"Congratulations again on your appointment," the reporter says at the end of the interview.
The newly-minted Minister of State for Higher Education smiles and shakes his hand.
Over the reporter's shoulder, he has noticed a man at one of the tables on the pavement outside the restaurant. The man looks to be around his age, perhaps a few years younger. He wears a black coat with the collar turned up. He sips coffee and occasionally adjusts his glasses as he reads a worn paperback. There would be a vintage, continental air about him were he only a little more elegant and a little less slouching.
He is not the Minister's type, but he has caught his attention regardless.
"I'll settle the bill," the reporter says, and gets up to go to the restaurant's counter.
It's something familiar about the profile, he thinks. A former colleague from his broadcasting days, perhaps? Or...
Another man dodges through the street bustle and approaches the table, causing the reader to look up from his book. The newcomer is impeccably neat, despite it being the end of the work day, in a grey blazer, with a heavy satchel hanging from his shoulder. He comes right up to the reader and, without hesitation, presses a hand to his cheek, and lips to his temple.
The reader smiles in response to the kiss. He catches the newcomer's hand in his as it withdraws, curling fingers between fingers.
The Minister, expert in history medieval and modern, tenses—but, barring a couple of glances, no-one reacts. Change is the only constant.
The newcomer sits down, keeping their hands linked. This brings his face clearly into view, and...oh.
Seeing them as a pair, recognition is unavoidable.
They talk, at ease, never far from a smile or laugh. The reporter returns to the Minister's table. He looks away from the window to exchange the final pleasantries.
He leaves by the side door rather than the front. So fucking careful, a boy's voice challenges, in memory. He touches the ring on his finger, subtle, tasteful, an investment, the ultimate in presentation. It's harder for politicians, he tells himself, though he knows others have chosen differently and survived. Mastery of useful untruths can require the occasional lie to oneself. Change is constant, but not easy.
He looks back from the other side of the street before he gets into his car. He sees Posner lean in close to say something, and Scripps double over with laughter, hiding his face. Posner's smile is smug but soft. Scripps straightens, shaking his head. He lifts Posner's hand and kisses his wrist, casually, as if it's simply the done thing.
The Minister slides into the back seat of the car. The old injury to his leg protests the movement.
"Back to Westminster, Mr Irwin?" the driver asks.
"No, you can take me home, please."
Then, as the car pulls away, he says, "Actually, wait—I almost forgot, I have one more meeting."
His mobile phone is already in his hand. He sends a text, hoping for a quick affirmative. He gives the driver the name of the hotel. If there is no response, he can always have a drink at the bar and then return, no harm done.
So fucking careful. Which is the greater risk for a man in the public eye, these days? A kiss in full view on the street, or behind a hotel door and a gold ring and a lie?
Perhaps history will be the judge of him yet.
At least he hadn't taught his students too well. At least Posner had, when it really mattered, known not to acquiesce. He always had been cleverer than Irwin.
The car weaves through the traffic, and the Minister for Higher Education clutches his phone in a damp palm, waiting for a text that might or might not come.