November - Election Night
Cold shoots up through my knees from the hard tile floor. I try not to breathe in too deeply to avoid the stench. It’s really the not-too-clean ground that has me worried as I adjust to the unforgiving surface.
I’m in an airless bathroom paying homage to the porcelain throne, throwing up cocktail weenies and chardonnay, wishing this night had turned out differently.
“Chloe!” she calls between the sounds of her fist beating the door.
A slight headache is beginning as I pull my face away from the toilet and groan. The pounding is like a reverberating base. I grasp the bowl to push up, but I can’t help it; I fall back on my knees and retch again.
“Are you alright? What’s got you so spooked?”
I hit the handle and watch my stomach’s contents swirl down and away. My mouth tastes foul and bile burns my throat, reminding me I’m still not under control. I take a shaky breath and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, then twist my dark hair away from my shoulders to cool the dampness on my brow. God, it’s hot in here.
“I’m fine,” I call back and slowly get to my feet.
“You’re not fine. I can hear you throwing up from here. Let me in.”
My hand rests on the wall to steady myself, while I pull the door open to a horrified Kellis, her fist poised to break down the door. Kurt is behind her, attempting to peer over her shoulder. She exchanges a glance with my concerned brother-in-law and he leaves without a word. She walks in, locking the door behind her.
“You look like shit,” she says, advancing to the sink to reach for a paper towel, and taps the faucet. “Do you think you have food poisoning?”
I move to the second sink, wash my hands, then cup my palm for water to rinse my mouth. I lean over the running faucet exhausted; my stomach feels like it’s inside out from food spewing out of me. “I’m not sick,” I mumble.
She offers me a moistened towel. “Here, wipe your face, then tell me why you ran in here after Councilman Peterson gave his concession speech.”
I take the offered towel, wipe half my makeup off, and discard it in the trash. “According to all the polling data,” I say in an exhale, “Peterson should have easily won his race.”
My sister digs into her purse, pulls out her makeup bag, and hands it to me. “Here, use this to repair the damage. Although my lipstick is a lot brighter than you’re used to.” She rinses her hands while she speaks to me through the mirror. “What’s the deal? Sometimes politicians lose, and I didn’t think you were that fond of your boss.”
I wet another towel to get the rest of my makeup off. “Peterson was alright; it was like working for my grandfather.” I’m feeling better while I wick the last bit of foundation off my face. “I’m not heartbroken about his leaving. He told me this would be his last term. I’m worried about the person who’s taking his council seat.”
Kellis’ reflection says she doesn’t have a clue what I’m talking about. She’s been living in Munich with her new husband and is expecting their first child. They arrived earlier today because she convinced her husband, the CEO of Drachen Technology, to temporarily move back to Silicon Valley to be close to our family when she gives birth. So, she doesn’t have a notion about local politics.
The eyeliner and lipstick I apply are enough to get through the hotel if I see anyone from the campaign. “Let’s get out of here and I’ll show you why I’m upset.”
Kurt sits at our abandoned table with empty glasses and plates of half-eaten food. Someone must have released the balloons and confetti that were tacked to the ceiling to celebrate a victory that never came. He looks like the last guest at a New Year’s Eve celebration.
The hotel crew is doing their best to clean around his big, imposing form. He’s a modern version of a brooding romantic figure like Rochester in Jane Eyre with his short blond hair bordering on a military style and crystal-blue eyes that miss nothing. He’s an ‘A’ type and needs a better social filter, but he’s a big sweetie and loves my sister. He stands, towering over me, his brows knit together. “Are you alright, Chloe?”
I beam at him, happy that two of my favorite people are back in my life. “I’m better now. Something didn’t agree with my stomach, that’s all.” I grab my purse and jacket he was guarding. “I didn’t drive here; can I ride with you guys?”
We walk through the door. I flip on lights, grateful the cleaner has been here and the house looks tidy. It’s good to have Kellis back living with me, even if Kurt is with her. The three of us spent a lot of mornings in our kitchen when Kurt first came to the US from Germany when he lived next door.
“Have a seat,” I say, motioning them to the couch. “I’m sure I can find the new councilman’s acceptance speech on the news.” I press the remote, surfing the stations, until I settle on channel two. The ten o’clock news team is calling the city races. I turn the volume up when the female anchor gets to San Pacitas.
“Today, we witnessed a stunning defeat of Councilman Alfred Peterson, a city councilman who has represented District 5 for the last fifteen years. The upset came from a political newcomer and ex-Silicon Valley tech mogul Jaxson Bennett.”
Kellis gapes when she sees Jaxson at the podium, standing with his excited supporters crowding the stage. A full battery of press jostles for position below the dais, hanging on his every word. I click off the TV.
Kellis glances over at me. “That’s not...it can’t be the same Jaxson Bennett from Anselm Prep.”
I slump into a chair. “Yeah, that’s him.”
“Who’s Jaxson Bennett?” Kurt’s bewildered voice is barely audible.
Kellis notices her puzzled spouse. “Sweetheart, would you get me an orange juice?”
A worried Kurt bounces to his feet, looking down at his wife. “I will. Are you feeling alright, Schatz?”
I have to stifle a laugh when I hear him call her his treasure in German. It’s funny to see them now, but it was WWIII around here before they realized they were meant for each other. Kurt fell in love first; it just took me convincing my stubborn sister he was Mr. Right.
