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On Monday, a little after seven, Tina was bringing Solly home after his evening walk when she got an alert on her phone. She slowed her pace, pulling the dog gently to a stop, and looked. It was an event being added to her calendar: a video call with her boss, network president Alan Gage, 21.30 EDT.
Tina sighed. Firing the showrunner last Wednesday had been the right thing to do, and it really was the last possible point in the production cycle that it could be done, and yet the fallout had been worse than Tina expected. Alan’s wife was furious and – it came back to Tina – had wanted Tina fired too. That was never going to happen, but it did exert pressure to define her new strategic direction. She’d worked at the office till nine on Thursday and Friday, and Skyped for hours over the weekend too.
‘What a week,’ she said to Solly. He laid his head against her knee, his huge brown eyes full of devotion. ‘You don’t care, do you?’ He gave a wuff. Tina patted him and laughed.
‘I started on my homework,’ Sasha recited, ‘but my pen ran out of ink. My hamster ate my homework, my com . . . my com . . . Mama, wh—’
‘Sound it out,’ Bette said without turning round as she loaded the dishwasher.
‘My com – put – er . . .’
‘Not “puht”, honey, “pewt”.’
‘Uh huh.’ Bette casually stroked Sasha’s head as she passed her, sitting at the kitchen table, then went down the corridor to the little gaming snug next to Tina’s study. ‘You got a glass in here?’ she asked Ben, over the din of machine-gun fire.
‘Still using it,’ he replied, without looking at her.
The boy just grunted. Bette considered picking him up on it, but then found herself staring at the back of his neck. He’d had a haircut for school restarting and the black hair on his nape now grew in two slightly longer lines that met just above the protruding bone of his neck. Bette swallowed. All the days and nights she’d touched that head, that neck, damp with sweat when he was sick, wet with sea water on vacations, warm and dry dropping him at school . . . Her breath tightened. The pain of losing her sweet boy like a tiny spear in her lungs. It’s natural, she told herself, but she hated it all the same.