The Perfect Candidate – Chapter 11

Greer Hamilton

It had been a quiet night at home.  Joanie and I had take-out and watched a movie.  She had wanted to know about my lunch with Claudia, so I gave her a quick overview but left out the reason for my friend’s visit to DC.  It wasn’t my news to share, besides Claudia had told me the information was confidential anyway.  When Joanie finally went to bed, I started to work on my Briarwood research.  Honestly, it had ended up being a typical night for us.  The only difference was the fact that I was waiting for Claudia to come back to the apartment after her dinner with her hush-hush clients.

Her soft knock on the door finally sounded around eleven.  Evidently, the doorman in the lobby had let her in.  I had put her name on the registry so she could have access.  I had expected her to at least send me a text to at least let me know she was on her way.  Then again, no one would be knocking on my door unless security had let them in so I shouldn’t be surprised or freaked out by the soft knock even at the late hour.  As I opened the door,  I noticed that even though her appearance was put together, the look in her eyes said something was seriously off.  I stepped to the side so she could walk in.

As she entered the apartment, Claudia kicked off her heels and made a beeline for the couch.  She noticed my work notes strewn all over the coffee table and asked, “Are you still working?” She turned and looked back at me.  I finished locking the door and walked over to straighten everything up, but never answered her.  “Greer, you work too hard.  You need to get out and live a little, get a life, girl.”

I decided to just play it off.  “I was just trying to keep myself busy while I was waiting for you.  I have research to do for Briarwood, it’s no big deal.  Besides, I have a life.”

“Oh really?  Because if memory serves me right, during our discussion at lunch you never mentioned you had a man in your life.  In fact, I accused you of crushing on the Senator.  So, are you dating?”

“No, I can emphatically state that I am not dating the Senator.”

“You fool, I meant are you seeing anyone?  I know you aren’t dating the Senator.”

I shook my head, almost embarrassed to admit that.  I was in my early thirties, still single and with no prospects.  The thing is I wasn’t one of those women who made the decision to put career over family.  I’d love to have a relationship and be a partner to someone.  However, in DC, it isn’t that easy to find what you’re looking for.  Most of the men I come in contact with are politicians who are already married, on their way to divorce, or just not interested in dating a lobbyist.  Those who are not politicians are usually too busy trying to find their way into politics.  And I never have enough free time to go to social gatherings to meet female friends much less find a firefighter, police officer, or doctor who would be willing to date a woman who is a lobbyist.

“Well, we need to rectify that, don’t we?” Claudia asked with a wink.

I didn’t want to have this conversation, at least not right now.  So, I deflected back to her reason for being in town.  “How did the meeting go with your potential Presidential candidate?”

Claudia rolled her eyes.  “I thought we were making progress.  He seemed to be on board and close to declaring that he would run.  That is until he stormed out.”

“What?!  He stormed out?  What in the hell happened?”  What in the hell would have caused a potential candidate to just walk out on their meeting?  More importantly, what was said that set him off to make him storm out?  

“Yeah, it was a great meeting up until the end.  He seemed to be open to the idea of running, more so than I actually anticipated.  Greer, I’m telling you the numbers on this guy are off the charts.  No skeletons in his closet and he’s a freaking boy scout.”  Claudia got comfortable on the couch, pulling her feet up and under her into the lotus position.  As she sat facing me, I could see the excitement sparking in her eyes.  “Things turned sour when his marital status came up for discussion. He’s not married so we suggested he would benefit from a relationship of convenience.  Have him enter a mutually beneficial relationship that could help him in the election.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with that.  I mean, it makes perfect sense.  A married candidate, or at least a candidate in a committed relationship, is viewed as more stable and secure.  That makes them more appealing to voters.  Hell, even I get that.”

“Exactly!  We were trying to make that case, but he wasn’t excited about it.”

I rose from the couch and made my way towards the kitchen.  The area was opened between the two rooms so I didn’t have to raise my voice to speak to Claudia as I moved from one room to the other.  “So he stormed out over the suggestion?  Geez, he sounds like a hot head.  Maybe he’s the wrong candidate after all.”

“Actually, he didn’t storm out until we offered up a suggestion for who he could be in the relationship with.  He didn’t like who we suggested and that’s why he left.”

