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baby, we could go all night

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Roman

It’s 7pm on a Friday night, and there’s literally no way Roman is leaving the office. He could waltz all the way back down to the lobby, drop his bag of flying fucks off at the front door, and hurl himself into an evening of high-proof fuckery. Technically, he could. Nobody would stop him. But nobody’s stopping him from signing up for an Ironman Triathlon, either, and he’d rather shit a bike. 

It’s his own fucking fault for lingering downstairs, hoping to catch Gerri instead of leaving for a reservation he and Tabs may or may not have confirmed. Gerri’s also at fault, for breaking a code Roman thought went unspoken—dream team before grizzled peen, or whatever. Mostly, though, fuck Gerri’s speccy date and his Confederate-commander beard for looking so self-satisfied, so right escorting Gerri out to their car, Roman could practically hear wedding bells chiming out of the guy’s ass. 

He’s lying on a sofa near the elevator bay, sending a photo of his surroundings to Gerri along with a text that reads, at least one of us is still grinding hard, when his phone starts buzzing. 

Tabitha. Probably calling because they did make dinner plans, and he has fully ditched them. If she asks, he’s playing the incomplete-truth card: no appetite. 

But no, she’s video-calling for his opinion on her outfit for dad’s dedication. Turns out she’s forgotten about their reservation as well. Neither of them remembers who made it, and neither of them cares enough to look it up. 

“We should really cancel it,” she muses. “Missed reservations are a blight on the restaurant industry.” 

Roman hates video calls. Too much arm and neck effort for basically no return. He drops his phone onto his chest and starts picking at a seam in the sofa. “I might stay late at the office tonight. Got a thing, y’know, very serious work thing that needs to get done.” 

He knows it sounds like a lie. And yeah, when he said it to Gerri and her date about an eon ago, it was unfiltered, Grade D bullshit, the kind his brain pumps out any time his dignity’s on the line. But fuck it. He can do work. He can show Gerri loads and loads of work, every page just creamed with trendlines and growth charts and guesstimated data points. 

Roman lifts his phone a little so he can peek at the screen. Tabs is smiling. She’s always doing that, smiling all radiant like a hot angelic stewardess, even when she’s squinting at him the way she is now. 

“What I’m hearing you say is… you’re having an affair.”

Roman smacks his lips. “Yep.”

“Ooh. Spicy.” Tabitha is great like that. Easy. No expectations, no questions, fun and casual all the way. She’s got her side pieces, he’s got—his stuff. It works both ways. It works. “Good for you, Ro. Go get her. Or him. Or them. No judgment from me.”

“Right. Hey. Are you…” Roman turns onto his side and tucks his arms close, holding his phone so Tabs can’t see anything but ceiling. After a long pause, he mutters, “Are you, like… happy?”

Tabs laughs. 

Roman groans, controlling the impulse to fling his phone at the nearest elevator. Sincerity is never worth it. Fuck if they’re ever touching that topic again. 

But she continues. “In general, or in specific? You know what—either way, sure. Yes. To both.” Roman looks askance at her pixelated form. She’s tilting her head. “Are you?”

He shrugs slowly and ends up sinking deeper into the couch. The answer, actually, might be almost never. Even the times he's thinking of, he’s probably confusing horny for happy. He sits up abruptly and scowls at the screen. “I mean, what is my problem? What is wrong with me? Come on. Give me your best diagnosis. Just hit me with it.”

“Wow,” Tabitha says. “So many to choose from.” Like he’s a nut job offering her first pick of his bottle-cap collection. “But if I could only go with one, I’d say… you’re not great at caring about—”

Roman gags and ends the call. 

