Disclaimers: See Part 1
I can be reached at email@example.com .
Copyright Ann McMan, May 2011. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author.
Dan stared at the red file folder that Evan had just tossed down on his desk.
“Here,” she said. “I picked red because it seemed to fit so well with Hester Prynne's profile.”
He wasn't in the mood to play word games with her. Not today. He was running about two hours behind, and he'd been fighting a migraine all morning.
“Are you going to tell me what the fuck you're talking about?”
“Come on, Dan. Even you managed to make it through freshman English.”
“Yeah,” he said, opening the folder. “I get the reference—but what's your point? ”
She sat down in a sagging office chair that had seen better days, and propped her feet up on the edge of his desk.
“Who do you have to screw to get a cup of coffee in this joint?”
He waved his hand toward the open door. “There's a coffeepot out there next to the photocopier. Drink it at your own risk—it's probably been cooking since last night.”
“Wonderful. I think I'll wait. This shouldn't take long.”
He looked up at her. She was dressed almost normally today. Gray slacks. A blue- and white-striped blouse. Girl shoes. He wondered what prompted the change. “You got a job interview or something?” he asked.
She met his gaze. “Maybe.”
He shut the folder and rubbed a hand across his eyes. “Do me a favor and just tell me what's in here. I'm getting a migraine, and I really don't have the stamina to play 20 Questions.”
“Okay.” Evan said. “But, frankly, I'm more interested in what isn't in there.”
“Meaning that your boy Townsend has been taking out more than the trash. And don't tell me you didn't already know about his extracurricular activities.”
Dan sat back and sighed. “It didn't take you long to find out.”
“Oh, give me a break, Dan. A gnat with a lobotomy could have found this. Her fucking car was parked behind his house the day I went down there to meet with him.”
Dan rubbed his eyes again. “Christ.”
“Was this some kind of audition? A way to show Marcus that I was worth the money?”
He shrugged. “Maybe.”
Evan shook her head. “You didn't need me for this sophomoric crap.”
“No.” He flipped through the contents of the folder. “But I do need you for this.” He held up a copy of the State Department memo from Liz Burke.
Evan plucked a piece of lint off her slacks and flicked it away. “That's classified.”
“So? I thought you and Liz were close? ” He made air quotes with his fingers.
She sat back and crossed her arms. “Should I be surprised that you still take such a prurient interest in my personal life?”
“You're hardly discreet.”
“Unlike your boy, Townsend, I don't have any need to be discreet.”
He sighed. Nobody could get him from zero to pissed-off as fast as she could. “Whatever.” He decided to try a different approach. “How did your meeting with the ice princess go?”
She appeared unfazed. “Whom do you mean?”
He sighed. He was really starting to lose his patience. “Ms. ‘Been There, Donne That.' You come away with anything besides frostbite?”
“Maybe. It's to early to tell.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Too early to tell? What the hell does that mean?”
“It means that it's too early to tell.”
He sat back and rubbed his temples. “Marcus needs to know if she'll be on board for the campaign.”
“Marcus can kiss my ass.”
Dan snorted. “Don't tempt him—he's always had a thing for blondes.”
Evan rolled her eyes. “I wouldn't be counting on Ms. Donne to belt out an encore of ‘Stand By Your Man,' at the next convention. I think that train has left the station.”
“You can hardly be surprised. She was pretty forthcoming with her position. I gather that her estrangement from the senator is not a news flash.”
He held up the red folder. “Does she know about this?”
Evan shrugged. “You tell me. How long has Townsend had a tandoor?”
“A what?” The fluorescent light overhead was buzzing, and the noise was like fingernails on a chalkboard. His headache had finally decided to leave the wings and take center stage.
“A tandoor, Dan. Townsend has a tandoor in his New Castle house. A big one.”
“How the hell should I know how long he's had it?” He looked over at her. “What difference does it make?”
“His ‘wife' hates Indian food.”
Evan reached across the desk and tugged a photograph out of the stack of papers inside the red folder.
“But I bet she loves it.”
Dan stared down at the portrait photograph of a striking, dark-haired woman. The caption identified her as Margo Sheridan, a lobbyist for the Tata Steel Group. She looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place her.
He could sense that Evan was watching him for a reaction. He looked over at her. Her expression gave nothing away.
“Don't you recognize her?”
“I'll admit that she's got a bit more of the Women's Wear Daily thing going on than she had during your years at Yale, but it's not like you to forget a pretty face.” She pulled another image out of the stack. This one he recognized right away. It was a photo of him, taken in Jordan during his year abroad. He was posing in front of the Nabataean temple in Petra with Andy and Maya Jindal. He flipped back and forth between the two images. Jesus Christ . He looked up at Evan.
“Maya is Margo Sheridan?”
“Cleans up pretty well, doesn't she?”
He sat back. “What the fuck?”
“Judging by the size of her file over at State, I'd say that ‘Margo's' day job hawking carbon credits for Indian steel producers isn't the only window dressing she's sporting these days.”
“You don't know that.”
She rolled her eyes. “Call it a hunch.”
He sat back. “I need more than that if I'm going to approach Marcus with any of this. Right now, Andy's not guilty of anything more than roasting chicken in a clay oven with a college pal.”
“I'm not sure his wife would agree with your assessment.”
“There's only one way to find out.”
Evan sighed. “You don't seriously expect me to be the one to ask her if she knows about this?”
“Why not? You're being well paid.”
“I'm not some sleazy divorce P.I. with a grudge and a camera, Dan. You can do your own goddamn dirty work.”
He gestured toward the folder. “I don't have to, now.”
“Oh, come on, Evan. Don't try to tell me that you aren't the teeniest bit interested in finding out how much the femme de glace knows about Tata's golden girl.” He leaned forward. “She knew her at Yale, too . ”
Evan didn't miss his inference. “What's that supposed to mean?”
“Let's just say that Maya was known to play both sides of the field. Julia hasn't always basked in the sainted reputation she enjoys today.” He pointed a finger at Evan. “You and the former first lady might have more in common than you realize.”
Evan sat staring across the office with an unreadable expression. He could see her drumming her fingers against the undersides of her chair. He knew she was waiting for her blood pressure to return to normal. She was agitated. Pissed-off. He was glad she didn't have any coffee—he was pretty sure he'd be wearing it by now.
