screw you over. Sue could. If she finds out she could screw us both over.’

‘She doesn’t know,’ Kent said, ‘and she wouldn’t care. Sue is very tightly focused. She has no interest of anything outside that.’

Amy shrugged. ‘I hope you’re right.’

***

CLOVIS was tempting. Get away from D.C., away from Selina, away from politics and eighteen-hour days. Start over with no baggage.

Who was she kidding? She’d be bored in a week. She needed cutthroat. She needed backstabbing and plotting.

‘You’re no good to David miserable,’ Kent murmured.

She shot him a look. They were watching Selina say goodbye to the CLOVIS staff.

‘Are you reading my mind now?’ she asked.

He shrugged. ‘They asked me about you.’

She looked at him again. ‘What did you say?’

‘The truth: you’re exceptionally capable but would likely be wasting your talents here.’

‘They offered,’ Amy said.

He nodded. ‘They would benefit from you.’

‘I said no,’ Amy said.

‘Good.’ Kent looked at her. ‘The vice president’s office would be significantly poorer without you.’

Amy straightened her shoulders. ‘It would.’

***

Dinner parties. Who the fuck decided this was the best way to socialise? She had two glasses of wine just waiting for people to arrive. Kent and Sue came first. Arrived first. Jesus, she didn’t need that imagery. They arrived together, ugh, phrasing, and Kent remembered to knock rather than use his key. She’d got a lot of extra sleep at the weekends with him arriving early and letting himself in. Now just the knowledge that he was so familiar with her place was stressing her out.

Sue handed Amy a bottle of wine. Kent gave her a bottle of Scotch. They were so “together” it was revolting. Sue was smug about it of course.

‘You’re the first,’ Amy said.

Kent checked his watch. ‘Are we early?’

‘No, on time,’ Amy said. ‘Everyone else is... everyone else.’

‘They’ll be here,’ Kent promised.

Sue nodded. ‘Mike won’t miss free food and Ben won’t miss free alcohol.’

‘I could go broke catering to those two,’ Amy said.

‘For Mike go to Costco.’ Sue said. ‘He requires quantity not quality.’

Kent laughed. Amy rolled her eyes.

Ben arrived next, also with a bottle of Scotch. Either they were going to drink each other under the table or she would be drinking the stuff until Christmas.

She wasn’t even surprised that Mike didn’t bring a bottle. If he had brought something then doubtless it would be barely useable for vinegar.

‘Where’s the little guy?’ Mike asked

Ben silently held up his hand.

‘David is at my parents,’ Amy said.

Mike’s shoulders slumped. ‘Oh.’

‘Why would you want to spend an evening around someone’s child? Sue asked severely.

‘Don’t you get enough of people behaving childishly at work?’ Ben asked.

Amy snorted as they sat down. ‘David would be appalled at the suggestion that he was that immature.’

Kent chuckled. It was a small sound. A small thing, really. She took it as tacit agreement.

‘You don’t like kids?’ Mike asked Sue.

Her answering glare could have melted steel.

‘The problem with children is that grow up into adults,’ Kent said.

‘The only time most people are tolerable is when they’re snot-nosed little brats,’ Ben said.

‘Children have all the vicious cruelty and stupidity of adults with none of the empathy or self-control,’ Sue said.

The room fell quiet.

Kent cleared his throat. ‘That seems a little –’

‘It’s a statement of fact, not a discussion point,’ she said.

‘I got bullied when I was a kid,’ Mike said after a few seconds. ‘I found out if you can make them laugh, smile even, then they don’t feel so much like punching you.’

‘You didn’t tell your parents?’ Kent asked.

‘You did?’ Ben scoffed.

‘Certainly.’

‘You never tell your parents!’ Mike said. ‘It just makes things worse!’

Kent was shaking his head. ‘That’s a myth perpetuated by bullies.’

‘If I’d gone running to my parents whining about being bullied then I’d have got kicked in the ass and told not to be such a baby,’ Ben said. ‘Kids need to suck it up.’

Kent shook his head. ‘What is wrong with you?’

‘What? I’m just telling you how it is.’

‘You wouldn’t do that to your own kids,’ Amy said. ‘Or your wife would make you sleep on the sofa.’

‘For the rest of my life,’ Ben agreed.

‘Sometimes parents have extremely limited options,’ Sue said. ‘If the choice is between a good school with bullying or a bad school, then a reasonable person will choose the good school.’

Amy snorted. ‘If anyone bullies David then they’ll be looking for new teeth.’

‘My mother took the same approach,’ Sue confided.

‘What happened?’ Mike asked, wide-eyed.

‘The children hated me,’ Sue said. ‘But they were pathetic losers who were envious of me.’

Ben shook his head. ‘This is why I’m terrified of women.’

‘Because we will savage anyone who threatens our children,’ Amy said.

‘You’re not making me feel any better,’ Ben said.

‘We are not here to counteract your misogyny,’ Sue said sharply.

Kent was groaning. ‘Ben, human beings are not cats. Men can be equally protective of their children.’

‘Not me,’ Ben said cheerfully.

‘I’m not sure that I would,’ Mike said. ‘I hope that I would.’

‘You can’t even protect yourself,’ Ben said.

***

She told him to shut up. She told him to pour her drink. Amy wasn’t surprised that Sue was commanding, but she was surprised how much she disliked it. Why would Kent put up with it? Nobody was that desperate to get laid.

‘Do you have any more of this cake?’ Mike asked.

‘No,’ Amy said flatly.

‘I hope you saved some for David,’ Kent said.

Amy glared at him, before he could say anything else.

‘Shall we play a game?’ Ben suggested. He’d finished the bottle of Scotch that he’d brought and three fingers of Kent’s.

Sue shrugged and leaned slightly against Kent. She had matched Ben’s Scotch drink for drink with her wine.

‘I didn’t bring my wallet,’ Mike said.

‘Just your cum, for some reason,’ Amy said.

‘We don’t want your money,’ Kent said. ‘Or anything else.’

‘Definitely don’t want your cum,’ Sue murmured.

Ben cracked his knuckles. ‘How about never have I ever?’

Kent murmured something to Sue, and she gave him a sly smile.

Amy opened a new bottle of wine. ‘Never have I ever been bullied at school.’

Mike, Kent, and Sue all drank.

‘You pontificated on what bullied children should or shouldn’t do,’ Kent complained to Ben.

‘I can’t have an opinion?’ Ben asked.

‘No,’ Kent said.

Sue squeezed his forearm. ‘Never have I ever wanted children.’

Everyone else drank. Sue gave Kent a strange look.

‘That’s kind of personal,’ Mike said.

‘That’s the whole point,’ Sue said. ‘That and getting drunk.’

Mike gave it some thought. ‘Never have I ever cheated.’

Ben drank.

Kent and Amy exchanged a look.

‘Are you just drinking at every question now?’ Kent asked.

Ben poured himself another drink. ‘No, but I’ll keep it in mind.’

‘Sex is in no way worth the hassle of dealing with someone you cheated with,’ Amy said.

‘You don’t like sex,’ Sue pointed out.

‘It’s overrated.’

‘I love sex,’ Mike sighed.

‘Oh, my god,’ Amy moaned.

‘Cheating isn’t about sex,’ Ben said. ‘You cheat because you’re pissed or miserable. It’s to make yourself better or boost your ego.’

Kent sipped his wine. ‘That was a disturbing insight in your psyche.’

‘There is no excuse for cheating,’ Sue said. ‘It is unforgivable.’

‘My second wife wouldn’t agree with you,’ Ben said.

‘And now you’re on the third wife,’ Amy said.

‘Affairs in politics are quite common,’ Kent said. ‘Long hours, high stress, and little time with significant others is a potent mix for it.’

‘Don’t defend cheating,’ Sue said to Kent.

‘Apologies,’ he said meekly.

Amy stood up, quickly enough to knock her chair over. ‘Coffee,’ she said to their questioning looks. ‘Anyone?’

***

She heard someone follow her into the kitchen. Amy glanced back as she turned on the coffee machine. Sue leaned back against the cupboard and folded her arms.

‘What?’ Amy asked.

‘I asked you if you had sexual feelings for Kent,’ Sue said. ‘I am not happy that you clearly do.’

Amy shook her head. ‘That is –’

‘He’s seeing me,’ Sue said flatly. ‘And I don’t share.’

Amy waved her hands. ‘You have the wrong idea. I... I... I have no interest whatsoever in Kent.’

‘You are a terrible liar, Amy, and you don’t fool me.’ She stared at her. ‘I will defend what is mine. Fiercely.’

Amy took a deep breath, but before she answered Sue turned and left the room.

        

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

‘Be glad about it,’ Kent said.

Amy glowered at him over her cup of coffee. ‘How am I supposed to be glad to that Dan got my job?’

Kent gently nudged David with his foot, away from his empty cup. ‘Selina has no idea how to progress. There will be problems and at the first significant problem Dan will flail and she will blame him. If you recall, she fired her first two campaign managers within six months of her presidential campaign.’

Amy flipped back her hair. ‘You think she’ll fire Dan?’

‘Or he’ll quit,’ Kent said. ‘He copes badly with ambiguity. Remember his issue during the abortion farrago?’

Amy pulled her legs up onto the sofa. Her robe slipped open, showing her calves and thighs.

She saw him look, a second too long, and then look away.

‘And the vice president can’t make up her mind to save her life,’ Amy said.

‘Precisely.’

‘Sit your knee, Mama?’ David asked.

They both turned, and Amy straightened up. She patted her knee and let him scramble onto her lap.

‘You’re not an infant now,’ Kent said. ‘You’re getting a little big for that.’

David stuck at his tongue and then giggled.

Kent ruffled his hair.

‘He can sit on my knee for as long as he wants,’ Amy said, kissing David’s cheek. ‘Even when he’s forty.’

Kent checked his watch.

‘Do you need to go?’ Amy asked.

‘The movie starts at ten so we need to leave within the next twenty minutes.’

Amy patted David’s leg. ‘Okay, put your shoes on so you can go to the movies with Papa.’

Kent straightened his trousers. ‘I’ll text if there’s a problem.’

‘He’s spent the day with my parents a few times,’ Amy said. ‘And with Milla most days. He’ll be fine.’

‘I’m a little more concerned about myself,’ he said dryly.

‘Oh… freak you,’ Amy said. ‘You’re used to dealing with POTUS. You can look after a five-year-old for a few hours.’

‘I can do this,’ Kent said.

Amy stood up. ‘Yeah, you can. Ben has kids, Kent, and he hasn’t lost them or killed them.’

‘As reassuring as that is, I reserve the right to still be anxious.’

Amy snorted. ‘Go already.’

‘We’re going,’ Kent said.

* * *

She wasn’t worrying. She had no reason to worry. David wasn’t the sort of kid who ran away or who was always throwing temper tantrums. He’d been away from her during the day plenty of times. Kent was good with David. He was conscientious. There was no need for her to even be thinking about it.

‘Amy, what universe are you in?’ Selina asked.

‘Apologies,’ Amy said automatically.

‘This trip to Detroit is huge,’ Dan said to her. ‘We need to have absolutely everything nailed down.’

‘You don’t have to tell me that, Dan, I get how this works,’ Amy retorted.

‘Are you sure?’ he asked.

‘Enough,’ Selina said, putting her hand to her forehead. ‘Dan, go sort out the posters. The pink ones.’

‘But you said –’

‘Just fucking do it!’ Selina snapped. She sighed heavily as Dan scuttled out. ‘Amy, you’ve been with me a long time. If you have a problem with me giving the campaign manager job to Dan over you, then I need you to tell me.’

Amy nodded. ‘I have a problem with it. He is unstable, he cannot cope with ambiguity –’

‘Suck it up!’ Selina prodded a finger at Amy. ‘Quit whining! Nobody likes a complainer.’

Amy straightened her back. ‘Yes, Ma’am.’

‘And what the fuck is going on with Sue? It looks could kill she’d have you gutted and mounted above her fireplace.’

‘It’s nothing.’

‘Bullshit it’s nothing.’

Amy shrugged. ‘I’ll sort it out.’

‘Uh-huh,’ Selina said. ‘Okay. Do that.’

‘Yes, Ma’am.’

‘I need you to get your head in gear, Ames,’ Selina said. ‘This is the big leagues.’

Amy managed a nod. Get her head in gear? The big leagues? Dan was the one already freaking out. He was the one running around like he had a lit firework up his ass. Amy was taking it all in her stride. She had it all covered and why wouldn’t she? She’d been through a presidential campaign before. He hadn’t.

It was sexism. Dan was good looking and he didn’t have a family. Even working for a woman, the deck was stacked against Amy.

***

Her cell vibrated in her pocket. Amy yanked it out and frowned. It was Kent’s private number. Sue slammed a book down on a desk. Amy gave her a sweet smile and answered the phone as she walked into the corridor.

‘What’s up?’

‘Hi Mama!’ David said. ‘Are you at work?’

‘Hi David,’ Amy ducked into her office.

‘I’m not at work,’ he said.

Amy nodded. ‘I know that. Does papa know you’ve got his cell?’

David giggled. ‘Yes. We saw a movie! It was scary.’

‘Already?’ Amy checked her watch.

‘I got scared, papa took me to arcade.’

Amy sat down. ‘Are you okay? Did papa make you feel better?’

‘Yes.’

She heard him move the cell away from his mouth.

‘Papa, mama wants to talk to you.’ He’d started doing that, when he was bored of a conversation.

Amy pinched the bridge of her nose when she heard Kent take the cell. ‘Everything okay?’

‘Everything’s fine,’ Kent promised. ‘He was a little fidgety after half an hour and then he got scared during a chase scene. He asked to leave and I didn’t want to push.’

Amy shut her office door. ‘Are you still okay staying over? If you’re not...’

‘It’s fine.’

‘I can get someone else to stay while I’m in Detroit.’

‘No, you can’t,’ he said mildly. ‘Otherwise you wouldn’t have asked me.’

‘Smart ass,’ Amy grumbled.

‘Milla is only away one day,’ Kent said. ‘I can cover for that.’

Amy bit her lip. ‘Are you sure?’

‘No,’ he said honestly. ‘And I know that you’re not sure. But today is going fine. I called to reassure you of that.’

‘Great.’ Amy blew out her cheeks. ‘You wanna call your girlfriend and tell her to back the fuck off? Even Selina noticed.’

There was a long pause before he spoke. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘She didn’t tell you?’ Amy cursed. ‘Forget it. I’ll talk to her.’

‘I can talk to her if you like but –’

‘But you don’t know what the fuck about,’ Amy said.

‘Alas, no.’

Amy shook her head. ‘Forget it. I’ll talk to her.’ She checked her watch. ‘Are you still taking David to Chuck E Cheese?’

‘I am. Unless he wants to go somewhere else.’

Amy snorted. ‘Kids are inconsistent little fuckers.’

‘Indeed.’

‘I’ll see you later.’

Amy put her cell away and opened the door. The good news was that Sue hadn’t shared her wackadoodle jealousy with Kent. The bad news was that meant Amy had to tackle Sue herself.

Fine. Whatever.

***

‘I need you to get over whatever your problem is with me,’ Amy said. ‘The vice president has noticed and it’s making us both look bad.’

Sue took a chair in front of Amy’s desk without being asked. 

‘I was very clear what my problem is, Amy.’

‘We’re professional, independent women: we shouldn’t be fighting over a guy,’ Amy protested.

Sue raised an eyebrow. ‘You should be ashamed to insult me with that argument. We are not fighting over a guy. This isn’t about Kent, it’s about us. You have disrespected me. I see the way that you look at Kent. I hear the way that you talk to him.’

Amy groaned softly. ‘Okay, look. I’m going to tell you something private and confidential. It can’t go outside this room.’

Sue rolled her eyes. ‘I know that Kent is David’s biological father.’

Amy swallowed, fighting nausea. ‘He promised me he wouldn’t tell you.’

‘He did not,’ Sue said. ‘I have access to the schedules of the entire staff, Amy. I also have eyes.’ She picked up a framed photograph of David and showed it to Amy. ‘He even looks like Kent, around the eyes. Also, Kent has David’s photograph in his wallet.’

‘You went through his wallet?’

Sue crossed her legs. ‘He keeps condoms in his wallet. I see it frequently.’

Amy grabbed her bottle of water and took a gulp. ‘Sue, Kent and I weren’t dating. We’re not dating now. I wanted to get pregnant. Kent is smart, healthy, and successful. That’s it. It doesn’t mean anything. It didn’t mean anything.’

Sue narrowed her eyes. ‘I don’t care about that. I care about the way you look at him.’

Amy shook her head. ‘I… I don’t look at Kent in any way.’

Sue held up her hand. ‘Clearly you’re too emotionally stunted to realise or acknowledge your feelings. Understand this, Amy, and we will all get on: Kent doesn’t want you. He’s with me.’

It was an easy out. Just agree. Just nod and let Sue’s insane ego continue to run unchecked.

So why was it so hard to choke out the words?

Amy held up her hands. ‘Kent’s not interested in me, Sue,’ she said.

‘I am well of that,’ Sue said, standing up. Her expression softened to something horribly like pity. ‘You haven’t put on that much weight. You should still be able to find some nerdy politician to marry you.’

Amy managed a nod. ‘You’re right. I will… look to that.’

Sue started to turn away. ‘Is he a good father?’ she asked.

‘Yeah.’ Amy folded her arms. ‘Don’t tell him.’

Sue gave her a look. ‘Of course not.’

***

Kent arrived at seven p.m. on Saturday night with a small bag of clothes and a cooler.

‘I’ve got beer,’ Amy said, as David ran around underfoot.

‘What? Oh. It’s not beer.’ Kent put down his bags and picked David up.

There was an uncomfortable, awkward moment. Kent was uneasy, unsure and uncertain how to hold David.

Then David wrapped his arms around Kent’s neck and rested his face in the crook of Kent’s shoulder.

Amy had to look away from the expression on Kent’s face. She took his cooler through to the kitchen and turned on the coffee machine. After a few minutes, she heard Kent and David talking. She took a few breaths, straightened her shoulders, and returned to the living room. David was running around, chattering breathlessly, and dragging out toys and books to show Kent.

She meant to intervene, to tell David that Kent needed a coffee, that he should calm down. She didn’t. He was so happy. So excited.

David noticed her in the doorway and came running over. He grabbed her by the hand.

‘Mama, help me show papa my cars?’

She glanced at Kent. He was just smiling. At David. At her.

‘Let papa put his bag away,’ Amy said. ‘He’s here all weekend. You’ve got plenty of time.’

***

‘I miss Milla,’ David said mournfully.

‘David, don’t speak with your mouth full,’ Amy said, stealing one of his fries. ‘Milla is on vacation, she’ll be back in a couple days.’

‘I miss her,’ David said.

‘I’m sure she misses you,’ Kent said.

Amy managed a smile and a nod. Milla was a great nanny, but it was her job. You get too invested in a job like that and it’d eat you alive.

‘Grandma misses me,’ David said.

Amy pulled a face at Kent, over David’s head. ‘My mom is a gusher.’

‘My mother misses me,’ Kent said to David.

‘You have a mama!’

‘She lives in Oregon. It’s a long distance.’

David looked at Amy in wide-eyed astonishment. ‘Papa has a mama!’

Amy nodded. ‘Uh-huh. I know.’

‘Do you have a papa?’ David asked.

Amy’s shoulders clenched but Kent shook his head easily.

‘No,’ Kent said. ‘My father wasn’t around when I was growing up.’

‘Why?’

Kent glanced at Amy. Just a glance, to see if she wanted to make an excuse. To back off.

She didn’t say anything.

‘I know that your mama has explained promises to you,’ Kent said. ‘And I know you’re a good boy who is kind and thoughtful. My father wasn’t a good person. He didn’t keep his promises. But my mother is a good person. She looked after me, the way your mama looks after you. You never have to worry because your mama and I will always love you and take care of you.’

David turned around, flung his arms around Amy’s shoulders, and hugged her tight.

***

‘You’ve been working on that speech a while,’ Amy said, watching him drying dishes.

‘He was going to ask sooner or later.’ He looked at her. ‘Too much?’

‘You don’t really think we’re good people?’

He snorted. ‘He’s far too young for a discussion about moral ambiguity and workplace ethics.’

Amy glanced at David, who utterly rapt “washing” the dishes she had stealthily taken from the dishwasher. ‘Was it true?’

‘Sure.’

‘Your dad just didn’t stick around? I thought you had sisters.’

‘Half-sisters,’ he said. ‘Younger. My father was a charming, cruel, philandering psychopath.’

‘And now you work for Selina.’

He chuckled. ‘She’s more of a narcissist. I apologise for making you uncomfortable. I see that was too much information.’

Amy bit her lower lip. ‘I’m not uncomfortable.’

‘The Selina joke was a deflection of discomfort. There’s no need to pretend, Amy. I’m not offended. I made you uneasy. That’s on me.’

‘I’m not a “feelings” person,’ she said.

‘Oh, I am well aware.’

‘Despite what Sue claims.’ Shit! She shouldn’t have said anything. Now he was going to think it was okay to discuss that whole fucking pile of flaming horseshit.

He looked over his shoulder at her. ‘What Sue claims?’

‘Nothing,’ Amy said automatically. ‘What did she did say when you told her you were coming here?’

He stared at her in incredulity. ‘You’ve been very clear about my not telling anyone about... this. Sue in particular.’

Amy pressed her hand to her forehead. ‘Sue knows that you’re David’s biological father. You have a photograph of him in your wallet. She says she sees it all the time because that’s where you keep your... affection balloons.’

‘What?’

She glanced at David, meaningfully. ‘Little rubber fun bubbles.’

Kent looked up at the ceiling and bit his lower lip.

‘Quit trying not to laugh,’ she grumbled.

He cleared his throat. ‘While I do have a photograph of David in my wallet, I wasn’t aware that she had seen it.’

‘She didn’t ask you about it?’

Kent flapped the dish towel at David’s butt, making him giggle.

‘Our conversations rarely progress to discussions of a personal nature,’ Kent said. ‘Sue isn’t very interested in talking.’

‘I wish she’d stop talking to me.’

It was meant to be funny. Or clever. He wasn’t meant to take it seriously. He wasn’t supposed to look concerned.

‘Is there a problem?’ he asked.

‘No.’ Amy rolled her eyes. ‘She’s paranoid.’

‘Sue is? I’ve never had that impression.’

‘She thinks... some women think every other woman is after their boyfriend. Like Dana. Gary’s girlfriend. She was delusional. She thought I was after Gary!’

Kent squinted at her. ‘Your being attracted to Gary seems unlikely.’

‘It’s always some pathetic loser and the girlfriend tries to bolster her ego by imagining other women are throwing themselves at him,’ Amy said. ‘No offense.’

Kent drew his brows together. ‘What?’

‘Sue thinks... she thinks I want to... snuggle with you.’

He raised his eyebrows so high she thought they were going to take off.

‘Did she think David was the result of some affair?’ he asked.

‘I... That would make a lot more sense,’ Amy said. ‘Can you explain to her?’

‘Sure.’

‘Great.’ Amy helped David down the little step, and then pulled the plug out of the sink. ‘Shi... Sugar. She asked me not to have secrets. She’s gonna be... peeved that you’re here.’

Kent nodded. ‘I’ll explain everything tomorrow.’

‘You never talk about this stuff with her?’ Amy asked. ‘What do you do on your dates?’

He followed them out of the kitchen. ‘We got to events. We go to restaurants.’

Amy smirked at him. ‘In silence?’

‘Not everyone is so uncomfortable in themselves and their relationships that they have to fill every moment with chatter,’ he said tartly.

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘And some of us aren’t emotionally constipated to the point of desperately avoid talking.’

Kent tilted. ‘You’re accusing someone else of being incapable of expressing their deeper and more vulnerable feelings. You, Amy Brookheimer.’

‘I don’t do that!’

‘Don’t fight!’ David tugged at her hand. ‘No fighting!’

‘We’re not fighting.’ Kent said, putting his hand on David’s head.

‘Your papa was teasing me.’ Amy said. ‘I didn’t mean to scare you.’

David glowered at Kent. ‘Don’t tease mama!’

‘It’s okay –’ Amy began.

Kent squatted down so he was at David’s level.

‘It’s a game,’ he said. ‘Mama and I were playing a game.’

David looked at Amy for confirmation.

‘That’s right,’ she said. ‘But sometimes people argue and that’s okay.’

David let out an annoyed snort, turned around, and stomped up the stairs.

‘Sorry,’ Kent said, standing up. ‘I think I made that worse.’

‘He’s a kid,’ Amy said. ‘They all want the world to be fair. No, they demand the world be fair. Christ knows why.’

Kent shrugged. ‘It’s innate. They’ve done experiments with monkeys where they were rewarded for tasks. When one monkey was rewarded with more desirable food for the same task, the others protested vociferously.’

Amy scanned his face, checked for signs it was a joke. ‘Seriously.’

‘Indeed so. Monkeys have a fierce sense of fair play.’

‘Maybe we should elect them.’

 

 

Chapter Text

It was weird showing Kent how to give David his bath. Not for David. He’d run around naked if he could get away with it. But Amy always gave David his bath. Always. She played with ducks. She spiked his wet hair into spikes or a little quiff. She made sure he didn’t somehow bang his head or otherwise slip under the water. She kept him safe. Now she had to sit and watch someone else do that. Someone she didn’t know or trust as much as she’d want to feel happy about it. Someone whose hands were shaking as he bathed David. Someone whose voice was higher and tighter than normal as he chatted to David.

She forced herself to go and peel back the covers of David’s bed. She dimmed the lights and plumped up the pillows. From the bathroom, she heard the rush of water as Kent took David out of the bath. Amy took a breath, closed her eyes for a second, and then walked back to the bathroom.

David was giggling as Kent attacked him with a towel.

‘Don’t get too excited, David,’ Amy said. ‘You won’t be able to sleep.’

‘No!’ David howled. ‘No sleep.’

Kent sheepishly stopped playing and rubbed David’s hair.

‘Papa is going to be here tomorrow,’ Amy said. ‘You’re not missing anything.’

‘Read me a story?’ David asked, looking up at Kent.

‘I’ll read your bed time stories,’ Amy said quickly. ‘Papa is busy.’

‘Right,’ Kent said. ‘I’ll read you bedtime stories tomorrow night.’

Amy’s stomach twisted into a sickening knot. ‘Yeah. Yeah. That’s... That’s right.’

***

She left David sprawled out across the bed, snoring lightly. It was deceptive. He looked as if a bomb wouldn’t rouse him but all it would take was a cough or a raised voice. 

She padded into the living room, where Kent was futzing around with his tablet. He glanced up as she walked into the room.

‘You wanna drink? ‘Amy asked. ‘I’ve got some wine, vodka, or whiskey.’

‘Wine sounds good,’ Kent said agreeably. ‘Is he okay?’

‘Dead to the world,’ Amy said, going to pour a couple of drinks.

She didn’t exactly entertain often and having another adult around late in the evening felt weirdly uncomfortable. When Kent visited at the weekend mornings David was a buffer between them. Now he was asleep and the evening stretched ahead for hours.

‘I wish Dan would stop calling,’ Kent muttered as she handed him a glass of wine.

‘Jesus, he called me six times during dinner,’ Amy said.

‘It’s reaching the point where I become concerned.’

Amy waved her hand as she sank into the couch. ‘He wanted the job. Let him deal with it.’

‘And, in the meantime, we are all bombarded with inane, babbling insanity.’

‘That’s nothing new,’ Amy sniffed. ‘Politics is full of insanity and inanity. Not even counting Selina.’

Kent snorted. ‘Of all the things, I might complain about Selina, insanity would be low on the list.’

Amy sipped her wine and reached down to rub her feet. ‘That’s gotta be a long list.’

He smiled slightly. ‘Complaining about one’s employer is a time-honoured tradition.’

‘I never hear you bitching about POTUS,’ she said.

He put his tablet aside. ‘I rarely hear you criticize Selina.’

‘I just did, with the Dan thing.’

Kent sipped his wine. ‘If you did, it was extremely indirect.’

‘Have you met Selina?’ Amy retorted. ‘The woman cannot take criticism.’

Kent nodded. ‘It’s an oddly common issue for politicians given that they are constantly criticised.’

‘Most of them deserve it.’

He crossed his legs. ‘Have you always worked in politics?’

‘Straight out of college,’ Amy said.

‘Where did you go?’

‘Penn State,’ she said giving a weak first pump. ‘Where did you go? What’s the college of choice for math guys?’

Kent brushed his trousers. ‘MIT. I studied Math and Musicology.’

Amy gaped at him. ‘Musicology? Why... why?’

‘There’s a great deal of math in music,’ Kent said. ‘Particularly in systematic musicology.’

‘Music is not a job,’ Amy said.

‘Academia is an extremely broad church.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘You’re not an academic.’

He rested his head on his fist. ‘I’ve dabbled.’

‘Jesus, I cannot think of anything more boring,’ Amy said.

He took another sip of wine. ‘Evidently you’re unaware of just how vicious and backbiting academia can be.’

Amy swung her legs up onto the couch. ‘I’m marginally more interested.’

‘It could give politics a good run.’

Amy reached down to adjust her skirt. ‘Now if you’d told me that a motorcycle gang was vicious and back biting it would be a more natural fit.’

He pursed his lips. ‘I don’t think that I ever said that I was in a gang. I don’t believe I even said I was in a club.’

Amy laughed. ‘I saw your biker jacket,’ she said. ‘It had the name on the back. Google is a thing. Your gang has got some bad press.’

Kent pulled an expression of playful annoyance. ‘We have been unfairly targeted by law enforcement.’

‘Everyone is so fucking mean to biker gangs,’ Amy said, pouting.

‘I would make fun of one of your outside interests,’ Kent said. ‘But of course you don’t have any.’

‘I don’t have time for motor biking or music or any of the nine billion things you seem to do.’

Kent swirled his glass of wine. ‘You say lack of time, but I hear lack of creativity.’

‘I’m creative!’ she protested.

‘Really.’

Amy stood up and grabbed his glass. ‘I can create like a motherfucker.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘To get more wine.’

Kent shook his head. ‘Lack of creativity.’

‘What? You want me to... engineer some kind of machine to fetch wine?’

Kent chuckled. ‘Sure. Or you could just bring the bottle in here. David’s already in bed.’

‘Smartass.’

***

‘I couldn’t deal with it,’ Amy said. ‘I could not have someone else telling me what to do.

‘Selina tells you what to do.’

‘She’s my boss, we’re not fucking!’

‘Shame.’

Amy punched his arm. They were sat together on the floor, drinking wine and eating pizza.

‘That’s it, I’m suing you... For making the workplace creepy.’

Kent ticked off his fingers. ‘One, we’re not at work. Two, I was only saying it’s a shame you aren’t in a relationship since I know you seem interested in one. Three, ow.’

‘Four, that’s bullshit. You meant that you find the idea of us fucking to be H.O.T. Hot!’

He tilted his head. ‘I would never sexualise a co-worker. That would be inexcusable.’

‘You’re dating Sue.’

‘I don’t fantasise about her with other women,’ Kent protested. ‘She’s very old fashioned in certain ways.’

Amy gestured at the program on screen. ‘That old fashioned?’

He gave her a look that was just fractionally cockeyed. ‘She’s not an ancient Roman.’

‘Oxen of the world will be grateful,’ Amy said. ‘What even was that with all the blood?’

Kent shrugged. ‘Animal sacrifice.’

‘Gross.’ Amy waggled her feet. ‘Is she supposed to be evil? She’s fucking that guy and having him kill people.’

‘The murders are certainly morally problematic. The fucking is less so.’

 Amy grinned slyly. ‘You said fucking.’

‘You said it first.’

‘That’s your excuse? Mr Cold-As-Ice said fucking. This is huge.’

His expression dropped. ‘You think I’m cold?’

Amy opened and closed her mouth. ‘I... fuck! That’s your thing, right? Cold and calm and professional.’

He didn’t answer.

After a minute, Amy nudged him with her elbow. ‘Don’t fucking sulk.’

‘Don’t tell me what to do.’ He got up abruptly, snatched up his glass, and walked into the kitchen.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Amy heaved herself to her feet and followed him into the kitchen. He was washing his glass.

‘Don’t be a pussy,’ Amy said, leading against the sink next to him.

‘You people are hysterical, panicky idiots. At the first problem, you run around screaming and waving then your arms like… Kermit the frog.’

Amy stared at him incredulously and then sniggered. ‘I would be Kermit.’

‘You would.’

‘You’d be one of those guys who sit in the balcony and bitch,’ Amy said.

Kent pulled a face. ‘That feels lazy.’

‘And Selina is Miss Piggy,’ Amy said.

‘Again, lazy,’ he said.

Amy flicked his nose. ‘Pussy.’

Kent swatted her hand away. ‘Don’t try to charm me, I remain annoyed.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Hey, it’s not me. People call you cold and robotic. If it was just me then that would be on me. Everyone says it then it’s on you.’

A muscle jumped in his cheek. ‘Cold and robotic are not synonyms.’

‘Absolutely not,’ she said. ‘That’s the important thing.’

Kent shook his head. ‘I’m going home,’ he said. ‘I’ll come back in the morning.’

‘Fuck! Kent...’ Amy grabbed his arm. ‘I’m sorry. Jesus. If I’d known you’d get bent out of shape I wouldn’t have said anything.’

‘That’s not an apology,’ he complained.

‘Ben says way worse to you three times an hour.’

‘Ben isn’t you,’ Kent said.

Amy looked away. ‘I fucked up.’

‘It’s a sore point,’ Kent said quietly, relaxing slightly. ‘My social skills aren’t what I would like.’

‘Right. Shit.’ Amy covered her face with her hands. ‘I fucking know that. You’ve got like autism or something.’

‘You should probably stop talking,’ Kent suggested.

Amy dropped her hands. ‘Don’t go home. Please?’

‘Okay,’ Kent said. 

‘We don’t want David to associate you staying with me leaving,’ Amy said.

‘I understand the logic of staying an extra night,’ Kent said. He sighed. ‘It’s a sore point.’

‘Yeah. You said.’ Amy flipped back a lock of hair. ‘Come back to the living room, okay? We’re missing all the half-naked people on the world’s most sweaty, bloody BBC show.’