“I’m fine,” Kellis says, in her sweet, calming voice she’s been using when she speaks to Kurt. I wonder how she holds it together sometimes. “I’m just a little thirsty.” He practically jogs out of the room to do her bidding.
She leans toward me. “Start talking.”
Cabinets are banging, but I still crane my neck to see if Kurt is in the kitchen, just to make sure he doesn’t hear us, then sit beside Kellis on the couch.
“There’s nothing to tell. You know Jax came back to the Valley after graduating from Princeton. He opened a data-mining company using some of his trust fund money with a few of his buddies and entered the billionaire boys club a few years later.” All noise stops from the kitchen and I lower my voice. “We’re not in the same social circles, so I was never in danger of running into him.”
Kurt returns, holding a tray with two glasses, a pitcher of juice, plates, napkins, and a bowl of carrot sticks. Kellis is in the early months of her pregnancy; Lord help us when she starts looking like Lady Madonna. Kurt will probably have her hermetically sealed until the baby arrives.
He places the tray on the coffee table and kisses his wife on the top of her head. “Drink your orange juice,” he instructs. “The only healthy thing I found for you to eat were carrots.” He turns to me. “Chloe, I’ll help you make a grocery list tomorrow.”
I nod, indulging my overprotective brother-in-law.
He looks at her critically. “Schatz, don’t you think you should have your feet up?”
“I’m fine, Kurt, don’t fuss. You said you had to return some calls. Why don’t you do that now and let us talk? It will take your mind off of me for a while.”
He’s reluctant. “Okay, if you think I’m hovering.”
“Oh, no, never you.” I smile up at him.”
He points an accusing finger at me. “We’re going to Whole Foods tomorrow.” Then he turns to stride out of the room.
“I look forward to it,” I shout at his back.
Kellis pours a glass and hands it to me. “Be sure you have some of these carrot sticks; I’m betting he’s counted them. Why is Jax in politics?”
I pull out a magazine from under a stack of books on the table and place it on her lap. She puts her glass down to retrieve it. Jaxson Bennett’s rich-guy good looks dominate the cover of Silicon Valley Today. “The interview is on page twenty-five,” I say.
Kellis runs a finger over the worn cover. “This magazine is dated over a year ago.”
She flips through the pages, looking for the article. “This is a real magazine; most people read their news on a device.”
I shrug. “What can I say? I like the feel of glossy paper in my hands.”
Kellis is silent while she reads, then turns a page. ”Most of what he’s saying in this article is pretty much political speak. That he wants to serve the community and make a positive impact. I see here he’s still single," she teases in a sing-song voice.
I shake my head, indicating that she’s missing the point. "When I saw that article, I called around to find out if his bid for the seat had any merit or if he was just doing it to boost his public profile. Every pollster, every political writer I spoke to said he didn't have a chance to unseat Peterson.”
“How do you think Jaxson managed it?”
“My guess is that he threw a lot of money at it and because Peterson was the incumbent, he didn’t take Jax or his own campaign seriously.”
"Are you sure you're going to be assigned to Jaxson?"
"He's replacing the councilman I work for…I’m positive. I can ask Arlene, my supervisor, to switch me to another councilmember. But I know she's not going to approve my request. They're not going to chance a newbie working with a high-profiled politician. I'll show him how the system works, but I'm also tasked with keeping him out of trouble, and with his reputation it might be difficult."
Kellis pushes the magazine back on the table. "When does he assume his new position?"
I fish a carrot stick out of the bowl. "The swearing-in ceremony will be after the councilmembers are officially certified. I think it’s scheduled for the first week in January. The day after the swearing-in, the new members will attend an orientation. That day or the next, he’ll meet me and the rest of his staff.”
"After all this time, what are you going to say to him?"
I shrug. I’ve got to convince her that Jax is no big deal. “I haven't seen him since my first quarter at SCU. We were together for a few weeks until he was accepted into Princeton and vanished.”
Kellis reaches for my hand and I grasp it, happy for our sister bond. We’ve always had each other’s back no matter what’s been thrown at us.
"Don't worry, little sister,” I say as I squeeze her hand, “everything will work out. Jax and I will probably have coffee together and have a good laugh."
This doesn’t sit well with her. She’s giving me a glimpse of what’s in store for her kid. "Really, Chloe? It took you a long time to get over Jaxson, even though you dated for a short period and he unceremoniously dumped you after that. What is there to laugh about?”
I won’t admit to my sister that I still think about him. That’s not weird…people do that. I haven’t done it for a while, but I’ve driven by his house hoping to catch a glimpse of him. I can’t show her the stack of articles I’ve collected about him over the years; she’d probably drive me to a therapist.
“After the night you spent together, you told me he was the love of your life. Chloe, at least try to get some closure."
I wave the suggestion away. Usually, I’m the one giving out advice. Kellis is the head of a thriving staffing firm married to Kurt, a CEO of a multinational company, and they’ve got a baby on the way. I’m a legislative analyst for a councilman in local city government. That proves I give great advice to everyone else.
"That was years ago. I've moved on. We’re both adults and we’ll handle it like adults."
Kellis crunches a carrot stick, then points the end at me. "Yeah, throwing up in the bathroom after you find out Jaxson Bennett is going to be your boss is real adult."