All in all, this was shaping up to be a fairly normal interaction for the two of them.
A full minute passed. Then Evan looked back at him. When she spoke, her voice was flat. “So, what do you want?”
He fought hard not to smile. He knew he'd snagged her, and she knew it, too. “I want to know what's in that file at State. And I want to find out how much Julia knows about Andy and ‘Margo,' and whether or not she'll work with us to manage it if it leaks.”
“If it leaks?” Evan sounded incredulous.
“Okay—when we leak it. I need to know if she'll be on-board—regardless of her long-term plans.”
Evan dropped her feet to the floor. “This stinks, Dan. And it's a familiar stench—the same one that hovers around you whenever you get involved with Marcus.”
He rubbed his eyes again. This headache was shaping up to be one for the record books. “Well, thankfully, you're just the woman to clear the air.”
“Go fuck yourself.” She stood up and walked toward the open door.
“I want a summary report by the end of next week,” he said to her retreating back. “Marcus is meeting with the DNC chairman on Friday—and I need time to review it first.”
She looked back at him. “It's going to cost you.”
“I'm aware of that.”
“I really don't think you are.” She turned and walked away.
He sat for a moment, listening to the overhead roar of the fluorescent light. His pulse was pounding in his temples like a jackhammer. Christ. He hated it when she was right.
When the call came from Julia on Wednesday morning, Evan realized that she had been waiting for it with dread and anticipation. Until she heard the publisher's voice on the phone, she wasn't sure which emotion was likely to win her mental tug of war—she would have offered even money on either outcome.
Julia's meetings were wrapping up at 4:30 that afternoon, and she wasn't booked for her return flight to New York until Thursday morning. She was staying downtown at the Four Seasons in Logan Square , and asked if Evan would consider meeting her for an early dinner in the hotel's Fountain Restaurant.
Evan had a better idea.
“Do you have access to a car and driver?” she asked.
“Of course. Why? Is there a place you'd rather meet?” Julia's voice sounded characteristically noncommittal.
“You might say that. How about you come out to Chadds Ford and let me cook for you?” There was silence on the other end of the line. “I know it's a bit of a haul—and I understand if you'd rather stay in the city.”
“On the contrary,” Julia's tone seemed genuine enough. “I was just trying to figure out if I could shake free any earlier and get a jump on 5:00 traffic.”
Evan's tug of war continued. Right now, Team Anticipation was pulling ahead. But she knew herself— Team Dread wouldn't give up without a fight.
“Great,” she said with more calm than she felt. “Call me when you're on your way. I'll text directions for you to share with your driver—it should only take about 25 minutes to get here.”
“Do I need to be concerned about what you might try to lure me into eating?”
Evan bit her tongue. It was too early in their—whatever in the hell this was—for that kind of repartee. “With me, concern should always be your default response.”
“I'll be sure to remember that.”
“You won't regret it.”
Julia laughed. “Red or white?”
Evan thought about that. “One of each?”
“That can happen. I'll call you later with an ETA.” She hung up.
Evan glanced over at the duplicate photos of Maya/Margo that sat on top of her desk, and the sheet of handwritten notes from her intel file at the State Department. Something lurched inside her and she sat down on a wooden stool, still holding the phone.
Dread. It felt like dread.
The night before, Evan had reconnected with Liz Burke. She took the train down to D.C. and met Liz for a drink at the State Plaza bar on E Street.
Evan didn't insult Liz by pretending that she was there to renew old acquaintance. They both knew what the meeting was about. After the waiter had deposited their first round of Margaritas, Liz sat back and looked her over.
“I would never have pegged you as the Mata Hari type.” Her voice was husky—like she'd had too many cigarettes. Evan knew she had been trying to quit. The way she kept fidgeting with her straw led Evan to assume that she wasn't enjoying much success.
“You think I came here to fuck you for information?” With Liz, it was a waste of time to be anything but direct.
“Let's see—I don't hear from you for six months, and then I get three emails and a phone call within a week? Yeah. The thought occurred to me.” Liz was wearing too much mascara. It made her look almost cartoon-like. Her other attributes looked real enough. Evan wondered what Madam Secretary thought about necklines like that. Maybe one day, someone would pay her to find out.
“But you agreed to meet me anyway?” Evan sipped at her drink and winced. Tequila. Bad choice.
Liz laughed. It sounded hollow. “Why not? We can each get something we want.”
“I have something you want?” It came out sounding coyer than she intended.
Liz nodded. “Against my better judgment.” She leaned over the table. Her styled, blonde hair smelled like cloves. “I've never made a secret of that.”
“Jesus, Liz. Don't you have any self-respect?”
She scoffed. “I work for the State Department. What do you think?”
Against her will, Evan laughed. It was true. Buying and selling information was Job One at State. And the commodity got traded for all kinds of currency. She shook her head.
Liz watched her in silence for a moment. “What's wrong, Evangeline? You suddenly have that Catholic schoolgirl look. Getting cold feet?”
Evan met her eyes. “No. Maybe I just realized that I like you more than you seem to like yourself.”
“Oh, please. I already have a shrink. I came here to get laid, not to listen to a lecture on self-actualization.” Liz finished her drink and started looking around for their waiter.
“Christ. When did you get so hard?”
Liz brought her eyes back to bear on her like the crosshairs of a shotgun. “When did you get so scrupulous? You sure weren't worried about propriety when you shoved your hand down the front of my pants in that bathroom stall at Wolf Trap last Easter.”
Evan sighed. There was no winning this one. Liz was right, and she knew it. She glanced at her watch. She'd could catch the 10:00 Metroliner back to Philly, and have two hours to sit in the dark and regret what she was about to do.
She finished her drink and tossed a $20 bill on the table. “Let's get a room. These shoes are killing me.”
Liz snorted as she grabbed her purse. “Not as much as your conscience will.”
Liz knew her well, and that jacked the suck-factor of this whole interaction up into the stratosphere.
She really needed to clean up her act.
