Susan X Meagher
Jillian Bourne scanned the relatively crowded auditorium at Clear Lake High School in Nashua, New Hampshire. She'd been to the school three times already, preparing for today's appearance, but it was becoming difficult to tell one high school auditorium from the next. Senator McCain was due to arrive at 4 p.m., but it was 3:50, and she'd just gotten word that he was still at his previous appearance, all the way across town.
She paced around the circumference of the building, making sure that every cable was properly taped and that the perimeter was clear. It wasn't her job to do these things, but if they weren't done properly part of the blame would fall on her shoulders.
Jillian had been working for the campaign for almost a year, and she'd begun to think of New Hampshire as home, even though her apartment was in Phoenix. Her job title was “advance scout,” and it was her job to find appropriate venues for events such as today's. Even though her job title hadn't changed, she had recently been lending a hand during events. She wasn't wild about having the added responsibility, but money was tight and when a staffer left he or she was sometimes not replaced.
She adjusted the tiny earphone she wore, and turned down the volume on the receiver. It was always squawking in her ear, and the messages were rarely for her. She'd decided that many people weren't happy unless they were speaking, even if they had nothing to say. Crossing her arms over her chest she surveyed the crowd again, noting that one particular woman who’d caught her eye several times in the last few weeks was again in attendance.
Jillian had figured out that candidates attracted groupies, in much the same way that athletes or other celebrities did. Some of them were bloggers, some passionate advocates, and some could probably be considered stalkers. She had nothing to do with security, but she had time and opportunity, since the seat next to the woman was available. Jillian crossed the auditorium and sat next to the woman, turning her head to make eye contact. "Hi, there."
The woman was even more attractive at close range than she had been at a distance. "Hi." Her greeting wasn't very enthusiastic, and she looked back down at the notebook she'd been scribbling in.
"Are you press?"
"No." The woman met Jillian's eyes and said, "Just an interested voter."
There was something too polished about her, too professional. There was no way she was a local who couldn't hear McCain's stump speech often enough. Jillian considered trying to feel her out in a discreet fashion, but she was so certain that the woman was a pro she didn't bother. "Is that really the best you can do?"
The woman gave her a crooked smile and said, "I am an interested voter.”
"Okay," Jillian said. "Let me ask it this way. Who pays you to be interested?"
The woman put her hand on her chest, acting as though she were insulted. "I'm sorry, aren’t we still in the United States? I know we’re close to Canada, but…”
"Yes, we're still on US soil, and you have every right to be here. I’d just like to know why you're here, and I'm not buying your current story."
"McCain doesn't have Secret Service protection yet, but you look pretty official. You've got that little earphone and everything. Yep," she said, nodding, "the nice, but sedate blue suit, white blouse, sensible shoes. Definitely some kind of copper."
"Copper? Have you been watching gangster movies from the 30s?”
"No time. I've been too busy listening to McCain explain how we're going to win in Iraq. Fascinating stuff. Simply fascinating." Sarcasm practically dripped from her words.
Jillian extended her hand. "Jillian Bourne. I do advance work for the campaign." Her eyebrows popped up and down a couple of times. "Now it's your turn."
"Samantha Updike, interested citizen."
Someone spoke into her ear, and Jillian was fairly sure they said her name. She turned up the volume and spoke into her lapel microphone. "I'll be right there." When she got up she extended her index finger and shook it at Samantha. "I'm still not buying it," she said as she walked away.
An hour later the crowd was streaming out of the auditorium, the buzz of excitement still palpable. It continually surprised Jillian at how much true excitement a simple stump speech could generate, given the right audience. Today, McCain's speech had clearly been well received, and Jillian noticed a certain bounce to his step as he was hustled to the next stop. Samantha was one of the last to leave, and Jillian met her gaze. "Will I see you tomorrow?” Jillian asked.
"You're not going bowling tonight?"
"No, I've got to make sure tomorrow’s venues are secured. Are you going bowling?"
"No, I only have to go to events where he's going to give the speech. I've got the whole night off. I just can't decide what exciting thing I'll do. I've only been in New Hampshire for six months, and I've barely begun to scratch the surface.”
"Where are you from?"
“Phoenix, I think. It's been awhile.”
"I'm in the mood for a hot cocoa. Want to join me?"
"Want to tell me who you work for?"
"I will if you buy.”
"I'm not sure it means that much," Jillian said, chuckling. “But you've got a deal."
Jillian didn't have a car with her, so Samantha gave her a lift, promising to drop her off at McCain headquarters when they were finished. They got into Samantha's subcompact after Jillian spent a few minutes cleaning off the passenger seat. "Do you have every meal at McDonald's?"
"No, I'm just too lazy to throw out the containers. I'd never treat my own car this way, but having a rental always brings out my inner slob.”
"You have to be a Democrat. Republicans are never this dirty." She sat down and buckled herself in.
