THEY ARE IN HIS OFFICE, the door locked. He has an eye on the clock because if she stays for a long time, people will talk.
She comes in farther, looking about again as if to memorize the furniture though this is not the first time he’s summoned her. He has a sofa in there, comfortable chairs. He gestures her toward the sofa.
“It’s been an exhausting day.” He throws up a hand awkwardly. She smiles. “Sit for just a minute,” he says. He rubs his hands over his eyes and sits on the sofa next to her. “I worry about too many things, and I’m not sure worry does any good at all.”
“You remind me of a saint,” she says.
“Well, no. Not at all. I’m not sure I’m flattered.”
“You look kind of holy. I’m not sure what it is—long face, eyes a little moist.” She laughed then.
“Well, you don’t seem very taken with me.”
“Oh … I am, though.”
And that’s what he was waiting to hear. But after she said it—and lightly, as if teasing—she slumped, defeated. Then he said, as if brushing it aside, he said, “I am, too. I mean there’s a lot of something in the air between us. I don’t want to act on it.”
“I know.” She glanced at the picture of his wife and two sons on the desk and then quickly averted her eyes. “I’m pretty mixed up. I mean I never had this experience of feeling close to someone who was married. It goes against … everything. So I fight it.”
He said something like, “I wouldn’t put you through the … the mess. The midlife mess.” He went to his desk and picked up a folder of information he’d assembled for her about charitable work with the local hospitals. For years he’d coordinated ways for big businesses to present gifts of magazines and flowers and toys to those who needed comfort. “In here,” he said. “You’ll see how I did it.” Instead of handing it over, he sat down across from her and met her eyes. “My wife and I are separated. We live in the same house but not … you know, together. We have to stay together because of the election—so my handlers tell me.” For some reason, he added, knew to add, “She’s … seeing someone. I have to put up with it, and of course that’s tough.”
“Oh, no. You mean she’s … Has it been for a long time?”
“Long enough.” He moved to sit next to her again and began rolling the manila folder instead of handing it over.
“Being governor wouldn’t be worth it.”
“Oh, don’t say that. There are too many people hoping we can pull this off.”
“Don’t they care about you?”
“They want me in there. For their own purposes mostly—please don’t quote me on that, please—and if not now, definitely in four years.” He shrugged and noticed what he was doing to the folder, which he then straightened.
“Too slow. Somebody could be in for three terms.”
“Interesting. So interesting.”
He can see it, hear it, months later, the whole conversation.
“Are those pet projects good things in the long run?” she asked.
“They have to be or I wouldn’t play ball.”
She wore a simple brown dress that crossed over—a wraparound. He remembered his wife describing that kind of dress once, so he knew the name. It was meant to be modest, but on her it wasn’t. She was a creature with bedroom eyes, bedroom mouth. Is that what he couldn’t stop thinking about? Or was it the way she carried herself, intensely alert? Or the surprise of her laugh. Or plain need in him for the adoration she provided.
He wanted to see her relax. There was that, too. He handed over the folder. She took it, closed her eyes, then opened them wide to look straight at him.
“Don’t care about me,” he said. “Don’t. You have boyfriends?”
“Plural? That would be something. I don’t even have one.”
“And why not?”
“I never like anybody enough.”
“I just don’t.”
He leaned over and kissed her. The promise in her eyes and mouth was true; she was a sensual creature. Her family, she’d told him, was very religious. She’d had a strict upbringing and was even homeschooled for a time. “Oh my God,” she said. “Oh my God. I wanted this, I thought about you that way, and now here I am and I don’t know what to do.”
She started to cry. “I’m stupid. As bad as Monica Lewinsky. Falling in love with the wrong person.”
“You could make purses afterward,” he teased. Then he sobered up. He couldn’t do this, not with her. “Don’t ever tell anyone I kissed you,” he said. “You understand? They would misconstrue—or exaggerate. It would ruin my life. It would ruin all my chances of getting elected. Can you … not say anything?”
“I won’t say anything.”
He kissed her again and began touching her body.
That was in May when she came to work for the firm as a paralegal. She was a hard worker. Her name was Cassie Price.
He watched her out of the corner of his eye, so to speak, overheard her talking about wanting to buy a house, and steered her to a friend of his and a real estate company selling properties in the Oakland area. He enjoyed her excitement when she described the house to others in the office—a dinky thing that she planned to transform, a starter house that needed a lot of work.
