Friday, June 3, 2016

Plain Love: Chapter Six

Hal leans forward, intently studying the whiteboard where I have drawn out the steps in my plan to win the primary for Ohio’s District 10 congressional seat. I think it’s a good plan, but he’s the boss and has the final say. We need to avoid a run-off to preserve our candidate’s resources for November. We could win it all if he wins the primary decisively, so we’re aiming for better than a plurality. I’d like to see us in the mid-fifties at least, but the latest polls are tightening. It could turn into a three-man race. Our man is losing ground.


The result from the last poll is what generated my emergency trip to D.C. Hal prefers face-to-face meetings when things are going wrong, and as I said, he’s the boss. It’s not necessarily time to panic, but we do need to get a handle on the situation. Dave, the firm’s second in command, couldn’t get back to D.C. today. He’s got a full schedule in New York, but he has managed to get away long enough to join our meeting via conference call.

“Eli, this looks good,” Hal finally grants his approval. “What do you think, Dave?”

“Sounds solid,” Dave says although he is without the benefit of the whiteboard visuals.

Hal and I are in Hal’s office. Dave is a voice coming out of the black orb in the middle of the conference table.

“Can you be in Dayton Friday morning, Eli?” Hal wants to know. “I’m thinking you probably have to stay for the weekend. We need to get going on this.”

“Sure,” I say without hesitation even though this means I’ll be spending more days on the road than I have planned for. 

But that's how it is sometimes. I’m not senior enough to be solely the brains of an operation. I’m still required to be the brawn too, which means being on the ground, more often than not, providing direct oversight. It’s hard work and that was true even when my legs weren’t wheels. Yet there was a time when I lived for this, and I want to again. The fact that Hal doesn’t bat an eye at deploying me to Dayton feels like a victory. I’m up for it, and he knows it. When a plan works out, particularly when it’s your plan, you get to feel like Superman. I have to say I like that feeling. 

“Fantastic!” says Hal rising to his feet. “I’ll let the team know you’re coming. Cindy can make the arrangements. I knew you were the man to set things right.”

Yeah, I am that man. Since I've been back I've been mainly assigned to the southern region. It feels good to be back in a swing state. I begin the mental task of planning the trip, thinking about the various supplies I need to take with me. I don’t travel light anymore. Cindy will help. She'll have what I need delivered to my room. I count on her. Everybody does. She’s the logistics queen, our own super-secret agent of travel. 

“They’ll be glad to hear you’re coming,” Dave says from the black orb.

Hal walks over and slaps me hard on the shoulder, then squeezes the muscle in a show of fatherly affection. “Like I told you before, it’s good to have you back in the big leagues.”

I look up at him—remembering a time when it was the other way around between us because I am 6’2” stretched out, and Hal is much shorter, and getting rounder with the years. I smile. Hal’s a good guy. So is Dave. I’ve been working for Forward Vision, the consulting firm they founded, since I was an intern during my graduate school days. Career wise Hal is sort of like a father to me, and Dave’s like an uncle. Forward Vision is my family, so I suppose that means I have three sides to my family: Moroccan, southern, and political. I’m made up of all of them.

I’ve learned a lot from Hal and Dave. And when I was flat on my back, looking up at the world from a black hole, Hal came down to Atlanta to assure me that I would get up again, and that my job would be waiting for me when I did. “You’re still you,” he told me. “You can handle this.” To be honest, that’s what everybody said, some version of it anyway. Mom cried when she said it. Dad looked desperate and helpless but he said it too. And Nancy was on a mission to make me believe the worst was over. I had survived. 

I made my sister throw out all the get well cards. Their pep talks and prayers made me crazy once I understood that well wasn't going to mean what it did before. In those days I was glad to see visitors go and scared they wouldn’t come back. I wanted to die and I wanted to live, but since modern medicine had pretty much taken that basic choice away from me, I made up my mind to crawl out of that hole, and reclaim the life I had left. I had to. All of them were counting on me. I come from good stock. Mom and Dad had defied the odds and their families to be together. They are fighters for what they believe in, including themselves, and they raised Nancy and me to be the same way.  

“That’s right. You’re firing on all cylinders,” Dave is saying from the orb, mixing the metaphors.

“Dave, you ol' geezer,” Hal ribs him. “These young guns don’t know anything about cylinders. They talk in RAMs.”

