The Perfect Candidate – Chapter 13

Senator Chris Evans

I had hoped sending a text message to apologize for my behavior would help to clear my conscience.  Thought it might help ease my mind and allow me to get some sleep.  I was wrong.  I tossed and turned all night.  My brain not shutting off and continuing to run through the absurdity of my walking out of a meeting with the DNC; a meeting where we had discussed my running for President.  Could I have been any more childish?  I think the only thing that saved my ass from public humiliation is the fact that I didn’t make a scene for the other patrons in the restaurant.  They only thought I was leaving my meeting.  They had no idea I was stomping away like a petulant child.  Thank goodness for that because I’m sure I would have been a headline for every tabloid newspaper and website right about now.

I tossed the covers back, deciding that, if I couldn’t sleep, I might as well take a shower and get ready for the day.  I had just turned off the water when my phone began to vibrate across my bathroom counter.  I quickly tied a towel around my waist, not bothering to dry off and stepped toward the counter.  I could see on the screen that I had missed a call from Lance Bishop.  Evidently, he was eager to arrange our follow up meeting since it was just barely 6:00 am.  I quickly hit redial and waited for Lance to pick up the phone.

“I didn’t wake you did I, Senator?”

“No, you didn’t, Lance.  I was in the shower and I couldn’t get to the phone fast enough.  I see you’re starting the day early.  Trying to get me before I change my mind about a meeting?” I spat out the words with a laugh to keep it light, but I couldn’t help that there is a bite to my words.

“Well, to be honest, that thought did cross my mind.  Look, Senator, I know that we caught you off guard last night and we’d like to finish talking to you about our ideas.  Tucker and I have some time and thought you might want to do a breakfast meeting?”  

I could tell that Lance was trying to be conciliatory.  I could do the same.  “Let me check with Patrick to see what my calendar looks like for today.  I’ll call you back in about fifteen minutes.”

Lance agreed and we quickly ended the call.  While I could give in and meet with them, the idea of assembling in a public location had lost its luster.  We had done that last night and I just didn’t feel like doing that again today.  Especially since emotions would be running high.  It would be enough to hold my composure with the two of them, I didn’t want to worry about the eyes in the restaurant being on us.  It’s times like this that I wonder why I even bothered to go into politics.  

I dialed Patrick’s number.  I wasn’t worried about waking him, he was probably in the office already.  His chipper tone, when answering the phone, confirmed that for me.   “Don’t tell me you’re calling in sick today?” he chided.  “You’re late which means you have some sort of hair-brained excuse for not being here.”

I let out a laugh. “No, I’m not calling in sick. Bishop wants to meet this morning.  What’s on the calendar? Is there anything we can skip or move around?”

I could hear Patrick flipping through the pages of his binder.  “It’s your lucky day!  Nothing on the books, it’s just an in-office day for you.  For the record, you’re also clear tomorrow, just in case.”

“I don’t want this going past today, Patrick.  I want to have this meeting and make a decision.” I ran fingers through my damp hair.  “I want this meeting off the radar.  Tell the office staff I’m working from home and then head over here.  I’ll tell Bishop to just come here instead of going out in public.”  

I disconnected the call without giving Patrick an opportunity to respond or argue.  I knew he would argue because I never had meetings or events at the house.  It was a deal I had made with Bitsy when we moved in.  This was our place to get away from everything and I kept it completely separate from my work life.  Before calling Lance back, I quickly dried off and got dressed.  

I called Lance back and launched into my speech before he even had an opportunity to say hello.  “Good news, I was able to clear my calendar.  I have a few things I need to do this morning, so breakfast isn’t going to work.  But we can meet at 10:30 if that will be acceptable to you and Tucker.  However, I’d rather meet at my house so we aren’t on display.”

I was met with silence and I began to wonder if Lance had even answered the phone or if someone else had heard my spiel and just hadn’t had a chance to tell me that Lance wasn’t available.  Finally, I heard him take a deep breath and realized he was most likely strategizing his response.  “That’ll work for us, Senator.  Text me your address and I will inform Tucker and Claudia of the time and location.  We’ll see you at 10:30.”

“Great, I’ll text you the address when we hang up.  If you need anything before the meeting, call Patrick and he’ll assist.”  

I disconnected the call and immediately texted Lance my address.  He said Claudia would be coming, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they would bring Greer.  I should have asked.  However, I think I was afraid of the answer.  I was scared he’d say she’s coming, but equally scared he’d say she wasn’t.

~ * ~

I was standing at the island in the kitchen, drinking my fourth cup of coffee and reading The Washington Post when the front door opened.  I knew it was Patrick because he never knocked and always let himself in.  We had a rule, if he opened the door and the alarm was set, he was to turn around and leave.  It would tip him off that I had a guest in the house and didn’t want to be disturbed.  Although, we never had to worry about that situation as I never brought women home.  Hell, I never went out to put myself in the position to consider bringing a woman home.  

