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Standing outside, the warm evening air of Washington still around him, Peter leant on the balcony whilst his right hand blindly grabbed for a cigarette in his pocket. Casting a quick glimpse at his watch, which now read 5:45pm, he took a deep breath in, sighing and observing a chair to his left he hadn't noticed before. How long had he worked in this building and how long had that been there? He must remember to ask Carol. Finally his hand had opened up the packet in his suit pocket and had retrieved a cigarette, at the same time as he released a breath that he didn't realise he was holding. One foot in front of the other, its peculiar how much he has to talk himself through everyday activities while he was this tense. Sinking into the chair, the fabric of the deep brown plush easing back into him, he let himself relax, or relax as much as he's been able to lately.
With the lighter ready to go in his left hand, and the cigarette nicely balanced between his lips, now all he has to do is fight with the bloody lighter to try and get it to light. He must remember to get a new lighter.
He must remember to write these things he has to remember down.
Three tries and numerous exasperated sighs later he has a lit cigarette, breathing in the calming smoke that he's been informed by so many people is harmful, he can finally relax. Eyes closed, allowing the dark night to envelop him, and the smoke drift in wafting rings in front of him, his mind cast back to this morning, dotted memories slowly increasing to form a firm, complete picture behind his eyes.
His gorgeous brown, curly haired daughter laughing and clapping her hands with joy when she walked for the first time a couple of years ago, no, he must catch a newer memory. Her smile, her beautiful baby teeth glowing, at pointing out the ballerina in the story he read to her last night. Peter shook his head and tried to clear the onslaught of old memories, trying to shake new ones to the front of his mind. That memory wasn’t from last night, that must have been a few months ago. He must remember to get home earlier than he has lately. Ah. That reminded him.
He would've remembered earlier if he'd have written it down.
He got out his mobile, his newest model, black, slimline company phone that hadn't been released to the public yet and searched through its memory to find the contact for his wife, Leila. He must remember to save that number to his phone. Managing to get the one section of information his memory could hold which related to his personal life, that he kept protected in a little box in the corner of his mind to make sure it was never forgotten, he tapped out Leila's cell phone number and pressed the little message popup to send her a text.
He set the phone on the arm of the luxury chair, pushed the button to record his voice and pressed start, at least now he could relax and still message her, the phone could do all the work for him. If only it could make the decisions he has to make for him as well.
"Leila" he started, before taking another drag of his cigarette and letting the small cloud gently disperse as he puffed it out of his mouth again. "I'm sorry; there was no way around it- no delete. Bloody start again." The phone let out its familiar beep to tell him it got rid of the typed message he’d said so far. Another quick lungful of his cigarette and his mind cleared from the irritation that was building up moments before. Why was it so hard for him to write out a simple message for his wife he was supposed to love so dearly?
Clicking play, and making sure he got the right place on the screen to tap, using his left eye squinting open, he started again. At least his hands had stopped trembling now from what they were when he walked out onto the balcony earlier. "Hey babe, just a quick message to let you know-" taking another drag of his cigarette which he puffed out angrily he pressed stop, punching the button on the screen, and just typed out a quick message to her, his fat fingers every so often hitting the wrong letters, which he furiously backspaced until he composed himself enough to get the six word message entered on the screen.
Will be home late again, sorry.
Clicking send, he eased back into the chair and started listening in to the music that was drifting through the window of an apartment building far below him, sounds of laughs intermingling with the floating bubbles of music. A baby's cry quickly followed as he listened closer, physically leaning forward in the chair now, on the edge, desperate to hang onto the business of this family's life. A hush, followed by the song being turned down he began to finally process what he'd been hearing was a lullaby, a familiar one at that.
Lavender's blue, dilly dilly,
When you are king, dilly dilly,
I shall be queen
Who told you so, dilly dilly,
Who told you so
'Twas my own heart, dilly-
Suddenly interrupted by his phone vibrating heavily on the table next to him, which he put on vibrate when he walked out onto the balcony, he glanced over, slightly angered at being so forcefully pulled away from the song. His wife's mobile number lit up the screen, but a warning flashed on top of it “unknown origins”. By the time he’d sighed and picked up the phone in his left hand it had been replaced with the exact location that she was calling from and a green tick to inform him that it was a safe call. She's at home, Peter thought, which was good; it meant Charlotte wasn't with her au pair any longer.
Bringing the phone up to his left ear, he stubbed out the cigarette on the tiled grey floor, it was basically finished anyway. Although he knew that she wouldn’t be able to tell that he'd been smoking through the phone, he didn't quite trust this new technology that it wouldn't send her a message sensing smoke around him, it's smart enough to he's sure. Immediately the phone realised it was at his ear and clicked connect, putting him through to hear his wife's soft voice cut through the receiver.
"Peter?" Came her voice, almost strangled, considerably stressed about something, "Really, another late night, must you?"
