2011-02-09: Spanner in the Works



Date: February 9, 2011


The relationship hits a patch of uncharacteristic turbulence.

"Spanner in the Works"

George's office, New York City

The mood in George's New York office is different now that he's returned. Not better or worse, just different— the focus shifts away from details, toward high-level things that involve more of his direct input. Union pensions, new utility lines— something about the UN building. And a new piece of legislation involving clean energy research. And the coffee machine just broke down and can't be replaced till morning, which means dipping into petty cash to send a couple interns down to Grey Dog's.

Who needs Grey Dog's, or even petty cash, when you can have fresh-ground and 'homemade' coffee! It's not much of a secret that he's back in town, afterall — between the texts and the little blurb in the local paper about contacting your local rep — and a slow season for work means that skipping out for a long lunch isn't too hard.

If there's a dinger or bells or something on the door to of the street office, it would chime or ring when a bundled up little brunette walks in. There's a huge shoulder bag over one shoulder, and an equally large paper shopping bag in the other. Stymied by the receptionist — shockingly, it's not Evette — Alexandra is forced to give her name and wait for the representative to find some time.

A minute goes by. Then another. At least there's an issue of the New Yorker somewhere in there amongst all the Sports Illustrated, even if it is a couple months old by now. No Time, no Newsweek, no US News and World Report; those get chopped up and distributed among the departments as soon as they come in.

Eventually, the man of the hour emerges, in the midst of a conversation. " — know the technicalities," one of the strangers says to the other, "but c'mon, we know he's the one who pulled the trigger. Have him own up to it and move on. And get his assistant involved and keep him that way, in case—" They leave off there as George waves a hand, then motions to Alexandra. "Hey, this is a surprise! Thought I wouldn't see you till tonight."

"I got your texts about the coffee machine. It sounded serious, so I took lunch early." It doesn't matter what magazines are on the table, really, because…have you seen the size of the shoulder bag she travels with? That's where the paperback she's reading emerged from, and that's where it returns to when she stands up.

"Even so, I still needed to sign in and go through all the rigamarole." Paper crumples a bit when she puts that arm around and gives a little hug. "Hey," she says, grinning up at him like an idiot.

"More annoying than anything else," replies George. "The store's out of this model till tomorrow, so we wait or we buy a new one." Trading favors doesn't work when all the other side really wants is some cash. "I— guess it's good to have extra," he adds, as the door opens again and the interns carry in a stack of full cups apiece.

For a moment, there's something almost dejected in his tone of voice. Annoyed, even? A voice echoes somewhere in the back of his subconscious, one that has no right to be doing anything of the sort. She's totally unsuited for you…

Stepping away from the traffic jam in progress, he leans in and returns the gesture. "Hey. I appreciate it, really. I— actually, can you give me a few minutes? We're not really at a good stopping point right now." His attitude has mostly picked back up again, if perhaps still a bit short of where it started out.

"Well…sure, okay. Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. I didn't even call or anything like that, so definitely," Alexandra replies. "It was probably wishful thinking on my part anyway, to think you'd actually have lunch open!" If nothing else, she seems to take the attitude in stride. "Luckily I've got my book and all," she says while patting the bag, "and the coffee's all sealed tight in a Thermos. It'll stay nice and warm for a while."

George nods, looking distracted - "I'll try to make it quick" - and returns his attention to the others. Time passes. One of the interns gawks at the thermos - "Wow, you bought the gourmet expensive shit" - before heading to the back. More time passes.

Fifty-odd pages later, George emerges once again, still looking harried. "Okay, I can break for a little bit here, what're you in the mood for? I'll make it up to you next week, promise."

"There's a choice. Do you want to spend a whole lot of time outside the office? Or do you want to risk my cooking?" The brown paper shopping back clutched in one hand is held up. "I told you I took a long lunch…mostly so I could swing by my place and pack this stuff up." As for next week? The coy look on her face says that maybe she's expecting something anyway…or maybe she's planning something of her own.

That draws an arched brow; he only had enough time and attention span to notice the coffee earlier, not the rest of the stuff. "Risky it is, then," George says, grabbing a carry bag on his way out. "C'mon, there's a place down the block has seating out front, they're only open for dinner anyway so it won't be like we're mooching off their real estate."