Julia arrived at Evan's house in Chadds Ford a few minutes before 5:00. The driver dropped her off and left in a hail of gravel—after telling her that he wouldn't be far away, and she only needed to give him a 10-minute heads up when she was ready to return to town. Evan was inside chopping vegetables for a salad when she heard the big Town Car drive up. She walked out front to meet Julia, and they stood together a little awkwardly in the front yard, watching the car as it roared over a hill and disappeared from sight.
“Well, I feel like kissing the ground.” Julia said. “That trip was a little too much like one of those theme-park rides at Disney World.”
Evan thought Julia looked like a theme-park ride—one she wasn't quite tall enough for. The publisher was casually dressed in black jeans and a dark blue silk blouse. In natural light, her hair had chestnut highlights. Once again, it was loose around her shoulders.
She knew she was staring. She needed to say something. Julia was standing there looking back at her with that textbook expression of hers that revealed nothing.
“You really don't seem like the thrill-seeker type.” That was genuine enough.
Julia held out a canvas bag that contained two bottles. “You'd be surprised.”
Evan took the bag from her. “Not very likely. I'm pretty hard to surprise.” She looked into the bag. One white. One red. “What do we have here?”
Julia shrugged. “Frankly, I have no idea. I asked the sommelier to pick out two wines that would go with anything. He seemed offended at first, but he got over it pretty quickly when I told him to make certain they were expensive .”
Evan laughed. “Maybe we should open one and test how impressive your credit limit is?”
“Only after you've given me a tour of this amazing house.” Julia gestured toward the 18 th century farmhouse that had been in Evan's family for generations.
Evan turned around and looked at it. It was a typical Brandywine River Valley fieldstone house—two stories, with pairs of black and white shutters on the front windows. It was small, but now seemed huge without Stevie. It was amazing how her daughter's chatter and clutter filled up the empty spaces in her life.
“Sure. Let's go inside and I'll give you the nickel tour.”
Julia followed her across the lawn toward the front door. “Have you lived here long?”
Evan nodded. “About 12 years now—ever since my grandfather died. But I spent most of my childhood here—weekends, summers. Anytime my mother could dump me off and flee with one of her boyfriends.”
“What about your father?”
They were inside now. Evan shut the big front door, and they stood facing one another in the small, dark foyer. “He was never much of a factor—not in my mother's life, and certainly not in mine. I don't even know where he is now.”
“I'm sorry.” It sounded genuine. Evan could just make out the blue of her eyes.
“Don't be. He was an asshole. But he did accomplish one thing.”
“He made me a lot more inclined to let Dan play an active role in Stevie's life.”
“It sounds like you made a good decision there.”
Evan nodded. “I think so. But what matters more to me is that Stevie thinks so. In this case, her opinion is really the only one that matters.”
She spread her arms out to encompass the tiny space they stood in. “So, this, clearly, is the foyer. These stairs lead up to what's really a half-story—two bedrooms and a small bathroom. Just behind you is the living room, and beyond that is the small room I use as my office.”
Julia turned and walked into the medium-sized room with wide-plank floors and a raised-hearth stone fireplace. She didn't look at all out of place. But Evan supposed that Julia Donne would look like she belonged wherever her feet were planted.
“This is charming. I love the antiques.” She ran a finger over the punched tin star pattern in the door of an oak pie safe. “Are they all family pieces?”
Evan followed her into the room. “Many of them are. I've added a few things over the years.” This room had a low ceiling, and it made Julia appear even taller than she was.
“You have great taste. I love the colors.”
“Pottery Barn deserves most of the credit for that.”
Julia smiled as she picked up a framed photograph of Stevie. “Is this your daughter?”
Evan nodded and walked over to stand beside her. “Yeah. That was taken in August at Cape May . It was our last weekend together before she left for Emma.”
Julia was studying the photo. “She's beautiful.”
Evan felt irrationally pleased. “Thanks. She looks like Dan.”
Julia met her eyes. “She looks like you.”
They stared at each other. Evan thought with disgust that she probably was blushing. It was a curse—one of many that came with having a fair complexion.
“Well,” she hefted the canvas bag. “Let's go on back to the kitchen and open one of these. We've got about an hour before dinner will be ready.”
Julia set the framed photo back down and crossed her arms. “So, what are you feeding me?”
“Should I be worried?”
Evan looked at her. “I thought we covered that.”
Julia's gaze was unrevealing. “Okay, then. Yes—I confess to being a tad worried.”
“You do?” Evan was intrigued. “I'm tempted to wonder what else you might confess to.”
“I don't know. Maybe you should ask me something and find out.”
Evan's head was starting to reel from this game of 3-D chess. She felt out of practice. “I think I need a glass of courage first.”
Julia laughed and pushed past her to head for the kitchen. “Now who's worried?”
Khoresh Fesenjan—the chicken stew, with its combination of walnuts, cinnamon, and pomegranate juice—seemed like the perfect dish for this evening. Not really tart. Not really sweet. Not really spicy. But interesting enough to make you want just one more bite, so you could try and puzzle it out. To Evan, the dish was a lot like Julia, so it seemed like the natural choice.
And Julia, who reputed to dislike Indian food, seemed to be doing just fine with this everyday Persian fare. It was warm enough for them to eat outside at a small table on Evan's back porch, overlooking a lawn that was mostly pasture. It sloped down toward a branch that divided her property from a neighboring farm. Cows grazed in the distance, or lumbered down to drink from the slow-moving stream that eventually became part of the Brandywine River . The scene was so bucolic and serene that Evan felt the need to apologize—and she didn't quite know why.
“I guess this seems like an odd place for me to live.”
Julia had been gazing out across the field, but brought her eyes back to Evan. She looked puzzled. “Why would you think that?”
Evan shrugged. “I'm not sure that I do, really. But I thought it might seem like a contradiction to you.”
Julia seemed amused. “Not at all. I think it makes perfect sense.”
“You do? Why's that?”
“Given what you do for a living, I can imagine that retreating to a place like this—a place that's so free from artifice—is a welcome change.”
Evan laughed. “I guess that's true. It worked the same way for me when I was growing up.”
“My mother lived in a less-than-desirable part of south Philly, and coming here was like being teleported to another solar system. It was impossible to believe that my other world—the one with junkies, hockey games at the Spectrum, and bars on every street corner—existed only a few miles up Route 1.”
