“All Chitworth got out of him was that Jason beat up his girlfriend.”
“Fuck,” I said. I’d egged him on, sending that message back through Carl, so if Jason hurt Mary Ellen, it was as if I’d done it myself. I forced the flood of guilt down, forced it into submission, even as I dreaded what it would be like when I had to let it out again. I pulled out my phone.
“Who are you calling?”
“My father.” My mother and I weren’t really on speaking terms, but I’d call her if I had to. I dialed the number and heard it start clicking, knowing that I’d get an aide.
“Senator Danfield’s office,” an officious voice said.
“This is Wade Danfield. I’m trying to contact my father,” I said tersely. I didn’t really like most of the aides he had working for him. Most of them looked at me with barely concealed disdain since I was gay. The really creepy ones clouded that with some lust, because they were tortured closet cases. Like I used to be. I must have been more brusque than usual, though, since Matt snaughed.
“One moment,” he said. He put me on hold, where I was treated to rousing patriotic music in the background. I heard the line click again. “The senator said he will call you back shortly, Mr. Danfield.”
“Thank you,” I said politely. I tried Beau next, but he didn’t answer his phone either. I stared at my phone in frustration and dialed my mother.
“Wade,” she said coldly as she answered.
“Mother,” I replied, just as coldly.
“I suppose you’re calling to check up on your sister,” she said.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Evidently that young man she was dating must have gotten some erroneous information about that land deal up in Idaho,” she said, as if her phone was tapped. “He took it out on Mary Ellen. She is in the hospital, in critical condition.”
“Critical condition?” I asked evenly, hiding how upset I was.
“I don’t have time to give you a complete rundown on things, Wade. I have to go meet with the doctors. I’ll call you later.” And with that, she hung up.
I stared at Matt, totally stunned. “Mary Ellen is in the hospital, and she’s in critical condition.”
“Shit,” he said sympathetically. “Shit.” I just sat there as he drove, totally shut down. Normally in a crisis, I knew exactly what to do, but not this time. I had absolutely no idea about what the right approach was; no idea on how to proceed. “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” I answered automatically. He looked at me oddly, as surprised as I was that I didn’t have a plan.
“If you go to Virginia, you’ll need to take some clothes, so let’s go back to Escorial,” he said helpfully. I just nodded. “If you need to get out there, we can charter a plane for you.”
“Thanks,” I said. I appreciated the gentle way he was guiding me through this, trying to jump-start my brain, but it wasn’t working. Instead, I let my mind wander back to my childhood, to when Mary Ellen, Beau, and I were young. I tried to think of happy memories of Mary Ellen, but there really weren’t any. My earliest recollections of her were when I was probably seven or eight, and even then she was a scheming bitch. I thought about how she’d try to get me into trouble, how she’d manipulate situations so I’d look bad. I’d figured her out fast enough, though, and I was smart and thorough enough to avoid most of her crap. That and my parents had both figured her out as well. Beau was younger than she was, so he had the advantage of youth in any quarrels he had with her. Besides, he was always protected by my mother, and smart enough to use his charm to make Mary Ellen look like shit if she messed with him, so she generally left him alone as well. Instead, she’d turned her attention to the staff, making life a living hell for those who were unlucky enough to be detailed to watch her. When I’d gone off to college, Baxter, our butler, and the rest of the staff had seemed genuinely sad to see me go. When Beau went back to school, they cried and gave him hugs. When Mary Ellen left, they seemed relieved. I searched my mind methodically, accessing my memories as if they were computer files, trying to find some fond recollection of her, some shred of good in her, but I came up blank.
So if she was such a horrible person, why did I feel bad about her getting beaten up? Maybe it would change her, help her see that you couldn’t just play with people and use them as pawns. I answered my own question. That logical argument ran right up against everything I valued, all the training I’d had on the importance and the supremacy of the family. She was my sister, and even though she was Satan reincarnated on earth, she deserved my loyalty.
I was actually surprised as we drove up to the gates of Escorial. I looked sideways at Matt. What an awesome guy. He’d read me so perfectly, sensed my internal turmoil, and left me alone to work through things. “What?” he asked.
