Narcissus and Goldmund
Of everyone entwined in the deceitful, sinew-tugging entrapments of Ohtori, he and she were the raw souls destined to connect most infrequently, most peculiarly, over the drollest of drolls.
Signature solitary lunchtables were their demesnes, meals alternately picked at or devoured (by he and she, respectively), minds everywhere but with them. Such daily respites were usually taken alone, sycophantic respect being given, yet occasionally there were glances. He and she never presumed to dine with the other, never exchanged the nod-and-migrate of the pack, but would rather assume their positions, beckoning with the eyes if it were decided that company would not grate this particular afternoon, and with some minor rearrangements and curt smiles a social plausibility was made. Generally a retreat into themselves would follow, yet conversation loosened knots.
"This is terrible," she'd remark of the food, taking instead a sip of coffee she'd gotten for show but had not yet acquired a taste for.
"Of course it is. You'd think with what our parents were shelling out that seasoning would be an idea," brusquely, taking her cue that displeasure was allowed and that today, His Meal would receive the brunt of His Anger. Her eyebrows would twitch upward at his rough edges. She'd take another resigned bite.
She knew well enough not to mention a certain council president, he didn't care enough to mention anyone. They talked of the bland, the safe. She would occasionally slip in the crude and he would consider himself special for being able to enjoy her humor. She had decided early enough on that she would throw him a bone and her humor was it. Seeing him laugh pleased her, and she'd slide bawdy comments across on lunch trays for the small daily reward of his gasping, astonished expression.
He was easily wounded, though, easily uncomfortable, and the day's offenses sometimes could not be mended with idle prattle and jokes about nothing and everything. He'd mutter something, eyes averted, would stand up too quickly and spill his drink, storm off leaving her with two trays. A roll of her eyes was the only comment she'd give, and a glance around to room to dispell the rumors in their early effervescent stages, threads of smoke on ice. They'd return to their microchasms and will their memory to amnesia until the glances were given again.
The trick to the meetings, the game of it, was to imply as much as possible in regards to the dynamics of those present while simultaneously shrugging off, with the smallest visible effort, any implications involving you yourself. President would mete out slow smiles in languid speeches, drop everything but names, and Secretary would blush. Proxy President would flash victorious grins and stab with pointing fingers, and Treasurer would sketch absentmindedly in the margins of her ledger. Vice President was rarely there; when he came, it was never on time, or he would stand quiet in the elevator beside them and depart once the minutes were recorded. Treasurer studied and improved upon his methods later in the year, and delighted in pleasantly free afternoons, for once.
Parties were the most taxing of experiences, yet were compensated for by the threads of connection woven amidst the pretense and pomp. While Secretary would stand beside President proud, like a good attendant, Treasurer hated playing loyal subject and would wander into the anteroom reserved for the council, the room hung with bad art in gilded frames, the champagne on the table, their little reward, their little apology.
He had arrived with a surfeit of champagne already coursing through him. She offered him a glass, decidedly another bone. He scowled at familiar decorations, would have spat if alone. He'd be back in a week for the holiday, for the tradition, and now, seventeen, this room was his as well, the room of cigars, stocks, cognac-sticky beards and broad-handed claps on the back. No more gifts, cakes, rough-and-tumble on the dew-drenched grass. He'd been cut off.
"Can you smell the cigar smoke in here?" he asked her. He'd broken the foremost rule of the meetings, by confirming through his tone an association. But they weren't in a meeting, he reasoned, and who cares, regardless. He could always convict her of lying.
"No," she said, honestly, for the champagne bubbling in her nose.
"Perhaps the house has only been hosting parties for Ohtori lately," he mused, partly to himself, partly as a boast of intimacy, which tasted sour for its pretension.
"In which case the smell of cigars would be on the benches outside, I'd assume," she teased. He might have smiled. He might have been listening. Or he might not have.
She weighed the champagne with her tongue, weighed her words. Questions of future plans were a precarious sect of small talk. Her own readiness to shut down was enough cause for her to tread lightly. Yet he seemed contracted, poised for a trigger to extend, and she'd oblige him. He seemed sure to guarantee more entertainment than those outside the little room.
"Do you have plans for the holiday?" punctuated by a sip of her drink, a touch of casualness.
"Mm, the usual congregation of families here," he said, straightening up, waving his hand nonchalantly (intoxicatedly). "Though really, it's more of a business meeting than a holiday."
She made a little sound in response to this, of bemusement, of interest, a gentle prod to continue. He may have taken the cue, though it was far more likely at this stage of inebriation that he would finish his story, audience or not.
"Though I'm sure it's some sort of sacrilege to talk stocks, there's no better time, really. The women can gossip and the children can be as rambunctious as they'd like. There's no distraction. Really, when I go into business after this--" she cleared her throat. "--I'm going to propose all key meetings are held on holidays. Morale may go down, of course, but productivity will soar."
Treasurer feigned a sip and surveyed Vice President over the rim of her glass. "How idyllic."
He realized absentmindedly that he might be being rude, in the way that begs remedy, not the way that's convenient. He gazed out the window and squinted at the fleeting silhouettes of party-goers (he needed glasses but had no intention to tell anyone); the corner of his eye was what he felt he could regard her with, and he gave her as much.
A shrug, feline. "Nothing too extravagant. Just something with my family. Food, gifts, photo albums. My sister is able to stop by this year, so that will be nice." Her sentiment was a lie; she found her sister an irritant at best, but the amicable response was conditioned enough that it tumbled forth without provocation.
She knew that he had put on airs in his oddly desperate recitation of his traditions, though she couldn't help feeling humbled against her will. The realization came belatedly that that was most likely his intent, and she begrudgingly awarded him the point, unaware that he himself had cringed at her own admissions. It was the expression normally reserved for recollections of tandem bicycles and the chlorophyll-sweet of summer.
"Trade you" was almost past his lips when whom but Mister President appeared in the doorway, shutting the door behind him discreetly but with a swiftness particular to those used to sneaking away. He smiled in time with the slow sweep of his eyes.
"My, my, I hope you two haven't polished off the champagne."
"Rendering your perfect escape useless, yes?" she quipped. He confirmed her suspicions with a grin, pouring himself what Vice President hadn't quaffed and what Treasurer wasn't letting go to waste. A sip, and he had blended in seamlessly with his languid sort of imposition. He knew, or at least had a good reckoning of why they were hiding out, and thus avoided the question.
"So, any plans for the holiday?"
"Excuse me," Vice President muttered, unceremoniously setting down his glass and striding out of the room. President awarded himself the point, downed his drink, and left the room to Treasurer.
She waited long enough to quash any suggestion of having followed him and made her exit. Predictably, Vice President had wormed away, and the amorphous collection of faces present did little for her. Resigned to loyal subject for the last lingering minutes, she loitered indifferently by the throne, pointedly referring to her watch, and left promptly at midnight, to pack up for the holiday.