Joanie’s question about why I would go back to Chris’s house following our encounter in the park was not an easy one to answer. Frankly, I wasn’t even sure I could even speak. It felt like the words were stuck in my throat. In actuality, it was probably just my dinner because I had taken a bite when she started to ask her question and it didn’t want to go down. I felt as if I was about to choke. I quickly reached for my wine glass, taking a sip in the hopes it would lubricate the food and allow me to swallow. This simple act also provided an opportunity for me to formulate an appropriate response. How exactly would I explain all the thoughts that had been running around in my head last night?
Suddenly, I was no longer hungry. I sat my wine glass down and gently pushed my plate back before crossing my arms and leaning forward on the table. “When I got back to the house yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t stop the feelings of guilt. Guilt for snapping at everyone. Guilt for my verbal combat with Chris at his house in a room full of people. Guilt for arguing with you, Claudia, and then walking out of Chris’s house.” I took a deep breath, noticing Claudia and Joanie were no longer eating, but instead watching me and hanging on my every word.
“When Chris found me in the park, I got a little high and mighty with him. I shouldn’t have exchanged heated words with a Senator in a public park. Now that I think about it, I’m lucky no one was around to record it and put it on YouTube. That could have been disastrous for both of us. All of that to say my brain wouldn’t shut off and I realized I had to apologize to him. I was hateful and rude, that’s just not me. Yeah, I mean, I can be difficult sometimes, but I’m not that person. I didn’t like who had been, it was eating at me.”
I waited to see if either friend would come to my defense; however, they remained silent and just stared at me. I glanced down and noticed my wine glass was empty. I had to have some more liquid courage to continue. I pushed my chair back and stood up before walked around the counter into the kitchen. I grabbed a fresh bottle of wine from the refrigerator, along with the half-empty bottle from the counter before returning the table.
After refilling my glass, and offering more to Joanie and Claudia, I sat back down to finish my story. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to relax or even go to sleep if I didn’t try to fix what had transpired. So, I changed my clothes and called an Uber to take me back to the Senator’s house. I didn’t want to apologize over the phone, I felt I had to do it in person to have it mean something. But I honestly thought Lance and Tucker, or even Patrick, would still be there. I was actually hoping they would be there so I’d have a witness for my apology.”
“Instead, I got to his house and thought no one was even there. The place was dark, no lights at all, but I still knocked on the door. And I was about to leave when the porch light came on and he opened the door.” I took a hefty drink from my wine glass because of what I was about to admit. “He was standing in front of me, dressed casually. His shirt was hanging out of his pants and he had another button undone. I swear I thought I’d caught him in the act. That’s when I knew I was in trouble because he looked…amazing.”
“Holy hell, that would have been an interesting story, to say the least,” Joanie commented.
“I’m surprised he opened the door,” Claudia remarked, but she didn’t stop there. “Actually, he probably shouldn’t have answered. He had no idea who might have been out there or what they could have done to him. I mean, I know you wouldn’t have killed him, but he didn’t know that.”
I rolled my eyes at Claudia. “I’m pretty sure he realized it was me the minute he turned the porch light on.” I couldn’t hide the biting sarcasm in my voice. I probably should have tapered my tone, but I wasn’t going to feel guilty about it. “Anyway, he invited me in and we sat down to talk about everything. I told him I was there to apologize for my behavior, he accepted it, then we had a nice conversation about a variety of topics. We hashed a few things out and I’m glad I went.”
“Right, you said that already,” Claudia snipped. Evidently, we were going to go snap-for-snap. “So, give us the details, because I know you’re leaving things out.”
I gave her credit for being tenacious. Even if we were going to launch barbs at one another, she wanted to hear every piece of the story. I couldn’t be sure if her questions were because she was interested or because she was hoping to catch me in a lie. I just couldn’t let her play mind games with me or be in my head. I pushed forward and hoped that everything would come out the right way.
“Fine, we sat in the living room discussing the sore spots from the meeting with the DNC guys…the arranged relationship idea. I decided to be bold enough to ask if he was opposed to the idea because I was the suggested girlfriend or was he just against the idea as a whole. He admitted he was opposed to the idea of a fake relationship in general because he didn’t want to lie to get elected.” I sat up straighter in my chair and kept my chin up. I was nervous about revealing some of the more intimate details of my conversation with Chris. I knew I had to go down this path, but it didn’t mean I was comfortable with it. “Chris doesn’t understand why he has to be in a relationship to get votes. He would rather get elected based on his platform not because he is or is not married. But to be fair, Chris did admit that he’s not completely over his wife’s death. Patrick has told him he needs to move on, but he’s not ready. While he didn’t come out and say the words, I think he feels like he’s cheating or disrespecting Elizabeth if he moves on.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Claudia exclaimed. “How many men just move on after their wives die? How many years has she been gone now?”