As I opened the refrigerator, I asked Claudia if she wanted anything to drink.  When she said yes, I pulled out the bottle of wine that I had been drinking earlier.  Even though it was late, she was giving me great gossip and I felt it was appropriate to have a drink.  As I poured the wine, I asked the next logical question, “So who was the suggested candidate for the relationship?”

Claudia stood and walked around the back of the couch.  She was facing me and closing the distance between us.  I had my glass of wine in one hand, the bottle in the other.  “Well, see, I suggested you would be the perfect candidate.”

The bottle slipped from my hand and I gripped the glass so hard it broke.  As the bottle shattered around my feet, wine began to pool around my feet.  I suddenly realized I had glass cutting into my palm and quickly released it, sending the remaining shards to the floor.  With all of the commotion, Joanie’s bedroom door opened and she came running out.

She looked around and assessed the situation and started yelling.  “Don’t move, Greer.  You don’t have shoes on and you’re going to cut yourself on the glass.”  As she sprinted for the trash can and the paper towels, she barked over at Claudia, “What in the hell happened?”

As she ran to help Joanie with the mess she told her.  “I told her something that surprised her.  She dropped her wine bottle.”

I snapped out of my daze and crouched down to begin helping with the cleanup.  Joanie noticed I was dripping blood on the floor.  “You’re bleeding all over the place, Greer.  Can you step wide over this way?”  Joanie held out her hand and helped me step forward where the glass had already been cleared.  “We’ve got this, go clean yourself up.”

I ran into the bathroom so I wouldn’t drip blood on the carpet.  It only took me a few minutes to wrap up my hand and stop the bleeding.  When I made my way back into the living room, the mess in the kitchen was cleaned up.  Joanie and Claudia were seated on the couch so I lowered myself into the chair across from them.

Joanie had a look of concern on her face.  “Are you alright?  Do I need to take you to get stitches?”

“No, it’s fine.  The bleeding has almost stopped.”

“So what made you break the glass and drop the bottle?  The bottle was damn near full, was it too heavy?”  

“I’m afraid it’s my fault.” Claudia spoke up, “I told her that I suggested her services for a potential Presidential candidate.”

“Services?”  Joanie asked, eyeing each of us carefully, “What kind of services?”

“She wants me to be a pretend girlfriend for a candidate.”

“Huh?  A fake relationship like you see in books?” Claudia nodded, but to her credit, she did look embarrassed.  “So who’s the candidate?”

“I have no idea,” I spat out, “It’s confidential because of her big meeting.  Although since he ran out when you brought up my name I should at least get to know who it was.”

“Whoa.” Joanie leaned forward towards Claudia, “You told the candidate Greer was the perfect pretend girlfriend and he bolted?”  Claudia sheepishly nodded.  “Greer, there’s only one person I can think of that would have that sort of response to your name.”

Suddenly my eyebrows shot up.  Surely she wasn’t suggesting. “Claudia, please tell me that the subject of our lunch conversation was not the person you suggested I enter into a PR relationship with?”  When Claudia turned away from me, I lost it.  I jumped from the chair, walked straight into my room and slammed the door behind me.  The walls shook, but I didn’t even care.

As I sat on the edge of my bed, I began to realize I’d had the same aversion to the idea of dating Senator Evans as he’d had to dating me.  Great, I had something in common with him!  That was not a good sign as far as I was concerned.

~ * ~

I eventually fell asleep, but it was not a restful night’s sleep.  My mind kept repeating over and over the fact that I’d told Claudia about my tenuous relationship with the Senator yet she’d suggested we date.  It was irrelevant that it wasn’t for real.  It was a preposterous notion.  Finally giving up, I pulled the covers off, got out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom, not even bothering to check the time on the clock.  Since I hadn’t slept, I knew I didn’t have to worry about being late for work.

After taking the time to get my hair and makeup just right, I exited my bedroom and found the apartment was still dark and quiet.  I glanced at my watch and realized it wasn’t even six yet.  I gathered my research notes that were still on the table from last evening.  I shoved everything down in my briefcase and wrote a brief note to Joanie and Claudia before leaving the apartment.  I just wanted them to know that I left for work early and not to worry about me.  I was still mad at Claudia but elected to leave that out of the note.