“I know what you mean.”
Evan was dubious. “Haven't you spent most of your life in New York City ?”
Julia nodded. “Except for boarding school at Exeter —my retreat.” She shook her head. “I keep forgetting that you probably already know as much about my personal history as I do.”
Evan blushed. “I apologize for that. I guess it seems pretty off-putting.”
“No—when you marry a career politician, you pretty much check your right to privacy at the voting booth.”
Evan let that one slide. She knew they'd get back to it in time. For now, she wanted to ignore the fact that Julia was an appendage of Andy Townsend. After tonight, she doubted that she'd get another chance to talk with her on such friendly terms. “Why do you characterize Exeter as a retreat?” She had her own reasons for asking. She wondered if Stevie felt that way about Emma.
Julia sipped from her wine. They were drinking the second bottle, now. It was a nice Domaine Paul Pernot. “My home life wasn't exactly sustaining. I was an only child, and my parents engineered my future in the same way they engineered the expansion of the publishing house. In fact, there was very little difference in method. Their idea of parenting had more in common with a crash course on mergers and acquisitions than anything put forward by Dr. Spock. The four years I spent at Exeter gave me some breathing space and allowed me the chance to at least imagine another life—before I stepped up to embrace my fate.”
Julia looked back at her with those incredible blue eyes that gave nothing away. “Go to Yale. Marry well. Take over the family business.”
Evan was unprepared for such a direct response. “Well, I suppose there are worse fates.”
“Really? I can't think of many that would have turned out worse for me.”
They both were silent for a moment. Evan twisted the stem of her wine glass between her fingers. “I confess that I really have no idea how to respond to that.”
“Don't you?” For once, Julia's voice seemed to hold a trace of emotion. “Am I supposed to infer from this that you don't already know about Andy and Maya Jindal?”
Evan was every bit as shocked as she would have been if Julia had suddenly whipped out an accordion and started playing top hits from The Lawrence Welk Show .
“Jesus. You don't mess around, do you?”
“No. I generally leave that pastime to my husband.”
She didn't laugh because the outside light was starting to fade, and the small oil lamp on the table wasn't bright enough to show Evan whether or not Julia intended for her remark to be humorous. She couldn't tell by her tone. But then, that was nothing new.
“You don't give much away, you know that?”
Julia seemed unfazed. “I didn't think I had to with you.”
For some reason, that response irritated her. “No. I guess you don't. Yes, I know about Andy and Maya. I wasn't certain that you did, however.”
“And were you going to tell me?”
“I honestly don't know.”
Julia sighed. She held out her glass. “May I have some more wine, please?”
“Of course.” Evan pulled the bottle out of a bucket and refilled both of their glasses. When she finished, she shoved the now empty bottle back into its nest of melting ice with more force than she intended. Some of the liquid sloshed out onto the table.
After a moment, Julia asked, “Are you annoyed?”
“May I ask why?”
“Because last week, my instinct was to walk away from this job. Now I regret that I didn't.”
“Because of me?”
Evan nodded. “And me.” She raised a hand and rubbed her forehead. “I don't like myself very much right now. I don't like who I have to be to do this work.”
“That sounds pretty ominous. Is there more to Andy's infidelity than I realize?”
“I wasn't talking about his infidelity—I was talking about mine.”
There was another period of silence. Then Julia spoke more quietly. “Now I'm the one who doesn't know what to say.”
Evan sighed. “I'm sorry. I'm being a shitty hostess.” She gestured toward their empty dinner plates. “Would you like something more to eat?”
“No. I'm very satisfied. It was wonderful food—you're quite a good cook.”
“I generally do okay with anything that ends up sitting on a bed of rice.”
“It was delicious.” She smiled. “I really thought you'd try to trick me into eating something curried.”
Evan laughed. “Not on the first date.” The words were out of her mouth before she could reel them back in. Christ. What an idiot . She sat there and felt panic racing up and down her frame. She was grateful that the dim light hid her face. She knew she was turning fifteen shades of red.
“Is that what this is?” Julia's voice sounded almost amused.
“You tell me.” She had nothing to lose now.
It took Julia a moment to reply. It seemed like an eternity. “Did you really think I would've risked the ride out here with Evel Knievel if I thought otherwise?”
Evan fought an impulse to pump the air with her fist. “I didn't know what you thought.”
“Well, now that you know, maybe you can relax a little and ask me about Maya.” She paused. “I'd rather you hear it from me than from Andy—or from her.”
Evan shook her head. “I don't know that I want to.” She met her eyes. “I'm— confused .”
“Pretty much everything.” She leaned toward Julia. “Believe me—I never saw this coming.”
“I didn't either.”
Evan still didn't trust her instincts. “Are we talking about the same thing?”
Julia shifted in her chair and sat forward. Their faces were inches apart. “I think so.”
Evan's pulse began to race. This was a development she didn't need. It would complicate everything, and it didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of going anyplace good. She needed to slow it down while she still had the chance. She had run a marathon once—all 26.2 miles of it. And the stamina it took for her to remain on her feet after running for five and a half hours was nothing compared to the effort it now took for her to move ten inches away from Julia.
She sat back against her chair.
“I don't want to fuck this up.” The words sounded foreign to her. She thought about last night with Liz. Her stomach turned over. For a moment, she thought she might lose her dinner.
“Do you think you might?” It sounded genuine. And she didn't seem pissed. That was a first for Evan.
“Hell, yes. Count on it.”
“I'd rather not.” Julia sat back, too. “Okay, then. Let's define the rules of engagement.”
Evan looked at her with amazement. “You're pretty calm about all of this.”
“I try to be when it's important.”
“Think you can teach me how to do that?”
“I really don't think I can teach you anything, Evan.”
Goddamn. Evan realized that her hands had been gripping the edge of the table. Her knuckles were starting to cramp. Distance. She needed distance. And fast.
“Okay. Rule one: we do nothing while I'm investigating Andy.”
Julia folded her arms. “No more ‘dates?'”
“I didn't say that.”
“Oh. My mistake. I guess you have a broader definition of ‘nothing' than I do.”