She was on the verge of a new phase in her life. She was starting law school in the fall.
The thing in the air between them continued. They subsisted on the idea of it for almost a month before they did anything serious about it. At the office her assignments were not always about the political part of his life but included other aspects of the firm’s business and some of his charitable work. She was interested in everything. That was May.
* * *
IN AUGUST, THE PARTY organizer came to him as he did at least once a week to jaw about the progress they were making. They sat in his office, him on the sofa, Todd Simon on the chair in front of the sofa. Todd spread out a map of the state on the small coffee table between them. He explained which districts were coming along and which ones weren’t, which local party chairmen were likely on board and which were difficult. “We don’t have a long time,” he said. “And we need more bucks. You’re going to have to lean on a few of your friends.” He pulled out and lit up a cigarette even though he knew Michael Connolly hated smoke. “I can’t raise the bulk of it on my end. I can only do my thing.”
“You’ll get on these friends in the next two weeks?”
Simon unearthed an ugly plastic ashtray from his briefcase, one that had some logo on it and notches for three cigarettes. He blew smoke in the direction of the door, away from Connolly. Then all of a sudden, Simon said, “How many women in your life? Currently?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t be dumb. I’m told you mess around. Or have. We’re at a crucial juncture. You want to tell me anything?”
“Who are the current squeezes?”
“You don’t need to know that.”
“I sure do. Believe me, there are people looking to find out.”
“Press, donkeys, my bosses.”
“I’m very careful.”
“Tell me. Let’s start with current.”
He stared out the window for a long time. He supposed he would always feel there was a camera on his every move. “There’s a young … one of the paralegals here. And six months ago one of my wife’s … friends.”
Simon laughed. “Some friend. That’s it?”
“And in the more distant past?”
“You don’t need that.”
“Yes, I do.”
“A woman who used to be in the firm.”
“She could be trouble.”
“She’s married. Lives in Dallas. She’s content with her life.”
“How do they leave you when they leave you?”
“Happy. I’m nice.”
“A woman I met at a fund-raiser about ten years ago.”
“And where is she?”
“Somewhere in the city. I ran into her, say, three years ago and she was all friendly. No grudges.”
“You must do and say the right things. How many more?”
“You don’t look the type. Which is good, I guess.”
“What does that mean?”
“You look like a guy who wouldn’t.”
He gave names and addresses. It galled him.
* * *
FOUR DAYS LATER, Simon was back. “You only have four paralegals. I could have figured out which one—not a doubt in my mind—without a name. I’d say she looks unreliable.” This time Simon didn’t sit down.
“What makes you say that?”
That was true. She was emotional.
That was true. He hated Simon.
“Where do you see her?”
“Thirty miles out, sixty, a hundred. Never the same one.”
“I give her cash. She books the room.”
“You ever go to her house?”
“Never.” It occurred to him afterward that Simon had said “house” and not “place” or “apartment.”
“That’s good, anyway. And your wife?”
“We’re … okay. The usual stresses.”
“Or like she’s seeing anybody herself?”
“No, she would never.”
“Well, it does happen. Sure?”
“Absolutely. Why? Are you telling me something different?”
“No. No. This little girlfriend of yours. I watched her get into her car one day. She was crying. See? She was crying?”
What could he say? He’d seen the waterworks. They made him nervous, too.
“Tell me,” Simon said. “Remember, I’m on your side. You are our boy. A lot of people are putting up a lot of money on you. I need to know. The worst.”
“Once she said she was going to call my wife and suggest we all meet and hash it out.”
“Who ends up with whom?”
“So she’s completely nuts. She doesn’t get it, does she—what’s at stake for you?”
“She’s religious. She’s upset. She needs to talk to somebody, I think. She doesn’t know how to put it together.”
“She thinks she’s going to end up with you?”
“Andyou want that?”
“No. No. I want to keep things as they are.”
A long whistle came out of Simon.
Copyright © 2012 by Kathleen George
KATHLEEN GEORGE is the author of The Odds, which was
nominated in 2010 for the Edgar for Best Novel. She is also the
editor of the short story collection Pittsburgh Noir. A professor
of theatre at the University of Pittsburgh, she and her husband
live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.