The question from Adeline had taken me by surprise: “Do you want to fall in love with her?” I didn’t know how I was supposed to answer. I knew I could be honest with her about my feelings; however, I wasn’t sure I could be honest with myself and that was the real problem. It took some time to coherently form a sentence and let the words tumble from my mouth.
“I think I’m open to it. Shit, that’s the first time I’ve admitted that.” I felt like an idiot because I’d said those words out loud, but when I looked at Adeline, well, her face was all lit up like she was proud. “Fine, I’ll admit that I wouldn’t mind if the fake relationship went somewhere. I don’t feel good about saying it.”
“You mean it makes you feel like you’re betraying Elizabeth?”
“Yes, and that was one of the reasons I didn’t want to do this fake relationship in the first place.”
“You’re not betraying her and I think you know that. Quit being a martyr and actually let yourself be happy.”
“That’s all well and good but Greer has said she’s in this for herself. She thinks I’d make a great President, but I don’t think she’s going to develop feelings for me.”
“You don’t know that. She might already have feelings and that’s why it was important for her to apologize to you.” I didn’t respond, I only shrugged. Adeline had a point and, honestly, I’d never even considered that reason. “If you were to get elected, would she move into the White House with you? I mean, have you given any consideration for what it would mean for your fake relationship if you become President?”
“We haven’t discussed it. I’ve got no idea what would happen.”
~ * ~
My head was full of mixed emotions when I left Senator Andrews to make my way back to my own office. Mary, the office assistant for Senator Andrews who was also Patrick’s girlfriend, had let my office know where I was. I hadn’t bothered, therefore, to keep the ringer volume up on my phone while I had been with Adeline. After all, if Patrick needed me, he could call Mary. Since we hadn’t been interrupted, I had no idea anything was wrong. However, when I walked into my office, I was struck with the reality that all hell had broken loose. My office staff was in an all-out-frenzy. I’d barely made it through the door before Patrick came rushing toward me with notes waving in the air. As if everyone wanted to see my response, all activity in the office stopped and I could feel their eyes on me.
Patrick began barking, “Why didn’t you answer your damn phone?”
“I was talking with Senator Andrews and had the ringer on low. What’s with the tone?”
“You’re the hottest topic in DC right now and you’re just off visiting with Senator Andrews? Jesus, Chris.” The sarcasm and disdain were dripping from his words.
“Uh, you want to take down your attitude, Patrick? Your girlfriend called to tell you where I was. If you needed me so damn bad, you could have called her to pull me out of the meeting.” I would admonish him later for the way he was speaking to me in front of the office staff, but, for now, I wanted to get to the bottom of what was firing him up.
“Yeah, well it didn’t work. Mary said she interrupted you once and wasn’t doing it again unless it was an emergency.”
“Well, there you go. If you thought it was an emergency you’d have told her to get me or you’d have come down there yourself.”
I could tell Patrick was about to fire back at me, so I put my hand on his shoulder and directed him towards my private office. I wasn’t about to let our argument continue to be on display to the entire office. No, our arguments usually got personal and ugly, I didn’t need that in the gossip mill. It’d be better to get him behind closed doors and get to the bottom of this in private. As soon as I closed the door, Patrick pounced.
“When exactly did you plan on telling me you’re dating Greer Hamilton? I mean, I get that you’re private, but for God’s sake I’m your Chief of Staff and I’ve got to hear about it as gossip circulating through the building? Oh, and don’t even get me started about the blind item outing you on the DC Scene blog. Jesus, Chris, I thought you’d be smarter than this.”
“A blind item and office gossip? You’re in a tizzy over gossip? What are you, twelve?” I pushed past Patrick, walking toward my desk. I needed to keep my back to him so I didn’t let him know his words made me nervous. Patrick had a tendency to get wound up over the slightest things. Then again, as my Chief of Staff, it was his job to defend me when things went sideways.
I heard Patrick stomp towards the couch, and lower himself to take a seat. I could then hear the shuffling of paperwork. I turned around to lean against the edge of my desk. In an effort not look worried, I used my arms to prop myself up and crossed my legs at the ankle. I figured the casual look would diffuse some of the conversation; it didn’t.