"Are you sure Evette would want that? I mean, being seen out in public with yet another new girl in the last few months, after your…whatever it was with Hallis? Press-engagement and all that…" Alexandra starts, but doesn't quite seem to finish. Regardless, she seems chipper enough to hop to her feet, wrap her scarf back around her neck, and pull on the poof-ball knitted beret to head out into the cold.

Oh, sure, remind him of that. It seemed like a good idea at the time… George grabs an overcoat as well, pulling it close around himself— they're making it a quick lunch anyway, they should be able to withstand the chill for that long. "Actually, about that. I need to go do a PR appearance on Monday, Lee Maurer and his daughter— should only take about an hour. Two, worst case."

"Here, or in DC?" That's the first and most relevant question. "Should I know Lee Maurer and/or his daughter? Lunch is just a light little thing, though, really. You might not even wind up calling it lunch, since it's mostly stuff to go with the coffee. Fresh, probably not as fancy as Starbucks, but it's how I learned to make it. And you know, as long as the wind doesn't kick up, it's not too cold out here."

George shakes his head. "No, it'll be here. You might know him, he's tied in with some large-scale construction work… she's been in the gossip pages here and there." He keeps his voice down, enough that casual passersby wouldn't catch more than a few words at a time. "I think she's trying to stick in his craw and he's trying to pretend like it's all good. Or he might actually be in denial, I haven't worked it out yet."

Speaking of passersby, there isn't a lot of foot traffic out, probably due to the weather. Their breath isn't fogging up, and the wind is still pretty light— but it could go either way on short notice.

"That's probably something you'll want to do before this PR appearance." For now though, politics seems to be forgotten — or maybe it's just not a big interest of hers? — as presumably the restaurant mentioned comes into view. "Looks like they only keep a few tables and all out through the winter months," Alex says of the place which has a scant handful of tables set out for the adventurous types. It's few enough tables that they can be added to the stacked, chained, and padlocked tables and chairs, or augmented by moving some of the stored stuff out for the occasional warm day.

"Makes sense, they could pick up rain damage over time if you left them out often enough. I didn't see any umbrellas." George pulls out a couple of the chairs as he talks, wincing briefly as the wind does kick up, if only for a few seconds. "So what's new on your end? Nothing dragging you down to the Congo for months at a time, I hope?"

Before she replies, Alexandra takes a second to get a seat at one of those tables - it's not like there's a line or anything for them - smoothing the long coat under when she puts her butt down. "Not this month, nope. No crisis of the week lately, and that's totally, absolutely fine with me." There's a metallic clang as she sets the bag and the thermos down on the table, and starts to unpack. "I thought I had a wicker basket somewhere, but it's a little cliched."

George nods, leaning elbows on the table. "Cross fingers. And wicker baskets are more of a summer item, aren't they?" His phone buzzes, unnaturally loud as it rattles against the metal chair leg; he takes it out and begins tapping in a reply. "Nobody's going to blame you for practical in February," he continues, sounding distracted again.

"Well, here's the problem," she says solemnly. "The only cups I thought to bring are disposable. Styrofoam. One good breeze and they're out of here, so…" One gets set down and held while the top is unscrewed and poured, steaming and still pretty hot. "You're from down south, but I don't know if you like chicory in your coffee. I can't remember having a cup at home without it so…if you've never had it, prepare to try it."

The carry bag is set down next to the cups to brace them. It's not a foolproof solution by any means, but it should do some amount of good, at least. "I've had it occasionally. Been long enough that I've kind of forgotten." Setting the phone aside once again, George reaches over to hang onto the cups on the other side until she's finished. "Actually, I got burnt out on a lot of things growing up, once I figured I was just biding time before I could get out of there. Except chicken fried steak. And Garth Brooks, but then everyone was into him back then. Except when he went a little nuts and decided to play generic-rock-star for that one album."

"You know, there are still some people out there who swear that Chris Gaines is someone different. It kind of boggles my mind, since it's clearly just Garth Brooks in a wig. As for me, I didn't so much mind home. Took as much with me where I wnet, but that was all over the damn place. Lots of it stayed right where it was when I grew up." Coffee poured, the rest of the bag of wonders is revealed: some crepes! "It was the only thing light enough to go with coffee that I could think up at the moment."

"What are they?" George asks. He's seen some things like them before, but with different names thrown around. "They smell good, at—"

As he lifts his hands, one of them nicks the side of the cup at just the wrong angle, tipping it so that it splashes onto the bag next to it. "Oh, goddammit," he mutters, looking around quickly. "Tell me you brought napkins?" The zipper is still closed, but it's frayed enough that some of it is already starting to leak inside.