I elected not to reply to Claudia’s comments or question. I knew she’d never had to deal with the loss of a loved one, so she was not familiar with the void that was left in your life. For her to just dismiss the feelings that Chris had over Elizabeth’s death was rude. However, I chose not calling her out on it because I didn’t want this to blow up. She wouldn’t change her mind off anything I said anyway.
Joanie took a sip of her wine and cocked her head at me. “So, he has feelings for you, but he still has feelings for his wife?”
“At this point in the conversation, he hasn’t ever said he had feelings for me, Joanie.”
“No, maybe not, but the two of you can’t deny you have chemistry! You’ve been crushing on him for months and I’m sure that’s why he’s so combative with you. There’s a fine line between love and hate and you two have been dancing on it for a while.”
“I think you’re a little premature for the ‘L’ word. But yeah, as the conversation progressed we admitted we have feelings for one another. But keep in mind those feelings have been distaste and anger, not necessarily lust. Remember, he’s been against me politically, so even if he had positive feelings for me, he would never have acted on them.” I reached for my glass of wine and then sat back in my chair and relaxed. Everything I was relaying so far was true, there was no deception. If I were relaxed and appeared relaxed to my friends, then I would be more believable as the night went on. “As Chris and I talked, we realized we had more in common than we both realized. It finally dawned on him that I’m a lobbyist by trade and not because I’m passionate about it. I told him the truth about Preston moving me to the department and not letting me pursue my career in litigation. I just let my guard down with him.
“I let Chris know that while he had an aversion to the idea of dating to secure votes, he should give it careful consideration because he would be a wonderful candidate for President. But I made it clear that he shouldn’t pick someone the DNC wanted. No, he should pick someone he was comfortable with so the relationship would appear natural and not staged. Plus, if he already knew the person he wouldn’t have to worry about their motives because that could bite him in the ass in the future.” I leaned forward to place my wine glass back on the table before relaxing back into my chair. “At that point, we dropped the conversation and went into the kitchen and fixed dinner and then just continued to talk. It was refreshing. I mean, we got to know one another, but the dynamic between us was as if we’d been friends for years.”
“When exactly did it come up that you two would date?” Claudia asked, eyeing me suspiciously.
“When I was getting ready to leave, he told me that I was right about the dating thing. He told me that maybe it was time to move on and try something new and if it worked out for a Presidential run it would be a bonus. I told him that was great news and I was happy he was going to try to move forward. Then he leaned forward and whispered in my ear that he’d like to know if I’d consider going out with him.”
“Oh my God!” Joanie exclaimed, her screams reverberating off the walls. “That is so damn romantic, don’t you think so, Claudia?”
Claudia did not seem moved. “Yeah, really romantic.” The tone of her voice let me know she wasn’t buying it.
“Ok, so maybe I jumped ahead and wrapped it in a bow, but yeah. I think we both realized after spending the evening together that we’re comfortable around each other. The posturing on the Hill is just that. You said it yourself, there’s a chemistry there and our being together with no one else around and with no expectations showed us that.”
“So, if you jumped ahead why not give us more details?”
“I’m not going to give you the rundown of four hours or so of conversation. I can’t recite to you every piece of dialogue, and honestly, you don’t want to hear it. He told me about his parents, I told him about mine. We talked about my job and why I hate being a lobbyist. He told me I should consider changing firms, I shared my fears that I’d be ostracized. As you can see, we covered a variety of topics and conversations. I’ll be the first to admit Senator Chris Evans is nothing like the man I had built up in my mind. I’ve thought all these horrible things about him after our confrontations over legislation, but he’s just passionate about his causes, that’s why he fights so hard. I found him to be charming and funny and I found that I like him, more than I ever thought I would.”
“If the two of you like one another why didn’t you just stick to the agreement? I just don’t see why you felt the need to ditch what would have been an ideal setup.” I could sense that Claudia doubted my story. Her tone didn’t convey it as much as her words.
My senses were on high alert, I needed to tread carefully. But Claudia was making me angry, I didn’t know if this was a test or if she really felt this way. My posture tensed as I sat forward and fixed my gaze on her. “I was not about to enter into an agreement that would make me a paid escort at best and a whore at worst. Selling myself for money just to help someone get elected didn’t sit well with me and if you can’t understand that maybe we aren’t as good of friends as I thought. I told you, we found we liked one another and if he was going to dip his toe into the dating pool again he wanted to do it honestly. He had no interest in lying to get elected. So, we like one another and we agreed to start seeing each other knowing that he was moving toward running and I had to be accepting of that. If it works, it works. If not, well at least the voters know he was not sitting at home all the time mourning what he’d lost.”