‘Actually, Rome was co-produced with HBO,’ Kent said.

‘But with the BBC, right?’

‘Indeed.’

Amy shook her head. ‘Figures. Fucking HBO. All that fucking bad language and sex taints everything.’

***

Kent was sleeping in David’s room. Since David’s room was decorated with cartoon spaceships and aliens, this was a somewhat surreal juxtaposition.  Amy could have let Kent have her room and sleep in David’s room with David, but that was a step too far. She was more comfortable with Kent then she ever expected to be. More comfortable than she was comfortable with. Yet the idea of him in her bedroom, her particularly personal space, was nails on a chalkboard unpleasant.

She left him in David’s bedroom and went into her own room. She tidied up a little before she got changed into a t-shirt and climbed into bed. She turned on her side and closed her eyes.

She could hear the floorboards creaking as Kent moved around David’s bedroom. He’d insisted that he would be fine in a sleeping bag on the floor. Amy hadn’t slept on the floor since she was nine years old and she wasn’t about to break that winning streak now.

Amy rolled onto her back. She could hear him trying to make himself comfortable. Maybe she should’ve let him sleep in her bedroom. That would’ve been the decent thing to do.

He was there to do her a pretty huge favour after all, and without making a fuss or demanding anything in return. He’d been like that pretty much since he’d learned about David, and in response she’d been suspicious and edgy.

But there had to be a price, right? There was always a price.

Amy heard the floorboards creak again, and heard David’s bedroom door open. She took a breath and looked towards the door. Kent’s footsteps were growing closer.

She put her hand over her mouth to smell her breath. Then tugged her shirt down a little, showing a hint of cleavage.

He was outside her door now.

She bit her lip.

He walked past. After a few seconds, she heard him go into the bathroom.

***

David didn’t wake her up. David always woke her up. She checked the time. Definitely past time he was awake. Was he sick? Was something wrong?

Shit.

She crawled out of bed and staggered out into the corridor.

David’s bedroom door was open a crack. Amy knocked but walked in immediately. Nobody there.

She tumbled downstairs, following the faint sound of crockery. She threw open the kitchen door and stopped. David was mixing a big bowl of batter with a wooden spoon while Kent was juicing oranges and mangos.

‘Hi mama!’

Amy forced herself to catch her breath. ‘Hey baba.’ She kissed his forehead. ‘What’re you doing?’

‘Making you breakfast in bed.’

Kent was looking extremely uncomfortable. ‘I didn’t feel that we should wake you,’ he said.

‘Okay.’ Amy tried to look nonchalant. ‘Okay. I’m just... used to David waking me,’ she said. ‘When he didn’t I was a little... startled.’

Kent nod a little too much. ‘Understood.’ He cleared his throat. ‘On a somewhat related note, are you aware that you’re not wearing any underwear?’

She didn’t look. She refused to look. She refused to acknowledge the pounding in her ears and the burning that was flooding her face.

‘Give me your shirt, please.’

He had it unbuttoned before she finished asking.

‘Go back to bed, mama,’ David said.

‘We’ll bring your pancakes up,’ Kent said. ‘And some coffee and juice.’

Amy wrapped his shirt around her waist and avoided looking at his toned, bare arms, or the hint of chest hair at the V of his undershirt.

‘I will... do that,’ she said.

***

David came running in without knocking, of course. Kent had given him a napkin and a spoon to hold. If it had been juice then it would have been all over the floor.

‘May I come in?’ Kent asked from the corridor.

‘Sure,’ Amy said as David clambered onto the bed beside her. ‘Too late to worry about modesty.’

‘I didn’t look,’ Kent said, walking in. ‘Beyond the initial.’

Amy ruffled David’s hair. ‘I know.’

‘I made these,’ David said.

Amy accepted the tray from Kent. ‘Did you cook them?’

David shook his head. Continually disappointed at the stupidity of adults. ‘I can’t cook! I’m too little.’

‘I told him it was time he got a job,’ Kent said. ‘He laughed at me.’

David laughed anew, delighted at the thought.

Amy pointed her fork at the bed. ‘Sit down already. Please. You want some pancake?’

‘I had a banana,’ Kent said.

Amy gave him a look. ‘Eat a... damn pancake.’

‘Yes ma’am,’ he said obediently.

Amy kissed David’s forehead. ‘You remember that papa is going to be looking after you today and tonight while I’m away?’

‘Yes, mama,’ he groaned. ‘You tolded me.’

‘I have a favour to ask,’ Kent said to her. ‘I’m about to call Sue to explain the situation, as we discussed last night. I think she might be happier if I could invite her around for dinner.’

Amy clenched her jaw. ‘David, you remember my friend, Sue. Is it okay if she comes to dinner?’

‘Okay,’ he said carelessly.

Amy shrugged. ‘There you go.’

Kent licked his lips. ‘If it makes you uncomfortable...’

‘If it makes me uncomfortable then it’s tough... it’s too bad,’ Amy said. ‘As long as your priority is David and not your date.

He almost recoiled. ‘Of course.’

‘Okay. Good. Great.’

Kent helped David cut up a pancake. ‘She’ll leave after dinner,’ he said. ‘I understand that this is the first time you’ve spent any time away from David. I take that responsibility seriously.’

Amy thought of his shaking hands when he bathed David, and the bag of childcare books and DVDs he thought she didn’t know about in his luggage.

‘I know that,’ Amy said.

He was quiet for a long moment. ‘We could come to Detroit...’

‘No, you couldn’t. Selina would pitch a fit if you weren’t in the Eisenhower co-ordinating everything.’

‘True.’

Amy shrugged. ‘Thanks. You know. For the thought.’

Kent clasped his hands together. ‘I did think... I brought you some cookies but I’m a little wary you might be offended.’

‘Cookies?’ Amy repeated. ‘What kind of... Oh, tell me you didn’t bring pot into my house!’

‘It’s legal –’

‘I have a kid!’

Kent growled in frustration. The growling knocked Amy back. It was... distracting.

‘I’m not an idiot,’ he said. ‘They’re in a triple-locked bag.’

Amy pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead. ‘Okay. I know you have a good reason for bringing pot into my house. Tell me what it is.’

‘I brought some cookies for you to take with you,’ Kent said. ‘The dosage is extremely low. I think you might find being away from David... challenging and you might benefit from something to help you disperse your anxiety.’

Amy sipped her coffee. ‘You want me to get high?’

‘I could argue that when you ate those muffins you were happier and more relaxed than I’ve ever seen you. But no, there are six cookies each with a sixth of the dose in one of those muffins. If you eat them all at once you may be a little buzzed.’ He tipped his head. ‘Would you eat six cookies all at once?’

Amy rolled her eyes at him. ‘What flavour?’

‘Rum and raisin.’

‘Ew,’ David said.

‘Yeah, nasty,’ Amy said to him. ‘Don’t eat papa’s cookies. Yuck.’

‘I got the recipe from a British cookbook,’ Kent said.

Amy snorted. ‘That’s where you went wrong.’

‘If I’ve offended you then I apologise,’ Kent said.

Amy pulled a face. ‘I’m not offended. Maybe by the flavour. Didn’t you have chocolate or fudge?’

He nodded at David. ‘I was attempting to avoid them being attractive.’

‘Good job,’ she said grudgingly. She pushed her hair back and looked away. ‘Thanks. It was a nice idea.’

‘I’ll keep the phone next to me tonight,’ he said. ‘ln case you call.’

‘Great.’

‘Ten or twenty times.’ 

Amy throw a pillow at him. ‘You think you’re funny, but you’re not.’

***

She kept it together while she got ready. Even when she hugged David tightly and kissed his forehead.

‘Cuddle papa,’ David said.

Anyone else and Amy would have thought they’d put David up to it. But Kent looked genuinely startled.

‘Cuddle papa,’ David urged.

‘Okay, fine.’

She expected Kent to be awkward and uncomfortable. He wasn’t. He hugged her gently, squeezed her warmly, and kissed her cheek.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw David, who looked ecstatic.

Shit, shit. Shit.

She made it to the car. She made it half way to the freeway then she had to pull over, put her head in her hands, and just fucking lose it.

 

Chapter Text

She didn’t eat the cookies. That is to say she didn’t eat the cookies until six o’clock on the first evening. After a day of Selina, Mike, and Ray, ugh, she ran back to her room for a long bath before dinner. It wasn’t until she reached her room, and felt an overwhelming disappointment, that she realised that she had subconsciously been counting down until she would see David.

She drew a bath. Ate a cookie in two bites. Steeled herself. Called home.

Kent answered immediately. Before she could do more than say “hello” he asked if she wanted to Facetime with David.

David was insanely excited. He babbled for a solid five minutes before he seemed to even pause for breath.

At one point, David ran off to grab a present that Kent had given him. He came back clutching a tiny lab coat with a printed ID badge and toy medical instruments in the pockets.

‘Oh, that’s so cool,’ Amy said. ‘Are you being a doctor?’

‘I’m the doctor and papa’s the patient,’ David said. ‘When you come home I’ll be the doctor and you’ll be the patient and papa will be the nurse. When are you home, mama?’

‘I’ll be home the day after tomorrow,’ Amy said. ‘You having fun with papa? Is he looking after you?’

David nodded, looking a little distracted. ‘I miss Milla.’

‘She’ll be back tomorrow,’ Amy said. ‘Okay?’

‘Okay.’ David put on the lab coat and waggled his toy stethoscope at Amy. ‘I’m a doctor!’

‘You’ll be a great doctor.’

David grinned and then turned away. ‘Papa! Mama wants to talk to you!’ he yelled.

‘I didn’t say that,’ Amy protested, but he had jogged away. ‘I didn’t say that,’ she complained, when Kent appeared.

Kent smiled slightly. ‘He’s been doing that for a while.’

Amy pushed back her hair. ‘He seems happy.’

‘I think he’s missing you,’ Kent said mildly. ‘But that’s normal and natural. He’ll be okay.’

Amy set her shoulders. ‘We have to do it sooner or later. Right?’

‘Amy, I know this is hard,’ Kent said. ‘Perhaps tomorrow Milla could bring him out to you?’

She hesitated for a moment. ‘No, it’s not practical.’

‘If the issue is money...’

Amy shook her head. ‘You think I’d put him through this just for money?’

Kent reddened. ‘Money is the only aid I can give. I would like to help. I know this must be difficult.’

She nodded and looked away. ‘My folks keep telling me we’ve both got to get used to it. This is as good a time as any.’

‘If it’s any small consolation, we kept him in the vice president’s office without any complications. The bullpen staff knew I had a young relative in there but they didn’t see him clearly. I primarily worked in there today, so he didn’t feel lonesome.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Selina made a huge fucking fuss about being gracious enough to do that. Like it wasn’t her fault for screwing me over by announcing the trip without giving me any notice.’

Kent glanced away while she was talking. Normally that would bother her, but David was exactly the age where you couldn’t look away from him for long, because Christ knew what he was getting up to.’

‘She’s been annoying you recently,’ Kent observed.

Amy blew out her cheeks. ‘She doesn’t annoy you?’

‘I was merely inviting you to vent,’ Kent said.

‘Yeah. Well. I don’t do that.’ She folded her arms. ‘Is Sue there?’

‘Shortly. She’s picking up takeout on the way over.’

Amy nodded. ‘Okay. Don’t let her boss David around. You seem weirdly okay with her ordering you around but she can’t do that to him. Or read him a bedtime story.’

Kent took a long, slow breath. ‘Sue is not usurping your position.’

‘Just saying,’ Amy said. ‘I want my son growing up witnessing respectful relationships. That all. Sue doesn’t respect you.’

A muscle tightened in his jaw. ‘I’ll keep my cell charged in case you need to call and speak to David.’

‘Okay,’ Amy said. ‘Fine.’

Fuck.

***

Amy ate a pot cookie in the bath while drinking prosecco and ranting to herself about assholes who wouldn’t understand when people were trying to help them out. After a little while though she got a wash of warmth and felt herself ease a little deeper into the water. What was Kent’s problem? Did he want someone to treat him like a servant? Amy put her glass aside. Was that what he was into?

She slid her hands under the water.

It was warm in the bathroom, and there wasn’t a window, so the hot, moist air swirled around, deepening and thickening. It caught in Amy’s hair and skin, clinging to the downy hair on her arms and the nape of her neck. She closed her eyes and tipped her head back.

Is that what Kent and Sue did together privately? Did he like... Amy stroked her fingers across her chest and belly. Had he wanted that, in Amy’s hotel room? When he pulled Amy onto his lap, when she raked her nails over his chest, was it what he wanted?

Amy grunted quietly. Eyes still closed. Fingers still moving.

She knew he liked her. Not in the sweaty, grabby way. Not even in the arch, knowing way. He liked her. He never did or said anything about it. There was never any suggestion that he expected anything. There was no uncomfortable tension. It was weird. She liked it. She liked the way he treated her as an equal. She liked the way he looked at her. When she pulled his hair as she came, when she bit his shoulder, had it been what he wanted?

They’d both been drinking, sure. He was drowning his sorrows. Dumped by some contemptuous academic who he seemed to spend his life apologising to. Amy had never met her, but she overheard the tone on the phone, the awful demanding, sneering tone she used with Kent. He didn’t deserve his unhappiness at being dumped.

‘You can do better,’ Amy said.

‘No,’ he said. ‘I can’t.’

‘Fuck your self-pity,’ Amy said. ‘You keep thinking you won’t get better and you won’t. Suck it up. Order another drink.’

‘You seem particularly... acerbic tonight,’ Kent said.

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘My sperm all died.’

He was sufficiently sober to think about it before he answered. He was sufficiently drunk to ask what she meant.

Amy heard and did not hear the water sloshing against the sides of the bath. The fingers touching her were the memory of his fingers. The memory of his breath on her neck brought a shiver.

‘Is this what you want?’ he asked.

‘Yes.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Do you want me to fucking beg?’

She had begged: harder, slower, faster, more, don’t stop... don’t stop... uh... ugh... ohh...

Amy lay back in the bath. She let out a breath and opened her eyes.

Fuck!

It didn’t mean anything. None of it meant anything.

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

***

The night was bad. She called Kent twice, once after midnight. Her call woke him and he stumbled awake, into David’s room, accidentally flashing his legs and boxers at Amy. He balanced the phone on the dresser so she could watch David sleeping for a few minutes.

‘Thanks,’ she said, when Kent returned and took the cell out of the room. ‘I just... I need to see him.’

Kent nodded. ‘I understand.’

Amy looked at his clear exhaustion and complete lack of annoyance or anger. ‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘I know you do.’

She didn’t sleep well, but another pot cookie helped her drift off. She woke before dawn.

Fuck.

She wasn’t a gym person. She didn’t do yoga. Getting up early wasn’t going to help her be healthier or happier. It just sucked.

She texted Kent, checking on David, and turned on the TV. She should probably check the eighty messages she had from Dan, but she knew they would all be bullshit. Ditto the ones from Jonah, who seemed to think that Amy would suddenly find him a valid romantic prospect now he was working for Maddox. Ugh.

Her cell chimed: a video from Kent. Amy sat up and leaned back against the headboard and played the video. David was sat in Kent’s lap playing with a toy fire truck and making a siren noise. At Kent’s prompting, David turned around, waved at the camera, and happily said hello.

Just ‘hi, Mama!’ like nothing was wrong. He was just having a whale of a time without her. He didn’t need her. He barely even fucking knew she wasn’t there.

He didn’t need her.

Amy threw her cell aside and buried herself under the bedclothes.

***

‘What is your fucking problem?’ Dan asked, briefly stopping in his rollercoaster of hysteria to glower at Amy.

‘Get out of my face before I break your neck,’ Amy said.

Dan sat down abruptly. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing.’

Dan’s eye twitched. ‘Okay, I have no time to deal with subtext or complexity –’

‘No kidding.’

‘So just fucking tell me, get it off your chest, and we can move on with our lives and our jobs,’ Dan said.

Amy threw up her hands. ‘David is with his dad while we’re here in the land of the carpocalypse. His dad sent him me a video of David just being... so fucking happy with me not being there.’

Dan stared at him. ‘Are you kidding me? He’s not going to admit anything else. He probably filled David full of candy and soda. David probably burst into tears right after. Jesus. Your baby daddy doesn’t want to admit David is missing you insanely. Get a fucking grip!’

Amy blinked. ‘Okay. You might have a point.’

‘Pull yourself together for fuck’s sake,’ Dan said, standing up. ‘David’s not gonna prefer some asshole he met five minutes ago to the woman who has raised him and would attack wolves to protect him. Get with it.’

‘Oh,’ Amy said. She watched him stomp away. ‘Okay.’

She checked her watch. Milla wouldn’t have arrived yet. Shit. She took out her cell.

‘Amy,’ Sue said. ‘Is there a problem?’

‘Just wanted to check if everything went okay yesterday,’ she said. ‘Not sure Kent would tell me if it wasn’t.’

Sue harrumphed. There was no other word for it. It was oddly impressive.

‘David was very clingy with Kent,’ she said. ‘He clearly misses you terribly.’

Amy tensed. ‘He does?’

‘I should have lied.’

‘No. The truth is... better,’ Amy said.

‘David also refused to let us sit together and interrupted attempts at affection,’ Sue said. ‘Did you prime him to do that?’

‘What? What the fuck are you talking about?’

Sue’s voice took on a hard tone. ‘Your son refused to let Kent and I sit together on the couch. He threw tantrums and demanded to sit between us. He also yelled at us when we held hands or otherwise expressed affection. Kent had to send him to his room for a time out.’

‘What? I didn’t know anything about this!’

‘That is hardly my concern,’ Sue said coldly.

Amy gulped coffee. ‘How long was David in his room?’

She almost heard Sue rolling her eyes.

‘Barely five minutes,’ she said. ‘He began crying and Kent went to comfort him.’

‘Fuck, was he okay?’ Amy asked.

Sue made an irritable sound. ‘He spent the rest of the evening on Kent’s lap until he fell asleep. I would say so.’

***

It took the rest of the cookies to get Amy through the day. The cookies and several calls to Milla and David. David hardly seemed to remember the upset the night before, and was much more interested in asking Amy when she would be home. “Tomorrow” was not an answer that made him very happy.

She considered calling Kent, but decided it could wait until she saw him. He hadn’t lied, exactly, but he hadn’t told her about the problem he’d had with David.

She knew why. He hadn’t wanted her to worry. It was as predictable as it was annoying.

‘Did papa look after you when you were upset?’ she asked David.

‘Yes, Mama,’ he said, a little warily.

‘Were you a good boy for him?’

‘Yes!’

Amy ran her fingers through her hair. ‘The elf on the shelf told me that you had to have a time out. Why was that?’

There was a long pause. ‘I don’t know.’

Fuck. She should’ve waited to have this conversation with him in person. ‘Okay, baba. Tell me what you’ve been doing today.’

***

Milla and David were waiting at the airport. David charged across to Amy and flung his arms around her as she ducked down to pick him up.

‘Mama! Mama! Mama!’

Amy pushed her faced into his hair and smelled his clean, fresh scent. ‘I missed you.’

As Selina and the other staffers walked off, Amy heard Selina mutter something about it only being a couple of days, but Amy didn’t care. She settled David against her should and gratefully handed her bag to Milla.

When she turned, she saw Catherine looking at them with a strange expression.

‘What?’ Amy asked.

‘Nothing,’ Catherine said, but she hung back beside Amy and Milla as they headed toward the exit. ‘He normally comes with you, doesn’t he?’

‘Yeah.’ Amy rubbed his back. ‘But Milla’s parents had their thirtieth anniversary.’

Catherine chewed a piece of her hair. Amy looked away.

‘But it works right? There’s no rules against it?’ Catherine asked.

Amy gave her a look. ‘Rules?’

‘Foreign governments,’ Catherine said. ‘They don’t make rules against it?’

‘They don’t give a damn. Maybe if Milla was Libyan or something.’

‘Nobody cares about Poles,’ Milla said cheerfully.

Catherine ignored it. ‘But there’s no rule against David?’

‘He’s a little boy, not a puppy,’ Amy said. ‘He doesn’t have to go into quarantine.’

David barked like a dog, and then grinned over his shoulder at Catherine. She gave him a wobbly smile. ‘My mom always... um...’

Amy gave her a non-committal shrug. ‘We’re off to London soon, aren’t we, David?’

‘Oh, I would love to go to London!’ Catherine said. ‘My mom always said the UK wouldn’t... wouldn’t allow kids in.’

Amy sighed. ‘I’m tired, Catherine, I realise that you’re working through something, but I really just want to go home and play with my son. So let’s just get to it: your mom didn’t take you because she didn’t want to. I take David with me when I travel because I want to. Does that pretty much want answer all your questions?’

‘Yes thank you,’ Catherine said. ‘No, wait. Is it worth it?’

Amy was already nodding. ‘It absolutely is.’

***

Kent and Sue were... prickly with each other. It was one of the first things that Amy noticed when they were all back in the office. She hadn’t spoken to him since Milla had come home, so it took her aback. Not that he would’ve volunteered to tell her there was a problem in his relationship. Ever since Amy told him that Sue would screw him over, he played that close to his chest. It suited Amy just fine. Nobody wanted to discuss other people’s relationships.

‘What’s going on with you and Sue?’ Amy wondered, strolling into Kent’s office and kicking the door shut.

He pursed his lips. ‘What has she said?’

‘Nothing, but I’ve got eyes.’

Kent sat back in his chair. ‘David must be pleased to have you home.’

Amy shrugged. ‘He wrapped around me like a limpet and wouldn’t let go until he fell asleep.’

Kent smiled. ‘Are you sure he was the one who wouldn’t let go?’

She flicked back her hair. ‘I hear you had to give him a time out.’

Kent licked his lips. ‘I’ve seen you do that when he was misbehaving.’

‘I’m his mother!’ Amy said.

‘I’m his father,' Kent said.

Amy caught her breath. Kent swallowed.

‘Wow,’ she said.

‘Amy –’

‘Since fucking when?’ she demanded. ‘Just because he calls you “papa” doesn’t mean you have any god damn rights! If he called you “bunny” that wouldn’t make you a fucking rabbit!’

Kent’s jaw tightened. ‘I didn’t initially consider myself to be his father because we didn’t have any kind of a relationship. I hadn’t earned the right to be his father.’

Amy’s mouth twisted into a sneer. ‘And you think because you’ve babysat him overnight you’ve earned something?’

Kent looked up at the ceiling for a moment, clearly considering his response. ‘No. I think that I’m his father now because I’ve developed a relationship with him and I’m a father to him in every way that you’ll allow.’

‘That’s not what we agreed!’

Kent tilted his head. ‘You changed that agreement when you asked me to meet him,’ he said.

‘Oh, come on,’ Amy said, but her tone wavered.

‘Don’t insult us both by pretending that you weren’t aware of it,’ Kent said. ‘You knew when you invited me up to your room that one day David might want a relationship with me. When you asked me to visit David, it was in the clear knowledge that we might bond.’

Amy shook her head. ‘This isn’t what we agreed!’

Kent leaned forward and tentatively patted her hand. ‘Okay, I was looking after David. I’m sure that Milla has your authority to discipline him if he misbehaves.’

‘She always tells me!’ Amy snapped.

Kent thought about it, and nodded. ‘You’re right. I should’ve told you. David was very disruptive, which I understood since he was missing you. I tried to reassure him but he was in no mood to be comforted. He became hysterical to the point where he wasn’t responding to physical or verbal reassurance. I decided a time out was necessary. After a few minutes, David calmed down from screaming to tears. I brought him downstairs and he was happy to sit with us and watch television.’

Amy covered her eyes with her hands. ‘Why didn’t you call and have me talk to him?’

‘It would have upset him more,’ Kent said quietly. ‘David was my priority, not you. I’m sorry you’re upset, but I’m not going to apologise for my priorities.’

Amy dropped her hand. ‘You know I don’t want that. What the fuck do you want think I am?’

Kent sighed. ‘Apologies. I’m afraid that angry women tend to spur a rather primal response in me.’

‘You and your mommy issue,’ Amy said, but her hackles were coming down. ‘I don’t get what happened,’ she said. ‘He was fine with Milla and you’ve looked after him plenty of times.’

Kent was quiet for a long moment. ‘Not with Sue present.’

Amy’s stomach clenched. ‘But he’s met Sue in a bunch of times.’

‘I’m reminded of his issue with your partner Ed,’ Kent said. ‘He certainly didn’t strike Sue but he was strongly opposed to our sitting together or demonstrating affection. Perhaps he simply doesn’t wish to share attention.’

‘Fuck,’ Amy said. ‘He’s going to be the kid who is constantly demanding everyone look at him.’

‘Perhaps if he were to spend more time with mixed groups of children and adults?’

‘Makes sense,’ Amy said grudgingly. ‘I’ll sort something out before London.’

‘Good.’ Kent tapped his thumbs together. ‘Amy, I understand that this was very difficult for you both. I hope that my handling of the matter hasn’t damaged our friendship.’

Amy shook her head. ‘No, I get it. You’re his –’ The words caught in his chest. ‘You did the right thing.’

Disappointment washed across his face, but he looked away. ‘I didn’t want you to worry,’ he said quietly. ‘It was under control.’

Amy forced a laugh. ‘Sue actually asked if I’d put David up to it.’

‘What? Why would you... oh.’ Kent looked away. ‘I’m afraid she thought perhaps David didn’t want her there out of some childish matchmaking impulse.’

Oh fuck. ‘Because of the hug?’ Amy asked.

Kent smiled slightly. ‘Milla told me he’s been doing that to everyone.’

‘He made you hug, Milla?’ Amy asked.

He chuckled. ‘Yes, and then he asked us to shake hands.’

She rolled her eyes. ‘I think we both know where he got that from.’

‘About that...’ Kent clasped his hands together. ‘Perhaps I overstepped my bounds.’

Amy tightly crossed her arms. ‘You’re… you’re his father. Just as long as we both know that I’m the final word here. Not you. Mama trumps papa.’

Kent let out a deep breath. ‘Thank you.’ He looked her in the eye. ‘Mama will always trump papa. I don’t believe that would ever be in question.’

Amy stood up. ‘I’ll agree that you can have an opinion.’

‘And I’ll agree that you can completely ignore it?’ Kent suggested.

‘Perfect.’

He gave a tiny, relieved smile. ‘That went better than I might have hoped.’

Amy flashed a smile. ‘Plenty of time for it to go to shit.’

        

Chapter Text

When Amy was seven, she was doing some shitty dance recital when Jessica Shandling, that stupid, smug, little bitch hissed “you stink!” as Amy danced past her. Amy cut her eyes at Jessica, kept her temper until Jessica danced past, and stood on the lace of Jessica’s pump. She wanted Jessica to fall over, or at least trip but she didn’t.

Immediately.

Instead the ribbon gradually unwound for several minutes, until finally her pump slipped off and she stumbled; crashing into three other dancers, who fell against five others, who knocked over nine others, and so one, and so on, until the entire company were on the floor, crying, moaning, or calling for their mommies.

Oops.

It was a memory that Amy was reminded of as her leak to Jonah picked up momentum, destroyed Selina’s approval rating, and toppled Dan into a nervous breakdown.

Oops.

Except it wasn’t the same, not really. The stuff that Ray had written could be found by anyone! It had taken Amy only a couple of hours to find it. She hadn’t created it. And she hadn’t made Dan implode. If he couldn’t handle a bit of negative press then he was in the wrong job. Selina was to blame for giving him a job he couldn’t handle. Dan was to blame for being such a weak, pathetic asshole. Ray was to blame for writing that bullshit in the first place. Selina was to blame (again) for sleeping with the brainless sack of steroids, and Dan was to blame (again) for hiring him. Amy wasn’t to blame. Hell, she had done them all a favour by nudging Dan at early enough that the campaign was salvageable. she had nothing to feel guilty about. She didn’t.

***

Amy knocked on Kent’s hotel room door. She jiggled her cell in her hand and then knocked again. Then she knocked again.

‘Alright!’ Ken yanked open the door. He was clearly about to make some retort when he registered that it was Amy stood before him.

‘Amy. What…?’

She pushed past him into his room. There were clothes all over the place and an open novel face-down on the bed.

‘Hey, you wanna come help me celebrate? Obviously, you’re not my first choice, but we’re in a different country, and my options are limited. So you wanna help me paint the town red? You’ve been in London before, right?’

 He hesitated. ‘In general terms, I would and I have but, enlighten me. What are we celebrating?’

 Amy bounced up and down on her toes. ‘I got the campaign manager job! Deservedly so, I’d say.’

Kent put his hands on his waist. ‘But Dan is in hospital having suffered a severe panic attack.’

Amy waved her hands. ‘Oh pfft, he’s a big boy. He’ll get over it.’ She grinned at him. ‘So, are we going or what?’

Kent was quiet for a long moment. ‘Amy, what did you do?’ he asked.

‘Nothing! Nothing! I didn’t do anything, why would you think I did anything? I didn’t do anything. Obviously.’

Kent sighed. ‘You planted the story with Jonah.’

Amy shook her head. ‘No. No. No. I didn’t do that! Why would you even think that?’

He rubbed his face. ‘Because I know you. If you had simply been gifted with this position due to Dan’s failure rather than your own ability you wouldn’t wish to celebrate. That you do, suggests to me that you are taking his failure as a personal success.’

She rolled her eyes. ‘Okay, fine! I planted the story. What’s your problem? You hate Dan!’

He squeezed the bridge of his nose. ‘You damaged the campaign, Amy. That you betrayed Dan, your friend, is something that you’ll have to live with. Damaging the campaign to further your personal ambition… that’s a bigger issue.’

Amy crossed her arms. ‘Are you going to support me or are you gonna whine about the campaign?’

Kent pursed his lips. ‘Of course I’m going to support you. Work is one thing. Personal is… something else entirely.’

‘Great,’ she said. ‘Let’s go.’

***

They went to… three bars, maybe? She wasn’t sure. She wasn’t paying enough attention. She had a couple of drinks in the first bar. Okay, okay, maybe it was more like five drinks. Then they went… somewhere and Kent insisted on getting something to eat. Amy didn’t exactly complain. Even if British food was always either carbs, fat, or both. It definitely hit the spot.

‘These are amazing,’ Amy said with her mouth full. ‘What are they called?’

‘Pork scratchings,’ Kent said.

‘That sounds fucking disgusting,’ she said.

‘You’re the one eating them,’ Kent said.

‘Gimmie some more of those steak fries.’

Kent propped his chin on his fist. ‘They call those “chips” in the UK.’

‘I don’t give a shit,’ Amy said. ‘They’re so much better than fucking fries. Who wants to chip a tooth when they fucking eat?’

Kent pushed the bowl across to her. ‘They should properly be served swimming in vinegar.’

Amy pulled a face. ‘That sounds disgusting.’

‘Sometimes also with cheese.’

‘Are you trying to gross me out so you can have the chips?’

Kent stole one of them. ‘You have foiled my evil plan.’

She waved to the bartender. ‘Hey, my friend needs chips. With vinegar. And maybe cheese.’

‘You want a chippy for that, love,’ the bartender said.

Amy slapped her hand on the bar. ‘Then to a chippy! Which way to one of those?’

They went to the third bar on the way to the promised All Night Fish Bar. They shared a pitcher of Espresso Martinis and bought a bottle of wine to take away. It was warm enough out, so they took their food and their wine and sat on a bench overlooking the river.

Amy had fish and chips: a solid wedge of salmon in crisp beer batter with hot fluffy, chips and a pot of tartare sauce. Kent had a steamed steak and kidney pudding made of moist, thick pastry, and a small dollop of piquant mushy peas. When Kent pierced the pudding with the plastic knife from the fish bar, rich gravy spilled out across his chips.

Amy swigged a mouthful of wine from the bottle and looked at the river lapping at the shore. She could hear the traffic, sure, but it was a quiet, distant roar. There was too much light pollution for her to see the stars, but the moon was large and the sky was clear.

She looked across at Kent. He was eating with the odd delicacy of a man who knew he was drunk and was overcompensating for it.

‘You wanna hear something fucking sad?’ Amy asked.

He looked at her. Just looked and waited.

‘I think this is the best date I’ve never been on,’ she said. ‘Wait, the best non-date. Is that right?’

‘Sure,’ Kent said. He accepted the bottle, ran his thumb around the lip, and took a drink. ‘This is nice.’

‘Right.’ Amy savoured a mouthful of food. She swung her legs. ‘What’s your thing taste like?’

Kent gave her a look.

‘Not that thing!’ she giggled. ‘You got a dirty mind.’

‘It’s good,’ he said. ‘You wanna taste of my thing?’

Amy giggled again. ‘That thing. The one on the plastic tray.’

Kent scooped up a forkful of food and held it out. Amy leaned closer and opened her mouth for him to feed her.

‘You have a little smut,’ Kent said, and caught the little smear of spilled gravy with his thumb. ‘There you go.’

Amy smiled at him. ‘You want some fish?’

‘I would love some,’ he said gravely.

‘What’s the green stuff?’ Amy said scooping up fish and tartare sauce.

‘Peas.’

‘Fuck. British people should not be allowed to torture vegetables that way.’ She held up the fork but her hand was wobbling.

Kent put his hand over hers to steady it before eating the offered food. His hand was incredibly warm against hers. It was there a little too long. Long enough for Amy to flush.

She cleared her throat. They turned back to the river. After a few seconds, Kent’s cell chimed.

‘Might be Sue,’ Amy said.

Kent pulled a face.

‘Maybe she’s calling to make up,’ Amy said.

Kent took a longer pull on the wine. ‘Nope. She doesn’t do that. She just get pissed and expects me to beg forgiveness.’

Amy shifted a little nearer. ‘What do you need forgiving for?’

He ate some chips. ‘Everything of late. She has begun to find me infuriating.’

Amy took back the wine. ‘What’s her fucking problem?’

Kent sighed and shrugged. ‘I am. She’s going to end our friendship just as she finds my replacement.’

‘What?’ Amy demanded. ‘What the actual fuck?’

Kent poked his food with his fork. ‘I’m not… good in relationships and Sue, while possessing many exceptional attributes, is not a notably patient or understanding woman. I… made a significant mistake. I attempted to rectify my mistake but to no avail.’

Amy finished off her food. She turned sideways to look at him. ‘What did you do?’

