Trip to Chicago

This past week I had the pleasure of traveling to Chicago once again.  This time it was for work but I did mix in a little pleasure while I was at it.

Part of my ‘real’ job is to be an administrator for Salesforce.com – a CRM tool that is used by the business sales team of our company.  There was a World Tour event in Chicago and I registered to attend and set up several meetings with my rep from Salesforce while I was in town.

I elected to take the train.  It is cheaper and let’s face it, far less stressful than flying.  Ignore the snoring traveler I have today and it’s been a pleasant trip.  I’m able to work on my laptop or read and I have plenty of leg room.  Although, I’m short so that’s never been a problem for me!

I enjoyed an event at RPM Steak on Wednesday evening and it was AMAZING!  I ate at the Elephant and the Castle on Thursday and that is my go-to spot!  So much so that I think it will have to make its way into a story at some point.  Yesterday I was able to experience Portillos and it was divine!  We won’t discuss my drinking while in Chicago!

I have my go-to hotel that I love with window seats that let me look out over the river.  Literally, last night we sat in the window like cats and watched the cars and people below.  Then again, we were so full after our tater tots and pretzel with beer cheese over at the Emerald Loop we had no energy to do anything else.

I did a ton of walking.  I have the blisters on my heels and balls of my feet to prove it.  I spent some money, bought a new Kate Spade bag that is to-die-for!  I am already planning my next trip in August for the user conference.  In fact, Chris Isaak is performing at the House of Blues when I am going to be in town and I’m thinking I might have to go hit that up!

I am so disappointed to be heading home, I would much rather spend the weekend in Chicago.  Especially since The Rock and Jefferey Dean Morgan are in town filming a movie!

The Perfect Candidate – Chapter 5

Senator Chris Evans

Dinner was an exercise in self-control.  I had to bite my tongue more than once to keep from sounding off against the stupidity that was rampant at the table.  I was proud of myself for staying quiet.  Although I am sure for entertainment value alone Patrick would have enjoyed me going off on someone.  

I noticed that the esteemed Ms. Hamilton was seated at the table next to us.  I couldn’t seem to escape the woman.  I did notice that she had the table eating out of her hand, though.  She commanded the table and had everyone engaged in conversation and they weren’t even discussing the legislation.  She didn’t even seem to be speaking about politics.  I think Patrick was right, I didn’t like her because she challenged me and because I was mildly entranced by her.  

When the dinner plates were cleared and everyone began mingling around the room, I joined the fray.  I declined several invitations to dance and moved as far away from my table as I could.  In fact, I even moved away from Patrick.  I knew he would head off to wheel and deal on his own.  

As my Chief of Staff, he was always trying to work an angle for me.  I think most of the media thought I hired him because he was my brother-in-law and I was just being a nice guy.  But it was more than that.  I could trust Patrick and, in DC, that goes farther than anything else.  Plus, if people took him for granted, they would let their guard down around him and they would speak freely.  That would always work to our advantage in terms of gathering intel.  It didn’t seem to be public knowledge, or people seemed to forget, that Patrick was once a member of the Marine Special Forces and had a unique skill set of his own.  

The other thing Patrick O’Neil had was charm.  The social scene in DC was perfect for him.  While he had stayed out of the dating pool since his divorce, it was nice to hear that he had dipped his toe back in recently.  I am sure Adeline helped with putting him and Mary together.  I would need to thank her for that.  

While Patrick worked the middle of the room, I moved toward the front of the room and noticed that Greer had moved toward the back.  This would be perfect.  I could keep my distance and work my own agenda.  The information Ross had given me earlier in the night regarding Briarwood Technical was on my mind.  I wanted to know who knew what and when it was coming to Committee.

~ * ~

Before I knew it, it was nearing eleven and I was making my way toward the exit.  I had wanted to speak with Senator Frank Stewart but had not been able to locate him during the evening.  So, imagine my surprise when I spotted him near the back of the room with Senator Grant Tennyson.  Both of these gentlemen were on the Armed Services Committee and would have information regarding Briarwood Technical that could benefit me greatly.  It just so happened that they were standing with Ms. Hamilton. I could interrupt her attempt to get their votes and get the information I needed all at once.

Yes, it would be an extremely rude move.  Yes, it would be highly inappropriate and unprofessional, but I really didn’t care.  What I’m leaving out is that she’s done this to me before.  I was in the middle of a negotiation, a few months ago, on a bill.  I was conducting a discussion with several key members of a Committee in a small alcove in the Capitol and Ms. Hamilton interrupted us.  She stuck her nose into the conversation and began arguing her point.  The argument got heated and the two of us went toe-to-toe.  The other parties walked away and it was just the two of us with voices raised, practically screaming at one another.

I fired off a letter of reprimand to her firm that indicated she was grossly unprofessional and inappropriate in her demeanor and tactics.  She inserted herself into a conversation that she had not been invited to join and escalated it into an argument.  I made it clear that I did not appreciate it and I would take every advantage to not work with her again.  

I had no idea if the letter made its way to her desk.  I had to assume so, as the next encounter I had with her, she walked away and called me a pompous fuck under her breath.  She was the only lobbyist in town that I had such a contentious relationship with.  The others did well to send emails or call and take my declines for meetings and move on.

I approached Senator Stewart and pretended as if Ms. Hamilton was not even present.  I simply extended my hand to him. “How are you, Frank?  I’ve been trying to find an opportunity to speak with you all evening.”  I then turned to look directly at Grant Tennyson, making sure Hamilton didn’t have a chance to sneak off with him.  “Hey Grant, good to see you.  I actually need to speak to you as well.  We have this new security bill coming up that will be going through the Intelligence Committee, I wanted to see what your thoughts were on it.”

I didn’t want to tell them that I wanted to talk about Briarwood, at least not in front of Hamilton.  I didn’t want her to know that I was aware of her working on that contract.  It was easier for me to bring up something innocuous to get her to leave us alone so that I could bring up what I wanted, and it worked.  I could see that she was not happy as she walked away.  Part of me felt bad for what I had done, but not bad enough for me to go and apologize.

I talked to Stewart and Tennyson for almost thirty minutes before bidding them goodnight and heading home.  Patrick had met me at the back and we walked out together.  We agreed that we would meet for breakfast tomorrow morning at my house to go over everything from the party and set up a strategy for the coming week.  While I didn’t want to go to the party in the first place, I had to admit I did feel as if it was worth it.

~ * ~

The next morning, Patrick came into the kitchen looking a little worse for wear.  It was almost ten, so much later than we normally see each other in the office on a regular work day.  It was crazy that we were both so worn out considering neither of us was drunk when we left the hotel last night.  We were home right around midnight, which is only an hour or so later than my normal bedtime during the week.  I don’t need that much sleep, but for some reason, I felt as if I was half-dead and Patrick looked half-dead.

“Coffee’s ready, if you want some,” I announced as I looked up from the newspaper spread out on the bar in front of me.

Patrick grunted and pulled a cup from the cabinet and poured some before shuffling over to stand across from me.  “I got a call last night after I got home,” he announced before taking a drink.  “Had to listen to a screaming Preston Miller.”

My eyes shot up, “What?  Preston Miller called you?  What the hell for?”

“Oh, seems he was was not amused with your little stunt of busting in on Greer and her meeting with Stewart and Tennyson.  Especially since you had the balls to send him a reprimand when she did that to you.” Patrick took another drink from his coffee cup.  “You never told me about that, Chris.  When did that happen?”

I ignored his question and focused on the fact that Miller called Patrick.  “Did Hamilton go crying to Miller about that incident?  Are you fucking kidding me?”  I stood up from the bar and kicked the barstool over.  I was furious.  To think that Hamilton went and cried to her boss about what happened and then he called and bitched to Patrick about it.  How childish.  If Miller had a problem with it why the fuck didn’t he just come to me directly?

“Hamilton didn’t say a thing to him, I asked that question myself.  It seems that Preston was at the party and he was watching her carefully all night long.  He witnessed the episode himself.  He also witnessed the episode earlier when you two ran into one another and had words.”

I turned back and looked at Patrick. “He was watching her? Is there some sort of daddy issue there?”  I know I visibly shuddered when I said those words.  I was beginning to think of Hamilton in a completely different way now.  

Patrick started laughing and took another drink of his coffee.  I couldn’t figure out what he thought was so funny.  I just kept watching him, waiting for him to let me in on the joke.  When he didn’t, I finally yelled at him, “Can you clue me in on what if so fucking funny?”

He sat his coffee cup down on the counter and then walked around to pick up the barstool I had knocked over.  “Are you not concerned as to why you are so upset about this situation?”  He moved from my side over to the kitchen table.  He took a seat, propping his feet up on one of the other chairs and folded his hands across his lap.

I turned around to face him, my hands on my hip.  The man had seriously lost his mind.  “I’m upset over this because it’s creepy that Miller was watching her.” I took a step closer to the table and pulled a chair out.  “I’m upset because Miller called you and read you the riot act over my conversation with Stewart and Tennyson and his concern that I hurt Hamilton’s feelings.”

Patrick watched me as I sat down.  I expelled a breath and then slapped my hand on the table. “And I’m upset because you’re taking too much delight in this.”

Patrick began to roar with laughter.  “Oh my God, that is the best part of this.  You are so worked up and I’m loving it.  But honestly, it was a dick move and you know it was.  Miller didn’t talk to Hamilton last night so I have no idea if she has her feelings hurt, but you have to admit you were out of line.”  Patrick waited to see if I would respond or give him anything to latch onto but I didn’t.  “Come on, Chris, you can’t tell me you weren’t trying to get under her skin just a little?”

“Fine, maybe I was just a little.  She’s naïve if she thinks that her job is always going to be easy and every piece of legislation she has will be a cakewalk.  She needs a thick skin to work on the Hill for God’s sake.”

“You owe her an apology.”

“Fuck that, I’m not apologizing to her.  If I owe anyone an apology it would be to you for having to listen to Miller last night.”

~ * ~

The remainder of the weekend, I tried to put the entire telecom event out of my head.  I tried to ignore the argument with Patrick and what I knew about the phone call from Preston Miller.  The problem was I couldn’t get the Miller issue out of my mind.  It kept bouncing around in my head as to why Miller had such an interest in Greer Hamilton and why he watched her like he did.

I considered researching Hamilton and Miller but figured that would be creepy.  That would make it seem like I cared just a little too much.  Maybe there was a family relation or Miller had an unhealthy obsession with Hamilton.  In all honesty, it wasn’t any of my business.  But if Hamilton was going to handle the Briarwood Technical contract and have to deal with me on a regular basis, it meant that Miller would be watching me, too.  

~ * ~

Every Monday, I had a standing lunch with Senator Andrews.  We would rotate as to who would buy and who would pick where we would eat.  This week it was Adeline’s turn to pick the restaurant and my turn to buy.    Today, she decided to go a little farther than normal and we went to Station 4.  Neither one of us had a full schedule in the afternoon and figured we could take an extended lunch.

We were seated in a back corner of the restaurant.  They were relatively busy but the noise wasn’t overbearing.  The restaurant was a casual dining restaurant so it was comfortable to sit and chat.  

“Tell me, how was the event on Friday evening?” Adeline asked with a hint of mischief. “Did you get into any trouble?”

I rolled my eyes and shook my head.  She already knew and was busting my chops.  “Crap, you’ve heard already, haven’t you?”

She smiled and took a sip from her water glass. “Well, you know Mary and Patrick are seeing one another, right?  So, yeah, I might have heard a story or two.”

I sat back in my chair, letting my shoulders sag.  “I ran into Hamilton, literally, right after I got there.  We might have exchanged words but it wasn’t bad.  She actually stood up to me.  But later in the night, I did interrupt her while she was presumably trying to get votes.”

“Oh Chris, why did you do that?”

“Well, in the words of Patrick, I was pulling a dick move.”  This time I was the one taking a drink from my water glass.  I was suddenly feeling sheepish.  I didn’t like to admit this sort of thing to Adeline.  I never wanted to look bad in front of her.  “She gets me all worked up, I just can’t explain it.”

Adeline watched me just waiting for me to continue.  I could tell she was judging me but didn’t want to speak until she was sure I wasn’t going to say something further.  Of course, I wasn’t sure what else she wanted me to say.  It was like an old-fashioned standoff.  

The silence finally got to me and I broke down. “No, this doesn’t mean I like her.  I know that’s what you think.  But she doesn’t get me worked up in that sense.  She’s a lobbyist, Adeline, you know they drive me nuts. I hate their belief that every piece of legislation needs to be passed when half of them are not good for the country.  The majority of those idiots are nothing but paid pit bulls who do everything they can to get something through.  They do it for money and not for the good of the people.  They have no scruples and it’s disgusting.”

A faints smile formed on Adeline’s lips.  She took a sip of her water and as she put her glass back on the table she finally spoke. “For someone who doesn’t know why she gets you all worked up, you certainly have one hell of an explanation.”  She sat back in her chair and just smiled at me, watching me carefully.  “My dear boy, I think you have a love-hate relationship with Ms. Hamilton.  You love to hate what she stands for.  But I think deep down you do admire that she has a little hutzpah and doesn’t back down so easily.”

“I hate the job she has, but she does seem to be unwilling to back down from a challenge.   Although she never did call me for my vote on this telecom bill.”

“Do you like her, personally I mean?  Does she interest you?”

I damn near choked and I wasn’t even drinking anything.  “What?  You mean do I have feelings for her?”  Adeline nodded.  “Hell no, I don’t have those types of feelings for anyone, I’m married.”  I thought about it for a minute and realized that didn’t come out the right way.  “I still have feelings for Bitsy.  I still think about her all the time and I can’t think of another woman.  You know that, Adeline.  It wouldn’t be right.  No, I don’t have any sort of romantic or sexual thoughts about Ms. Hamilton or any other woman.”  

I grabbed my water and took a drink.  I could feel my face beginning to flush and I hoped the cool water would bring my temperature down.  I didn’t want to have this conversation with Adeline and definitely not in public.  I just hoped I sounded convincing.  It was true, everything I said.  I didn’t have any romantic feelings for Greer Hamilton.  I wasn’t looking to have a relationship of any sort with her.  The woman drove me mad.  I hated her stand on every political issue and I didn’t want to work with her.  But I was also angry that her boss was meddling in her career and watching her every move.  That creeped me out, but I wasn’t about to tell her.  She might get the wrong idea if I told her.  She’d think I cared and then I’d have to explain that I don’t and it would spiral out of control.

“The more you protest, the more I think there’s something there,” Adeline said quietly.  

“Can we change the subject, please?”

~ * ~

It was late in the afternoon as I walked down the hall toward my Senate office.  Adeline and I had turned our conversation from my ‘relationship,’ or lack thereof, with Ms. Hamilton to Congressional topics.  We had several covered several upcoming bills that were coming up for votes that we were going to need to join forces on.  We also had discussions over the upcoming Presidential election.

We currently had a Democrat in office. One who had been there for two terms and could not run for another.  There was a lot of buzz as to who would be running in the general election to get the nomination.  Adeline, a staunch Republican, was interested in my take on the frontrunners.  Honestly, I wasn’t very fond of any of them.  

Brian Tanner was a billionaire businessman from Northern California who ran a technology firm and was running.  He had absolutely no political experience, but he had business acumen out the ears.  Every business initiative he started turned to gold and he never sugar coated what he said in interviews.  He was wildly popular and people gravitated toward him because of it.  I wasn’t a fan.

There were several Governors and Senators that had thrown their hats in the ring, but Tanner was getting the most press.  When you have the money to virtually buy the media exposure, almost everyone else doesn’t matter.  I told Adeline that the DNC would need to find a strong candidate to rival Tanner if they had any hope of keeping him from being the nominee.

When I walked into my office, I found Patrick sitting on the couch.  This was odd, he normally sat at his desk and then followed me into my office.  “What are you doing in here?” I asked, my tone was a little gruffer than I had intended.

“I’ve been waiting for you to get back.  I was beginning to wonder if you and Adeline had run off.” Patrick sat his laptop on the cushion next to him and then leaned forward.  “I received an interesting call today and I think you need to sit down.”

Instead, I turned to face him and leaned up against the front of my desk.  Resting against the desk and crossing my feet at the ankles and then crossing my arms across my chest.  “Okay, let’s hear it.”

“The DNC would like for you to consider running for President.”

The Perfect Candidate – Chapter 4

Senator Chris Evans

I got lost in my memories within the National Cathedral.  By the time I looked at my watch, I had been there for almost an hour.  I quietly exited the church and fought the traffic to get back to my Brownstown.  I got home about a half hour before Patrick was due to arrive to pick me up.

I take a quick shower and pull out one my tuxedos from the closet.  It is comical that I have a closet full of them.  They all look the same to me, although Bitsy said each one was different.  Sure, each one had a different label and cost more than the last, but to me they looked the same.  She swore they had different textures and different styles.  I don’t care, I just pick one for the evening.  