Patrick produced a piece of paper and began waving it. He then spoke, “I printed this from the website. ‘I spy a socially reclusive Senator eating lunch with an up-and-coming power lobbyist. The two seemed very friendly at their table, but the locked hands as they were leaving gave away that something else was happening. If you want more proof, how about the kiss he gave her on the sidewalk. So, Senator, has all the fire-breathing just been foreplay?’” Patrick tossed the paper onto the couch next to him. He leveled his gaze at me, daring me to speak.
I blanched, there was no doubt that blind item was referring to me. I’d needed to be seen in public with Greer, but I’d had no idea it would get this type of salacious attention. Socially reclusive? Fuck, I needed to call the DNC. Did they have any indication in their research that things would blow up like this? Maybe the two of us doing this on our own was a bad idea. Maybe we’d need PR to help keep this type of thing out of the media.
“Chris? Have you been paying attention to anything I’ve been saying? You’ve got this far off look in your eyes and I can’t get a read on you.” I snapped my attention back to Patrick. “Look, I get it. I don’t blame you if you’ve decided to go down the path the DNC talked about, but what happened to being subtle?”
“I’m not following the path outlined by the DNC,” I offered quietly; waiting for the information to sink in. I could tell my announcement had taken Patrick by surprise. “Don’t get me wrong, subtle was the plan, but I was in the moment and it felt right.” That wasn’t a lie. I had felt compelled to do it and I wouldn’t apologize for it.
“Wait, what? Are you telling me you’re actually dating her?” Patrick tossed his notebook with frustration; it landed at the opposite end of the couch with a soft thud. “What happened to only feeling disdain for her and her politics? When did that change? And why in the hell didn’t you tell me your feelings changed?”
I shifted my weight and moved to cross my arms across my chest. I bowed my head, not wanting to make eye contact with Patrick. When he was this angry and frustrated, it was best to let him rant and rave. It was only safe to begin speaking when the tide of anger began to ebb. I could tell, from the corner of my eye, that he’d sat forward and placed his head in his hands. He was almost ready to hear my response.
“Patrick, I told you I was going to lunch with Greer. I’d been honest about that,” I offered as some sort of pathetic appeasement.
“Yeah, lunch with a lobbyist that could easily be perceived as work. Not ‘I’m going to put on a public display of affection to claim a girl as mine.’ What were you thinking?” He was exasperated at this point.
“I was on my way to talk to you about it when I was approached by Senator Andrews. I’d had no idea it would blow up in the time I was in her office.” That was true, I’d not even considered this firestorm could happen.
“When did you decide to date her? Did that happen at lunch?”
“No.” I was afraid to even admit this next part. “She came by the house the other night after you’d left. She’d wanted to apologize for her actions. We started talking and realized we were more alike than different. She isn’t as horrible as I’d had her built up in my mind.” I had to smile at that revelation. I looked up and made eye contact with Patrick, guessing he was ready to face me. “We’d had objections to the plan the DNC put in place but realized that dating might not be a bad idea. We like one another and thought we’d start seeing each other to see if it goes anywhere. This isn’t for publicity, Patrick, I’m trying to move on.”
Patrick stood up and walked to where I was standing. “I never thought I hear you say you were ready to move on.” Patrick reached out and pulled me towards him into a hug. He slapped my back. “I think it’s great you want to do this and I support you completely. But for fuck’s sake, warn me next time you’re going to do something like this.”
“I honestly don’t plan on doing something like this again,” I admitted. I pulled back from him and started laughing. “But if I do, I’ll warn you first.”
“So, Greer, eh? I told you she’s perfect for you. Glad you finally listened to me.” Patrick turned and stalked back toward the couch. “You waited to tell me, but have you told your parents yet?”
“No, it was on my list of things to do for when I got back to the office.” I pushed off the front of my desk and began moving to my chair behind it. I had my hand on the phone. “I better call Greer first, should probably warn her about the blind item.”
