Exit Polls

T.B. Grennan

(1)

            Morning came, and once again, the frontrunner’s wife found she couldn’t get out of bed. It happened this way every primary, right from the start. Iowa and New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Beginning the day before with a feeling of unease, like you’ve forgotten to lock the house or had a bad oyster. Building hour by hour until fear is all you have. Until you wake in another anonymous hotel room, limbs weighed down by terror.

            No matter what she did, it kept happening. And, as Melanie tearfully told her D.C. therapist over Skype, it was worse each time. Like it was building to something so terrible and awe-inspiring that there was nothing to do but prostrate yourself in front of it and beg for mercy.

            “Well,” her therapist said, “that sounds a little…dramatic.”

            Until today, there’d always been a fail-safe. If Melanie laid there long enough, buried beneath anxiety and comfy blankets, she would sleep—and wake to Donna’s hand on one shoulder. Already up for hours, dressed in a pantsuit in some shade of lavender or honeysuckle or seafoam. Whispering that the day was slipping away. And Melanie would groan and sulk before finally sitting up and asking about the poll numbers, the day’s itinerary.

            But today, there was no hand on the shoulder, no soft whisper—just the escalating roar of her phone alarm. Washing over her in endless, painful waves, until she felt for a moment like she might die right there.

            When the feeling passed, when Melanie finally forced her eyes open, the sight that greeted her was equally painful. Untouched sheets on the far side of the bed, still tucked into hospital corners. Remembering last night’s argument as she rose, the way Donna had mocked her twice in one sentence—dismissing her hard-won self-discovery with an eyeroll, then suggesting Melanie was simply too old for a midlife crisis. All without setting down her chardonnay.

            Melanie pulled on a luxurious white robe and walked to the window. Gazing out into the pre-dawn glow. Seeing TV production vans lining the street, satellite dishes turned skyward. Technicians arranged lights and checked sound levels. Camera operators and reporters conferred, gesturing toward the hotel.

            Then it hit her. Today. Today was that great and terrible day, when everything finally comes undone and you learn just how you can bear.

(2)

            Melanie was supposed to be knocking on doors.

According to her itinerary, she should’ve been halfway through Halliday Heights. After all, today’s primary was the big one. Donna was off somewhere with Hannah, her campaign manager, the two of them field-marshaling the GOTV effort. Ensuring that precinct captains had the requisite volunteers and vehicles and signs, that the victory speech was being written, the day-after interviews scheduled. That all the different threads that had to come together actually came together.

            But Melanie really needed coffee. And Lane, her body woman, was happy to do whatever the boss lady said…as long as the other, more important boss ladies weren’t around.

            Lane was blonde, heavyset, and very sweet. This was her first post-college job and she’d been growing up at warp speed since the day she started. Dumping her boyfriend. Chopping her hair into various mullets. Getting a DYKE POWER tattoo on her bicep. And trying—so hard, so embarrassingly hard—to find love. She wanted it all. The U-Haul. The half-dozen cats. The crochet kit. The 20% orgasm bonus that’s every lesbian’s birthright.

            It was adorable. But also a lot.

            Right then, Lane was being even more Lane than usual. Talking with her hands while driving down Route 11, hitting every pothole in the road. The Corolla’s ancient tape deck played Ani and Tracy and Melissa as Lane rhapsodized about Grace, the tiny queer pixie who was precinct captain for Halliday Heights and who Lane had drunken kissed the night before.

            They’d been at a terrible Irish bar near the capitol. The logo was a beer-drinking leprechaun and the drinks were $4 but also somehow overpriced. Lane and Grace had kissed for half-an-hour, surrounded by coats, while the rest of the precinct team played pool. “She said something about a boyfriend,” Lane told Melanie brightly, “but she could’ve just meant she used to have one.” The whole thing reminding Melanie of herself at her most earnest and mortifying.