We all laugh. Truth be told I wasn’t very mechanical before. The only machines I cared about were the political ones. However now that I’m part cyborg, I’m pretty good with tools. I can fix a lot of things, not just campaigns. 

“I don’t care how you say it,” replies Dave. “We play this right we could sweep Ohio, and you know what that means.”

Yes. Ohio is a legendary bellwether. The 34th largest state by area and the 7th largest by population. Win Ohio, lead the Free World.

“Can you put an e-file together and send it to Dave and the team?” Hal asks gesturing towards the whiteboard. 

“Not a problem,” I say. “I have it sketched out already. I’ll do some more tweaking this afternoon and send it out.”

“Perfect,” says Hal. “It’s genius, Eli. That’s why we pay you the big bucks. You earned it today.”

“Agreed,” Dave adds. “If we stop the slide in the 10th we ought to put this plan in place to prevent it from happening anywhere else.”

“Keeping in mind every district is different,” I caution them. 

“Yeah, yeah,” Hal says dismissively. “That’s what they tell us, but don’t forget, people are people wherever they are.” 

Hal has built a successful political consulting firm without benefit of a political science degree. He’s not even a lawyer. But his resume blows me away. Mainly he learned his skills as an activist working from the ground up, going on purely observation and instinct. He hired people like me for the theory. I’m lucky to have him as a boss and a mentor. In the age of technology, instinct is underrated.

“Well I better get to work on this,” I say, rolling over to the table to collect my laptop and file folders.

“You heading back to Atlanta tonight?” Hal asks.

I think of Lorna. She doesn’t return until tomorrow. Maybe I could have dinner with her tonight, or a drink. I have her email address from the business card. She has her Blackberry. I have a feeling she’d like that, and it makes me a little excited too. See—instinct.

“No,” I say, pulling together another plan in my head, this one a personal one. “I’ll catch a flight to Dayton tomorrow from here.”

I want to see Lorna, and I don’t want to wait. But it’s half-past six before I finally make it to the hotel room Cindy has reserved for me, and I’m wiped out, too wiped out I admit to myself for a first date. I might be a young gun, but it’s been a long day and I’m just about out of bullets. It’s all I can do to transfer out of my chair onto the bed where I collapse, as a wave of spasms pass. I could really use a shower and some food, but I doze off instead.

About an hour later the jazzy tune of my mobile phone wakes me up. I grope for it on the night stand and put it to my ear. “Yeah, hello,” I mumble.

“Eli? Did I wake you?”
It’s Cindy.
“Oh hey,” I say. “Yeah, I guess I crashed.”
“I’m sure you needed to,” she says. “Adrenaline will only take you so far.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” I laugh dryly. “What’s up?”
“I’m downstairs in the lobby. I went by the CVS for you and I have your itinerary for the Dayton trip.”
“Oh. Why didn’t you just have it delivered? I’m coming to the office in the morning.”

Yes, she does handle all manner of travel related matters for us, which for me means making sure my hotel rooms are handicap accessible, and today it meant also having my luggage sent over from the office. And she is a friend, but picking up my bowel and bladder supplies at the drugstore, that’s above and beyond the call of duty.  
“I thought maybe you’d like to sleep in,” she says. “May I come up?”
“Uh…yeah, sure,” I say.
I hurry back into my chair, and by the time Cindy’s knocking on the door I have at least washed my face. I open the door and push back so that she can come in.