“How do you want me to handle this with the press?”
“Ignore it for now. I don’t want to bring undue attention to it. I’m not denying I had lunch with her. I just don’t want to address their wording or innuendo.” I picked up the handset and started to dial Greer’s number. Before connecting the call, I gave Patrick a heads up. “By the way, I’m taking Greer out for dinner tonight, but it’s going to be low key. I’ll try to stay out of the headlines and off the radar.”
~ * ~
I connected the call with Greer as Patrick was walking out of my office. She hadn’t heard of the blind item yet and appreciated my warning. No one in her office, except for Joanie, had been aware who she was meeting for lunch. So, she figured she was safe from the gossip in the office. At least for now.
To her credit, she was upset that we’d been outed that way. However, she was more horrified that I’d been referred to as socially reclusive. I appreciated that about Greer and I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that it made for fall for her just a little more. Immediately following her initial reaction came the anger and disgust. She hated that someone had felt the need to do this.
I was impressed at how cool-headed she was with this news. She’d politely reminded me that we’d better get used to the attention. We’d be subjected to much worse on the campaign trail. We needed to be seen in public, but maybe as we were starting out with this dating thing we should be a little more on guard while we were in public. We’d ended our call with Greer giving me her address and me confirming when I’d pick her up for our lowkey date that night.
I was letting the last part of our conversation run through my mind as I pulled up in front of Greer’s apartment complex, later that evening. I appreciated the fact that her building had security and wasn’t easily accessible. However, I knew it would keep everyone out forever. The media would keep camping out here as our relationship progressed and I knew I’d need to speak to Greer about alternate security or move her into my place sooner than I’d anticipated.
As I walked toward the security desk, the elevator doors opened and Greer walked out. I hadn’t been expecting her to meet me in the lobby, but it was a welcome surprise. Greer was wearing jeans, a white t-shirt, and a maroon, plaid, long-sleeve shirt that she’d only partially buttoned. The maroon scarf around her neck made the outfit a bit dressier. She was stunning. As she approached, she introduced me to the security guard. I wasn’t going to complain, at least he wouldn’t question me when I showed up for future visits. After some small talk, I escorted Greer out to my car.
Being a gentleman, I opened her car door and waited for her slide into her seat. I then closed the door and made my way around to the driver’s side. As I opened my door, I was suddenly hit with another bout of nerves. I tried to quell them by taking a deep breath before getting into the car. I looked at her and spoke, “I hope you don’t mind that I’ve got something low key planned for this evening.”
Greer smiled in response. “Well, after what we went through earlier today, low key is probably the smart plan. What’d you have in mind?”
“I thought maybe we could do a night tour of the National Mall and the monuments.” I watched her face for a reaction but didn’t receive one. “I mean, we don’t have to do that. I just thought…have you ever walked around the monuments at night when they’re all lit up? It’s peaceful and beautiful.”
The street lights danced in Greer’s eyes and she smiled at me. At that moment, I was pretty sure my dick twitched and my heart clenched at the same time. “Actually, Senator Evans, I’ve never seen the monuments during the day, so I think going at night will be a treat.”
“What? How long have you lived in DC? I can’t believe you’ve missed out on visiting all of the memorials and monuments. I’m almost speechless.”
Greer shook her head and tried to hide her laugh. “I’ve always meant to, but my work schedule is kinda crazy. The only place I’ve made time to visit is Arlington.” Suddenly Greer grew quiet and turned so she was looking out the window as I drove from the curb and into the city. After a few moments of silence, she began speaking again. “My older brother is buried there. When I need to think or feel close to him, I go to the cemetery.”
Her words hit me in the chest. I could feel her pain and I wanted to do all I could to take it away. I reached out, taking my right hand off the steering wheel and placing it on her hands that were resting in her lap. “Oh, Greer, I’m so very sorry. When did he pass?”