            She’d been fresh out of Hunter. Her head buzzed except for a spot at the back she couldn’t quite reach; her denim jacket covered in poorly-sewn-on patches, because caring about Home Ec was just another manifestation of the patriarchy. From her seat in the rented room at the Center, she’d watched Donna speak with a revivalist’s fury to a room of angry, anxious queers. Standing out in her big glasses and Molly Ringwald hat. Eyes blazing, spit at the corners of her mouth. And Melanie realized, a shiver through her, that all she wanted to do right then was lick it up.

            Donna was two years older and had her shit together. She was out to her parents, out to everybody. She worked at a law firm, trying to unionize the paralegals by day and studying for the LSAT at night. She’d been a fixture on the scene since her sophomore year at Barnard and bragged about being at Cubbyhole when things went down between Whitney Houston and Kelly McGillis, how she’d sipped her margarita then sidled up to Jodie Foster. (No luck, but, wow, was she cute, those penetrating eyes and that butt—nobody ever talks about how nice her butt was.)

            Melanie, on the other hand, was an overeducated grocery clerk living with her parents in Queens. In high school, she had one guilty-secret girlfriend; in college, she’d had two. But the night she and Donna went to Cornelia Street Cafe was the first official date-date she’d ever been on. Donna kissed her hello, gave her some violets, and ordered a bottle of wine. Melanie blushed and thanked her and promptly spilled half a glass right down her own top. Thinking, as Donna dabbed her dry, that she hadn’t been touched in months.

            They’d taken the 2 to Donna’s place in Harlem. Holding hands on the subway. Wanting to kiss, but it wasn’t safe. At the apartment, Donna introduced Melanie to her roommate Darnell—who was sick even then, but had one hell of a handshake—then cackled when he retreated to the living room to watch Murder, She Wrote. They kissed their way to her tiny bedroom, where Melanie watched worshipfully as Donna unfolded a futon that filled 90% of the room.

            With so many books piled so high on so many surfaces, a crash was practically inevitable. And when the crash finally came—moments after Melanie did—it commenced with a fat paperback copy of Gender Trouble right in the middle of her forehead. Donna alternately giggled and apologized as books rained down, shielding Melanie with her body. Melanie rubbed her head and groaned and thought, with sudden, startling fervor: This one. This one’s the one for me.

            Lane was enrapt. As they waited in line at a coffee shop, she asked whether the violets were a Sappho reference. Melanie said, “Excuse me?” then blinked as Lane explained, feeling dumb and naive for thinking they’d been chosen for their beauty.

            “That’s what I want,” Lane sighed. “A date. A real date.”

            “Didn’t you go out for drinks with that girl last night?”

            “Um, that was team drinks? Grace was just there because she’s the team captain.”

            “Oh,” Melanie said. “So not a date?”

They sat outside on a bench, nursing hazelnut coffees while Lane wondered how the cafe got by without an espresso machine. In the sunlight, Melanie felt calmer. It helped that she was home—not Dupont Circle or Sunnyside, but a home. Somewhere she’d lived, made friends, grown fond of. The governor’s mansion only five miles away, as the crow flies.

            Melanie glanced up, startled by a honking truck. And saw that Hannah wasn’t with Donna, surrounded by maps and voter lists and a punch-button telephone with all the lines blinking. No, she was shuffling across the street, right into the path of a truck. Hannah, blonde curls blowing behind her, held up one hand to acknowledge that yes, yes, the driver was in the right and she should’ve paid more attention—but, really, wasn’t that all water under the bridge now?

            Melanie nudged Lane. The younger woman raised her eyebrows. Then said, thoughtful: “You know, nobody ever talks about how nice Hannah’s butt is, either.”

            Melanie was in the passenger seat, watching Lane nervously try to maneuver out of a very tight parking spot, when Hannah crossed back across the street. Looking relieved, a package of maxi pads under one arm. Seeming like she might just march past. Then pausing. Looking their way.

            Melanie waved awkwardly. Hannah ambled over. Praised the weather. Complained about the hotel’s continental breakfast. Then said she was impressed they’d already finished their door-knocking.