Patrick waltzed into the kitchen with a huge smile on his face.  He was probably thrilled that I was going to have this meeting with Lance and Tucker because he knew it meant I was considering the girlfriend clause.  He was the one who’d told me to have an open mind and give this serious consideration, so I was.  But I could tell that he was going to do all he could today to push my buttons.  I wanted to wipe that smirk off his face and I knew that,  if he pushed too many buttons, we might come to blows over it.  

Just as I expected, he started in the minute he took a seat at the island across from me.  “So, you actually are giving the idea of dating Greer some serious consideration?”  I ignored him and looked back at the newspaper. “Come on, Chris.  Talk to me about this.  What made you change your mind?”

I stepped away from the island and began to pace.  With the amount of coffee I had running through my veins, I felt like a big cat trapped in a cage.  I stopped pacing for just a second and scowled at Patrick.  He grinned back at me.  Motherfucker.  He was actually enjoying this more than I could have imagined.  

“I stand by my original assessment.  I think the issue between the two of you is pent up sexual frustration.  At least kiss her and see if it does anything to cure the issue between the two of you.”  He was trying to remain stoic, but I could see his lip beginning to curl.

There was no way I could argue with him.  He was wrong, but if I told him that he would say I was just denying my feelings.  If I fought too hard, he would say I was arguing too much and there was something to be said about that.  I was in a no-win situation and I knew it.  The problem was, so did he and that put him in the driver’s seat on this.

“I bet they bring her today.  You prepared for that, Chris?”  Patrick was trying to push every single button I had to get a response out of me.  While it should piss me off, I was beginning to think there was another reason behind it.  If I had an outburst now, it was likely that I wouldn’t have one when they’re here.  But I wasn’t taking his bait now and I wouldn’t take any bait later.  “I sure do wish I could have been a fly on the wall when she found out about the proposition.  I would have loved to see her face.  Do you think she was as repulsed by the idea of dating you as you were of dating her?”

I had stepped back to the island and tried to go back to concentrating on the newspaper.  But it wasn’t helping, I couldn’t hold back any longer.  I raised my eyes to his and he could tell I wasn’t playing.  “Can we cut the crap?  I don’t want to do this right now, Patrick.”  I knew he was trying to keep things light and was trying to be funny but I wasn’t feeling it.  “I agree to listen to what they have to say.  I’m curious as to how they think this plan will work.  I’ll do as you asked and keep an open mind, but I’m not convinced that Greer Hamilton is the right candidate for this plan.”

Patrick shook his head and raised his hands to show he was backing off.  If he’d kept pushing, there was no doubt we would have been at each other’s throats by the time Lance’s contingency showed up.  I folded the paper and got my briefcase.  I wanted to get through some Congressional business and get in the right frame of mind.  I needed to do something to keep my mind from obsessing over what could transpire in the next few hours and how I would handle seeing and discussing one Greer Hamilton.

~ * ~

I was on the phone with Senator Andrews.  She had called to discuss a bill she was taking to committee and wanted my opinion.  As a Senator from the opposing party, she wanted to see what kind of fight she might have on her hands and if she had an ally.  While we were talking, I noticed Patrick stand and walk toward the front of the house.  He returned a minute later and mouthed “they’re here.”  My pulse started to quicken and I started to feel a little nauseous.  

While I continued my conversation with Adeline, I fussed with the coffee maker so I could start a fresh pot.  I knew I didn’t need any more caffeine, I was on the verge of an overdose, but I was trying to keep myself busy.  Patrick came back into the kitchen and with a hoarse whisper said, “It’s just Lance and Tucker.  Looks like they are waiting for Claudia before they knock on the door.”

I nodded to let him know I heard him.  It was then that I realized the phone was quiet.  I pulled it away from my ear to see if Adeline had disconnected the call but we were still connected.  “Adeline, are you still there?”

“Yes, I’m here.  I could hear Patrick talking to you and I know you can’t pay attention to two of us at the same time.  What’s going on?  Anything you want to talk about?”

I sighed heavily.  Oh, how I wanted to talk to her about this.  While my parents were alive, and they would be the logical choice to discuss this insane plot, Adeline Andrews was unbiased and could give me a view of the situation that my parents couldn’t.  Plus, she knows Greer.  That was an entirely different level of insight that my parents could never offer.  

“I want to, but I’ve got a meeting that is about to start and I don’t have time to go through it right now.  I could use your opinion though.  I’ll give you a call later if you don’t mind.  For the record, it’s personal not business related.”