He winced, still not looking at her. ‘I said the one thing that can never be taken back.’

‘You didn’t.’

 Kent groaned softly. ‘I did. I always do. I’m always the first one to say it. I don’t know why I do it. There are two types of people in the world, Amy, loveable and unlovable.’ He looked at her. ‘We both know which type I am. I don’t… I don’t honestly expect… I didn’t expect her to feel the same. Of course she wouldn’t feel the same. I just hoped that we could… I don’t know. Work things out. I could be… accommodating.’

Amy smacked his arm. ‘Jesus! Dump Sue already. Find someone who’s gonna appreciate your weird ass. There’s gotta be someone. Someone who’s gonna be all about your shit and who’ll be thrilled when you tell them… that.’

Kent was shaking his head. ‘Oh, no. I can’t do that. She would never forgive me and we have to work together.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘You let her get away with too much. You wouldn’t let me put the shit that she pulls.’

He looked at her thoughtfully. ‘That’s different.’

‘Why?’

Kent tapped his thumbs together. ‘We’re not dating. There isn’t the same imbalance of power between us. I don’t feel grateful that you’re willing to spend time with me.’

Amy gave him a cockeyed look. ‘That is fucking wrong, Kent. Look in mirror sometime. You have got some seriously screwed up ideas about yourself. Christ.’

‘You don’t have to be kind,’ he said quietly.

‘Pfft.’ Amy waved her hand. ‘Come on. You know I’m not kind to any fucker. Least of all you.’

***

They were still quite happy when they returned to the hotel. Amy had taken off her shoes and Kent was carrying them. She had to lean against him as they wandered through the lobby and towards the elevator. Tomorrow it was back to the USA. Back to reality.

He walked her to her room. They jostled a little as they walked together. Not quite bumping into each other. Maybe it was because they’d been drinking. Maybe it was simply because they were comfortable in each other’s space.

Amy didn’t open her door, but leaned back against it. Kent held out her shoes. Amy rested her foot on the wall behind her.

‘You wanna come in?’ she asked. ‘David’s next door with Milla.’

‘I would love to come in,’ he said.

‘Fuck, you’re gonna say “but” aren’t you?’

Kent kissed her softly. ‘It took me months to earn enough of your trust that you’d let me be David’s father. I can’t risk that for… a one-night stand you’ll probably regret in the morning.’

She pulled a face. ‘That’s a pretty good excuse.’

‘No, if I said no because of Sue when we both know the relationship is essentially over, that would be an excuse.’

‘Shit.’ Amy shrugged. ‘Well, your loss.’

‘I have no doubt.’

***

It was weird not having Dan around. It was great to be able to get on with the campaign without his panic and hysteria, but when he hadn’t been the campaign manager he had been... competent. Christ knew they were short of competency.

‘Where do we hide the robot fucker who knows how to unjam the printer?’ Amy demanded.

‘Dan used to do that,’ Mike said.

‘Sue,’ Amy said. ‘Can you do this?’

‘No.’

Ben, lounging against a wall, finished guzzling his coffee. ‘We finally found some use for pretty boy Dan, huh?’

‘Some use.’ Gary sniffed. ‘Just get a new printer.’

‘I’m never asking you to fix anything,’ Amy said.

Selina strutted into the bullpen. ‘Didja break something?’

‘Paper jam,’ Mike said.

‘Just buy a new one,’ Selina said. ‘Jeez, you people make everything so complicated. Ames, do you have a minute?’

‘Yes, Ma’am.’ Amy followed her into her office. ‘I’m glad to have a minute. Ma’am, I wanted to thank you for allowing Kent to fly to London separately. It made things with David much simpler.’

‘Jesus, Amy, that’s why? You need to get a fucking grip. You’re my campaign manager. You and Kent can’t travel apart indefinitely just so people don’t see your kid hitting him up for an advance on his allowance,’ she said.

Amy took a deep breath. ‘David doesn’t-’

‘Start leaving him behind already.’

‘-do that.’ Amy said.

‘Jesus, Amy, don’t interrupt. That’s so rude.’ Selina patted her hands on the desk. ‘How long do you think I should wait before bringing Dan back?’

Amy’s chest clenched. ‘ln what capacity?’

‘Assistant, junior advisor, something like that.’ Selina leaned forward. ‘Kent thinks if it gets out we canned him for having a fucking mental breakdown then will be up to our asses in psychos bitching that we’re running some anti-Forest Gump agenda.’

‘Or possibly breaking the Americans with Disabilities Act,’ Amy said.

‘Whatever.’

‘Two weeks,’ Amy said.

‘That quick?’

Amy shrugged. ‘Any longer and he’ll find another position.’

Selina drummed her fingers on the desk. ‘Okay, go talk to him. He can’t come back until he’s talking in complete sentences again, and he needs to know this is me being forgiving and gracious despite the monumental fuck-up that he made of the campaign.’

‘Yes, Ma’am.’

‘But also still angry,’ Selina said.

‘Yes, Ma’am. Forgiving, gracious, and still angry. Got it.’

Jesus. It wasn’t that Amy felt guilty about the Dan thing, she didn’t. She had no reason to.

But she wasn’t thrilled at dealing with him when he was... ill. She’d seen Selina after a defeat in the primaries and that was brutal. Amy had hated visiting Selina at the hospital. It was a huge, beautiful building with large, airy rooms, landscaped gardens, and smilingly efficient staff. But it was still a prison for people with too much crazy even for D. C. Amy always had a nagging fear that someone would stop her at the gate, and force her into a room.

Dan was just at home. He was pathetically glad to see her. It was creepy and wrong. Dan was not supposed to spout hippie mantras and wasn’t supposed to ask her about her life.

‘How’s David?’ Dan asked.

‘Fine,’ Amy said. ‘He had a playdate yesterday with Ben’s two youngest kids. Ben’s wife is nice but kind of... “let me introduce you to a nice chiropractor!” You know?’

‘Are you already seeing a nice chiropractor?’ Dan teased.

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘When do I have time to date?’

You need to make time for you, Amy. You are a bright, beautiful woman, and you deserve to be happy,’ Dan said. ‘David’s not a baby anymore,’ he said. ‘His dad is around now. So maybe he can help out.’ He nudged her shoulder. ‘Or would his dad be otherwise engaged?’

‘Jesus, I told you he’s not married,’ Amy complained.

‘Come on, Amy, this is me,’ Dan said. ‘If you like this guy, and you clearly do, then why pretend that you don’t?’

Amy’s shoulders hunched towards her ears. ‘What? No! I... No.’

‘Turned you down, huh?’

‘Yeah,’ Amy said. ‘Kinda.’ She flapped her hand. ‘He said he thought a one-night stand would make thinks difficult between us and maybe mess up things with David.’

Dan shook his head. ‘Since when do you do one-night stands?’

Amy picked at a loose thread on her skirt. ‘I guess that technically when David was conceived it was a one night stand. We’d been friendly before. Maybe a little bit… flirty. Afterwards things were kind of uncomfortable. Awkward. You know.’

Dan poured some tea. ‘You’ve been harbouring feelings for him all this time?’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘That is completely fucking... ridiculous. I don’t harbour shit. Would I go to bed with him?’ She laughed uncomfortably. ‘Well, the sex was great, so sure. He gets that David is my priority. It’s no big.’

Dan started to grin. It was infuriating.

‘What?’ Amy demanded.

‘You’ve been in love with Kent Davison nearly four years, but it’s no big?’

‘I… what?’ Amy asked. ‘I’m not in love with him!’

Dan’s smile had changed from infuriating smugness to infuriating pity.

‘No, I’m not!’ Amy insisted. ‘I like him, sure, but...’ She went quiet as the colour bled from her face. ‘Nobody... nobody said Kent. Why would you think I was talking about Kent?’

Dan laughed lightly. ‘You told me David’s bio-dad was around during Selina’s campaign; he’s older than you, he’s not married, and he’s dating a much younger woman. Who else is it gonna be, Andrew Meyer?’

‘Fuck,’ Amy groaned, her head in her hands.

‘Hey, If I was a woman, or a gay guy, I would totally do Kent. He’s a hottie.’

Amy gave him a look. ‘Never call him that again.’

‘You do you,’ Dan said. ‘I just wish you’d told me,’ he said. ‘I spent ages trying to get on his good side and you were already there.’

Amy poked him. ‘If you mention this to anyone, I will rip out your tongue and use it for a bookmark.’

Dan gave her a beatific smile. ‘Amy, this is something you need to do for yourself. If you’re in love –’

‘I’m not!’

‘– then you need to tell him,’ he said earnestly.

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Yeah, well, that’s never happening.’

‘You owe it to yourself,’ Dan said.

Amy folded her arms. ‘When are you coming off your meds?’

Chapter Text

Dan was coming back. Roger Furlong and Andrew Doyle were underfoot, Catherine was clomping around, Selina was trying to be nice to her, the spectre of Ray was looming, and Amy was having a headache the size of Wisconsin.

Kent pushed a cup of coffee across the desk to her.

‘That smells amazing,’ she said.

‘Arabian roast,’ he said. ‘Have you taken a painkiller?’

‘Is it that obvious?’

He shrugged. ‘Doubtless you will keep all your plates spinning. You can admit to a headache without the whole edifice of your infallibility being destroyed.’ 

‘Doubtless.’ Amy took a sip. ‘Wow, that’s good.’

Kent lowered his voice. ‘I could get you some for Christmas if you like.’

Amy opened and closed her mouth. ‘Oh, are we doing...’

‘Friends exchange gifts, cards, and similar,’ he said. ‘We’re friends.’

‘Yeah, yeah. I just... I’m thinking about the debate,’ she said. ‘I don’t have space in my head for Christmas and that.’

‘Do you need a painkiller?’

‘Only if it’s baked in a cupcake or cookies,’ Amy said. ‘Kidding. Mostly. I need to keep a clear head.’

He nodded easily. ‘You know where I am.’

Christmas. Fuck. She always forgot about it until it was right around the corner. She always ended up giving Milla a couple hundred dollars to buy decorations. She already had most of David’s gifts and a couple things for her parents. She hadn’t bought anything for Sophie or her kids, not after last year when Sophie had turned new winter coats into a batshit crazy complaint that Amy was trying to boast about making more money. Well screw Sophie and her little brats. This year Amy would save her money.

Ben had his head in his hands.

‘What the fuck is your problem?’ Selina asked.

‘Black Widow with radio controlled motorcycle,’ Ben groaned.

‘Why would you put a spider on a motorcycle?’ Catherine asked.

Ben looked up. ‘It’s an action figure,’ he said. ‘The big fucking must-have toy this season, and everywhere is sold-out. There isn’t one in a toy store between here and Alaska.’

‘Have you tried a comic bookstore or science-fiction emporium?’ Kent asked. ‘That was where I... oh...’

Shit! Had he bought one for David?

Kent glanced at her. Oh Christ, he had, and now he was going to have to explain –

‘Are you kidding me?’ Ben asked. ‘You bought one? You don’t have any fucking kids!’

Catherine cleared her throat. ‘Lots of people collect action figures.’

‘Nerds and other losers,’ Selina said. 

Ben lurched to his feet. He prodded a thick finger at Kent. ‘You got one of these dolls?’

‘Action figures,’ Kent said. ‘Dolls usually have realistic hair and clothing that can be changed. Action figures are more often –’

‘Where did you get it?’ Amy said quickly. ‘Could you get one for Ben?’

‘Uh…’

‘You’re one of those goddamn nerds,’ Ben growled. ‘A pathetic man-child who needs to grow the fuck up! People like you are the reason I can’t get a doll –’

‘Action figure.’

‘ – for my kid!’ Ben shook his head. ‘You buy kids’ toys, and leave them in their boxes, gathering dust, instead of letting a kid play with them. It’s not enough you have no joy in your life, you gotta steal joy from little kids.’

He’d bought it for David. It was written all over his face.

Amy’s shoulders were level with her ears. ‘Okay –’

Kent raised his hand, but he was looking at Ben. ‘Do you want the store names or not?’

‘Yeah,’ Ben said, deflating a little. ‘I do. Thanks.’

Afterwards, Amy shuffled across to Kent. ‘Well that was terrifying,’ she murmured to him.

‘A little faith, please,’ Kent said quietly. ‘So far you’re ahead of me on inadvertently revealing that issue.’

She pulled a face. ‘Asshole.’ She tapped her foot. ‘You bought him that toy.’

‘Milla said you hadn’t,’ he said meekly.

‘Because it’s insanely expensive!’

‘I have disposable income,’ Kent said. His eyes were warm. ‘I thought I’d surprise you both.’

Amy forced herself not to smile. ‘I hate surprises.’

‘Next time I’ll discuss it with you,’ he promised.

She hugged her folder to her chest. ‘Don’t be upstaging me. I can’t compete.’

He was genuinely surprised. ‘What?’

‘I’m serious. I don’t want to get into a pissing contest over who he likes best.’

Kent stared at her for a long moment. ‘That would be a competition I would always lose. We both know that. My competing would be redundant.’

Amy’s shoulders dropped a couple of inches. ‘You think?’

‘I do.’

She shuffled her feet. ‘It’s a great toy. He’s gonna love it.’

‘I hope so.’

***

Only winning would have made the debris of the debate worthwhile. Coming second merely made it an annoyance.

‘May we talk?’ Sue asked, as Amy finally gathered her things together.

‘Now? It’s nearly two.’

‘I need to talk to someone,’ Sue said, her jaw set. ‘Preferably with drinks.’

Amy sighed heavily. ‘Sue. Fine. David will be in bed already anyway.’

They made their way up to Amy’s hotel room. Amy barely dragged herself along the corridor while Sue marched alongside her. She let them into her room, kicked off her shoes, and went through the connecting door to check on David.

He was asleep, clutching a stuffed Moomin toy. Amy had managed to grab both lunch and dinner with him, although Kent had stepped in to give him his bath. Amy had deeply conflicted feelings about this, and about David seeming perfectly happy to have papa give him his bath instead of her.

‘Why is your room in a completely different wing to everyone else?’ Sue asked.

‘So that David won’t accidentally bump into Kent,’ Amy said. ‘People overhearing him calling Kent “papa” is the last thing I need.’ She poured them both a drink and sat down. ‘Look, Sue, I’m tired. What will it take for you not to quit?’

‘That’s not why I’m here,’ Sue said.

‘Thank fuck.’

‘I’m here because I have a complex and complicated relationship which is causing me some discontent and I have come to you for support and an outside perspective,’ she said.

‘Great,’ Amy said. She took a gulp of her wine. ‘This is Kent?’

‘Yes.’

Amy nodded. ‘That whole “I don’t want a scene” scene was a little...’

‘We argue all the time,’ Sue said.

‘That’s not –’

‘And then we have sex.’ Sue sipped her drink.

‘Uh,’ Amy said.

‘Intense, wild, and passionate sex,’ Sue said in the same tone.

‘Yeah, I get it!’ Amy said.

Sue pursed her lips. ‘I wanted to be transparent.’

Amy poured more wine. ‘You were really transparent. Maybe too much.’

Sue crossed her legs. ‘Afterwards we lie together in bed, in the shared warmth of our bodies, enjoying calm tenderness.’

Amy gulped her wine.

‘I feel at those moments that we have a shared understanding,’ Sue said. ‘A peace and connection.’ She sipped her drink. ‘Don’t pull that face, you aren’t a child hearing something unnatural or unpleasant.’

Amy shrugged. ‘I’m tired, I’m stressed, and emotions make me uncomfortable.’

Sue drew her brows together. ‘This is important, Amy. There are times when I feel that Kent and I could have a future together. But there so many other times when he irritates me, or he puts David’s or his mother’s needs ahead of me.’ She straightened her back. ‘I thought I was dating Kent. I didn’t sign up to a son or a mother. That wasn’t what I agreed to. I don’t know that I can continue.’

Amy put her glass down. ‘He’s fucking in love with you,’ she said. 

Sue swallowed but said nothing.

‘Kent’s got this idea that you don’t feel the same way because he’s unlovable.’

Sue looked down at her hands. ‘He told you this?’

‘Yeah. In London.’ Amy shrugged. ‘I don’t know what to tell you, Sue. Is your relationship fucked up? Yeah, sounds like. Doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. But, honestly, if I had to choose between my boyfriend and David, it would be David every time. Even if I were head-over-heels in love, it would be David.’ She pushed her hair back. ‘I could complain about Kent spoiling David, or challenging me, but not on his commitment. I’m sorry, Sue, but if you give Kent any kind of “David or me” bullshit then you’ll lose.’

***

‘Kitten,’ David said.

Amy looked over his head at Milla, who smiled impishly.

‘We can’t get papa a kitten for Christmas,’ Amy said.

David sighed patiently. ‘Papa needs a kitten, Mama.’

Amy fought a smile. ‘Are you sure that you don’t want a kitten?’

‘We’re not allowed pets,’ David parroted. ‘You said.’

‘It’s against the rules.’

‘Papa needs a cat,’ David said very seriously.

Amy poured him a glass of juice. ‘I know I’ll regret this, but why do you think that papa needs a cat?’

‘So he doesn’t get lonely,’ David said promptly.

Amy folded her arms. ‘I suppose you would want to visit the cat.’

David nodded. ‘Yes please!’

‘David, a pet isn’t a toy,’ Amy said. ‘Papa’s job is very important. He might not want more responsibility.’

‘Papa likes cats! Please, Mama?’

Amy put her head in her hands. ‘I’ll ask him, okay? But don’t be surprised if he says no. And don’t be upset.’

David threw his arms around her. ‘Thank you, Mama!’

***

‘You have manoeuvred Kent into the position of telling David that he can’t have a kitten, or accepting a pet that he may not want,’ Sue asked, over drinks.

Amy pulled a face. ‘He wants to be David’s dad. It’s his turn to make the crappy decision. That’s fucking parenting right there.’

Sue sipped her drink. ‘Are you going to ask him or simply present him with the cat?’

‘I’m not that brazen,’ Amy said. ‘I’m gonna ask him tomorrow when he visits.’

Sue stirred her cocktail idly. ‘He does like cats.’

‘I figured. He’s got one on his lock-screen.’

‘Fibonacci,’ Sue said. ‘The reason he doesn’t have a cat currently.’

‘How’s that?’

‘He isn’t over Fibonacci’s death,’ Sue said. ‘He makes excuses not to get another cat, but the simple truth is that he’s afraid of being hurt again.’

Amy pulled a face. ‘Was he fucking the cat?’

Sue raised an eyebrow. ‘You imagine that parental love for a child is the only valid expression of non-romantic, non-sexual love. You are wrong. Grief for lost pets was one of the things over which Kent and I initially bonded.’

Amy shifted in her chair. ‘Now I feel like a dick.’

‘You should,’ Sue said.

‘Jesus, if I wanted to be judged, I’d go pick David up from my parents’ place,’ Amy grumbled.

Sue smiled slyly. ‘You should have Kent pick him up. Meeting David’s grandparents seems overdue.’

Amy checked her cell. ‘Has he met your family?’

‘Certainly.’

Amy looked at her. ‘Went down like a shit in a swimming pool?’

‘He’s nearly twice my age, never married, has a child by a much younger woman, and he’s white,’ Sue said. ‘My family would have been more welcoming to a teenage drug dealer.’

Amy winced. ‘Ouch! Although I guess Kent might know some, that pot comes from somewhere.’

Sue pursed her lips. ‘He has a prescription. He gets it from a pharmacy. I wasn’t aware you knew about his anxiety and panic attacks.’

Amy put down her glass. ‘He told me he had anxiety. I thought he was bullshitting me.’

‘He wouldn’t do that,’ Sue said seriously.

‘It’s just weird to think of him having a panic attack.’ Amy said. ‘He’s so confident and in control.’

‘I find it difficult to believe that you don’t,’ Sue said.

‘Have you met his family?’ Amy asked.

‘His mother and his younger sister,’ Sue said. ‘His mother is quite ill now. They’re discussing moving her into a proper medical facility.’

Amy drained her glass. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Some kind of dementia. It’s chemical not biological. She was a chemist of some sort and was exposed to a neurotoxin for some time.’

‘Christ.’ Amy shuddered. ‘That must be fucking awful.’

Sue motioned for another drink. ‘Kent is such a mommy’s boy. Dealing with his issues is exhausting.’

Amy squinted at her. ‘Is there anything about Kent that doesn’t annoy or irritate you?’

Sue gave it some thought. ‘The sex, also when he sleeps, or when we sit quietly together reading.’

Amy nodded. ‘So, basically any time he’s not talking?’

‘He talks during sex,’ Sue said.

‘Does asking if something feels good count, really?’ Amy asked.

Sue smirked. ‘Once he’s confident that he knows what you like, he says other things. But I’m not going to tell you.’

Amy grimaced. ‘Well, now I’m going to be haunted by the possibilities forever.’

‘Then my work here is done.’

***

Every time. Every single fucking time that David slept over at her parents’ place she woke up early and regretted it. Instead of catching up on missed sleep, she had to get up and go collect David.

Her mom was, as always, way too cheerful for so early in the morning. Worse than that, she had the slightly hunched shoulders that meant that her dad had something on his mind.

David, dressed in an overlarge hockey shirt, was eating a stack of pancakes, and drinking apple juice.

‘Hello Mama,’ he said, putting up his face for a kiss.

‘What’re you wearing, baba?’ Amy asked.

‘It was a present from grandma,’ he said.

‘I think he looks cute,’ Amy’s mom said defensively.

Amy pulls a face. ‘Hockey?’

‘It’s just a shirt.’

Her dad rumbled into the room. ‘Hey, sweetheart,’ he said, kissing Amy on the cheek. ‘David’s been telling us about Christmas.’

Amy’s back clenched. ‘Mom invited us to spend it with you, like every year.’

‘David was telling us about his papa,’ her mom said.

Amy clutched her cell. ‘Oh?’

‘We’re giving papa a kitten!’ David said.

Amy suppressed a groan. ‘David, we talked about this. We can’t just give papa a pet. We need to discuss it with him. He might not be able to look after a cat.’

‘Amy, this man is obviously a very significant part of David’s life,’ Amy’s dad said.

‘It’s not a problem, Dad,’ she said. ‘It’s not a big deal.’

‘We want him to come to Christmas dinner,’ her dad said flatly.

‘No, no, no, no.’

Her mom took her hand. ‘Amy, your dad is right. He’s a part of David’s life. He’s a part of your life. By extension he’s a part of our lives.’

Amy pulled her hand free. ‘We’re not dating!’

Her dad put his hands on his waist. ‘Christmas is family time. This man isn’t just a donor, Amy, he’s David’s family. He’s our family. He should come to Christmas dinner.’

‘That’s not fair,’ Amy said. ‘He didn’t sign up for this.’

‘If he loves David then he’ll want to come,’ her dad said.

Her mom turned to David. ‘Davey-baby, would you like your papa to come to Christmas dinner?’

‘Mom!’ Amy snapped.

‘Yes please!’ David said.

‘See, Amy, everyone’s happy,’ her mom said.

Amy glared at her mom. ‘I’m not happy,’ she said. ‘That was not okay.’

‘Sweetie –’

Amy shook her head. ‘We’re not talking about this,’ she said. ‘I’m too damn angry to deal with this while David is in the room.’

***

She was still fuming when Kent arrived for his visit with David.

She heard Kent open the front, door and David go running to meet him. She finished putting the dishes away, made two coffees and carried them towards the living room.

Kent was sat on the floor, David between his legs, and his arms around David’s waist. As she walked in he was kissing David’s crown.

‘Ah, I’d forgotten you’d be awake,’ he said sheepishly.

‘Yeah, I went for drinks with Sue.’ Amy sat down on the couch. ‘My parents always bug me to see him more anyway.

‘That’s nice for them.’

She gave him a sharp look, but he seemed to mean it, rather than be scoring points.

‘Yeah, well, they’re getting weird ideas.’ Amy adjusted her blouse.

‘What?’

Amy groaned. ‘They want you to come to Christmas dinner.’

Kent took the toy that David was waving at him, and hid it behind him.

‘Hey!’ David scrambled around, looking for it.

‘I’m having Christmas dinner with Sue,’ Kent said.

Amy pushed back her hair. ‘Sure, sure. It’s way too short notice.’

Kent nodded. ‘Things are very... difficult at the moment. We’re trying to work through our issues, but currently it’s more hope than expectation.’

Amy played with her coffee cup. ‘You never told her about London.’

Kent moved to sit on the armchair. ‘We didn’t...’ He glanced at David. ‘There wasn’t anything to tell.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘You don’t believe that.’

David scrambled up onto Kent’s lap. Kent smoothed his hair.

‘You didn’t tell her either,’ Kent said.

‘I think she’d break my legs,’ Amy said.

‘It wasn’t… It’s complicated. I’m not proud of what I did but I never... I don’t regret spending time with you and I don’t regret...’ He glanced at David. ‘Eating your cookie.’

Amy started laughing. ‘Yeah, that sounds like we did so much worse than me asking you to... snuggle and you... holding my hand.’

Kent groaned. ‘You’re right. Eating your cookie sounds much more inappropriate than what was essentially a harmless expression of affection.’

David ran out into the corridor.

‘I’m not sure Sue would call you kissing me harmless,’ Any said.

Kent licked his lips. ‘You didn’t seem to mind.’

‘I didn’t,’ Amy said. ‘And, I liked the way you ate my cookie.’ 

Kent sighed. ‘You’re right. In context that phrase is… inappropriately suggestive.’

‘Shit, ‘Amy said. ‘Before I forget, look, here’s the thing: I’m not allowed pets. That’s the context. Okay? No pets. So, I asked David what he wanted to get you for Christmas, and he said...’

Kent was cringing. ‘A puppy?’

‘A kitten. Because he knows that you like cats and he doesn’t want you to be lonely,’ she said, shrugging.

He put his head in his hands. ‘But it’s actually a pet for him.’

‘Oh, one hundred percent,’ Amy said. ‘He would definitely be wanting to visit “your” kitten.’

Kent looked at her. ‘Does that mean he’s lonely?’

Amy grinned as she sipped her coffee. ‘No, it’s just one of his hot button words: lonely, scared, sad. He knows they get a response. When he really wants something at least one of the gets used.’

‘I had no idea small children could be so manipulative.’

‘After he stopped you and Sue having a cosy night in?’ Amy asked. ‘Because I guarantee you he did that on purpose. I don’t know why, but he generally has some little reason of his own.’

Kent sat back. ‘Are you perhaps being somewhat cynical?’

‘No. The only differences between kids and adults are experience and power. Look at life from his point of view: shit happens all the time without rhyme or reason. He wants a certain thing, say a kitten. He’s got no money, so he can’t buy one. He’s got no power, he can’t make me get one. When I want him to do something he doesn’t want to do, I tell him it’ll be good for him somehow.’

Kent narrowed his eyes. ‘So, he says that a kitten will mean I’m not lonely, which is a way of implying that it’ll be good for me.’

‘Now you’re getting it.’ She shrugged. ‘Kids his age tell lies and they manipulate. It’s normal.’

‘Huh,’ Kent said. ‘And what was your response to his suggestion?’

‘That it’s up to you. Why should I break his heart when his papa can do it?’

Kent groaned sadly. ‘I suppose I deserve that.’

David wandered past the door.

‘You don’t have to do it now,’ Amy said.

Kent smiled wryly. ‘Meaning you don’t want to see it.’

Amy nodded. ‘That’s the one.’

He pushed his hair back. ‘I am having enough difficulty selecting a gift for Sue without adding “break a child’s heart,” to my to do list.’

‘Jesus, you gotta move your ass already. She seems like a jewellery person,’ Amy suggested.

‘Gold or silver?’ Kent asked. ‘Or platinum?’

Amy leaned against him casually. ‘Sue’s definitely a gold girl.’

Kent nodded. ‘I’m considering a bracelet.’

‘Well jump to it.’

‘Aye, aye, skipper.’

‘Are you going to Sue’s parents for Christmas?’ Amy asked as David walked in.

She almost laughed at his horrified expression.

‘We are not! Her mother’s birthday was quite sufficient,’ he said.

‘Papa are you coming to Christmas dinner?’ David said.

Kent’s face fell. ‘I’m sorry, I can’t.’

‘Why?’ David asked.

‘I already promised to have dinner somewhere else,’ Kent said. ‘I’m sorry, David. Perhaps we can have dinner together another day.’

David’s lower lip wobbled. ‘Oh.’

‘That’ll be better,’ Amy said. ‘Maybe papa and Sue can come to dinner one day then you won’t have to share him with grandma and grandpa, and your cousins.’

For a moment, David and Kent wore identical expression of horror.

Kent shuffled his feet. ‘Perhaps you could come to my house for dinner?’

‘And see the kitten! We’re buying you a kitten for Christmas! Mama, we can visit the kitten!’

Amy buried her face in her hands. She heard Kent let out a long sigh.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘You can come and visit the kitten.’

Amy looked at Kent as David bounced around the room, cheering.

‘Couldn’t do it, huh?’ she asked.

‘Apparently not,’ he said dryly.

‘Welcome to parenthood.’

 

Chapter Text

Amy was awake at four a.m. Waiting. Checking her cell. Listening for the creak of floor boards, squeak of bedsprings, or excited inhalation of breath. Nothing.

What the fuck was wrong with him? It was Christmas morning! He should be jumping up and down on her bed, begging to open his toys. Jesus. The amount of stress, strain, and sleepless nights that a parent went through meant they should get a wildly excited kid. They deserved it. She deserved it.

Fuck.

Fuck.

She got out her cell and tapped out a text. The reply came a few minutes later. She didn’t know which answer would’ve made her happy. Maybe neither of them. But she’d asked and he answered. Amy spent half her life rolling with other people’s decisions, this was just one more time.

She was in the kitchen baking croissants when she heard a car outside. Not baking from scratch. She wasn’t Betty-fucking-Crocker. These were pre-made and partly baked. It was baking for busy people.

Amy went to the window and looked outside. He was getting out of an Uber. Why was he in an Uber? He generally ran, or drove if he was in a suit. She’d never seen him take an Uber before. Amy returned to the kitchen and listened to him let himself into the house.

‘Good morning,’ he said, as he walked into the kitchen. ‘Do I smell baking bread?’

‘Kinda.’ Amy handed him a mug of coffee. ‘What the fuck is wrong with you? You look like you’re gonna fall asleep.’

He squeezed the bridge of his nose. ‘I have yet to go to bed.’

Amy gave him a look.

‘Sue and I went out to dinner,’ he said. ‘There was a considerable difference of opinion. We went back to her apartment and continued... expressing our disagreement. Afterwards I went home but I was too agitated to sleep.’

Amy pushed her hair out of her eyes. ‘You okay?’

‘I’ll live,’ he said. ‘My black cashmere jacket not so much.’

‘Okay, I’ll bite, what happened to your jacket?’

‘Sue poured a jar of cranberries over it,’ he said.

Amy shuddered. ‘That’s a waste of a good jacket.’

‘And a jar of cranberries,’ Kent said. ‘She was very... distressed.’

Amy noticed the tremor in his face. ‘Are you guys okay?’

He concentrated on his coffee as he drank it. ‘She going to her mother’s house for a few days.’

Amy wrapped her hands around her cup. ‘Kent, look, if you need not to be here I understand.’

His raised his eyes up to hers. ‘Do you want me to go?’

‘No,’ she said, more firmly than she intended. ‘Fuck. No.’

His mouth twitched. ‘I’d rather be here than at home.’

‘Good.’ Amy turned off the oven. ‘You want a croissant?’

‘Very much, yes.’

They sat at the table to eat. Amy rolled her eyes at his expression when she covered hers in chocolate spread.

‘I’m gonna say this once and that’s it,’ Amy said. ‘Because you’re a grown up. Allegedly. Break up with Sue. I get that you care about each other, maybe more, but you’re making each other miserable. She doesn’t treat you with respect. You deserve that. As your friend, Kent, split up with her and find someone who’ll treat you better.’

He looked away. She knew he wasn’t going to listen.

‘Shit,’ Amy said. ‘Can you believe he’s still asleep? It’s like five. Kids all over the country are making their parents wish they’d used protection and he’s still fast asleep.’

He straightened up. ‘I hope there’s nothing wrong.’

‘He’s fine,’ she said. ‘I may have snuck his room already to check. Maybe. Repeatedly.’

Kent tilted his head. ‘How do you do that?’

‘What?’

‘Be you.’ He tapped his thumbs on the rim of his mug. ‘Isn’t it exhausting? I swear if a bear came in through the door you’d rip it in half before it got to the stairs.’

‘Fuck off,’ she said. ‘You would too. Don’t pretend you do all this as a favour it me. I’m on to you.’

His cheeks reddened. ‘That’s structured like an insult or a threat.’

‘Yeah, I’m insulting your inability to pretend that you don’t care about your son.’ She tugged a piece of his hair. ‘Call yourself a man. You should be ashamed.’

‘I’ll carry the dishonour to the grave,’ he mumbled.

Amy checked her cell. ‘That little asshole is going to be asleep until lunchtime. Let’s make breakfast and go wake him up.’

‘We didn’t just have breakfast?’

Amy threw a balled-up piece of paper towel at him. ‘A croissant is not a balanced breakfast. Not even if you eat it with a dollop of blackcurrant jelly like a weirdo.’

‘More balanced than chocolate spread,’ he retorted.

‘No wonder you’re built like someone who eats three time a year,’ she said, standing up. She balanced the plates in hear hands. ‘Sue’s gone to her mom’s?’

‘Yes.’

‘What’re you doing for dinner?’’

Kent shrugged. ‘Chinese food probably.’

‘Right.’ She moved to the sink. ‘I mean... it’s Christmas. I could probably call my mom and have her put out an extra place.’

She had her back to him, so she didn’t know what he was thinking until he answered.

‘Is that what you want?’ he asked quietly. ‘When you asked me earlier you seemed ambivalent.’

Amy turned around. ‘I don’t know,’ she said honestly. ‘I’ve asked you twice when I could’ve got away with not doing, so I guess I do.’ She put the plates down. ‘It’s not going to be fun. But it would be kinda nice to have someone there to be in my corner.’

His raised his eyebrows. ‘That wasn’t the argument I was expecting, but I’d be happy to be in your corner. Assuming your parents are amenable to my presence.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Oh Christ, they will be thrilled.’