 

* * * * *

 

Gerri

She’s survived a marriage, beginning to end, and squelched her way up the corporate compost pile, past dubious ethics and angry men, as far up as she ever thought she’d go. She might not have considered vying for more, she can admit, without the little shit who’s currently trying to fry her phone with a firestorm of texts. 

sent 6:44pm love a good Friday night email raid

sent 6:47pm 13,793 unread msgs. yes. oh fuck yes. please more

Roman had immediately caught onto her date’s mannered speech in the lobby, replied with a mocking half-bow, Charmed, I’m sure. Gerri’s told me so little about you. Have the best time on your date! He’d been stung. That was easy to see beneath his shit-eating grin. 

sent 6:55pm isn’t it kind of a problem for general counsel to ignore an exec’s texts

sent 6:56pm thats our emergency protocol gone to shit

sent 6:56pm building could be on fire

sent 6:56pm sayonara to every record we’ve ever filed

sent 6:57pm there could be

sent 6:57pm terrorists

sent 6:57pm motherfucking terrorists

sent 6:57pm everywhere

She’s wondered about his attachment, the lengths she can push it, the depths it might run. His expression was evidence. The texts are evidence. His reaction could’ve been disastrous, but this, she can handle—even enjoy. With proper finessing, the situation could very well work to their advantage. 

In the dark of the car, Lionel leans over. He’s either after a whiff of her perfume or a close-up of her screen. It’s possible he thinks he’s being intimate. 

“You’ve got all the symptoms,” he says.

Gerri skims the rest of her notifications and tucks her phone into her purse. “Of?”

“Workaholism.” Lionel smiles. He’s got the Cheshire grin of a people-pleaser and a compulsive eye-twinkle that reminds Gerri of Bill. Like Bill, he’s swapped out an esteemed career for a plush retirement; unlike Bill, he opted out a decade earlier. “I can tell you’re not one for smiling, but you’re delighted about the fusillade hitting you on this fine Friday night.”

Gerri blinks. “You assume it was work.” This evening is months in the making, set up by a mutual acquaintance. Gerri can’t imagine spending her professional credits on a personal favor, but if Melissa, now a partner at Skadden, wants to cash in on something as trivial as her client’s romantic prospects, Gerri’s not going to stop her. “Could be my rentboy, jealous I’m out with you.”

After a pause, Lionel ekes out a laugh. “I see now,” he says. “Not a smiler, but full of little jokes.” He’d been billed as an ideal acquisition, with his determined widower’s cheer, his distinguished looks, his late accomplishments as a savvy investor. Gerri could bring him on her arm to a work function, and he’d make so much sense as a beau, he’d draw fewer eyes than her purse. She thought she wanted as much, at the start of the year. That was an era ago.

“Work is a priority,” Gerri says, keeping her voice mild. Cancelling had crossed her mind a week ago, when he’d called to confirm, then kept her on the phone an extra ten minutes to explain his restaurant choice. “You know how it is. They’d be lost little lambs without me.”

“Tell your little lambs I’ve got you checked out for the night.” 

Gerri tries to smile. There’s a chance it comes out as a grimace. She has a fleeting impulse to text Lionel’s line to Roman, see what carrion he’d make of it.

She won’t, of course. They may have had enough encounters to begin the rough outlines of something unknown, but that’s not how this game goes. 

Besides, there’s always later. She locks eyes with Lionel. He’ll fuss less if she kneecaps his expectations now. “You should know, I’ll be checking my phone throughout the evening.” The negotiation for a hefty distribution deal in EMEA will, in fact, be underway soon. She expects good news. “I assume it won’t be an issue.” 

She sees in his flicker of a frown that her bluntness doesn’t land. Well. She promised her attendance, not an eyelash-batting performance. She can intimidate men, bury their sins, point them to the ruthless right decision, and, as she’s discovered in the last month, make at least one of them come without lifting her finger. But asking men, even distinguished, eligible men, to like her? 

She may have lost the appetite for that. 

 

* * * * *

 

Roman

The office is silent, glass walls revealing black sky and the twinkle of ugly, lesser skyscrapers nearby. Hanging up on Tabs was a shit idea. Now it’s just him, himself, and his lovely fuckwit mind. 