I decide that since it’s my anniversary, I’ll dress to make my wife happy, even if she’s not here to see me.  I start off by not putting product in my hair and letting it be more natural.  This was always an ongoing argument for us.  I hate to fuss with my appearance so I always slick my hair back so I don’t have to mess with it.  Bitsy hated my slicked back look and my military buzzcut.  So, of course, I wore my hair like that to irritate her as much as possible.

I’ve always decided to wear the cufflinks that Bitsy bought for our first anniversary.  They’re silver sport watch cufflinks that she found online and thought they were amazing.  I was confused when she gave them to me.  Why in the hell did she think I would want clocks?  Then she explained it was the modern gift for a one-year anniversary.  She had put so much thought into them.  I had to admit they were unique and stunning.  Now I loved them because of what they meant to her.  I wear them every year on our anniversary.  You can’t say I’m not sentimental.

When I’m dressed and I feel presentable, I head downstairs to the living room.  I’ve just poured myself a drink when the front door opens and Patrick announces himself.  The man never knocks anymore.  If there was a chance I’d have a female companion with me, I’d be offended that he just walks in.  But who am I kidding?  He’s well aware that that isn’t an issue right now.  

Patrick walks through the foyer and catches sight of me. “Wow, you’re actually ready.  And you look spiffy!”

I take a drink from my glass and turn to face him. “Thanks, you don’t look half bad yourself.”

Patrick nods and looks me over from head to toe.  “I see you’re wearing Elizabeth’s cufflinks tonight.” His comment surprises me because I wasn’t  expecting him to pay attention to that sort of detail.  It isn’t like they’re flashy or anything.  “You’re wearing your hair like she liked it as well.  Gee Chris, feeling a little sentimental tonight?”

I reach over and pick up my cell phone from the coffee table and slide into the breast pocket of my jacket.  I choose to ignore his comments. “You ready to go?”

As I walk toward him, Patrick takes a few steps forward and places his hand on my shoulder.  “Your tenth anniversary is a big deal and I know that.  I also know you miss her.  I’m just trying to keep things a little light so you aren’t dwelling on it all evening.”

I drop my head trying to hold back the emotions that are threatening.  Patrick is not an overly emotional guy.  So the fact that he is speaking out is meaningful.  He was close with Elizabeth and he has struggled with her death.  He rarely speaks about her, not just because he can’t handle it but because he doesn’t want to upset me, either.  We are both helpless in that regard.

“Thanks, Patrick, I appreciate it.”

And just like that, the moment is over.  His expression changes and he slaps my shoulder. “Let’s go and see what kind of trouble we can stir up at this party.”

~ * ~

Patrick had a car for us.  I should have known he wouldn’t be driving himself over to get me.  Not only that, imagine the scandal to have a U.S. Senator actually drive himself to a gala event.  I knew there would most likely be a red carpet of sorts leading into the hotel.  The DC social scene would want to make sure there was ample opportunity to get photographs of everyone for the newspaper and magazines.  

We didn’t speak on the drive to the hotel.  There wasn’t a lot to say.  I stared out the window trying to calm my breathing so I could make it through the night. As we pulled up to the hotel, the crowd was already gathering.  I had been to several events at this hotel before and I knew there was a side entrance where I could avoid the glitz and flash.  I instructed the driver to make his way around to the other side of the building and Patrick and I snuck in unnoticed.  

The ballroom was tastefully decorated, but I felt like I was at a wedding.  While the event was formal, I was struck by how relaxed the atmosphere seemed to be.  It was refreshing.  If there is one thing you need to know about DC it’s that everything is so regimented and stuffy when it comes to political events.  There are rules about what you can and cannot do and who you can and cannot invite.  Most Congressional members can be nice and cut loose, but every time you see us it is in an official capacity and so we look like we have sticks up our ass.  There is always someone nearby with a microphone or a camera just waiting to get us stepping out of line so they can use it against us at a later date.  But tonight, everyone is more relaxed.  

The reason we are here is for a telecommunications bill.  For most people, that seems less than glamorous; however, it is vital to the masses.  This legislation is brought about by the large companies who are angry that they are dealing with small companies competing against them and cutting into their market penetration.  They want the government to enact stringent rulings to cut back on the competition and make it harder for other players to step onto the field.  The problem is that it will mean some areas of the country won’t get service at all because the big companies won’t find it profitable to go into those markets while the smaller guys will.  So fair trade helps smaller communities.  This event is all about wining and dining guys like me to believe big is better and stomp out the little guy.  Now you see why I like to do my own research and I don’t necessarily buy everything that the lobbyist tries to sell.

Sorry, I digress.  You don’t want to hear my rant as to why the lobbyists drive me insane.  Patrick is pointing out the string quartet that is on the stage.  I heard them when we walked into the room.  Not necessarily my type of music, but it is a nice backdrop for conversations.  It doesn’t overpower the room.  I check my watch, the event started twenty minutes ago and this place is already packed.  I am scanning the room to see who is here as we make our way toward our table.

BAM!  Suddenly I am hit full force by a woman in a light pink dress.  As she hit me, I swear I heard her let out a groan and then she expelled a sharp breath as her eyes met mine.  Her eyes immediately cloud over and I can tell we are in for a fight.

I immediately recognize her, of course.  I hate to admit that she looks stunning.  Her dress compliments her figure and I can feel myself beginning to respond to her.  I need to stop that from happening.  Not tonight.  Not Ever.  Instead, I try to make sure I am giving her a stoic look and give her the verbal response she would expect me to have. “Do you think you could watch where you’re going?”

I’ll admit that my tone was probably harsher than I needed to be.  I just needed to set the tone for the remainder of the night.  If I were even remotely pleasant then she would think it was an open invitation to approach me later.  

I tensed as I realized she was staring at me.  I’m not sure why, but I felt like she was taking me all in.  Maybe she was afraid I was going to start screaming at her.  But before I could say something more, she fired back, “Actually, I think you need to watch where you’re going.  You walked into my personal space so you’re the one who would owe me an apology.”

Ok, I wasn’t expecting that.  I wasn’t going to engage in a verbal altercation with her. Instead, I was just going to ignore her and walk off.  I couldn’t believe she snapped back at me.  She’s never been so bold before.  Usually, when she tries to talk to me and I shut her down, she slinks off and says nothing.  Tonight there is a fire in her eyes.  I have to admit it is intriguing, but it doesn’t make me want to talk to her.  I mean my body is reacting to her, but that is just a physical thing.  

Of course, Patrick is sniveling behind me. “I think she’s got you there, Chris.”  If looks could kill, I’d be attending Patrick’s funeral within the next few days.  He quickly changes his tune. “Or maybe not.”

I look back at Greer but give nothing away.  Instead, I push past her and make a beeline for the bar on the far wall of the ballroom.  While I had skipped the bar when we walked in, I was suddenly dying for a drink.  I drink socially, although very rarely in public.  It isn’t a good idea for a Senator to drink in public and certainly not to the point of excess.  But right now I am so worked up over Greer Hamilton I am afraid I could break that rule.  

I am walking so fast that Patrick has to run to catch up to me.  “Chris, where are you going?”

“To the bar,” I spat out at him.

As I stop at the bar and wave my hand to get the bartender’s attention, Patrick places his hand on my shoulder.  “I thought you weren’t drinking tonight?”

“I need a drink, just one.” My breathing was a little ragged and I was going to chalk it up to my brisk walk to the bar.

“Oh my God!  You’re all worked up because of Hamilton aren’t you?” Patrick began to laugh.  I hated the fact that he called me out, but I was a little obvious about it.  “So there’s a little life in the old boy after all.  I’ll admit she did look stunning.  It’s really too bad you couldn’t get anything out other than a grunt or a snarky remark.”

He wasn’t going to let this go. “She’s an adversary of mine and the only worked up I’ll admit to being is angry.  There’s no attraction there.  None!”

“He doth protest too much,” Patrick said before scanning over the crowd.  

I ordered myself a scotch and a beer for Patric.  I held his beer in my hand and tapped his shoulder to get his attention.  He reached over and grabbed the beer and went back to his crowd gazing.

“Are you scoping out your next conquest?” I asked right before taking a sip of my drink.  Patrick had divorced two years after Bitsy died.  He was close to his sister and had taken her death hard.  He had spiraled into a deep depression and his self-medication, along with what he was already dealing with regarding his PTSD, drove a wedge between him and his wife.  Jennifer had a hard time dealing with his mood swings and the anger issues.  She tried, I’ll give her that, but it got to be too much and she decided to cut bait and run.

When she left, Patrick’s depression got worse.  He didn’t leave his house for days and there was fear he would take his life.  I broke into his house and found him sitting on his couch.  He hadn’t slept in days and definitely hadn’t bathed in days, either.  I got him cleaned up and found him a therapist.  Even moved him in with me for a bit.  If I’m honest, I think that helped me just as much as it helped him.  

 

“No, I’m seeing someone now.  I’m just trying to get an idea of how many men in this crowd you’re going to fight tonight for Hamilton’s attention.”

I ignored his comment about Hamilton.  “I didn’t know you were seeing someone.  When did that happen?”

He didn’t look at me. “A few weeks ago.  She works on the Hill, so we’ve kept it quiet and we’re going slow.” He took a pull from his beer and then looked at me.  “She works in Adeline’s office.”

My eyes went wide with surprise. “You finally asked Mary out?  Wow, that’s great Patrick, I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, we’ve only gone out a couple of times.  She’s divorced so both of us are being careful, you know?” He took another pull from his beer and then turned to sit it on the bar.  “So, are you going to avoid her all night?”

“She’s here so she’s the lobbyist on this bill, so yeah, I’ll stay away from her.”

“Are you referring to Ms. Hamilton?” a deep voice sounded over my shoulder.  I turned to see who the owner of the voice was and realized it was Senator Devon Ross.  A nice guy has a bit of a playboy reputation though.  “She is most definitely in charge of this one, Evans.  Has she not called and asked for your vote yet?”

I shook my head. “No, and I guess she knows better than to ask.  It’s fair to say we don’t see eye-to-eye on things.”

“Well, that’s too bad because word on the street is that she’s being given the Briarwood Technical contract.  If memory serves, that’s going to spend a whole lot of time in your Committee, Senator.” Ross took a sip of his drink and smiled.

I wanted to wipe that shit-eating grin off his face.  I tried to remain composed, “Where exactly did you hear that bit of gossip?  And when?”  This was obviously news to me.  Generally, I was kept in the loop on the legislation that was going to come across my Committee desk, but someone was keeping this quiet.    

“Well now, you aren’t the only one in town with sources.” Ross was smug and it didn’t set well with me.  He could be pompous and this was clearly one of those times.  He was an ultra-conservative Republican and a darling of the party.  He was about as far right from my beliefs as one person could be.  “I heard she didn’t want the job.  She was hoping she would get thrown back into litigation because that’s where her heart is.  But Miller has a thing for her and likes her right where she is.  The way she’s sashaying around this room, you’d never know she’s unhappy now would you?”  Ross tossed back the remainder of his drink and sat the glass on the bar before walking away.

I wanted to punch the man.  I know he was trying to push my buttons and it was working.  I was already on edge for the night and then for him to bring up the Briarwood contract on top of everything else.  Well, Ross wanted me to lose my cool.  Briarwood has been a thorn in my side for years.  They are one of the few contractors that I would like to see run out of town.  I would love nothing more for their contract to be voided and for them to never be able to get a government contract again.

I am seething as I swallow the last of my scotch and signal the bartender for another.  Patrick is eyeing me carefully and I know he wants to say something.  I don’t give him the chance to speak first. “What? Go ahead, say what’s on your mind.”

“You need to remain level-headed.  You wanted to go after Ross and that would have been an idiotic thing to do and you know it.  It’s one thing to make enemies on the Senate floor, but don’t do it in public.  You already have a reputation, don’t make it worse.  And while you aren’t a fan of Hamilton, she’s well liked, so back off.”

Patrick is right, she is well liked.  It isn’t that I’m not a fan of her per se, I’m just not a fan of her job or that’s she a Republican.  She stands for everything I’m against.  Ok, so I’m not a fan of her’s.  “She’s not seasoned enough to handle Briarwood.  She’s done nothing but fluff legislation and gotten it through by batting her pretty little eyes to get what she wants.  Defense contracts don’t work that way and she’s going to get a rude awakening.”

I have a point and I know it.  But Patrick ignores the bulk of my comment and latches onto one point. “So, you think she has pretty eyes?”

~ * ~

Patrick and I found our way to our table.  Our place cards indicated we would be sitting with socialites and Republicans, my favorites.  I tried not to roll my eyes as I read off the names.  Patrick was enjoying himself, he couldn’t contain his glee.  The thought that kept running through my mind was how much my father would be laughing his ass off if he was here with me.  He hated coming to these events almost as much as I do.  

My father had been a prosecutor back home in Boston and ran for District Attorney, winning by a wide margin.  He was popular and he highly successful when it came to winning his cases.  He used that success to catapult him to a State Senate position and gave thought to a run for Governor when he decided to run for the seat in DC instead.  No one expected him to win.  He didn’t have the panache or charisma that the Kennedys’ had and while his district was different, he was constantly compared.  Especially since he was a Democrat just like Jack, Bobby, and Ted.

But Robert McKenzie Evans did win and ended up being every bit as popular.  He rallied for the disadvantaged and didn’t let anyone run over him.  He stood up for his causes and made informed decisions before casting a vote.  He didn’t care about making enemies, he cared about his constituents.  And boy was he popular with his constituents!  He was more popular with them than he was with his wife.   My mother, Lisa, hated that my father spent more time at work than with his family.

My mom ran a successful advertising agency and raised my brother, Scott, and me with no real help from my father.  We didn’t live in DC, we lived in Boston.  Mom had to run her business and so she was, in fact, a single parent most of the time.  Scott and I never made it easy on her, we were both rambunctious and had more energy than enough energy to spare.  Once in awhile, I think she wanted to send the two of us off to boarding school.

The stress on the marriage finally caused them to divorce when I was eighteen.  My father was in the middle of a reelection campaign.  They kept it quiet until the election was over.  My mother was angry the marriage was ending, but she didn’t want to ruin his career.  He had a passion for public service, but he had never cheated on her; unless you call his career his mistress.  She believed in his career and what he did for others, she just wished it didn’t come at the expense of her marriage and her family.  

My father continued with his Senate career.  His popularity took a slight hit with the divorce, but he rebounded.  I would intern with him during my breaks from college.  He also announced that I was entering the Marines when he was on the campaign trail.  He wanted to get the bump that he was pro-military and very patriotic.  I wanted to be mad that I was being used as a campaign slogan, but I knew it came with the territory.

Nine months before the Senate election, my father decided he wanted to retire from public service.  He sat down with me to discuss it and asked if I would consider running for his seat.  His staff had been doing some polling data and, since I had been on the campaign trail with him, I was well known and popular.  I was, in the words of the voters, eloquent and intelligent, affable and approachable, charming and handsome.  I was highly electable.

The main issue was that I did not meet the thirty-year-old age requirement for Senators.  However, the rule was I had to be thirty when I was elected, not when I was campaigning.  I would turn thirty in June and the election would be in November.  I would be on the campaign trail for several months as an underage candidate and I would need to be prepared for the backlash and heat from my opponent.  

I was not convinced that I should take this on.  My wife, however, was for it.  Bitsy thought I was perfect for the job.  She had been saying for months that she thought I was unhappy in my job with the CIA.  I tried to tell her that she was wrong, but I was never able to convince her.  In truth, I wasn’t really that happy.  I didn’t know what I was unhappy about, but I felt out of place and unfulfilled.  Maybe being a Senator was my calling and it would be the perfect job for me.  Bitsy was talking me into it and my mother was trying to talk me out of it.

In the middle of October, several weeks before the election, we found out that Bitsy had cancer.  I felt as if I had been hit by a bus.  The doctors told us that the cancer was aggressive and it had progressed to Stage IV.  There wasn’t much they could do for her.  They had some treatments they could try, but for the most part it would be comfort measures and we should be prepared for the inevitable.  Bitsy and I left the doctor’s office with a treatment plan in place.  We were going to try fighting it, but we weren’t going to tell anyone what was happening.  We weren’t even telling Patrick.  

We didn’t want any type of sympathy vote or attention paid to us for what we were going through.  Bitsy wanted her privacy and I didn’t want to answer questions about how I was going to survive without her.  Luckily for us, she had not spent a ton of time on the campaign trail so her absence was not noticeable and did not garner a lot of questions.  On election day, Bitsy was strong enough to go to the polling place and cast her vote with me.  She put on a brave face and I helped hold her up.  She immediately went home to rest.