“It's an evolving concept.”
“Rule two: you tell me everything you think I need to know about you and Andy—about Andy and Maya—and about you and Maya. As much I hate to admit it, I don't have the stomach to comb through your past the way I have to root around in his.”
“Rule three.” Evan thought about it for a minute. She couldn't come up with anything. “I guess there isn't a rule three.”
Julia seemed surprised. “That's it?”
Evan nodded. “I think so.”
Julia raised an eyebrow. “Remind me never to hire you to run a board meeting.”
Evan laughed out loud. “You'd save a fortune on catering.”
“And lose my shirt in the process.”
That was an image Evan vowed to return to later, when she was alone and could really think about it. But Julia wasn't finished speaking.
“How about I lay out a few conditions of my own?”
“I'd like to know anything you find out about Andy that concerns me before you tell Marcus.”
That didn't seem unreasonable. And she wasn't asking Evan for censorship rights. “All right.”
“And I'd like your promise that you won't collude with any efforts to coerce me into helping Andy or the party—unless it's something I freely offer to do.”
Julia fell silent.
“Is that it?” Evan thought she'd have a few more demands.
Julia met her eyes. “There is one other thing that I'm somewhat reluctant to mention.”
“What is it?”
“I'm not exactly ‘out'—and there are some compelling reasons for that, which I'll happily share with you later on. But I don't want you to misinterpret my public demeanor as a sign of ambivalence. Until my situation with Andy is resolved, I need to be circumspect about my behavior. It's part of the bargain we hammered-out when our marriage fell apart.” She seemed to hesitate. “And there are a few, longer-term family complications that factor into it as well.”
“All right.” Evan didn't feel too optimistic about this one. It didn't sound simple—or like it was going to be wrapped-up any time soon.
Julia finished her wine. “So. Where do we go from here?”
Evan had about a hundred ideas, but most of them would have to wait. And by the look of things, it was probably going to be a long wait. She sighed. Cleaning up your act could really suck.
She pushed back her chair and stood up. “How about we go inside and I make us some coffee? Then we can sit down in the light and you can tell me all about Maya Jindal.”
Julia smiled wryly. “Now, there's a mood killer.”
She stood up, too. Once again, Evan was struck by her height advantage. Tonight, it seemed like all the advantages were on Julia's side. They began to pick up their plates and silverware.
“You know,” Julia said. “There is one other thing I'd like.”
Evan was afraid to ask, but knew she had to. She leaned over and blew out the oil lamp.
“I'd like to meet your daughter.”
Evan smiled. Maybe she did have something on her side.
“It only happened once.” Julia sat with her feet tucked beneath her on an overstuffed leather club chair. Her shoes were tossed on the floor next to the ottoman. Evan stared at them while she talked. They were odd, almost comical. Yellow and black creations that looked like cast-off bowling shoes, but probably cost more than Evan made in a week. Well, until this job came along. Marcus was going pay through the nose for this one.
Evan sat on the end of the sofa at a right angle to Julia. She knew it would be risky to sit next to her, so she was relieved when they entered the living room with their coffee, and Julia dropped into the big armchair.
“And I knew it was a mistake.” Julia looked up at Evan.
“A mistake?” Evan prompted her because Julia looked like she was expecting her to—not because she was anxious to hear the rest of her story. She didn't really want to listen to any of this. She was feeling sick. Sick from too much wine and too little sleep. Sick from jagged flashes of the night before with Liz. Sick from the revelations at dinner that hinted at what was possible, and what was impossible with the woman seated before her. It was all piling up behind the façade of calm she was trying so hard to project.
“It all started a lot earlier—back when I first became engaged to Andy. He was a year ahead of me at Yale, and had gone on to law school at Columbia . Maya was at Columbia too, working on her MBA. The three of us were together a lot in those days. Whenever I went down to New York , Maya was there. She was like a staple in Andy's life.” Julia shook her head. “I didn't really worry about it—it just seemed normal .” She looked at Evan. “And Maya was already dating Tom Sheridan. They seemed pretty serious—were talking about moving to northern Virginia when she finished her program. He was getting ready for his first congressional bid.”
“From Maryland ?” Evan actually met Tom Sheridan once at a K Street event hosted by Royal Dutch Shell. That was only a few months before his untimely death in Aspen . The three-term congressman, holidaying with some Yale frat brothers, decided to drink an entire bottle of Wild Turkey, and then try his luck navigating the steeps at Loge Peak . It took rescuers two days to find what was left of him.
“That's right. Tom was the one who got Andy interested in alternative energy issues. They actually coauthored a white paper for the U.N. Climate Change Council. It was that paper that launched Andy into the national spotlight.”
“How did Maya factor into all of this?”
Julia leaned her head back against the chair and sat regarding Evan. “After Tom's death, Maya—or Margo , as she then preferred to be called—became a fixture in our lives. Andy felt terrible about Tom's accident—felt responsible.”
That piqued Evan's interest. She'd read news accounts of the accident. “Why did he feel responsible?”
“He'd been on the Aspen trip, and had spent most of that afternoon in the lodge with Tom, drinking. Tom was an indifferent skier, but he was boasting about how he was going to tackle the expert slopes—and most of the other guys on the trip were teasing him and egging him on.”
Julia nodded. “But no one expected that he would strap on his skis and try it alone. It was insane . He shouldn't even have been allowed to get up there. His blood alcohol level was off the charts when they found him. Andy was devastated.”
Evan let out a slow breath. “I can see why.” She watched Julia in silence for a minute. She had set her coffee cup down and now had her arms crossed over her abdomen. She looked completely closed-off. Evan guessed that it was a reflexive posture.
“So, what about you and Margo?”
Julia looked over at her. For once, her gaze seemed open. It transformed her. Took years off her face. Evan thought she wore vulnerability well. Hell—she wore everything well.
“After the accident, Margo got a job working for Corus America in Wilmington . That put her in Andy's orbit a lot. And mine. I saw her frequently when I attended various state functions in Delaware with Andy. She always seemed to be underfoot.”
There was a flash of white light, and off in the distance, they heard a roll of thunder. That surprised Evan. There was no rain in the forecast. But these days, there rarely was. The storms rolled in unannounced, like unwelcome family members. Julia shivered.