* * *

‘Where’s the kitten?’ David asked.

There was wrapping paper all over his bed. Ribbons slithered off the bedclothes and onto the floor. Clothes had been stacked neatly on the dresser. Toys, with exception of the Black Widow action figure, were in a crate. David had the action figure clutched to his chest, in much the same way as Amy was holding her bag of coffee.

There was no kitten.

‘Papa’s kitten!’ David said with increasing panic. ‘Mama. We didn’t get papa’s present!’

Kent put his hand on David’s shoulder. ‘David, you can’t get kittens before Christmas. You have to get them after.’

David thought about it. ‘Why?’

Amy was wondering about that herself.

Kent gave him a small, sad smile. ‘Lots of little boys and girls want kittens or puppies. But sometimes they, or their parents, can’t look after them properly, and end up taking them to a shelter. A pet is a huge responsibility, David. It’s very much like having a child. Not everyone can do it. So, in a week or ten days, if you like, we can go to the shelter and you can help me pick a kitten.’

David turned to Amy with shining eyes. ‘Can I, Mama, please?’

‘Absolutely,’ Amy said. ‘Just be sure that you listen to what papa says. Pets are a big responsibility.’

***

Amy strapped David into his car seat as Kent got into the front. ‘Don’t kick the seat, David,’ she said.

He groaned audibly.

‘My niece has a little tablet,’ Kent said conversationally. ‘With a rubber cover.’

‘I’ve seen those. I don’t like them.’ Amy pulled out into traffic. ‘Kids need to learn to cope with being bored sometimes.’

‘I don’t recall ever being bored when I was a child,’ Kent said.

‘You were probably running integers or something in your head.’

‘Or something,’ Kent said.

Amy gripped the steering wheel tightly. She fucking hated Christmas with her parents, especially with this latest trick of asking David if he wanted something. That was fucking low.

‘Would I be wrong in thinking you’re not entirely looking forward to this?’ Kent asked quietly.

She tried to relax her shoulders. ‘You wouldn’t. My parents are bad enough but my sister will be there too with her screaming brats and maybe a deadbeat boyfriend or two.’

‘I’m not surprised she envies you. All children grow up competing with their siblings; for time, for attention. It’s little wonder that as adults they continue to compete.’

Amy looked at David in the mirror. ‘Do you think being an only child is a bad thing?’

‘Not at all,’ Kent said firmly. ‘It has its pros and cons, but overall only children do no worse than those with siblings.’ He looked at her. ‘If you’re considering having another child, you should do it for yourself, not David.’

Amy glanced at him. ‘I couldn’t even think about it during the campaign. But after...’

He was nodding. ‘Less stress would doubtless be helpful.’

‘Yeah.’ Amy scratched the car wheel with her thumb. ‘Would you... Would you consider... You know. I’d like them to be full siblings.’

She heard him take a breath.

‘Of course, but –’

‘There’s a but? Why is there a but?’ Amy demanded.

‘Butt! Butt! Butt!’ David giggled. ‘You said “butt,” Mama!’

She rolled her eyes. ‘Papa said it first.’

‘Papa said butt!’

She shook her head. ‘Go on,’ she said to Kent. ‘What’s your uh...’

‘Caveat?’

‘What? Yeah. Sure, what is it?’

He shifted in his seat. Amy’s stomach clenched. This was going to be bad.

‘I’d like to be named on the birth certificate and I’d like to be present and involved.’

Amy gritted her teeth as she thought. ‘It’s just a piece of paper.’

‘Then you should have no objection.’

Amy shot him a glance. ‘Smart ass.’

‘You don’t have to decide now,’ he said.

‘What do you mean, present and involved?’ she asked suspiciously ‘At the birth?

‘Throughout. Not making decisions, I appreciate you reserve that right exclusively,’ he said. ‘But at least consulted.’

Amy drummed her fingers on the wheel. ‘I suppose you want all that with David too?’

‘Amy, it’s not an ultimatum,’ he said. ‘I’ve said yes. That isn’t going to change. It’s not conditional. I’m merely telling you that I’d like things to be different.’

‘I need to think about it,’ Amy said.

‘Okay.’

Nothing was ever simple. Things were always twisting around when you thought you had hold of them. Twisting around and biting your face.

***

David held their hands as he tried to run along the path. It was thick with snow and every few steps they had to jump him out of the drift. It was a neat little house, not helped by Sophie’s battered Nissan slowly leaking oil on the driveway.

‘I hope Sophie isn’t staying. She gets crazy drunk and aggressive.’

‘Every family has one of those on Christmas Day,’ Kent promised.

Amy looked at him as she knocked on the door. ‘Who’s yours?’

‘Me,’ he said, waggling his eyebrows.

She grinned, just as her mom opened the door.

‘Oh, you’re here!’ she bent down to kiss David’s forehead, then she looked at Kent. ‘This must be your… friend.’

David wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.

‘This is my colleague, Kent, he’s David’s biological father,’ Amy said firmly.

 ‘Hello,’ Kent said.

Amy’s mom’s smile faltered slightly, but she stepped aside. ‘Where are you from, Kent?’ she asked. ‘Your people.’

‘Oregon,’ he said.

‘Oh, I hear it’s beautiful there,’ she said. ‘Do you miss it?’

To Amy’s surprise, he nodded.

‘I particularly miss the weather,’ he said. ‘D.C. is too hot and humid for me.’

‘I didn’t know that,’ Amy said.

‘You never asked,’ Kent said mildly.

Amy’s dad shuffled into the room. Amy tightly folded her arms as Sophie followed her in.

‘Jesus, he’s so –’

Whatever Sophie was going to end the sentence was lost as Amy and both her parents told her mind her language in front of David. Sophie pulled a face at Kent.

‘You wouldn’t think I had kids of my own.’

Kent shook his head. ‘No, I wouldn’t.’

***

‘We always sit the children with the adults,’ Amy’s mom explained.

‘He gets it,’ Sophie said. ‘He’s from Portland, home of hipsters.’

‘It’s more that I don’t consider children to be some kind of alternative life form who need to be quarantined,’ Kent said.

Amy smirked as they took their seats. David sat between Kent and Amy on a booster.

‘Amy said you couldn’t come,’ Amy’s dad said.

‘Originally, I was to have dinner with my partner,’ Kent said. ‘Plans changed.’

Amy gulped wine. ‘Can we stop treating Kent as the sole topic of conversation?’ she asked.

‘Nobody cares about your ninety-year-old baby-daddy,’ Sophie said. ‘Get over yourself.’

‘At least he’s here,’ Amy said. ‘Where are yours?’

‘You work with Amy?’ her dad asked Kent.

‘Yes, we’re part of the same team,’ Kent said. He put down his cutlery to start helping David cut up his food.

‘Can we go play X-Box?’ one of Sophie’s kids asked.

‘No!’

‘I hate turkey!’ the second one muttered.

Sophie slapped the back of his head, hard. The child started crying and, after half a second, David joined in. Amy turned to comfort him, but Kent was already pulling David onto his lap, rubbing his back, and telling him everything was okay.

Okay that was... Obviously she wanted David soothed as possible. But still.

‘Will you stop snivelling?’ Sophie said to her crying child. ‘You made the baby cry.’

‘I’m not a baby!’ David said indignantly.

You made them cry,’ Amy said to Sophie. ‘What’s wrong with you?’

‘Hey! I don’t have some rich old asshole in three-hundred-dollar jeans to coo over my kids,’ Sophie said. ‘I have to it all by myself’.’

‘Maybe if you didn’t get be pregnant by complete losers you wouldn’t have to!’

Kent stood up abruptly. ‘David, I see a squirrel in the garden. Shall we go and look?’

David jumped up immediately and grabbed Kent’s hand.

‘Where are you going?’ Sophie asked her kids as they stood.

‘Look at the... whatever.’

Sophie pulled a face. ‘You want to go outside in the snow and look at a squirrel?’

‘Beats being in here.’

As the door closed behind them, Amy’s dad tapped on the table. ‘You shouldn’t have said that, Ames.’

Amy folded her arms. ‘They know how it is. They’re mature enough to hear the truth. And she started it.’

‘I did not!’

There was a shout from outside. Through the window, they saw David and the other kids charge into the snow.

Amy’s dad shook his head. ‘David’s dad is here as a guest,’ he said. ‘This is hardly a good impression to make.’

‘If he wants to be part of this family then he’ll have to take us as he finds us,’ Sophie sniffed.

‘Are you actually fucking insane?’ Amy asked. ‘Why would Kent want to be part of this?’

‘He’s David’s father,’ Amy’s mom said quietly. ‘He seems very genuinely fond of David.’

‘He wants David to be part of his family,’ Amy said. ‘That’s it. He’s only here because you emotionally manipulated David and got his hopes up. Kent’s here as a favour to me and to prevent David from being disappointed. That’s all.’

Amy’s mom played with her food. ‘Perhaps next time he can bring his partner,’ she suggested.

Amy pressed her hand to her forehead. ‘What? Why? Why would he do that? To embarrass me in front of another co-worker?’

‘He’s dating someone from work?’ her mom asked.

Amy poked her food. ‘He’s dating Sue.’

‘That snarky secretary from your birthday drinks?’ Sophie asked. ‘Isn’t she like half his age? And sarcastic as fuck.’

‘Yet again, that was irony, and their ages don’t matter.’

Amy’s dad cleared his throat. ‘They’re coming back in. Come on girls, it’s Christmas. Let’s show some spirit of the season.’

* * *

David was finishing off chocolate cake when Amy’s man brought out a few gifts.

‘We’re doing this again?’ Sophie groaned.

‘I wanted to see the kids unwrap them,’ she answered meekly.

‘Amy was kind enough to allow me to be there while David was unwrapping his presents,’ Kent said.

Sophie smirked. ‘What time was that?’

‘Sophie, don’t,’ her father said.

The children finished eating and took the final presents with varying degrees of gratitude and grace.

‘Mama, you help me open?’ David asked, scrabbling up onto her knee.

‘Hold is still, baba, and I’ll untie the ribbons.’

Kent was saying something to her mom, but with the chatter and the music, Amy couldn’t quite work it out.

He was looking good. After David had opened his presents, and her mom texted that he was welcome, he’d gone home to get changed. He’d come back in a smart black pair of pants, a deep blue shirt with a couple of buttons undone, and a black blazer. He also had a different cologne on. It smelled smoky, and definitely expensive.

David looked at the rectangle of colourful plastic encased in clear plastic packaging. ‘What is it?’

‘It’s a toy cell phone.’ Amy took it from its packaging, put in the batteries, and gave it to him. ‘Thank Grandma.’

He ran over to Amy’s mom and hugged her quickly.

‘I think that’s smaller than the first cell I actually had,’ Kent said. ‘One of those ones the size and weight of a brick.’

‘And if you left it in the car overnight it would drain the battery,’ her dad said. ‘My boss had one.’

‘With an extendable antenna,’ Kent said.

‘Amy broke the antenna of our first cell,’ her mom said. ‘It’s funny now, but at the time…’

‘What’s he doing?’ Sophie asked.

Amy turned to look. David had the cell clenched in one hand and was punching numbers in with the index finger of his other hand. He was scowling in a way she’d never seen him do before.

‘Why’re his shoulders tensed like that?’ Amy’s mom asked. ‘They’re almost level with his ears.’

David put the toy all to his ear. ‘What?’ he demanded, he voice clipped. ‘No! She cannot do that! Tell her to not do that!’

Kent was laughing, not a chuckle, a spluttering laugh that was getting deeper and stronger.

‘What’s so funny?’ Amy asked.

‘He’s... he’s being you,’ Kent managed.

‘No, he’s not!’

Sophie was wide-eyed. ‘Oh my God, he’s right. That’s exactly how you look when you’re on the phone to your job.’

‘That’s nothing like me!’ Amy insisted.

Fuck!’ David yelled into the phone. ‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!’

There was a long silence.

‘Yeah,’ Amy’s dad said eventually. ‘He’s definitely being you.’

***

Amy sank into the armchair. Kent had been co-opted into reading David’s bedtime stories. She had changed into pyjamas and fuzzy slippers despite it only being just after eight o’clock. The glamorous life of a single parent.

She heard Kent’s footsteps on the stairs. Okay. “Single” wasn’t exactly right. She looked up as he walked into the room.

‘I poured you a glass of wine.’

‘Wonderful. thank you,’ he said, ‘and then I should be going.’

‘I am so embarrassed,’ she said. ‘Jesus, I don’t know how today could’ve gone worse.’

‘The worst part,’ he said, ‘the absolute worst part, is that I can’t tell anyone.’

Amy glared at him, at his faint smile, and twinkling eyes. ‘Asshole. I thought the worst part was when my mom made you dry dishes.’

Kent sipped his wine. ‘She didn’t make me, I offered.’

‘Jesus, why would you do that?’

He shrugged. ‘It’s what you do. It’s good manners.’

Amy pulled a face. ‘It’s not what I would do.’

‘I’ll make a note. I’m always interested in the thoughts on etiquette from people whose children just repeatedly yelled “fuck” during Christmas Dinner.’

Amy flicked a drop of wine at him. ‘You are one of those people, asshole.’

He wasn’t at all chagrined. If anything, the twinkle in his eyes grew warmer.

‘He wasn’t imitating me.’

‘I don’t look like that on the phone, do I?’

Kent nodded.

‘Shit.’ She played with her drink. ‘Thanks for talking to him. My authority on swearing is now zero. What did you say to him?’

Kent looked up at the ceiling as he thought about it. ‘That there are certain words that are very rude and you shouldn’t say them in front of other people. That they’re used when people are extremely angry or upset. I said that they’re not really words he should use until he’s a grown up.’

Amy groaned. ‘So now if he hears me swear on the phone he’s gonna think I’m pissed?’

Kent licked his lips. ‘He asked that. I said if it happened, then you were probably angry with the person on the phone, not him. He’s already overheard you once, Amy, it’s bound to happen again. It’s better to give him a framework now.’

‘He’s growing up so quickly,’ Amy said quietly.

Kent leaned forward and put his hand over hers. ‘He’s upstairs in his footie pyjamas, clutching a stuffed toy, after listening to stories about talking animals and flying cars. He’s not a baby, but he’s still a little boy. He’s going to be a little boy for a long time yet.’

‘Thank you.’

Kent drained his glass. He leaned forward and gently kissed her cheek. ‘I’m going to book an Uber.’

‘If I didn’t say it before... you know.’

‘I know?’

She growled. ‘Don’t be a dick. You know what I mean.’

He nodded. ‘You’re welcome.’

 

 

Chapter Text

They all went for a drink. The kind of drink you have in silence until you’re at least three deep, and then one of you says something rude about the boss.

‘Fuck Selina,’ Sue said. ‘None of this is my fault.’

‘Who the fuck are you, and where is Sue?’ Ben asked.

‘I don’t like being blamed for things that aren’t my fault.’

Dan waved at the server for another round. ‘You are in entirely the wrong job.’

‘What’s up, Sue?’ Ben asked. ‘You’ve been pissy since Christmas. Is Kent’s magical dick no longer doing it for you?’

Amy gripped her glass as Sue glared at Ben.

‘For a supposedly straight man, sir, you seem oddly obsessed with Kent,’ she said. ‘Most little boys grow out of harassing their crush. You should try it.’

Ben groaned. ‘I was asking if you were okay.’

‘I’m fine,’ she snarled. She got up abruptly. ‘Good night.’

Ben was open-mouthed as he watched her stomp away. ‘What did I say?’

‘The K word,’ Amy said.

‘I thought they were knocking boots!’

Gary leaned forward. ‘They’re breaking up.’

Dan glanced at Amy. ‘They’ve been breaking up for months. I think they’ve been breaking up longer than they were dating.’

‘Jesus, how do you get two cold fuckers and make that kind of messed up, snarly break-up?’ Ben asked.

‘Love,’ Mike said sagely. ‘What? That’s how it works. You don’t get that mad if you’re not in love.’

‘Ew,’ Amy said.

‘Aww,’ Gary said.

Ben rolled his eyes. ‘Anyone know why he got called back to D.C.?’

Dan shrugged. ‘We figured you’d know.’

‘Big deal, who cares,’ Gary said.

Ben glowered at him. ‘I care. You should care because Kent being yanked back to D.C. means something is going down.’

Amy’s cell buzzed. She picked it up and checked her texts.

Oh fuck. This was the last thing she needed.

She looked around the table at her morose colleague. Not like she was having a lot of fun here either.

***

She met Sue at a dark bar on the other side of town. The other woman was in a corner booth, eating a sad looking salad and drinking a bottle of wine.

Ugh.

Amy pulled off her jacket as she sat down, and poured herself a glass of wine. ‘Why’re we hiding all the way out here in the boonies?’

‘There are no D. C. people here,’ Sue said. She was wobbling slightly. ‘Nobody will ask me about him.’

Amy gulped her wine. It was going to be like that. Oh, goody.

‘Okay,’ Amy said.

‘Asshole,’ Sue said.

‘I’ve never heard you curse this much,’ Amy said.

Sue fixed her eyes on Amy. ‘I feel like swearing. It feels appropriate. Perhaps I can scream “fuck” repeatedly into a toy cell phone.’

Amy crossed her legs. ‘I didn’t know he’d told you about that.’

‘He tells me everything that David does and says,’ Sue said. ‘Irrespective of whether I want to hear them or not.’ Her cell buzzed. She checked it, and swallowed. ‘That’s him. Apologising.’

‘For what?’

Sue straightened her back. ‘He called me an emotionally withholding sadist. I told him we were done.’

Amy put her hand on the back of her neck. ‘He doesn’t want to breakup?’

Sue’s expression was withering. ‘Of course he does. He’s just sat at home feeling sorry for himself.’

Amy took at her cell out unthinkingly. ‘Sue, it seems like you guys are just a bad fucking match. It’s been months. Give it up.’

Sue stared at her. Then she started to cry.

Amy looked around for help, but the other patrons were avoiding looking at them. She half-heartedly patted Sue’s hand.

‘I’m not a fifties housewife, Amy,’ she said, her voice distorted as she blew her nose. ‘I don’t want declarations of how he feels. I don’t need to meet his mother or spend every moment together. I need to be myself, by myself.’

Amy pushed a tissue across the table to her. ‘I thought you didn’t like his baggage.’

Sue scowled at her. ‘He was supposed to be cool and logical. It was supposed to be nice meals and trips to the theatre. Not messy and emotional... feelings!’

‘Jesus, Sue, what do expect me to say? Boohoo, you had a totally inaccurate idea of who Kent was? You’ve known who he was, that he was warm and affectionate, for months! This is like bitching that he’s weird! You don’t get to complain when you saw he wasn’t what you expected and you carried on dating him anyway.’

Sue blew her nose. ‘Is that what you’d say to him?’

Amy sighed. ‘I probably won’t remind him that I said you’d break his heart.’

Sue poured a glass of wine. ‘He’s not the one suffering.’

‘He’s the one sat at home feeling sorry for himself, according to you,’ Amy said.

Sue looked at her glass. ‘It should have worked. We should be well-suited. I... care about him. It should have worked.’

‘Yeah,’ Amy said. ‘Been fucking there.’

Sue dried her eyes. ‘How long did it take you to recover?’

Amy shrugged. ‘Like... a year.’

‘Fuck.’ Sue checked her make-up. ‘There must be ways to jump start that.’

‘I’m sure you’re night.’

 ***

Amy texted him in the Uber back to her hotel.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.”

Asshole didn’t even check why she was asking. Fucking men. “Sue told me you guys had broken up.”

“Yes.”

Amy ground her teeth. Jesus. Pulling teeth would be easier. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.”

Fucking... asshole... fucking men. You try to show them some basic humanity and they act like it’s an imposition.

She called his number. He answered on the third ring.

‘Amy, I’m fine,’ he said quietly.

‘You send me monosyllabic texts to serious fucking questions, what the fuck am I supposed to think?’ she demanded.

When he answered, he was cautious and wary. ‘Why are you so angry?’

‘Jesus, I don’t know! Maybe because Sue finally pulled the trigger on you two and she’s a fucking mess,’ Amy said. ‘So, I can only assume you’re at least as much as of a fucking mess, except you’re at home by yourself while she’s out with me drinking.’

‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Hmm. Studies have shown that women are affected more severely in the short term than men, but that that they recover more quickly. Men take longer to be affected and also suffer longer.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Are you fucking quoting scientific studies on being dumped?’

‘Well...’

She shifted the cell to her other ear as she got out of the Uber. ‘Next time I ask if you’re okay, just fucking answer in a way that isn’t potentially terrifying.’

‘Are we... are we done?’

‘Yeah,’ Amy said. ‘You’re quoting studies on heartbreak. You’re fucking fine. Just stay fine until we’re all back in D.C.’

‘Actually, I’ll be back with you tomorrow,’ he said.

‘Even better,’ Amy said, walking through the lobby. ‘I’ll see you then.

‘I apologise for causing you concern,’ he said quietly.

Amy sighed. ‘Yeah. Don’t do that again.’

***

Amy hated surprises, but she was beginning to see why it might be appealing to keep things a surprise for David. If only to stop him exploding in a shower of overexcitement.

When Kent arrived, David was bouncing across the floor, chanting, “Kitten! Kitten!”

‘You’re awake early,’ Kent said to Amy.

She nodded at David. ‘You think anyone could sleep through that?’

He regarded David. ‘He can’t do that at the shelter.’

Amy clapped her hands. ‘David! Are you listening? Papa says you have to be quiet and well-behaved at the shelter.’

‘Some of the animals are very nervous,’ Kent explained.

‘Okay, Papa,’ David said in a stage whisper.

‘We’re going to have a coffee and then papa will take you to the shelter. Go put your shoes on.’

Kent cleared his throat. ‘Rain boots would be better. You have to walk through antiseptic.’

Amy watched David hunt through the closet for his boots.

‘You can come if you wish,’ Kent offered.

She shook her head. ‘This is your thing. He likes having you to himself sometimes.’ She tapped her foot. ‘I’ve been thinking, how would you feel about him sleeping over with you sometimes? You could have him Friday night and bring him back Saturday morning.’

‘I’d like that very much,’ Kent said. ‘But wouldn’t you find it extremely difficult?’

‘I would find it an absolute nightmare,’ she said. ‘But I’d get over it. David would get to spend more time with you, and some time with the cat. I’ll be able to have some sliver of a social life again.’

Kent’s back stiffened. ‘Are you tiptoeing into the dating pool again?’

‘What? No. After the last time? No. People keep telling me I should go to bars or watch movies or some other thing.’

Kent sipped his coffee. ‘What happened with Ed was unfortunate. You might find someone that David finds more acceptable.’

Amy shrugged. ‘And then what, I end up breaking up with him for some reason and David loses someone from his life? No. He’s too little to deal with that. Maybe when he’s older.’

‘As long as that’s what you want.’

‘What about you?’ Amy asked. ‘You getting back on the horse?’

‘We broke up less than a week ago,’ he protested.

‘Sue already been on a date. Sorry. Thought you knew.’

‘I did,’ he said, sighing. ‘Sue spends half her life rebounding. I never met anyone as terrified of being alone.’ He shrugged. ‘But she’s back with Sean whom she at least knows.’

Amy looked away from his expression. ‘She dumped you. To hell with her. Lots of other women would be all over your silver fox thing. Put yourself out there.’

‘Silver fox?’ Kent echoed.

Amy gave him an appraising look. ‘I stand by it.’

Kent shook his head. ‘I’m too sore to consider dating. Perhaps in the future.’ He finished his coffee. ‘It occurred to me that there are going to be times when I’m away and someone will need to feed this cat.’ He produced a key. ‘Would you mind?’

‘You sure you trust me with the key to your apartment?’ she asked, taking the key.

‘I merely ask that you don’t eat all my edibles.’

Amy grabbed her purse from the counter. ‘How much for the kitten?’

‘It’s a shelter, not a breeder,’ Kent said.

Amy gave him a look. ‘And shelters charge for shots, spaying, and all that stuff. I know that you know they do. Quit trying to pay for your own Christmas present.’

‘I’m not sure what it is now,’ he said meekly. ‘It will depend on the sex. I’ll let you know when I bring David back this afternoon.’

‘Oh Christ,’ she said. ‘Is there is a kitten gender pay-gap?’

Kent chuckled. ‘ln a way. Female cats get a full hysterectomy, it’s a much bigger operation but it prevents ovarian cancer.’

‘Cats get cancer?’ Amy asked.

‘Alas many animals do.’ He finished his coffee. ‘I’ll bring him back around three, as agreed.’

‘Great.’ Amy hesitated and then stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. ‘I’ll see you later.’

As she reached up to kiss him, he touched her waist, just for a moment. She felt the warmth of his palm through her clothes, and his fingertips catch a sliver of exposed skin. She shivered as the sensation flashed across her flesh and up her spine.

‘Okay,’ she mumbled, keep her face lowered. ‘See you later.’

***

Amy was checking her cell when Selina poked her shoulder. ‘Earth to Amy!’

‘Sorry,’ Amy said automatically.

‘I’m gonna be the president and you’re checking twitter,’ Selina said.

‘I was reading a text from Ben,’ Amy said.

Selina’s eye twitched. ‘Oh fuck. What is it? Is it... Did POTUS change his mind? Did that fat fucker –’

‘No,’ Amy said quickly. ‘I think maybe Ben is just having a stroke.’

Selina grabbed the phone and squinted at it. ‘I can’t read that. What does that say, Mike?’

‘You’re gonna love Kent’s pussy,’ Mike read.

‘Sex harassment and abusing Kent all in five words,’ Selina said. ‘Ben’s efficient.’

Amy’s cell chimed as another text came through.

‘Better hope Sue never finds out you like playing with Kent’s pussy,’ Mike read.

‘Is that today?’ Gary asked.

They looked at him.

‘What?’ Selina asked.

‘He’s getting a cat,’ Gary said. ‘I heard him talking about it to one of the interns. Her name is Leigh.’

‘The cat’s name is Leigh?’ Mike asked.

‘The intern.’

Amy snatched back her phone. Ben had no reason to know about the kitten. Even if he did know, there was no reason for him to pick Amy to be the target of weird sexual puns.

Unless he’d found something out.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

After she escaped Selina’s rambling, ambulatory meeting she caught Sue at her desk.

‘Hey.’

‘Amy.’

Amy lowered her voice and leaned closed. ‘Did you tell anyone about Kent being David’s dad?’

Sue expression could have stripped the bark from trees. ‘Yes, Amy. I have nothing better to do than gossip about that man.’

Amy restrained herself. ‘This is important. Did you tell Ben Cafferty?’

Sue frowned. ‘No. I know it is difficult for a parent to hear, but your child is of absolutely no interest to anyone else.’

Amy put her hand on her hip. ‘I went running across the city to support you during your breakup, and that’s the tone you’re gonna take with me?’

Sue’s expression softened slightly. ‘The only person likely to tell Ben is Kent, and I don’t believe he would do that without your permission.’

‘Ben keeps sending me weird texts about “pussies” and name checking Kent,’ Amy said.

‘Call HR.’

 ***

Amy’s feet were aching as she dragged herself into the house. No shouting. No thumping feet as David came to greet her. That was... disconcerting.

It was nothing. Nothing to worry about. She was sure it was fine. They probably had got stuck in traffic or something. There hadn’t been an accident. Kent hadn’t run off with David. Ha ha ha.

She opened the living room door and saw them. They were lay together on the couch with a blanket pulled over them. Amy sagged in relief and buried her face in her hands. After a second she dropped her hands, carefully put her bag down, and took off her shoes. She tiptoed over to the couch and put her hand on David’s forehead. He didn’t feel warm. He’d probably just worn himself out. Christ knew what Kent’s excuse was. His arm was lay across David’s shoulder and his face was resting on the top of David’s head. It couldn’t be comfortable. Just lying on the couch mean he had to squash up. But he didn’t seem to be unhappy about it. His expression was very open and easy. Amy brushed his hair out of his eyes, and adjusted the blanket around them.

She went into the kitchen poured herself a glass of wine. Then she ordered some takeout and went to have a shower. She left the cubicle door open so that she could hear any problems downstairs. The food wouldn’t be ready for a while, but David could wake up at any point and start wandering around. Having a kid meant practically sleeping with one eye open.

Amy turned under the shower head. Kent was downstairs with David so she could relax a little. She deserved that.

She turned down the water pressure, braced herself against the cubicle wall, and took down the shower head. She angled the slower head at her chest, her belly, and finally between her legs.

***

Amy turned off the shower and stepped out of the cubicle, just as Kent, David in his arms, pushed open the door.

Neither of them said anything. That was what Amy remembered afterward. They didn’t say anything, he looked at her, he did look for a moment, and then he stepped forward.

David made a horrible whining noise that she knew far too well. She jerked up the toilet seat a half-second before David threw up into the toilet.

Amy grabbed a towel and wrapped it around herself. ‘Does he have a fever?’

‘No, I just caught him surrounded by three empty boxes of cookies.’

Amy pushed her soaking wet hair back off her face. ‘Do you want to...’ she made a flapping gesture with her hand.

Kent moved around the side of David. ‘I can deal with this,’ he said. ‘You can go get dressed and relax.’

Amy didn’t hesitate. A year ago, she would have, a year ago she wouldn’t have grabbed her clothes, ruffled David’s hair, and headed to her bedroom.

She got dried in her room, pulled on her underwear, slipped into a t-shirt and sweats, and blow-dried her hair. By the time she went downstairs she could smell the food. David was sat at the table playing with a black Barbie doll. Kent was reading something on his cell.

‘Hello Mama,’ David said brightly.

‘Did you eat three boxes of cookies?’ Amy asked.

He looked at her wide-eyed and shook his head.

Kent looked up and across at them. Amy caught his eye and then looked back at David.

‘Papa said you did.’

David looked down at his Barbie.

Amy tipped his chin up. ‘David, I asked you a question. Did you eat three boxes of cookies?’

‘Yes Mama,’ he said quietly.

‘And it made you throw up?’

He nodded.

Amy stroked her thumb over his cheek. ‘Do you see why I only let you have a cookie after dinner?’

‘But –’

‘David, I don’t stop you eating cookies because I’m mean.’

He nodded, but his mouth was pouting.

Amy dropped her hand. ‘You’ll have to go to bed after we eat.’

‘That’s not fair!’

Amy folded her arms across her chest. ‘Do you want to go to bed now?’

He folded his arms and glowered at her.

‘Okay,’ Amy. ‘You can go to bed now and we’ll talk about this tomorrow.’

David’s mouth quivered and he climbed off the chair, but he only got halfway to the door before he started to cry. He kept walking as his tears got deeper and gulping.

Amy’s shoulders dropped. She was surprised as Kent squeezed her hand. She hadn’t even noticed him walk around the table. She gave him a nod.

‘David, come here,’ she said. She sat down as he approached and pulled him onto her lap.

‘I’ll put the food out,’ Kent said.

Thank you,’ Amy said. She dried David’s face.

He snuffled. ‘Sorry, Mama.’

‘I’m not mean for fun,’ she said. ‘I have to look after you. If you’re naughty then I have to send you to bed early. That’s what mamas have to do.’

He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. ‘But papa is here,’ he whispered.

Amy glanced at Kent, who mouthed “sleepover” at her.

‘You’ve had a nice day with papa, haven’t you?’ she asked. ‘Did you get a kitten?’

‘Two kittens,’ David said. ‘Papa let me play with them.’

Amy put that aside for the moment. ‘Next week you can have a sleepover at papa’s house.’

David looked up so quickly that he nearly struck Amy.

‘Okay!’ he said.

‘And if you’re naughty at papa’s house then he’ll have to send you to bed early,’ Amy said. ‘Because parents have to do that. Do you understand?’

David thought about it. ‘I have to go to bed early.’

‘Yes, you do,’ Amy said, kissing his forehead. ‘After dinner.’

‘Okay, Mama,’ he said quietly.

‘Two kittens?’ she asked Kent.

He shrugged and speared some noodles with his fork. ‘I’m out much of the day. They recommend that you have two to keep each other company.’

Amy smirked at him. ‘Sure, Kent, blame the shelter.’

‘Papa, show mama the pictures?’ David asked.

Kent dug into his pocket, unlocked his phone, and handed it over. David held it carefully and opened the photo app.

‘You’re brave,’ Amy said. ‘Should I worry he’s about to be scarred for life?’

Kent smiled slightly. ‘There’s nothing on there that I’m embarrassed for either of you to see.’

‘I can just scroll your whole camera roll?’ she teased.

‘Can I look through yours?’

Amy thought about it. ‘Absolutely not.’

‘Here’s Batman!’

Amy looked at David. ‘What?’

‘Batman!’ David held at the phone. ‘Batman sat on my knee and licked my face.’

Amy looked at the picture: a tiny ginger and white kitten with huge amber eyes was sat neatly on David’s knee. ‘Batman?’ she asked.

Kent let out a breath. ‘David wanted to name them both.’

Amy covered her mouth, trying to restrain her laughter.

‘You haven’t asked the name of the other kitten,’ Kent said.

He wasn’t smiling, but she knew that twinkle in his eye.

‘I assume not... Bat boy,’ she said. ‘The little boy with the mask and stupidly tiny shorts.’

Kent briefly looked up at the ceiling. ‘Robin.’

‘Robin is boring,’ David said. ‘Look, Mama, it’s Twilight Sparkle!’

‘Twilight...’ Amy looked at the picture. A pitch-black kitten with bright blue eyes was batting a ball around.

Amy opened and closed her mouth. She looked at Kent. ‘The ginger one is called Batman but the black one is called Twilight sparkle,’ she said very carefully.

‘Did I mention that Batman is female and Twilight Sparkle is male?’ Kent asked gravely.

Amy dropped her face as she sniggered. ‘Okay. I... I need to be there when you tell Ben that.’

Kent winced. ‘He already knows.’

‘What?’

He pushed his food around on his plate. ‘I was going to tell you later but... we came out of the shelter and Ben was in the lot on his way to Best Buy. He didn’t recognise David, but Joyce was with him, and she did.’

‘Oh... flapjacks!’

‘Flapjacks?’ Kent repeated.

She narrowed her eyes. ‘Do you have a better idea?’

‘No,’ he said meekly.