Roman spends some time collapsed on the sofa, kneading his eyes till a psychedelic light show’s playing in his vision. Anyone could’ve guessed Gerri was capable of bagging a hottie—hottie attracts hottie, that’s, like, Newton’s Thirst Law—so why does he feel like someone’s grabbed his junk and twisted, and not in a fun way? The guy’s probably a fucking… interrogator at the CIA. An arms-dealing jiu jitsu master. A killer shark with Gerri’s instincts for ruthless efficiency. Roman imagines the guy taking Gerri’s hand, wrapping an arm around her, leaning over and kissing her. It makes his stomach turn. The image is all wrong, like a baby gnawing on a dildo. Gerri is independent, and vicious, and—Roman grimaces. Is this feminism? Is his brain being infiltrated by feminist thoughts?

Disturbed, he rolls off the couch and lopes through the dark. The office lights trail him, set off by his movements. He lingers outside Gerri’s office, squinting at her line of awards and plaques, which he’d bet all say something like Leading Ladiest Lawyer, 1995. He could go in, jerk off, leave the mess for Gerri to find. The thought thrills a part of him, immature and bent on hurting people back, except he’s sure Gerri wouldn’t appreciate the gesture, and that makes it lose its appeal.

Propelling himself down the corridor in a swivel chair, Roman sends another photo, this time of Gerri’s office: didn’t go in and piss on all your things. do I get a cookie?

He’s not an idiot. He knows he’s feeling something, and he’d love to squash those feelings dead in therapy, but his current therapist is a dipshit, not to mention away on a photoshoot in the Bahamas. So Roman resorts to the favored tactic of any sorry S.O.B. with an urgent psychological predicament, and pages Dr. Google. 

He hazards at his phone browser: relationship hot work older ???? feelings

Roman drops his phone on the carpet with a groan, face warming like a fever. His shame meter is fucking virginal when he’s alone. 

 

* * * * *

 

Gerri

She feels another three texts against her hip, the buzz a near-erotic sensation, the knowledge of denial causing power and restlessness to sing through her in equal measure. Since she claimed her right to do so, she hasn’t checked her phone—less for Lionel’s sake than her own. On the work front, the Shanghai meeting won’t be done for another hour or so, and as for work-associated recreation, she’s not a schoolgirl in heat. She knows how to wait. Knows the advantages of doing so.

Lionel presses his hand against her lower back as they enter the restaurant, like he’s afraid she’ll wheel off course without guardrails. Gerri supposes some women appreciate that sort of gesture, see it as a promise of protection and security. It occurs to her that he’d thought meeting her in the Waystar lobby was a romantic gesture, one befitting a sterling suitor such as himself, rather than a grating dismissal of her instructions.

In the dim candlelight, he asks after her past, her interests, and—as if she’d tell just anyone—her fears with gusto. His earnestness is like the glare of the sun. 

“Now, here’s a question.” Lionel flexes his hands, like he’s about to do a magic trick. “If you could wave a wand and grant yourself one wish, what would it be?”

Gerri thinks, Chair and CEO—or CEO and Chair, echoed in a voice that isn’t her own. “All I’ve ever wanted,” she says, “is freedom of movement.” 

“The majesty of travel! I recently had the most marvelous time in Antigua—”

Gerri has to hold in her scoff, as she does when mixing with the country club wives and their VP-level husbands. She knows three decades embedded in the Roy clan have made her cynical, prone to sniffing at easy contentments and small desires. Those three decades have also brought her everything she’s striven for. Nearly everything.

Even as her mind circles, she knows she looks hawk-eyed fielding Lionel’s questions. She’s been practicing all her life.

 

* * * * *

 

Roman

After thumbing through a few dozen eye-gouging, sperm-sapping threads on r/relationships and advice columns that make him want to go bulimic and finger-jam his own throat, Roman takes a Which Heir Potential of the Roy Empire Are You? quiz, courtesy of Vaulter’s carcassed remains. The quiz tells him he’s a Connor, and then, on take two, a Kendall. What the fuck. He knew gutting the site had been the right call.