“Are you cold?” Evan asked, reaching for a red fleece throw that was a favorite of Stevie's.
Julia smiled at her and took the blanket. “Thanks. I think it's the subject matter more than the climate.” She draped the throw around her shoulders. “I'm not usually such a wuss.”
“I don't think you're a wuss at all.”
Julia met her eyes. “You don't? Well brace yourself, then, because you're about to be disappointed.”
Evan felt a twinge of panic. White light flashed again. The roll of thunder was closer this time. She gave Julia a look that she hoped expressed more confidence than she felt.
Julia was still looking back at her. “What was it you said about Dan? That you fucked him once, just to see what it would be like?”
Evan felt her hackles begin to rise. She nodded. “That sounds about right.” It still seemed wrong to hear a word like ‘fuck' roll off Julia's tongue. It didn't fit with her idealized portrait of the woman. It was as jarring as those goddamn yellow shoes. She realized that her fantasy was about to get blown to hell, and she didn't want that to happen. She wanted to turn back the clock. Rescind her invitation to cook dinner. Meet Julia in town, as they had planned initially. Meet in some public place where a conversation like this one could never happen.
Julia sighed. “One night, when Andy was in Dover , Margo showed up at our New York apartment. She was in town for an interview with Corporate Knights , and called to see if I wanted to grab a late supper. I didn't think anything about it—it wasn't uncommon for us to do things alone together. I'd gotten to know her quite well over the years, even though it was clear that she was primarily Andy's friend.” She gave a bitter-sounding laugh. “All of that changed in a hurry.”
Outside, Evan heard the rain starting to fall. More thunder rolled. The lamp on the table behind the sofa flickered. Evan hoped the power would stay on.
Julia didn't appear to notice.
“After dinner, we went back to the apartment and had a couple of drinks. I'd had a particularly hard week at work—the board was opposing some staffing initiatives that were really important to me. I was in a fractious mood, and I was emotionally exhausted.” She looked over at Evan. “I'm not making excuses. I knew what I was doing. I just think that, under normal circumstances, I might have made a different decision.”
Evan looked back at her without speaking. Julia continued with her narrative.
“Maya—Margo—had always been attentive to me. I noticed it from time to time, but always ignored it. I knew that she'd had relationships with women in college—but that wasn't really uncommon at Yale in those days. I guess I chose not to see it, since I was trying so hard to avoid the whole issue myself.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “You see, I always knew that I had a predisposition toward women—I just never had the courage or the wherewithal to explore it. It would have been impossible for me. Even during my years at Yale, when I could have done something about it, I didn't. It just wasn't part of the business plan. It would never have fit with the life my parents had mapped out for me—a life I bought into almost from childhood. There was never any question about what I would do—about what choices I would make. I was a Donne. And Donne's did only one thing.” She fell silent again. “Until that night.”
Evan sat tapping her fingers on the edge of the sofa cushion. Stop! She wanted Julia to stop. She didn't need to know this. Marcus didn't need to know this. It wasn't part of the job.
“You don't have to tell me this.” She extended a hand toward her. To her surprise, Julia took hold of it. She gripped Evan's fingers like a vice. Her hand felt soft and hot.
“I do. I want you to know.” She released Evan's hand. “I had gone into the kitchen to mix us another round of drinks, and Margo followed me. All evening, she had been flirting with me—sitting too close to me in the cab, touching me and rubbing up against me in our booth at dinner. It all went to my head. I was tired of fighting it—of fighting her. Andy and I had been arguing—he wanted me to spend more time with him in Delaware , and I was resisting. It was clear to me that it was all starting to unravel. He was already talking about a senate bid after his gubernatorial term ended. I knew I didn't have the stamina for that. I think, on some level, he knew it, too. And, of course, there was Margo—willing to pick up the pieces from either of us.”
It was raining harder now. The lightning was coming in rapid flashes—almost too many to count.
“When she touched me in the kitchen, I knew I was going to do it. She knew it, too.” Julia shook her head like she was trying to clear it. “It was horrible and incredible, all at the same time. I hated her. I hated her because it felt so right. Finally, something in my life felt right.” She looked at Evan. Her eyes were glassy. “Leave it to me to finally do something right for all the wrong reasons.”
Evan didn't know what to say, so she said nothing. They sat there in silence, listening to the storm. Finally, Julia spoke again.
“I told Andy, of course. I was mortified. Guilty. And I wanted him to know about Margo.”
“How did he respond?”
“He didn't. He shrugged and said ‘Shit happens.' I was stunned. It didn't change anything for him—but it changed everything for me. Of course,” she looked at Evan, “I didn't realize that by that time, he was fucking Margo, too.”
“In a nutshell.”
There was a loud boom that shook the house. The lights in the room flickered again, and then went out. Evan groaned.
“Christ. Hang on—let me check the fuse box.”
“ Fuse box? ” Julia sounded incredulous.
“Yeah. Welcome to life in the country.” She got up and carefully made her way to the sideboard where she kept a flashlight. She turned it on and flashed its blue beam back toward the living room where Julia sat, still wrapped up in Stevie's red blanket. It looked purple in the halogen light. Julia sat there without moving, like an ice sculpture—a composition in blue, black, and purple. She was reminded of Dan's comment— femme de glace . Then, in the narrow beam of light, Julia smiled at her.
Dan was full of shit.
Evan turned toward the stairs that led to her dirt-floored basement. “I'll be back in a flash.”
“No pun intended.” The words floated back to her, disconnected. Everything felt disconnected. She was glad the lights went out. It gave her an excuse to get up and try to compose herself. It gave them both a chance to breathe.
Evan descended the wooden steps. The basement smelled musty. Water must be seeping in someplace. Probably around those cold frames her grandfather built along the south side of the house. She made her way to the ancient fuse box. Yep. One of the fuses had blown. She checked the shelf next to the metal box for a replacement, and uttered a silent prayer of thanks when she found a 5-amp bulb—the last one. She'd have to make a trip into Hills Hardware and buy some more—especially if these freakish storms were going to continue. Jesus. It was really pissing down out there. As she screwed in the new fuse, she thought about Andy's work on climate change. Maybe she should read some of his damn papers.
