Andrew stumbled into the office parking lot and collapsed against his car. He’d ran all the way from the park, ignoring the looks he was given as he tore down the street, his shirt coming untucked, and now he panted as he tried to sort through what the fuck had just happened.
He let out a long puff of breath. Jesus, he needed to pull himself together. “Okay. Okay, okay, okay.”
He didn’t move. Maybe it was all just a hallucination, and he’d accidentally taken acid or something. He hadn’t eaten anything today- maybe hunger was making his brain go loopy.
Actually, it was rather nice out here- the metal was cool beneath his back, and the clouds had just started to clear above him. He was vaguely aware that he did actually have a job, and that whatever kind of freak show he’d stumbled onto in the park, Pig Higgins was going to have his ass if he turned up late because he was having a miniature mental-breakdown in the parking lot.
So he steeled himself, and got ready to push himself up. “Okay.”
He didn’t move.
What was wrong with him? Back in college, he’d sometimes gone days without being able to get out of bed, unable to push past the invisible force that weighed down on him, but he’d been better since the antidepressants Bee had gotten him on.
Maybe this was some kind of coping mechanism, he mused. Bee wouldn’t approve of the self-diagnosis, but maybe he’d just dealt with too much fucking weirdness recently and his brain had just given up entirely. Maybe he’d just sit here until either the world fixed itself, or he’d just waste away right here on the top of his Maserati.
No. No, because he’d hadn’t done almost a decade of counseling just to give up when things got weird. He refused to give up on his progress, no matter how tempting it was just to idly watch as the world went to shit.
“Okay. Okay, okay.” He catalogued his issues. He hadn’t eaten anything today, apart from some antidepressants and smoking half a cigarette, which, Nicky steadfastly retained ‘does not count as breakfast, Andrew’. There was something wrong with Renee, Nicky’s husband was working too hard and he hadn’t actually turned in his reports yesterday, because he’d spent so long dissecting every word of his conversation with Neil. A handy aspect of an eidetic memory, really, was being able to replay moments like Neil smiling at him with perfect recall.
Andrew pushed himself off the car, and walked into the office, and decided that whatever was going on could wait until after he’d had his morning coffee.
“Now, I get that Kevin is eighteen. He’s a senior, he’s captain of the lacrosse team, he’s got his own life. But I only get my son for one week a month, and he wants to spend that whole time with his girlfriend, Thea! So I say, “Bring Thea along, we’ll all go see the show”. And would you believe it? We get there, and the whole dang theatre was exploded by a goddamn METEOR! Mamma Mia! Huge hole right through the marquee and everything, can you believe that, Nicky?”
Wymack paused his tirade. “Nicky? You got enough coffee in the sugar?”
Nicky looked up, startled, from the coffee pot he’d been steadily pouring sugar into for the last minute. “Huh?” He looked down, and jumped. “Oh! I didn’t even realise. Sorry, I’ll make another pot. Coffee in the sugar...” he laughed slightly too loudly, his smile pasted firmly in place. “Wymack, you’re a riot. Coffee in the sugar!”
Andrew shut the fridge door, eating his way through Riko’s pasta salad as Nicky emptied the coffee pot into the sink. He wouldn’t admit it, but it was ridiculously comforting to be in the office, listening to Wymack bitch about Kevin and stealing Riko’s food, without anyone singing. “Hey guys, is today some kind of, I don’t know, Canadian holiday or something? Like, uh... International Music Day, or...?”
Nicky blinked. “Not that I know of. Why, is Renee celebrating it with a charity project she’s roped you into or something?”
“Sort of, I guess. Uh, I just saw some people dancing and singing in the park, like they were in a musical. There was this homeless guy and some teenagers, all dancing with Renee, but she had these blue scratches on her neck, and they were doing this whole choreographed number-“
“Like a flash mob?” Riko interrupted, eyeing the pasta salad Andrew made no attempt to conceal as he considered it.
“I mean, what else could it have been, right?” Andrew ignored the voice in is head that told him that no matter how much money it raised for charity, Renee would never ignore his boundaries. He ignored any possibility that consisted of Renee being harmed, because that would mean that he’d failed to protect her. She always insisted that he’d already taken in too many strays, and that she was perfectly capable of protecting himself, and Andrew knew it was true, but that only made him the more scared when he considered the possibility that someone had hurt her. If they’d got to Renee so easily, what chance did he have?
He was interrupted from his quickly spiraling thoughts by Riko. “Well, did you get a video of it?”
Andrew ate some more pasta. “No.”
“You’re fucking useless, Andrew. Is that my lunch?”
Andrew made direct eye contact as he ate Riko’s lunch. “No.”
Riko scowled and walked away, and he turned back to Nicky, who’d been watching with no small amount of glee. Apparently, whatever was going on with him wasn’t enough to keep his nose out of workplace drama. “Nicky? Have you noticed anything strange?”
“What? No. Oh, it’s silly. It’s just... It’s Erik, my husband. He said he was coming home late last night, and I knew he was working late but I didn’t expect him to roll in around 6:00 this morning. He was in the shower when I woke up. I could hear him. He was... singing.”
Dread curled in Andrew’s stomach as Nicky continued.
“And I know this is a strange thing to realise, because, well, Erik’s not a bad singer. He’s just always been a little... flat. You know, those terrible folk songs he sings at Christmas.”