Roman is so not a Kendall. In the same situation, Ken would’ve eaten ten strategy decks and shat out a revenue projection model by now. Ken would’ve pulled a bachelor gambit—proposed to the gal in question while weeping jizz, or something equally desperate, sad, and doomed to fail. 

Even if Roman wanted to try the tryhard thing, he’d have no idea where to begin, and he really doubts he’d find a 10 Secrets to Shareholder Seduction guide on the ‘nets. A week after Argestes, Gerri had mentioned starting a strategy proposal, but it’s on lockdown, nowhere near the Waystar servers. (Privacy is a cozy fantasy. No emails, no documents, no texts where any shit-scavengers might find them, were her exact words.) She hasn’t shown him the proposal draft, and he hasn’t asked. Which is weird, if he thinks about it. Maybe she doesn’t trust him. Maybe she assumed he wouldn’t care. Yeah, he’s gonna be the supernova frontman of their operation, but he doesn’t really want to cruise through the partnership waving and smiling with his dick hanging out and his head full of singsong, like an idiot mayor on a homecoming parade float. 

Gerri did forward him one thing post-London. Even instructed him to read it in full, which he never did. Didn’t even start. 

His swivel chair rolls off to the side as he slides down and drops cross-legged outside the executive conference room. Sucking in a breath, Roman brings up the note Gerri included with the oppo research.

nothing lethal but not pretty. lack of respect from subordinates/industry problematic. 

Those words have reared in his head since he first read and reread them a week ago, like the worst kind of earworm. Tabs loves looking him up and dropping hot turds from his past into conversation, but Roman stopped Googling himself in his twenties. He can guess what he’d find now: articles about nepotism, tweets about his being an attention-deficient dirtbag, posts by blogger blowhards about so-called “mismanagement.” Hard fucking pass on that kind of digital disemboweling, has always been his view. 

But fuck it, bring it on. He’s in the mood for masochism, special delivery from Gerri of C-suite past. When going hard starts to leave cracks, you go even harder, right? Crater that shit. 

Reading the attachment feels like wading into a tank of wet maggots. Mistake. He’s made a mistake. He’s careening down a cliff in a rickety trolley with his arms lopped off, no chance of stopping now. They’ve packed in everything he’d imagined, plus satirical Twitter accounts, and YouTube screencaps, and performance reviews from direct reports, and company-wide surveys. Every section’s got about five bulleted lists, all of them capped with a headline, plus summary. Everything is linked. Fuck, fuck, fuck the ass-licking analysts who scraped the rot of his past into such neat little piles. He’s looking at a Zen garden of subheaders and font styles, and it’s got his mangled, naked carcass bleeding out in the middle. 

Roman swipes out of the file, turns off his screen, and gently lays his phone face-down on the ground. Before he knows it, he’s pressing his forehead against the conference room glass, eyes screwed shut like he can lobotomize himself if he shoves enough force against his skull. 

 

* * * * *

 

Gerri

Lights hang from the opera house ceiling like gathered sparks. The walls and carpet beam an opulent red. Tipsy, gray-haired couples, each indistinguishable from the last, flow up the stairs and across the jutting balconies. 

Sheer boredom has Gerri attentive to her phone’s every pulse. Since confirming the terms of the distribution agreement with Shanghai, she’s left her phone untouched. She can discern each notification by its character, and in the last half-hour, she’s registered two work emails, two industry news alerts, and one personal email. No texts.

Roman never intended to work late on a Friday night. She’s sure of that. An emergency is brewing over Waystar Royco, but it’s not like the burden of shit-sweeping has fallen on him. He’ll have fled the office for a night of debauchery by now, not that it’s her concern. She has her life. He has his. It’s a lark, waiting to see where he’ll slingshot next, observing indifferently before accepting each play. Every time he’s raised the stakes, she’s matched him, and every time, she’s careful to expect it to end. 