Adeline let out a laugh. “Sweetheart, I figured that.  If I were a betting woman, I’d say this conversation you want to have has to do with a woman.”

“I’ll call you later.” I disconnected the call without responding to her comment.  As I continued to move around the kitchen, Patrick came back and leaned against the entryway.

“You’re going to mess up your shirt if you’re not careful,” he scolded.  “For the record, you look too formal.  Take off your tie and unbutton the top button on your shirt.”

I stopped what I was doing and stared over at him.  “Shut up! Why in the world would I want to look casual for a meeting like this?”

“Well, they are coming to your house and maybe it would be nice to show you don’t have a stick up your ass all the time.  You’re always so serious, Chris.  I get it, you have an important job and you have a lot of people to consider when you make a decision.  But loosen up a little.”

I just stared at him.  He’d never told me I was too serious before.  For once, I was flustered.  I didn’t know what to say, so I just came at him with the first thing I could think of.  “Are you just gonna stand here and argue with me or are you going to open the door for our guests?”

“I’ll open the door, but I’m waiting for the girls to arrive.  Trying to be all gallant and proper.”  Patrick turned so that he could look out from the dining room into the living room.  From that vantage point, he could see through the large plate glass window onto the street.

I couldn’t hold back my laughter. I don’t know who he thought he was fooling.  But before I could snap back at him, I heard his breath hitch and he let out a low and breathy, “Wow!”

“What’s going on?”  I wasn’t about to join him and risk being seen.  However, I wanted to know what he was looking at.  He didn’t answer me.  He was inclined to ignore me.  He pushed off the entryway and started walking towards the front door.  It was less than a minute later when I heard the front door open.  

From my place in the kitchen, I could only hear muffled voices.  I was trying to stay back and out of view which also meant I was out of earshot.   I was waiting until everyone was settled in the living room before stepping out to greet them.  I tried telling myself it was because I was doing this on my own terms.  But deep down, I knew it was because I was steeling myself for what I was going to find.  Hearing Patrick gasp cemented one truth for me, Greer Hamilton was here and I wasn’t sure I was ready to face her.

I removed my tie and unbuttoned my top button like Patrick suggested.  It felt weird to be unbuttoned, but I figured I’d at least try for the casual vibe.  I had just finished rolling up my sleeves when I stepped into the living room. I looked up and it felt like all of the oxygen had immediately been sucked out of the room.  All eyes were on me and I knew I had to divert my attention.  To quickly cover, I stuttered out something about the fact I had made coffee.  

Without being too obvious about it, I stole a glance at Greer.  She was in a simple dress and jacket, nothing fancy, but she wore it so well.  I don’t think I’d ever paid much attention to her body before and, now, I couldn’t look away.  Her hair was loose, unlike most of the time when I saw her and she had it in an updo of some sort.  I think Patrick realized I was staring and was afraid it might get awkward.  So he drew attention to himself and offered to bring in the coffee for us while everyone got settled.  I’d have to thank him for that later.  

I took a deep breath, I couldn’t lose control.  I needed to be in charge and pulled together; I couldn’t show fear of any kind.  Especially not in the face of the enemy.  Right now, I had to consider that everyone in this room was my enemy.  If this meeting didn’t go well, Claudia could ruin me.  She was in media and public relations and what she’d witnessed these last two days would be ammunition that she could use against me.  I definitely didn’t want Tucker and Lance as enemies; they could ruin me on an entirely different level.  Suddenly, I could feel my body temperature rise and knew I’d be sweating in a minute.  Suddenly, I remembered that old commercial, never let them see you sweat.  Crap, this was going to be a long day.

As I sat down and glanced around the room, I realized Greer was seated at the opposite end of the room from where I was seated.  I took this to mean she wasn’t overly excited about being here.  I decided not to dwell on that and instead cleared my throat to speak.  “First, let me apologize for my abrupt departure last evening.  The discussion of my marital status and suggestion of an arranged relationship took me by surprise.  I’ll admit, I could have handled the situation better and maintained my composure.  So, I’m sorry.”

Patrick had impeccable timing.  He walked into the room at the end of my apology and set the tray with the coffee carafe and mugs down on the table in front of me.  I purposely avoided looking in Greer’s direction.  I did notice, however, that Tucker Nash was watching me closely.  I had a feeling he wasn’t buying what I was selling at the moment.  The joke was on him, I wasn’t selling anything.  For once I was sincere.  I was legitimately sorry for walking out like I did last night.  If only because it was unprofessional and it had made me look like a complete horse’s ass.  I admit I have a temper and there are times I let it get the best of me.  Last night was one of those times and, if I hadn’t shown remorse and atone for the crap I had pulled, it could hurt my political future.  It didn’t matter if I ran for President or not.  My actions could hurt me in future reelection campaigns and I needed to take that into consideration.  My apology was rooted in protecting my political reputation.  

