The Lazy Lemon Sun Ch. 02byRehnquist©
INTRODUCTION: If you're still with me, much of the set up is done. Now it's time to really introduce the conflict or, more accurately, conflicts. Plural. Thus, since I'm too busy getting the stage all set, there was no room for sex in this part. None. Also, since this is being posted on consecutive days and I haven't yet read your blistering comments, I just want to point out a few other things, too.
First, I know my character is kind of unsure and befuddled much of the time. In his defense, though, he's the younger, more unworthy son and he's always been in the shadows of his father and brother. Also, I'm generally befuddled and confused myself, so there you have it.
Second, I really do look forward to reading your comments on the moral dilemma I am creating here. This one isn't so black and white, pretty much right up to the end. I'd be interested to hear your take on it. What would you do? The dilemma spills out over the remaining chapters, and I'm almost giddy to see whether any of your positions change.
Thus, I beg of you all, if I could take weeks to write this, please do me the kindness of taking a few minutes to at least post a comment or drop me a line with your thoughts.
The Tennessee Governor's Mansion is this really pretty red-brick number in Nashville. One of the bonuses of being the boss, I guess, is that you can reside in that colossal joint if you want to. The downsides? Well, I'm not sure how I'd take to all the tourists traipsing through on their little guided tours. Doesn't seem to make much sense to live such a big place if you can't have sex on the stairways whenever you want, right?
Anyway, Sandy and I were amongst a group of family staying with her folks at the Mansion. The other people there?
Well, gathered around the table were her folks and two younger brothers and my folks. That's it. And that's how I knew something big was up.
Darlene, the busty, frumpy, perpetually frowning middle-aged maid, wheeled in a tray laden with dessert just as Pat stood at the head of the table.
"I'd like to thank y'all for coming this weekend," he said, raising his glass of wine.
Here, here, we all echoed, raising our glasses and taking a sip. I waved off the bread pudding for dessert, and Pat smiled at me. "Darlene, dear, why don't you get him a glass of bourbon instead." I looked at him, and his face was strangely nervous. "And me, too, if you don't mind."
She nodded and scurried to the kitchen to fetch the bourbon.
"I'm not really sure how to say it," he continued, putting the glass down in front of him but remaining on his feet.
"Just say it, Pat," Dad said evenly. His sly grin said he knew what was coming.
"Yeah, Daddy, say what you've got to say," Patrick Junior said, bored with the theatrics.
"I'm gonna be puttin' my hat in for the Presidency," he said, his eyes scanning our faces for our reactions.
I'd like to say I was stunned, but I wasn't. That's what politicians do; they run for higher office and higher office. Once you're Governor, the legislature no longer holds any allure. You're no longer the boss, the head honcho, the big cheese getting his ass kissed everywhere by everybody. Therefore, the only higher office for Pat Truelson was the White House.
"Uhm . . . well . . . Debra and I have talked it over, and we've decided that it's now or never. The Republican field's weak right now, and I've got a real shot."
"Southern politicians dominate at this level," Dad agreed with him.
Pat gave a nervous smile. "Let's hope so."
He sat, looking around the table before his eyes settled on me.
"What," I said. Not a question, but a statement.
"I'm gonna need everyone here to be with me on this, Mark."
I nodded. "And you suspect I won't be because . . .?"
He fidgeted. "You and my little girl. Everything good there?"
I was surprised. I looked at Sandy, who just gave a nervous smile in return, then around the table at the other faces. They all looked at me as if they didn't know the answer.
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"You two haven't had any babies yet," Debra finally said.
"Not my call. I can assure you I'm doing my part."
Pat gave a big grin. "So I can count on y'all tagging along to events. Holding hands and smiling and looking the loving young couple?"
"Of course." I turned to Sandy. "Right?"
She beamed. "Absolutely."
* * * * *
"What was that all about tonight?" I asked a couple of hours later as I slipped beneath the covers in the guest room allotted to us.
"What?" Sandy said, yawning.
"That whole 'How's your marriage doing' routine?"
"High stakes, hon. I guess they don't need any bumps in the road before the primaries or–if he makes it that far–the general election."
"And why would they think there'd be problems?"