            “Well,” Melanie said, hedging, “we were…”

            “Just raring to go!” Lane jumped in. “It’s that primary day adrenaline!”

            Hannah nodded. Then asked, honey-voiced, if Melanie had spoken to Donna. Before Melanie could respond, Hannah told her there was nothing to worry about, exit polls were unreliable here. And, anyway, it was the smallest county in the state.

            “We lost a county?” Melanie asked. “This early?”

            “It’s just exit polls,” Hannah said. “And it’s tiny. Four hundred people is nothing.” Then, considering: “But if you are worried, maybe stop by Thibault Gardens, knock on some more doors.”

            “Aye, aye, sir!” Lane said, saluting.

            Hannah gave her a look. Melanie gave her a look.

            “Well, off we go!” Lane said, backing into a parked minivan.

(3)

            Thibault Gardens was enemy territory, a stronghold for Donna’s opponent. Driveways full of Volvos, garages filled with ski equipment. And every third lawn had one of those signs, the ones that taunted the Chatwin campaign from coast to coast.

            They were maddeningly simple: a cartoon Van Dyke beard on a plain yellow background. No name. No slogan. Just the quiet confidence of a mediocre white man certain everybody knew him.

            In Thibault Gardens, though, everyone did know. The people here were nice, polite—flattered, maybe, to see someone they’d seen on TV. If pressed, they’d agree that, yes, Donna’s election would certainly be historic and, yes, they would vote for her if she were nominated. But their hearts weren’t in it. They wanted the other candidate, even though he probably wouldn’t win, even though supporting him was practically a protest vote.

            “Do you think Russell grew a Van Dyke because that’s his last name?” Lane asked as they climbed the hill at the center of the neighborhood. “Or did everybody keep saying he should grow one, and he finally did it to shut them up—and then they did shut up, so he kept it?”

            “How would I know?” Melanie asked. “And what’s so fascinating about his facial hair, anyway?”

            Lane shrugged. “It does have its own Instagram account—1.4 million followers. Not too shabby.”

            “Lane…”

            “The Instagram for Donna’s pantsuits only has 600,000.”

            “Lane!”

            “It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just interesting.”

            After ten minutes ascending the endless, curving sidewalk—Melanie thinking “Never let them see you sweat” like a mantra while actively sweating, Lane faking a yawn to disguise her labored breathing—they reached the peak, which was dominated by a single massive house of no clear style. Two Victorian-looking chimneys. A porch with Ionic columns. Gable dormers like a French castle. Immense and tacky with a driveway the length of a city block.

            “What if we walk all the way there,” Lane asked as they headed toward the front door, “and they end up being Republicans?”

            Melanie shrugged. “Republicans are a fact of life. Like mildew.”

            But they weren’t Republicans—or, the woman who opened the door wasn’t. She was in her late fifties, very polite, and the rarest of commodities: A genuinely undecided voter.

            Rule one of door-knocking is simple: Do not go into the fucking house. You’ll burn time, get stuck listening to their political gripes, and drink so much water or lemonade that you’ll have to pop into the next house just to pee. You stay outside, have a cookie if they’re offered and don’t seem poisoned, then go on your merry way.

            But Melanie was tired. So she stepped inside while Lane stared and frowned and finally followed, texting frantically. Melanie complimented the woman’s earrings, which matched her silver hair. As the woman complained about polarization over cups of English Breakfast, Melanie thought how her own hair would be a similar color if she stopped dying it.

            “Now, I do like your wife’s stance on abortion and, of course, she’s been such a strong leader when it comes to LGB—” A frown. A pause. “—um, issues related to sexuality and all that.”

            “LGBTTQQIAAP,” Lane said in an unbroken burst, then took a quick sip of tea. “Plus.”

            “Be that as it may,” the woman continued, “I have to admit I’m more on the Russell side of the spectrum when it comes to climate change…and it is such an important issue.”

            Lane, unable to stay quiet: “Governor Chatwin is strong on climate change. Very strong.”