Amy handed Kent his cell. ‘I guess that explains why he kept sending me texts about your pussy.’

‘I’m sure he found that hilarious,’ Kent said dryly. ‘What would you like me to tell him?’

Amy sipped her wine. ‘He saw you with David and you don’t know what to tell him?’

Kent ate a piece of diced beef. ‘Ben is not socially intuitive.’

Amy shook her head. ‘I’ll talk to him tomorrow.’

‘He’s much more likely to be reasonable with you,’ Kent said.

‘Finished Mama,’ David said.

She kissed the crown of his head. ‘Who would you like to have you read you a bedtime story?’

‘Hmm. You, Mama.’

She patted his shoulder. ‘Go say goodnight to papa, and thank him for looking after you today.’

David slid down and walked around to Kent, who leaned down to embrace him.

‘Love you, papa,’ David said. ‘Thank you for looking after me today.’

There was a sight pause before Kent answered. When he did, his voice sounded slightly thick.

‘Goodnight, David,’ Kent said. ‘I love you too.’

Amy whisked David up into her arms before Kent could look at her, or she could look at him.

 

Chapter Text

David was tired enough after that he fell asleep during the second book. Amy tucked him in and closed his bedroom door. She clung to the handrail as she walked downstairs.

Kent was washing the dishes.

‘We have a machine for that,’ Amy said.

‘Filling a dishwasher doesn’t have the same visceral satisfaction,’ he said, plunging his hands back into the hot, soapy water.

Amy leaned against the countertop. ‘Are you trying to avoid going home?’ she teased. ‘Because you can stay for wine or dessert. I’m not a total monster.’

He gave her a sideways look. ‘You caught me. I’m terrified of spending time with my two kittens.’

‘He had a blast today.’

‘He was extremely well behaved,’ Kent said. ‘Well, until he got into the cookies like an extremely small bear.’

Amy sat on the counter top. ‘Or a racoon.’

He acknowledged her suggestion with a nod.

‘Do you think I was too rough on him?’ Amy asked.

Kent looked at her. ‘Amy, I’m not going second-guess you. David is a bright, energetic, engaged boy. Sometimes he’s going to misbehave. You have a framework for dealing with that. I have no issue with the framework and I’m not going to quibble on the specifics.’

She rolled her eyes. ‘So, yes.’

He pulled the plug from the sink. ‘It’s not what I would’ve done.’

‘He has to know that there are consequences! Not just to pigging out on cookies, but to disobeying me and to lying to me.’

Kent dried his hands on a cloth. ‘Amy, you don’t need to convince me. I wonder if you’re more trying to convince yourself.’

She tightly folded her arms. ‘I see the way that Selina treats Catherine. The way she talks to her.’

Kent was already shaking his head. ‘Amy, you’re not Selina. Your relationship with David is nothing like their relationship.’ He clasped his hands together. ‘I haven’t been a parent long. I wouldn’t tell you how to discipline him. I do know that when I put him in a time out I felt sick with guilt. It was a horrible sensation, and I absolutely understand why you feel bad about sending him to his room.’

Amy closed her eyes. ‘I feel like such a bitch.’

‘You’re not a bitch,’ Kent said gently, putting his hand over hers. ‘You know that.’

Amy squeezed his hand, and then got down off the counter. ‘Do you think it sucked this much for our parents when we were growing up?’

He put his hands on his hips. ‘Oh, I have no doubt it was much worse,’ he said.

Amy smiled. ‘Were you a bad boy. Kent?’

‘I had my moments,’ he said, smiling slightly. ‘Not as many as you, I suspect.’

Amy tossed her head. ‘A lady never tells.’

Kent nodded. ‘A gentleman should get going before his kittens get too hungry. They have extremely small tummies.’

Amy nodded. ‘We should talk tomorrow.’

‘About?’

Amy shrugged. ‘How you’re doing, work shit, and all that stuff.’

‘Ah,’ Kent said. ‘Perhaps we can grab lunch.’

‘I have lunch with David and Milla.’

Kent was walking towards the door already. ‘We’ll catch up some other time then.’

‘You bet we will.’

 ***

A visitor’s pass. Selina was about to become the president and Amy had to wear a visitor’s pass. Fucking protocols. If Dan was the campaign manager she’d just bet that some kind of exception would be made for him to be based in the White House instead of schlepping all the way from Maryland.

She stalked through the corridors in search of Ben’s office. In the upheaval, he’d uprooted one of Hughes cronies and found himself an office nearer Selina. Not as near as Kent, who had proved surprisingly tenacious in securing the coveted office next to Selina’s. He generally seemed above all that, but Amy had realised that was because he worked at seeming above it all. Just as he worked at seeming above gossip but somehow was always there when it was being discussed.

Ben was napping. Jesus. Your tax dollars at work. Amy made sure to slam his door shut extra hard. He didn’t have the decency to be startled awake. He just opened one eye and then the other.

‘Oh, hey, Amy,’ he said, sitting up.

‘I just wanted to clear up any confusion,’ Amy said.

Ben straightened his tie. ‘I wasn’t confused until you said that.’

Amy folded her arms. ‘Kent said that you’d seen him picking out kittens. With David.’

Ben started to smirk. ‘The pussies.’ 

‘Yeah,’ Amy agreed. ‘That was… hilarious.’ She tapped her foot. ‘Look Ben, politics is the last refuge of the sexist asshole dinosaur, so I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone that Kent and I are friends. I don’t need the baggage.’

He nodded. ‘Okay. Sure. Nobody’s gonna hear it from me.’

‘Great.’

‘Just like I didn’t hear it from Kent.’

Amy gave him a look. ‘Are you pouting?’

Ben threw his pen down onto the desk. ‘I tell that fucker about my medical problems, my kids, Joyce. But okay, he doesn’t return the favour. Fine.’

She shrugged. ‘I don’t know what to say to that.’

Ben played with his cell. ‘If I hadn’t heard David talking to him I’d have thought he was Kent’s nephew or something. If Joyce hadn’t been there I wouldn’t have known he was yours.’

Amy frowned. ‘You’ve met David a few times.’

‘I barely recognise my kinds,’ Ben sniffed.

Amy ignored that and put her hand on the door handle. ‘I am glad that we’re on the same page.’

Ben adjusted his belt. ‘You two are friends and you don’t want anyone to know. Gotcha.’

Amy mentally ticked that off her list as she hurried through the corridors. Richard came jogging out of an intersection but she waved him off.

‘Not now!’

‘Okay.’

‘Get me a sandwich! And a coffee!’ She called back.

‘Okay!’

She wended through the knot of people in Sue’s office.

‘Amy,’ Sue said importantly. ‘POTUS is busy.’

‘So am I,’ Amy said. ‘And I’m not here for her.’

She pushed open Kent’s door and waved her hand for his attention. He was barricaded against the hubbub outside with a pair of earphones. She didn’t know what he was listening to but knowing him it was just as likely to be some kind of African throat humming as American big band music.

‘I spoke to Ben,’ she said. ‘We’re good.’

He nodded.

‘I’m good, anyway,’ she said. ‘He’s still kinda pissed at you.’

Kent sighed. ‘Because?’

‘Fuck knows. Maybe his feelings are hurt because you’re not besties anymore.’

Kent pulled a face. ‘He has an extremely idiosyncratic approach to friendship.’

There was a tap on the door, and one of the interchangeable army of terrifyingly young interns walked into the office. This one was wearing a ridiculously short skirt and a sleeveless woollen vest over a blouse.

‘Here’s the report on the hikers,’ she said. ‘Also, your sashimi. It’s room temperature.’

‘You have sashimi on tap and I can’t even get a desk,’ Amy complained.

Kent turned to the girl. ‘Leigh, find Ms Brookheimer an office,’ he said. ‘Somewhere within say… a hundred-foot radius of the Oval Office.’

‘Yes, Sir.’

‘How?’ Amy asked, as the girl left.

Kent frowned at her. ‘You’re the president’s campaign manager. I’m her senior adviser. Leigh is acting with our combined authority.’

‘But office space in the West Wing is like unicorn shit,’ Amy said. ‘She can’t just –’

Leigh walked back into the room. ‘I found an office. Do you want to see it?’

Amy gaped at her.

‘You need to be more assertive, Amy,’ Kent said. ‘Take a leaf out of Leigh’s book.’

Amy pulled a face at him and then turned to Leigh. ‘Yes, I would. Show me.’

Leigh walked as though she had weights attached to her shoulders. Amy had never had to slow down to keep up with someone before. Eventually Leigh showed her into a little cubby hole with two desks and a window. A window!

‘Whose is this?’ Amy asked.

‘It’s yours,’ Leigh said.

Amy narrowed her eyes. ‘Whose was it?’

‘Two of Mr McLintock’s junior staffers,’ Leigh said.

‘Mike has staff?’ Amy demanded. ‘And they just left when you told them to?’

Leigh clasped her hands together. ‘In an intensely hierarchical workplace like the White House, the majority of junior people will do anything that you say, as long as you say it in a loud, firm voice that brooks no refusal.’

Amy regarded her with a hint of respect. ‘You’re fucking terrifying.’

‘I greatly admire your work,’ Leigh said. ‘Please let me know if there’s anything I can help you with.’

‘I will do that,’ Amy said. ‘You’re working for Kent.’

‘Yes,’ Leigh said. ‘Mr Davison has been kind enough to mentor me. He’s a great man.’

Amy managed a bland smile. ‘I suppose he is.’

***

Amy bounced her head on the desk. Selina was in the White House and Amy was trapped in Palookaville, Maryland, in meetings about posters and ad campaigns and just mountains of useless shit that nobody cared about.

‘Am I interrupting your exercise regime?’

Amy groaned. ‘No, Richard.’ She still had her forehead resting on the coffee table. ‘What is it?’

‘Oh, it’s time for you to have your lunch with David and his father.’

She stood up so quickly that she knocked over the chair.

‘I’m excited for you to have your lunch,’ Richard said, trotting alongside her as she strode through the corridors. ‘You’re always in a better mood when you’ve seen him.’

Amy stopped. ‘Excuse me?’

‘He’s a cute little guy,’ Richard said. ‘Having lunch with him would put me in a better mood too.’

Amy stared at him for several seconds. ‘David.’

Richard nodded. ‘I haven’t met his daddy. Unless I have and I didn’t know. David does have a look of someone familiar.’

‘Hey! Go chase up the poster drafts,’ Amy said.

‘Okay, but the president decided to go in another direction –’

‘Go!’ Amy ordered.

‘I am on my way,’ he said turning and walking away.

Ericsson was joining Selina’s team. He was gunning for Amy’s job. Fucker couldn’t have any idea how isolated and powerless she was. She shouldn’t be stuck here. She needed to be back at the West Wing, keeping the morons from imploding the fucking county.

***

Kent stood up as she approached the table.

‘Why do you do that, Papa?’ David asked him.

‘I was raised to stand when a lady enters the room, or in this case approaches the table.’

David gave Amy a big kiss as she sat down, but he was not one to be easily distracted from a promising line of enquiry. ‘Why?’

‘Because it shows respect,’ Kent said, sitting down again. ‘I respect your mama very much.’

‘And I when I came back from the ladies’ room,’ Milla said cheerfully.

Kent smiled at her. ‘I have a great deal of respect for you, Milla, because you look after David so well every day.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Are we ordering?’

‘We already did,’ Kent said meekly. ‘I have to be back before two for the Joint Session prep meeting. We ordered you a Chicken Caesar salad but of course if you want something else you should order. I’m sure they’d box up the salad for you.’

Amy pursed her lips. ‘I don’t always order the Chicken Caesar salad.’

‘Of course not,’ Kent said too quickly.

Milla’s smile and nod were equally impossible to believe.

Amy folded her arms across her chest and leaned back in her chair. Pouting.

‘How is the campaign progressing?’ Kent asked.

‘She won’t make a single decision, my assistant has a brain full of fluff, and Ericsson wants my job.’ Amy gave a bright, brittle smile. ‘Other than that, it’s going great.’

Milla took out her phone and turned it on. She was experienced now at shifting her attention away when Amy’s work became a topic of conversation.

‘Ben and I have already shifted her focus there,’ Kent said. ‘She is offering Ericsson the position of communication director.’

‘Oh.’ Amy shifted in her seat, giving it some grudging thought. ‘He’s gonna be hassling Mike instead?’

Kent poured a glass of water. ‘Arguably it’s warranted. Mike was barely capable of working for the vice president. As the press secretary for the president…’

The server arrived with the food. Amy reluctantly noted that they had ordered David brown Spanish rice with ground beef, tortilla chips, and green grapes, which was reasonably healthy and something he would probably eat.

Some days, getting David to eat was a trial. Unless you were happy to let him live on chocolate brioche rolls and cookie dough. Amy was regretting ever letting him eat at her parents’ house. If they had their way they would stuff him with candy and chocolate until he exploded.

‘Are you looking forward to your first sleepover with papa?’ Amy asked David.

‘And Batman and Twilight Sparkle!’ David said.

Milla laughed a little.

Kent shook his head. ‘I much prefer Marvel,’ he said.

Amy looked at him blankly.

‘Batman is a DC property. Marvel is one of their rivals.’

‘Spiderman is Marvel?’ Milla said helpfully.

Kent nodded. ‘Spiderman, Iron man, Thor, the X-Men...’

Amy waved her hands. ‘I get it. David has gone over to the enemy.’

‘It’s a modern tragedy for the ages,’ Kent said dryly.

Amy ate some of her salad. ‘Iron Man is the Robert Downey Jr character?’

Kent gave her a mildly suspicious look. ‘That’s correct.’

Amy exchanged a look with Milla. ‘I do like the whole look he has going on in the pictures I’ve seen.’

Kent chuckled. ‘Are you going to claim it’s the robotic suit? I fear you may struggle to find a man who can meet that particular aesthetic.’

‘I like the beard,’ Milla said. ‘It is called a Van Dyke?’

‘It’s not a goatee?’ Amy asked.

‘No,’ Kent said. ‘It’s often referred to as a Van Dyke, or more specifically a Balbo.’

‘You’re making that up,’ Amy said.

‘I never joke about beards,’ Kent said severely.

Amy narrowed her eyes. ‘But his character is douche, right?’

David giggled. ‘Doosh! Doosh!’

‘He was so quiet,’ Kent said. ‘And then...’

‘Yeah,’ Amy said with a sigh. ‘Just because he’s quiet doesn’t mean he’s not listening.’

‘I’m listening,’ David said.

‘I know,’ Amy said. ‘We all know.’

Kent touched the back of David’s wrist. ‘Have you finished your lunch?’

David nodded. ‘Can I go on the rides?’

Milla pushed her empty plate away. ‘Shall I take him?’

‘Thanks,’ Amy said.

‘She eats so quickly,’ Kent said. ‘It can’t be good for her digestion.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Career nanny, they get used to getting that shit done quick.’

There were dark smudges under Kent’s eyes. That wasn’t like him. He rarely looked tired or ill and she’d never noticed a pimple or other blemish. It was fucking annoying. Amy spent half her life trying to cover up the dark bags that just loved hanging out under her eyes.

‘What’s going on with you?’ she asked. ‘You look like shit.’

He raised his eyebrows as he reached for his juice. ‘That’s your expression of concern?’

‘Yes. You’ve met me. I am concerned.’ She gulped down some of her food. ‘So don’t change the subject.’

He shrugged, and pushed his food around on his plate. ‘I haven’t been sleeping very well.’

Amy scowled. ‘You’ve worked at the White House before. This can’t be more stressful than the hostages bullshit.’

Kent twisted his fork around in his hand. ‘It’s not entirely about work. However, it should be noted that when I worked for President Hughes I did not have to walk past my former partner each time I entered or exited my office.’

Amy put her elbow on the table and her chin in her hand. ‘Is she calling you names?’

‘On occasion,’ he said dryly. ‘I don’t regret our friendship. I wish that it could have ended without distress and without destroying the possibility of our continuing as platonic acquaintances.’

‘Well that’s fucking naive,’ Amy said. ‘You’re lucky she didn’t smash any of your shit up.’

‘I’m aware,’ he said. He was looking at his plate. ‘I wish that things were different, but they’re not. I wish it didn’t hurt, but it does.’

Amy put her hand over his and squeezed. He returned the gentle pressure.

‘Can I say, “I told you so” or should I wait?’ she asked.

Kent smiled as he looked at her. ‘Your restraint so far has been admirable. Please go ahead.’

Amy pulled a face. ‘It’s no fun if you’re gonna be reasonable.’

‘I’ll recover,’ Kent promised. ‘I always do.’

‘Well do it quick,’ Amy said. ‘I don’t wanna wait to tell you I told you so.’

He nodded. ‘I wouldn’t want to make you wait.’

Amy pushed her plate away. She screwed up a napkin and bounced it off his arm. ‘But you’re okay, right?’

Kent nodded. ‘I’m fine. It’s nothing that I haven’t experienced before. A couple weeks of poor sleep and self-pity and I will begin to feel better.’

Amy sipped her water. ‘Next time maybe you’ll listen to me. Find yourself a woman who’ll appreciate your weird ass.’

Kent pursed his lips. ‘Let me just check this list of women ready, willing, and waiting for my attention.’

‘You should filter out any who don’t like kids,’ Amy said.

‘Good point,’ he agreed. ‘That might reduce the numbers to something more acceptable.’

‘Maybe you could write a survey,’ Amy said, grinning.

Kent tilted his head. ‘Is there something wrong with wanting to collect data to ensure that my partner in intimacy enjoys herself?’

‘Collect data,’ Amy said. ‘That right there is the kind of thing that make people call you robotic.’

Kent pulled a face. ‘I’ll consider being less accurate.’

‘You do that,’ Amy said.

***

They walked out of the restaurant together, brushing against each other as they walked.

‘I have some gossip,’ Kent said.

‘Oh yeah? Ya gonna tell me or tease me?’

Kent glanced at her. ‘Teasing is temping, nonetheless I will tell you. The inaccurate Chung rumour is about to be traced back to the source.’

‘Which is?’

‘Dan,’ Kent said. ‘He leaked it to Jonah, but he didn’t have the sense to use a fake English accent.’

‘Shit!’ Amy pressed her hand to her forehead. ‘Can Jonah prove it?’

‘There were witnesses,’ Kent said.

Amy tapped her foot. ‘Where did Dan get it from?

Kent’s shoulders clenched. ‘Given certain comments at the time, I believe from Ben, but I have no proof and Ben would certainly not admit it. The buck stops with Dan.’

Amy chewed her lower lip. ‘This is a disaster.’ She looked at Kent. ‘Can you do something?’

‘I fear the only things to be done must be done by Dan. I mean to talk to him about it shortly.’

Amy chewed her thumb. ‘You mean talk to him soon or talk to him not for very long?’

‘Both,’ Kent said.

‘You’re gonna fire him?’

‘It would be better for him if he resigned,’ Kent said. ‘Unless he could find some other option.’

‘Will you give him the chance?’ Amy asked.

Kent clasped his hands together. ‘Would you like me to?’

Amy folded her arms and gave him a slow, thoughtful look. ‘That’s why you’re telling me.’

‘I’ve no idea what you mean,’ Kent said briskly.

‘Bullshit.’ Amy stood in front of him. ‘Is this you giving me a chance to do something nice for Dan because of the... stuff in London?’

Kent shrugged easily. ‘Do you have any reason for some guilt you need to assuage towards Dan?’

‘No,’ Amy said, colour raising her cheeks.

‘Then why would I need to offer you a chance at redemption?’

Amy took a half-step back. ‘That’s alright then.’ She rubbed her arms. ‘But will you give him some time to fix it?’

Kent sighed. ‘I’ll see what can be done,’ he said. ‘It would only be a short amount.’

‘Right,’ Amy said. ‘But don’t tell him it was anything to do with me.’

Kent nodded. ‘If he asks me for time then I won’t have to give him a reason.’

***

Schooling. How the fuck was David old enough that Amy starting to consider schooling was a necessity? He was just a baby. Jesus. Okay, so he wasn’t going for a while, but getting him into a decent school would need good pre-school education. The right kind of classes and membership of the right clubs and groups would definitely help.

Bullshit. They were obligatory. Vital even. The right college meant the right schools and the right schools meant the right pre-schools. She had been putting money aside for his college but that was a problem for the future. She didn’t want to think about college. About him leaving home.

Deep breaths. Okay, she could do this. She’d done her research when her pregnancy was confirmed. All she needed was a little refresher. Just check if her data was still current. Nothing big. Just check what the options were and where David stood in relation to them.

He could read reasonably well and his handwriting was almost legible. He knew his times tables and could do basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Okay. That was good, that was...

‘Knock, knock, knock,’ Richard said.

‘What?’ Amy snapped.

‘The Joint Session is in three hours,’ Richard said. ‘You told me to –’

‘Fuck!’ Amy slapped her hands on the desk. ‘Come on, you were supposed to have the car ready four hours before.’

Richard trotted after her. ‘It’s quite exciting, isn’t it? I wonder what the president is going to say.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘It’s an address to the houses, not an open mic. Her speech will have been written and edited by the finest minds available,’ she said. ‘And Mike.’

Richard nodded. ‘Mr McClintock seems to be very much leading the charge with the speech.’

‘Fuck,’ Amy said. ‘You’re right. We’re screwed.’

In the car, she texted Kent, who assured her that the finished speech had been checked and re-checked. He didn’t go so far as to say that nothing could go wrong, because he would never do that. But everything that they could do had been done. There was no point in worrying.

Tell that to the knot in her stomach. When it looked like everything was going to go well was always when everything exploded in showers of shit.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Amy had thought that arranging a dinner party after the joint session was a bad idea. But after the tirade from Selina, which Amy for one totally didn’t deserve, and the stress of the day, she was cautiously optimistic of a pleasant evening. Joyce wasn’t Amy’s idea of a friend: too chatty, too enthusiastic, and way too quick to matchmake, but she was amiable enough. Amy needed to spend more time with other adults socially. It wasn’t healthy that most of her pop culture references involved cartoons or puppets.

She dropped David off at her parent’s place and headed to Ben and Joyce’s house. The traffic was easier than she expected and she arrived a few minutes earlier than intended. Kent would arrive on time, although there was no telling if or when anyone else would arrive. She didn’t even know who was coming. But as long as there was wine and food Amy wasn’t going to ask a lot of questions. Especially wine. God, there better be wine and plenty of it.

‘Hi Amy,’ Ben said. ‘You on your own?’

‘Was I supposed to bring someone with me?’

He shrugged. ‘I guess not. Come in.’

Amy gave a very nice bottle of wine to Ben and he looked at it respectfully.

‘Hi Amy!’ Joyce said, exploding into the living room in a cloud of mingled perfume and amazing cooking smells. She enveloped Amy in a sudden uncomfortable hug that made Amy clench like her entire body was an exposed nerve. ‘Are you here alone?’ she asked in obvious surprise.

Amy frowned. ‘Yes. Was I supposed to bring something else?’

Joyce laughed weakly. ‘Of course not. Come through, come through to the dining room and Ben will pour you a glass of wine.’

‘Can’t have enough wine,’ Ben said cheerfully.

Amy relaxed a little as she followed Joyce into the dining room.

Then she saw the table.

Four places settings. Just four.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

The doorbell chimed.

‘That’ll be Kent,’ Joyce said brightly. ‘I’ll get the door. Ben, pour Amy a drink.’

Amy’s polite smile dropped the second Joyce left the room.

‘What the fuck is going on here?’ Amy demanded. ‘Why are there only four places?’

‘What?’ Ben asked.

‘I think I was pretty clear,’ Amy said. ‘Blindingly clear.’

The door opened before Ben could answer. Joyce, chattering brightly, showed Kent into the room. 

‘Have you redecorated?’ Kent asked.

‘Last month,’ she said. ‘Isn’t this nice? Ben, get drinks.’

Amy tried to smile but couldn’t manage anything but a hysterical grimace. She saw Kent notice the table and frown.

Ben poured glasses of wine and barely took a sip before Joyce was rushing him off to help her serve the food.

‘What’s going on here?’ Kent asked.

‘I don’t know! When I got here they both asked me why I was alone. Separately!’

Kent took a small tinfoil wrapped cube from his pocket. ‘When you spoke to Ben about seeing me with David, what did you say?’ He unwrapped the tinfoil and took out the brownie.

Amy shrugged. ‘That we’re friends and then I asked him to keep it to himself.’ She waved off his silent offer of half the brownie.

‘There are friends,’ Kent said, eating half the brownie. ‘And there are “friends.” I fear Ben has misunderstood your meaning.’ He wrapped the remainder of it and returned it to his pocket.

‘Oh,’ Amy said.

Kent cocked his head. ‘Oh?’

Amy twisted her fingers together. ‘Would that be –’

The door was thrown open and Joyce walked in carrying a tureen. ‘Here we are,’ she said. ‘Sit down, sit down.’

Amy sat diagonally from Kent, which got a smirk from him and complete confusion from Joyce and Ben. They put the dishes down and took the covers off the food.

‘You don’t want to sit together?’ Joyce prompted.

Kent had a mouthful of wine and instead of answering he looked at Amy.

‘We’re not together,’ Amy said flatly. ‘We’re not dating.’

Ben nodded placatingly. ‘Sure.’

Joyce patted Amy’s hand. ‘We won’t tell anyone.’

Amy looked at Kent for backup.

‘We’re not in a relationship,’ he said.

Joyce sat down next to Kent and Ben next to Amy.

‘Your kid was just… randomly coming out of a cat shelter with Kent, calling him daddy,’ Ben said. ‘Sounds legit.’

Amy scowled. ‘He doesn’t call Kent that.’ 

Joyce waved her hands. ‘If you say that you’re not dating then you’re not dating.’ She gave Amy a big wink.

Ben folded his arms. ‘You wanna pretend, that’s fine, but don’t drag the kid into it. What’re you gonna at the Easter Egg Hunt, refuse to let him come? What about the Rose Garden Party? Jesus, Kent, if you’re serious enough for your step-kid to call you dad, then you should be serious enough to be grown-ups about it. It’s not as if you’re still cheating on Sue.’

Kent pursed his lips as he spooned chilli on to his plate. ‘I never cheated on Sue and David isn’t my step-son.’

‘What is your fucking damage?’ Ben asked. ‘That kid obviously thinks the world of you.’

Kent put down his cutlery. ‘He’s not my stepson.’ He held up his hand to forestall argument. ‘He’s my son.’

***

Amy was in the kitchen helping Joyce with the cocktails, something nobody else had served after dinner since the nineteen-seventies. But Joyce was in love with a kind of kitsch fantasy of upper middle-class socialising and nobody had ever had the heart to disabuse her of it.

‘Kent is a very deep man,’ Joyce said, looking at Amy from under her lashes. ‘He feels things deeply. He needs a good lady to look after him. He gets lonely.’

Amy gave her a rictus-like smile.

‘He’s a good daddy?’ Joyce prompted.

Amy relaxed a fraction. ‘Kent is an excellent father.’

‘He could be an excellent boyfriend,’ Joyce suggested.

She meant well. Everyone always meant well.

‘We’re not dating,’ Amy said. ‘We’re not… like that.’ She pushed open the door and heard raised voices.

Joyce sighed. ‘Ben was annoyed,’ she said. ‘Just thinking you were dating and hadn’t told him hurt his feelings. Now he knows Kent has a little boy and didn’t tell him...’ 

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Men are such pussies. Why does he even care?’

Joyce shook her head. ‘They’re terrible at making friends, especially Ben. He only has Kent. That’s it.’

And they acted as if they didn’t even like each other. Men.

***

‘I was wondering that myself,’ Dan said, sipping his latte, and checking out the server.

‘Why men are so fucking weird?’

‘Why you and Kent aren’t fucking,’ Dan elaborated.

Amy squinted at him. ‘What?’

Dan was smiling as he leaned forward. ‘Amy, this is me, you can’t fool me.’

‘I don’t know what you mean. What’re you trying to say?’

Dan shook his head. ‘Okay, let’s agree for the sake of argument that you like Kent and you wanna sleep with him.’

Amy scowled. ‘For the sake of argument?’

‘You wanna sleep with him. Why aren’t you? He broke up with Sue months ago.’

Amy tightly folded her arms. ‘People don’t have sex just because they find each other attractive.’

‘Since when?’ Dan scoffed.

‘It’s… complicated,’ Amy said.

Dan gave her a look. ‘No, it’s not.’

Amy tried to find a good reason that he’d understand. ‘What if it’s terrible?’

‘Really?’ he asked doubtfully. ‘Was it terrible before?’

Amy smoothed a lock of hair behind her ear. ‘No, it was… fine.’

Dan smirked at her. ‘Fine?’

Amy pulled a face. ‘I slept with you. I slept with Kent. I can’t sit here and say you were mediocre but he made me come like a steam train.’

‘A steam train?’

‘Three times,’ Amy said helpfully.

Dan sipped his latte. ‘Yeah, you definitely shouldn’t tell me anything like that,’ he said wryly.

Amy played with her coffee cup. ‘Sex is overrated.’

‘Not if you think I’m mediocre,’ Dan said. ‘If anything, you’re wildly underestimating.’

Amy crossed her legs. ‘Anyway, I asked him in London and he said no. If I ask again I’ll end up looking –’

‘Pathetic? Weak? Needy?’ Dan suggested.

‘I was going to say I’d look like I couldn’t take a hint,’ Amy said.

Dan just grinned at her. ‘That too. But that was months ago and he was dating Sue.’

‘He could have said something,’ Amy said. ‘He hasn’t.’

‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Dan asked. ‘Besides randomly terrible sex for no reason.’

Amy played with her cup. ‘We could split up after and it screws up him and David,’ she said. ‘They have a great relationship and we have a great friendship. Why risk that just for sex?

Dan shook his head. ‘You wouldn’t let that happen, Amy. Kent and Sue had that awful breakup that lasted... months, and they see each other every day. They work together. If they can do that for work, you could do that for David.’

***

Kent was trapped in meeting hell, trying to accommodate changes to the Israeli prime minister’s upcoming visit, so Amy had brought David to Kent’s place herself. David had taken Kent being delayed with barely a hiccup, once he had been assured that the kittens were still there.

The kittens were at the front door, meowing loudly when Amy let her and David in. He immediately knelt down and held out his hands out.

‘What’re you doing?’ Amy asked.

‘Saying hello, Mama,’ he said promptly. ‘Papa says it’s how kitties shake hands.’ He tugged her skirt. ‘Like this.’

Amy forced herself not to groan as she knelt down. She held out her hand and almost jumped at the brush of whiskers against her hand.

‘Batman likes you,’ David said happily.

‘I’m not even wearing black rubber,’ Amy said. ‘Don’t tell your papa I said that.’

The kittens were rubbing around their ankles and standing up to bunt against their hands.

‘We need to feed them, Mama,’ David said. ‘I know where the food is.’

There had been some changes in the apartment since Amy had last been there. There was a child-sized armchair by the couch and a small bookcase full of children’s books. In the kitchen, the knives had been put on a high shelf and the cupboard under the sink now boasted a padlock.

And there were finger-paintings on the walls.

‘Are those yours?’ she asked David.

‘Papa lets me paint at the table and play clay and draw,’ David said, pointing to a cupboard. ‘Cat food up there!’

She wasn’t exactly surprised that Kent had made the place more child friendly. But she was pleased. She was pleased that he displayed the blobs of colour all around the kitchen.

She put out some food for the kittens, and noticed a doctor’s appointment card stuck to the fridge door with a magnet. Probably just a check-up. Nothing to worry about. Probably. She opened the fridge, got a few things to make David a snack, and picked up a half-full bottle of wine. Kent wouldn’t mind if she had some. She could always replace it.

Wait. Could you put pot in wine? No. That was insane. You had to cook it. That’s why people put it in muffins and brownies and not sandwiches.

Amy sniffed the wine. It was fine, so she poured herself a large glass.

David automatically sat at the table to eat, his little legs dangling.

‘Do you like sleepovers with papa?’ Amy said, sitting down.

David nodded. ‘We watch movies,’ he confided. ‘And eat pizza and popcorn.’

Amy sipped her wine. ‘Not at the same time I hope.’

‘I like pizza.’

‘Me too,’ Amy said.

David poked his sandwich. ‘I miss you.’

Amy put her glass down. ‘When you have you a sleepover with papa, that’s when you miss me?’

‘Yes.’

Amy leaned forward to kiss him. ‘I miss you too.’

David gave her a look of playful disgust. ‘Ew!’

‘Come here and I’ll give you more.’

He giggled. ‘No!’

‘Does papa kiss you?’ Amy asked.

David pointed to his cheek. ‘It’s tickly.’

‘Because of his beard?’

David nodded. ‘Why don’t you have a beard?’

Amy put her chin in her palm. ‘I’m a lady. Ladies don’t generally have beards. It happens, but less often.’

‘Why not?’

Amy drank some more wine. ‘Well, most of the time ladies don’t have enough have hair on their face.’

David frowned. ‘That’s not fair.’

‘I guess not.’

‘Papa has lots of hair. Papa has hair on his chest and on his arms. When I’m big will I have lots of hair?’

Amy nodded. ‘Probably. I guess you won’t have to worry about going bald. That’s where a man’s hair falls out.’ She shrugged. ‘But your papa doesn’t have that problem.’

David put his hands on his head. ‘I don’t want my hair to fall out.’

‘Baba, you’re too little for that,’ Amy promised. ‘And granddad mostly has his hair and your papa has his. Okay?

‘Okay,’ he said on unwillingly. He looked down at the kittens as they scrambled towards the litter tray. ‘They poop all the time,’ he said to Amy, as is imparting a great secret.

‘They’re babies,’ Amy said. ‘When you were a baby you pooped all the time.’

‘No, I didn’t!’ David giggled.

‘So much pooping,’ Amy said, shaking her head sadly.

There was a rattle of keys and Kent opened the front door.

‘Papa!’ David squealed, and scrambled out of the room.

Amy stood up and walked to the door. She watched as David ran towards him and jumped up into Kent’s arms. Kent caught him easily, whisked him up, and dropped his bag onto the floor.

‘We fed the kittens and mama made me a sandwich and...’

Kent kissed David before resting David on his hip and walking over to Amy, still nodding as David talked.

Amy neatened her hair. ‘David, papa has had a long day. Can you wait a little while to tell him your news?’