Andrew did know. In fact, like with everything else, he could perfectly recall Erik, drunk on eggnog and bawdy as he swayed Nicky around Aaron’s living room singing shanties at the top of his voice.
Nicky sniffled. “But not this morning. Today, he... he sounded like an angel. And I don’t know why, but it frightened me. It just, it didn’t sound like MY Erik. Oh, I must sound silly, I’m probably just imagining things...”
Andrew stilled, the pasta forgotten. “Nicky? Do you remember what Erik was singing?”
Nicky’s smile was watery. “Oh, it was just a silly little song. Something like...” he cleared his throat, “La.... Dee.... Dah...-“
“Dah Day?” Andrew finished the line for him. Oh god, it was worse than he’d imagined, he had to-
“Andrew?” Jesus. Matthew fucking sunshine’s-my-middle-name Boyd was back, grinning as usual. “Mr Higgins wants to see you in his office.”
Ah, shit. His weekly reports.
“Mr Higgins. Before you say anything, I am aware that my weekly reports were not turned in yesterday, not because they’re not done-“ he was quick to add, “They are done. There’s a problem with the printer network, you see, you try to print something over here, it get’s sent over there. I bet my report is sitting in someone else’s printer tray right now. You give me till the end of the day, I can find it.”
Andrew was perfectly aware that this was a ridiculous excuse, but he’d learnt that if you said nonsense with an absolutely deadpan expression, as if it were the absolute truth, usually people didn’t want to talk to you long enough to question it. Plus, he was pretty sure Pig still had a soft spot for him- despite all the verbal abuse Andrew had given him when he was an intern. Pig Higgins had still hired Nicky when Andrew had mentioned he was out of a job, even though the company wasn’t really big enough for a marketing department.
Still, it probably wasn’t the best idea to try this bullshit when he’d already been late. He was getting slightly annoyed with the newspaper that blocked his boss’s face from view.
“Find it, not do it. I wouldn’t just not do my statistical analysis, That would really gum things up here in the office, and that’s the last thing I’d want.”
Assurance usually helped, even if it was completely falsified. He’d promised not to stab Katelyn, too.
The newspaper was really fucking annoying him, but when Higgins put it down, Andrew only found himself even more confused. The man grinned up at him with a smile to rival Matthew Boyd’s, his eyes almost as manic as Andrew’s college self.
“What do you want, Andrew?”
Andrew stumbled back towards the door when he heard the note, but Higgins was already there, blocking his path. With the manic smile stretching his face unnaturally, Higgins sung.
“Tell me what you desire to see, your deepest intent, Andrew!”
The man spun round, sitting back on his desk chair, moving in time with a beat Andrew couldn’t hear. “What d’you see for this company? I’m looking for someone with strong ambition, someone to sell their specific vision! Someone to share with precise precision, their thoooouuuuughts... ‘Cause I want you to want.... To want!”
Andrew watched in horror as Higgins cocked his head, grinning at him with insanity in his eyes.
“So, what do you want, Andrew?” He asked conversationally, pacing up and down the room as if he hadn’t been singing just seconds before. “What’s that one concrete goal that motivates all your actions?”
Andrew couldn’t help himself from answering. “I don’t think I have one of those,”, immediately regretting it as Higgins moved round to grasp the back of Andrew’s chair.
“Then how is anyone supposed to sympathise with you as a character, Andrew?”
Jesus, wasn’t that the question. He did enough therapy with a licensed professional, he hadn’t come into work today to be psychoanalyzed by someone with a psychotic grin on their face. Andrew didn’t want anything, didn’t let himself want anything, even if sometime he could admit to himself in the privacy of Bee’s office that it wasn’t exactly true, not when it came to certain redheaded baristas.
“I want you to want, Andrew! A man so vague just can’t be trusted- something you pine for!”
Fuck, Neil. Whatever was happening, it had managed to take down Renee, one of the fiercest people he knew. He needed to get to Beanie’s, then run with Neil and Nicky. Wymack could come too, he supposed.
“Maybe someone who keeps you lusting?” Andrew felt like there was something keeping him bound to the chair, as Higgins winked at him and kissed the photo of his wife on the desk. He knew from experience that people wielded the things you wanted against you, until you destroyed yourself trying to cling onto the shreds of happiness left in your life. No, it was easier to not want anything, to keep his cards close to his chest so that no one could ever use them against him again. He’d wanted Cass, had wanted Aaron, and he still had the scars on his wrists from letting himself be fed to the wolves as long as he kept his brother safe, as long as he still had Cass’s warm cookies and smiles after a life full of nothing but pain.
Higgins advanced slowly. “Andrew, you must know what it is to want! It consumes a man with the passion, to drive the primary plot. So take up yoga, or improv classes, volunteer at shelters, or Twitch to the masses! ‘Cause I want you to want... To want!”
Higgins climbed onto his desk, bopping his head to a tune only he could hear. Andrew inched towards the door, ready to slip out when Higgins turned his back.
“Cause I want you to want! No, I need you to want!”
Andrew pushed open the door, slipping out into the corridor. He grabbed a desk chair- it was Riko’s, actually- and pushed it under the door handle to lever it closed.
From behind the door, Higgins was dancing, his feet tapping on the desk’s hardwood surface.
Oh shit. The dancing stopped, and he could hear Higgins banging on the door now. “Andrew!”
Andrew found himself running for his life for the second time that day, only stopping to tell Nicky to hide. God, he realised as he gasped for breath, Aaron was going to be so smug that he had been right about the cigarettes.