"Republicans are filthy, but their servants clean up after them."
Jillian chuckled. "Which candidate are you working for? Hillary, I assume?"
"Wrong. I'm with the DNC."
"Are you trailing McCain?"
"Yep. I'm stuck with him until he flames out."
"That's not going to happen," Jillian huffed. "We're going to win New Hampshire.”
"Oh," Samantha said, not trying to hide her smile. "A true believer. You used the royal ‘we’ and everything.”
"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe in him. How about you? What do you believe in besides giving aid and comfort to terrorists?”
"Just what you'd think. I believe in closing all businesses and distributing their money to the poor. Oh, I forgot that I want to take away all guns and prohibit prayer from everyplace…even churches."
"A Democrat with a sense of humor? Impossible."
"Worse than that. A lesbian Democrat with a sense of humor."
“I've got you beat. I'm a lesbian Republican.”
Samantha shot a quick glance in Jillian’s direction. "So, when did you begin to hate yourself?”
Jillian slunk down in her seat. "Scratch what I said about having a sense of humor.”
They were sitting at a café, sipping their cocoa, when Samantha said, "I think somebody can dish it out but she can't take it.”
"I can take it, I can take it. I just get tired of taking it."
"So, you're saying I'm not the first person to point out that the Republican Party isn't very sympathetic to the gay and lesbian cause?" Her eyes twinkled, and it was clear she was enjoying herself.
"You're not the first today." Jillian took a long a sip of her drink, her pale eyes narrowed in thought. “Here's what annoys me. I take tons of shit for being a Republican, but last time I checked there’s only one Democratic candidate who fully supports gay rights. But I haven't seen one Kucinich button at my local lesbian bar."
Samantha looked to her left, then her right, eyes wide. "There's a lesbian bar around here? Where?"
"You know exactly what I mean. All Republicans are evil and all Democrats aren't good even when they treat us equally bad.”
"Not really equally. You know full well that no candidate can afford to fully support us. At least the Democrats want to get rid of “don't ask, don't tell” and they support civil unions.”
Jillian made a sweeping gesture with her hand. "I'd rather not be invited to the party at all than be told I have to come in through the back door and sit in the kitchen."
"The Democrats want to be more openly accepting. It's just not possible right now."
"McCain doesn't go out at night and gay bash, you know. I bet he feels just as comfortable with gay people as all of your candidates. But what good does that do us? None of them say anything positive on their websites about us. I'm just glad McCain doesn't support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Other than DADT, which Clinton came up with, by the way, there's no real difference between my guy and any of yours.”
"I’d rather have a Democrat appoint the next Supreme Court justice, not to mention all of the federal judges that come up in a four-year period. That's where the real damage is done."
Once again, Jillian slumped down in her chair. She looked almost disconsolate when she said, "I partially agree with you about the Supreme Court, but I don't think McCain will appoint anyone too right wing. Besides, Supreme Court vacancies don't come up that often.”
"I'll still take my chances with a Democrat."
Jillian sat up straight again. "Look, I'll give you that argument. But you can't seriously vote for the president based only on who he's going to appoint to the Supreme Court."
"She. The proper pronoun is she."
“Okay,” Jillian said, putting on a false smile, "you can't vote for a person based on one issue. The world is too complex for that."
"The world is complex. Sometimes it's so complex that it makes me crazy. I found a gay bar in Manchester. Why don't we go up later and get a drink to get the crazy off us?"
"Drink with a Democrat?" Jillian shook her head. "That sounds dangerous. You people are notorious lushes."
"I'll tell that to Rush Limbaugh the next time I see him buying bags of drugs in a parking lot. Do you want to go?”
Jillian finally smiled. "I'd love to. I can't get away until around nine. Is that too late?"
"No. I don't sleep anymore…except for during McCain’s speeches,” she added, smiling evilly.
It was a straight shot up the Everett Turnpike to Manchester, and traffic was light. Samantha didn't consult any of the maps that she had crammed onto the dashboard, causing Jillian to comment, "You've learned your way around the Granite State pretty well.”
"Every time I'm within 50 miles I go to this bar. No," she said sticking her tongue out, "I'm not an alcoholic. It's just nice to be away from all of the same hacks. Traveling with a campaign is like being at band camp for a whole year."
"Is this your first campaign? Yeah. I don't think it will be my last, though. I've got the bug. How about you?"
"Me, too. I'd like to work my way up to something a little more interesting than videotaping the same speech every day, but ever since George Allen got caught with that ‘macaca’ comment we can't afford to let our vigilance lapse." She made a face, showing that she knew her statement was over-the-top.
"Advance work is pretty fun, but I think I'd like to switch over and get into policy. Then I can help make sure that your evil, liberal agenda never gets enacted."
"So, are you a true believer? I thought maybe you just liked McCain.”