“Hi!” she says brightly.
“Hey,” I say.
“Here you go,” she says handing me the large CVS bag. Then with a little flourish, she adds, “And here’s your itinerary. First class this time! I got you an upgrade.”
“Thanks,” I say on both counts.
First Class is a relief certainly, although Coach isn’t so bad. At least it wasn’t today. I smile a little. Window Pain might be a small price to pay if this turns out.  
“You didn’t have to go out of your way--” I start.
“It’s not out of my way,” Cindy interrupts me. “I wanted to check on you besides. You looked a little tired when you left the office.”
“It’s been a long day,” I say.
“I bet,” she concurs. “But now you’ve had a little nap. So have you eaten?”
“No.”
“Eli.”
The tone she takes with me reminds me of my mother. Cindy’s estimated age—because she won’t tell me—is probably midway between mine and Mom’s. Her shoulder-length blonde hair is full and flattering but the browner roots and silver strands I have seen only by chance remind me that the color comes from a bottle.  However it doesn't matter, Cindy is a beautiful woman.    
“I’ll get room service later,” I say taking the CVS bag to the bathroom and depositing it there.
Back in the room, Cindy has taken a seat at the small table where I’ll likely have my dinner later. Her long tanned legs are crossed. The heels of her black pumps are three inches high easy. How do women do it, I wonder to myself, parade around in those things, and then I recall Lorna’s sensible flats. So all of them don't I guess. Although her heels do complement Cindy’s sleek legs. What’s the maxim: no pain no gain.   
“This hotel has a great restaurant on the top floor," Cindy tells me. "I checked. Or if you’re feeling pubbish they have a sports bar that’s popular too. They brew their own beer.”
She wants to have dinner with me. I wanted to have dinner with Lorna. But Cindy’s an old friend. She's seen me at my worst. I’m comfortable with her. I mean, fuck—she brought me my toilet stuff.
“Sounds interesting,” I say settling myself with the idea of her company. “You always know the best places.”
“For the right people,” she replies, her red lips parted slightly in a soft smile.
I’m one of those people, one of her chosen as it were. I have been since the first summer I interned at Forward Vision. The firm was smaller then. There were less people and less office space. Because I was only an intern I was assigned a tiny desk and a computer that barely worked together, and set up in one corner of Cindy’s crowded office. But I loved it, despite doing all the shit-work that interns are usually tasked to do. I got to sit in on all the important meetings, and afterwards Cindy would explain to me what everything meant from her perspective, which was and is wise. Cindy’s been with Hal and Dave from their start, and I swear she knows as much as they do about running campaigns, plus she knows how to get us wherever we need to be in a moment’s notice.
But the logistics of campaigning was not all she taught me. There were other lessons too, life lessons I prefer to call them. Cindy was a cougar before cougar was the term. Back then I was both cock-sure and sure of my cock, an academic scholar with plenty of swag. I breezed through my classes and my relationships with the ease of entitlement. I usually got what I wanted and actually considered myself generous for allowing others to share in the experience. Cindy was not impressed. I had gifts she conceded, and lots of them, “But you’re young and dumb,” she told me. “You have so much to learn.”
“I do all right,” I remember telling her.
“As if just all right would ever satisfy you,” she had replied, already understanding me perhaps better than I understood myself.
Before returning to classes that fall I attended the other school of Cindy; and thus began an intermittent affair that has lasted for years: through several girlfriends, a couple of whom I was pretty serious about, and two husbands, one to whom she’s still married. Once during a lull for both of us I suggested we should maybe be exclusive. We obviously had a good thing, I told her.
“We want to be together,” I said. “Let’s just do it.”
“Darling,” she had replied stroking my cheek like I was a child, “You’re not ready for that.”
Perhaps I wasn’t. Perhaps I’m not. But I wasn’t use to rejection and Cindy stung my pride. I never made the offer again, but we have continued the affair. And when I was born again as a cripple Cindy flew to Atlanta, once I was home from rehab, and patiently deflowered me.
“Would you like something to drink?” I offer her.
The room Cindy has reserved for me is not only completely accessible but comes with a decently stocked minibar.
“You need to eat,” she reminds me.
I’m not a kid, but she is right. I don’t really feel like navigating a strange restaurant, and I probably should encourage Cindy to go, but old habits die hard, so I retrieve two bottles of Perrier from the mini-fridge and bring them to the table where she’s sitting. We drink our waters and talk about various petty office intrigues, while I peruse the room service menu, and wonder to myself what Lorna is doing.
Years ago, Cindy and I established the hard and fast rule that we would not discuss our relationships with each other. Not that I have a relationship with Lorna. In any case I instinctively know I shouldn't tell Cindy about meeting Lorna on the flight this morning even though I'd really like to. It’s like since I can’t talk to Lorna I want to talk about her. Maybe I am hungry. I’m certainly goofy.
I drain the last of my Perrier and set the empty bottle on the table. I do a lift and shift in the chair. “Why don’t we order you some dinner?” Cindy says picking up the room service menu. Her polished nails are a glossy rose, matching the lipstick she’s wearing. Cindy’s attractive, seductive. She’s always known this. Lorna’s fingernails are about as short as mine. Their pink color comes from the inside out though, like the blush on her cheeks.   
“I recommend the salmon with dill sauce,” Cindy says closing the menu and placing it back on the table. “And maybe a nice chardonnay that we can share.” Leaning forward she places her well-manicured hand on my right thigh and strokes it. I can’t feel it but I can see it. Cindy accepted my revised body from the start, and she continues to regard it as if it still possesses gifts. She enjoys it in ways that lets me forgive it. When our eyes meet I know exactly what she wants. I want it too. But not with her. Not tonight. The round mounds of her breasts beneath the white blouse are lovely. Her entire body is, her trim waist and flat belly. Cindy takes care of herself. She’s aging with the elegance of a Hollywood actress. She's practically timeless. I have fondled these breasts, I think to myself. I know them. I have had them in my mouth, and sucked them until the nipples hardened with desire, until the beautiful cougar purred like a kitten. 
I could sleep in tomorrow. Cindy would leave in the middle of the night, because she reserves the morning light for the man she’s married to. I could wake up in the morning well rested and ready to go to Dayton, maybe no longer obsessing about a social worker in a cardigan sweater that my mother might wear.  
Yet I push back, taking my leg away from Cindy’s touch. A faint pout pushes through her smile, dimming it.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I was up really early this morning. I’m beat.”
“Okay,” she nods, her smile brightening again. “I understand.”
Good thing she does because I’m not sure I do. I like that being with Cindy comes with no strings attached. It keeps it simple. Nothing changes even when everything does. There are no consequences with her, no future to consider, or worry about. I’m sure I’m not her only other lover. When I was out of commission, she didn’t pine away for me. Cindy doesn’t do that. She doesn’t need to. But she does care for me. I trust her. We’ve got a good thing going. But tonight it doesn’t feel like enough. Tonight I’m thinking a few strings might be kind of nice. The faint scent of vanilla. I'm recalling the sweet soft scent of vanilla. 
Later, after the salmon and chardonnay are consumed alone in my room to the tune of cable news and commentary, I finally take a shower and get back into bed. It feels good to stretch out but I don’t fall asleep. My brain buzzes with work and women, and Window Pain, the thought of whom makes me laugh dryly at myself. I was really the pain, not him.
And yet Lorna had my back. She stood up for me. Thinking about this makes me smile. On the night stand is both my phone and her business card. I’ve already entered her contact information and could have tossed the card, but I haven’t. I pick it up now, turning it over and over between my fingers. She had made up her mind to give it to me before I had asked for it, but it occurs to me that if I hadn’t asked I wouldn’t have it. My bashful babe is no shrinking violet. Like most women, she knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. I came up with the excuse and she was ready with the solution. Like she said, one thing leads to another.
So when I dial her office number, knowing full well that she’s not there, I’m just going along with the program. Her voicemail greeting is cheerful, welcoming, and it tells me that she will return my call as soon as she’s back in the office. So Monday at the earliest, which feels like a very long time.
“Hi, Lorna,” I begin after the tone. “It’s uh Eli, Eli Abbot. I’m on my way to Dayton for this congressional race, and I’m reviewing the issues and was just wondering what the housing, and uh homeless situation looks like in the area. Give me a call when you get this message,” I close with my mobile phone number and hope one thing really does lead to another.
*****    