As Lionel guides her through the gleaming doors of the opera house, he takes a breath from reciting mallard facts to tout their box seat tickets, like they’re a trump card that’ll have her begging for a second date. Despite the chill she’s projecting, he continues behaving like a broken pressure gauge, flitting glances her way, then shifting topics, and again. He believes her to be interested because he needs her to be interested. She can understand it, theoretically, the urgency to reel in another companion as soon as possible. But she’s wary of his solicitousness. She’s been married before. She knows how quickly the scales can tip. 

“I’m not a drinker,” Lionel begins, in the same tone he’d said, I can’t take seriously news not delivered in print, “but would you—” He gestures at the patrons teeming around the lobby bar. 

“Wine. Please.” 

“You have a preference, don’t you? I wouldn’t want you to take me to court if I get it wrong.”

“Whatever you think will suit.” The more Lionel wants to know, the less Gerri feels inclined to divulge. Given a professional imperative, she can play the kiss-ass, swap between personas like she’s throwing on a scarf. But time out of the limelight has bled Lionel dry of the hunter’s instinct. He’s a vessel of a man, useless to her. 

For once, his sense of chivalry works to her advantage. His hand lingers for a second before he starts moving across the room. When he reaches the bar a minute later, he throws a jaunty wave in her direction. Gerri wanders out of his sight with her gaze turned upward, as if admiring the lush interior. Around her, guests consort, women laughing with wide mouths, men standing like pillars, marching up the stairs. She could have this. Be consigned to this. Widow. Wife. Ex-General Counsel. A faded blot on a scrap of ledger.

That’s one option. Wait, in perpetuity. Toil away until the morgue is ready to claim her. 

And then there are other options. 

She’d hardly be initiating. Roman lobbed her a dozen messages first. And if he’s moved on for the night, she’s clever enough to disguise her response as a course of normal business. She intends to keep her advantage. 

Gerri dips her hand into her purse. Her fingers meet cool glass. 

 

* * * * *

 

Roman

Roman doesn’t break eye contact with the cleaning guy at the end of the corridor, just shows him who’s boss by cranking up the sullen in his stare, like any COO lying comatose on the carpet would. Soon after, the guy J-turns into the dark, hazard yellow winking out of sight, rumble of plastic fading. Corporate America’s spooky late hour, dominion of the scrounging underbelly: janitors, sweaty work addicts, and whatever the fuck Roman is. He’s unclassifiable. A dumbass holding himself hostage over disturbing imagery and a throwaway claim about working that nobody, including himself, believed. 

Playing hooky without leaving school isn’t cool. It’s just flunking. Roman reaches for the closest workstation cabinet, pulling it open to have something to do while he tries to blank out his mind. For all his lack of persistence, his thoughts sure as fuck don’t quit.

A ringtone pierces the silence. Roman sits up so fast trying to grab his phone, the workstation table nearly caves his skull in. 

Only when he jabs at the screen does he remember: it’s his goddamn reading alarm. He never should’ve taken Shiv’s bet after Lame Haven that he couldn’t finish a real book; the reminder he half-jokingly set has blared every night for the last month, too annoying to ignore, not annoying enough to remember to delete.

That’s, what, his fifth major disappointment tonight? Fifth and final, thanks so much. Now that he’s halfway upright, it’s easy enough to let momentum carry him forward. Roman hauls himself to his feet and beelines toward the elevator bay, scooping up his abandoned coat and briefcase from the couch. The alarm is a driving force, a motivational mallet—nagging, but effective. 

Safely in the elevator, Roman heaves a groan and hits L with his palm before he can think it over. When he makes to kill the SHIV FUCKS BOOKS alarm, up pops a missed notification.

For an email. Bullshit. 

An email—from Gerri. That’s… less bullshit.

Still, Roman’s not dumb enough to read into Gerri asking him—ordering him?—to research Turkish-Azerbaijan investment priorities while on her date. Maybe Gerri’s date died in a freak accident after, say, angering a swarm of pigeons, and Gerri’s dealing with the shock by cleaning out her inbox. That, or the timestamp could be off, another instance of Outlook hoarding like a fat kid and puking up emails in one go. 