As soon as she flipped the circuit switch, the lights came back on. She stood there for a moment with her forehead pressed against the cold metal door of the fuse box. Then she turned around and started back up the steps. Showtime.
When Evan walked back into the living room, Julia was on her feet, rummaging through her bag. She looked up as Evan entered the room, and held up her cell phone.
“I didn't realize how late it was. I'm thinking that, with this weather, I should give ‘Evel' a bit more notice about coming to get me.”
Evan had been dreading a return to their conversation about Julia's horizontal two-step with Margo. Now she found herself regretting that they wouldn't be talking about it—or about anything. She was conflicted. Part of her wanted Julia to leave, so she could sit down in the dark with a big drink, and sulk about how the universe continued to dangle things in front of her—things she'd always want, but never have. Another part of her wanted Julia to stay, so she could try to convince herself that maybe they could find a way to work something out. It was hopeless. She was hopeless—a classic loser. She felt irrationally compelled to confess it.
“Probably not a bad idea,” she said, instead. “The rain doesn't appear to be slacking off.”
Julia looked over toward the darkened windows that overlooked the front yard. They revealed nothing.
“It ought to be a thrilling ride back into town.”
Evan regretted that. “I should've picked you up. I'm sorry about that.”
“Don't be. It was a wonderful evening. And if you'd been driving, we wouldn't have been able to pad my expense report in such grand fashion.”
Evan smiled. “That's true.”
Julia took a moment to text her driver, before sitting down on the sofa. Evan walked over and sat down at the extreme opposite end. Not that this would offer much of a buffer—it was a small couch.
“So.” She didn't really know what to say.
“So.” Julia seemed to have the same problem.
“I'm so glad we had this time together.” Christ. Where in the hell did that come from? She sounded like fucking Carol Burnett.
Julia laughed—a big laugh. She caught the reference, too.
Evan dropped her head back against the sofa cushion. “I'm such a loser.”
Julia reached over and laid a hand on her thigh. “No, you're not. You're adorable.”
Evan looked down at her hand. It felt like a branding iron. “I am?”
They stared at each other. “How long did you say it would take Evel to get here?”
Julia smiled. “I didn't say.” She returned her hand to safer territory. “But I believe he said about ten minutes.”
Evan chewed the inside of her cheek. Ten minutes? She could do a lot of damage in ten minutes. She looked down at the spot on her leg where Julia's hand had been. It still felt hot.
Julia laughed again. “Next time?”
Evan met her eyes. “Next time.” She remembered their earlier conversation about rules. “But only if we're free and clear of this business.”
“Are you always so scrupulous?”
That reminded her of Liz's comment last night. Shit. Maybe she did need to see if her plaid jumper still fit. She really was acting like some buck-toothed, goody two-shoes—one of those annoying suck-ups who stayed after school to clap Sister's erasers. She looked Julia up and down. Yeah. She could cover a lot of ground in ten minutes.
“No. I'm not normally scrupulous at all.”
“Then why now?” Julia seemed more curious than anything.
“What was it you said a while ago? You try to be when it's important?”
Julia regarded her in silence for a moment. Then she nodded. “That's right.”
“Well, I'm not sure about very many things right now—but I do think that maybe we can salvage something decent out of this mess. If we don't fuck it up before we get the chance to try.”
“I hope you're right.” Julia's tone gave no indication of what she thought their odds were likely to be. She jumped when the phone in her hand buzzed. She glanced down at it.
“It's Evel. He says he'll be pulling up out front in about two minutes.”
Evan felt the lead slugs in her gut shift. “Okay. Let's get you an umbrella.”
“Afraid I'll melt?” Her blue eyes looked teasing.
“No. That's not really the Wizard of Oz reference that occurs to me right now.”
“No. I feel more inclined to hover over you and chant, ‘Surrender, Dorothy.'”
Julia leaned toward her. She was suddenly so close that Evan had trouble focusing on her features. It wasn't a bad sensation at all. Julia smelled like lavender.
Evan could feel her breath—faint puffs of air after each consonant. Rules . There was something about rules. She couldn't remember what it was. Julia's mouth hovered there, separated from hers by centimeters. Then it wasn't separated from hers at all. And neither was the rest of her. She had no idea which one of them had closed the distance. It didn't matter. Christ. Two minutes? They had two minutes. Judging by the surge of adrenalin that was about to short-circuit every synapse in her brain, she realized that ten minutes might just have killed her.
A flash of white from car headlights cut across the room. They broke apart and looked at each other guiltily, like teenagers who had been caught in the snare of a porch light by an unseen parent.
Evan released her and withdrew her hands. How in the hell had they gotten inside her shirt that fast? Julia appeared equally stunned. For once, her legendary composure seemed to desert her.
“I'm sorry,” Evan said. Even though she wasn't.
“I'm not.” Julia reached up to wipe some lipstick off Evan's mouth. Her hand was shaky. “You aren't, either.”
Evan resisted the impulse to bite her fingertips. God. She wanted to ingest the woman. “No. I guess I'm not.”
There were two short blasts from a car horn.
“Walk me out?”
Evan nodded. She stood up, uncertain that her legs would support her weight. They did. Apparently, her brain was still able to establish communication with areas south of her navel. She had no idea how that was possible.
“Let me get that umbrella.” She started to head for the basement again, but Julia stopped her.
“Don't bother.” She gave Evan a look that was a priceless mixture of shyness and bravado. “I'm already wet.”
Jesus. Evan closed her eyes. She felt like the floor was shifting beneath her feet. “Are you trying to kill me?”
“No.” Julia remained silent until Evan opened her eyes and looked back at her. Then she smiled. “Not yet, anyway.”
“All good things to those who wait?” Great . Now she was quoting Hannibal Lecter. It must be that biting thing.
“Something like that.” Julia reached for her hand.
They left the house and walked together toward the waiting Town Car, ignoring the rain that soaked them both to the skin.
