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.  

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