“I was just taking a minute to appreciate you,” I said. He smiled at me and actually blushed slightly.
He parked the car in the back and we both hurried inside. I wasn’t surprised that JP met us at the door. “You heard about your sister?” he asked.
“I haven’t heard much,” I said. “Just that she’s in the hospital.”
He got a really uncomfortable expression on his face. “The story made the national news.” He knew I wouldn’t be thrilled about the publicity. We headed straight to the television room and tuned into CNN.
The television showed a picture of Mary Ellen, her high school senior class picture. “The daughter of Senator Danfield remains in critical condition after suffering what appears to be a severe beating,” the newscaster said. They flashed to pictures of my father and mother arriving at the hospital, with guards all around them. The video changed to show a young man who looked like Carl, but was more handsome. “Police have arrested Jason Haupt, Ms. Danfield’s supposed boyfriend. Mr. Haupt is from Idaho, and is a freshman at the University of Virginia.” The video changed again, this time to Mary Ellen’s dorm. “Ms. Danfield is also a freshman at the University of Virginia.” The reporter went on to interview some of Mary Ellen’s classmates, who lied and talked about what a nice, fun person she was.
“She sounds like a normal college student,” Matt observed.
“Hardly. Think of Amber Braden on steroids,” I said caustically, referring to the girl who’d driven Cole to attempt suicide in our freshman year. “They’re just saying that to the press so they don’t look like assholes.”
“What will you do?” JP asked me.
I stared at the television screen, wondering at my next step. “I think I’ll wait until my father calls me back. If he needs me to be there, I’ll go. Otherwise, I’ll stay put.”
Matt and JP gave me strange looks, as if I were some cold, ruthless person for not giving a shit about my sister. I looked back at them sternly, with Brian Parnell’s name on the tip of my tongue, ready to remind them both that they’d have to be massive hypocrites to hit me with that attitude. They seemed to get it without me even saying anything. “If there is anything I can do, just let me know,” JP said.
“Thanks,” I answered. Matt and I headed down to our room. I’d planned to celebrate our nice dinner with a round of hot sex, but that didn’t seem appropriate, since I was in the middle of a family crisis.
“So what now?” Matt asked, and that actually made me smile. He was such a man of action, wanting to do something, anything, rather than just wait around.
“I’m going to wait for my father to call me back, and then decide what to do. Why? What do you think I should do?” I’d ended that with a particularly nasty tone.
“Dude, I’m just worried that you’ll end up feeling all guilty about this, and think it’s your fault.”
“Well isn’t it? I’m the one who told Carl how this whole thing worked out, and how Mary Ellen had played us all. Doesn’t that make me responsible?” I was starting to sound a little unhinged, so I steadied myself. “I all but asked him to go beat the shit out of her.”
“Yeah, maybe you told him that, but who’s to say that they wouldn’t have figured it out anyway. Besides, the person who’s really responsible here is the person who set up this whole deal in the first place.”
I thought about that. “You mean my mother.”
“That’s exactly who I mean. All you did was tell Carl what actually happened. You weren’t the one who set the deal up; you just revealed the scheme to him.”
“But that’s the information that probably caused Jason to lose it,” I argued.
“What if some guy at school sees a bunch of other people cheating on a test. What if he points it out to the professor. If the professor busts the cheaters and fails them, whose fault is it? The guy who turned them in?”
“No, he’s just a douche bag for squealing,” I said with a grin. “You’re saying that I’m just an informant, and that I have immunity because I didn’t do anything wrong?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” he said.
“Yeah, but when I told Carl about this shit, I wanted him to tell Jason, and I wanted to cause problems with him and Mary Ellen. I mean, I sure as fuck didn’t want him to beat the shit out of her, but I did want to cause them problems.”
“So. That doesn’t make you responsible. It just means you don’t like your sister.” I actually laughed at that.