That night I won the election and Bitsy was by my side at the podium as I gave my speech.  I knew she was struggling to get through the night.  But for everyone else in the crowd, they had no idea what she was going through.  I would be sworn into office on January 1st.  I spent every day with Bitsy between November and January, making the most of each day.

Three days before I took the oath of office, Elizabeth Evans lost her battle.  I planned her funeral and then flew to Washington to be sworn in as every other Senator.  I did the press briefings and Capitol Hill tours.  I had lunch with the President and greeted my staff just like I was supposed to.  Then I flew back home to Boston and buried my wife.  The news of her death didn’t leak out until several days later.  I purposely didn’t put her obituary into the paper until after her funeral because I didn’t want a spectacle.  

With everything I’ve encountered in DC within the last seven years, I’m not sure if my marriage would’ve survived.  Then again, I don’t know if the long hours I’ve put in at the office were to keep me away from my memories or because I was that dedicated to my job.  Would I be a different man if she were still alive?  I do know that I understand my father more.  I see his marriage to my mother in a completely different light.

My father remarried after his public life ended and I’ll admit I’m jealous of the free time he has for his new family.  But then again, he is more of a father to me now and this is when I need him.  He is also a good sounding board for me when I am trying to reconcile the games that politicians play.  He knows I hate the games, but he also knows I want more than what I can see in front of me.

 

The Perfect Candidate – Chapter 3

Senator Chris Evans

I’m awake and staring at the ceiling.  I’ve been doing this for the past hour because sleep has been eluding me over the last week.  I fall asleep but wake up after a few hours and then can’t get back to sleep.  My brain kept a running countdown to today.  Maybe, now that the day is here, the noise will cease and sleep will come back to me.  As I mull this over, the alarm begins to buzz on the nightstand.  I reach over and slap it off and then throw the covers back.  I don’t want to get out of bed, but it isn’t like I’ll sleep so what’s the point.  I’d like to call in sick, ignore the duties that I have and hide at home all day.  But that’s not really an option for me, either.  

I get out of bed and head to the bathroom.  Staring at myself in the mirror, I notice the dark circles under my eyes.  I think I’m starting to age.  At least I feel a hell of a lot older than thirty-six.  Maybe that is insomnia talking.  I decide that I’ll clear my head and go for a run.  When I was in the Marines, we always started the day with a run.  It was supposed to be torture, maybe that’s why I’m doing it now.  I’ll try to clear my head and think.  Running doesn’t change my attitude, although, you would think it would with the endorphins that are released.  I suspect people on the Hill would wish it would change my attitude.  After all, I’m not necessarily known for my sparkling disposition.

I’m driven, not hateful or rude, just driven.  I get along just fine with my staff and a good majority of the Senators.  I’m just not overly fond of the reporters or the lobbyists.  My biggest problem is actually with the reporters.  I know they have a job to do, I get that.  However, some of them have no shame when it comes to butting in where they shouldn’t be or fabricating a story it gets them a headline.  Several years ago, I had wanted, no needed, my privacy and they’d done all they could to dig for information.  Several reporters had blatantly lied and made up stories about why I was out of the spotlight.  Some media outlets had been respectful.  Others, not so much.  In the years that have passed, I’ve never forgotten, and I’ve certainly not forgiven.

Don’t even get me started on my issues with the lobbyists.  I know they have a job to do, just like the reporters.  But some of the things that they push and advocate are immoral and wrong.  They push agendas that aren’t always in the best interest of the country or the people they are supposedly trying to help.  My father warned me when I took over his Senate seat, beware of the lobbyists and their plans.  Always make an informed decision and don’t just buy what they’re selling.  I don’t let the money and influence of corporations sway my vote.  It makes me some enemies on the Hill but it makes my constituents happy to know that I can’t be bought.  

As my feet continue to pound the pavement, I realize my lungs are starting to burn.  This doesn’t normally happen, so obviously I’ve run more than my usual route.  I stop and take a look around, the scenery is different.  I was so lost in my own thoughts that I had lost track of where I was.  I realize I am four blocks from my regular route, I turn back and start for home.

~ * ~

The hallway of the Capitol Building is quiet and the sounds of my shoes echo through the marble halls.  Not all of the lights are on, just the emergency ones.  It was a little eerie the first time I walked into the building when it was barely lit, but, after all these years, I’m used to it.  I check my watch, it’s 6:30 am.  I’m late as I walk into the office.  Well, late by my standards but still early for the rest of the staff.  I’m not surprised at all to see Patrick at his desk.  Sometimes I think it’s a competition between the two of us as to who can get into the office first.  Overall, I’m winning that competition, in case you’re wondering.  

I nod my head at him, our traditional greeting, as I walk past him into my office.  It takes him less than a minute to follow me into my office and plop down on the couch.  The couch in my office is his favorite spot in the entire office.  He’s commented more than once as to how comfortable it is and it beats any furniture he has at his house.  I think he’s hoping if I ever leave office that I’ll give him dibs on it.  I just don’t have the heart to tell him that it belonged to Bitsy and me and used to be in our bedroom.  It might change his opinion on how much he loves the couch.  

“Glad to see you made it in, I was about to send out a search party,” Patrick chided with his dry wit, but it was falling flat this morning.

“Fuck off, Patrick,” I responded while rifling through the stack of mail that had been placed on my desk.  

“Oh, you’re in one of those moods today.  Should I clear your calendar since you’re PMSing today?”  I gave him a glare, pissed off that of all people he didn’t seem to remember what today was or why my mood would be what it was.  

No words were exchanged and before I could break the silence, he did it for me.  “I’m not oblivious to what today is.  I also know it’s a big one.  But Chris, she’d want you to move on and try to find happiness.  I hate seeing you this way, man.”

I could tell he was sincere.  That just made it harder.  I didn’t want to say anything in response to him because I was afraid of what might come out of my mouth.  Patrick was not only my Chief of Staff, but he was also my best friend.  We had been through some hellacious times in the Marines together; seeing things that we would never be able to unsee.  You form a bond with someone when you’ve trusted them with your life.

More than any of those things, Patrick is my brother-in-law.  Rather he was, does the designation change when your spouse dies?

I sat down in my oversized desk chair and crossed my arms across my chest, “So what is on my calendar today?  How many meetings do I have?”

Patrick flipped open his notebook, what I jokingly refer to as his Bible so he can look at my calendar.  “You have an Intelligence Committee meeting at ten and an Armed Forces Committee meeting at one.  You have a meeting with Senator Francis at three and with Senator Jennings at four.  Plus tonight you have the telecommunications gala.”

I hung my head.  Why couldn’t I just have a light day?  I could manage the Intelligence and Armed Forces meetings.  I would be bored to tears meeting with Francis and Jennings.  I had no idea what they wanted anyway.  It was the telecommunications event I really wanted to get out of.  I hate social events but I really hated social events where lobbyists were involved.

“Patrick, you have to get me out of the telecom thing.  I don’t have it in me to go that tonight.”

Patrick looked up at me with fear in his eyes, “This is where I have to get firm with you, Senator.” I hated when he shifted into professional mode.  “They are shy of votes and you know there will be a push to move the needle tonight.  You can either make waves to keep this legislation from passing or you can side with them and push it through.  It’s in your hands, you’re a vote they will target.  If nothing else, you always enjoy the opportunity to rattle the cages of the lobbyists, right?”

He had a point, but it didn’t mean I had to like it or agree with it.  “For the record, has anyone even called and attempted to set up a meeting with me to discuss this legislation?  I don’t recall anyone asking me about it or seeing it on the calendar.”  I had to admit, I was confused.  Normally when there is a vote for anything, the lobbyist have called me numerous times and have attempted to get in front of me for a meeting.  I politely decline every request.  I’ve been ambushed in the hallways and have made it clear I am not interested in speaking to them.  But they still call.

I hear the talk, they call me a domino vote.  For some reason, they think I wield enough power that I can get other Senators to fall in line behind me and vote with me on anything.  I make them fall like dominos.  It’s a ridiculous notion. I have been called enigmatic and eloquent – I can get behind that.  But I don’t have power, at least not like anyone believes me to have.  

What I do is make my own informed decisions without being swayed by the lobbying groups or their money.  I don’t let them take me on expensive lunch or dinner dates.  I don’t go on vacations or fancy trips.  I can’t be bought and neither can my vote.  I don’t like to be spoon-fed what some marketing company has come up with to try and make legislation more palatable.  I do my own research, ask my own questions, and vote my conscience.  I spent enough time in the Military and with the CIA to know when I’m being fed a line of bullshit.  That my friends is why I make the lobbying groups nervous.

Patrick went back to his notebook and then grabbed his iPad and began searching through his emails.  I saw the look of confusion flicker in his eyes before he spoke, “Um, no, you’ve actually not been contacted at all about this legislations.  No calls, no emails, no meeting invites, nada.”  He put is iPad to the side and shut his notebook.  Now he looked pained as if he couldn’t quite understand this.  “They need your vote, Chris.  Why didn’t they reach out to you?  I mean, I’d have expected some sort of contact.”

“Who’s handling this one?  Petty or Lincolnshire?” I ask with a bit of amusement in my voice.

Patrick shifted in his seat, “Neither, Rothschild and Miller are running point on this one.  Petty is doing some work on it with them, but R&M is doing the heavy lifting.”

I couldn’t suppress my grin. “Well, maybe they’ve finally learned their lesson.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, Chris?”

I leaned forward bracing myself on the desk. “I’ve never talked to a single lobbyist from their firm.  So, maybe they’ve realized that there’s no need to call on me.  I got into a verbal altercation with a member of their staff at an event and she called me a pompous fuck when she left the room.” I sat back and laughed at the memory. “I don’t think she knows I heard her, though.  But maybe they finally got the message and realized it wouldn’t do them any good to call me.  Hallelujah!”

Patrick started to laugh, “She called you a pompous fuck?  How in the hell did I miss this?  Which lobbyist was it because every single one of them I’ve ever met has had a stick up their ass and this one sounds like she has some fire.”

“Her name is Hamilton and she works small legislation.  I’m not sure why they haven’t put her on anything big.  She’s got a fight in her, I’ll give her that.”

“Wait a minute, is this the same woman who you are always scowling at?  Giving her a look like if you had lasers that could shoot from your eyes you would cut her down?”  Patrick leaned forward on the couch and eyed me carefully.

“I don’t look at her that way.” I mean I don’t think I do.  She annoys the hell out of me, but I didn’t think I was looking at her like I could kill her.  “She gets on my nerves and it’s strictly political.  She’s a Republican and I’m a Democrat.  I care about the country and she obviously doesn’t.  It’s really that simple.”

Patrick began to smile and pushed himself off the couch, heading for the door.  “You keep telling yourself that, Chris.  Maybe you’ll believe it one day.”

I had no idea what he meant by that.  But I was at least glad he got me to think about something other than what had been on my mind when I woke up this morning.

~ * ~

When the Intelligence Committee meets for general meetings that are not hearings for public viewing, we meet in a large conference room in the Capitol Building.  It is adjacent to our hearing room but much more comfortable.  We were forty-five minutes into a meeting and I had lost interest forty minutes ago.  We were getting into the weeds about a document that we’d been fighting about over the last month.  I was sick of it and the bickering was giving me a headache.  I stood from my seat and went to the large set of windows that looked out over the Mall and reflecting pool.  I stood with my hands behind my back and started to focus on the people on the street and drowned out the voices in the room.  As the Chairman, it was probably not a good idea for me to do this.  However, for my own sanity, I needed to.

As I stare out over the Mall, I think about the times I’ve left the Capitol and gone running around the monuments after work.  How it is so easy to blend into the background and disappear.  I’m almost never recognized, which I appreciate.  There have been exceptions and I’ve been harassed.  Someone doesn’t agree with a vote or what one of the Committees is doing and they take umbrage with it right there on the sidewalk.  Each time, I do the polite thing, I listen.  That’s really all they want, someone to listen.  I try not to sound patronizing or condescending when I respond to tell them we will take their concerns under advisement.  You have to admire their passion, even if you don’t agree with them.  But in this age of digital media, you just don’t engage in a debate or argue.  You never know when it could end up on YouTube.

During my mental trip around the city, the meeting adjourns and the room begins to empty.  I’m honestly oblivious to it until I feel a hand on my shoulder and I flinch instinctively.

“I’m sorry, Christopher, I didn’t mean to scare you.” It’s the melodic voice of Senator Adeline Andrews from Mississippi.  She’s a sweet woman who took me under her wing when I came to the Hill.  She is now almost seventy-five years old and every bit as feisty as she was when I first met her.  Adeline was, and still is, a good friend of my father’s.    While she is a Republican, she is the person I trust most and I value her opinion over almost everyone else, outside of my family.  She is also the only person outside of my family that I will permit to call me Christopher.  “Why are you even at work today, my boy?  I figured you would want to be alone today.”

I turn to face her; Senator Andrews remembered.  Her large, espresso eyes convey her love and sympathy.  I pull her in for a hug, something most of my colleagues would find amusing, I’m sure.  “No, rest for the wicked, Adeline.  I did consider staying home, but I’d have moped around and it would have accomplished nothing.”

“That’s a very sage thing to say, I’ll give you that.  But I do realize the importance of today and that you might want to be alone to remember and celebrate in your own way.”

“You have a different opinion than Patrick.  He thinks I should move on and let it go.  He said Bitsy would want it that way.” My voice is flat when I say her name.  I have to do that to keep myself together.  Ten years ago today, I said her name as we became husband and wife.  It was, by far, the happiest day of my entire life.  We’d only been married four years when she died.  I lost her shortly after I’d won the election to take over my father’s Senate seat.  She hadn’t lived long enough to see me take the oath of office.  

“He has a valid point.  I know that I had a hard time moving on after my Oscar died.  I can see it from your side, Christopher, but you cannot shut down your emotions for the remainder of your life.  What if Elizabeth was meant to help you find your true calling and to find love again?  It’s possible to love again after such a painful loss.  I love Nelson with all my heart, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss Oscar.”

Adeline has a point and I can appreciate what she is trying to do for me.  I think I’m more open to her saying it because I know she has experience in this sort of thing.  Whereas when Patrick says it, well it just seems different.  I give Adeline another hug and thank her for being there for me and for remembering today.  It does mean so much that she remembered.  

~ * ~

As always, Adeline Andrews lifted my spirits.  Her pep talk gave me the strength to change my perspective and make it through the meetings that were scheduled for the afternoon.  I was dreading the last meeting of the day with Jennings.  He’s a nice guy but meetings with him always went over our requisite allotted time and he could drag things out more than necessary.  As luck would have it, something came up for him and he had to cancel.  Not sure what his excuse was and I honestly didn’t care.  This opening in my schedule now allowed me an opportunity to leave early and have some time to myself.

I packed up my briefcase and grabbed my suit jacket to head out.  As I pulled the office door closed behind me, I let my secretary, Amy, know that I was heading out and I wouldn’t be available for the remainder of the day.  She wished me a good evening and I exited into the hallway.  Patrick wasn’t in the office, I was hoping to make it to my car without running into him.  No such luck, he rounded the corner just as I was approaching.

“Where are you going?” He asked, somewhat surprised to see that I had my briefcase and jacket.  “Were you sneaking out?”

I rolled my eyes and sighed heavily, “I wasn’t sneaking, Patrick.  I let Amy know I was leaving.”

“But you weren’t telling me?  Geez, thanks, man.”

“You weren’t in the office.” I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye. “Patrick, I’m heading out for the day.  I’ll see you tonight at the telecom event.” I laughed at the fact I was being such a smartass and began to walk off.

“I’ll be by to pick you up at seven,” Patrick proclaimed.  This made me stop dead in my tracks and turn around.  I held my arms out with the general ‘what the fuck’ look.  “You said you didn’t want to go, I don’t trust that you won’t ditch this thing.  So, I’ll be there to pick you up.  You better be ready and look spiffy!”

I said nothing but turned back around and walked off.  The thing that pissed me off more than anything was the fact that he was right.  He knew I would try to find some way to get out of going tonight.  If he didn’t pick me up, I’d feign being sick or some other brilliant excuse to try to stay home.  Even though it is totally against my character, he knows I would at least try.  

The thing was, Patrick probably knew where I was going right now, anyway.  When I needed time to myself, or sanctuary, I went to church.  I’m not an overly religious man.  In fact, just because I was raised Roman Catholic didn’t mean I practiced it.  However, sometimes the solitude of the church allowed me to think and find peace.  Today was a day I needed peace more than any other.  

I had been able to spend anniversaries with Bitsy in the past.  But this year, it didn’t work out.  She’s buried in Boston and I wasn’t able to get up there today or even the weekend before.  The hectic Congressional calendar this year had kept me in DC.  I felt horrible about that.  It meant I didn’t get to put the flowers on her grave; which is something I always do.  If I couldn’t be in the cemetery with her, I would at least go to church and find some peace there.  I’d light a candle and say a prayer.    