She gave a tired shrug. "Not a clue."
"You didn't say anything to them?"
"Not a word. I told them we were all in."
"So you already knew about this?"
"They told me when we got here."
"And you didn't tell me?"
She gave a lazy smile. "Didn't want to spoil the surprise."
"They ask you about our marriage?"
"And you said . . .?"
"That we were in it for the long haul."
She snuggled in and curled up close to me. I was flat on my back, staring at the ceiling. After a moment, I said, "Sandy?"
"Why haven't we had any children yet?"
She propped her head up in her hand, laying on her side and staring at me. "Because we've never discussed it?"
"Is that the only reason?"
"You want kids?"
"I don't know. I mean, we're so busy all the time, I guess. Still, I'd've thought we'd have at least talked about it sometime."
"Isn't that how most marriages go?"
"But we're not most marriages."
I turned my head and stared at her. Her expression was unreadable. She seemed confused by my questions, and I couldn't figure out why.
"You think we could talk about it sometime? Sometime soon?"
Her eyes narrowed, then a bright smile came over her face. A look of unbridled joy.
"Sure," she said. "When we get out of here–get back to our own place when I get back from this Denver trip–we'll have a nice long discussion and figure it all out."
"Maybe next Sunday?"
"It's a date."
She hugged me, whispering into my ear, "I really do love you."
"Really?" I whispered back.
She hugged me tighter. "Really."
An hour later, her professions of love–and my entire understanding of what love really is–were shattered like a crystal goblet flung at a fireplace.
* * * * *
Sandy was no longer cuddled into me. Instead, she was curled into a ball on the far side of the bed, breathing in light, even patterns that told me she was out like a light.
Me? I was wide awake. Nothing about the whole evening made any sense. And for not the first time, I was struck by Sandy's curious responses to what should've been simple questions.
Giving up on getting to sleep anytime soon, I slid out of bed and pulled on a robe. Maybe another bourbon would help me get to sleep.
Walking softly so as not to wake anyone, I crept down the stairs and was surprised to see light sneaking through the almost-closed door to the study. Drawing closer, I heard voices.
"You mean you never told him?" Pat Truelson said.
"Of course not," Mom replied.
"Because he was never the hard sell on this. Sandy was."
"The boy's been in love with her since he was almost out of diapers," Debra Truelson explained. "Sandy, on the other hand, was always a bit of a wild one. And independent as hell."
"So how'd you get Sandy to go along with it?" Dad asked.
I felt a deep chill run through my nerve endings, a chill of anger and embarrassment.
Debra gave a low, throaty chuckle. "Truth be told, we didn't. I begged her to just go out with him. See if maybe there's something there. She didn't want to. Thought it was creepy, what with him being Stevie's little brother and all. But I told her she needed to at least try for her daddy. If everything worked out right–the timing and all–it would all but sweep him into the Governor's Mansion. And she'd benefit from that. Her career would benefit."
Someone snorted, and Pat said, "Well, it did that all right."
"She was hesitant for the first week or so, their first couple of dates," Debra continued. "But that Christmas she came home with a grin from ear to ear. I'm thinking she slept with him, and he delivered the goods."
"That's it?" Pat laughed.
"I'm not sure, but she came into my dressing room that night and said she figured she'd be able to stick with him long enough to get married and maybe for at least a year or so after the marriage."
"And poor little Mark just played right into her hands," Dad said, amusement in his voice.
"She's a pretty girl," Mom said. "Besides, he's really been in love with her from day one. This was his dream come true."
There was silence for a moment, silence during which I felt my hands going numb from the ferocity with which I clenched my fists.
After the brief lull, Pat said, "So what's kept her with him all these years? You think she's really in love with him now? I mean, she doesn't have any male friends on the side, does she? We don't need that now."
Debra snickered. "Not a clue. She seems content. I suppose it's just inertia."
"They've both been pretty busy with their careers and all," Mom said. "Probably not enough time for either of them to really find someone else and go through the whole rigamarole of divorce and all."
"So you're sure? That they'll stay together, I mean?" Pat asked.
"Mark's not going anywhere," Mom said.
"And Sandy said everything's just fine so far as she's concerned," Debra said.