            “I know I have to decide,” the woman said, sighing, “and I’ve only got a few hours to do it. My husband—he’s in real estate—says that I just need to pick one, because after all there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate!”

            Melanie, deadpan: “You’ll excuse me if I beg to differ.”

            The woman laughed. “Excused.”

            Then the doorbell rang. The woman looked over her shoulder, surprised. Lane caught Melanie’s eye and gestured at her wrist—which, because she was twenty-three, didn’t actually have a watch on it. They rose, following the woman to the door. Planning to say goodbyes and sneak out while she dealt with the UPS guy or whoever.

            But when it swung open, they weren’t prepared for what they saw—namely, North America’s most famous set of whiskers.

            “Oh,” Melanie said. “Russell. Hi.”

            He was shorter than he looked on TV, and his skin was worse than it looked in pictures. Wearing an ill-fitting suit. Sporting a sloppy windsor knot. Looking at him, Melanie remembered how it had felt to be confidently homosexual, to find the idea of a man as a sexual partner—heck, a sexual being—completely absurd.

            “Mel! Nice to finally meet you!” Russell said, holding out a hand until she gave up and shook it. “My guys said some Chatwin folks were out, but I didn’t realize they’d brought in the big guns.” Then, to the woman of the house: “What are the odds, right?”

            Lane, under her breath: “Low.”

            The woman considered. “Yeah, pretty low.”

            Melanie decided she should probably be pleasant. So she smiled, said, “Maybe I should call Donna, see if she ran into your wife on her rounds.”

            Russell laughed, then literally slapped his knee. “No, no, it’s just me and my team today. Elise is very supportive, of course. But she’s got her own career, and I couldn’t ask her to give all that up to spend a year traveling the country, pressing the flesh.”

            Unprompted, he took out his phone, showing the three women photos of his wife presiding over her middle school’s talent night. Melanie oohed politely over the eighth-grade choir, thinking to herself that this was the longest she’d ever heard him speak without mentioning methane.

            Melanie and Lane were heading down the hill—having finally excused themselves, thanked the woman for her time, and promised insincerely that Melanie and Donna would have dinner at Russell’s house if they were ever in Eugene—when an unmarked gray van swerved across the street and pulled up next to them. “Shit!” Melanie cried, trying to remember what that cute Secret Service lady had said. Was she supposed to run? Probably, right?

            Melanie ran. Making it only two steps before turning her ankle and dropping hard. Skinning her knee. Rolling fifteen or twenty feet before coming to halt among some crabapple trees.

            Melanie lay there, dazed, blades of grass poking into her field of vision. She wondered if the pain in her upper leg meant she’d broken her hip—then wondered if she was old enough to have to worry about that.

            Lane rushed over, her oh-shit expression deepening into full panic. Hands shaking as she crouched in the grass. Asking, “Where does it hurt?” and then, when her boss didn’t immediately respond, going: “Am I fired? I’m fired, right?”

            Then Melanie saw her: Donna. Looming behind Lane in a lilac pantsuit, morning glare glinting off her sunglasses. Looking distinguished and formidable and…presidential. A judgmental curl to her mouth.

            “Time to go,” Donna said gently, extending her hand. “There’s some camera crews across town waiting to film us voting, and we’re already behind schedule.” Then, scrutinizing her wife: “You can change in the car.”

            Melanie nodded, chastened. Took her wife’s hand, allowing Donna to help her up, to lead her—limping—to the waiting van. It was only when the sliding door slammed shut and Donna affectionately patted her knee that Melanie noticed the dried blood under her wife’s fingernails.

(4)

            Melanie had chosen her backup dress weeks ago. She’d laughed at the idea of stashing emergency clothes everywhere until Donna reminded her about the Great Salsa Verde Disaster of ‘09. Noting how nice a backup dress would’ve been that night…while also assuring her the stains weren’t that visible in any of the official inaugural ball photos.

            Everybody in the van—staffers, Secret Service agents, press liaisons—looked away as she changed into a little gingham number stored under the seat. Still, Melanie blushed the whole time, glad the windows were blacked out…though that was for security, not to keep passersby from seeing her in her undies.