My favorite church in DC is the National Cathedral.  While it isn’t a Catholic Church, it is easily one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever been to.  It’s a twenty-minute drive, depending on traffic, from my office.  I ease into my car and exit the Capitol parking structure.  The traffic is a little heavier than normal and there ends up being a tour at the church making parking more difficult.  Luckily I can ease into one of the side alcoves and duck into a pew without being seen.

Of course, this church also reminds me of the one I was married in.  That’s another one of the reasons I wanted to come here today.  

I met Elizabeth O’Neil on the day Patrick and I graduated from boot camp.  She had accompanied her parents out to Twenty Nine Palms, CA for the ceremony.  I remember thinking she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life.  I didn’t realize I was staring at her until Patrick slapped me in the back of my head and told me if I touched her he would castrate me with his bare hands.  I don’t think I was actually concerned, Elizabeth wasn’t interested in me at all.  I tried making conversation with her and she blew me off repeatedly.  She saw me as a jarhead and a thrill-seeker.  I was an idiot friend of her brother and she wanted nothing to do with me.  I found out later that she was scared to like a man in uniform.  She was afraid she wouldn’t be strong enough to handle being a soldier’s girlfriend or wife.  I figured she just needed some convincing, that’s all.

I wrote her letters and she would occasionally write back.  She would send care packages to Patrick and candy or cookies into the box for me.  She claimed she was just being nice, but I think I was wearing her down.  I think what won her over was the day I saved Patrick’s life.  He was on patrol ahead of me and he triggered an IED.  Luckily, the thing misfired and while he was blown back from the blast, he didn’t lose a limb or his life.  We came under heavy fire though and I rushed in to grab him and pull him to safety.  No man left behind!  I wasn’t even thinking about getting shot myself, I was just saving my friend.  

Patrick’s career was over; he suffered injuries that would keep him from going back into battle.  He was lucky to be ‘whole,’ regarding his limbs, but he was not ‘whole’ regarding his spirit.  He suffered from PTSD and Elizabeth helped take care of him.  She fell for me and I was glad she finally caught up.  We had dated for three months before I proposed; I knew she was the one.  She planned the entire wedding while I was deployed.  All I had to do was show up the day of.  There were a few close calls, but I made it home three days before the wedding.  Then, three days after, I left the Corps and began working as a civilian analyst with the CIA.

Three years into our marriage, my father decided he wanted to step down from his Senate seat.  He suggested I run and take his place.  I was just shy of the age requirement to be a Senator.  However, by the day of the election, I would be thirty years old and eligible.  Elizabeth and I discussed it and made the decision to go for it.  We were running for office and trying to start our family.  We weren’t having any luck in the pregnancy arena and chalked it up to the stress of campaigning.  Elizabeth wanted to go to the doctor just to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong.  Unfortunately, there was something wrong – she had cancer and our fairytale was not going to have a happy ending.

I’ve been without her longer than I was with her.  My entire family, including her family, thinks I should move on.  Patrick continually tells me that I’ve mourned enough and she would want me to live my life.  I’m just not sure I’m ready to date.  Or maybe I just haven’t met the right woman yet that makes me want to date.  As much as Patrick gives me his blessing, I can’t help but think I would be betraying him or dishonoring his sister.  

The Perfect Candidate – Chapter 2

Greer Hamilton

I had a hard time concentrating for the rest of the afternoon.  My mind kept going back to my conversation with Preston Miller and his decision to move me up in the lobbying chain.  Part of me was excited about the opportunity.  It meant that hard work was paying off and I was getting attention for my efforts and being given an opportunity to advance.  But it was also a letdown.  I didn’t want to be a successful lobbyist, I wanted to be a successful litigator.  I could quit, move to another city and start over but it wouldn’t be the same.  There was prestige working for this firm and I enjoyed the pace of living in DC.  Leaving Rothschild and Miller to move to a smaller firm somewhere else to start over was just not appealing.  I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I had to sit through several meetings regarding the legislation and the target list.  There would be other lobbyists attending the event tonight; however, I was the lead on this legislation so I was running point.  I would be responsible for securing the new votes while several of the other lobbyists in attendance would make sure the votes we had were still locked down.  Feeling as if I had accomplished all I could, I left the office to go home and get ready for the evening.

One of the advantages to having Joanie as a roommate was that she could sympathize when I had a rough day.  She knew when to leave well enough alone or when to let me vent about what I was dealing with.  The bonus to having her as a roommate was being friends with her sister.  Joanie’s sister, Cora, was the fashion director at an upscale boutique in Georgetown.  One of those boutiques that get designer gowns and sells them at ridiculous prices.  The kind of stores where the wives and mistresses of those on Capitol Hill would shop.  

When the store has dresses that didn’t sell, they mark them on clearance and Cora snags the best ones for Joanie and me.  We don’t care that they might end up being ‘last year’s’ style.  We just love that we get them for 80% off the rack rate.  I’ve rented gowns off the internet as well if I have enough notice on an event.  I really have no shame.  Looking the part is expensive and I just don’t want to spend a ton of money to look like I spent a ton of money.  

If I’m going to spend a ton of money, I’ll do that on shoes.  Those I wear every day.  I’ll even spend good money on fancy suits since In need to dress to impress.  But spending a ton of money to have a closet full of evening dresses.  Nah, I’ll buy them cheap or I’ll rent.  I am careful not to wear the same dress to any events.  There are always photographers at these things and heaven forbid you ever show up wearing the same thing twice.  

I am excited to wear tonight’s dress.  I’ve been holding onto this one for a while, just waiting for the perfect night.  It’s a blush Badgley Mischka dress with a boat neckline and a dramatic low draped back.  I got this dress from Cora for a little bit of nothing.  I was lucky that it was an odd size that didn’t sell, but it fit me perfectly.  It hugs my curves and the embellishments at the hips are subtle and not in the least bit flashy.  Everything about this dress screams classy.  That was my plan for tonight.  I am not using my body to get votes, I am using my brain and the specifics of this legislation.  I just have to hope that the silver strappy heels I am wearing don’t have me twisting my ankle and falling into the arms of a Senator.

I go with a light dusting of makeup to give me a natural look.  I hate the whole made up look and it never goes well for me, anyway.  I had an idea of how I wanted my hair to look but couldn’t make it happen.  So, Joanie has agreed to help me style it.  We have gone for a partial updo with cascading curls.  

I grab my clutch and give a final spin for Joanie to check my look.  “You look dazzling,” she said with a bright smile, “Knock ‘em dead.”

I head out the door and to the waiting limo that the sponsor has sent for me.  I’m running a little behind but there is nothing wrong with arriving fashionably late.    

~ * ~

I had nothing to worry about regarding the time, the chauffeur knew a few shortcuts and had me at the hotel with time to spare.    I started to second guess my decision to come to this event alone.  I figured it would be easier to work if I didn’t have to worry about a date.  However, truth be told, I hated walking into an event alone.  I felt as if all eyes were on me and they were judging me for my decision to be solo.  

Tonight’s event was in the grand ballroom of one of the glitzier hotels in DC.  As I walked in I noticed the low lighting and the soft music.  There was a string quartet sitting in the far corner of the stage.  There were at least a hundred tables set up with ten or twelve seats at each one.  Fresh flower centerpieces stood tall on every table.  The decorations were understated but elegant and the room could almost have been mistaken for a wedding reception.  

What gave it away that it was a normal DC event instead of a wedding were the paid escorts, they stood out so easily.  So many of the men in DC thought they were sneaky by hiring escorts.  They figured no one would be the wiser, but in reality, it was well known.  Most politicians, lawyers, and businessmen didn’t want to bring their wives to these events, so they hired someone to be their date.  They were hired to keep their mouth shut and to look pretty.  It was disgusting.  But don’t get me wrong, if there were some good looking male escorts, I’d be partaking in it to keep myself from showing up alone.

I started to mingle with the crowd as I moved toward my assigned table for the evening.  I was not given a table near the front, but I wasn’t relegated to the rear of the ballroom, either.  Instead, I was put at a table that would put me right in the middle of the action.  I would assume that my position with Rothschild and Miller had something to do with this spot.  Maybe there were some advantages to my role after all.  

I let out a sigh of relief when I noticed the place cards for those I would be sharing the table with. I would be seated with several Senators and Congressmen that I was familiar with and had a good rapport with.  In fact, two of them were on my target list.  Now I was starting to wonder if Joanie had a hand in my seating arrangement.  I was not complaining.

My seat was on the outside of the table, close to the walkway and what would be dance floor later in the evening.  I would usually complain about a spot like this.  It’s vulnerable and my back is to the action.  However, I knew that once dinner was over, I would be standing and mingling and my spot would be prime.   I sat my clutch down on the table, it wasn’t holding anything valuable.  I had my purse stolen in college so I had learned the fine art of concealment.  My ID, bank card, health insurance card, and apartment key were tucked into a small pouch that I kept in my bra.  If there were ever a chance of getting lucky, I’d slip into the powder room to freshen up and slip the pouch into my clutch.  Viola! Embarrassment averted.

My cell phone did not stay in my clutch.  I kept it in my hand at all times.  It was the nature of the job to be wired for calls at all times, no matter what.  I turned to head toward the bar at the back of the room and ran into a solid mass.  I stepped backward, letting out an “ugh” from the hit.  But when I looked up to see who I hit so I could apologize, I drew in a sharp breath.

Before I could say a word, he was barking at me.  “Do you think you could watch where you’re going?”  His tone was sharp and there was no regard as to whether I was hurt or not.  

I didn’t move, at least not for a minute while I tried to compose myself.  Then I quickly scanned over him to see if he had been holding a drink that might have spilled.  Dear God, he looked amazing.  Damn, I needed to quit thinking like that!  When I realized he was not holding a drink and seemed to be dry, I barked back at him.  “Actually, I believe that you need to watch where you’re going.  You walked into my personal space so you’re the one who would owe me an apology.”

He just stared at me before letting out a grunt in disgust.  There was a muffled laugh behind him, “I think she’s got you there, Chris.”  He turned and shifted his stormy glare at the offender and the laughter immediately stopped.  “Or, maybe not,” the man replied.

He glared back at me, no apology provided, but no witty retort, either.  He began to walk off and the man who had been standing behind him nodded his head and smiled.  When they were clear of me, I realized I was shaking profusely.  The man is so damn intense.  His blue eyes were clouded over and stormy, getting me worked up in more ways than one.  Simultaneously I wanted to slap him for being rude and kiss that scowl off of his lips.  I had seen him dressed up before, but tonight he looked different.  He had never made me have feelings like this before.  Damn him!

I looked down at my phone and quickly type a message to Joanie.  I figured if I started to chat with her it would allow me to refocus.

“Lord Evans just ran into me, literally.  Told me I should watch where I’m going.”

It took less than a minute for Joanie to respond.  That didn’t surprise me in the least, she loves these events because she knows they stress me out and I will text her throughout the night.

“Lord Evans?  Did he say, Greer, I am your daddy!”

“Oh shit, stop it.  I don’t have a daddy kink and that’s just wrong!  I’m thinking Voldemort not Vader!”

I could almost hear Joanie laughing across town.  Suddenly my desire for a drink had lost its appeal.  Oh, I needed alcohol but I needed to get drunk and since I had to work, it wasn’t an option.  No, drinking away the Evans encounter would have to wait until later.  Besides, the night was only just starting and I was sure he would find some way to piss me off again before the night was over.  I elected to sit back down and take in the crowd, people watch and get an idea of who was here and plot my strategy for the night.  I knew that my best approach would be to mingle after dinner when everyone had a few drinks in them and a full stomach.  They would be open to listening and striking a deal because they weren’t watching for the food to be served.  I also knew that several Senators could be swayed to dance and I could hold them captive for conversation for a few minutes.  

I scanned the room and found that Senator Evans had moved to the bar at the far end of the room.  I quickly averted my eyes so that I didn’t make eye contact.  I just needed to make sure I kept out of his line of sight all evening.  I could do this.  As I moved to scan the other side of the room, I noticed one of the Senators who was assigned to my table heading in my direction.

“Well, Ms. Greer Hamilton, I am so happy to see that they’ve placed you at our table this evening,” the boisterous voice of Senator Boyd Johnson from Texas rang out.  I moved close to greet him and he encased me in a bear hug.  I’ve worked with Senator Johnson on several bills and we get along wonderfully.  He isn’t on my target list for tonight, though.  He is already firmly ensconced in my corner.

“Senator, I’m so happy to see you this evening,” I turned to face his wife and gave her a hug as well, “Eleanor, it is so nice to see you.  Tell me, did you two have anything to do with me being placed at your table?”

“Ha, I wish I could take credit for that.  I’d like to find out who’s responsible and thank ‘em properly.” Senator Johnson scanned the room, “Quite the crowd here tonight.  Tell me, Greer, how many votes are you needing?”

“Technically, four but I’m shooting for six to be safe.  There’ve been some changes to the bill and I’m worried votes might have flipped.  Have you heard anything?”

“No, but we can start poking around.  I guess you have a hit list for tonight?  Who are you focusing on?”

I had to smile, Boyd knew me well enough to know how the game was played.  “I have ten names on my list.  Let’s see, Meyers, Tennyson, Pearson, Pendleton, Stewart, Bryson, Conners, Kelly, Henke, and of course, Evans.”

Boyd could not hold back his laughter, “Well you have Stewart and Henke with us at the table so that should be easy enough.  We can get them on our side, they just like to play hard to get.  You can probably get Conners and Pearson because they were on the fence the last I heard.  Are you going to even attempt Evans?”

I gave Boyd the evil eye, “Are you serious?  The man ran into me earlier and gave me a death glare.  I’m surprised I didn’t spontaneously combust.”

Eleanor glanced back and forth between her husband and me, “Are you two talking about Chris?”  Boyd and I both nodded in response to her question.  “He’s a nice man, Greer, what don’t you like about him?”

“It’s what doesn’t he like about me?  I’ve tried to speak with him several times, Eleanor, and each time he brushes me off and acts like I am beneath him.  I think he’s arrogant.”

Before I could say anything further, the rest of our table began arriving and I needed to calm my blunt speak.  While I was comfortable speaking that way in front of Senator Johnson and his wife, I didn’t have that comfort level with the other Senators.  And it would have been highly inappropriate to talk about another Congressional member so freely.  Especially if my words were less than glowing.

As we sat down to dinner, our conversation was light and we stayed away from any powder keg issues.  Instead, we talked about non-controversial subjects such as books, movies, and music.  While we all had differing opinions, we didn’t end up in any shouting matches and we knew it wouldn’t hurt any of the political conversations we would need to delve into later.  If anything it helped to forge better relationships with Senators Stewart and Henke which would benefit me in future negotiations.

By the time the mingling and dancing started, Stewart and Henke were firmly planted on my side of the fence.  Senator Stewart also let me know that he was friends with Senator Tennyson and he would be happy to go and talk to him and grease the skids for me.  All I would need to do would be to sweep in and charm him before the end of the night and he felt I would have that vote as well.  If that were true, I had three votes.  

I stood, thanking everyone for their scintillating conversation and prepared to go and mingle.  Eleanor walked up to me and whispered in my ear, “You look beautiful so you should take advantage and at least approach Chris.  He’s not as bad as you make him out to be, Greer.  Give the man the benefit of the doubt and realize he’s under pressure.”

I smiled at Eleanor and thanked her for her encouragement.  Then I promptly walked in the opposite direction of where Senator Evans stood.  I was going to do my best to stay away from him.  I had successfully mingled throughout the room, not just going after those Senators on my target list, but reaching out to the votes I already had to make sure everything was still good.  I danced with several Senators and Congressmen and found that I was actually enjoying myself.  In fact, I had not taken to texting Joanie, for which I would hear about when I got home.

By my count, I had secured my four votes and had actually received what appeared to be six.  However, I was getting ready to leave when Stewart motioned for me to join him and Senator Tennyson.  As promised, Stewart had already started talking to Tennyson and I was wrapping up the deal when low and behold, my nemesis approached.

Evans extended his hand to Frank Stewart, completely ignoring the fact that I was having a conversation with Senator Tennyson.  “How are you, Frank?  I’ve been trying to find an opportunity to speak with you all evening.”

Frank smiled and tried to step to the side to allow me some time with Tennyson.  The problem was just as he did that, Evans hijacked that conversation as well.  “Hey Grant, good to see you.  I actually need to speak to you as well.  We have this new security bill coming up that will be going through the Intelligence Committee, I wanted to see what your thoughts were on it.”

Grant and Frank both looked back over at me as they realized Evans had complete disregard for my presence.  I touched Grant on the shoulder and told him I would reach out to him later.  I mouthed a goodbye to Frank and backed away from the conversation without acknowledging Senator Evans.