As Tucker reached for a cup of coffee, he spoke.  But to my surprise, he didn’t chastise me for my actions.  Instead, he made it clear they were not going to back down from their position.  They wanted me to run for President and they thought my best shot at winning was to run as a candidate who was in a relationship.  He was adamant that it would give me broader appeal and make me a more solid candidate.  I don’t know if I believed that, but I do know he has a valid point about my bachelor status getting the wrong kind of attention.

On more than one occasion, I’d been approached to take part in one of those yearly magazine lists.  The one for beautiful people or most eligible bachelors.  I’ve always politely refused.  While it would have brought some attention to the causes I like to fight for, it was also a moniker that never left you.  I didn’t want to be known strictly because someone thought I was attractive.  I have a much broader agenda and work with issues that are more important than how pretty someone was on the outside.  

I just couldn’t get past the idea, though,  that people would see through this farce.  How did they seriously think they could set me up with someone and have it not look contrived?  I mean, some of what he was blabbering on about made complete sense.  But I couldn’t rationalize all of it.  When I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer, I said, “I can’t help but think it will look off if I’m suddenly dating when I announce I’m running for President.  Don’t you think everyone will see through the charade?”

I figured I was making a valid point.  I had not dated or even been seen with a woman socially since Bitsy had died.  I had never even considered dating.  Don’t misunderstand, I have a healthy appreciation for beautiful women and I’m fine with admiring them from afar, but in my heart, I was still married.  Sure, it sounds sappy and romantic and all of those cliches but it was true.  I’d had a connection with Bitsy and I was convinced that I’d never find that with anyone else.  Patrick has told me I’m insane.  And that it was highly probable there was a woman out there who was the ideal woman for me, but I was wasting away pining over my dead wife.  Of course, it seemed so weird to hear him say those things when said wife was his sister.

Patrick had told me when I’d started dating his sister that, while we’d seemed like the perfect couple, he hadn’t thought we were.  He’d always thought we loved one another, but that there was just some spark that was missing between the two of us.  He said he couldn’t quantify it but he’d just felt it.  Patrick had only shared his feelings with me.  Bitsy never knew of Patrick’s concerns – not while we were dating, not before we got married, and obviously not before she died.

While I was getting lost in my memories, Claudia Hightower asked if she could speak.  The woman was bright and articulate and which left me trying to determine if she was fighting for the overall concept or if there was something else I was not seeing.  She started talking about having the relationship grow organically.  How Greer and myself would need to be seen around town well before any type of announcement is made.  Her thought was that if it looks natural it wouldn’t be a shock to hear that I was dating.   So, in other words, we would need to put on a dog and pony show.  

I asked the presumptive question, “I’m assuming my girlfriend would be at this announcement?”  I was referring to the announcement about my run for President.

Claudia nodded and confirmed the girlfriend’s presence at the announcement, but not on the podium.  The plan would be for her to be seen at such a high profile event and for the chatter to increase.  If I’d been seen around town with her and then she was at the announcement of my candidacy, it would garner more attention and people would talk. While it was unspoken, I assume they believe if I was a topic of political talk and gossip it was not a bad thing.  Everyone knows there’s no such thing as bad press.

What they were all missing was how uncomfortable that would be for me.  I don’t want to be the center of attention and I was sure the woman that they roped into playing this role wasn’t looking for it either.  Because if she was, then she was definitely not the right person for me to be involved with.  Fake relationship or not.  

I started to fidget.  My legs had gone numb and I needed to get up and walk.  As I stood, I tried to reconcile everything that was being said versus what I had built up in my mind going into this meeting.  As much as I would hate to admit it, they had a solid plan and what they were suggesting made sense.  By not forcing the situation and letting it evolve, it would seem more natural and would not set off alarm bells as being a manufactured romance.  I begin to pace behind the two accent chairs; going from the hallway to the outer wall and back.  With each pass toward the outer wall, I would take an opportunity to look at Greer.  She had done all she could to blend into the background today and had not uttered a sound.  The thing was, I wanted to know what was going through her mind.

I figured the best way to find out was to pull her directly into the conversation.  I moved around the chairs and walked directly to where she was seated on the couch.  I stopped in front of her.  I was not close enough for her to kick me or bump into me when she stood.  But I was close enough that she’d have to crane her head to look me in the eyes.  I decided to do what I did best when I was in the presence of Greer Hamilton, I became confrontational.  Looking down at her, I said  “I’m not convinced she’s the right person for this role.  Why exactly did you select her?”

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