I heard glasses get laid on tabletops, then Dad said, "Well, let's hope so, Pat, because you've got a really good shot at this. The slightest bump in the road can upend the whole damned cart."
I heard their footsteps as they all moved toward the door. Ducking back, I pressed up against the wall deep in the shadows. It was all I could do to keep from confronting them all as they came into the hallway, but something told me that wouldn't go very well. In my current state of rage and confusion, I'd probably end up beating them all half to death.
I was still pressed against the wall five minutes later, well after my folks and Sandy's had made their way up the stairs to their respective bedrooms. Now my mind was racing with thoughts.
Sandy's curious answers were all explained now. Her reactions to my moods and her facial expressions when professing love and devotion and planning our marriage and on and on. She'd thought it was all this great big marvelous game, and the notion enraged me.
Then another thought struck me: She'd always acted as if I'd known about the game. As if I, too, knew ours was a marriage of political expediency and little else. If she'd known I was in the dark on this, she'd have played her cards closer to her vest.
Now, though, the thoughts really came tumbling out, crashing back and forth inside my skull with such force and rapidity that I became dizzy. If it had been a game to her, then did she really have a stable of boyfriends? If she didn't really love me, then why had she been so upset when I'd had the Bonaroo appeal a few years before? And why had she seemed so relieved when I'd finished and come back to her?
I couldn't answer any of the questions. Not a single damned one. If she'd been fucking around on me, she'd been doing it during work hours. Still, except for those few months during the Bonaroo appeal, our bedroom antics hadn't seemed to suffer more than the biologically-necessitated ebb and flow, and the lull during the appeal was as much attributable to my long hours as to hers.
Still, it was an arranged marriage. A marriage predicated on political necessity rather than love and devotion. Had it grown to more since then? On my side it had. Then again, I'd loved her from almost the beginning.
But had Sandy ever loved me? Had she grown to love me? Or was she just fond of me. Or did she just tolerate me. Or did she resent me and mock me.
Without warning, my questions about Sandy were cast aside with the sudden realization that my own parents had sold me out. Without telling me, they'd played me like a fiddle for their own reasons. Both of them.
How the fuck do you do that to your own son?
I mean really, how the fuck?
* * * * *
Sunday had been spent dropping Sandy off at the airport for a two-day business conference in Denver before driving myself back to Memphis and getting last-minute shopping and laundry done. I turned in early and spent most of the night tossing and turning, wishing the whole time I'd said something to Sandy before seeing her off. Maybe the bed wouldn't have seemed so . . . so . . . so goddamned transient all of a sudden.
Dragging into the office on Monday morning, I looked and felt like death warmed over. Emotionally, I wasn't up to being there. Physically, my energy was just sapped. Gone.
My problem was that I had no clue what to do. Do I confront Sandy? What would I say? 'Hey, it's come to my attention this is all just an arranged marriage kind of thing. You sure you don't want out?'
Then, of course, she'd look at me like I was a fucking idiot. 'Well fucking duh, moron.' Worse, she'd then insist we stay together, at least until after the elections down the road. And how do I say no? If I'm happy, do I really care if she's truly and deeply in love with me, or do I just keep playing along wondering if and when the hammer's going to fall?
Sandy seemed happy enough. Hell, we both were happy. Did it matter whether it was love? Did it really matter how it had started out? Arranged marriages happened all the time, both in politics and in Third World countries. Hot though she was, you really think Jack Kennedy married Jackie because of a deep, abiding love? Hell no. He married her to get rid of the rumors that he spent his whole life chasing skirts. Then, after they got married, he still spent the rest of his life chasing skirts.
But Jack Kennedy had gone into it with eyes wide open; I didn't. Then again, neither had Jackie, and the history books all said she'd been in love with him. Just like I thought I was in love with Sandy. Now, though, I was wondering if I still loved her.
I looked from the wall and my eyes focused in on my secretary, Thelma Sanderson. Her arms were holding a tall pile of thick, heavy binders.
"Yes, Miss Sanderson."
"You mind if I find room for these here?"
I waved around the office. "Sure. What are they?"