David fell quiet and rested his head in the crook of Kent’s shoulder.

‘Sorry I’m late,’ Kent said.

‘It happens,’ Amy said easily. ‘Bad meeting?’

He sighed. ‘I’ve had better. Would you pour me a glass of wine? Would you like one?’

‘Sure,’ Amy said. ‘Do you want me to take David?’

Kent shook his head. ‘I’m good.’

She didn’t blame him. David wasn’t a boisterous child and he was affectionate, but Kent didn’t get to see him when he was quiet and cuddly all that often. David often got very excited before seeing Kent, and she suspected that he sometimes tired Kent out. But Kent had never complained.

Amy topped up her glass and poured a glass for Kent. She carried them into the living room. Kent was besieged by the kittens, who were fighting for his attention, and David was nowhere to be seen.

‘Did you turn him into a kitten and let him scamper away?’ Amy asked.

‘He’s gone to his bedroom to put his shoes away.’

‘Shit, are you shoes off?’ Amy said, noticing too late that he’d taken off his own shoes. ‘Is this a shoes-off house?’

Kent nodded. ‘Please. I won’t tell anyone if there are holes in your nylons.’

‘Smart ass,’ Amy grumbled as she sat down. She put the two glasses on the table. ‘This feels like a trick so you can you can leer at my feet.’

He chuckled. ‘Do you have particularly attractive feet?’

‘I have a stupidly expensive pedicure.’ She was close enough to Kent that Batman accidentally against rubbed her arm.

‘I’ve never done that,’ Kent said conversationally. ‘I spend a lot of money on haircuts.’

Amy looked at the thick hair with finely graduated layers. ‘You’d have to.’ She closed her eyes for a moment.

‘Bad day?’ Kent asked.

‘She’s driving me fucking nuts. She won’t make up her mind about anything and she keeps hiring this person and sacking that person.’ Amy gulped down wine. ‘Was Hughes like this?’

Kent thought about it, while a kitten chewed his thumb. ‘He was by no means perfect, but he was less prone to radical changes of staff. Nonetheless, he did change his mind a great deal.’

Amy nodded at the kitten. ‘Doesn’t that hurt?’

‘A little,’ he said, ‘but I’m not averse to a little nibble given affectionately.’

Amy gave him a sly look. ‘That so? I don’t remember it on your survey.’

Kent took a sip of his wine. ‘I am hardly to blame for your faulty memory.’

Amy scratched Twilight Sparkle behind the ears. ‘I’m sorry about these,’ she said. ‘I shouldn’t have let David ask you. It wasn’t fair. Sue told me that you weren’t ready for another cat.’

Kent sighed. ‘I didn’t think I was. Nonetheless, it’s nice to have someone waiting for me when I return home.’

‘They’re not someone,’ Amy said. ‘They’re kittens.’

He shrugged. ‘Pets can be a part of the family. I know you’re not particularly an animal person, but even if you don’t understand perhaps you can accept.’

Amy nodded. ‘I can do that.’ She looked around the room. ‘Is David still in his room?’

‘Oh.’ Kent started to move.

Amy waved her hand. ‘I’ll check. One of your tiny furry assholes has fallen asleep on you. Which room is it?’

‘Second on the left.’

Amy went into the corridor. She wasn’t sure what room this had been the last time she was here: study maybe, or gym, but now it was unmistakably a child’s bedroom. There was a race car bed, stuffed toys, and a starry sky on the ceiling. What there was not, was David. His shoes were neatly place at the foot of the bed and his jacket was on the coat rack. Shit.

Amy quickly checked the other rooms: bathroom, kitchen, Kent’s bedroom...

‘Hi Mama!’ David said cheerfully. He was sat in the middle of Kent’s bed, playing with the toy frog.

‘Come out of there right now,’ Amy said. ‘This is your papa’s bedroom. You can’t just go in there. It’s rude.’

David’s lower lip trembled. ‘Okay.’

‘Don’t do your sad face,’ she said, firmly shutting the door behind them. ‘You’re a good boy and I know you know that you shouldn’t poke around in private places.’

‘I wanted to look at the froggy,’ David said.

‘I know,’ Amy said, opening the door to the living room, ‘but that’s not an excuse.’

Kent, now free of kittens, knelt down in front of David.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘I was playing with your froggy,’ David said, twisting his fingers together.

‘He was in your bedroom. I explained that’s private,’ Amy said. She didn’t much appreciate Kent’s expression, or reply.

‘Looking in my bedroom without permission would be a little mischievous,’ Kent said with a distinctly ironic tone. He stood up and ruffled David’s hair. Then he looked Amy in the eye. ‘I think we can forgive it, though.’

‘Sorry, Papa,’ David said.

Kent looked down and winked at him. ‘Are you ready to order some pizza?’

‘Yes, please!’

‘Why do you have a toy frog?’ Amy asked, as Kent looked for the menu.

He didn’t look at her, although she noticed colour rise in his cheeks. ‘It’s was Fibonacci’s favourite toy.’

Amy groaned. ‘Sorry,’ she muttered.

‘You weren’t to know,’ Kent said. He took a breath. ‘Would you like to stay and have some pizza with us?’

‘That’d be nice, thanks.’

It was always different seeing someone in their own space. Sure, she’d been in Kent’s apartment with him before, but she’d been high. It hadn’t been the same thing.

Kent went to get changed, leaving her to watch David expertly turn on the television and find a cartoon channel.

‘Does papa know can do that?’ she asked.

‘Yes, Mama.’ He sat down in the little armchair and rested his head against her knee. After a few seconds, Twilight Sparkle clambered up on to the chair and sat on his lap. Amy got her phone out and took some pictures.

‘Be gentle,’ she said, as David tentatively put his hand on the kitten’s back.

‘I know,’ he said.

Kent walked in, with his phone held to his ear.

Amy’s stomach clenched.

‘Amy, what pizza toppings would you like?’ he asked.

Oh. She relaxed a little. ‘Pepperoni, chilli beef, cheese, just all the cheese, and jalapenos.’

Kent raised his eyebrows but relayed her order. After the call finished, he tucked the phone away and pursed his lips. ‘It occurs to me that you might not be comfortable. Could I perhaps lend you some sweatpants and a t-shirt?’

Amy took down her hair. ‘Not many guys would suggest a woman change a short skirt for a pair of sweats.’

He shifted his feet. ‘I didn’t intend any disrespect.’

‘I didn’t hear any,’ Amy said. ‘Some weird desexualisation maybe.’

She didn’t know why she said it, except that it was true. It was true and she didn’t know how she felt about it.’

He glanced at David, who was engrossed in some kind of toy advert, and then back at her.

‘Amy, you’re a beautiful woman whatever you’re wearing,’ he said carefully. ‘I also thought that we were easy enough together that you didn’t feel the necessity to be “on” all the time.’

She stood up, her feet braced apart. ‘I’m always “on”, thank you. I just... would prefer to not be treated like your sister. Having a child doesn’t make me some kind of weird, pathetic sexless creature. I’m not Catherine.’

Kent bit his lower lip. ‘Is this still about the sweatpants or...’

Amy folded her arms. ‘Partly. Mostly. I don’t know.’

Kent squeezed the bridge of his nose. ‘Amy, I know that you’re not sexless.’

David tugged at Amy’s hand. ‘Mama, are you fighting?’

‘No, we’re just having a discussion,’ Amy said.

David frowned. ‘It feels like arguing.’

‘He looks exactly like you when he does that,’ Kent said.

‘Yeah.’ Amy pushed back her hair. ‘Sorry. I don’t know what the... I don’t know what I’m upset about. I don’t know what I’m doing.’

‘You don’t have to apologise.’

‘Work is really stressful,’ Amy said. ‘Ericsson is right up my ass, Selina is being just so... so...’

Kent closed the distance between them and put his arm around her. ‘You don’t have to apologise,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to explain.’

Amy rested her forehead on his chest and sighed. ‘I’d like the t-shirt and sweatpants.’

David scrambled to his feet and threw his arms around their legs. ‘Don’t be sad, Mama!’

Amy tipped up his chin. ‘Sometimes it’s okay to feel sad. But I have you, so I don’t feel so bad anymore.’

***

She was surprised that pizza was eaten not at the kitchen table, but on the couch, while The Lego Batman Movie played. She had queried that one with Kent, since he said he wasn’t a fan of Batman, but David’s raucous laughter had been its own explanation. She wasn’t following what was going on, surely the Joker and Batman weren’t actually having some kind of lovers’ tiff, but she found it suspicious when David fell completely silent. She looked down, and saw David had hand jammed down his pants.

She looked away.

She looked back.

He was still doing it.

Amy nudged Kent with her elbow, and indicated David. She saw Kent look. She saw his eyes widen slightly. She saw him roll his eyes. Roll his eyes.

‘David?’ Kent said. ‘David, are you doing that because you have an itch, or because it feels nice?’

‘It feels nice,’ David said immediately.

Amy bit the inside of her cheek.

‘Okay,’ Kent said mildly. ‘Do you remember last week when we talked about things we do that are healthy and normal and natural, but it’s not polite to do them in front of other people?’

David thought about it. ‘Like when I need a pee-pee.’

‘Right.’ Kent scratched his eyebrow. ‘Well, touching your bathing suit area is one of those things it’s normal, natural, and healthy to do, but it’s not polite to do in front of other people.’

‘Oh,’ David said. ‘Okay!’

‘So, either stop and stay here watching the movie, or go somewhere private like your bedroom,’ Kent prompted.

‘Okay.’ David pulled his hand out, got up, and wandered out of the room.

Amy turned on Kent. ‘You –’

He pressed his finger to her lips. ‘Anything you yell, he will hear, and he will internalise.’

Amy gritted her teeth and lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘You just sent a little baby to... to...’

‘Was I supposed to tell him that it’s disgusting and wrong?’ he asked tartly. ‘Because that is not a position I can endorse.’

‘No!’ Amy punched a cushion. ‘He’s four!’

‘Which is old enough to notice that touching himself feels nice. That’s probably all it is, but if we make a fuss about it –’

‘I don’t want to make a fuss about it,’ Amy hissed. ‘I’m not going to screw him up with some sex is evil fuckwittery.’

Kent sighed. ‘Then I don’t know what we’re talking about.’

Amy brought her feet up onto the couch. ‘He’s only four.’

‘He’s still your baby,’ Kent said. ‘Nothing will change that.’

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Amy checked her watch.

‘I will tell you when you can go in,’ Sue said, eyes on her screen.

‘I need to talk to her.’

‘You have said,’ Sue observed. ‘Four times.’ She opened a desk drawer, took out a candy bar, and handed it to Amy. ‘Eat this.’

Amy tore it open. ‘Why are you giving me candy?’

‘You’re agitated,’ Sue said. ‘In the absence of sex, candy is probably your best option for calming down.’ She finally looked at Amy. ‘Unless you intend to have sex, in which case kindly do it somewhere else.’

Amy bit off a mouthful of candy and chewed it aggressively.

‘I’ll take that as a no,’ Sue said. ‘How disappointing. You really are too young to stagnate this way.’

‘I suppose I should lake a leaf out of your book and bounce from one man to another like a sexual pinball,’ Amy said. ‘If you were bi you’d probably have tried bouncing off me.’

Sue looked her up and down slowly. ‘Don’t flatter yourself.’

Amy grinned. ‘You’re too good for me?’

‘You’re too neurotic,’ she said.

‘Neurotic!’

‘And far too short,’ Sue said. ‘If I were to date a woman then she would be tall and voluptuous, with full lips and long, dark hair.’

‘This conversation is sounding super exciting,’ Jonah said, swaggering in.

‘Why?’ Amy asked. ‘Do you find rejection arousing?’

‘It would explain so much,’ Sue agreed.

‘You know, Sue, I’m very open-minded,’ Jonah said. ‘If you wanna explore this fantasy of sex with a beautiful amazon, I am totally down for making that happen.’

‘What the fuck would it have to do with you?’ Amy asked.

‘Jonah, if I ever meet my dream woman and, for some unfathomable reason decide I want a man present, I will ask my fiancé.’

‘You’re engaged?’ Amy asked.

‘I am.’

Amy folded her arms. ‘Does... do people know?’

Sue gave her a sharp look. ‘No. “People” do not know. Hurt feelings would not be helpful to anyone.’

‘Why’re you saying people like it has scare quotes?’ Jonah asked. ‘Hey, I think you’re talking about Mr Davison.’

‘Nobody cares what you think,’ Amy said.

‘The conversation has moved on,’ Sue added. ‘As you should.’

‘The vice president –’

Amy held up her hand. ‘Fuck off, Jonad, you can’t throw Doyle around in the Oval Office and expect anyone to be impressed.’

‘Except perhaps literally,’ Sue said. ‘Since that would require a level of physical strength that I doubt your spindly body allows.’

The door to the Oval Office opened, and a cluster of congressmen and lobbyists spilled out.

‘Amy,’ Sue said. ‘Now you may speak to POTUS.’

 * * *

Selina’s attention span had always been flaky at best, but now with the primaries, Catherine’s terrible polling, and Families First, keeping her concentration was almost impossible. It didn’t help that random people kept wandering in and out. Catherine and Dan didn’t even seem to have a reason to be there.

‘How’s your little boy?’ she asked Amy, in a lull while Selina was checking proofs.

‘Okay,’ Amy said. ‘I mean, he’s okay. He completely freaked me out but... he’s fine.’

‘Why, what did he do?’ Selina asked, not looking up. ‘Is he chanting math problems in his sleep?’

Amy noticed Ben’s head come up, but ignored it. ‘His father... thinks I’m overreacting.’

‘David has a father?’ Gary gasped. ‘That’s great!’

Selina looked at him. ‘Of course he has a father. Did you think Amy had a virgin birth? Although it’s Amy...’

‘Too late for that,’ Dan said.

‘I thought it was a test tube thing,’ Gary said.

‘Donor sperm,’ Amy said.

‘Is he okay?’ Catherine asked.

‘Yeah it’s just…’ Amy sighed. ‘He’s four years old. I caught him with his hand wedged in his pants.’

Ben chuckled. ‘A boy’s favourite toy is his dick.’

‘Really?’

‘Wait until his balls drop,’ Dan said lightly.

Selina pointed her pen at Catherine. ‘Girls are no better. From the age of three this one either had her fingers in her mouth, up her nose, or in her cooter.’

‘Mom!’

‘I’m sorry, sweetheart, but it’s true,’ Selina said, not sounding at all apologetic. ‘You told... David’s dad? That must’ve been a fun conversation.’

‘Sex without conception must seem so illogical,’ Dan said with a chuckle.

Ben put his hands on his hips. ‘Am I the last to know who David’s father is?’

‘I don’t know who he is,’ Catherine said. ‘Obviously Gary doesn’t.’

Ben didn’t look mollified.

Amy cleared her throat. ‘Okay, let’s move on to –’

‘See Amy,’ Selina began, ‘It’s not... oh, Mike, Bill. Come here. You’ve got kids. Amy has an issue with her little boy and we’re... what’s it called, crowdsourcing it.’

Amy shook her head frantically. ‘Ma’am, please don’t –’

‘Oh, it’s no problem,’ Selina said. ‘Amy’s little boy has been “playing with his pistol” if you know what I mean, and she’s worried it’s not normal.’

‘Totally normal,’ Mike said.

‘How old is he?’ Bill asked.

‘Oh, I should’ve asked that,’ Mike said.

‘Why?’ Ben asked. ‘Any kid old enough to reach down there, does. Mine all did, boys and girls both.’

‘He’s four,’ Amy said. ‘But I don’t want –’

‘It’s normal,’ Bill said, and gave her a small smile. ‘It must be nice to have so little to do that you can gabble about your son.’

‘It’s nice that my relationship with POTUS is strong enough that Catherine asked me how David was,’ Amy said.

Bill’s smile turned cold. ‘Lucky you.’

***

‘Amy, I have an issue, Kent said, pushing her door shut.

‘Is it the Leigh thing? Because if Selina wouldn’t listen to you then she sure as shit won’t listen to me.’

Kent drew up abruptly. ‘That’s a separate issue, although one I do have concerns about. No, I’m here about the Easter Egg Roll.’

Amy gave him a look. ‘You worried that you’re not gonna find as many eggs as the other little boys?’

‘POTUS has informed me that my presence is required as she will be continuing to work on Families First.’ He spread out his hands. ‘If David is present at the least he’s likely to greet me.’

‘Unless you’re dressed as a bunny,’ Amy suggested.

Kent raised his eyebrows. ‘That’s not going to happen.’

Amy drummed her fingers on the desk. ‘This is a problem. You’re right. David would totally run over to you. Probably yelling “papa!” and waving his arms. We can’t risk it.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Kent said quietly. ‘It was never my intention to restrict David’s socialisation.’

Amy shook her head. ‘Something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. Fuck. I guess David will have to sit this one out.’ She pushed back her hair. ‘Maybe we can do something with him for Easter instead.’

Kent’s shoulders relaxed a fraction. ‘I hope he’s not too upset.’

‘He’ll be fine, Amy said. ‘With enough candy.’

‘Good,’ Kent said, reaching for the door.

‘Do you think firing Leigh is gonna be enough?’ Amy asked.

Kent gave her a thoughtful look. ‘Do you?’

‘I asked you first.’

Kent pursed his lips. ‘No, I don’t think so. We will be fortunate if using a blameless young intern as a scapegoat doesn’t rebound on us.’

‘She’s gonna be okay,’ Amy said. ‘That’s a hard head on her shoulders.’

Kent sighed. ‘At such a young age, though, the disappointment and injustice must press upon her very hard. I fear the effect it will have on her.’

‘It’s a lesson we all have to learn,’ Amy said brusquely. ‘But if she’s not gonna be a big enough sacrifice then the rest of us are gonna have to watch our backs.’

Kent nodded thoughtfully. ‘As the campaign manager, you should be particularly careful. I’ll do what I can to shift any attention from you.’

Amy put her chin in her hand. ‘Who’s gonna protect you?’

‘I was assuming you would,’ he said wryly.

‘Just making sure. We gotta look at for each other. No fucker else will.’

‘Agreed.’

***

‘You look like shit,’ Amy said, handing Dan the bag of takeout food.

‘Gee, Amy, you’re like a breath of fresh air on a hot day,’ Dan said.

She followed him into the living room, which was strewn with wrappers and empty bottles.

‘Hey, I brought food. My job is done.’

Amy sat down on the couch, after Dan swept debris onto the floor.

‘Nobody else will take my calls,’ Dan admitted.

‘That’s because you’re fucking toxic right now.’ Amy crossed her legs.

‘You’ll be old news by the end of the week, Amy said. ‘Anyone in D.C. with two brain cells to rub together will know that you took the fall. So, dust yourself off and quit with the self-pity.’

Dan opened a beer. ‘You were pissed, though,’ he said with a grin. ‘You figured if Ben went then you’d be a shoo-in for chief of staff.’

Amy picked at her food. ‘And abandon the dizzy heights of campaign manager?’

‘I’m right, I know I am.’

She shrugged. ‘I admit nothing.’

‘Is Selina driving you up the wall yet?’

‘Up one wall, across the roof, and down the other wall,’ Amy said. ‘For fucking months.’

‘I don’t miss that job,’ Dan said. ‘The best part of being Selina’s campaign manager was getting fired.’

‘I didn’t have the time to talk to Kent this time,’ Amy said. ‘Not that it would’ve helped.’

Dan looked at her from under his lashes. ‘Since Kent and Ben were the ones firing me.’

Amy shrugged easily. ‘Kent never liked you and Ben probably figures that firing you is the next best thing to firing Kent.’

Dan shook his head. ‘Don’t fall for that, Ames, it’s total BS. They make out that they can’t stand each other, but when they fired me they were in simpatico like you wouldn’t believe. It was like a cop movie, and I was the suspect being dangled out the window by my feet.’

Amy considered it. ‘Men. Why can’t you just be friends without pretending you hate each other?’

‘Says the woman in love with her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, Dan mocked.

‘Who in fuck are you even talking about? Amy asked.

‘Sue, pretty obviously, Dan said.

‘Sue is not my best friend,’ she sneered.

‘Oh yeah?’ Dan asked. ‘Who is it? Don’t say me and don’t say Kent. Men and women can’t be friends.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘I hate that bullshit. Men and women can be friends. Not me and you, because you’re a psychopath, that’s a whole other issue.’

Dan sniggered. ‘You think you’re friends with Kent?’

‘I... I didn’t say that,’ Amy said. ‘I let him see me without makeup. That’s not something I’d ever let you see.’

Dan took a gulp of beer. ‘Are you trying to make sure he never sleeps with you?’

Any hit him with a pillow. ‘It’s not you, and I’m not a fucking medusa.’

Dan pushed the pillow away. ‘What do you mean, you didn’t talk to Kent this time?’ he asked.

‘What? Nothing. Nothing.’

He clucked his tongue. ‘Amy, come on. You can’t fool me.’

She looked away. ‘It doesn’t matter now. Kent told me that the torture story came from you and that he’d have to ask for your resignation.’

Dan smiled sardonically. ‘Happy memories.’

‘He agreed to give you so time if you asked for it,’ Amy said. ‘He didn’t want to, but I guess he figured that you’d get yourself fired sooner or later.’

Dan watched her closely. ‘Yeah, you bought me a couple months.’

Amy stared at him. ‘What?’

He shrugged. ‘Ben told me. He said you were probably feeling shitty about leaking the Ray story.’

Amy’s mouth dropped open. ‘I... I...’

Dan shrugged. ‘You didn’t honestly think nobody would guess?’

‘You knew?’

He leaned back. ‘Pay attention, Amy, I just said that Ben told me.’

‘Shit,’ Amy said. ‘I didn’t know you were gonna go off the deep end.’

‘Game recognises game,’ Dan said saluting with his drink. ‘You do me better than I do me.’

‘Ew,’ Amy muttered. ‘Fuck.’

Dan nudged her with his elbow. ‘You were welcome to it,’ he said. ‘If you hadn’t leaked the story about Ray then something else would’ve shoved me over the edge. Selina’s campaign manager would drive anyone to antidepressants.’

‘That’s the fucking truth, Amy said.

***

Amy rolled her shoulders as she marched through the corridors. Sue gave her a dark look as she stamped into the office.

‘What?’ Amy asked.

‘Was it quite necessary to humiliate Kent by shoving him against a wall?’ Sue demanded. ‘He would never assault you and you would never manhandle Dan, Ben, or anyone else in that manner.’

Amy shook herself. ‘What do you care? You dumped him!’

Sue’s face set. ‘That doesn’t mean that I am happy to see him abused.’

‘He polled Doyle when we said we wouldn’t!’

Sue was unmoved. Amy sighed and her shoulders dropped.

‘Does everyone know?’ she asked.

‘You were seen,’ Sue said waspishly. ‘Bill Ericsson is telling everyone.’

Amy folded her arms. ‘You gonna do something about that?’

‘l will do what I can to ensure that Bill understands that disrespect will not be tolerated.’ She raised her eyebrow. ‘Not even yours. I am still associated with Mr Davison. This makes me look bad by association.’

‘I’ll talk to Kent,’ Amy said quietly.

Sue’s hackles dropped a little. ‘Don’t take your unhappiness out on Kent. I’m his ex. That’s my prerogative.

‘He’s twice my size,’ Amy said. ‘If he wanted, he could’ve stopped me pushing him around.’

‘I am very well aware of Kent’s physical prowess,’ Sue said. ‘Just as you are very well aware how uncomfortable he would be offering any woman even a hint of violence in his own defence.’

It was true. Christ knew Selina had pushed him with the lipstick, and Amy was sure Sue had pushed him too, but he had never even hinted at physical aggression. It wasn’t in his nature. Even when he got angry, he was in control. He would step away before he got confrontational.

Amy had learned you could do that when you were bigger or stronger, or, fuck it, just when you were a man. You didn’t get the same respect if you weren’t. If Amy backed away she looked cowardly, if Selina backed down, she looked weak. That was just how it worked.

She knew Kent had let her push him. She knew he could’ve stopped her at any time. That wasn’t like him. She didn’t think she liked it.

Fuck.

She pulled out her cell and sent him a text. She chewed her thumbnail until he sent back an affirmative reply.

***

David had chocolate around his mouth.

Did you find the Easter eggs?’ Amy asked.

‘No Mama,’ he said innocently.

Amy put her hands on her hips. ‘David, I’m going to ask you again. Did you find the Easter eggs?’

‘Um…’

She stroked her finger through the chocolate and held it up.

‘Oh,’ David said. ‘I found one,’ he said with a bright smile.

Amy ruffled his hair. ‘Where’s Milla?’

‘She’s got a headache!’ David hissed in a stage-whisper. ‘She’s lying down.’

‘Come on,’ Amy said. ‘Let’s clean your face before your papa arrives.’

‘Papa is coming to my house?’ David asked.

‘He’s coming to have dinner with us.’ Amy towed him into the kitchen and scrubbed the chocolate from his face. ‘We’re going to have to talk about you eating candy before dinner.’

‘Sorry, mama.’

‘Saying sorry doesn’t make it okay to do the same naughty thing again.’

‘l didn’t eat Easter eggs before,’ David protested.

‘You ate cookies.’ Amy lifted him up onto the counter. ‘Do you get hungry or do you just like sweet things?’

‘I like sweet things, he admitted.

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘I know that you don’t really believe me, but sugary things are bad for you. Okay, baba? Too much sugar will rot your teeth and make you chubby.’

She poked his stomach on “chubby.”

He giggled.

‘This is important. Eating too much is bad for you. It’s my job to make sure that you don’t get sick.’ Amy rested her forehead against his. ‘I need you to promise you won’t steal food again.’

There was a long pause before he spoke. ‘Okay, mama,’ he said quietly.

‘You promise?’

‘I promise.’ He held up his hand to pinkie swear.

***

Amy kissed his forehead afterwards, and watched him fretting about his t-shirt.

‘It looks fine,’ she said.

‘Want to look nice for papa,’ he said.

‘You do look nice,’ Amy said. ‘And papa loves you. He’s here’s to visit us, not your clothes.’

‘I love papa.’

‘I know.’

David threw his arms around Amy. ‘Love you, Mama!’

Amy scooped him up and squeezed him. ‘I love you, David.’

There was a creak from upstairs.

‘That’s probably Milla,’ Amy said off his expression.

‘Oh,’ he said sheepishly.

‘There’s no monsters,’ she assured him.

‘I know that mama! I’m not a baby.’

***

Any normally changed into jeans or sweats at home. Tonight, she put on a shimmery dress, a silver chain, and wore her hair up.

‘You look pretty,’ David said.

He had been insistent he change his t-shirt. Amy wasn’t sure why the red stripy shirt was superior to the blue one with the picture of the boat. It just was, apparently.

‘Thank you, she said. ‘You look handsome.’

There was a polite tap at the door. Amy went to answer it.

‘I’m underdressed,’ Kent said.

‘Ties are overrated, Amy said.

‘I like your shirt, Papa,’ David said approvingly.

Milla had left some French thing that Amy couldn’t pronounce. It seemed strange for a Polish lady to be cooking French food, but Amy figured it wasn’t any stranger than an American doing it.

Kent knew how to pronounce it and spent a few minutes telling David now to say it, what it meant, and some pretty loosely associated trivia about France. David was soaking it all up. He was ready to learn that kind of thing. Ready to go to school. She just wasn’t ready for it.

‘I shouldn’t have done what I did,’ Amy said quietly to Kent.

He was pouring them both wine. ‘You already apologised.’

‘By text, she said. ‘That doesn’t count.’ She frowned at his little smile. ‘What, you think that’s why I said it by text?’

Kent leaned back. ‘I didn’t say that, but I know that its more comfortable for you.’ He shrugged. ‘I’m not going to argue about it with you.’

Amy rubbed her neck. ‘I’m grouchy.’

‘I hadn’t noticed,’ Kent said wryly.

‘Are you tired?’ David asked. ‘I grouchy when tired.’

Amy put her chin in her palm. ‘No kidding.’

David gave her a look that she’d seen in the mirror. ‘Mama teasing me,’ he said. Then he grinned brightly and tickled her. ‘Teasing you!’

***

‘This was nice,’ Kent said, watching David playing on the couch. ‘Thank you for inviting me.’

‘I was feeling pretty bad about the thing,’ Amy said. ‘You know.’

‘Don’t do that again,’ Kent said, with just enough warmth not to make her feel completely shitty.

‘I won’t,’ she said.

Kent nodded. ‘Is your neck still hurting you?’

She groaned and slumped back in her chair. ‘It feels like it’s made of rusted link chins.’

Kent licked his lips. ‘Would you like me to rub it for you?’

Amy chewed her lip as she looked at him. ‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Let me move onto the couch.’

‘Sure.’

David was in the corner of the couch so Amy sat in the middle with Kent on the other side. She felt, he warmth of his body as he sat next to her. She turned her back to him and dropped her head down, showing him her shoulders and the span of her neck.

She shivered as his fingertips drifted across her neck, taking off her necklace. He gave it to her and then rested his hands on her shoulders.

She felt his breath on the nape of her neck as he began to rub her shoulders. He wasn’t too gentle, something that plagued back and shoulder rubs. His touch was firm enough and his hands were warm. She sighed as the knots and tension began to unravel and melt.

‘How’s that?’ Kent murmured.

‘It’s good, Amy muttered. ‘My neck?’

His thumbs played at the base of her neck for a moment before pushing upward and radiating out.

Amy felt a soft moan slip out. She panicked for a moment, but Kent didn’t speak and didn’t pause.

‘What are you doing, Mama?’

‘Papa is giving me a neck rub, she mumbled.

‘Why?

‘Feels good.’

She slipped forward a little but Kent caught her. She looked at him over her shoulder.

‘Oops, she said.

He smiled. He had a really nice smile when it was open and heartfelt.

‘Enough?’ he asked.

‘That was great, she said, stretching.

‘It was only a stop gap,’ Kent said. ‘I know you. You’ll get stressed again.’

‘Well you know I live for it.’

***

‘You are the worst thing since food in buckets,’ Amy said. ‘And possibly slavery.’

It felt good. Good? It felt fucking great to tell Selina exactly what she thought of her and walk out of that room, that room that stank of sweat and desperation, and walk along the corridor with her head held high.

‘Amy!’

She waved a hand, not turning even when she heard Kent jog along the corridor.

‘Don’t tell me to come back!’ she snapped. ‘Don’t you dare tell me to calm down. And don’t lecture me about what I’ve done.’

Kent smoothed down his tie. ‘I wasn’t going to do any of those things,’ he said quietly.

‘Then why did you just come running down the corridor like Tom Cruise has run out of milk?’

Kent touched her elbow. ‘Are you okay?’

‘No,’ Amy said. ‘But I will be outside of that poisonous cesspit.’

His phone beeped. He ignored it.

‘Let’s go talk, he suggested.

Any pushed her hands through her hair. ‘Do you think I should go back?’

‘I’m not asking you to.’

‘Do you think I should?’ Amy asked. ‘I’m asking what you think, Kent. Gimmie a straight answer.’

He shook his head. ‘No,’ he said quietly. ‘You’ve been stressed out for months. Unhappy for months. Don’t put yourself through this.’

Amy let out a deep breath. ‘Okay.’

Kent’s phone rang. He ignored it.

‘Let me buy you a coffee,’ he said.

‘I need some time by myself,’ Amy said. ‘Go soothe Selina’s ruffled feathers. We’ll catch up later on.’

Ben’s voice bounced down the corridor, yelling for Kent.

Kent ignored it. ‘Amy, I’m worried about you.’

‘Don’t be,’ she said, as clearly as she could. ‘I’m gonna have a drink, some ice cream, another drink, a bath, and plot a terrible revenge.’

That made him smile. ‘I’m glad you have a plan.’

His phone was ringing again. He ignored it.

‘I do.’ Amy embraced him. She sighed. At the warmth and strength of him.

‘I’ll call you later,’ Kent said, stroking her back.

‘Okay.’ Amy let go of him reluctantly. ‘Ben’s coming. You better go.’

‘I’ll call later, he promised.

That made her smile. ‘Yeah. You said. Go on. Fuck off. Let me get drink and gorge on ice cream in peace.’

        

 

 

Chapter Text

So many years of her life wasted. Wasted on a self-absorbed woman who never cared about equality or feminism except when it was her being treated unequally or her being denied opportunities. D.C. was a pit of snakes, cannibal snakes she had to eat before they ate her. She was sick and tired of it.

Selina would throw Amy under a bus in a heartbeat, Ben would stab her in the back, while Mike and Gary would probably screw her over the second they were threatened. If it even took that much.

She had poisoned her soul and for what? For who? There wasn’t a single thing of value in the whole fucking mess.

There was a knock on her door. Not the connecting door through which David had wandered, but the door to the corridor.

Amy sat up, pulled on her top, put on her pants, and went to the door. She pulled open the door and looked up at Kent.

‘Why are you so tall?’ she asked.

‘I’m not,’ Kent said. ‘You’re barefoot. That’s why you’re so short.’

She half-heartedly punched his chest. ‘Why’re you here?’

‘Can I come in? Kent asked.

‘You said you were gonna call,’ Amy said. ‘A bunch of times. This is not calling. This is being here in person. Not that I’m complaining. Just observing.’

Kent leaned against the door post. ‘David phoned and asked me to come over.’

‘Bullshit. You remember that he’s four?’

‘You remember that Milla has a phone and that David knows how to use it?’

Amy stepped back to let him into the room. ‘Why did he call?’

‘He said he’s worried about you,’ Kent said quietly.

‘Fuck!’

‘He’s sensitive to your moods,’ Kent said. ‘It’s normal.’

Amy sank down to the bed. ‘So, you’re gonna wave a magic wand and make me feel better?’

Kent sat beside her. ‘I thought I might take you out and cheer you up,’ he said. He gently nudged her with his shoulder. ‘Sitting in here won’t help.’

‘David’s in with Milla,’ Amy said. ‘We could –’

‘Just you,’ Kent said. ‘You’re David’s mother 24/7. Take a few hours to be just Amy, without worrying about David, or work, or anything else.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah,’ Kent said.

She looked at him. ‘Why’re you here? You say David called.’

‘He did.’