~ * ~

I let myself into the apartment, it was almost midnight by the time I got home, and I was exhausted.  Although I was also furious which would keep me from being able to sleep.  I tried to open the door quietly, but it didn’t matter, Joanie was sitting on the couch, wrapped in a blanket and watching TV.

“I’m highly disappointed, Hamilton.  Where were all the live texts giving me the blow by blow of this shitty party?”

I threw myself on the couch next to her and grabbed the nearest pillow, clutching it to my chest.  “I actually had a fairly decent time.”  I know that my voice didn’t sound convincing and she would call me on it.

It didn’t take long before she did.  “Let me guess, you had another run-in with Senator Palpatine?”

I couldn’t contain my laughter, “We’ve moved on from daddy kink to overlord?”

“I think it fits, right?”

“Well, he isn’t old and wrinkly, but yeah, it fits,” I turned to look at Joanie, never letting go of the pillow, “I was talking to two Senators and he just walked right up and interrupted.  He spoke to Stewart and Tennyson as if I wasn’t even standing there.  I’m telling you, Joanie, he hates me for some reason and I’ve yet to figure out what it is.  Have I ruined his agenda or some shit?”

“Maybe he’s hot for you and you get him all worked up,” Joanie said with a maniacal laugh.

“Yeah, right, I’m sure that’s what it is,” I couldn’t contain the sarcasm in my voice.  

“Um, Greer,  you’re clutching that pillow a little tight.  Is that so I can’t see your nipples poking through your dress because you’re hot and bothered talking about Evans?”

I tossed the pillow at Joanie’s head and stormed into my bedroom, slamming the door behind me.

The Perfect Candidate – Chapter 1

Greer Hamilton

The doors of the elevator slide open and I’m met with a cacophony of sounds.  Activity is bustling on the sixth-floor of the offices of Rothschild and Miller, a premier law firm in Metropolitan DC.  Not only does this firm handle corporate litigation and high-profile cases, but we also house the largest contingency of Capitol Hill lobbyists.  The number of people, excuse me, associates, that we have to work at this firm are beyond staggering.  Every attorney has an assistant, each assistant seems to have an assistant and so on. Don’t even get me started on counting the number of interns, mail room attendants, clerical workers, and researchers.  Actually, that’s just on the litigation side of the house and doesn’t include the staff on the lobbying side.

I graduated law school at Columbia and came to work at Rothschild and Miller with visions of grandeur.  I was positive I would be the next best thing to hit the legal scene.  I graduated high in my class and passed the bar exam for the State of New York on my first try.  Taking the bar to practice law in DC was a cake walk.  I was ready to take the legal world by storm and put my education to good use.  I told my family I would one day hold a seat on the Supreme Court or in the least be on the Federal Bench.  Failure wasn’t an option for me.  Then I hit DC and things changed.

There was no storm when I hit Rothschild and Miller.  My academic achievements meant nothing to them.  I was relegated to the bottom rung of an extremely tall ladder and it was not easy to climb to the next rung.  I excelled in corporate law over criminal or family law.  So, with that in mind, I was put to work within corporate litigation.  My degree in Finance came in handy for the type of work I was going to do.  Except I was starting out with research and had no shot at getting near a real client.  And there was no way I was going to make it to the courtroom.

Eventually, I began to get recognized for my hard work and, in some cases, my unique take on things led the powers that be to give me a shot.  I built a strong track record by winning every case I took to court.  But more importantly, I had the ability to mediate to keep cases from going to court.  This meant I was winning cases without going to court and securing settlements that were guaranteed payouts.  My successful mediation percentage and revenue generated were the highest in the firm.  Even better than some of the partners.  While it was no storm, I did believe I was building momentum.

So, imagine my surprise when I was called to meet with the Managing Partner, Preston Miller.  My heart was pounding and I thought this meant a raise or bonus.  If I was lucky, a bit of a promotion with a move to a more respectable cubicle.  Instead, he told me that my hard work had caught his attention and he wanted to move me from litigation to lobbying.  I didn’t know what to say.  I wanted to tell him ‘no’ and fight my reasons for declining the move.  But as my boss and the Managing Partner of the firm, I felt it best to keep quiet.

I had been with the firm for eighteen months and I didn’t even realize that Preston Miller knew who I was.  Now he’s telling me that I have a very specific skillset that would be better suited for lobbying.  My talent was being wasted in litigation.  What did he mean by that?  Was I supposed to be offended or was he paying me a compliment?  It turns out, it was a little of both.  I’ve now been with the firm for three years and I’m routinely mentioned as one of the most influential lobbyists on Capitol Hill. As I step out of the elevator and head down the marble hallway towards my office, my heels click on the floor and play like a pied piper song for a legion of clerks and interns.  Suddenly I have several of them falling in line behind me.  They are all helping with the research on my latest piece of legislation, a telecommunications bill that will go to the House floor for a vote within the next week.  Almost daily changes or addendums are being processed and another tree is killed to generate the mound of paperwork being thrown my way.  I half expect Philip Grammar, a lobbyist for green initiatives, to yell at me for the number of trees sacrificed for this damn bill.

As I near my office, my Executive Assistant, Joanie, comes from behind her desk to take my briefcase and purse while handing me my laptop.  I head for the door of my personal conference room where several clerks are already seated around the table.  The ones who had been following me quickly fall into the remaining chairs.

As I prepare to begin the meeting, Joanie approaches me with a cup of coffee.  She is good to me.  I can’t get through the early meetings without high doses of caffeine.  I’d mainline the coffee if I could.  As I take the cup from her, she leans forward and whispers, “Mr. Miller wants to see you in his office when this meeting concludes.”

I turn from the people assembled at the table and look directly at Joanie.  My eyebrows have shot up and I can’t hide the look of surprise that is plastered on my face.  My voice even cracks when I say, “What?  Why does he want to see me?”  Joanie shrugged and that was the extent of my answer.  “What’s going on, Joanie?”  Now I am starting to worry.  Joanie backed out of the office and closes the door with a soft click.  My stomach has suddenly plummeted and I have to hold it together for this meeting.  I turn back to the table and realize they are all staring at me.  They evidently heard where I need to go after this meeting.

I have every right to worry.  I don’t interact with Preston Miller.  Ok, there was that one time for my “promotion,” but that’s it.  He is never seen on the sixth floor.  I’ve never been to a meeting where he has been in attendance.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve even seen him at the company holiday party.  I’m aware that he knows I exist on paper.  But with the number of employees his firm has on their payroll, I can’t expect that he would remember me.

My notoriety for being influential doesn’t really mean much to me.  I have had success with my lobbying career.  The bills that I work on usually pass and I get what my client is wanting.  But I work on small legislative bills that have no vital impact.  I’m not funding cancer research or feeding the homeless.  I’m working on subsidies for farmers and small groups.  It is important work, I’m not minimizing it.  But I’m not anything special.

This telecommunications bill is my first big piece of legislation.   This could be a major boost to my career but it won’t catapult me to superstardom.  I would liken the ratings for influential lobbyists to those of the Top 25 rankings within college sports.  You are judged not solely by your wins and losses but by your strength of schedule as well; how hard were your opponents and how well are they ranked?  If they assessed numbers to the each of us on the list, I might make the Top 25 but there is no way I’m cracking the Top 10.

By this point my mind is spinning out of control and I need to get together.  I have a meeting to conduct and business to attend to.  Unfortunately, my mind keeps going back to why would he want to see me?  What have I done wrong?  Did I make someone mad and they called Mr. Miller to handle it?    I’ve had a good working relationship with everyone on the Hill.  Well, except for one Senator but he has trouble getting along with most people.  I haven’t gotten into any knock-down drag-out fights with anyone.  Well, again, except for that one Senator.  We generally just scowl at one another and trade sarcastic jabs.  He’s a bit of a self-righteous prick but he certainly is intelligent and can carry a room.  My mind keeps going back to when I had my last encounter with him.  I know I left the room and said he was a pompous fuck, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t within earshot when I said it.

Someone at the table coughs, snapping me back to reality.   “Sorry, good morning everyone.  Who wants to start us off?”  The meeting kicks off and I take a seat, listening intently to each person provide an update while I take notes and try to forget about my impending meeting with Preston Miller.  Unfortunately, it isn’t really working for me.

The meeting lasted about an hour and I think I heard every third or fourth word.  I know I should have been paying attention to the details of the bill because I’d have to speak to broadband internet and phone service and sound as if I knew what the fuck I’m talking about.  Actually, I understood quite a bit of it but my job as a lobbyist for the telecom industry was to make it seem as if I actually cared about all of this.  I do care, I mean it’s all important and it means so much to so many but when I know my boss wants to talk to me it overpowers every other thing in my brain.

~ * ~

The meeting ends and I’m taking calming breaths to lower my heart rate.  I pull my shoulders back and confidently exit the conference room, heading directly for the elevator bank.  Mr. Miller’s office is two floors above where I work.  I’ve had to go up to the eighth floor for meetings before, just not with Preston.  When I’ve had to go upstairs, I would always take the stairs.  I’ve got well-toned legs and taking the stairs in heels has been a major contributor to that.  However, I need to appear cool and with a calm demeanor; taking the steps would not help with that mission.  What it could do is make me huff and puff and give the wrong impression.  I would appear out of breath or winded; in other words, potentially weak.  Never show the boss a sign of weakness.  So, I take the elevator and know that I can rock the calm and cool demeanor with no issues.  I meditate in the elevator and employ some of the techniques as I walk toward Preston’s office.

I’m so lost in my meditation that I don’t even realize I’m standing in front of his office until his executive assistant, Margaret, speaks to me.  “Good morning, Ms. Hamilton.   Mr. Miller will be happy to see that you’ve arrived.”  She stepped around her desk to begin walking toward his office.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t call ahead of time.  Is he available to meet now or should I come back?”  I was suddenly nervous and began to fidget.

Margaret just smiled, “He knew you had a meeting this morning.  He cleared his calendar so he could visit with you when your meeting ended.” She motioned for me to follow her towards the large oak doors that led to the corner office.  She tapped lightly while she opened the door to the right very slowly, “Ms. Hamilton is here to see you now.”

A deep voice thundered back in response, “Wonderful, show her in Margaret!”

As Margaret stepped out of the way, I tentatively entered the office.  It looked just as I remembered from the last time I was here.  Large windows looking out over the landscape of the city, making the room bright and airy.  It was a nice contrast to the heavy oak desk and credenza where Preston Miller sat.  He had a two leather side chairs in front of his desk and I remembered how comfortable they were.

As I walked toward his desk, Mr. Miller stood and pulled his shoulders back, he was an impressive man to be sure.  He was almost six foot three, in his early sixties with salt and pepper hair that was amazingly thick and wavy.  He was handsome and the wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, along with his three-piece suit, gave him such a distinguished look.  He smiled at me and it was warm and inviting, not at all threatening and scary as I had feared it would be.

I extended my hand, not sure if it was the proper protocol or not.  “Good morning, sir, I do apologize for keeping you waiting.”

He took my hand, shaking lightly, then gestured for me to take a seat.  “Nonsense, Greer, I knew you had a meeting this morning.”  He took a seat in his large leather chair and steepled his fingers, “So tell me, how are things progressing with your telecom legislation?  I believe there are some festivities tonight, correct?”

I shifted slightly in my seat and cleared my throat, “Well, things are progressing nicely.  We’ve had a few tweaks to the bill within the last twenty-four hours so I’m reviewing the impact to speak to those points later this evening.”  There was a gala event put on by the sponsors of the legislation and I would be attending to rub elbows with the politicians.  I would expound the benefits of the legislation and stave off any concerns that this bill would be harmful to competition and only make the marketplace easier for our evening’s host.  “For votes, I need four but I am aiming to secure six to be safe.”

As I spoke, Preston watched over me carefully.  I assumed he was watching my body language to see if I was giving off any signs that I was less than confident in my words.  If I was, it was because the man scared me.

I tried to shake it off and continued, “My assistant is putting together a Congressional target list so I know where to focus my attention.  We have been tracking our votes and we want to focus on the ones who were on the fence or who had not committed at all.  I also need to make sure these most recent changes did not lose us any votes.  My primary focus tonight will be the domino members.”

A smile came to Preston’s lips when I said those words, “Ah, the domino effect!  The players who will make the other members fall in line.  I am so proud to hear you employ that tactic, Greer.  And here you were so afraid you wouldn’t take to lobbying.”  Preston let out a laugh as he reached for his glass of water and took a sip, never letting his eyes leave mine.  “You know, your success with legislation is why I wanted to speak with you this morning.”

I swallowed hard, this worried me.  I had always hoped that Preston would change his mind and send me back to litigation.  However, if he thought I was successful he would never consider moving me back.  I tried to hide my utter disappointment, “Oh?  To what degree?”

Preston stood up and came around to take the seat next to me.  He unbuttoned his suit coat and crossed his leg, becoming comfortable and trying to appear casual and friendly in his seat.  “Greer, I’ve had my eye on you for some time now. I know you probably think you’ve been flying under the radar but I’ve been closely watching your progress and I’m impressed with how you handle yourself.  Every bill you’ve been given has passed and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone out of the gate with that type of success rate.”

I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks; dropping my head I averted Preston’s eyes.  “To be fair, the legislation I’ve worked on has been non-controversial and easy to work with.  Almost everyone was willing to go with it.”

Preston let out a hearty laugh, “I notice how you said almost everyone.  You still have trouble with that one Senator don’t you?”

Cocking my head to the side, I smiled, “Yes, but doesn’t everyone?  He is insufferable, I cringe every time his name appears on my target list.  I have no idea why Joanie even bothers to list him out!  She knows he won’t even entertain a meeting with me and he never votes for any of my legislation.  I swear, I could have a bill that states all puppies are cute and cuddly and I think he’d vote against it.”

“Well, he’s not the reason I wanted to talk to you.  But he will end up playing a key role in what I want,” Preston said, his tone was ominous.  “Look, the telecom bill was an opportunity for you to test your toe in the deep end of the big pool.  I knew you could handle yourself but several members of the team were worried about whether you could hold your own.”  I scoffed at his words.  I was aware that several key members of the Executive Team had always questioned my skill and dedication to the position.  Not that I blamed them.  I wasn’t sure I could do the job either.  “Greer, I’ve know you could do this even if you’ve questioned yourself.  And with that in mind, I want to put you on the new contract for Briarwood Technical.”

Now I was freaking out.  Briarwood Technical is one of the government’s munitions contractors and every few years they have a contract that comes up for renewal within the Defense Department.  This contract has to be reviewed by the Intelligence Committee, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.  It is gone over with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that we aren’t being charged ridiculous amounts of money for bullets and missiles and that we get everything we pay for.  Getting defense contracts through are a major pain in the ass.

There is a lobbying group strictly for the defense industry and specifically for munitions, the National Association of Ordnance Contractors.  This group makes sure everyone is treated fairly and that the same rules apply across the board regardless of the size of the company.  That’s all well and good, I applaud their efforts, I really do.  But each individual contract still has to be supported, vetted and voted upon before being approved and signed.  It is up to folks like me to get Congress to review these contracts favorably and like my company over another company and all that political mumbo jumbo.

“Mr. Miller, I’m stunned that you would consider me for this position.  I mean, it’s an honor, but I don’t know that I can handle that just yet.  I mean, I don’t know that I have the clout to do for Briarwood what they need to ensure that contract is signed.”  I was nervous because I knew if that contract weren’t signed it would be my head on a serving platter.

Preston slapped his thighs and stood up and walked back to his desk and took a seat.  “You know you’d have to cozy up to that Senator and get on his good side, right?  Does that scare you?”

What?  Was he calling me out?  “Excuse me?  You think I’m afraid of one man?”

“I don’t know, Greer, you tell me.  Are you telling me that all the work you’ve done and the job you’re aspiring to do is going to be waylaid because of one man?  Are you planning on putting your career on hold until he leaves office?  You might never get to do what you want because I don’t think he’s going anywhere.”  Preston sat down and began rifling through the paperwork on his desk.  He didn’t look up at me, it was as if he was dismissing me out of hand.

“My concern for my ability has nothing to do with him.  I am concerned with my background and lack of experience.  I don’t want to put our client in an awkward position, that’s all.”

“How about you let me worry about that?  Go to your gala event tonight and give it some thought. But I am going to be blunt with you, not taking this position will diminish your chances for advancement in the future.  This is your brass ring, don’t let it slip by.”

I nodded and thanked Preston for his time, letting him know I would check in with him in a few days.  I softly closed his door behind me and felt as if my brain was in a fog as I walked toward the elevator.  I waved goodbye to Margaret and at the last minute, elected to walk down the stairs.  Figuring the clicking of my heels and their echo in the stairwell would provide a soundtrack for my thoughts.