I thought about what he’d said, and let it work its way through my brain. I could agonize over this, I could guilt-trip about it, but in the end, it wasn’t my fault. If my mother wouldn’t have hatched this scheme, and if Mary Ellen wouldn’t have jumped on board to try to fuck up my life, none of this would have happened. If I had created a situation to cause problems with her and Jason, then I’d have some grounds to feel like shit about this. But I hadn’t. I probably should feel guilty about what happened, but the amount of guilt I deserved compared to what my mother and Mary Ellen deserved was miniscule. I felt strengthened, re-energized, and righteous, letting myself be just the concerned brother, and not the scheming sibling that had set her up for this downfall. “Thanks for helping me work through this,” I said to Matt. He had to get the sincerity in my voice.
He stared at me, kind of surprised that I got what he was saying. I guess he figured that I’d argue about it, and cling on to the guilt I’m sure my mother would try to pelt me with, but he’d helped me figure it out, and I would carry his rationale with me like a suit of armor. I just had to hope that no one had a lance that would pierce it. My phone rang, and the ring tone, “Jive Talkin’,” told me it was my father. “Hello,” I answered, with no real inflection to my voice.
“Hello, Wade,” my father said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t take your call earlier.”
“That’s alright, Dad. I just wanted to find out what happened to Mary Ellen.”
“From what we can piece together, it seems like she got into a fight with her boyfriend, and it turned violent. She has multiple broken bones, and they’re doing x-rays to see if her skull is fractured.”
“They said critical condition,” I said, more of a question.
“She’s stable now. They were worried because she’d gotten a pretty severe concussion. That and it was sensationalized for the press.” I wondered who had sensationalized it. Maybe his campaign staff, who wanted to portray him as a sympathetic figure.
“Have you talked to her?”
“She’s not really conscious at this point,” he said.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“You and your sister aren’t particularly close.” That was an understatement.
“Is there one of us she is close to?” I asked him caustically, reminding him that none of us had a good relationship with her. He said nothing. “That’s not what I was talking about.”
“What do you mean?”
He was frustrating me. “Dad, the election is in a few weeks. Do you need me to be there?”
He pondered that. “Let me get back to you on that, alright? You plan to be awake for a while?”
“I’ll probably be up later than you. Remember that it’s three hours earlier here.”
I heard his slight chuckle. “Alright. I’ll call you back in a few hours.”
“What’s Beau going to do?” I asked.
“You worried about him?” He asked me that with an accusatory tone, because when he’d molested me, he’d always told me that if I didn’t let him fuck me, he’d fuck Beau instead. I’d appointed myself as Beau’s protector. He was a lot more upset than he let on if he was bringing that up.
“That’s not it at all,” I snapped, just to shut that whole line of thought down. “I just think it will factor in to what you want me to do. If he shows up and I don’t, or vice-versa, that may not look right.”
“I’m sorry Wade. This is a pretty stressful thing to happen right before an election. I appreciate you keeping a calm head, and staying focused.”
“No problem, Dad,” I said in a friendly and supportive way.
“I’ll ask the campaign geeks what they think about it.”
“Sounds good,” I said, and hung up. I almost laughed at how I was willingly putting my life in the hands of his campaign staff, where in prior years I would have violently rebelled at the thought that they could control my life. That was especially ironic, considering that the best thing that could probably happen to him is to lose this election. If he did, it would pull my mother from her seat of power at his side, and force them to reevaluate their situation, and their priorities. It may actually create a cleansing moment for them. On the other hand, that was all supposition, and what was real and in front of me was the simple fact that Danfields didn’t lose. No way was I going to not do my part to help my father win this election.
I stared at the phone, and then gave Matt a brief overview of our conversation, even though he’d heard my side of it. I still felt this void, I felt adrift. “I want to go up and let JP know what’s going on.” How appropriate that in a time like this I would reach out to the man who’d become a mentor, and a surrogate father to me.
“Good idea,” Matt agreed. We went upstairs and found JP in the television room, watching the news to see if anything additional had been posted.
“They say your sister is in stable condition now,” he said.
“That’s what my father told me. She still isn’t coherent yet.”
“What will you do?” he asked.
“I’m going to let my father’s campaign people decide if my being there is a good thing or not.”
He nodded. “It’s a good possibility that this whole land deal will be exposed, especially when they start squeezing Jason for information.”
I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but it made sense that he’d throw that out there. It was really his only defense for doing what he did. “That may end up making all of us look pretty bad.”