~ * ~

Some days I rode the Metro into work and some day I drove.  Today, I decided to drive.  I wasn’t in the mood to share my commute with other people crammed into a train car.  I wanted the solitude of my car.  Not only that, I was leaving early and that meant I would have time to stop at the little coffee shop on the edge of town that I always drive past.  Usually, I am cutting it too close on time and I never get the chance to stop.  Today, that wasn’t an issue.    

I decided to snag a high-top table in the front corner so I could drink my extra-shot white mocha with a shot of raspberry syrup and do a little work before going into the office.  I needed the extra shot of caffeine to wake me up and I figured I could make my to-do list and some notes for the day before I went into the office.  The coffee shop was still quiet so it was the perfect spot for reflection.  I took out my notebook and began writing.  My pen was gliding across the page, but I honestly had no clue what I was writing.  It was as if my hand and my pen had a mind of their own.

As I glanced down at my notes, I was horrified to realize they were all related to Senator Evans.  I’d detailed pros and cons for following through with Claudia’s idea.  This was ridiculous.  How had such a silly notion wormed its way into my subconscious?  I had identified more reasons to do it than not.  The only viable reason I could come up with for not doing it was the fact he didn’t like me.  But I had been serious when I told Claudia I respected Senator Evans and his position.  He did seem to be an honorable man, even if he was an ass to me on a regular basis.

I tried to push thoughts of him out of my mind and focus on the contract that I need to work on.  Unfortunately, since he was interwoven into that process, I wasn’t able to push him completely out of my thoughts.  I looked around and noticed the coffee shop was beginning to fill up with the workday crowd.  It was ebbing closer to the time for me to actually head into the office.  I gathered my things and got in line to get a fresh cup of coffee to go.

~ * ~

Even with my stop for coffee and the morning traffic, I was still in the office at least thirty minutes before Joanie came in.  She put her purse on her desk, gathered her notebook and coffee cup and made her way into my office.  She closed my door and quietly took her seat across from my desk.  This wasn’t unusual, we traditionally started each morning with a brief meeting to cover the day’s calendar and event schedule.

She took a sip of her coffee, eyeing me carefully before speaking.  “Claudia knows you’re still mad at her, but she’d like you to call her.”  I nodded but didn’t look up from what I was writing.  “How’s your hand?  Do you need me to make you an appointment with a doctor to have it looked at?”

I dropped my pen and raised my eyes to meet Joanie’s.  “My hand is fine, thank you.  I know you’re trying to help and you’re caught in the middle, but I need time to get over this.  I’ll call Claudia a little later and we’ll hash it out.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t say anything, but don’t you think you’re overreacting just a bit?”

“No, I don’t.  How can you say that?  She offered me up to fake date a Senator just so he can run for President.  Wouldn’t it bother you if she had suggested you for the job?  It’s like she’s pimping me out.”

“Stop it, Greer.  I think she’s thinking of what a great opportunity it would be for you.  You’d be in the spotlight.  And don’t you think if you were dating a Presidential candidate that Preston would have to remove you from the lobbying team?  Wouldn’t it be a conflict of interest to have a potential First Lady being a lobbyist?”  Joanie could not hold back a smile.

As much as I hated to admit it, she might have a point.  However, I didn’t feel comfortable using Senator Evans to advance my career.  And I began to wonder if part of his issue was the idea of using someone to advance his as well.  

“Greer is the real issue that she offered you up for this sort of ruse or because she offered you up to Senator Evans?”

I didn’t know how to answer that question. Maybe I was angry at both, maybe I was angrier that it was Evans.  Hell, would I have been more open if it had been anyone else?  Before I could answer Joanie’s question, the private line on my desk began to ring.  I reached over and answered it.

“Look, I know you’re still mad at me, but I was hoping you might be willing to come to a meeting this morning.” Claudia was speaking fast as if she was afraid that I might hang up on her and she needed to get out what she needed to say before I did.

“What kind of meeting?”