I walked into my office and had just sat down when I heard the door shut.  I looked up to see Joanie making herself comfortable.  While she was my executive assistant, she was also one of my best friends.  I had met her through a mutual friend when I moved to DC and we became roommates when we were both stranded at the last minute.  Her first roommate flaked out and mine got engaged.  Joanie had been working at an advertising agency and kept complaining about how much she hated her boss and her job.  So, when I had the approval to hire an assistant, I told her about the position and said if she could handle working for me she should apply.  Now, three years later, we still live together and work together.  Somehow, our relationship just works.

“What did he want?” She asks as she puts her feet up on my desk and settles into the chair across from me.  “Please tell me he’s moving you back to legal and getting us out of legislation!”

I look up and give her a wry smile, “Oh, now why in the world would he go and do something like that?  No, he loves me in this position so much that he’s giving me the Briarwood Technical contract to get approved.”

“Holy shit, Greer!  That’s huge!”

“Yeah, I know,” I said as I dropped my head to my desk, banging my head slowly on the solid mahogany.  “He said I get everything passed and it’s time I move up.”  I raised my head and made eye contact with Joanie, “I’ll have to work with the Senator who shall not be named. You know he’s the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee and he’s part of God knows whatever other committees up on the Hill.  He’s the biggest damn domino up there and if he isn’t for this contract, it’s sunk.”

Joanie put her feet down and held her stomach as she began to laugh uncontrollably. “What is so damn funny, Joanie?”

“Greer, you just made a Harry Potter reference.  Do you really think the Senator is like Lord Voldemort?”

“Of course not!  The Senator has hair and a nose for God sake!”

Teaser for new story: The Perfect Candidate

The Perfect Candidate

The lights were low in the office, just a single lamp on the side table next to the leather couch.  The amber liquid in the glass was doing nothing to numb the ache in his chest.  The only sound in the room was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner.  He hated that clock, but Bitsy had insisted that they buy it.  She was Bitsy to him, but Elizabeth Evans to everyone else, the love of his life.  His wife, the woman he wanted to be the mother of his children, the woman who would be his confidant and partner as he maneuvered through this ridiculous life.  He just didn’t realize that when his vows said ‘till death do us part,’ that it would come so quickly.

They wanted children but conceiving had been difficult, a doctor’s visit to figure out why had led to the cancer diagnosis.  By the time of the diagnosis it was too advanced, nothing that could be done.  It was aggressive cancer, already Stage 4.  While the doctors indicated nothing could be done, it didn’t mean he didn’t try to save her.  She was his wife and he wasn’t going to just let her die.  He had resources and he would use them.  The treatments didn’t work and the loss of Bitsy was inevitable.  Comfort measures were put into place and he never left her side.   They had kept her fight quiet, electing not to publicize it even when the campaign argued it would be good for his numbers.  He wanted privacy and Bitsy deserved her dignity.

A knock on the heavy wooden door broke him from his memories.  “Senator, the car is here.”

Chris turned to see his Chief of Staff standing in the entryway, “Thanks, Patrick, I’ll be right there.”  As Patrick backed out of the room, Chris swallowed the remnants of his glass and stood.  He grabbed his suit jacket from the back of the chair and sat his glass on the coffee table.  He knew the housekeeper, Ruby, would come in and take care of it for him.  Bitsy would have yelled at him for not handling it himself, but he had to get back to Washington.

He had buried his wife two days ago, he needed to get back to work.  When you’re the rising Senator from the State of Massachusetts, replacing your father who stepped down after a stellar career, you aren’t allowed to mourn like regular people.

When you’re a highly-decorated Marine who stepped into public service, who speaks so eloquently everyone, on both sides of the aisle takes notice, you can’t take time away for any reason.

When you are an outspoken member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and it’s known that you have first-hand knowledge of CIA protocols, well you’re groomed to be the next Presidential candidate.

 

It’s Quiet Uptown – Epilogue

itsquietuptown

Late May
Boston, MA
6 Years Later

Chris walked into the cemetery and sat down next to the headstone.  Mallory was buried on a hill overlooking the rest of the cemetery and it was peaceful and calm up there.  The row of old oak trees behind her resting place gave a break from the wind and from the noise of the surrounding traffic.  After all, the cemetery was in the middle of town and not out in a remote area of Concord, Massachusetts.  

Chris sat in silence for a few minutes before he began to speak, “I know it’s been awhile since I’ve been out here to visit.  I’m sorry about that, but I’ve had to work through a lot of anger and pain.  I had so many when we buried you, love and hate being the two strongest ones.  I tried to bury my emotions that day and do nothing but focus on Henry and what he needed.  It worked for a little bit, but eventually, it boiled over and we both ended up needing counseling over it.  He thought I smothered him and I thought I could never love him enough.  Funny how that works out, eh?”

Chris nervously plucked at the grass nearby, he didn’t know what to do with himself as he sat there talking to a headstone.  Surely, if anyone saw him or heard him, they would want to call the mental ward on him.  But he didn’t care, he had to do this.  He had to get his feelings out and he figured if Mallory was going to hear him it would be here.

“We had a bumpy road, Henry and me.  We argued about everything, in the beginning.  Okay, maybe argue is the wrong word, I think he was pushing to see where his boundaries were.  I went easy on him, at first.  I felt bad, you know.  Filming Civil War in Atlanta helped a lot, but he wasn’t happy when I moved him to Boston.  I took a year off and didn’t make any movies and that gave me plenty of time to spend with him.  Things started to get better after that.”

Chris let out a deep sigh.  Talking to Mallory like this was harder than he had expected it to be, but his therapist had told him he would find it cathartic.  So, he would keep at it until he got everything out.  No matter how long or it took or how hard it would be.

“I know you would be proud of him, I mean, I know how proud I am so you would be over the moon.  He’s graduating high school today and has a full scholarship to Boston College.  Henry wants to be a Marine Biologist and I blame you for getting him hooked on penguins at that aquarium program.  I tried to talk him into being an astronaut, but he said he wanted to do this.  So, I’m encouraging him, but you know I’m really proud of him.  He’s smart and a handsome kid, the girls love him and as mom predicted, I have to beat them off him with a stick.”

Chris reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring.  He leaned over and stuck the ring into the ground at the base of Mallory’s headstone so the diamond was sticking out of the ground as if it were on display.  

“I’ve held onto that ring for years as if I hoped I would wake up one day and you would be standing at the front door waiting for me.  But I knew you were never coming back and I just couldn’t let you go.  Henry and I have talked about that a lot over the last few years and he’s told me I need to move on.  He told me you wouldn’t be mad if I did and that you’d understand.  I hope he’s right because that’s one of the reasons I’m here.”

Chris dusted off the dirt from his hands and sat back to stare out over the cemetery.  “I met someone two years ago, she runs a software company.  I met her through some friends of mine and we became friends, I told her that I was still in love with you and I couldn’t do a relationship, it wasn’t fair.  She accepted that and we just hung out and got drinks once in awhile.  Her husband died a few years ago so she knew what I was going through.  But we started getting close in the last six months or so and I realized I have feelings for her.  Honestly, she feels the same way toward me and we want to give it a go, but I feel like I need you to be okay with it.  I know that probably sounds ridiculous after all these years. I guess I just want there to be some sort of positive closure.  Some sign that you approve of how I raised Henry and you’re okay if I move on.”

Chris sat in silence for a few minutes, knowing that what he was saying was ridiculous.  There was no way she was going to be able to show him some sign.  Deep down he knew that, but it didn’t stop him from hoping.  He finally stood up and dusted off his pants and took a deep breath.  He turned and placed his hand on the top of her headstone and closed his eyes.

“I’ll never stop loving you, no matter what.  I’ve told Henry that as well.  I’m sorry, Mallory, for everything and one day I hope you’ll forgive me.”
As Chris opened his eyes, he noticed that a Cardinal had landed on top of her headstone and was just looking up at him.  In that instance, he had his answer.  Mallory had forgiven him and told him he could move on.

It’s Quiet Uptown – Chapter 13

itsquietuptown

The elevator doors opened and Chris slowly stepped into the corridor on the fifth floor.  He read the signs directing him to Intensive Care.  He started walking slowly down the hall.  He knew this discussion would hurt like hell,  but would at least start to heal his wounds.  He just wasn’t in a hurry to get to the ICU to get the conversation started.  He needed to find some way to move on and keep this from hanging over him for the rest of his life.  He needed answers as to what happened on the day of the accident and why Mallory had gone to her attorney’s office.  He needed Darby to fill in the blanks and tell him how angry Mallory had been with him that day.  Chris knew there would be a burden for him to carry and that he would have to tell his son the truth at some point. There lied the problem; he wasn’t sure what that truth was right now.  Henry already had questions about the accident and believed he was at fault for his mom’s death.  Chris wanted to at least be able to give Henry the peace of mind that he wasn’t to blame, even if that meant that Chris had to live with the guilt that he was.  

Chris wasn’t sure how long he had been wandering the halls, but when he looked up he was standing in front of the doors for the ICU.  To the right of the doors, sat a duty nurse behind a large information desk.  It took him a minute to realize she was talking to him.

“Um, sorry, yeah I’m here to see Darby.  I’ve suddenly gone blank and can’t remember her last name,” Chris said as he took a step away from the doors and toward the duty nurse.

The nurse, a woman in her late fifties with a kind smile looked back at him. “I understand, happens all the time.  It’s traumatic when you have to come up and visit people here.  I’ll look up her information while you sign in.  You’re going to need to wear this visitor badge while you’re back in the room and you’ll need to sign out when you leave.”  Chris nodded and picked up the pen to begin signing into the open binder that sat on the desktop.  He gingerly took the badge she offered to him. “I’ll open the doors for you and she’s in the third room on your right.  She’s not in a restrictive room which means there’s no time limit for your visit.”  The nurse gave him a warm smile and then pushed the button on her desk to activate the doors.  

Chris heard the doors click and then a swoosh as the hydraulics engaged and the doors began to open automatically.  He made sure he stayed far enough back so the swinging doors did not hit him as they opened.  He took a deep breath and then began to walk through the doors and toward the third room that the nurse indicated Darby would be in.  

The doors to the intensive care rooms were glass sliding doors, but had curtains that could be positioned for privacy.  The first two rooms had the curtains completely closed and there were restricted signs on the closed doors.  But the third door had the glass doors partially opened and the curtain only partially drawn.  As Chris approached the door, John jumped from Darby’s side and met him at the door.  

John stepped out into the hall and lowered his voice. “I told Darby you were going to stop by today so she’s been fighting to stay awake so she can see you.” Chris looked nervously into the room.  John figured he should hurry to set Chris at ease. “It’s okay, she’s having a good day, I probably shouldn’t have phrased it like I did.  Look, Chris, I need to just warn you before you go in that she’s going to look different.  She took a hell of beating in the accident and her face is swollen, I just didn’t want you to be shocked when you see her.”

Chris nodded, letting John know he understood.  However, John’s warning was not enough for what Chris encountered when he walked into the room.  Darby’s face was, in fact, swollen and bruised heavily.  If he had not been told it was Darby, he would never have recognized her.  He was fairly certain she had multiple broken bones in her face, but was not about to ask. This was where his skills as an actor came in handy.  He plastered on a smile, tamped down his apprehension and spoke as he walked to the side of the hospital bed.  “Hey beautiful, hope I didn’t keep you waiting long?  John said you were staying awake for me to come visit.”

Darby’s eyes widened as she looked at Chris and tried to smile.  For him, it was painful to see her and not think of what Mallory went through in the accident.  If Darby was this beat up and she was the passenger, it was agony to think of the impact Mallory’s body had taken.  Those were not images he wanted in his head, but he couldn’t help it.  

Darby reached for Chris’s hand and he took hers.  He then leaned down and kissed her forehead, wanting to be careful not to hurt her or kiss in a particularly swollen area.  “I was waiting for you and I’m glad you’re here,” Darby’s voice was raw and barely above a whisper. “I need to tell you a few things and I know you need to hear them.”

John and Chris exchanged glances as Chris let go of Darby’s hand and reached for a chair to pull to her bedside.  He sat down and instinctively wanted to begin speaking as he once again took her hand.  But before he could get any words out, Darby stopped him. “Don’t say anything, Chris, let me get this out.” Her eyes were pleading with him and he slowly nodded in agreement to let her go on.  

Even though she wanted to speak, Darby was struggling to do so.  It was true that she wanted to see him and wanted to set a few things straight with him.  However, now that he was sitting in front of her, the notion scared her more than she wanted to admit.  Chris had a right to know what had happened before the accident, after all, he had an envelope waiting for him in Boston with the details.  But by her taking the time to tell him now, it would give him time to come to terms with it all.  It would give him a chance to grieve with Henry and not have it slam into him when he got home.  If Darby was honest with herself, she had to do this for Henry as well.  That young man had been struggling in his relationship with his mother over the last few days and Darby knew it was eating at him.  Guilt was most likely a heavy weight on his shoulders just like it was on Chris’s.

Darby tried to pull herself up on the bed, she wanted to sit up when she talked to Chris.  John and Chris both moved to help her and she waved them off.  “I need to do this on my own, but thank you,” she said as she struggled to get into position.  “Look, Chris, you know that John and I are Henry’s legal guardians, right?”

Chris said nothing in response but nodded his head.  He hated the idea that Mallory had never given him any consideration, even in death, to make him the father of his own son.  It felt like a hard slap to the face and would sting if his heart wasn’t already aching so much with her being gone.

“We aren’t in favor of a custody battle.  We both know you’re Henry’s father and he should be with you.  Mallory was working on changing things to make sure you weren’t kept out of his life any longer.” Darby’s voice was getting stronger the longer she talked.  

John stepped forward and interrupted his wife. “Wait a minute, what do you mean she was working on changing things?”  It wasn’t that John was necessarily mad, but he was Mallory’s attorney and he figured he should have at least been made aware.  Instead, he was being blindsided and he was more than a little confused.

“Shhh, let me finish talking to Chris and it’ll make sense,” Darby bit back at John.  Her fire and intensity were starting to come back, although it was more of a flicker than a full out flame.  “I had gone with Mallory to visit the family attorney that John had told her about several months ago.  Evidently, this last argument with Chris had really gotten to her and she wanted to try and fix a few things.”

John couldn’t help but speak up again, “Fix what things, Darby?”

Chris was thankful he was sitting down because his head was beginning to spin.  He wasn’t sure that Darby was making complete sense.  He wished John would shut up and let Darby finish, he needed to hear the rest of the story.  “Please, Darby, finish the story,” he begged.

“Mallory gave the attorney the details of how she came to be a single mother and how Henry’s father was never aware of her pregnancy.  She didn’t put him on the birth certificate because she didn’t want there to be issues with his career.  However, after all these years, it was important for Henry to know he has a father and for that man to be a part of his son’s life.  She wanted to fix things and add your name to the paperwork and make it legal.  The official notice of her intentions should be at your house in Boston right now.”

Chris sat back in the chair and stared at Darby, unable to speak.  He wasn’t sure he was hearing Darby accurately, because, after the fight he had with Mallory, this did not seem like the step she would have taken.  Chris had no idea he was shaking until John walked over and put his hand on his shoulder to offer him some comfort.

“Darby, are you sure?  I mean was she really doing that?”  Chris’s voice came out shaky and his lips were quivering like he was going to cry.  He was doing his darndest to hold back the emotions, there were so many coursing through his mind at the moment.

“I’m sure because I was in the room with her when she talked to the attorney.  She said that she had regrets and she wanted to fix things.  She wanted Henry to have a father and she wanted you in his life, make no mistake about that.” Darby’s words were strong and she got the point across.  She had to take a moment to compose herself, though, because her emotions were starting to take over and she didn’t want them to keep her from finishing.  Especially when it came to discussing the accident.

“When we started to drive home, Mallory was still pretty emotional over everything.  I thought we should talk and let her get out her feelings so we stopped to get coffee.  At the time, I thought it was a good idea, but the traffic was getting heavy when we left.  I think there was an accident or construction, I don’t know, something that made everything back up.”

John moved from standing behind Chris to the other side of Darby’s bed.  He knew that she had answered questions for the police, but she would not talk about the accident with him.  He figured it was because she would break down and wouldn’t want to speak about it again and she knew that she needed to tell Chris the story.  John held Darby’s hand and gently squeezed, letting her know she had his support as she continued with the details of that day.

“We had a green light and pulled out into the intersection, but the traffic just stopped and we were hung up in the middle.  Mallory tried moving, tried to find a way out of the line of oncoming traffic, but there was no place to go.  At first, we were okay because nothing was coming our way, but then we saw a truck heading straight at us.  He never slowed down or tried to move over.  He had a green light and he just barrelled through the intersection and slammed into us.”  With those words the dam broke and Darby began to cry.  Chris reached up using his thumb to wipe them away.  