He sighed and cradled his forehead in his right hand. "Lei, I'm sorry I have to finish up this project we're working on, I'll be home as shortly as I can." She knew this was an excuse, but she also knew his job meant he couldn't tell her anything else. They’d been over that topic in numerous arguments before now, enough for her to relent and just accept the fact. So she left it alone and her tone immediately lifted as she started rattling on about what she got up to in that day.
"So I caught up with Rosalie and Margaret for coffee earlier, there's a fantastic new coffee shop just around the corner, we'll have to go there sometime, it's even got a play pen that we can let Charlotte -" By this time Peter wasn’t listening anymore, the conversation joining all the other one's he's had earlier that day with every else he’s spoken to, as background noise in his whirring mind. The phone quite a bit further away from his ear, the phone automatically turned up the volume so there was no alteration in how loud she was talking when she was right next to his ear compared to now.
Wretched thing, Peter thought and lit up another cigarette, balancing it again in his mouth and lighting it with the right hand, not giving two shits if the bloody phone told his wife what he was doing. He let his mind wander, letting little "hmm" noises at what Leila was saying down the phone to make it sound like he was listening intently. His daughters name caught his attention and he listened in to what Leila was saying, curious as to the next update of what his daughter is doing lately. He wasn’t home enough, he knew that, she was 2 years old and yet had spent the majority of her little life with au pair’s.
"Charlotte put her first sentence together, and got all her tenses all right, didn't you darling, our little gorgeous girl said, oh what was it now? Ah, we heard her say Mummy goes to the shops with friends, yes you did, we are so-" Peter's eye caught a fly buzzing around in front of him, transfixed in following its path. Intent, flies were, yes intent, always look like that have something to do, somewhere to be, but yet still quite happy to go around in circles until they finally-
"Peter?" Leila's voice had raised enough to break through his transfixion, obviously his "hmm"'s hadn’t occurred often enough or made it sound like he was listening enough for her self-absorption to be satisfied.
"Are you still there?" Urgency had filled her voice and he couldn’t help but roll his eyes at her neediness, before spitting out a quick, "yes, what?" and he could feel and hear her sigh of relief on the other end before she launched into yet another episode of how she supposedly bumped into her facial specialist at the candle shop the other day whilst looking at some kind of brand new silver smelling candle and something else happened that he didn’t really listen to. Taking another drag of his cigarette he let his mind filter her story again, trying to find that little flying distraction once more.
The fly had managed to get past its fascination with the little loops of flight and found its way, because he couldn't find it in the dark sky now at all. Dark sky. S***.
"Look, Lei, I'll be home real soon, but I have to go dar-" he rushed, catching himself. He couldn't bring himself to call her the pet names anymore that he used to when they first got married. Felt like 20 years ago now, but he knew there was no way it was anywhere near that long. "I've got to finish up some work here and then I'll be home. Don't wait to eat with me, put Charlotte to bed; I'm not that hungry, I'll have a snack when I get in." After a quick goodbye and an air kiss down the phone he heard the familiar click that finalises the call, showing the phone knew he wanted to hang up. He still has no idea how it knows that.
Standing up and taking one final drag of his cigarette, stubbing it against the shiny metal railings of the balcony he blew out the smoke and watched it disperse into the night sky. He desperately tried to catch that lullaby once again but couldn't hear it, and by now dark storm clouds had rolled over, low, making it impossible for him to see if any lights were on in the apartments several stories below where he stood. Letting the cigarette fall off the balcony and toying with the tantalising idea that maybe someone would walk beneath the balcony at precisely the right time to get hit on the head with the burnt end, as is the cruel humour of fate, he turned on his heels and opened the tall French doors that would lead him back inside.
An expensive radio balanced on the white, circular reception desk to his right as he walked through the expansive room. The radio was playing smooth jazz, calming him somewhat as he had the abnormal feeling to slide with his socks on along the black tiled flooring as if he were a kid again. As soon as Carol noticed him, she leant over and quietened the radio til it was almost silenced, and he nodded at her. He was obligated to create the impression he was pleased with her, it’s what she appeared to strive on.
Walking towards the heavy, tiled doors that all important doors look like, was like walking down the red carpet at Hollywood. Every member of staff in the gallery’s eyes were upon him, so held his head up high and looked as superior as possible as he paused for a moment before the doors.
Getting himself in check, tugging at his collar fairly discretely, and making his tie sit properly, evenly between the wings of his suit jacket, he pushed open the doors and instantly got 50 worried faces looking back in his direction. A quick 5 minute disruption had turned into a 30 minute break, and Peter was sure that many had partners at home they wished to be getting back to. Possibly even little children they wished to say goodnight to.
"You've made the decision, Mr Avery, sir?" Luke Triskett assumed aloud as Peter sat himself in his black, leather chair at the end of the long table of directors.
"I should think so" he replied, and his eyes mirrored the gaze of the 50 other people in the seminar room to the one flat screen computer lying embedded in the long table before him.
Mission: Red Time
Enter correct security code to fire nuclear missile.