After Julia left, Evan went back inside and stood still for a few minutes, dripping onto the rug in her dark foyer. She was full of nervous energy and she needed something to do. She knew she was too keyed up to sleep, so that idea was out. That left her with only two options. She could go upstairs, whack off, and then try to sleep (unlikely)—or she could dry herself off and try to work for a few hours. She lifted her arm and watched as rain water dropped from her sleeve to join the expanding pool at her feet. She remembered the days when she wouldn't have had to choose. She would've just whacked off, then worked. End of story. Growing old sucked.
Right now, just about everything sucked. Especially the mess she was making on this damn rug. Sighing, she pulled her shoes off and ran up the short flight of stairs to get some dry clothes.
As she changed into sweat pants and a faded t-shirt with Penn stenciled across the front in chipped letters, she wondered how Julia was faring on the ride back to town with Evel.
God. What the hell was she thinking? This woman was so out of her league. She needed to stick with the Liz Burkes of the world—women who gave as good as they got, and never looked much beyond the landscape of their own libidos. They were her ilk. Not Julia. Julia was something else. Julia was like a stray truffle, stuck in a steaming pile of shit beneath one of those Kennett Square mushroom tents. She didn't fit.
But Evan couldn't do anything about that right now. So she forced herself to think about the other parts of this story that didn't fit. Parts like that accident of Tom Sheridan's. Something about that narrative rubbed her the wrong way.
She went downstairs and walked into her office. The photos of Margo Sheridan looked up at her from her desktop. She was tempted to take a Sharpie and add a big moustache to her perfect features. Yeah. That would be a mature response. Instead, she turned the photos face down and dropped into her grandfather's old Bank of England chair. The storm was still raging outside, but she supposed it would be safe to run her laptop off its battery pack.
She started by reading archived news reports of Sheridan 's accident in the Aspen Daily News and the Denver Post . Details there were sketchy. The Pitkin County coroner said that Sheridan died from blunt trauma to the head and neck, and ruled the death accidental. There was no mention of Sheridan 's blood alcohol level in the published news reports, but that wasn't unusual. The Washington Post and New York Times articles were more detailed, but focused primarily on the aftermath of Sheridan 's death, and questions related to who the governor of Maryland would appoint to complete his congressional term. There also was some lively discussion that reignited the ongoing debate about the use of helmets in downhill skiing—and several articles linked Sheridan's accident to the earlier celebrity deaths of Michael Kennedy and Sonny Bono. In general, the published news reports made little mention of Sheridan 's grieving widow. She did not accompany him on the skiing holiday. She had been in London at the time, interviewing with Corus Steel. Evan knew from Julia that Andy Townsend had been there, and she was curious to discover who else had participated in the Aspen reunion.
On impulse, she logged back in to Yale's online alumni community and did some looking around. She lucked into a stray class note and photo posted by Gil Freemont, a classmate of Dan's. He had been in Aspen that weekend. The reunion photo showed a sweater-clad Freemont, seated at a table in a Snowmass pub, with Sheridan, Andy Townsend, and another man she did not recognize. He was identified as Adam Greenhill, another Yale frat brother. The table was covered with empty beer steins. According to Freemont's caption, the photo had been taken the day before Sheridan 's accident. Evan stared at it. The men all looked laid-back and relaxed—preppy and successful in their designer “ski” clothes. She sat back and sighed, reaching for her mouse to close the window. Then she saw him.
He was standing at the bar in the background of the photograph—in a suit . Asshole. Only Marcus would wear a fucking suit to a ski resort. What the hell was Marcus doing there? He wasn't a Yalie, and he certainly didn't look like he was there to enjoy a ski weekend.
She sat tapping the top of her mouse. Sheridan 's accident happened over two years ago, when Townsend was still a little-known governor from Delaware . It was only after Sheridan 's death that he was catapulted into the national spotlight as the newest mouthpiece of the green energy coalition. Was it possible that Marcus had been sniffing around Andy over two years ago? Or had Marcus been working with Tom Sheridan?
Probably not. Sheridan made no secret about his lack of political ambition.
Evan clicked back to the text of an interview he gave The Baltimore Sun about three months before the Aspen trip. The interviewer asked him to respond to rumors that he was thinking about resigning his congressional seat and signing on with Greenpeace USA . Sheridan 's reply was predictably vague. He said that he fully intended to complete his term, and that he had made no decisions about his future beyond that. He would neither confirm nor deny the Greenpeace rumors.
There was really nothing unusual about any of this. Still. It bugged her. And she knew enough to pay attention to things that bugged her. Paying attention made her good at her job.
The easiest and most sensible thing for her to do would be to take the train down to D.C. and talk with Marcus. She toyed with that idea for a minute.
Any time she spent more than two seconds with that man, it took the metaphorical equivalent of a Silkwood shower to get over it. Besides, her grandfather always said that there were more ways to kill a cat than by choking it with cream.
She opened a new browser window and pulled up the Southwest Airlines site, looking for a nonstop flight from Philly to Denver . She smiled, and selected the most expensive travel package. You can pay for this, too, motherfucker . Then she sent a quick email to Dan to let him know that she was heading out to Colorado tomorrow to look into Andy's ill-fated Aspen skiing holiday . She'd let him draw his own conclusions from that—but she made certain he had her overnight contact information in case anything concerning their daughter cropped up during her absence.
Her cell phone vibrated from its nest atop a stack of folders. She picked it up. It was a text message. She clicked on the view icon and smiled when the message displayed. It was from Julia.
Survived the return trip and am safely back in my room. Not even raining here. Neglected to tell you that I leave on Sunday for two weeks in Europe . Any chance you'll be in New York before then? Dinner was lovely. Julia
Evan felt almost giddy. It was ridiculous. She knew she was flirting with disaster. She sat back and closed her eyes, remembering how it felt when Julia touched her. Against her better judgment, she lifted the phone, hit the reply button, and began to type.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. How about Friday night? I can take the train and be there by dinnertime.
She hit send, then turned off her computer and desk lamp, and sat in the dark, holding her phone. It was absurd and surreal. The two of them made no sense. They had to be the world's worst combination since some moron mixed Grey Goose with Spam and called it an Atkins Martini.
Her phone vibrated again. It felt hot against her palm.
We'll consider it a (non) date. Call me Friday to work out logistics.
She smiled. Maybe she was still young enough to work and whack-off.
To be continued.
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