Chris didn’t push Darby to continue talking, he let her cry.  But his tender touch and gesture to wipe away the tears, that was to let her know he cared.  Everything that Darby was saying was swirling around in his head like a tornado.  The fact that Mallory had taken the legal steps to add his name to the birth certificate meant that she had done it without provocation from him.  She hadn’t received notification from his attorney yet.  It meant she had done it because she had been trying to offer an olive branch and fix their relationship.  That thought squeezed his heart and brought on more pain.

As he tried to reconcile his feelings, Darby’s sobs began to subside and he could tell she wanted to say something more.  He wasn’t sure he could take any other revelations, but if Darby needed to say something, the least he could do was listen.  Sure enough, as she blew her nose and cleared her throat, she finished her story.

“Mallory knew the truck was going to hit us.  Hell, we both knew, but we couldn’t do anything about it.  It’s important that you know she went quick, Chris.  The impact was sudden and hard, she was killed instantly and didn’t suffer.” The tears began to stream down Darby’s face again.  “I know that’s painful to hear, but I didn’t want you to think she laid there and wondered if anyone would help her.”

The realization of everything Darby had said finally sunk in.  Chris let out a deep breath and was overtaken by emotion.  He began to cry quietly, his head dropping to his hands to hide his face from Mallory’s best friends.  The only indication that his crying had gotten stronger was due to the shaking of his shoulders, the sobs were stifled.

“Chris, despite everything Mallory loved you.  John can give you the name of the attorney we visited with and you can call him.  He knows everything and is aware you’re Henry’s father.  John and I want you to have custody of him because Mallory would want that.”

Chris looked up, his eyes were puffy and red-rimmed from crying.  “Thank you, I appreciate that.  Did John tell you that I told Henry today that I’m his father?”

Darby shook her head and looked back at her husband for confirmation.  John nodded and looked back at Chris, allowing him to continue with his story.

“He didn’t believe me at first, said I was lying.  He came around a little and we talked about what happened and why I didn’t know about him.  He asked why Mallory never reached out.” Chris diverted his gaze from Darby to the window just over John’s shoulder.  Thinking he could detach himself by staring into the distance. “He asked if she was ashamed of him.  I told him that Mallory loved him with every piece of her and she was afraid I wouldn’t believe her.  Right or wrong, I don’t want him to hate his mother.  But he asked me if I did hate her and I had to admit that I didn’t hate her, but I still love her.”

Darby nestled back down in the bed, all of the emotion in the conversation had zapped her energy.  Chris watched as John took the time to take care of his wife and kiss her on the top of her head.  It made him wish that he was able to do that to Mallory.  It made him wish she had survived the accident and no matter what condition she was in, he would’ve taken care of her.  

Chris stood from his chair and extended his hand to John.  “I should go, Darby’s tired and I left Henry with my mom.  I’m scared of what she’s done with him already.” Chris let out a laugh. “She’s been so excited to meet him and spend time with him.”

Chris then moved to kiss Darby’s forehead, again.  “Thank you, Darby.  I know telling me the truth about what happened took its toll on you, but I appreciate that you did it.  The guilt I was feeling and the guilt Henry was feeling, we needed this.”

“I know,” Darby said quietly. “I know.”

Chris turned and exited the room and began walking out of the ICU hallway.  He was a little more with it than he had been when he entered the hall, a few hours ago.  He signed the guestbook to indicate he was leaving and provided the duty nurse with the guest badge before making his way back towards the elevator bank.

~*~

Chris opened the front door and noticed the house was quiet.  His mom’s rental car was still in the driveway so he knew she hadn’t taken off with Henry.   He quietly closed the front door and began walking towards the kitchen when he heard faint voices.  He realized his mom and Henry were sitting on the floor of the family room in front of the coffee table.  Chris leaned against the counter, crossing his legs and his arms, deciding to listen in on the conversation between the two of them to see what he could glean from their interactions.

“This is from when mom took me to the zoo,” Henry proclaimed.  Chris realized Henry was showing off family albums and his mom was looking at photos of his son that he had not even seen yet.  “She said I tried to feed my ice cream to the giraffes.  They were my favorites back then before I decided I liked penguins.”

“Your mom was so pretty, Henry.  She looks so happy with you, her face is all lit up,” Lisa commented with reverence as she looked at the picture.

“Yeah, she was pretty,” his voice was quiet as he said the words.  “I’m really going to miss her.  She was my best friend.”

Lisa put her arm around Henry’s shoulder. “I know, but remember she will always be here.” Lisa pointed to Henry’s heart.  “We’ll make sure we keep her memory alive for you.  I know your dad will feel that way, too.”

“Am I like him?”

Lisa tossed her head back and started to laugh. “Oh, you are so much like him.  In just the little bit of time I’ve spent with you, I can tell you are just like him.”  Lisa reached over to smooth down Henry’s hair.  “You look like your dad.  I see a lot of you mom in you, but you definitely have your dad’s eyes.”

“Mom used to tell me that.  She said that my dad had the most beautiful eyes ever.  The prettiest blue, but that sometimes they would look green in a certain light, but they always held a woman’s attention.  She told me that it would get me in trouble one day.”  Henry started to laugh and Chris had to fight to keep from laughing himself.

Chris remembered that Mallory had always had a thing for his eyes.  She’d admired other parts of him, but she would stare into his eyes and lose herself.  Even when they would argue.  It was why they’d sometimes fought without looking at one another, Mallory had known she couldn’t win if she had to look at him.

“Well, she was right about that.  Your dad will have to keep watch on you and probably will have to beat the girls off with a stick!”

“He has girls following him around doesn’t he?” Henry asked innocently. “Because he’s a movie star and all, right?”

Lisa had to be careful of how she answered this question.  She took a minute to gather her thoughts and then told Henry the truth. “There are a lot of women who think your dad is very handsome.  So, yes, they follow him around and want to take his picture because of that.  Some of them like him because he has money and they want that plus they think he is handsome.”  Lisa reached over and smoothed Henry’s hair again.  She just couldn’t get over how much he looked like Chris.  It made her think back to when Chris was little and her memories flooded back into her mind.

“Not many of those women know that your dad is a caring and wonderful guy.  Your dad is nice to his fans but he keeps his distance and he’ll want to keep you out of that spotlight.  He doesn’t want that kind of attention for you and believe me, when people find out he has a handsome son, they will want to know everything about you.”

“I don’t want any attention, Mimi.” It was the first time Henry had used the term of endearment and Lisa’s heart almost exploded.  “I just want to be Henry and that’s all.”

“We’ll do everything we can to make that happen.”

“Do I have to change my name?”

Lisa was not sure how to answer this one, she hadn’t been prepared for this round of questioning.  “Um, I don’t know what you mean.”  She elected to go with playing dumb to see if it could buy her some time to formulate an answer.

“My last name is Turner, that was mom’s last name because I didn’t have a dad.  Now that I do, will I have to change my last name to Evans?”

“I think you need to talk to your dad about that.  I mean, do you want to change your name?”

Henry turned from looking at Lisa and stared down at a photograph of him with his mother.  He ran his fingers over the image of Mallory. “I want to keep my mom’s name, but I don’t want to make Chris mad.”

Lisa put her arm around Henry and pulled him to her side.  “I don’t think you would make him mad if you told him that.  He’s not going to push you into anything to make you uncomfortable.”  Lisa pushed herself away from Henry for a moment and looked down at him.  “As much as you’re getting used to having a dad, he’s getting used to having a son.  So the two of you are bound to make some mistakes while you figure it all out.  Just be patient with each other.”

Chris decided this might be a good time to make himself known.  He pushed himself off the counter and moved toward the door so he could make some noise and appear as if he just walked in.  He was touched by the advice and conversation between his mother and his son.  He hoped that Henry was finally becoming comfortable with the idea of having an extended family.

Chris cleared his throat and entered the room, “So, are you two getting along alright?”

Lisa quickly turned around, “Chris, we didn’t hear you come in.  How’s Darby doing?” Lisa began to get up from her seated position on the floor.

“Don’t get up, Ma.  I don’t want to interrupt whatever you and Henry are doing.” He looked over and gave Henry a smile and noticed his son was smiling back at him.  It warmed his heart to think that he might be making some headway with the boy at this point.  “Um, Darby’s going to be okay.  She’s hurt pretty bad, but she’s getting better and stronger.”  Chris didn’t want to say much, knowing it would be hard for Henry to hear about her injuries and realize his mom didn’t make it out of the car.  “I’ll leave you two alone, I think I’ll go upstairs for a bit.”

Chris turned and started to walk out of the room, electing to leave Henry and his mom alone.  He would need to spend some time with Henry to let him know that the wreck wasn’t his fault.  But he didn’t want to pull him away from bonding with his grandmother to have that conversation.   It was something that could be done later.  Instead, he needed to wrap his head around what Darby had told him and come to terms with what it all meant.

As he started to leave the room, his mom’s voice stopped him.  “Did Darby give you the answer you were looking for?”

“Yeah, she did.”

It’s Quiet Uptown – Chapter 12

itsquietuptown

Chris’s declaration that he felt he was responsible for Mallory’s death had virtually sucked all of the oxygen out of the room.  It was something that Josh and John had not expected to hear and they certainly had no idea how to respond to such a declaration.  The two men exchanged glances while they tried to digest what was happening around them.  The one thing that John could almost guarantee was that Chris was no more responsible for the accident than Henry was.  Each of them were carrying a guilt that neither of them deserved.  

As the moments ticked by, Chris stared at each man and willed them to speak.  In fact, their silence was driving him insane.  “Are either of you going to say something or are you just going to stare at me?”  The words came out as if he was barking at the men.  He didn’t care, he needed to talk about this and they weren’t giving him anything to work with.  “For fuck’s sake will you say something?  Tell me I’m crazy or tell me I’m wrong, but fucking say something!”

John took a seat, crossing one leg and resting his ankle on his knee.  He was trying to look relaxed even though his brain was cycling through all of the things he should say.  Counseling was Darby’s area, hopefully he picked up a few things over the years to get through this conversation.  “You know, I think I need to wrap my head around this.  You’re saying you took samples of DNA and got a test done without Mallory’s knowledge?  And that somehow leads you to think that it is your fault she was in a multi-car accident that resulted in her death?”  

Chris blew out an exasperated breath, the sarcasm and tone of John’s question did not go unnoticed.  “I took a hair sample and Henry’s toothbrush back to Boston and gave it to a lab for the testing.  My attorney arranged it and we paid to have them expedite the results.  They came in a few days before the accident and I filed a petition to get my name added to Henry’s birth certificate as his father.” Chris leaned forward in the chair, resting his elbows on his thighs and dropping his head.  “Mallory kept putting off telling Henry the truth.  I was tired of waiting and wanted us to be a family, so I made the first move.  She said she would tell him after Christmas, but I didn’t want to wait that long to get the ball rolling.  In fact, I didn’t want to wait that long at all, but she was positive that, if we told him, I would take him away from her and she swore she wanted one last Christmas with him.”

Chris raised his head looking at John and trying to convey his feelings without shedding the tears that wanted to fall.  “I wanted to prove to her that I was in all in on this.  I figured I would make her tell him, one way or the other.  So, I filed the petition and had every intention of taking her to court for custody rights.”

Josh huffed. “If she wasn’t going to play your way, you were going to play dirty, is that it?”

“Don’t get righteous, Josh.  I gave her every opportunity to make this work for us, I needed to this work for us, but she kept pushing me away.   I didn’t know what else to do, I wasn’t going to walk away from my son.”

“Hell, I’m surprised you didn’t just tell Henry yourself and get it over with.”

“I would have, but my attorney told me not to,” Chris admitted quietly.

John sat his leg down and leaned forward. “Chris, when exactly did your attorney file the petition?  Because if it was just in the last few days, there’s no way this petition has gone through already, you realize that, right?”

“Yeah, I mean, I know that, but my attorney was going to send something to Mallory to let her know what we were doing.  Or at least, I thought she was going to do that.  Why else would she have been going to see her attorney?”

“I think you need to hold off on the blame and the guilt until you talk to Darby,” Josh chimed in, wanting to stop the conversation from spiraling out of control.

“He’s right,” John agreed, “There could be some other explanation, because there is no way the Georgia courts moved fast enough to get the birth certificate changed already.”  John ran his hand across the back of his neck as he tried to figure out the best way to ask about the elephant in the room.  “When exactly will you tell Henry the truth?”

“It’s funny, I was so ready to tell him, I mean, I couldn’t wait to do it when she was alive and now that she’s gone.” Chris had to choke back the lump that had formed in his throat.  He took several deep breaths to keep the emotions at bay. “I feel like I’m betraying her if I rush to tell him.  How ridiculous is that?”  

John and Josh nodded as if they understood what Chris was saying.  They wanted to be equal parts sympathetic and supportive.  But both men knew that Chris could not avoid the inevitable, the sooner he told Henry the truth the better.  They just weren’t sure how to convince him of that without sounding judgmental and harsh.

“It’s not ridiculous,” John ventured to say, “But I think telling him before the funeral is your best bet.  I mean, he needs to know he isn’t alone when he goes through the grieving process.  We can all say we’re here for him, but for him to know he has a dad to turn to.  Let’s just say that will be huge.”

Chris gave John a weak smile and then pushed himself out of the chair.  He took several steps toward the stairs before turning to face both men. “I think I’ll just go and get it over with while you are both here.  I mean, in case he needs to have a friendly face around.”  Both men nodded and gave Chris reassuring smiles.  “Josh, just do me a favor if you don’t mind.  If my family calls you, don’t tell them what I’m doing.  I’m turning off my cell and you know, if I don’t answer when they call, they’ll call you to see if I’m alive.”

Josh let out a laugh. “Sure thing, man.”

Chris took the time as he walked up the stairs to practice what he would say when talking to Henry.  The problem was, he had no idea how to even begin this type of conversation.  He had a few options, but neither one of them was entirely favorable. His first option would be to just announce it.  In other words, go fast, like ripping off a band-aid.  It would be traumatic and sting a little, but he would get it over with quick and could then spend time to deal with the aftermath.

His other option was to drag out the process, try to explain everything to Henry by giving the proper amount of background and making sure he didn’t say anything to tarnish Henry’s memory of his mother.  The band-aid approach gave him the risk to make Mallory look bad, not to mention the fact it wouldn’t do him any favors either.  No, the band-aid approach was off the table; he wanted to stay clear of that minefield.  The slow approach would probably hurt more, but it would be the best way to go.

As he stood at Henry’s door, Chris took a deep breath and then knocked softly, waiting for an invitation to enter before opening the door.  When Henry told him to come in, Chris slowly turned the knob and steeled his nerves.  He found Henry sitting in the middle of his bed, staring out the large window across the neighborhood landscape.  Henry did not even turn his head to see Chris enter the room.

Chris stood in the doorway and watched Henry for a few minutes before he moved to pull the desk chair over to the side of the bed.  As he sat down, he gazed out the window to see if he might be able to figure out what was capturing his son’s attention.  It didn’t take him long to realize that all Henry could see were rooftops and the clouds in the sky.  His son was just watching the world pass by and it made his heart ache even more.

“Hey, Henry, I’m really sorry to interrupt your thinking time, but I need to talk to you about a few things and they’re real important.” As his words trailed off, Henry moved his head and made eye contact with Chris.  While Chris considered the father/son resemblance to be uncanny, all he could see right now was Mallory reflected in Henry’s eyes.  It took him by surprise, haunting him and giving him pause. “This isn’t easy for me to talk about and I’m sure it won’t be easy for you to hear.  I just need you to promise to listen, okay?”

Henry was confused, but slowly nodded his head, agreeing to listen to what Chris had to say.   Henry scooted toward the edge of the bed, never taking his eyes off Chris.  The intense gaze made Chris get choked up, he quickly cleared his throat and leaned forward so he was closer to his son.

“I know that you know your mom and I were having some disagreements when I was here a few weeks ago.” Henry nodded in agreement.  “I wanted her to do something, but she kept telling me no and I was upset by that, so we kept arguing about it because I wanted her to change her mind.”

“Was it because she wouldn’t marry you?”  Henry’s question was innocent enough but it struck a nerve.  Chris shook his head and Henry hit him with another question, “Then what was making you fight?”

Chris ran both of his hands through his hair, keeping his hands on the top of his head as he sat back in the chair letting out a forceful breath.  “I didn’t think it would be this hard, I really didn’t think it would.” Chris lowered his hands, slapping the top of his thighs and then stood up and turned to walk away from the side of the bed. “I need to be careful, I don’t want to say this and have you get mad at your mom.  That’s not what I want, Henry, you have to believe me, I don’t want you to be mad at her.”

Henry nodded and got a nervous look on his face; he wondered what Chris was planning on telling him that could get him upset.  As Chris noticed the fear in Henry’s eyes, it only made it harder for him to move forward and say what he needed to say.   “When I saw your mom in Boston, after your grandparents died, I found out something I never knew.  She kept something from me for many years and I wanted her to be honest about it to you, but she kept putting it off.”  