            The van tacked through mid-day traffic, honking aggressively as other vehicles hemmed it in. Lane asked if they could pull into a gas station, then pouted when she was told to hold it. (“But we just had so much tea!”)

            Donna was acting sentimental, pointing out landmarks from childhood, from her two terms as governor. The donut shop where she’d first announced she was exploring a gubernatorial run. The empty pedestal that had sported a statue of a local Nobel laureate (and noted eugenicist) until her administration got involved. The lesbian bar where they’d held her vict—shoot, it’s a hair salon now.

            Melanie remembered that bar: Colette’s. The cute butch who worked the door and called everybody “Ma’am.” The bathrooms labeled “Women” and “Other.” The fleur-de-lis wallpaper and the cocktails named after Jospehine Baker’s children. The little booth in the back where, almost two years ago, Melanie had plucked up her courage and—four Stellinas deep—told Donna she thought, no, knew, that she was bisexual. That she was sometimes, kind of, a little…attracted to men.

            “Like actual men?” Donna asked, her famous poise cracking..

            “…yes.”

            “Is there—you haven’t actually done anything, right?” Donna asked. Melanie shook her head. Donna paused, frowned. “Are you leaving me?”

            “…no.”

            Donna exhaled. “Jesus.” Rubbed her eyes. “What a fucking day.”

            As their destination rose into view, Melanie thought she understood how Donna had felt that night. Sipping her highball as her partner of twenty-three years—and wife of four—told her their lives were about to change. Donna had been startled and heartbroken and angry. Now, as the van door opened, as the cameras flashed, Melanie realized that that was how she was feeling, too.

            The walkway was cleared for them. Donna took Melanie’s hand, and they waved to the crowd. Ignoring reporters’ questions. Greeting tearful teenage girls. Posing for selfies with elderly lesbians. Entering the brutalist high school—down the street from the governor’s mansion and a half-mile from Donna’s childhood home—where they’d voted so many times before.

            Inside, a feeling of calm rose within Melanie. She knew how to do this. Take a deep breath. Walk past the office and trophy cases and overwrought anti-smoking posters. Then follow the taped-up sheets with clip-art arrows to the gym, with its high-vaulted ceiling and tent city of voting booths.

            Melanie watched as Donna flirted with the woman handing out ballots—joking about being undecided, offering to spell her last name—and gladhanded her way to a booth. Then Melanie silently took her ballot. Crossed the scuffed hardwood floor. Pulled the curtain behind her, feeling like she might cry.

            And stood there, paralyzed. Pen in hand. Listening to the room’s rustlings and exhalations, footsteps and coughs. Looking at the ballot, the two familiar names. As she pondered what her future held, Melanie knew only two things for sure: First, it was menstrual blood under Donna’s nails. Second, that her wife hadn’t had her period in more than five years.

            Melanie waited until they were alone, walking back to the van. “I know, you know,” she said quietly. “About what’s going on.”

            Donna looked at her, startled. “Who told you?”

            “No one told me. I figured it out.”

            Donna sighed, rubbed her eyes. “They’re just exit polls, okay?” A pause. “The last round of surveys had us up by eighteen points—there’s no way he closed that kind of gap since the debate.”

            Melanie frowned. “I meant you and Hannah. I know you’re fucking her.” And nodded at her wife’s fingers.

            Donna looked at her hands. “Jesus.” A sigh. “What a fucking day.”

(5)

            The state HQ was identical to the million other political offices Melanie had been in during Donna’s career. Strip mall exterior. Small unmarked doors. Conference rooms filled with post-college girls and well-fed middle-aged men. Fluorescent lights as far as the eye could see. And as Melanie moved deeper inside, she saw it. The place where it sometimes felt like she’d spent half her life. The room with the phones.