Either way, he’s not living in one of Connor’s Harlequin tit rags. Roman’s not about to cancel his prison break, or draw any encouraging conclusions, on the basis of this boardroom boilerplate. If his heart is fucking racing, it’s because Gerri has taken the bait. She’s responded, he’s won, and now—he’s outta here. 

The elevator doors open to a lobby washed in shadow, the city ripe for the taking just beyond the glass. Empty, the lobby is like an amphitheater stage. It’s easy for Roman’s brain to replay phantom versions of himself, Gerri, and date-man, halting in the middle and hurrdurring through pleasantries, then weaving past one another in opposite directions. 

The email stays lit for a beat, then goes dark on his phone. For a good, long second after that, Roman stands with his arms crammed full of stuff, staring ahead at nothing in particular. 

Before he can process what’s happening, he’s leaning toward the elevator panel with one hand outstretched. The doors slide shut on command. 

Gerri could have another guy’s tongue in her right now. She could be planning to go all night with him. But maybe Roman’s so whipped, he’d do whatever she asked, no matter how humiliating. He’s not fucking different from Ken and Con after all. 

He wouldn’t be surprised if Gerri were the kind of masterful multitasker who could sift through Outlook while making someone come, but in all likelihood, at least one minute passed tonight without her eye-fucking, or real-fucking, her date. As long as there’s a chance she’s watching, he’ll happily put on a show. 

Stomach swooping, Roman watches the numbers accelerate. In the ensuing hush, he clears his throat, shifting from one foot to another. He cracks his neck. Ducks his head down and gives the email another skim. 

When the elevator doors open onto the executive floor, he’s more than a little bit hard. 

 

* * * * *

 

Gerri

As Lionel directs her through the darkness toward a curtained opening, Gerri takes a last sip of the Shiraz he’d procured. She’s no lightweight, but dinner was scant, and the wine had been her sole companion in the interminable twenty minutes before they began ascending the stairs. She welcomes its pleasant suffusion. It wafts like smoke over her body, her thoughts.

In this work, there’s always a crisis to anticipate, summons to answer, vigilance to uphold. Her mind hasn’t stopped jumping in decades. The prickling anticipation she feels now is new. She’s overly alert to the stillness of her phone, too hopeful for it to come alive. Too sensitive to her own movements, her forward march under Lionel’s clamped hand. 

Past the curtains, the air is hazy with strains of laughter, instruments tuned string by string, coughs on top of murmurs and rustling. So this is Lionel’s Elysium, a promised land overlooking audience, orchestra, stage. Two seats in a box, a well-appointed coffin of cushioned red velvet, no different from the seats below except these are, like any worthwhile upgrade, secluded. Below, late-coming audience members mince their way past tangled legs and feet. They are all dressed in their best. The amount of effort they’ve all put in, to feel like they’re still worth something. 

Gerri stops at the aisle. “Go on,” Lionel says merrily, beckoning for her to sit down first. 

Not if she can help it. She might need to step out for any number of reasons, chief among them the finalizing of the distribution contract. Shanghai sent an email promising good news, but she’s watched enough deals die in the eleventh hour to expect disaster. 

No. She doesn’t have time for self-delusion. Shanghai has sent word already and will again before the night is over, but that’s not what she’s waiting for. 

“I’d prefer the outer seat,” Gerri says. “Superior view.” The vantage points can’t be more than a degree or two off. But it doesn’t matter what kind of nonsense rationale she tosses off. Despite her performance, Lionel remains weak to wanting to please her. 

“Be my guest.” He winks and leans in close. “I’ve got a good view regardless of which seat I take.”

Tolerating his attention is like breathing with a plastic bag around her head. She sends him a stiff smile as she allows him past her, then sits and tucks her purse between the armrest and her thigh. 

“I relish these moments,” Lionel says, breathing her air. “The anticipation shocks my nerves young again.”

“Whatever it takes to feel young again,” Gerri deadpans.