Neither Joanie nor Claudia had a response. They both just watched me and seemed to scrutinize every move I made and every twitch in body language. My voice had steadily risen in volume as I’d talked and I knew they might see that as me trying to convince them of a lie. In all honesty, I had given them an accurate portrayal of my evening with Chris. We’d had dinner and we had spoken at length about our backgrounds. I just didn’t want to share that we’d agreed to do this so he could get elected and I could get out of working for Preston Miller. We each had an agenda and it would be mutually beneficial for both of us. Chris would help me when it came to being on the campaign trail and covering my costs. We’d decided that I’d move into his place when the time came for me to be on the campaign trail full time. That would give everyone the impression that our relationship had been elevated to a more serious level.
As it stood right now, I didn’t have that many expenses to cover. I had my rent and a car but only a single credit card with a hefty balance. My focus would be to pay the card down and to pay off the car while squirreling away as much money as I could. He’d help me out with money as things moved along, but we would present a united front to everyone, including friends and family, that this relationship was one hundred percent real.
Tonight was a major test, however. If I could not get my friends to believe this story then there was no way it would pass the sniff test on a grand scale. The silence in the room was starting to scare me. “Why aren’t the two of you saying anything?” I finally mustered up the courage to ask.
Claudia reached for her wine and sat back in her chair. She kept staring at me before she finally broke the silence, “I never thought I’d see the day when you’d actually date a politician. I mean, when you moved to DC, you kept complaining about how hard it was to date because everyone was in politics or wanted to be in politics and you wanted no part of that life. But I’ll admit that I see the light in your eyes when you talk about the Senator. And the chemistry between the two of you yesterday was off the charts.” Claudia leaned forward and raised her glass. “A toast to Greer and Senator Evans, may you find all the love and happiness you deserve. I’m sure one day we’ll be doing a toast like this at the White House and laughing as to how it all started.”
Joanie and I raised our glass and joined Claudia in saying, “Cheers!”
~ * ~
I stood outside The Capital Grille and took a deep breath before I opened the door to enter the restaurant. For some reason, I was more nervous for this lunch than I had been when I’d gone to Chris’s house two nights earlier. I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that walking in this door would mean that my relationship with a U.S. Senator would be going public. He’d been in my office to see me and I knew that several people there had already been gossiping about it. To be seen in public with him now would get even more people in town talking. I wasn’t sure if I could pull off the acting job of a lifetime, but I was about to find out. I held my head up, pulled my shoulders back and opened the doors, approaching the hostess stand to announce myself.
“Hello, I’m meeting Senator Evans for lunch, has he arrived?” I kept my voice even and without inflection, trying not to sound nervous.
“You must be Ms. Hamilton. Yes, the Senator has been anticipating your arrival.” The young woman, who was amazingly formal, led me through the crowded dining room towards the back corner.
I took a moment to appreciate the view. Chris was seated at a small, intimate table with his head down reviewing what appeared to be an opened file folder. He was dressed in his trademark blue suit. I would almost swear he wore blue just to make his eyes stand out more. Today, however, he wore a lavender shirt with a dark purple tie; not a combination I would have expected but he did look divine. His dark blonde hair was swept back, gelled and held perfectly in place. He glanced up noticing that I was walking toward him and a smile broke out across his handsome face. He gently closed the file folder and pushed himself away from the table so he could stand to greet me.
Chris placed his hands on my shoulders, leaning forward to kiss my cheek. He kept the kiss chaste and professional since we were in a crowded space with so many watchful eyes. “Hi, Greer, how are you?” Chris nodded in the direction of the hostess and she turned to leave us alone. Being a gentleman, Chris pulled my chair out and offered me a seat. “I hope you don’t mind, I ordered you a glass of tea. I didn’t think wine would be ideal for lunch.”
“That’s fine, thank you.” I slowly crossed my legs and then leaned forward at the table while Chris was taking his seat. I whispered softly, “Tell me, are you as nervous as I am?”
He let out a light, melodic chuckle. “Yeah, you could say that. This is intimidating, I feel out of sorts. I’ll admit, it’s been years since I dated.”
“Same for me, so I guess we’re muddling through this together.”
“I guess we are. Tell me, how did things go with Joanie and Claudia last night? Was it as painful as you feared?”
I sat back in my chair and allowed myself to relax. No sense it being uptight since I was sitting across from a man who I was trying to convince people I was dating. If I looked apprehensive or frightened, it would entirely kill what we were trying to accomplish. “It went well. I’m fairly confident that they bought the story I told.”
Chris gave me a curious look. “Only fairly certain? Why not commit completely to your certainty?”