“I can see how it would make your mother look like shit,” Matt said, “but how would that make you look bad?”
“Because I was the person who won in the deal. I was the one who ended up with the extra $20 million in profits,” I said.
“But you’re going to work out a deal to help the mission,” Matt insisted.
“That’s a plan, not action,” I said.
“Besides,” JP pointed out, “that’s not really going to resonate with the people in Idaho. They’ll see their own landowners getting screwed over by a bunch of Washington insiders. And what would they care that you are planning to donate land to found a mission in Washington?”
I looked at him gratefully, thankful that once again he’d helped me see all the implications. It was at times like this that his background, coming from a small city in Ohio, was really helpful. He would know exactly how those people in Idaho would react to scheming DC politicians. “My mother will simply point the finger at me, leaving me out there to explain things.”
“That would seem to be her plan,” JP agreed. “So how will you counter that?”
“Father Tim has been moving really slowly on the DC mission project,” I groused. “I could speed that up by working directly with that minister he recommended.”
“Why is he going slowly?” JP asked.
“I can’t get a straight answer from him. He says he’s still doing research work on my uncle and his partner.”
“That only handles part of it anyway,” JP noted. “What about the disgruntled people in Idaho?”
“Why should he even give a shit about people in Idaho?” Matt asked.
“Because it appears that I’m an uncaring asshole, that I used the machine to funnel money out of their state,” I told him. If I, or my family, was hideously unpopular in Idaho, that could have some nasty repercussions on my father. When he needed a favor, or help with a bill, the Idaho senators and representatives wouldn’t be very inclined to help him out.
“So it would seem that the solution is to donate at least some of that money to the people in that state,” JP noted.
“I’d really wanted to give Father Tim a big boost with his mission project,” I said, as I gave up my own dreams. “The properties were probably perfect for that, since they were all in areas that were blighted, and where kids would probably be anyway.”
“Yeah, but he’s not exactly doing much to get things going anyway,” Matt said.
“Perhaps there is a charity in Idaho that would benefit from a large contribution, one that you could feel good about?” JP asked me. “Perhaps one that helps the less fortunate?”
“So I could carve out that hotel in DC that I want to develop as a mission, and donate the rest to a charity in Idaho,” I said, tracking with him. “Then when they came after me, I could point out that I’d tried to make things right.”
“Dude, this could hit tomorrow,” Matt said. “You have to move pretty fast.”
“It would be helpful to have a charity selected,” JP agreed, “but even if you can’t get that done, you could feasibly put it into trust and spread the money around to different organizations.”
“That’s a great idea!” I said, with probably a bit too much enthusiasm. “If I only give money to one group, others will be jealous. This way, I can spread it around.”
“Sounds like you need to talk to Sean,” Matt said. “I’m hoping you need to meet with him.” I chuckled at that, at the thought of another threesome with Sean.
“If you like, while you are doing that, perhaps I can investigate as to why Father Tim has been dragging his feet on this other project?” JP offered.
“That would be great, JP,” I said. “Thanks for helping me work this through.”
He smiled at me softly; the smile one gives an apprentice who has pleased him. “You’re welcome.”
My afternoon of hot sex with my boyfriend had turned into a strategy session with Matt and JP, and it looked like my evening was going to devolve into even more meetings and discussions on this topic. I called Sean at the office, but he wasn’t there. I dialed his personal number, and he answered that one. It took me half an hour to lay out the situation and the plan that JP, Matt, and I had hatched.
“We can draw the documents up tomorrow morning,” he said. “Maybe we can structure it to give you some tax benefits if we’re lucky.”
“This is probably going to hit pretty fast,” I told him. “I’m going to need you to put some pressure on people to get this done.”
“I’ll do that,” he said, sounding just a little bitchy.
“I’ll let you know what my father decides,” I told him, then hung up. I went back to the television room to find JP waiting for me.
“It seems that your uncle’s lover was in some pornographic videos,” JP noted. “That has made Tim pause, wondering if that kind of behavior warrants such an honor.”
“JP, it’s going to be hard to find a gay guy that’s over 30 years old who doesn’t have some kind of skeleton in his closet,” I said, frustrated with Tim’s Puritanism. “If he can’t get beyond that, then I’ll have to go it alone on this one.”