"A paper towel in here," she says, "and…" she keeps going, rooting around inside the other bag she has. "Yep, thought so. A clump of napkins from some restaurant, and a whole package of tissues." Those things are forked over as rapidly as she can dig them out. "Is…did you have a lot of important stuff in there?" A pensive look has crept across her face, the sort of look that says she's dealt with work getting ruined and it kind of sucks.

George grabs at the first handful, dropping it on top to soak up the coffee. "Thanks. Nothing that can't be replaced, it'd just be inconvenient. Stuff I may or may not need, depending on when some phone calls get returned." Once the mopping up is complete, he opens it up and checks inside, pulling out several sheets of paper with some telltale brown staining along the bottom edge; after thinking it over for a second, he folds them up in thirds and sticks them back inside.

"Just had to bring your work with you to lunch, huh? I would say something here but then, I do the same thing! By the way, a crepe is really, really, really thin pancake, basically. But, I made these sweet, with some strawberries, whipped cream, and just a bit of powdered sugar inside. Like a dessert pastry." Exactly like a dessert pastry. To demonstrate the cross section of the rolled up thing, she takes a bite - no chance for utensils, even within that shoulder bag - and shows it to George. "Kind of like a French burrito or something. I don't know too many other ways to describe it."

"Better than trucking all the way back to the office," George muses, setting the bag down on the empty seat. Let the coffee blow away if it's going to, he's not risking an encore bout of clumsy right now. "Right, I think I tried some years ago. At IHOP, so they may or may not have had anything to do with actual crepes." At least it doesn't go down the wrong pipe when he tries one for himself… what is it that's throwing off his stride today, anyway? Is it just travel fatigue?

Her own stuff (mostly) untouched, Alex has no incentive to hold on. Rather, she can put one hand up on the table, on top of his bag. "Hey. Are you alright? I know you always have approximately nine-hundred things going on at one time, but you seem a little…I don't know. Something. Shit, I can't find the word I want."

George purses his lips, considering. He'd noticed it himself, but what's the old saying, to name something is to give it power? "Yeah, I know, but… I don't know. Maybe because you surprised me?" Which was supposed to be a good thing. "I mean, I get some curveballs every day, but I've tried to make sure we get enough time together to enjoy it when we do." Immediately his face falls: dammit, that came off kind of critical, didn't it.

"So…this curveball was enough to throw you compared to political wildfires? You have to plan our schedule for maximum enjoyment?" Yep, kind of critical: the expression on her face tells it all. It's a strange mix of hurt and confusion mixed with disbelief. "And here I thought you made time to be around because you wanted to be around. I thought it happened because you wanted to spend time with me, whether it was fun or boring or what!" While she talks, she starts to stuff some bits of the surprise lunch back into the bag, standing up. "Well George Dawson, if you have to schedule me in like that, if I'm just a curveball to you, maybe this isn't going to work!"

You know she's a bad match for—

Wait, no, where did that thought come from? Well, he knows where, but why's it starting to feel like it makes sense? He didn't butt heads with Evette all those times for nothing. Clearly, he's not thinking straight.

Pressing the fingers of one hand into his temples, he shakes his head. "No, that's not what I— you're not just—" Yeah, that sentence kind of got away from him. Looking up again, he gives up on it and starts over. "I'm just having an off day, I guess. Or we are. It was bound to happen at some point, right?"

"It always does…I guess. If you're having an off day, you can say no, you know. If you really don't have the wherewithal…I mean, I don't want to be a curveball, but I don't want to be just another appointment!" She's not sitting back down though, and the color rising in her cheeks isn't fading any time soon. "Maybe this wasn't such a good surprise afterall. But…I, you, both of us, maybe we should just get back to work and just keep this off day from getting any worse."

George throws up his hands in frustration. "I don't know. I suppose you're right." He's been trying to push back at this, somehow, but… either it isn't working, or this is it working. Which in itself has him worried. "I'll come see you tomorrow, okay? Fresh start."

"Fresh start. Tomorrow." She's still being impossibly short, but maybe that's…good? Really, less chance to say something someone will regret later, and less chance to start tearing up. That might be inevitable though. "Just…enjoy the rest of the coffee, okay?"

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