            Donna was already making calls when Melanie stepped inside; her headset on, mouth making coquettish shapes. Talking with a bank president she’d once described as “the worst—and I mean the worst—of humanity” during an MSNBC appearance. The two of them united by campaign trail exigencies, by their shared horror at the idea of President Facial Hair.

            Melanie sat down, closed her eyes, instinct taking over. The patterns ingrained in her decades before, the product of countless hours in the office uptown with its outdated fixtures and avocado wallpaper, trying her darndest to make Donna’s dreams of a judgeship come true. “Remember, it’s a three-step process,” Donna said. “Dial. Smile. Use your wiles.”

            Melanie had tried. Eyes on the script, fingers spinning the rotary phone. So nervous she’d started her first call by saying, “Hi, First Name, I’m from the Chatwin campaign.”

            She did better the next time around; though it helped that they’d graduated to newer phones and ventilated rooms. The nerves were still there, but they always fell away after a call or two. And while nobody was thrilled to hear from her, a few did pledge their support…and sometimes a little money. Maybe she wasn’t at the top of the fundraising leaderboard (or the middle or the upper part of the bottom), but she was helping.

            Melanie kept at it, year after year, campaign after campaign. And all those hours spent soliciting money to keep the machine running, the beast fed—it had an impact. Helping Donna become mayor of her home city, become the state’s first Democratic governor since the Eisenhower administration. Until cold-calling was second nature. Until Melanie was the politician-by-default that all first ladies must become.

            Now, talking with a meatpacking executive who’d been a Bush Pioneer but was now considering switching sides, Melanie watched the clock tick down. “You’re so bad,” she said, cooing at his blunt jokes. Anything to get him to write a check, to get him off the phone early enough to make more calls. She’d bargained him up to the full $2,800 for the campaign and another ten for the national committee when something caught her eye.

            Lane was leaning against the doorframe. Trying to look cool, casual, collected—things she definitely wasn’t. A moment later, the cause of all this posing  stepped into view: Grace, the precinct captain from Halliday Heights, who was even tinier than Melanie remembered. Tight little mouth, eyelids a shiny, iridescent blue. Wearing paint-splattered jeans and a t-shirt bearing Donna’s face. A hand squeezing Lane’s arm.

            Wow, Melanie thought, watching Grace’s hips shift and feeling a disloyal throb within her. She dropped the phone with a yelp when someone touched her shoulder. Melanie spun around—eyes wild—to see her wife standing there.

            “Hey,” Donna said, wary. “Are you…doing okay?”

            Melanie shook her head. “We should probably talk.”

            “I can’t—not right now. I’ve got an interview in five and my afternoon’s completely booked.” Then, trying to smile: “But we can talk at the victory party, okay?”

            “Okay,” Melanie said, disappointed and relieved. Hearing the meatpacking exec talking into the carpet.

            “Anyway,” Donna said, with forced levity, “your boyfriend’s here.” She motioned toward the door, where Jonathan Zhou, the campaign’s boyish speechwriter, stood waiting.

(6)

            Jonathan led her to a cramped office. Inviting her to sit in the only chair, then perching on the desk. “Okay,” Jonathan said, sweeping his hand dramatically, “the concept is: America.”

            “My speech next week is about…America?”

            Jonathan frowned. “I’m sensing some skepticism.” Leaning on that adjunct professor tone of his, the one he used when he was confident he knew his stuff…but wasn’t confident you would care. Explaining that, in his view, America was the ultimate theme. Something to dig into and make your own. Something for politicians to throw themselves against and see where they land. You know. America.

            Melanie smiled a little as he ramped up. Thinking how excitable he was, how passionate and focused—yet polite. Aware that though Donna’s passive-aggressive comments bugged her, it was true that if she ever actually did something with a man, she’d probably want to do it with Jonathan.

            It was his mix of confidence and kindness that had done it—forced her to recognize what had been bubbling up inside. It’s one thing to notice that a stranger’s good-looking, but when you see a person every day for years and that feeling doesn’t change or fade away, it’s hard to argue it’s a phase.