“Now this is what truly matters. Enjoying the company of another soul. Watching art unfold live. Ever since Teresa died, I’ve learned to value life for life itself. Not for notes and snaps and pings.”

Against her hip, a syncopation. Two hits, like a heartbeat. A text.

“Because this is all we have,” Lionel continues, his eyes steel pins for keeping her in place. “Sometimes, I really do fear it. What comes after. The majestic beyond. I think there comes an age—” 

Gerri leans in, lays a gentle hand on Lionel’s arm, and lowers her voice to a murmur. “Why don’t we take some time before the show begins?” Her counterfeit version of earnest is as lush as the genuine product. “To calm our minds. Gather ourselves. In silence.”

Lionel looks, god help her, like he wants to caress her cheek and sail her away to the Bahamas. “Marvelous,” he gushes. “I wanted to propose this during dinner, but I didn’t think you’d be amenable.” He releases her gaze and settles into his seat, rapture on his face. A second later, he’s laid his left hand on top of her right and closed his eyes.

Keeping everything still but her free arm, Gerri slips her phone from her purse. Neck brace stealth text, Roman once coined the move, during a stultifying finance meeting weeks or months ago.

A notification floats on her screen, satisfying proof that she hasn’t been fooling herself. Understated by Roman’s standards, the photo shows a computer monitor, screen lit with the beginnings of a document and multiple tabs on the YAP. 

So, then. One email from her achieved what military school and a decade pinballing around Waystar couldn’t. Roman may be volatile, but these last couple of months, he’s always followed through where she’s concerned. 

A hush falls over the crowd as the lights dim. To her right, Lionel’s hand twitches. Gerri slips her phone away. 

Leonard blinks and peers at her, beaming. “Invigorating, was it?”

“Just what I needed,” Gerri says.

A bass note thunders through the theater. Onstage, an ornamented figure glides into the spotlight. If Roman does as he’s told, he’ll be occupied for some time. For once, Gerri doesn’t plan. She leans back in her seat, basks in her victory, and waits.

 

* * * * *

 

Roman

The pulpit puppets leading management training were too busy tongue-bathing David Allen to offer up anything useful, but it’s hard to believe that nobody's ever told him about the productivity gains of being turned on. Stewy probably keeps a porno running at all times—it’s the only legitimate reason he’d have that triple monitor setup in his office—so fuck him for failing to spill his secrets. 

Challenges usually make Roman want to stop, drop, and roll a joint, but this one’s got him fucking high, his veins pumping with focus and engagement and motivation, a whole perky gang of HR-approved buzzwords. Unlike every other time he’s sat down to work, he hasn’t even gotten up to rearrange his shelf sculptures or started fiddling with the design of his business card. In any other scenario where he entered his office with the faintest hint of arousal, he’d be swabbing cum off his desk by now, dick fully dealt with. 

But this isn’t an everyday, General Mill kind of hard-on. Gerri masterminded this hard-on. He’s dead sure of it. She’s managed to align company mission, shareholder value, and the incentivization of his cock. And by keeping his hands a’typing, he’s running the baton even further. Not even his phone can tempt him now; he’s set the little fucker on Do not disturb and pushed it to the side. 

As he scrolls down a column of line graphs, Roman shifts in his office chair. Fucking hell. If he were to move his hips, just a little, at this angle—it’s very fucking tempting. He forces himself to unclench his jaw and breathe. That’s not the kind of pressure he needs right now. 

Because he’s not leaving until he has something worth showing. Nobody mentioned a deadline. Nobody mentioned a reward, either. Call it a hunch. A gamble. A leap of faith. Trust in this climate is for the drippiest of suckers, but… well. Gerri hasn’t let him down yet.

 

* * * * *

 

Gerri

“It’s that damn ‘Rural Daughters’ internship program,” her EMEA counterpart gripes over the phone. “The new intern for Sales Channels faxed the contract over. Not to the executive floor, either. One of the pigsties below. I’ll find out which one.” 