Claudia let out a deep sigh.  “Last night, after he got home, Senator Evans reached out to Lance Bishop and apologized for storming out of the meeting.  He said he’d be willing to meet again and revisit the discussion regarding the relationship situation and the Presidential run.  We would like for you to join the meeting.”

I remained quiet and let her words sink in.  He was willing to consider it and she wanted me there.  What did this all mean?  “I’m assuming you want me there because if he agrees to move forward you want to finalize an agreement?”

“Greer, I know you don’t want to do this, but I wish you would consider it.  It could be mutually beneficial to the two of you and it should at least be worthy of a discussion.  The meeting is at the Senator’s home so we’d be out of the public view.  We’re meeting at ten and I can send a car for you if you are willing to attend.”

Part of me was screaming not to do this, but the other part was ready to give in.  I was curious and the idea that she said she could make it mutually beneficial was intriguing to me. “Fine, I’ll go to the meeting.  But understand I’m not making you any promises.”

“I’ll send a car to the office to pick you up around 9:30.”

“No, I’m heading home in a few minutes just send the vehicle to the apartment.” Without saying goodbye, I hung up the phone.  As I placed the handset on the cradle, I noticed that Joanie was eyeing me warily.  “What?”

“You’re going home?  And just who did you agree to meet with?”

“I’ve agreed to meet with Senator Evans.  Claudia said he apologized for storming out of the meeting last night and would like to revisit the discussion.  They want me there at the meeting.”  I turned my chair from Joanie and stared out the window behind my desk.  “I realize I’m an idiot. I’m more curious than anything and I just think I need to be there.  Besides what the worst thing that could happen?”

~ * ~

Joanie and I finished our meeting and she cleared my calendar for the remainder of the day.  I told her that if anyone was looking for me to tell them I was doing preliminary research on Briarwood.  It would provide cover for me to be out of the office and wouldn’t raise suspicions.  I then left the office and went home so I could change clothes.  

I had worn a very conservative navy blue suit to work with a fire red scarf.  It was a beautiful outfit and I received compliments on it each time I wore it.  However, fire red is the color of passion and it was not appropriate for my meeting with the Senator.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m passionate about my dignity and the desire to not be made a fool of.  But I did not want anyone to misread the color and think it meant I had a passion for the Senator.

I elected to change into a brown sleeveless dress with a linen white blazer and matching pumps.  This outfit gave the impression that I meant business.  There was no secret message in the color scheme yet I looked dignified.  I left my hair down, letting it cascade over my shoulders.  I had only worn a light dusting of makeup to work and I touched it up but did not go overboard.  I wanted a natural look and did not want to appear that I was trying to impress anyone in the meeting.  Besides, I knew that the meeting might get testy and I might get a little hot under the collar.  If I was wearing too much makeup, it might melt and I didn’t want to look too frightening.

I chose to wait for the car downstairs.  I knew if I gave Claudia an opportunity to come inside to get me, she would have the chance to criticize my clothes and tell me to change.  I wanted to minimize that risk.   To my surprise, when I stepped into the car, she complimented my outfit.  Neither of us said another word on the drive to the Senator’s home.  We were both biting our tongues, afraid of saying something that could lead to a fight and make this entire situation more awkward.

I stared out the window the entire drive but never comprehended where we were driving.  Suddenly, the car was coming to a stop and I realized we were in front of an elegant row of townhomes.  The driver came around and opened the door, allowing for us to step out of the backseat.  I looked up and noticed two gentlemen standing on the top step of one of the townhomes.  They were apparently waiting for us.  As Claudia gave instructions to the driver, one of the men descended the stairs and walked in my direction.

The man extended his hand to me and flashed a brilliant smile.  “You must be Ms. Hamilton.  I’m Lance Bishop from the Democratic National Committee.  It is a pleasure to meet you and I’m certainly glad you agreed to join us today.”

My bullshit meter was going off, but I said nothing.  These people were colleagues of Claudia’s and this meeting was important. While I was angry with her, I didn’t want to ruin her career.  I also didn’t want to end the day before it even got started.  Instead, I shook his hand and offered a polite greeting in return.    “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Bishop.”

“That gentleman up there,” he motioned to the top of the steps, “is Tucker Nash.  It will just be the four of us meeting with Senator Evans and his Chief-of-Staff.”

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