"I do. And I probably wouldn't have gotten into this if not for him. But now that I'm in it I think I'll stay. Those of us who want to keep the party out of the hands of the far right have to work to make that happen.”
Samantha shot her another quick glance. "I hate to tell you this, but you're too late."
It was a men's bar, but the people were friendly and the drinks were cheap. They sat in a corner, sipping beer from bottles. Samantha closed one eye, assessing Jillian. "So, are you single?"
"I wouldn't be in a bar with you if I weren't. We’re the family values party." She tipped her beer in Samantha's direction and added a wink.
"I have another news flash for you. People in your party don't use that term to refer to solidifying lesbians relationships.”
"My party isn't a monolith. I'll agree that yours likes to posture more about its openness, but there are lots of gay Republicans. I've never felt I had to be closeted, and I'm treated like everyone else." She got a gleam in her eye and said, "I bet I’m more accepted for being gay then you would be for being pro-life."
Samantha looked a little ill. “Err…”
"Try it. The next time you're at DNC headquarters tell them you've seen the light and you're going to start marching in front of abortion clinics.”
"That might not go over too well," Samantha agreed. "They’d probably transfer me to trailing Ron Paul.”
"My point. You guys talk about how inclusive you are, but you're just as rigid as we are. Both parties want you to march in lockstep with them."
"So, where do you fall on the Republican continuum?”
"I'm pretty moderate."
"Against. Except for assault weapons."
Samantha rolled her eyes. "Abortion?"
"Should be up to the states."
Samantha made a sound like a buzzer going off. "Dissembling. You're anti-choice.”
"I am not. I just believe there are 50 states and that each of them should have control over the laws that affect their citizens."
"So if a particular state wanted to allow humans to be sold as slaves…that's okay by you?”
“Of course it's not. I’d think the Supreme Court of any state would find such a law unconstitutional. But if they didn't, I'd hope that the rest of the country could convince that renegade state to rescind the law by social and economic coercion. I don't think the federal government has a role. We trust the states to say what constitutes murder. I think you have to trust them across the board.”
"With that view, there's still wouldn't be black people at the University of Mississippi.”
"Not true. Not true at all. Mississippi would have come around. Maybe not as quickly as they did with the National Guard escorting students to class, but they would've come around. I think things would have been less contentious if the people of Mississippi had made that decision rather than having the federal government force it."
"So the black people who wanted to go to the university during the time period when the people were changing their minds…”
Jillian held up her hands. "It's not a perfect system. I'm just arguing that there are different ways of dealing with racism. None of them are ideal."
"I like to argue," Samantha said, smiling. "It's kind of fun arguing with someone who doesn't see things the same way I do. You don't seem to get your back up the second I challenge you, either."
"My mom is a Democrat, and my dad is a Republican. I grew up in a home where we argued about politics every night at the dinner table." She chuckled. "It aids in digestion.”
"Interesting. My parents are completely apolitical. I didn't get the bug until I was in college and started working for the student newspaper."
"I was on my student newspaper, too. What else do we have in common?"
"We both like politics."
"We both like McDonald's."
"We both like girls.”
"I like girls a lot. A whole lot.”
"Me, too. I like brainy girls who think for themselves."
"Stanford. Cum laude. I was the conservative voice on The Stanford Daily.”
Samantha's mouth dropped open. "Wow. Talk about a voice crying in the wilderness.”
"You know it. I like brainy girls who don't take themselves too seriously. It helps if they have nice breasts.” She ostentatiously checked out Samantha's breasts, which were, in fact, impressive.
"Uh… University of Maryland. B-.” She stuck her chest out, giggling. “34 C.”
Jillian chuckled. "Grades are overrated.”
"What else do you like?"
“Hmm… I like brunettes, brown eyes, sweet, crooked smiles, terrapins…”
"You're so smart you even know my school’s mascot!”
"I love college basketball. I know all of the teams."
"I love college basketball! Especially women's.”
"I like both. Hey, ESPN is showing the Stanford/USC women's game tonight. Wanna come over to my deluxe room at Extended Stay America to watch it."
"Ooo, fancy. I'm sharing a room at Motel 6.”
"Republicans have all the money, remember?"
"They've definitely got the pretty girls. I'll bring my video camera in case you make any ethnic slurs."
Jillian laughed. "I'll frisk you before I let you into my room.”
"Promise," Jillian agreed, smiling at the sexual undertone. "I’d like to frisk you right now."
Samantha stood up. "Then what are we waiting for? I've got a great looking woman in front of me, an entire motel room waiting, and a basketball game to look forward to. I’m in dyke heaven.”
Jillian leaned over and whispered, “I’ve got a 36 inch plasma, and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Acting like she was going to swoon, Samantha took her arm. “I think I’m in love.”
“And they say politics makes strange bedfellows,” Jillian said, laughing as they walked out into the dark, cold night.
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