"All the books for your daddy's campaign committee. Mister Parker's got no room left and told me to find someplace to park 'em for now. Being as he's you're daddy, I figured this was as good a place as any."
She shrugged as she bent over and stacked them against the wall next to boxes of appellate records I was in the middle of ploughing through. "Couple of days, I suppose."
"Whatever," I said, turning back and facing the walls.
I'm not sure why I did it. I stared at the walls for another ten or fifteen minutes or so. Those books, though. They just kind of called to me. Beckoned me over to have a peek. Jim Parker's people–along with a troop of weary looking accountants in rumpled suits–were always poring over those books. I'd seen them all gathered around the massive mahogany table in the main conference room every few weeks, arguing back and forth and jotting figures and notes. I'd always thought myself well rid of being called in on that crap, but my mind was tired of worry and I decided to sneak a peek at the books.
Hauling two of them over to my tiny round work table, I flipped over the book containing the most recent entries for the first quarter. It was filled with copies of Federal Election Commission filings and disclosures and all manner of esoterica required to be reported for others to pore over and look for irregularities. In short, it was Greek to me.
Pushing aside book one and flipping over book two, I saw something completely different. These were a series of memoranda on different campaign finance issues. This was more like it, I thought. Boring trivialities that make up the sum and substance of the law. How to categorize this donation and that expenditure, how to say what you had to say without really saying anything at all. This was major stuff, I thought. Campaigns try to be as discreet as possible. No sense in letting some expenditure sloppily labeled come back to bite you in the ass when some bastard from the New York Times does his homework on a slow news day.
Almost an hour later, my problems and the piles of real work on my desk forgotten, I came across a curiously titled memorandum. Staff Support or Consultant. It was brief, just short of three pages. It was the first three paragraphs, though, that burst from the page and knocked the wind from my lungs.
"Question Presented: How best to label expenditures of child support so as to facially comply with FEC regulations, but avoid revealing the true nature of the payments?"
Reading on, I discovered that child support payments were being made on a regular basis to one Clarice Talbott. They'd been paying them for seven or eight years, but the regulations had changed on how to label campaign staff payments. The Finance Committee wanted to continue making the payments from its coffers, but it didn't want to raise any red flags on how it was labeled under the new guidelines.
Going back to my desk, I typed in the Google search for Clarice Talbott. There were dozens, but one name popped out from an old Washington Post article. My father. In a picture at his desk. With a very young, very pretty Clarice Talbott, his secretary, leaning over his shoulder as he signed something in his Senate office.
I clicked into my father's Senate website. Nothing on a Clarice Talbott. I went back to the ledgers. Twenty minutes of frantic skimming later, I found an address. The checks were being mailed to some town in Illinois. Grant City. I'd heard of it. Someplace an hour or so outside of Chicago.
Back on Google, I confirmed through a White Pages search that Clarice Talbott still lived at the Grant City address. There was nothing more. Not in the ledgers and not on my internet searches.
Then I sat back and rubbed my temples, trying to ward off the crashing that was building in my brain.
Dad's campaign was paying child support. To Dad's former secretary. A pretty secretary, at that.
There was only one explanation: I had a brother.
A brother I'd never known existed.
And he was in Grant City, Illinois.
Gradually, the throbbing in my head subsided and a peace settled over me. A peace brought on as my plan gradually coalesced and took shape.
With a smile, I leaned forward and typed. Once done, I printed the document, then picked up the phone to call Human Resources.
"Yeah, Marcia," I said. "Mark Roberts here. Just checking to make sure you're in."
"What can I do for you, Mark?" she said.
"Just need to drop off my letter of resignation," I said, and hung up before she could say more.
I was out of there before any of the partners returned from lunch.
* * * * *
And that's how I ended up on that balcony eight hours later. Back where this whole story started.
My car had been sold, checking account closed, clothes packed into a single suitcase, and Amtrak ticket bought.
I watched the sun swallow up that shrinking golden band, gave one last look at the Mighty Mississippi trudging away four floors below, then picked up my guitar and suitcase, turned, and left.
I was off to find my brother and have a nice long talk with Clarice Talbott.
I was taking the City of New Orleans to start a new life somewhere else.