The source of most of man’s unhappiness is sacrificing what he wants most for what he wants now. -- Gordon B Hinkley
He was jiggling his leg up and down, and it was irritating her. It always irritated her, like so many other things about him: his strut, his habit of humming the same three lines of a song constantly for an entire day, the irksome fact that he could afford to live on Capitol Hill. The Senator would regularly bestow approving looks on him for his early starts, although, unlike her, he did not have to fight his way onto buses and metros for the best part of an hour to make it to the office for 8 am.
The obligatory stop at the Starbucks on 3rd and Pennsylvania was only partially responsible for Louisa arriving at work slightly later than Aaron . There was coffee at the office in the Russell Senate Building, of course, but she had always been fussy about hers, ever since she’d learned to drink café au lait, aged eight, the year her father was posted to France. It was the same year that she had discovered pop music, so that even now when she wanted to feel light and happy, coffee and early 90s pop was all it took. Though sometimes, after a day of working with Aaron, it took a lot of it.
Louisa’s flatmate, Janelle, would come home and turn off New Kids on the Block mid-song, and the smile would die instantly on her lips.
“This Aaron guy really gets to you, huh?”
“If only he weren’t so attractive, right?”
Louisa would roll her eyes. “If only he didn’t know he was so attractive. That’s his problem. He’s brilliant and he knows it. He’s hot and he knows it. He’s sought after and he knows it.”
“Honey, you can’t grow up in a family like his and not know you’re a big deal.”
“I grew up in a family like his.”
“And have you ever thought, perhaps, that the reason he gets to you is that you also know you’re special and you wish others would recognise it?”
No. That wasn’t it. That wasn’t it at all. He got to her because he was irritating. Like this leg-jiggling thing. She sighed. Several times. More and more loudly. She hoped that he would get the hint, but she knew the hope was vain: subtlety was lost on him.
So she glanced up from her computer and spoke across the empty office. “Aaron.”
“What?” He looked at her, all blue-eyed innocence.
“You’re doing it again.”
His apology was most unexpected. It was the first one she had heard from him in four weeks of working together.
“Although.” Ah. Here was the but. “I don’t really understand why it annoys you so much.”
“I can see it out of the corner of my eye, and it’s distracting.”
“Distracting from what?”
“Distracting me, Aaron, from the digital strategy that is crucial to any successful primary campaign in the twenty-first century.”
He snorted. “So my leg-jiggling is preventing you from tweeting.”
She hated him. She really hated him.
Except she also sort of did not.
And it really would be easier if she did. Hatred was frowned upon in the circles in which she moved, but it was simpler to deal with than the other stuff. So she would have to work at stoking it.
“Have you forgotten that social networking used to be your job?”
“Sure. But then I moved on to bigger and better things.”
She sniffed. “Your candidate lost. And you came crawling to us for a job because you were addicted to the adrenaline of the campaign.”
“Objection,” he said, smiling. “I did not come crawling. I came in with my head held high after Senator Robbins called me and asked if I would consider working for him.”
“Yeah, well. You say potato.”
“You hate that I’ve moved past Twitter, and you’re stuck with it.”
“I’m not stuck with it. I would choose my job over yours any day.”
“Really? Over communications director? Even with the superiority of the role?”
“You certainly know all about being superior.”
She rolled her eyes and punched in the next tweet with vigour.
“Don’t take it out on the computer,” he said, standing up to leave, ostensibly for some Very Important Meeting. But more likely go to the bathroom, or just for the dramatic exit that served to emphasise what he probably imagined to be a great rhetorical victory.
Irritating. So irritating.
It wasn’t bravado when she recited the talking points about the importance of social networking. Aside from Twitter, there it was Facebook, and blogging, and Pinterest, and StumbleUpon. She had to reach every potential voter, whatever their preferred method for wasting time online. She’d set up Google Alerts so that she could prepare adequate responses to the usually unsubstantiated and often ridiculous claims of the other candidates. Her job required creativity, inventiveness. There was more to it than pressing “retweet”, however Aaron made it sound.
And she loved that it was all in the service of a cause she believed in to the depth of her being: Campaign Finance Reform. Not the sexiest of subjects, admittedly, but if you could get that sorted, it would change everything. If Congressmen and Senators weren’t having their arms twisted behind their backs to vote a certain way lest they find their campaign funds dry up next time, then maybe things of substance could be achieved. Real things that made a difference in the life of ordinary Americans: paid parental leave, or the forgiveness of college debt for teachers, or lower taxes for the working poor.
When Louisa and Aaron had been on separate staffs, working for different candidates, he had been less irritating. Or rather, no, that wasn’t it: he’d been just as smug, just as arrogant, just as able to afford the apartment on Capitol Hill. But being irritated by him, being goaded to outsnark him, was part of her job description. It was fuel to for her creative tweeting. Now it was just a nuisance.
If she had known what the consequence of Senator Peterson’s early defeat would be, she might have pulled all-nighters fewer times and spent some Friday nights at the movies instead of curled up with a briefing book and an oversized tub of Ben and Jerry’s. Because the consequence was this: since his boss had bowed out right after the first debate at the end of April, Aaron had been working with her instead. She was forced to bite her lip a hundred times a day to keep from sounding like his mother – can’t you keep all four legs of your chair on the floor? Could you chew that gum a little less loudly? Please watch your language. And then there was the way the other girls in the office gushed over him on his first day.
“There’s no way those eyes are even real,” she’d say. “No one has eyes that blue. Especially not Jewish guys.”
“And he’s smart,” they’d respond, paying no attention to her. “And he’s funny. We’ll have fun on the campaign trail.”
Louisa knew what kind of fun they were referring to, and this too caused her to roll her eyes.
“Plus,” the guys would chime in. “He’s pretty good with the words. His tweets were always –“
They’d stop speaking when she looked daggers at them, but the damage was done.
Hail, our hero, Aaron Rosenberg. We welcome you as our king. She would not be part of that club. Not until she saw evidence of his alleged brilliance. And even then… there were plenty of brilliant people in DC. People who did not have fake blue eyes. People who did not get to where they had gotten to because they were the son of a prominent congressman.
He was still jiggling his leg. And she was still irritated. He was talking into the phone in a low voice, too low a voice for her to be able to make out the words, and this irritated her too. Cheryl, the Senator’s scheduler, had come back from her lunch break and the clicking of her keyboard was enough to cover most of his words.
“No,” he said, and this she heard clearly enough. “This is my weekend with her. There are too few of those as it is.” His leg was still jiggling and there was an incongruity between that and the soft voice he was using. He was not a man who often spoke softly.
The call ended. He leaned his head on the table. She watched him from her side of the office; she had never known him to be so quiet.