“You want my opinion?” he asked. I just stared at him blankly, because the answer should be obvious. “Have Sean work up a separate organization to launch this new mission. If it works out great, then you can let this man in DC handle it. If things don’t go so well, you can always merge it into Tim’s greater project.”
“And if I merge it in to Tim’s greater project, it will already be named after my uncle and his partner,” I noted with a wry grin.
“That was on my mind,” he said, matching my facial expression.
My father called me back and suggested that I come out to see Mary Ellen tomorrow. I noted that I had classes on Tuesdays, so I’d be late getting there. I called Sean and updated him on my travel plans, and then I finally had time to make love to my boyfriend.
October 24, 2000
In the air, somewhere over the Midwestern United States
I sat in the spacious first-class seat and reviewed the documents that I’d just signed. The entire day had been frenetic. It was saying something that my classes were the least stressful thing to deal with, and that was an even bigger statement when one factored in that I had two exams today. Still, I’d felt pretty good about them, and I’d made it through the day. I spoke to my professors about my sister, and they’d all been awesome, letting me know that if I wasn’t there on Thursday, they’d let me make up any work I missed.
After I was done with classes, one of the drivers had taken me up to the San Francisco Airport, where I’d met with Sean and a couple of other lawyers at an adjacent hotel to iron out the details in these two trusts I was establishing. That had taken two hours, the exact amount of time I’d allocated. I was impressed with how organized they were, and how they’d remembered to bring along a laptop and a printer so we could make any changes we needed to make. I’d signed off on them, and they’d printed out copies for me. I would have the duration of this flight to review them before they filed them tomorrow, and before they started transferring assets into them. I forced myself to focus on them, even though this would be the fifth time I’d read them. I had to make myself slow down, just to ensure I didn’t overlook any details, or miss anything important. In the end, I found a few small, nitpicky things, and made notes of those, and then I moved on to the next topic on my plate. I pulled out my books and began to work on my homework, getting myself caught up through next Tuesday so I’d be able to put that aside over the next couple of days.
I was so engrossed that I was kind of surprised when the flight attendant made me put away my laptop. Still, I worked on, until I felt the wheels actually touch down in Charlottesville. At that point, I began putting my stuff together in a very organized fashion, which was my way. I’d only brought a rolling bag and a backpack with me, since this was supposed to be a whirlwind trip. As soon as the plane made it to the gate, I stepped into the bathroom to make sure my appearance was in good order, and then joined the people trying to exit the plane.
I strode confidently through the airport, wondering when I’d be accosted by a reporter. The story had become a national sensation, focusing attention not only on my father, but also on the greater issue of violence in relationships. Everyone was taking a stand against it; even my father’s opponent had offered condolences and support. I’d seen the video of Beau arriving home before I’d left for Virginia. He’d managed to get a much earlier flight. That had been the motivating factor for me to fly commercially. I decided that it wouldn’t look good for me to jet in on a private plane in the middle of all this controversy.
As soon as I passed through security, they were there, the reporters with their cameras and questions. “Mr. Danfield! Mr. Danfield! How is your sister?”
“She is in stable condition, the last I heard,” I said succinctly.
“How do you feel about the guy who beat her up?” another one asked, baiting me.
“As far as I know, there’s been no proof of anything. There’s only an allegation that Mr. Haupt beat up my sister,” I noted coldly.
“But the evidence is pretty damning,” the reporter persisted, even as he walked fast to keep up with me. I saw Anthony’s familiar face, flanked by two other men in suits who would probably be with my father’s campaign, so I headed over to them. I tried not to be annoyed that they didn’t meet me at security like the reporters had. They were probably trying to give me a chance to trip myself up.
“I haven’t had a chance to look at all the evidence,” I told him. “I’ve just been worried about my sister.”
“Welcome home, Mr. Danfield,” Anthony said politely as I reached him. It was like arriving at an oasis. The three of them flanked me, keeping the reporters at bay, and walked me out to a waiting car. We all got in and the car sped off.
“Even though it is late, we assumed you would want to see your sister,” one of the other men said.