10 comments:

  1. I love his POV. Thanks for the update

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  2. wow wow wow! a twist early in the story already!
    Cindy , to me in my mind was somehow like a 20 oddish girl that chew gums and book flights and tie her hair in high pony tails with thick rimmed spectacles!
    Now thats honest display of Eli 's character , to know that he has a need like all single man but a heart that actually yearn for a mature practical woman to love..
    more please!!

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  3. Awesome. I love hearing from Eli's POV, and I love the way you're developing his character in general. The relationship with Cindy is great and makes Eli so much more dimensional. (I kind of hope Lorna is cool with it—I'm feeling very skeptical of monogamy these days, so I selfishly want a story that features healthy and consensual depiction of multiple partners.)

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  4. Very interesting turn, I'd love to see where this leads. Certainly can't get enough of this story <3

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  5. Cindy sounds like Joan from Madmen

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    1. Okay that is exactly what I was thinking too!

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    2. You know it didn't occur to me that Cindy is Joan-like. But that makes sense. And I am a "Mad Men" fan. I could see that character seeping into my psyche.

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  6. This story is one of my favorites on here. I so look forward to your updates, Adele. Your characters and pacing are perfect...you're a great writer and I can't wait to read more :)

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  7. And I'm relieved that folks aren't too impatient with the pace of the story thus far. I promise to move it along in a reasonable way.

    Adele.

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  8. I've been away for a bit and just read all 6 chapters so far in one go. Fab story, I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes. Thanks.

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