The next morning on the way to work, I ask Regina, “So how’s Briii-an?”, and she smiles.
“He’s fine, thank you for asking. And thank you for the ham-handed setup last night, too.”
“What? He was planning on leaving, and you were probably going to let him. Dudes aren’t that good at taking hints.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed.”
“Well, it may be a stereotype, but it’s true.”
“For some more than others, certainly. Honestly, I was starting to think that you and Brian had a thing going and just didn’t want to do anything in front of me.”
“What? Ha! No. Not that kind of friends. He’s all yours.”
“You suuure? I mean, you’ve definitely got dibs.”
“Thank you, but no. He’s not my type.”
“So what is your type, anyway, Dan?”
“I don’t know. Relationships always seem like a lot of work, like I’m putting a lot more in than I’m getting out. I’ve never really been a people person, though, so that makes sense. Basically any change to my lifestyle to accommodate someone else is going to get on my nerves.”
Regina laughs, and I say, “What?”
“I’m living in your house, Dan.”
“Yeah, but that’s different! You were totally screwed, and it was my fault. So I was fixing it. That’s just basic humanity. Anyway, the only change you’ve made me make is to not take the bus to work anymore, and that is an absolutely awesome thing. I’ll take a change like that any day.”
“So as long as I chauffeur you around and don’t get in your way, I can stick around?”
“I mean, it sounds harsh when you put it like that, but yeah, basically,” I joke. “Otherwise, bam! Right back on the street.”
Regina laughs. “Well, at least I’m not magnetic anymore, so I’ll call that a win.”
She drops me off at work, and I clock in for another day of hard labor. The morning goes in a pretty standard manner. I banter with Christopher and the other guys I know, and get suspicious glares from the guys who I hadn’t really met before they caught bad opinions of me.
Even in my head, I have a hard time thinking of it as “Mr. Tanger’s bad opinion of me,” even though Brian’s almost certainly right about the source. But he just seems like such a genuinely great guy that I can’t imagine him trying to turn people against me. Logic helps some; when I stop and consider that I’ve never met the guy, or remember that I used to think of him dismissively or not at all, it’s easy to see that this admiration for him isn’t mine. And of course, there’s the fact that he hates me and probably wants me to die. But it still doesn’t feel like he’s a bad guy.
After lunchtime, Mr. Steele comes out of his office with a sizable roll of vinyl over his shoulder. He dumps it onto a wheelbarrow and whistles everyone over.
“Everyone clear to take about a twenty-minute break from what you were doing? Good. We’re putting these signs up on the fence surrounding the site. Put one every fifty feet or so, and zip-tie them top and bottom so that the wind doesn’t tear ’em off.”
He pulls a sign free from the roll and holds it up. It’s about six feet wide, maybe half that tall, and under a line of red stars carries a very simple message in blue text:
“What do you think?” says Mr. Steele proudly. “In a year, we’re going to be working for the guy running the city!”
An excited cheer goes up from the group as we close in to take the signs. I’m smiling broadly. Tanger as mayor! It’ll be nice to have someone who can get stuff done, someone who’s used to completing actual work while dealing with bureaucracy. He’s going to be great for the city, assuming I can get his nanos shut down. And if I can’t — honestly, maybe I ought to look at getting out of here. It’s not fair to make him look bad just because someone else inflicted a science experiment on him.
There’s an almost festive atmosphere at work for the rest of the day. Conversations center around the possible projects this will mean for us, the minor prestige of knowing the mayor, and other trivial but fun speculation in that vein. So it seems serendipitous when Brian texts me to talk about Mr. Tanger, too.
been looking up stuff about T online.
No charity, no fundraisers, nothing like that.
nothing much bad about the dude, but nothing to justify him as great.
I text back, “He’s running for mayor! I think that’s pretty great.”
I bet everyone else there also thinks it’s great.
He’s not wrong, but I don’t get what he’s driving at for a moment. Then it hits me — Brian thinks I’m being manipulated again. And sure, the signs did just show up from somewhere, but what are the odds that an important man like Mr. Tanger was running his own errands?
I shake my head briefly, as if that will resolve the conflicting ideas. I could chase my thoughts around in circles all day like this. Or I could just go ask, and save myself a lot of mental calisthenics. It seems like the better option.