‘But you didn’t have to come. He doesn’t know that you’re here,’ she said. ‘You must have a shitload of things to do.’

He smiled. ‘You have no idea.’

‘So why’re you here? she persisted.

Kent took her hand and held it between his own. ‘Because you’re my friend. Because I’m worried about you. Because you’d do the same for me.’

Amy looked at him, and couldn’t bear what she saw in his eyes. ‘Nah, I’d step over you before you got cold and steal your job,’ she said.

He chuckled. ‘That’s more ironic than you probably realise.’

‘How’s that?

Kent scratched his nose. ‘When Tom James agreed to be on the ticket –’

‘What?’ Amy asked. ‘He’s on the ticket? Selina actually took my advice but only after I quit?’

Kent waggled his hand. ‘Possibly your quitting persuaded her of your passion. She often finds that more compelling than logic.’

Amy pulled a face. ‘Okay, Tom James in on the ticket. She only fought against it because she wants to fuck him.’

‘I assumed as much,’ Kent said. ‘He was asking for you, as campaign manager, and we had to tell him that you’d left the campaign. Selina wouldn’t admit to not having replaced you yet. I’m afraid she essentially nominated the first person in her eye line.’

‘No,’ Amy said.

‘Amy…’

‘You’re fucking kidding me,’ she said standing up.

‘I was worried you would be upset.’

‘Upset? I’m not upset! I’m furious!’ Amy threw up her hands. ‘This is outrageous. It’s a fucking insult!’

Kent blinked. ‘An insult?’

‘I worked my ass off, I have experience, qualifications, opinions! I will not be replaced by a... personality devoid remora with its teeth buried in Selina’s neck.’

Kent gave her an odd look. ‘Who are you talking about?’

Amy pushed back her hair. ‘Karen of course.’

‘She already fired Karen.’

‘She fired Karen?’ Amy asked. ‘She fired Karen?’

‘Technically Ben fired Karen,’ Kent said. ‘But it was at her instigation.’

‘Why didn’t she do that before?’ Amy demanded. ‘Why did she wait until I fucking quit?’

‘Because you resigning your position demonstrated just how big a problem it was,’ Kent said with a small shrug. ‘I’m sorry to say that nothing could have demonstrated your sincerity to the same degree.’

‘Fucking Karen is gone,’ Amy sang. ‘Ding dong the ditz is gone.’ She blew out her cheeks. ‘It wasn’t Karen. Who was it? Jesus, it wasn’t Sue was it?’

Kent clasped his hands together. ‘It was me.’

Amy squinted at him. ‘What do you mean, you?’

‘I mean she was casting about for someone and for reasons best known to herself, she said my name. It was clear from her cadence that she had no idea what she was going to say until she said. She certainly didn’t discuss it with me beforehand.’

Amy sat down beside him. Her shoulders were shaking. ‘She just announced it to Tom James without a word to you?’

Kent raised an eyebrow. ‘I’m glad you find it amusing. I’ll have you know that I nearly choked on my drink.’

Amy sniggered. ‘That’s fucking hilarious.’

‘I was concerned you might be upset,’ Kent said quietly. ‘I wanted to tell you myself.’

She looked at him. ‘I get that,’ she said.

‘I didn’t want you to think that I was… after your job,’ he said.

Amy shook her head. ‘You wouldn’t want my job. You were never fucking stupid enough for that. Me and Dan, we were the ones dumb enough for that.’

‘I wouldn’t go that far,’ he said mildly. ‘But responsibility and accountability without power is labour without compensation. Public exposure is a prize to those that seek it and a plague to those that don’t.’

Amy pushed her fingers through her hair. ‘I feel like I should take you out for a drink to commiserate.’

‘Doubtless that time will come,’ Kent said dryly.

‘You shoulda said no,’ she said.

He shook his head. ‘It wasn’t practical. It would’ve meant flat out contradicting her in front of Tom James. It would have been a de facto resignation and I can’t afford that.’ He gave her a wry look. ‘I have a superhero and a My Little Pony to support.’

It took a couple of seconds. ‘The cats, fuck. I was thinking you were losing your goddamn mind there.’

He squeezed her hand. ‘We’re talking about you, not me.’

Amy straightened up. ‘You sure you want to be seen in public with me? By now the knives will be out. Everyone in D.C. will have me down as eight kinds of crazy.’

‘Everyone in D.C. can fuck themselves,’ Kent said in that precise way he always spoke.

Amy smirked. ‘Okay, not gonna lie, you swearing is kinda hot.’

He blushed, an honest to god blush. ‘I promise to use my power only for good.’

Amy was thinking of a reply, something clever and witty, or failing that something incredibly sexy, when the connecting door opened and David walked in.

‘I’m sorry,’ Milla said. ‘He is worried.’

‘You feeling better, Mama?’

‘Papa is going to take me out to cheer me up,’ Amy said.

‘I want to come!’

‘David,’ Kent said, ‘your mother takes care of you, doesn’t she? Now she needs someone to take care of her, just for this evening.’

David screwed his toe into the carpet. ‘I want to help.’

Kent put his hands onto David’s shoulders. ‘Do you know how you can help?’

David gave him a startlingly jaundiced look. ‘Stay here with Milla?’

Amy groaned softly. ‘Maybe –’

‘No,’ Kent said, glancing at her for a moment. He turned back to David. ‘You’re not a baby anymore, David, you’re a big boy now, so I’m going to talk to you as one man to another. Your mama and I love you and we’ll always look after you, but sometimes we need some time by ourselves. Sometimes you and I do things just us, don’t we?’

David nodded unwillingly. ‘And I do things with mama.’

‘Exactly. So, are you going to help mama out by staying here with Milla?’

He didn’t look happy about it, but he nodded. ‘Okay, Papa.’

‘Good boy.’

Amy and Kent took the staff stairs and left through a back door.

‘This feels like a metaphor for my future career, Amy said.

‘Not if you don’t want it to be,’ Kent said. ‘You’re young. You’re intelligent. You’re articulate. Your face would fit in any number of spheres.’ He straightened his sleeves. ‘Where would you like to go?’

‘Hey, you dragged me out,’ Amy said.

He clucked his tongue. ‘What’s something that you want to do that you haven’t had time to do or been able to relax?’

Amy brushed back her hair. ‘A movie and dinner. In that order. I never get to take my time to eat and I absolutely never get to sit down and watch a movie from start to finish.’

‘Then let’s do that.’

Amy took his offered arm. It felt strange. It felt strange that it was comfortable. It felt strange that it was natural and easy.

‘You don’t have time for this,’ Amy said. ‘You just took over as campaign manager. Selina –’

‘Selina is drinking herself into a hysterical fit along with everyone else,’ Kent said. ‘Besides, you just quit and they already announced I’m the new campaign manager. Can you imagine if she fired me?’

Amy ginned. ‘She’d look fucking ridiculous.’

‘Campaign in freefall,’ Kent said.

She thought there was a touch of glee in his voice. ‘Death spiral, she suggested.

‘Death spiral,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘That’s very evocative.’

Amy tapped her feet. ‘I’ll have to give you all my passwords and files.’

‘I’d appreciate that.’ He looked at her. ‘But not now. For now, forget about it.’

‘There’s a weird, alien concept,’ she grumbled.

They went into a little movie theatre and bought hot dogs, nachos, and popcorn. Things that Amy would normally deny herself.

‘Once won’t hurt,’ Kent said.

Amy grinned at him. ‘I’ve been on a diet for ten years. Tonight, anything with cheese or sugar can have me any way they want me.’

‘I do like cheese, Kent said.

‘Cheese is the fucking best,’ Amy said as they went into the screen.

‘Why are you on a diet?’

Amy gave him a look. ‘Please, it’s difficult enough getting anywhere in politics as a woman over thirty. It’s impossible as a chubby woman.’

‘And yet the general population grows more obese,’ Kent said. ‘Therefore, the gap between politics and the populace increases.’

‘That’s because we hate them and they don’t trust us,’ she said finding her seat. ‘And we’re all justified.’

Kent sat beside her and fussed with the food. ‘The problem in almost every situation is the human element.

Amy put her hand on the arm rest, next to his arm. ‘People suck,’ she said as the lights went down.

‘They do.’

In the darkness, she took his hand in hers.

***

As they emerged into the glimmering lights of the city, Kent played with Amy’s fingers. She smirked to herself and let him hold her hand.

She watched him turn on her cell.

‘Got a lot of calls?

‘Nothing important. Kent said. ‘How about here?’

Amy looked at the restaurant. ‘This is a burger place.’

‘We just watched a deeply stupid movie peopled entirely by women in bikinis and loud explosions,’ Kent said. ‘Burgers and fries are the appropriate meal, possibly with shakes.’

‘We watched half the movie,’ Amy said. ‘Because you got us thrown out.’

Kent tilted his head. ‘You were the one laughing. Loudly.’

‘You made me laugh,’ Amy retorted. ‘You and your little comments.’

‘Shall I google for something else?’ Kent asked. ‘Chinese? Italian?’

‘This is fine,’ she said, pushing the door open. ‘Burger me up.’

They sat in a private booth towards the back, and ordered food they knew they’d never finish.

‘I’m going to the bathroom. Amy said. ‘I’ll be at least five minutes.’

Kent gave her an uncertain look. ‘Thank you for the specificity. It doesn’t it in the least make me wonder if you’re planning on jumping out of the window and running away.’

She gave him an affected eye roll. ‘I’m telling you that you have five minutes to check your phone and pretend you didn’t.’

‘I’m not going to do that.’

‘Uh huh, sure, but if you did... then you could,’ she said.

He took his cell from his pocket and held it out to her.

‘Kent, I’m giving you permission,’ Amy said. ‘I get that you need to check your cell.’

‘Thank you, Amy, but I don’t need to.’

She pushed his hand away. ‘Let me have this bit of graciousness.’

He hesitated but then nodded. ‘Certainly.’

Amy gave him a peck on the cheek. It was probably crazy over the top. She was only going to the bathroom. But it was also a thank you and a down payment.

Amy been on plenty of nights out with friends, plenty of dates, and she normally knew now they would end. She knew the way those dates would end the way she knew how this evening would end. There was no pressure, just a sense of certainty. A pleasing reassurance. She was playing a part just as he was, both of them dancing around the inevitability of what was going to happen.

When she got back to table the food had arrived. Kent had waited. She couldn’t tell if he’d moved at all, it had checked his phone or not. He stood, as she approached, and sat down after.

‘A heart attack in every bite,’ Amy said.

‘I always admire your optimism,’ he said dryly.

She slurped her shake. ‘I’m a pragmatist to my bones.’

‘On that note.’ He took an envelope from his pocket and slid it across the table. ‘It’s non-negotiable.’

Amy stared at it. ‘What the fuck is that? Is that a bill? Are you charging me for your company?’

‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘Almost entirely the opposite in fact.’

She narrowed her eyes. ‘What does that mean? Is it money? Are you trying to give me money?’

He held up his hand. ‘Amy, hear me out. You knew that you will be untouchable for a few weeks, and when you are able to find a job you will have to weigh up your hours, your location, and your salary. Take the money, call it an interest-free loan, call it backdated maintenance, I don’t care. Take the money and use it to give yourself the time to find a job that will allow you to continue you to be an excellent mother without making compromising with a job that you hate.’

Amy stared in silence until he looked away. Then she shoved the envelope in her pocket.

‘We’re not talking about this again,’ Amy said.

‘I would prefer that,’ Kent said. After a moment, he looked at her. ‘Am I forgiven?’

‘Ask me again when I’m all high on carbs, fat, and sugar,’ she said.

Kent nodded.’ A good plan.’

Amy leaned forward to move a smear of ketchup from his lower lip.

‘Thank you, he said gravely.

‘I can’t be seen in public with a guy who can’t keep himself free of random food,’ she said.

Kent nodded.’ An entirely understandable rule.’

‘Did you check your cell?’ she asked sweetly.

‘I did not,’ Kent said.

She played with her straw. ‘I never ignored my cell when I was campaign manager,’ she said lightly.

Kent leaned forward. ‘I’m not you.’

‘No, Amy agreed. ‘You have better hair.’

‘I have fabulous hair,’ Kent agreed.

Amy grinned and picked up one of her fries. ‘But I’m blonde.’

‘With ridiculously blue eyes.’

‘You think they’re ridiculous?’

Kent interlaced his fingers. ‘They’re on the cusp between baby blue softness and Paul Newman coldness.’

Amy thinks about it. ‘That’s the weirdest definition of "ridiculous" I ever heard.’

Kent shrugged. ‘What’s your definition of ridiculous?’

Any ate a handful of fries. ‘Your beard.’

‘My beard?’

‘Look at that thing.’ She put her fingers underneath his jaw and scratched very gently. ‘This is like one of your cats.’

‘You don’t you like facial hair?’ Kent asked.

‘Why should you get to flaunt your facial hair?’ she asked. ‘Do you know how much time and money I spend trying get rid of the damn stuff?’

‘Hmm, the right kind of facial hair, Kent said. ‘I have to maintain other areas.’

‘Everyone has to do their eyebrows,’ Amy said.

Kent ate some of his burger. ‘Do you have to pluck your nose?’

Amy nearly choked on her food. Kent reached over to rub her back.

‘No,’ she spluttered. ‘I do not have to pluck my nose! Or my ears come to that.’

Kent sat back. ‘I don’t have to do that, he said. ‘Not yet.’

Amy wiped her face with a napkin. ‘That’ll be something to look forward to.’ She looked past Kent at a newspaper that someone at another table was reading.

‘Selina made the front page,’ Amy said.

Kent turned to look. ‘It’s too early for news of your resignation,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow you’ll probably make the political cartoon.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Thanks a bunch.’

‘I aim to please.’

‘Hah, keep shooting Sparky,’ Amy said, poking her straw into her shake.

‘I try.’ Kent tipped up her chin so she was looking at him. ‘I’m aware that you haven’t asked me, but I think you will excuse me saying that resigning was the correct choice. You’ve been stressed out and unhappy for months. This can be a fresh start.’

‘I put my heart into that job and I mortgaged my soul for that woman,’ Amy said. ‘I have done things that I wake up having nightmares about. I quit and she just let me go!’

Kent chewed his lip. ‘Would you have gone back?’

‘No, fuck no, but I deserve to be asked!’ She sat back. ‘She should’ve come crawling after me.’

‘She should,’ Kent agreed. ‘However, that was never going to happen. She never apologises and she absolutely never admits to being in the wrong.’

‘Fucking egotist,’ Amy grumbled.

‘You’re better than that job,’ Kent said.

‘I know.’ She rubbed her eyes and then looked at him. Looked at him slowly and deliberately. ‘You’re gonna cheer me up. Right? You’re going to… look after me.’

‘I am.’

Amy licked her lips. ‘You’re gonna take me back to my hotel room and make me feel better.’

It wasn’t a question, but he nodded anyway.

‘Yes,’ he said with quiet calm certainty. ‘I am.’

She touched the back of his hand with her fingertips. ‘Do you worry that... changing things might make things tricky?’

‘Tricky?’ he asked.

‘Complicated. Between you and me. Changing things could mess everything up.’

‘Oh, I see,’ Kent said. ‘Amy, I think a little… awkwardness is natural, but I believe you and I have a friendship that can weather some small uncertainty and unease.’

‘Right,’ Amy said. ‘After the last time, we were both kinda weirded out.’

He squeezed her hand. ‘We weren’t friends then, we are now.’

Amy nodded. ‘But in London when I asked you, you said no because you were worried it would fuck everything up. That was only a few months ago.’

Kent thought about it for a few seconds. ‘I was still feeling a little insecure in my relationship with David and my friendship with you. Now... now I believe that we’re not acting purely out of a desire for pleasure, acceptable as that would be, but an act of affection, arising from our friendship.’

Amy shuffled her feet. ‘That’s a great argument,’ she said.

‘Thank you.’

‘I wouldn’t have stopped you seeing David,’ she said. ‘Even if I hated you, I wouldn’t have done that to him.’

‘I couldn’t risk it.’

‘I get that,’ she said. ‘But you’re his dad. That’s never gonna change.’

Kent let out his breath. ‘I wouldn’t change it if I could.’

Amy looked at him. It was too important to just take his word for it.

He met her eyes easily and openly.

‘Why would you?’ she asked. ‘You wouldn’t have gotten to go to bed with me.’

Kent smiled. ‘An excellent point. Powerfully made.’ He put his hand over hers and squeezed gently. ‘It’s going to be okay.’

‘I know.’

***

The lights in her room were too bright. She wanted something soft or, gentler.

What’s wrong?’ Kent asked as he locked the door.

‘I had a kid since the last time we did this,’ Amy said. ‘The last woman you slept with was Sue, who I think might be younger than me and who definitely doesn’t have a body stretched out and sagging.’

Kent chuckled as he unbuttoned his shirt. ‘Amy, I’ve seen you naked.’

‘That was before I had David.’ Amy took off her shoes and peeled down her nylons.

‘I don’t mean that,’ Kent said. ‘I mean recently.’

She flashed him a look of disbelief.

‘In your bathroom, after you exited the shower,’ he explained. ‘And on the other occasion when you came into your kitchen wearing no pants or underwear.’

‘I knew you looked,’ Amy said, stretching at her legs.

‘I’m only human,’ Kent said mildly.

She stood and watched him take off his shoes. ‘I’ve got stretch marks and tits like bags of pudding.’

Kent laughed. He moved closer and untied Amy’s hair.

‘I don’t really remember what you looked like before,’ he said, ‘but I remember seeing you in the bathroom. You looked beautiful.’ He shrugged. ‘But I’m a man who has to pluck his nose hair. What do I know?’

Amy snickered. ‘Nose hair is not how you go about seducing a woman.’

‘I’m seducing you? I thought you were seducing me.’

Amy put her hand on her hip. ‘You took me to dinner and a movie.’

‘That’s true,’ he agreed. ‘But doesn’t seduction require charm?’

Amy turned around to let him unzip her dress. She shivered pleasantly at his breath on the nape of her neck.

‘I can be charming,’ she said looking over her shoulder. ‘I can be charming as fuck.’

‘You can,’ he said turning her around to face him. ‘I don’t believe that I can.’

‘I’m serious,’ Amy said. ‘I’m not Sue. I’m not all taut and toned, and I don’t have perfect skin. I have scars and stretch marks and –’

Kent kissed her, a warm, soft kiss. ‘Damn.’

‘Huh?

‘I forgot you really don’t like kissing,’ Kent said.

Amy tasted him on her lips. ‘Well... you know, she said. ‘Sometimes it’s not totally terrible.’

‘I don’t want to do anything you find distasteful,’ he teased.

‘Just fucking kiss me.’

It was slower this time, but slow, confident, and warm. As she slid down her dress he cupped her face, for a moment, and then pulled off his shirt.

‘How do you want to do this?’ he murmured.

Amy smirked. ‘You want me to fill in your survey?’

‘I sense some resistance,’ he said unbuckling his belt. ‘Didn’t you enjoy everything the first time?’

He was watching her closely. There was a tiny tremor in his voice. A little hint of anxiety.

Amy rubbed his forearm, and kissed him, a delicate, fluttery kiss. ‘I came like a jack hammer and you fucking know it,’ she murmured. She felt him smile.

‘Is there anything you want?’ Kent asked. ‘Anything particular?’

‘I want to go on top,’ she said.

‘Is that it?’ His hands were on her hips, sliding up her sides towards her bra.

‘Isn’t that enough?’ She unzipped his pants, and they dropped to the floor.

‘You’re more specific when you order a coffee.’ He slipped off her bra and took a half step back to look at her.

‘What?’ she asked.

‘I’m enjoying the view.’

Amy looked away as she felt her face redden. ‘Asshole.’

Kent sat on the bed, and pulled her onto his lap. He traced his fingers over her stomach, and along the delicate marks. ‘Do those feel different?’

‘You worried you’ll hurt me?’ Amy pushed her fingers into his chest hair.

‘A little.’

‘You won’t.’ She pointed to her chest. ‘Hickey, just there.’

He kissed the side of her neck, down to her chest, and gently sucked the spot until it blossomed pink.

He moved her hand to his chest. ‘Just there.’

‘Teeth?’

‘Only there.’

She sniggered, and gently tugged his chest hair. ‘Don’t get ahead of yourself.’

He put his head back as she nibbled around his chest, and flicked her tongue across his nipples.

‘Oh,’ he said eyes widening. ‘That was... nice.’

‘Your turn.’

‘It would be easier if you lay down,’ he said. ‘Just for now.’

She pretended to grumble, as she lay down on the bed. It was different from before: that had been all heat, excitement, and passion. It was gasps and moans. This was slower, gentler, and more thoughtful. As he held her hand, as she sighed against his shoulder, and as she felt their warmth mingling, Amy closed her eyes and felt herself relax.

The knots in her back were unravelling, the wire in her shoulders unspooling, and the strain in her neck easing.

Her hand was in his hair as he ran his tongue across her nipples.

‘S’good,’ she murmured.

His other hand stroked her hip, and slipped between her legs.

‘Can you grab my wallet?’ he muttered.

She looked across at it. ‘You don’t have to.’

‘Oh,’ Kent said. ‘Okay.’

‘I mean… we can if you want. That’s not why we’re here,’ she said.

Kent looked up at her. ‘No, it’s not,’ he said. ‘But that would be okay.’

‘If it happened?’

‘Yeah, he said.

Amy returned his smile.

Kent moved down the bed. He kissed each stretch mark.

‘I hate those, Amy said.

‘You look like a tiger.’

She groaned softly. ‘Shut up.’

‘Okay.’

Amy flicked his nose. ‘I didn’t mean it. Tell me how I’m a sexy tiger.’

He was running his fingertips along her labia. So, so, delicately. There was just enough pressure to spark across her skin.

She tugged his hair, knowing he liked it.

‘Tiger, tiger,’ he said, leaning down to kiss the delicate flesh, ‘burning bright.’

Amy had her head back, wetting her lips as he spoke, as he whispered against her skin.

‘In the forests of the night,’ he said, bestowing fluttery kisses.

Amy moved, her fingers writhing in his hair.

He slid his arms around her and sat up, smoothly pulling her on top of him, onto his lap. Pulling himself into her. ‘What immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?’

Amy wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face against his hair. She made a soft, pleased, sound and rocked against him. A little, to begin with but gradually longer strokes, raising herself up and down with each stroke.

‘Good?’ he asked breathlessly.

‘Great.’ She squeezed her eyes shut and clung to him as the pressure built.

‘In what distant deeps or skies,’ Kent whispered, ‘burnt the fire of thine eyes?’

Amy was writhing, panting softly, grinding against him.

He kissed her forehead. ‘On what wings dare he aspire?’

‘Ugh... ugh... oh God... oh fuck...’

‘What the hand, dare seize the fire?’

 

Chapter Text

Amy woke up to the smell of coffee. It was early enough that the fresh sunlight was creeping around the edges of the certain. Kent was standing on his head.

Amy stared at him for a minute, and then got out of bed.

‘Hey,’ she said, pouring herself a coffee. ‘What the fuck are you doing?

‘Warming up, he said. ‘Good morning.’

Amy sat on the chair and watched him stand up. ‘What time is it?’

‘Just after seven,’ Kent said. He kissed her cheek as he poured himself a cup of coffee. ‘What’re you doing today?’

She sipped her coffee. ‘Going home before Selina charges me for the room. Cashing your cheque before you change your mind.’

He smiled at that. ‘You’re uncomfortable,’ he said gently.

‘Little bit,’ Amy admitted. ‘Fuck. Sorry.’

‘It’s okay. Take your time.’

Amy looked up startled by the uncertainly in his voice. ‘It’s gonna be... You know. We’re gonna be fine.’

‘I was going to tell you that,’ he said wryly.

There was a creak and a thump from the connecting room. Kent gulped down his coffee.

‘David,’ Amy said, lunging for the connecting door.

‘I’m going,’ Kent said, grabbing up his clothes.

The door handle rattled.

‘Mama?’ David called.

‘Just a minute!’

Kent jumped into his pants and yanked on his shirt as he headed to the door.

‘Have you brushed your teeth?’ Amy asked David through the door.

‘Yes!’

Someone knocked on the main door.

‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ Amy groaned.

Kent looked around the room uncertainly.

‘Bathroom! Get in the bathroom,’ Amy said.  

Kent rolled his eyes and ran into the bathroom.

Amy pulled on her robe, opened the connecting door, scooped David into arms, and walked to the door.

‘Good morning,’ she said, kissing David.

‘Who were you talking to, Mama?’ David asked.

‘Nobody,’ Amy said, opening the door.

The man outside blinked. ‘I’m sorry, is this a bad time?’ he reached over to tweak David’s nose.

‘Senator James?’ Amy asked, twitching her robe closed.

‘That’s what everyone’s been screaming at me.’

Amy pushed her hair back. ‘I’ve left the campaign.’

‘Which makes you the most interesting staffer in the entire building.’

David tugged at Amy’s gown. ‘Mama,’ he whispered. ‘I’m hungry.’

Tom held up his hands. ‘I’ll come back,’ he said. ‘Shall we say fifteen minutes?’

‘Half an hour,’ Amy said.

‘Half an hour,’ he agreed.

She shut the door and joggled David.

‘Who was that man?’ David asked suspiciously.

‘He works with papa,’ Amy said, carrying him over to the connecting door. ‘Let’s get some breakfast.’

‘I don’t like him,’ David said.

Amy kissed his head. ‘Then I don’t like him either.’

***

‘A heads-up on you quitting would’ve been real helpful before I told my new client all about you,’ Dan said wryly.

Amy crossed her legs as she reached for her cocktail. ‘Obviously your career should’ve been uppermost on my mind when I was quitting.’

‘Would that have been so hard?’ Dan asked, grinning. ‘I guess you were concentrating on clever lines about her being the worst thing since slavery.’  

‘I said the worst thing since food in buckets,’ Amy said. ‘And maybe slavery. Is it Mike running around telling people that?’

‘It’s Gary,’ Dan said. ‘He takes it personally when people are rude about Selina.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘The only thing that stops Gary being a fucking stalker is that he doesn’t have the balls.’

‘The only thing that stops Gary being a stalker is necessity,’ Dan said. ‘He doesn’t need to stalk her.’

Amy gave a theatrical shudder. ‘Well he’s welcome to her.’

‘Feels good though, right, walking away from that whole shitstorm?’

Amy talk a sip of her drink, and decided to be magnanimous. ‘Fuck yeah. You were right, the best part was leaving.’

Dan leaned back in his chair. ‘The first few weeks is the worst, but your buddy Dan here might be able to help. I think I can get you an in with Sidney Purcell.’

Amy took a gulp of her drink. ‘That’s… great. I’m not ready to commit to anything just yet but I will totally keep it in mind.’

He looked like he couldn’t decide between pity and disbelief. ‘Amy, you’re gonna be toxic for weeks. You need to start put in the work now. I can get you in at the ground floor.’

Amy crossed her legs. ‘I get that, Dan,’ she said. ‘But I can’t just jump at the first offer I get.’

‘The money will be at least as good as Selina was paying you. You’ll never have to worry about David’s college fund,’ Dan said.

Amy shook her head. ‘It’s not just the money, it’s the time. I can’t work eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. I’m going to take some time and find the right fit for me.’

Dan smiled slightly. ‘Kent gave you back-dated child maintenance.’

‘No!’ Amy said. Her expression settled into slight sheepishness. ‘An interest-free loan.’

‘The kind of loan you never pay back?’ Dan teased.

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘I’m gonna pay him back.’

‘Oh yeah, absolutely,’ he said, grinning.

‘Shut up.’

Dan sipped his drink. ‘Are you fucking yet?’

‘What? That is… Jesus! I can’t believe you would ask me something like that!’

Dan whistled. He was grinning broadly, not even bothering to disguise how much he much he was enjoying himself. ‘How long?’

‘It’s… we’re… At the convention after I quit. He came by to see if I was okay.’

‘Ah, get the girl at her lowest ebb,’ Dan said. ‘It’s a classic.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t fucking weepy or any of that shit. We talked. We went to a movie. We got dinner. I asked him back to my room.’

‘Wow,’ Dan said. ‘He’s got you thinking it was his idea. That’s impressive. Kent should give classes.’

Amy pulled a face. ‘Don’t be a fucking ass.’

Dan grinned at her. ‘And did you come like a freight train?’

‘Steam train,’ Amy corrected.

‘Forgive me for my misapprehension.’

‘Steam trains have a rhythm,’ Amy said. ‘Freight trains just hammer ahead. No woman wants that.’

Dan sniggered. ‘You’re in a good mood. Escaping Meyer suits you.’

Amy stretched. ‘I look one meeting all day, and that was in my robe.’

‘Makeup off?’

‘Ew, no, very much makeup on,’ Amy said. ‘Hair done too.’

Dan looked thoughtful. ‘Not Kent then. A job interview, and if you were in a robe then you were still at the hotel, which means someone in the party.’

Amy looked at him narrowly. ‘You didn’t get all that from makeup.’

‘That’s just how good I am,’ Dan said. ‘Just tell me it’s not Furlong.’

‘If I ever consider working for Furlong you will know that I have been taken over by brain sucking aliens,’ Amy said. ‘Or let him see me in a robe.’

Dan played with his glass. ‘You were fully dressed under the robe. You just put it on to make them think you didn’t give a shit.’

‘No,’ Amy said. ‘No nylons. So not completely dressed.’

‘They make you a better offer than Purcell?’

Amy shrugged. ‘Making my own hours, working from home when I want, and more money than Selina was giving me.’

‘That sounds too good to be true,’ Dan said. ‘Is it in Ass End, Nevada?’

‘You’ll have to wait and see,’ Amy said. ‘I’m giving him my answer next week.’

***

Kent flew back from North Carolina on Saturday morning. Amy didn’t imagine that Selina was thrilled about her brand-new campaign manager taking weekends off, but that wasn’t her problem. Fuck Selina, and fuck Mike for telling people she was having mental problems.

‘Hey Kent, Amy said, folding her arms tightly. ‘You look like refried death.’

He gave a small smile. ‘Thank you for that poetic description.’

David came running and Kent caught him easily, swinging him up into the air.

‘Hi papa! We’re looking after Batman and Twilight Sparkle for you!’

‘And you’re doing a wonderful job,’ Kent said. He looked at Amy over David’s head ‘Thank you again.’

‘I did force you into getting them,’ she said. ‘And a cattery sounded grim.’

Kent bounced David in his arms as he carried him to the couch. ‘They work very hard to keep their charges happy, but cats are territorial. They can become quite stressed away from home.’

He sat down, and David scrambled off to get some toys.

‘I know the feeling,’ Amy said. ‘Joking,’ she said quickly, when she registered his contrition. ‘It’s too early. Do you want a coffee?’

‘Yes, please,’ he said meekly.

She didn’t know why she’d said it. Kent’s place was bigger, more comfortable, and warmer than hers. There was a park in walking distance, and, of course, there were the kittens. She was dreading how badly David would take leaving them. He was head-over-heels in love with both of them. Twilight Sparkle appeared to return his affection although Batman seemed to prefer Amy.

Which was strange. The little cat would sit on some ledge or shelf near Amy and purr like a tiny engine, even if Amy ignored her. At night, she curled up on the other pillow in Kent’s bed. The little purr was actually strangely soothing. Amy wondered if that was just where Batman slept, if she did that when Kent was sleeping there. She probably did. That’s what cats were like, right? She probably thought it was her bed that just happened to have a person sharing it.

Kent’s bed. It was odd sleeping there, although there was nowhere else to sleep. The bedding was clean, she knew, but she still found herself wondering if she could catch a hint of his scent.

‘Amy?’

‘Jesus!’ She dropped the kettle into the sink with a clatter.

Kent stepped around her to pick it up. He put it on the counter while she pushed back her hair.

‘I don’t know I’m so jumpy,’ she said.

‘Are you sure?’ Kent asked gently.

Amy shrugged. ‘I just said it.’

Kent was quiet for a moment. ‘Are you regretting us spending the night together?’

‘No,’ she said, before she even consciously processed what he was asking. ‘No,’ she said more thoughtfully. ‘I do not regret it.’

‘But you feel awkward and uncomfortable?’

Amy pulled a face. ‘I don’t do feelings.’

Kent smiled. ‘Evidently feelings do you,’ he said.

‘Little assholes,’ she grumbled. ‘Look I... I don’t know where I am right now. I don’t know what I want. I don’t where you are or what you want.’

Kent kissed her softly. ‘Whoops,’ he said.

‘Whoops?’

‘More kissing –’

‘Shut up,’ Amy groaned.

‘– which you so dislike.’

She scowled. ‘That’s not funny.’

‘It’s a little funny.’ Kent said. He took her hand. ‘Amy, I know this is a complicated time for you.’

Amy looked away. ‘I’m dealing with a new job. David is starting school soon, I want another...’

He squeezed her hand. ‘You have a lot of things to juggle. A lot of things to juggle.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Quit pretending to be Mr Supportive. This must as annoying as fuck.’

Kent chuckled. ‘I dated Sue. I have my faults but I don’t lack for patience.’

Amy nodded. ‘Yeah, boasting about your ex, big flaw, right there.’

Kent chuckled. ‘I’m glad anxiety hasn’t ruined your sense of humour.’

She put the kettle on. ‘Is this anxiety? Jesus, no wonder you need pot.’

The door to the kitchen opened before Kent could answer.

‘What you doing in here?’ David asked.

‘Making papa a cup of coffee.’

‘Annoying mama.’

David rolled his eyes. He took Kent’s hand and towed him to the door.

When Kent glanced back, Amy smiled slightly.

***

‘Mama has a new job,’ David said, as they walked along the boardwalk.

‘Is that right?’ Kent asked.

Amy, hiding behind sunglasses and a sunhat, looked at Kent’s boat. It was bigger than she was expecting, and far more... sleek.

‘Mama said it was a secret,’ David said in a loud whisper.

‘But you just told me,’ Kent said, as they walked up to the boat. ‘That’s not how secrets work.’

David giggled. ‘Oh no!’

They boarded the boat and watched David exploring the cabin, while Amy fought with her life jacket.

‘Do I really need to wear this?’

‘No.’

She stared at him.

‘However, it’s a good idea to get David used to wearing one,’ Kent said. ‘He’ll hardly be willing if we’re not.’