Gerri taps a finger against her phone, watching the women’s bathroom line swell across the lobby like an infestation. If Lionel asks what kept her past intermission, the notorious wait times will provide a plausible excuse, one that won’t provoke his pity or dismay. She’d embrace a dozen disasters to avoid sitting back down beside Lionel, whose breathy explanations had moistened her neck through the first act, as if she couldn’t decipher the son hates father, son tries to overthrow father plot on her own.

“I’m sure I can guess,” Gerri says, “but which version did she fax?”

“All 265 pages. Appendix included.”

“The one spilling over with entrails. Lovely.” 

“To say the least. It’s late in New York, isn’t it? If you’re feeling cruel, send an underling to retrieve the document now. Dispatch them at dawn if you’d prefer mercy.” 

“I’ll take care of it.”

Xiaoye gives a breathy snort. “Yes, jerk the strings of your own pitiful intern. By the way, can you talk sense into New York HR? Tell them we don’t need their diversity initiatives. We are already 100% diverse in the Shanghai office.”

By the time the call ends, the lobby crowd has thinned to a patchwork of stragglers, singles and pairs rushing upstairs to be ensconced in the dark. Gerri watches as a teenaged boy stumbles on the stairs; he glances for witnesses, then ascends three steps at a time and disappears from view. 

She’s completed three-quarters of the date, enough to know the rest will be a waste of time. If she leaves now, Lionel won’t be happy. If she stays, she won’t be. A new path has widened before her. By the time the second act ends, it will likely be gone. 

As her phone buzzes—an email—a throat clears behind her shoulder. 

Lionel’s hands are in his pocket. His stance is solid, like he’s been planted near the column for some time. His expression is that of a disappointed pastor: we are all of us sinners, but did you even try? “If you aren’t feeling favorably about this date,” he says, “I think I can tell you why.” 

Looking him over, Gerri makes her decision. She never did care for church. All that pointless guilt. She allows Lionel a few final moments of illusion. “What’s your theory?”

He nods at her phone. “And you were doing so well.” 

“Aren’t you observant.” 

Lionel sighs. “You know, Gerri… life is what you pay attention to.” When he reaches for her, she shifts out of the way and brings her phone to the other hand, as if she’d meant to do so all along. 

Lightly, she says, “Speaking of attention, work requires mine. I’m afraid I need to cut out early. I’ll reimburse you for the ticket, of course.”

Lionel opens his mouth. Closes it. The emotions that rise to his face are new to her. They flash and jostle, like trout going belly-up on a reservoir surface. Gerri takes the opportunity to glance at her screen. She sees what she’d expected to see. He’s still working. Good.  

“Anything less than a medical emergency,” Lionel says, “and I’d consider this unforgivably rude.”

“I did say work was a priority.” Gerri regards him dispassionately. He can go off and complain that she left halfway through their date, call her a work-obsessed bitch. Nobody who matters will care. He lost the right to be a threat when he limped away from this world. “Buck up,” she adds. Throw him a bone, why not. “You’ll find a sweet young thing to settle down with soon enough.”

She pushes past the entryway, relishing the sharp night air as the door shuts behind her. Around her, the outspread city gleams. 

Playing executive usually means passing drudge work down the ladder. There are countless associates whose riotous, unimaginative nights she could interrupt for the task at hand. And what then? A ride home to an empty house. A bracing martini. A flip through competitor news channels, punditry and idle planning lulling her to sleep.

Or she begins the second act of her night. 

She’s not certain where it will lead, only that she doesn’t want to snuff it out. Because this much is true: she doesn’t hate Roman’s unrelenting attention, how readily he plays his hand. He may have thrown the door open, but without her tacit acceptance and careful maneuvering, well. Nothing survives on sheer impulse. 

If she’s being dispassionate, this thing they have—it’s a calculated advantage. In the sentimental version, the version she’d rather not dwell on, it’s a lifeline. It’s a horrifying thought, but as a cab answers her hail and pulls up to the curb, she finds that she’s smiling for the first time all night.