“Mr. Steele?” I say, leaning in his doorway. Steele looks up from his desk, and his face momentarily twitches in a quick look of disgust, like he’s just swallowed a bug. It’s gone almost immediately, though, and he says, “What is it?”
“Mr. Tanger’s running for mayor!” I say.
He laughs. “Pretty great, right? He could really do some good there.”
“Absolutely! Hey, are we the only site that got the banners, because of the police station? Or what?”
“No, he’s announcing his candidacy today, and he told me that he was taking banners to all of the sites. Getting name visiblity, right?”
“Right, yeah. So he was actually here? He didn’t want to say anything to us?”
“I asked him if he would, actually. He told me that he had a lot of sites to get to today, though, which makes sense.”
“Yeah, absolutely. All right, thanks! I was just curious.”
So. He was here, and Brian is right; I can’t trust my thoughts. He probably didn’t want to talk to us because he couldn’t trust himself to keep control of his disgust around me, which means that just by being here, I kept everyone else from getting a chance to talk to the next mayor. I feel pretty lousy about that.
But do I? Or am I just feeling someone else’s idea that I should feel lousy about myself? This is a mess. I have enough trouble understanding my motivations without someone dropping off ideas that aren’t mine in my head. To put it out of my mind, I throw myself into my work, and by the end of the day I’m dripping with sweat and too tired for complex thought.
My phone buzzes when I’m clocking out. It’s Regina, letting me know that she’s a few minutes late. I text back, “What do you think about Tanger for mayor?”
Fine, I guess.
Who’s the current mayo?
*mayor. Current mayo is Hellman’s.
Clearly, she is very invested in local politics.
Regina arrives, and I climb into the car. She greets me with, “I like the banners! So does this make you like a mayor’s assistant now?”
I laugh. “I mean, if he wins, maybe. You seem a lot more gung ho about this than a few minutes ago.”
“Yeah, I was thinking about it on the way over. A guy from a construction company is a pretty great choice, actually. He’s closer to the average joe than your standard politician, and he’s used to getting actual work done in the face of bureaucracy.”
I start to nod, but falter. I agree with her completely — but that’s exactly the problem. I agree with her too completely. I had that exact same thought, in almost exactly those same words. And since Regina didn’t seem to feel that way until she got here, where Mr. Tanger had just been earlier, it probably means that it’s not either of our thoughts at all.
Regina sees my hesitation and says, “No? You don’t think he’d do well?”
“I don’t know what I think,” I say honestly.
I’m pretty beat when I get home, so I change out of my work clothes, pour myself a glass of Coke and flop down on the couch to watch something mindless on Netflix. The plan is that the caffeine will keep me awake until dinnertime, but in fact it barely keeps me awake through the opening credits.
I’m awakened by a hand on my shoulder. I open my eyes to see Officer Peterson leaning over me.
“What…?” I half-ask, rubbing my eyes.
“You’re under arrest, Mr. Everton,” he says, which wakes me right up.
“What? For what?”
“General bad taste,” he says, reaching around behind his head and pulling. His face stretches horribly and starts to peel away, leaving Brian holding a mask and running his free hand through his hair. He laughs at my confusion.
“Dude, you should see your face right now.”
“That is no way to wake someone up, man! Where did you get that mask, anyway?”
“From the trash in your bathroom — which, by the way, is deeply creepy. I walk in there to use the toilet and see a discarded human face staring up at me from the trashcan. That’s some serious horror movie stuff right there. Also, what were you doing when you were wearing this thing? It smells seriously rank inside.”
“Yeah, well, maybe don’t pull things out of the trash to put on your face.” My heartbeat is slowly returning to normal. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Regina said you guys were probably brainwashed again, and needed someone smart to come sort you out.”
Regina calls down from upstairs, “I promise you, that is not what I said.”
“But she couldn’t think of anyone like that, so she called me instead,” Brian continues, unfazed. “So. Let’s figure out dinner, and then how to dig up dirt on this guy so you can stop falling in love with him every time he walks by. Sound like a plan?”
“What if he doesn’t have any dirt on him?” I ask.
“Then, good news! You’ve got the easiest nemesis ever. If he’s actually out to improve people’s lives, your entire job is just to stay out of his way, you know? Captain Couch Potato!”
“I’ll be honest, man. That sounds like a pretty nice change of pace.”