“I don’t want to dwell on bad things tonight, Chris. But I was in high school when Elliot was killed in Afghanistan. He was on patrol in a small town, going door to door looking for refugees. They were ambushed by rebels, only three men in his unit were able to survive.” I heard Greer take a deep breath and I could tell she was fighting back the tears. “My family has heard, over the years, that the rebels had American weapons, but we don’t know for sure. The reports are sealed and we’re repeatedly told we don’t have the clearance to see them.
“Elliott was my hero, I’d always looked up to him and I was devastated when he was killed. My parents were so distraught that they put a tight rein on the career path for my brother Noah and me. They’d let Elliott do what he wanted and he’d gotten himself killed. So, they picked what Noah and I would do so they wouldn’t have to worry about that with us.”
“Wow, Greer, I’m so sorry.” I let the quiet overtake the car for a few minutes because I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t anticipated hearing that story from her. I’d had no idea she’d had a brother killed in action. And the fact that he might have been killed because someone gave rebel forces American guns, well that didn’t sit well with me. I made a mental note to look into her brother’s death when I got into the office. The least I could do was to give Greer some answers.
I wanted to change the atmosphere for the evening. Tonight was supposed to be about first dates and getting to know each other, not about morose topics and having death hanging over the night. I was being selfish, I couldn’t help it. But if I let her dwell on her brother all night then this date would be a disaster. We’d arrived at the Capitol grounds, by this point. I didn’t want to park in the back parking lot and I figured it’d be easier to park in one of the front lots with easier access. My license plate and parking sticker would keep us from being towed should the police do a sweep of vehicles.
As I turned off the ignition, I stared out the front window and asked, “Are you up for a long walk tonight? If not, we can do this another night.”
Greer turned in her seat to look at me. “Heaven’s no! I didn’t mean to bring this evening down. I want to spend the evening with you and I’m ready. Let’s forget anything sad, okay?”
I asked her to wait in the car while I got out and moved to her side. I wanted to open the door for her and prove chivalry wasn’t dead. After she got out of the car, I locked it up and walked around to the back and popped the trunk.
“What’re you doing?” Greer asked with amusement in her voice.
I peeked around the side of the car, making myself visible to her. “Just a second,” then I went back to gathering the items we’d need. I closed the trunk and sat a blanket and picnic basket on the back of the car. “Sorry, I had to get dinner,” I responded cheerfully.
“A picnic? At night?” Greer shook her head as if she was confused.
“Well, of course. If you and I are taking a stroll through the National Mall and visiting memorials and monuments, we have to look like regular people. It’s dark, low lighting – very low key. No one is trying to eavesdrop on our conversation or paying attention to what we’re doing. It’s in public, but it’s more intimate. Don’t you agree?”
“I do.” Greer started laughing. “And it’s romantic. Was that your intention?”
“Do you like it?” Greer nodded vigorously. “Then it was my intention.”
I held Greer’s hand as we started walking. As we passed the buildings of the Smithsonian, Greer pointed out specific historical facts. I learned she was a student of history and it was one of the reasons that brought her to DC to live. As we approached the Washington Monument, we traded knowledge of the structure, as well as George Washington. With each passing moment, I found her to be more and more intriguing.
We passed through the WWII monument without saying much of anything. The lights on the water feature drew us forward and we stood in reverence. We both agreed that this monument had taken too many years to build and it was sad that many of the veterans of that war had never seen it. Once again, we pondered the soldiers who’d gone off to war and not come home. Or, those who’d come home and had never been quite the same.
Our last stop, at the end of our tour on the National Mall, would be the Lincoln Memorial. It loomed in the distance and while it seemed so far away, it was actually just a short walk.
“You know, I think Abraham Lincoln is one of our greatest Presidents,” Greer said, a tone of reverence in her voice. “That monument speaks to his greatness.”
“I need to ask,” I offered tentatively. “When we were arguing in my living room the other day, you said your name has a legacy. So, I’m going to ask. Are you related to that Hamilton?”
“Ha, yeah, and if my dad were here he’d regale you on the life and legacy of dear Alexander. We are descendants, but I’m not a Hamilton historian. I leave that to my father as well as others. He was my great-grandfather many times removed.” Nothing more was said and Greer had taken several steps ahead of me before she gasped and turned back around. She had a look of fear in her expression. “Please don’t use him in your campaign.”