Chris shoved his hands down in his jeans and pulled his shoulders back, trying to straighten is posture.  He took a deep breath and made eye contact with Henry. “I’m your dad, Henry.”

As the words came out of his mouth, all of the color drained from Henry’s face.  Chris was scared that his son would vomit so he rushed to put a trash can next to the bed as a precaution.  Chris then sat back down in the chair and reached for Henry’s hand.

“I know this is a shock, believe me, I get it.  I’d been arguing with your mom about telling you.  When I found out, I was so excited to know I had a son; I wanted to get to know you and introduce you to the rest of your family.  I wanted to take you on the family trip to Disney and start making up for all the time I’ve missed because I didn’t know about you.”

Henry yanked his hand back from Chris, “You’re not my dad!  Mom told me my dad had gone away and wouldn’t be able to come back to me.  She didn’t want to talk about it because it was too painful.  The loss of him hurt too much, she said.”

Chris hung his head, Mallory had detailed what she had told Henry about him, but hearing these words cut like a knife.  It was going to be harder than he imagined to get Henry to be accepting of the circumstances.   

“It’s the truth, Henry, I’m your dad.  Your mom and I broke up and she never told me she was having a baby; never told me I was going to be a dad.  I didn’t know she had a son, that I had a son, until I saw her in Boston a few months ago,” Chris was pleading for his son to believe him, but Henry was scooting off the bed in the opposite direction, trying to get away from Chris.   “I promise that I’m telling you the truth, I needed to tell you now because I didn’t want you to think you were going through all of this alone.  I wanted you to know you had me to lean on.”

“You’re lying to me!” Henry screamed before jumping off the bed and running out of his room.  Chris heard Henry’s thundering footsteps on the stairs as he ran toward Josh and John, but Chris didn’t move.  Instead, he put his head in his hands and let go of the emotions he’d been holding in.  He’d tried so hard to get through this conversation delicately but in the end, he had messed it up and made things worse.

Chris figured Henry needed to work through this on his own, so he gave him some space and decided not to venture downstairs just yet.  Everything within him said that the right thing to do was to follow Henry downstairs and make sure he was okay.  However, this situation was unique, to say the least.  Giving Henry the opportunity to have the friendly faces of Josh and John waiting for him might help him come to terms with this.  They knew the truth, they could help him understand what was going on.  Chris knew he shouldn’t be leaving Josh and John to clean up his mess, it wasn’t fair, but right now it was the only thing he could think of that might help Henry.

Chris’s heart ached for Henry.  He hated that he had to tell his son that his mother had been keeping a very big secret from him for his whole life.  He stood and turned the wooden chair back around to slide it under the desk.  He figured it was time to face the music and head downstairs.  But as he took his strides toward the door it opened and John walked in with Henry trailing behind him.  Henry’s eyes were downcast as he walked into the room and moved to the other side of the room, placing as much distance as possible between him and Chris.

Henry walked to the opposite side of the room from where Chris was standing.  His posture told the story – he was not comfortable but at least he wasn’t overly irate.  Henry did brace himself against the wall, looking as if he wished the wall would just absorb him into it, but his eyes never left Chris.  John, on the other hand, kept equal distance between father and son with his back planted firmly against the closed bedroom door.  John wanted to preside over the both of them and yet easily defuse the situation should it escalate.

The room was quiet for what felt like an eternity.  Chris finally built up the courage to speak.  Looking directly at Henry he said, “Buddy, I’m sorry, I know everything came out.  I had wanted it to be different and I certainly didn’t mean to upset you.”

John decided he should step forward and at least fill Chris in on what had been discussed downstairs.  “Chris, I explained to Henry that you were telling him the truth.  You wanted to let him know so he knew he had family that was here for him and he wasn’t all alone.”

“My mom lied to me,” Henry said quietly as his body slip down the wall, his butt coming to rest on the floor.  He looked up at Chris, his eyes red-rimmed and full of tears, “Why did she do that to me?”  For the first time since Chris had given him the news, Chris saw the tears fall down Henry’s cheeks.

Chris immediately moved to take a seat on the floor next to Henry.  He wrapped his arm around his son’s shoulder and pulled him into his side. “She did what she thought was best for you at the time.  Your mom had no idea if she would ever see me again and wasn’t sure how I would react to the news about being a dad.  She was trying to protect and shelter you because you meant so much to her.  You were her whole world, Henry, she loved you so much.”

“Why were you fighting about me?  If she loved me, why wouldn’t she let me have a dad?”  Henry’s tears were flowing faster and Chris’s heart broke even more.

Chris didn’t want to answer his son’s question.  He knew that diving into the details of what was going on with Mallory could make things worse and could turn Henry against his mother even more.  But, he also knew that he couldn’t lie to him.  Mallory had done enough lying and he was seeing now how that hurt Henry and he didn’t want to cause that type of pain.  No matter what, he had to be honest.  “We fought because she thought if you found out about me you would hate her and never speak to her again.  That you would run to me and want me to take you away from her.  She was scared.” Henry pulled away from Chris and just stared at him.  Chris didn’t know what the look was for; did Henry agree with his mom’s concern or did he think she was crazy?  He didn’t know and he was not sure he wanted to ask and get the answer right now.  “For the record, I had no intention of taking you away from her.  I told her I thought you would be mad for a little bit, but you would forgive her.  I wanted us to be a family, I wanted to marry your mom and for us to live together and have more kids.  I wanted all of that.”

“I would have liked that,” Henry said as he rested his head back against Chris and continued to cry.  

Chris looked over toward the door and realized that at some point during his exchange with Henry, John had left the room.  

~ * ~

Chris had no idea how long he had sat on the floor with Henry.  All he did know was that his ass and his son were both asleep.  Henry had cried himself to sleep, the tears had kept coming and Chris just let him cry.  Once he stopped and drifted to sleep, Chris decided not move him right away because he wanted to just take in the moment of having Henry in his arms.  That might seem odd to some folks, but he had never had these types of nurturing moments, in the past, and this was a turning point in his relationship with Henry.  There wouldn’t be very many of these opportunities, in the future, so when they presented themselves, Chris felt it best to take advantage of them.  

He finally decided to pick Henry up and transfer him over to the bed.  He pulled a blanket up over him and brushed the hair off of Henry’s forehead before giving him a soft kiss.  Chris slowly backed out of the room and pulled the door shut, electing not to close it completely because he didn’t want the click of the door to inadvertently wake Henry.  

As Chris walked down the stairs, he looked over to the living room and noticed that Josh was sitting there alone.  “Did John leave?” He asked as he stopped and leaned against the living room entry way.

Josh looked up from the magazine he was reading to catch Chris’s gaze, “Yeah, he said he wanted to get over to the hospital to see Darby.”  Josh took in Chris’s body language and facial expression then asked, “How’s Henry doing?  Did you get him calmed down?”  

Chris walked into the room and took a seat on the couch.  He rubbed his hands over his face, “Yeah, he actually cried himself to sleep.  It was brutal, Josh, it was so much harder to get through than I had expected it would be.  I felt like I was betraying Mallory and that hurt like hell.”

“You know he didn’t believe you when you told him.  He came running down the stairs saying you were a liar and he hated you,” Josh offered solemnly.  “John and I told him that you were telling the truth.  It took a little convincing on our parts because he didn’t want to believe us either.”

Chris leaned forward, dropping and shaking his head, “I can’t believe he hates me.  I never thought I would have a kid who would hate me.”

“To be fair,” Josh started, “He’s confused and he’s lashing out at you.  I don’t think he really hates you or Mallory, but he just doesn’t understand everything.  Keep in mind, his mom just died and now he’s being told he has a dad.  Dude, it’s a lot to take in.  If he hated you, Chris, he wouldn’t have stayed with you upstairs and John wouldn’t have been able to sneak out without the two of you knowing it.” Chris turned to look at Josh and gave him a faint smile, something he hadn’t been able to really do in the last few days.  “You just need to keep convincing him that you love him, Chris.  And you need to make sure he knows that Mallory loved him, too.  Don’t make her out to be the bad guy in any of this.”

“I have no intention of doing that.” Chris stood up and started to walk toward the kitchen. “I need a drink, you want one?”  Josh shook his head. “I did love her, you know.  I think that’s why I’m so fucking mad at her right now.  I wanted to be that boy’s dad more than anything, but not like this, Josh, not without her.”  Chris turned and continued toward the kitchen.

~ * ~

When Chris came back from the kitchen with his drink, Josh had decided that he would burn off some energy by going for a run.  Henry was still asleep so Chris figured he would call his mom.  He had not talked to her since they had arrived in Atlanta and he had gone to pick up Henry at Noah’s house.  It was as good a time as any for him to let her know that he had dropped the daddy bombshell.  

Chris dialed his mom’s number and she picked up the call immediately. “Hey, I was just thinking of you!  I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to call and tell me how things are going.  So, how are things with Henry?”

“Well, they are interesting to say the least, Ma.  Look, I was hoping you might be able to come over to the house today to meet your  grandson.” Chris thought that if Lisa came over it could help Henry start to realize he had an extended family who cared about him and will be in his life going forward. “It’d be too overwhelming for him to meet everyone, but I think he could handle Grandma and maybe Grandpa, if you want to see if dad wants to join you.”

Lisa tried to reign in her excitement. “Oh, Christopher, you know I want to meet that boy. Let me get a pen and paper so you can give me the address and directions.” Lisa began to reach for the paper and pen on the hotel desk so she could get the details written down.  “I know I shouldn’t push, but have you made any funeral decisions yet?”

Chris let out a sigh. “No, not yet.  Mallory’s body hasn’t been released yet and Henry is still struggling with everything.”  Chris took a deep breath and then surprised himself with what he said next.   “Ma, why don’t you tell Scott and Shanna to go to Disney with Carly and the kids?  I mean, I don’t want to ruin the vacation for the kids and, realistically, they didn’t know Mallory.  I’m not trying to be rude about this, I swear.   I have no idea when we will wrap this up and we’re close to Christmas.  I just don’t want to ruin anything for the kids.  I know they would all be here for me and I appreciate that, but honestly, I think I need the space.”

“I can talk to them, see if they’ll be okay with it.  Are you sure?” Lisa inquired, not sure that she was totally understanding her son’s rationale.

“Yeah, I’m sure.  The kids have been looking forward to this trip, let them go and have fun.  I’ll see you when you get here.”

Chris hung up the phone and, as he prepared to look for something to keep himself busy, he heard footsteps.  He turned to see Henry coming downstairs, rubbing his eyes to clear the sleep out of them.  Chris smiled as he noticed Henry’s hair sticking up, a product of his nap.  These were the kind of things he took pleasure in seeing and wished he could have more memories of.

“Hey, buddy, do you feel better after your nap?” Chris asked somewhat hesitantly.

Henry didn’t answer.  Instead, he nodded his head as he moved into the living room and took up residence in one of the wingback chairs.  He stared at Chris and after a minute, he finally spoke up, “My mom really didn’t tell you about me?  Was she ashamed of me?”

Suddenly Chris felt like he has been punched in the gut.  He immediately made his way to Henry’s side, crouching next to him and looking the boy in the eyes.  “Your mom was not ashamed of you at all, do you hear me?  She loved you very much and wanted nothing but the best for you.”  Henry looked away and Chris reached up, pulling Henry’s face back toward him. “Look at me, Henry.  Your mom and I broke up and her mom and dad told her that I wouldn’t want you.  They were wrong, but your mom believed them.”

Henry was so lost, his world had been completely turned upside down and everything he had known to be true was now a lie.  He wanted to trust Chris, but it meant that he would have to believe that his mom knew all along that his father was out there and she kept it from him.  He was mad at her for keeping that big of a secret, especially when he had told her that he wanted Chris to be his dad.  

“Why didn’t mom just tell you later?  You were in movies so she knew where you were.”

Chris lowered himself so he was sitting completely on the floor, his knees couldn’t take the crouching position any longer. “I asked her that and she told me it was because she didn’t want me to think she was coming after me for money.  She thought I wouldn’t believe that you were my son and I would just think bad things about her.”

“Are you mad at her now?”

Chris took a deep breath and tried to figure out how he was going to explain this one. “I’ll be honest, I’m a little mad at her, but more than anything I miss her.” Chris quickly wiped a tear from his eye.  “I was really angry that she kept me away from you for so long and never gave me a chance to be a dad to you when you were little.  I was mad because she kept putting off when we could tell you that I was your dad so I could spend time with you now and when I could introduce you to the rest of your family.” Chris took a deep breath and tried to gauge the emotion in Henry’s face as he prepared to continue.  Henry’s eyes were filled with unshed tears and Chris could tell he was trying very hard not to cry.  He admired how tough Henry was trying to be, but he wanted his son to know it was okay to let out his emotions as well.  “But more than anything, I’m angry that she’s gone and I didn’t get to say goodbye.  Angry that we were still fighting and that I didn’t tell her one last time I loved her.”

As he said the words, Chris let his tears fall, letting his son see that he was just as broken hearted as he was.  Giving Henry the permission to mourn and cry and know that tears didn’t make a man weak.  Chris lowered his head and was wiping at his tears when he felt Henry’s arms wrap around his neck and his son’s head rest on his shoulder.

“I wish I wouldn’t have been fighting with her,” Henry said softly, “But I think mom knew we both loved her.  She was smart and she always seemed to know those things.”  Chris had to smile hearing those words, realizing that Henry was trying to find his own way to reconcile his emotions.  “Did you know I told mom I wanted you to be my dad?”

Those words surprised Chris, he pulled back from Henry and looked him in the eyes. “You did?  When did you tell her that?”

“When you left to go back to Boston, I got mad at her and said she ruined my chance for finally having a dad.  I was mad that you were gone and I wanted her to make you come back.” Henry dropped his gaze from Chris, he was slightly embarrassed for admitting this information to him.  

“That means a lot to me, Henry.  Since the day I found out about you, I wanted to be your dad and I have loved every minute we’ve spent together.”

For the first time since he had received the news about his mother, Henry had an actual smile on his face.  Once again he put his arms around Chris, hugging him tight. “I’m glad you’re my dad and that I already know you.”

Chris could feel his heart swell.  He said nothing, just squeezed Henry tighter.  As the two of them were having their moment, the front door of the house opened and Josh entered with Lisa falling in step behind him.  When they noticed the moment between Chris and Henry, their random chatter quieted and they took in the scene in front of them.

Chris could sense them behind him, he pulled away and without looking back said. “I have a feeling you are about to meet the first member of your extended family, Henry.  Are you ready for this?”  Henry slowly nodded his head and Chris moved to get up from his seated position on the floor.  He took a few steps forward and motioned for Henry to join him.

As Chris and Henry took steps towards Lisa, she took a few steps towards them.  Within a moment, they were standing face-to-face with one another, Lisa was smiling and practically vibrating with excitement.  Chris stepped forward and pulled her into a hug. “Thanks for being here, Ma.”

“I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” she offered and gently patted her eldest son on his back.  She stepped back and looked over at Henry and then back at Chris.  “So, are you going to do the formal introductions or are you going to leave it up to me?”

Chris let out a laugh. “Ma, this is my son, Christopher Henry Turner, but he goes by Henry.”  Chris moved to stand behind Henry, placing his hands on his son’s shoulders.  “Henry, this is my mom which means she is your grandmother.”

Lisa crouched down to face Henry. “My name is Lisa, but you can call me Grandma or Mimi.  I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Henry.” She looked up at Chris and saw he was beaming with pride.  “You look just like your dad did when he was your age.”

Henry’s eyes went wide. “I do?”

“You most certainly do,” Lisa countered, excited to see that Henry was able to think of something other than heartbreak and pain for a few minutes.  “You have a Grandpa, two aunts, two uncles and some cousins who are all really excited to meet you.”

“Ma, I’m gonna go to the hospital and visit with Darby, can you stay with Henry for a bit?”

“I’d love to if Henry doesn’t mind?” She looked at Henry and he was giving his approval of the idea.  “Are you sure going to see her is a good idea right now?  Is she up for visitors?”

“John told me earlier I could drop by.  I need to talk to her, I need to get a few questions answered.”

~ * ~

Chris drove to the hospital, all the while trying to determine what he would say to Darby.  He knew that he would have to apologize to her for what had transpired, figuring Darby blamed him for her own injuries and, of course, her best friend’s death.  There would be no words that could make any of this better.  No words that would be able to ease pain or even fix injuries.  Chris had to hope that he could find a way to build some sort of bridge so that Henry could remain in their lives.  Henry looked at Darby and John as family and that had to remain intact, no matter what.  

Chris pulled the car into a parking spot and started his slow walk into the hospital.  Every step was measured and brought its own case of dread.  He entered the elevator, pushing the button to take him to the fifth floor and tried to control his breathing as he waited for the doors to open.