Amy nodded. ‘I got him a sailor hat.’

‘That’s a good idea. You don’t want him to get sunstroke.’ Kent took a tiny life jacket from a bag.

‘I just thought he’d look cute,’ Amy said. ‘But your thing works too.’

Kent gave her an incredulous look. ‘You bought it because it looked cute?’

Amy inspected the tiny life jacket. ‘No. I bought it because he’d look cute. Totally different, and why shouldn’t he look nice?’

Kent held up his hands. ‘I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. It’s merely that “cuteness” seems an extremely unlikely factor for you to consider important.’

‘David, come here and put on this life vest and sailor hat,’ she said. She looked at Kent. ‘I take pride in him looking...’

‘Cute?’

Amy scowled. ‘Sometimes.’

‘Is papa teasing you?’ David asked.

‘Yes, he is,’ Amy said. ‘And he’s pretending that he’s not.’

Kent gave them both a look of complete innocence.

David happily pulled on the hat.

‘Very cute,’ Kent said gravely.

Amy stuck her tongue out.

‘Tell me about your new job,’ Kent suggested.

‘I start next week,’ Amy said.

Kent gave her a curious look. ‘Is it a secret?’

Amy shrugged. ‘Kinda.’

He pursed his lips. ‘You’re not obligated to tell me.’

‘It’s no fun keeping it a secret if you don’t me to tell you,’ she complained.

Kent shrugged. ‘It’s no fun attempting to persuade you to tell me it I know that you won’t.’

‘Dolphins!’ David said, jumping up and down. ‘Mama! Mama! Look!’

Amy looked out of the window down at the sleek grey shapes. ‘I can never tell dolphins from sharks, she said, rubbing David’s back.

‘Sharks and dolphins both have unwarranted reputations,’ Kent said. ‘Sharks as remorseless killers and dolphins as fluffy and cuddly.’

Amy looked over at him. ‘Dolphins do some shady stuff?’

‘Nothing small ears should hear,’ Kent said.

Amy opened a bottle of beer. ‘They have some great PR.’

‘They’re intelligent, charismatic, and attractive,’ Kent said. ‘That can be sufficient to distract some from significantly dark behaviour.’

Amy drank straight from the bottle, enjoying the coldness of the glass, and the flecks of ice clinging to it.

‘Tom James,’ she said. ‘I’m working for Tom James.’

Kent was quiet for a long moment. ‘Tom James is a dolphin?’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘You didn’t say he wasn’t,’ Kent said. ‘Well, we’re both mature and professional people. We simply have to agree to keep work and private live separate.’

Amy nodded. ‘Absolutely.’ She waited until Kent returned his attentions to the controls and very gently touched the beer bottle to the back of his neck.

He jumped a clear three feet away from her, in complete silence, then he gave her a look of such betrayal that she didn’t know if she should laugh or throw herself over the side of the boat.

‘For a guy over forty you can move,’ she said guiltily.

‘I’d appreciate it is you didn’t do that again,’ he said stiffly.

Amy folded her arms. ‘No practical jokes. Gotcha.’

He reddened. ‘Now you think me irascible.’

‘I might if I was sure what it meant,’ Amy admitted.

Kent sighed. ‘I don’t like being startled.’

Amy adjusted her hat. ‘When you put it like that I feel pretty... lame for doing it.’

Kent touched her elbow. ‘Shall we have lunch?’

‘Hell yeah,’ Amy said. ‘David, come help unpack the hamper.’

David scampered over as Amy put the hamper onto the table. The boat gently slowed to a halt, and bobbed among the lapping waves. Amy felt slightly uneasy with the motion, but Kent had given her some gum that was supposed to help. David had been completely fine. That had been a relief. Clearing up vomit wasn’t her idea of fun family time.

‘I like your ship, Papa,’ David said.

‘This is a boat,’ Kent said. ‘And thank you. I like it a great deal.’

‘Can we live on the boat?’ David asked Amy.

She shook her head as she got him a plate of food. ‘There’s no room, baba, and where would Papa’s kittens live?’

‘Oh,’ David said.

Kent rubbed his forehead. ‘When you’re old enough you can learn to sail if you like.’

‘Only if you wear a lifejacket,’ Amy said.

David grinned at her.

Amy nudged Kent with her elbow. ‘What’s up your butt?’

‘Up your butt!’ David said in a mix of horror and delight. ‘Up your butt.’

Kent gave Amy a look of mingled amusement and chagrin. ‘We’re going to be hearing that for weeks, aren’t we?’

Amy sighed. ‘Calm down, David, and don’t stick anything up your butt.’

‘Not until you’re at least sixteen,’ Kent said dryly.

It took Amy a second or two to work it out.

‘Okay, Mama!’ David sang, wrapping his arms around Kent. He looked up at him. ‘I missed you, Papa.’

‘I missed you too.’ Kent kissed David’s forehead. Then closed his eyes and tipped back his face. 

‘Seriously,’ Amy said. ‘You’re grouchy and you obviously have a headache. Is it Selina?’

He shook his head. ‘My mother is unwell.’

‘Right,’ Amy said. ‘The brain poison thing.’

Kent blinked. ‘I don’t remember telling you about the neurotoxin.’

‘Didn’t you? Someone did.’

‘Well, yes. Her dementia has been linked definitively to long-term exposure to certain chemicals. However, my younger sister had a few “senior moments” and insisted that we all get tested in case there was a genetic component.’

‘That’s why you had a doctor’s appointment?’ Amy asked.

‘You have a good memory.’

Amy played with her glass. ‘I was a little... you know. I didn’t want to ask and invade your privacy.’

She thought he might make a crack about her invading his privacy before, but he didn’t.

‘You were concerned?’ he asked.

‘Well, duh.’ Amy sipped her beer. ‘Is your sister okay?’

He nodded. ‘She’s within societal norms. We all are, which I expected, nonetheless it was quite worrisome at the time.’

Amy reached across the table and squeezed his hand. He smiled slightly and returned the gentle pressure.

‘How bad is your mom?’ Amy asked.

Kent stared at her blankly. ‘Why?’

‘Because I know she was in a bad way but you haven’t mentioned her in forever.’

Kent took a deep breath. ‘Oh. She’s the same physically and worse psychologically. She won’t recognise us soon.’

Amy looked at David, tucked under Kent’s arm. ‘Is she too ill to meet people?’

He snorted. ‘She’s often in good spirits. Her care is paid for from the compensation she was awarded so she has excellent, personal, round-the-clock care.’

Amy chewed her bottom lip. ‘What about meeting David? Would she be up to meeting him?’

Kent opened and closed his mouth. He looked down at David and then back at Amy. ‘You... Would you... Would you consider that?’

Amy rubbed her arm and looked down at David.

‘I mean.... You came to visit my parents,’ she said. ‘I know I didn’t think it was a good idea for him to meet your family but you know. Things change.’ She took a deep breath. ‘If you’d like him to meet your mom, maybe it should be sooner than later.’

‘I’d... appreciate that,’ Kent said quietly. ‘Amy, I –’

‘Don’t make a fuss,’ she said. ‘Okay? May be another time he can meet your sisters.’

She risked glancing at him: he had his head lowered and he was clasping his hands together.

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Thank you. Did you have a timeframe in mind?’

Amy crossed her legs. ‘She in Oregon, right?’

Kent looked up. ‘Right.’

‘We’d have to fly and we’ll have to stay over.’

Kent started to say something but changed his mind. ‘I can book a hotel.’

‘I can’t deal with your sisters on top of your mom,’ Amy said. ‘Staying with one of them would be too much to deal with.’

‘I didn’t suggest that,’ Kent protested.

‘Bull... Bull,’ Amy said. ‘You were thinking it, and decided not to say it.’

Kent shrugged. ‘It would cause added stress,’ he said. ‘I don’t much relish explaining the situation to them.’

Amy pulled a face. ‘Are they gonna...’ She glanced at David, who was colouring in his book. ‘Are they going to hold it against me?’

‘Quite possibly,’ Kent said. ‘But not against David.’

Amy’s stomach churned as the boat rocked. ‘They better not.’ She thought about it. ‘Next weekend?’

‘Next weekend.’

 

Chapter Text

Ben gave her a hug. It was weird.

‘I hope you remember who loved you first,’ he said.

‘Was it you?’ Amy asked.

‘Hell, yeah.’ Ben sat on the edge of his desk. ‘Tom on the ticket and you as his chief of staff. I have a good feeling about this campaign.’

‘Yay,’ Amy said. Cheer, real or otherwise, did not come naturally to her. ‘I’m still filling the staff but we’re in a good place.’

‘Just, you know, steer clear of Selina,’ Ben suggested. ‘She’s still pretty pissed with you.’

Amy shrugged. ‘I meant everything I said. I wasn’t wrong.’

‘Definitely don’t tell her that,’ Ben said. ‘You know she enjoys criticism the way I enjoy a salad.’

‘Amy!’ Mike said, rushing in. ‘This is so great!’

She rolled her eyes. ‘I’ve been gone a few weeks. Quit acting like it was months.’

‘But we can be friends again now,’ Mike said. ‘Right? Please?’

Amy scowled at him. ‘You told people I had mental health issues.’

‘You were really angry. Mike said weakly.

‘Being angry is not a mental health issue, you fucking chicken-brained moron,’ Ben said. ‘If it was, half of congress would be under psychiatric care.’

‘You’re not even important enough for me to be angry at right now,’ Amy said. ‘Come back when you’re more important or I have less than eighty billion things to do.’

‘Maybe we can all grab a drink,’ Mike said, as he headed out of the door.

‘It’s like dealing with a concussed puppy,’ Amy said.

‘Any second now he’s gonna piss on the rug.’

‘As long as he doesn’t hump Jonah’s leg.’

Ben shuddered theatrically. Probably the best offer Jonah’s gonna get.’

Amy sniggered. ‘Yeah.’

Ben slumped in his chair. ‘Kent arranged a town hall for Tom today?’

Amy nodded. ‘It’s Tom’s element. He’s very natural and charming with the public.’

‘You’re not fucking him are you?’ Ben asked.

‘No,’ Amy said.

Ben clucked his tongue. ‘But you’re not fucking Kent either?’

Amy hesitated a little too long. Ben raised his eyebrows.

Are you?’

‘It’s complicated,’ she said. ‘I’m sort of maybe, kinda, seeing Kent.’

Ben grinned. ‘Oh, okay, now you are dating? Fuck, now I owe Joyce twenty dollars.’

Amy squirmed. ‘We’re just... working things out.’

Ben chuckled. ‘You already have a kid and now you’re working things out? Jesus, you two.’ He patted her hand. ‘Let me know when you uncomplicate it. Joyce will probably bake a cake.’

***

‘Do you want to get a drink?’ Amy asked.

Sue looked up at her. ‘Yes. The secret service has been very annoying.’

Amy leaned against her desk. ‘Two different intruders broke in to kill POTUS and your response is that the secret service is annoying?’

Sue gave it a moment’s thought. ‘Yes. The intruders were not in my office interfering with my work.’ She gathered up her things. ‘The men are having their Friday night drinks.’

Amy groaned. ‘Dan would have given his right arm to go to that. Tonight, Tom look Jonah and Richard.’

Sue raised her eyebrow. ‘Why would anyone do that?’

Amy shrugged. ‘He thinks he can use them for information.’

They headed out into the corridor.

‘That didn’t work for Dan,’ Sue noted.

‘Dan isn’t Tom,’ Amy said. ‘Have you ever been to their drinks?’

Sue nodded. ‘A lot of middle-aged men with nothing to talk about besides work clustered in a small, hot room with nowhere to sit.’

Amy showed her pass to security as they left. ‘I think they wanted to talk about women but didn’t dare with me there.’

Sue joined her as they exited the building. ‘That doesn’t sound like Kent, or even Ben.’

‘Bill was there,’ Amy said. ‘And Teddy. I give any odds you want that Bill says some shit about women when there’s none around.’

‘Oh,’ Sue said. ‘I would not want to be in an enclosed space with Teddy.’

Amy gave her a sideways look. ‘You’re not nervous of Teddy.’

‘I am not,’ she said. ‘Nonetheless I have better things to do with my time than turn Teddy Sykes into so much foie gras.’

‘Someone should,’ Amy said.

They walked towards the parking.

‘There’s something rather quaint about them squeezing into Ben’s office to drink and pretend to be doing something naughty.’ Sue glanced at Amy. ‘It’s like a scene from a schoolboy novel.’

‘Now you’re making them sound almost tolerable.’

‘I hope not,’ Sue said

***

‘Who’s looking after David?’ Sue asked over cocktails.

‘My mom. She’s dropping him off at Kent’s at eight.’

‘So there’s no need for to rush off.’

‘Don’t you have a fiancé to get home to?’

Sue was watching an attractive but clearly stupid man by the bar.

‘I do not leave before I’m ready, not for anyone.’

Amy toyed with her straw. ‘I can’t stay late and I can’t get drunk.’

‘You can do both,’ Sue said. ‘We had two intruders running around the White House. We deserve to get drunk.’

‘I’m flying to Oregon tomorrow,’ Amy said. ‘I can’t get drunk.’

Sue narrowed her eyes. ‘Oregon is inhabited by trees and hipsters. Why would you ever wish to go there?’

Amy waved at the bartender for another round. ‘So that Kent’s mom can meet David while she can still understand the idea.’

Sue pursed her lips. ‘Kent said that you wouldn’t let him tell his family about David. It caused him significant distress.’

Amy’s stomach clenched. ‘He seemed fine with it.’

‘He wasn’t. He was being respectful and he was being diplomatic,’ Sue said. ‘He didn’t wish to risk angering you and having you denying him access to David.’

‘Oh,’ Amy said quietly. ‘He didn’t say anything like that.’

Sue sniffed. ‘Well he wouldn’t, would he? He’s Kent. He’s a strategist. He made strategic decisions.’

‘I wouldn’t have done that,’ Amy said.

‘Doubtless he knows that now. He didn’t then.’

Amy pulled a face. ‘Thanks. Now I feel completely shitty.’

‘Have another drink,’ Sue said.

‘Only one,’ Amy said. ‘I should go home early, and I definitely can’t get drunk.’

***

Amy threw up copiously. She knelt up and tried to work out where she was. Toilet. Walls. Door.

There was a low, thumping music shaking the thin cubicle walls Right. Bar. Okay.

Amy very carefully got to her feet and flushed the toilet. She picked up her purse and left the cubicle. She didn’t look at herself in the mirror as she hunted through looking for her emergency kit. She wet the toothbrush under the tap, added toothpaste, and began brushing her teeth. What she... What she needed.... What she needed was some mouthwash. Why didn’t she have any mouthwash?

The door to the ladies swung open. Sue glowered at her.

‘They’re here? she said.

‘Who?’ Amy asked.

Sue snorted derisively. ‘Move your skinny white ass.’

Amy followed her out. ‘I wish my... my ass was skinny.’

‘Good breasts though,’ Sue said.

‘I wish I had your legs.’

Sue looked down, and nearly overbalanced. ‘Kickboxing.’

‘I hate exercise,' Amy said venomously as they stumbled to the doors. ‘Loathe it.’

‘You haven’t done enough. You must develop a taste for it.’

The sudden chill of the outside air was bracing. Amy squealed and wrapped her jacket around herself.

‘Fuck!’

‘You’re so dramatic,' Sue said, and fell over.

Amy waved at Sean as he stamped over. He grabbed Sue under the armpits and hauled her to her feet.

‘Careful,’ Kent growled.

Jesus, where he even came from Amy had no idea.

‘Hey man, look after your own problem,’ Sean said. ‘You had your shot.’

‘It has nothing to do with “my shot” and everything to do with common decency.’

‘I just threw up,’ Amy announced. ‘Pretty sure I could do it again if needed.’

Sue straightened up. ‘Men,’ she said in a disparaging voice. ‘Get your penises out, or kiss, or just grow the fuck up.’ She burped, and drew her jacket around her shoulders. ‘Sean, take me home.’

Sean scowled at them as he led Sue away.

‘Yeah, keep walking, asshole!’ Amy bellowed.

Kent pushed her hair back off her face. ‘Come on, let’s get you home.’

Amy leaned against a wall to take off her shoes. ‘Hey.’

‘Yes?’

They reached Kent’s car.

‘Hey, she said again.

‘What?’ Kent asked, opening the passenger door.

Amy leaned against the door. ‘I’m thinking.’

Kent sighed. ‘Get in the car.’

‘Watch your tone, Mister!’

‘It’s two in the morning,’ Kent said. ‘Get in the fucking car.’

Amy stared at him. He didn’t look angry. He just looked tired. ‘Because I want to,’ she muttered, and got in the car.

Kent got in the driver’s seat and started the engine.

‘Who’s looking after David?’ she asked.

‘Dan.’

‘Who the fuck is Dan?’

Kent gripped the steering wheel. ‘Dan Egan. My options were extremely limited.’

‘I wouldn’t trust him to look after a houseplant,’ Amy grumbled.

‘Nonetheless, he is aware that I’m David’s father, he was awake, and he was willing. I was in no position to argue.’ Kent glanced at her. ‘Did you say that you’d thrown up?’

Amy closed her eyes. ‘ln the ladies.’

‘Do you think you might vomit again?’

‘Dunno,’ Amy mumbled. ‘Maybe.’

She heard him drum his fingers on the steering wheel.

‘Perhaps it would be safer if you came back to my apartment,’ he said. ‘If you throw up in your sleep it could be extremely dangerous.’

‘’Kay.’

She drifted for a while, but woke up when the cold, night air hit her again. He had his arm around her as he guided her to the door.

‘Where are we?’

‘My home,’ Kent said. ‘I’m not sure it;s wise to leave you alone tonight.’

Amy smirked. ‘That your line?’

‘I don’t use lines on ladies who are too drunk to stand,’ he said, as they headed to the elevator.

‘I can stand,’ Amy protested. ‘Kinda.’

‘Did you have a good time?’ Kent asked.

Amy grinned. ‘I like Sue. She’s bitchy.’

‘Is “bitch” a reclaimed word now?’ Kent asked.

‘Yes! Our word,’ Amy said, lurching out of the elevator. ‘You can’t have it.’ She leered at him. ‘But you can have me.’

Kent smiled. ‘You’re going to be embarrassed in the morning.’

She rolled her eyes. ‘Because I’m down to fuck? Please. It’s the twenty-first century and... oh. Did you open the door?’

‘Yes,’ Kent said. ‘David is asleep so keep your voice down.’

Dan was in the living room, napping on the couch. He woke up when they came in and stood up.

Everything okay?’ Kent asked.

‘Sure. I checked on him a couple times but he’s fast asleep,’ Dan said. ‘Your cats won’t come near me but animals don’t normally like me anyway.’

‘Cats know a snake when they see one,’ Amy said with a hiccup.

‘Wow, she is gone,’ Dan laughed. ‘I’ve never seen her this drunk.’

‘She’s been under a lot of stress,’ Kent said.

‘You need help getting her into the guest room?’ Dan asked. ‘You have a guest room, right?’

Drunk as she was, Amy felt a certain tension in the room.

‘The couch pulls out,’ Kent said. ‘You could help me with it.’

‘Okay, good,’ Dan said.

‘I admit I’m mildly surprised you care to ask,’ Kent said, as they unfolded the couch.

Dan lowered his voice. ‘Amy’s my friend. I’m a “no-judgement” guy, but...’

‘You’re right to check,’ Kent said. ‘I’m pleasantly surprised that you did.’

Amy threw off her jacket and crawled onto the bed.

‘Guess sheets are overrated,’ Dan said dryly.

‘I’ll get her a pillow and a blanket,’ Kent said. He offered Dan his hand. ‘I’d offer you a coffee however...’

‘No problem,’ Dan said shaking Kent’s hand. ‘Would you make sure she knows that I was here? It’ll make it easier to tease her.’

***

Amy woke up and found a kitten sat on her face. She couldn’t tell which one it was immediately, because she couldn’t see properly.

Because there was a kitten sat on her face.

After a few seconds, she heard David’s voice. She couldn’t make out the words but he was chattering. A lot.

Amy picked up the kitten, which protested loudly, and put it on the pillow beside her.

‘Oh, it’s you,’ she said. ‘Hello, Batman.’

Amy was more or less dressed. Her hair was still up and she was still mostly wearing makeup. Ugh. She clambered to her feet and followed the sound of David’s voice into the kitchen, where Kent was cooking breakfast.

‘Hi Mama! You look funny!’

‘I feel hilarious,’ Amy agreed. She untied her hair. ‘Any chance of a pancake?’

Kent nodded. ‘Would you like a shower first?’

‘Is that a hint?’

‘It’s a hint that you look like you’ll feel happier after a shower and brushing your teeth,’ Kent said. ‘Do you need to borrow a toothbrush?’

Amy wasn’t sure what was going on with him. He wasn’t obviously angry, but he was definitely a good bit cooler than she was used to.

‘No, thanks,’ she said. ‘I have a toothbrush in my purse. But sweats and some socks would be great.’

Kent nodded and took the pan off the heat. ‘In my bedroom, you’ll find both.’ He ruffled David’s hair. ‘Top drawer in the dresser for the underwear and the sweats are in the drawer beneath the wardrobe.’

‘Okay,’ Amy said. ‘I won’t be long.’

‘I’m going to help make your pancakes,’ David said.

‘Thanks, baba.’

She didn’t feel terrible, just tired and a little nauseated. She’d have some food, shake off her tetchiness, ask Kent what was going on with him, and then go to Oregon to meet his mom.

Why the hell did she think it was a good idea going out with Sue?

***

Kent brought her a coffee and painkillers while she in the shower. She heard the tap on the door and felt the cooler air swirl around the room and crawl under the cubicle door. She pushed back her wet hair, opened the door, and grabbed both the coffee and the painkillers he’d put on the counter.

By the time she returned to the kitchen, she was feeling no worse than she did any morning.

Then Kent asked David to go watch TV so he and Amy could talk.

Shit.

‘Is there where you ream me out for getting drink last night?’ Amy asked.

‘Of course not. You’re a grown woman with an incredibly stressful life.’

Amy folded her arms. ‘But?’

He pushed his fingers through his hair ‘I’d be happy to look after David any evening, every evening, and I would much rather come and pick you up when you’re inebriated than risk cabs or ridesharing. But from a practical point of view is has to be one or the other. I can’t do both at the same time.’

Amy toyed with his shirt. ‘Did you tell me to get in the “fucking car” last night?’

His cheeks reddened. ‘I was very tired. If you’d given me some warning I could have taken a nap.’

‘You can be pissed,’ she said, pushing her hair back. ‘I don’t particularly want you to be pissed at me but I get that you would be.’

He chewed his lower lip. ‘I was annoyed last night. I would appreciate it if in future you give me due warning if you’re going to ask me to pick up after midnight.’

Amy rolled her eyes. ‘I’m not one of your cats, I’m not gonna run screaming because you make a loud noise. You can be pissed and if you are then you can tell me. You can even fucking yell at me. I worked for Selina too long to be freaked out by it.’

Kent tilted his forehead. ‘What’s brought this on?’

‘Nothing,’ she said quickly. ‘I mean, I’ve yelled at you. We’re not gonna make whatever this is work if you never admit when you’re mad at me.’

‘I normally tell you when I’m unhappy with something you’ve done or said,’ Kent said.

‘You don’t yell.’

He shrugged. ‘I’m not really a person who raises his voice. However, yes, there are of course moments when I lose my temper. I was annoyed last night. Not because you got drunk, although the intensity of your intoxication was concerning. I was annoyed because you were thoughtless. If you’d told me you were going out drinking I could have made arrangements. I realise that you probably haven’t been able to get drunk in a long time and if we have another child you won’t be able to do it again for a long time. But it’s unfair to expect me to shoulder the responsibilities of being your partner without giving me any of the benefits.’

Amy stared at him. ‘Wow.’

‘Amy –’

‘No.’ She held up her hand. ‘My turn. Fuck. You’re …right. Fuck. I thought you were maybe going to admit you were pissed about your family not knowing about David but this is this and you’re right.’

‘That’s part of it,’ Kent said. ‘Apologies. I promised you time.’

She shrugged. ‘Maybe I didn’t need time. Maybe I need to hear that you want more than two dates a year in secret, Saturdays with David, and flirting over breakfast cereal.’

‘I do,’ he said.

‘Yeah, I do too.’ Amy looked away and blew at her cheeks. ‘Okay. That didn’t go too badly.’

‘Is this where I ask you to move in?’ Kent asked.

Amy smiled at him. ‘I hope so.’

He took a deep breath. ‘Would you like to move in?’

‘Try to fucking stop me.’

* * *

Amy had forgotten how annoying flying commercial could be, even first class. The flight attendants made a big fuss of David, giving him crayons and little toys, which baffled her until she heard another passenger muttering that young children should be banned from airplanes. He almost exploded when David was invited up to the cockpit, and Kent nearly trampled the asshole in his haste to get in on that. Men.

‘David’s probably racked up more air miles than most of the staff,’ she grumbled to Kent, after they came back to their seats

‘They’re not to know he’s a seasoned traveller,’ Kent said mildly.

Amy nodded at David, who was completely engrossed with his Black Widow action figure and a My Little Pony.

‘Does he look like he needs help amusing himself? Or that he’s going to run amok?’

Kent put his hand over hers. ‘It’s going to be okay. You don’t need to be nervous.’

‘I’m not nervous!’ she protested. ‘Shut up. You’re nervous. I’m not nervous.’

‘Anything you say.’

Amy glowered at him. He winked back. But she could feel his hand shaking.

Her family had heart attacks and strokes on her dad’s side and stomach problems on her mom’s side. When she’d asked, neither of them could remember any dementia in the family. It was weird, alien, and terrifying. Kent said it didn’t naturally occur in his mother’s side of the family either. His father’s side had some “ego” issues, whatever that meant. The whole thing gave Amy the creeps. Your mind gradually crumbling. It was horrifying.

***

‘Why is Grandma Rose in hospital?’ David asked.

They had gotten a cab to the facility. It looked more like a hotel than a hospital. There were beautiful flower gardens and wide meandering pathways that wound through the trees.

Kent squatted down to look David in the eye. ‘Grandma Rose isn’t well. She forgets things and she gets confused.’

‘Remember David,’ Amy prompted. ‘We talked about it.’

‘Are they going to make her better?’

Amy bit the inside of her cheek.

‘No,’ Kent said. ‘They can’t make her better. They look after her and make sure she’s safe and happy.’

David was frowning. ‘Why not?’

Kent took hold of his hand. ‘They don’t know how to, but doctors and scientists are working on it. One day they might know how to make people like Grandma Rose better.’

‘Okay,’ David said. ‘When I grow up can I be a scientist?’

‘If that’s what you to be,’ Amy said.

‘A scientist is an excellent thing to be,’ Kent said.

They found Rose in a section of the garden behind the main building. She was sat at a table with her carers, in dappled sunshine. As they approached her, the carers stood up and discreetly moved away.

Rose was beautifully made up. Her clothes were spotless and perfectly pressed. Amy had heard horror stories about care facilities, but all the guests here looked comfortable, clean, and well-cared for. Even so, when she looked at Kent, she saw him swallow, hard.

Amy took his hand, and squeezed it gently. He gave her a quick, grateful glance.

‘Hi Mom,’ he said to Rose. ‘Marie told you we were coming.’

Rose put down her knitting. She was a striking woman, even now, with familiar, deep-set hazel eyes, and sharp cheekbones.

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I’m so sorry. It must have slipped my mind. Can you remind me who you are?’

‘I’m Kent,’ he said quietly.

Amy cleared her throat. ‘This is your grandson, David. Say hello to your Grandma Rose, David.’

He stepped forward timidly and offered her his hand. ‘Hello, Grandma Rose.’

‘He’s your grandson,’ Kent said, gently.

Rose solemnly shook David’s hand. ‘I didn’t know I had a grandson. Who are your mommy and daddy?’

Amy expected him to point at them, but instead he squared his little shoulders.

‘My mama is Amy Brookheimer and papa is Kent um...’ Now he glanced back at them.

‘Kent Davison,’ Amy said.

David turned back to Rose. ‘My mama is Amy Brookheimer and my papa is Kent Davison.’

‘You’re Kent’s son?’ Rose asked.

‘Yes,’ David said.

‘I’m very proud of him,’ Kent said.

Rose nodded. ‘I have a son,’ she said, touching David’s face. ‘He’s very handsome too.’

David grinned at her. ‘What’re you doing?’ he asked, pointing at the needles.

‘I’m knitting a jumper,’ she said. ‘Would you like to help?’

‘Yes, please,’ David said.

Amy winced as David climbed onto Rose’s knee.

‘I’m sorry dear,’ Rose said to him. ‘What did you say your name was?’

‘David Brookheimer.’

Kent sat down in one of the guest chairs. Amy took the other.

‘How are you today?’ Kent asked.

‘Fine, thank you, doctor,’ Rose said, kissing David’s cheek.

David giggled. ‘He’s not a doctor!’

Kent sighed. ‘I’m Kent. I’m your son.’

Rose looked up surprised. ‘Come on now, you’re older than I am!’

Amy squeezed Kent’s hand.

‘I’m Amy,’ she said. ‘I’m David’s mother.’

Rose jogged her knees to make David bounce a little. Kent hastily took the knitting needles.

‘Do I know David?’ Rose asked.

Amy glanced at Kent, but he had his eyes tightly closed.

‘David is sat on your lap,’ Amy said.

Rose shook her head. ‘This is Kent, he’s my oldest. He’s such a sweet boy.’

***

Kent didn’t say anything as they got in the cab and stayed silent all the way to town. He managed some smiles for David as they got dinner, and finally spoke to answer direct questions from David, or the server.

Amy didn’t ask Kent any questions. She didn’t prod or push. If it had been her, she would have wanted space to figure things out. So that’s what she was giving him.

‘Is papa going to be okay?’ David asked, when Kent went to the restroom.

Amy ruffled David’s hair. ‘Papa will be fine,’ she said. ‘He’s feeling sad. Sometimes people feel sad and that’s okay. Papa needs some time and then he’ll feel okay.’

‘I’ll draw him a picture,’ David said definitively.

Amy smiled and kissed his forehead. ‘You do that, baba. I’m sure that papa will love it.’

After dinner, they went to the hotel. It was late, and their flight was pretty early the following morning. Amy gave David a bath and Kent read him a couple of stories and then they put him to bed. Kent went through the connecting door to his own room. He was still subdued and very quiet. Amy didn’t blame him. He hadn’t expected it. Not that. It had shaken him and that shook her.

Amy had a shower. She scrubbed the dirt and misery from her skin and hair. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, pulling the warm, humid air into her lungs.

She turned off the shower and stepped out of the cubicle. She dried off and blow dried her hair. She put some perfume on her wrists and the nape of her neck. She pulled on the short towelling robe and went to check on David.

Her little boy was deeply asleep, his mouth slightly open, and his leg hanging out beyond the covers. Amy tucked his leg under the covers and tipped his chin up to close his mouth. She kissed his cheek and put a note on the mirror where he’d see it.

Then she opened the connecting door without knocking.

Kent was startled enough to stand. His eyes were red-rimmed. He was barefoot and had taken off his jacket, but otherwise he was fully dressed.

She could smell whiskey. There was a bottle on the bedside table. Amy closed the connecting door. She walked to the bed, and dropped her robe to the floor.

Kent’s eyes widened. His gazed dropped to the door and then crawl back up to her eyes.

Amy stepped up to him and removed his tie and belt. She unbuttoned his shirt as he cupped her face in his palms.

He didn’t speak but she could hear his breathing. She felt the warmth of his skin and the tremor of his body.

Amy kissed the corner of his mouth, and then the other corner. She gently pulled down his hands and pushed his shirt of his shoulders. Kent shrugged out of his shirt and cast it aside. She unbuttoned his flies. He took off his trousers and threw them onto the armchair.

Amy rested her forehead against Kent’s, for a moment, and then he swung her up into his arms. It was only a dozen steps and when he laid her down she pulled him with her. She rolled him onto his back and straddled him.

Kent stoked her legs as she leaned forward, and closed his eyes as she kissed along his jawline. She felt his fingertips drifting along her arms as she moved down the bed.

Amy looked up at him as she kissed his thighs.

He was watching her. He stroked his fingers through her hair and then reached up to grip the headboard. She knew why.

Amy smiled at him as she took him into her mouth.

She heard him grunt. She hummed.

Kent squeezed his eyes closed and made a noise between a murmur and a moan.

Amy sat up. She shifted position, and lowered herself down onto his erection.

He reached for her, caressing her face even as she heard his breath beginning to catch. She saw the tension in his face as he tried to hold it back.

‘It’s okay,’ she promised. ‘It’s okay.’

‘But…’

‘Keep looking at me,’ Amy said.

He nodded. His hands dropped, sliding to her shoulders, along her arms, to her hands.

Amy entwined their fingers. She nudged herself forward, against him, nudging him towards it.

‘Sorry, sorry…’

‘It’s okay.’ Amy pushed her hair out of her eyes.

Kent shook his head.

‘Stay with me,’ Amy said, adjusting position. ‘Can you do that?’

He watched her trace her fingers down her chest and belly.

‘I can do that,’ he said breathlessly.

She slid her fingers into her wetness. ‘Won’t be long,’ she said honestly.

Kent was watching her. His eyes were almost black in the dimmed light.

‘Nearly,’ Amy muttered. ‘Near… Nearly…’

She closed her eyes as she came. Squeezed his fingers as she came.

Amy lay down next to him. He rolled over to face her.

She knew what he was going to say. It was stamped on his face.

‘I lo–’

‘No,’ she interrupted. ‘Don’t. We just screwed. It doesn’t count.’

He was quiet for a long moment. ‘Yes, it does.’

‘You just came,’ she said. ‘It’s hormones and… shit.’

Kent stroked her arm. ‘You know it’s not that. I know you do.’

Amy looked at him. ‘Yeah,’ she said quietly. ‘I know.’ She kissed him. ‘But don’t say it.’

‘Why?’                                             

Amy shrugged. ‘I want to say it first and I’m not ready yet.’ 

Kent was getting sleepy, but he nodded. ‘Okay.’

Amy gave a small sigh. ‘I’m not ready yet,’ she said again. ‘But I will be.’

The End