I couldn’t contain my laughter. It wasn’t that I wanted to laugh at her, but she looked so innocent and sweet that I couldn’t help it. “I wouldn’t do that, believe me. But tell me, because I’m curious, how does a descendant of a Founding Father find the Civil War a more interesting time in history.”
“Well, Alexander and his compatriots might have fought for our initial independence, but Lincoln saved it from destruction. He kept us whole.” I had to admit I liked her train of thought. “And to answer the question you might ask next, I’ve never followed in Alexander’s footsteps. I’ve never been to Boston or studied Revolutionary history.”
“Noted! I’ll add that to the list of things we can do together when we’re on the campaign trail.” Greer and I stood at the base of the steps that led to the Lincoln Memorial. We ascended the stairs and I let Greer take in everything on her own. The lights around the outside of the Memorial were soft. But the light in the center of the Memorial made Lincoln’s statue shine like a bright white beacon. Greer was mesmerized by it and I was mesmerized by her.
We stood at the base of Lincoln and Greer read the script on the back wall. I leaned down, my lips at her ear. “Why don’t we eat our dinner while we’re here. You can bask in Lincoln’s glow and I can bask in yours.”
Greer smiled and I led her to the top of the steps. We moved to the far right, there were still quite a few visitors even this late and I didn’t want to be in their way. I spread the blanket out and we took our seats. I opened the basket, removing a bottle of wine along with two glasses. I opened the bottle and poured each of us a drink.
“To a low-key evening and getting to know one another,” I said as I presented her with her glass. “I have sandwiches, chips, and cake,” I announced as I pulled the items from the basket and placed them on the blanket.
“I love this. I don’t mind saying I like going to fancy restaurants, but this, well, this is so much better.”
I sighed heavily, making it a show for her. “Thank goodness, I was afraid I’d started dating a high maintenance diva.” Greer slapped my shoulder and laughed.
We ate in silence, looking out over the reflecting pool and the small crowds that were filing to the Memorial to pay homage. No one approached us or even paid attention to us. I hoped that meant this date wouldn’t end up on the gossip site, too. We’d gotten through the entire evening without speaking of the events from earlier in the day. I had been afraid to bring it up, not knowing how she was handling the attention or the scrutiny.
One thing I did now, the evening with Greer was enjoyable. We didn’t feel the need to force conversation or ask a million questions. We had a comfort level with one another that was not easy to come by in relationships that had been together for some time, much less only a day.
I could feel my phone vibrating in my pocket. I ignored it at first, but when it began to vibrate again, I pulled it from my pocket to see who was calling. I had a 9-1-1 text from Patrick and he was trying to call me, again. I apologized to Greer and answered the call. As soon as the call connected, Patrick began talking. I listened intently and then told him I was on my way.
I slid my phone back into my pocket. “I’m so sorry, Greer, but we need to head back. I’ve been called into an emergency Intelligence briefing. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have a choice, I hope you know that.”
Greer nodded. “Of course, I understand. Is everything okay?”
I started to pick items up and drop them back into the picnic basket. “There’s been a terrorist attack in Europe. The preliminary reports are not good. There’s some disturbing information that the terrorists might have had weapons from one of our contractors. We’ve got some serious issues to look into.”
Greer finished helping me clean up. Since we were at least an hours walk from the Capitol, it was going to be faster for us to grab a taxi. This was the only time I’d wish I’d driven to the Lincoln Memorial versus walking. If I had the cab drop us off at my car, I could at least put all of my stuff there so I didn’t have to haul it into my office.
As we hailed a cab and rode back, I played in my head all of the things that I wished I could tell Greer. This was when my relationship with a lobbyist could become a conflict of interest. Because the contractor that we believe had sold arms to the terrorists was the same client that Greer was lobbying for us to sign a new multi-billion dollar government contract with. If they were in the international arms trade and funding terrorists, we could have a major problem on our hands.