“And who are you?” I asked sharply, reminding these people that they hadn’t bothered to introduce themselves.
“I’m Terry Hadshaw,” said the older one, “and this is Victor Urich. We work for your father’s campaign.”
“And you know me,” Anthony said with a smile. He’d been so much more pleasant to be around since my mother had escaped from Alexandra Carmichael’s clutches and had fired Felix.
“Thanks for coming, Anthony. It’s good to see a familiar face.” I turned to Hadshaw and Urich. “It’s nice to meet you gentlemen as well. I am assuming you have an itinerary for me, so I will put myself in your capable hands.”
Hadshaw smiled at that, clearly glad that I wasn’t planning to be difficult. “Thank you, Mr. Danfield. We had planned to take you to the hospital. Your parents and your brother are also there. After a brief visit, we’ll take you to the hotel, and then you have a longer visit scheduled in the morning.”
“Excellent,” I said, with faked enthusiasm.
The car pulled up to the hospital, and this time there were even more reporters. My entourage got out first to clear a way through them, and as I emerged, their camera lights were so bright it may as well have been daylight. I heard the questions shouted at me, heard the cameras clicking, could almost feel the video cameras recording me, as I walked into the building. Once inside, things were more relaxed, as we shed the presence of the reporters. They led me to an elevator and whisked me up to Mary Ellen’s floor. I exited and we walked out purposefully, so purposefully I felt like we were almost marching.
The first person I saw when I walked into her room was my mother. She eyed me coldly, and seemed surprised to get an equally cold expression back from me. She had calculated that I’d be overcome with guilt, that I’d be a pool of Jell-O, and had planned accordingly, had prepared to liquefy me even more, if that were possible. “Mother,” I said simply, and barely embraced her at all. She responded in a similar way.
“I’m so glad you’re here!” Beau said enthusiastically. He rushed over to give me a big hug, and I felt genuine joy at seeing him. He seemed so much older and more mature than when I’d last seen him this summer. He reminded me of Will.
“It’s good to see you,” I answered, unwilling to express any joy while in my mother’s presence.
“Thank you for coming,” my father said, giving me an exuberant hug that matched Beau’s.
“No problem,” I said, and gave him a quick smile. I walked over to my sister’s bed and looked down at her. Mary Ellen was definitely very attractive, with beautiful brown hair that was usually lightened to be a dark blond color, and smooth skin that seemed to come to a point at her mouth, which was perfect. In fact, her lips were like Trevor’s, a testament to the blood ties between us. I’d braced myself for the shock of seeing her, but I hadn’t prepared myself for what was in front of me. Her whole face was swollen and bruised, so much that her eyes seemed almost shut, even though they weren’t. There was a bandage over her nose, which was swollen as well, and had presumably been broken. And those lips, the ones like Trevor’s, they were open slightly, so I could see the gap in her once-flawless front teeth where one of them had been knocked out.
“Did you come to admire your handiwork?” Mary Ellen asked me rudely.
“Don’t blame me when your schemes backfire,” I said to her evenly.
“You as good as put me here, Wade,” she said, almost yelled. “You have no shame, showing up here, pretending to be the caring brother.”
I saw my mother from the corner of my eye, trying not to look pleased that her brainwashing campaign had worked so well. “You lined yourself up with the devil. With Mother,” I said. “You’re responsible for what happened to you, not me.”
“We’ll just have to see what the court of public opinion thinks about that,” she said coldly.
“Are you planning to talk about that before or after the election?” I asked.
I could see that it bothered her that I wasn’t reacting as she thought I would. They’d clearly strategized about this, my mother and Mary Ellen, and had dreamed up this plan to use my guilt to totally manipulate me. That my father and brother were reacting normally to me told me that they were much more deliberate in their thinking, or more likely, they weren’t involved in this big scheme. She flashed my parents a dirty look, which was a threat more than anything. “We’ll just have to see, won’t we?”
“I take it you’re going to live?”
“Yes,” she snapped. “Don’t look so disappointed.”
“I’ll just modify that so the press thinks I’m sad,” I said, really pissing her off. “Have a nice evening.” I strode out of the room, giving them time to contemplate how ineffective their strategy had been, and to dream up a new one.