Now it was my turn to laugh. “Joanie believed me, in fact, she was mesmerized by the entire story. She told me it was just a matter of time before this happened. But Claudia, she’s the wildcard; she took in everything with a heavy dose of curiosity and skepticism. She dropped a few snarky remarks here and there, but in the end, I think she bought into it. I guess we’ll see.” I leaned forward to pick up my tea glass and take a sip. As I sat the glass back down, I licked my lips and I could almost swear I saw Chris squirm in his seat. “I told them we decided to date. Told them we talked for hours and found we had some things in common and we felt comfortable with each other.”
“You know that’s not a lie? Everything you just said was true, or at least it’s the truth I know.”
Before I could respond, our waiter appeared to take our order. Chris elected to order for both of us, although I came close, I didn’t raise an objection. I hated it when men tried to exert themselves over their date and order on their behalf. I knew some women saw it as romantic, but I saw it as dominating and overbearing. The only reason I didn’t speak up was that Chris ended up getting my order correct. It was as if he could look at me and automatically know what I would order.
As the waiter left, Chris leaned forward with his elbows on the table. “Sorry, that wasn’t very nice of me, was it? Are you gonna yell at me now?” Then he winked. The bastard winked and looked so damn smug; he was almost too good looking for words.
I forced myself not to smile in return. “No, I didn’t like that you asserted yourself in that manner. However, since you got the order right I’m not gonna yell at you.” I returned his wink and enjoyed seeing the smile cross his features. It really was hard to stay angry with a man who looked as good as Chris did. In fact, it was damn near impossible. “And to answer your earlier point, yes, it is true that the majority of what I said to them was accurate. However, I obviously had to retell history to fit our narrative. I couldn’t tell them that we aren’t real but just doing what we need to get our desired results.”
Chris reached for his glass and took a sip. This time I was left to ogle at the way his lips graced the side of the glass. I watched his Adam’s apple as he swallowed and how he bit and licked his lips once he set his glass back down. Suddenly, I was feeling flushed.
I cleared my throat before I could speak. “I just need to be careful around Claudia. We had lunch the other day, the same night she had dinner with you and she called me out for potentially having feelings for you. I denied it and now two days later we’re dating. I think it’s only logical she’d be questioning the entire scenario. But I stuck with the narrative we put together so if she talks to Lance or Tucker everything should remain seamless.”
Lunch was served and the conversation between the two of us came easily. We made the conscious decision to not talk about work. Instead, we focused on one another and how we fit together. The more Chris spoke, the more I found myself drawn to him. He was charismatic and it was apparent that he’d make an excellent Presidential candidate. I just had to hope I didn’t do anything to derail the campaign before it even left the station. When the waiter appeared with the little black leatherette that held the bill for lunch, Chris quickly nabbed it and presented it back to the waiter with his credit card.
The look on my face said it all. So, Chris leaned forward and responded before I could say anything. “Don’t be mad. We are supposed to convince people we’re together and dating, right? So, it wouldn’t look good if I made my girlfriend pay for lunch, now would it?” I could feel my cheeks begin to blush with his words. He had a valid point and I couldn’t argue with him. “Now, what time do you want me to pick you up for dinner?”
Now it was my turn to smile. “Senator, I don’t think I agreed to have dinner with you this evening.” My tone was flirty and light and he knew I was playing with him.
Chris placed his hand on his chest. “You wound me, Greer.” Chris then reached across the table for my hand. “I sort of thought we could do something a little different tonight, that is, if you’re up for it.”
“Different, how?” I was intrigued, to say the least.
“Oh, I’m not gonna tell you until after you agree to go out with me.”
I let out an exasperated huff as if I was over this game and aggravated with him. Actually, my heart was beating as fast as hummingbird wings and I thought it might flutter out of my chest. “Ok, fine, I guess I’ll go out with you.” I then let out a laugh so he knew that I was still flirty.
“Fantastic,” Chris said as his face lit up. “I’ll pick you up at your place at 6:30, so text me your address.”
Before I could say anything to him, the waiter reappeared with Chris’s receipt and credit card. He made quick work of signing his name and then pushing away from the table. As he stood by my chair, he proffered his hand to assist me with standing. When I placed my hand in his I could feel the electricity jolt between us. He laced his fingers with mine and began leading me out of the restaurant. I didn’t need to look around, I could feel the eyes of the other restaurant patrons on us as we made our way through the dining room.
We broke through the doors of the restaurant and onto the sidewalk, Chris still held my hand in his. We were standing side by side and he turned his head and kissed my temple. “Thanks for lunch, I’ll see you tonight. Don’t forget to text me your address.”
Chris released my hand and I suddenly felt the void of his touch. I ached to feel him again and I knew this meant I was in trouble. As Chris took a few steps from me, I yelled at him, “You didn’t tell me what we’re going to do tonight.”
Chris turned to look and me and started to laugh. “I’d rather you think about it all day long. But dress casual tonight, Greer, this won’t be a fancy dinner date.”