            Jonathan had been hired during Donna’s last term as governor, when she was exploring options for her term-limited future. She’d ruled out lobbying, and didn’t relish another stretch as a judge (too depressing, too repetitive—and those clothes!). Donna had done a three-state listening tour, just to see if she could draw crowds, and asked Jonathan for speeches on various topics. Could she be compelling talking about sustainable energy? The poverty-to-prison pipeline? Protecting Social Security from being Club-for-Growth-ed to death like a baby seal?

            Jonathan was barely thirty and thrilled to return to politics after three years ghostwriting a tell-all memoir for a closeted Oscar winner. He’d seemed puppyish when they first met, the three of them having dinner at a try-hard French bistro near the state capitol. So positive. So enthusiastic. Wearing a three-piece suit that it would turn out he owned in five colors.

            He’d sipped an old fashioned as he described his vision. Saying Donna had a natural grit and a natural charm that she’d cycled through in previous elections, but she needed words capable of bringing out those qualities in tandem. Words to show America it wasn’t just ready for a queer woman leader, but that Donna was what this moment required. As he talked, eyes shining, Melanie realized two things. Her wife was really, truly going to run for president. And Jonathan was the first person she’d met in years who looked at her as much as they did at Donna.

            Melanie and Jonathan became friendly, then friends. She made him coffee when he came to see Donna, and drank it with him while he waited to be ushered in. He talked about novels he’d read that she’d meant to. She told stories about New York that made his eyes go wide with horror or envy or both. Unsure initially how she felt having a friend fifteen years younger. Their talks made her feel old, but also wise, experienced. Like she could always have the final word if she wanted—though maybe that was just how talking with Jonathan felt.

            After six months of long chats and espresso and outings to movies Donna wouldn’t watch—because they were too violent or depressing or just plain stupid—Melanie realized one day, her hand brushing against Jonathan’s in a bucket of popcorn, that she had a crush. And a crush on a man felt very different than the crushes she’d had on women.

            It was simpler, somehow. There was no uncertainty about whether she wanted to be the other woman, or just put fingers inside her. But the attraction also wasn’t as overwhelming. She could imagine kissing Jonathan some drunken evening, her body alive with electricity, and stopping there.

            With her therapist, Melanie described it like a kink. She was happy with Donna, satisfied in bed; men just scratched a different itch. Just some men, some of the time. Jonathan. That evening news anchor and his lantern jaw. The tall barista at Capitol Beans. And it wasn’t like she was mooning over their dicks. Melanie was just curious. Looking for a new thrill to occupy her as menopause and Donna’s campaign loomed.

            “Well,” her therapist said, “that’s one interpretation.”

            That was Melanie’s interpretation. There was nothing romantic about the thought of men when she stayed up late browsing tube sites in the basement. Just a nervous heat, an eroticized fear. Amazed that she was really, truly watching pornography—something she’d once considered public enemy number one—and straight porn, at that.

            Browsing hesitantly, alert for footsteps overhead. Clicking through an infinity of tabs. Searching for a fragment where the man onscreen inspired desire instead of disgust, where his cruelty felt daring and sexy, instead of like a prelude to homicide. Shocking herself with what aroused her, astonished that, after decades without lusting after men, she sometimes sought out two or three or more—so many that the woman they were with would almost vanish beneath them.

            When it was over, when the last tremble had left her system, the last guilty tear had been shed, she’d sit there, naked, bathrobe splayed around her. Feeling achy and middle-aged, but also alive in ways she hadn’t in years. Wondering what it would be like to do it in real life. Wondering why no one ever mentioned how over-the-top—and, well, gay—straight porn was. The big hair. The high-school caliber acting. The tawdry sensuality an implicit parody of everything straight, white, patriarchal America held dear.

            “That’s America,” Jonathan said, his energy cresting. “It’s Virginia’s religious freedom law and the internment camps, it’s the March on Washington and Henry Ford’s goons shooting striking workers. We’re defined by the space between our ideals and our realities. By the endless, exhausting struggle forward. We’re Americans, so we get it wrong the first time, the eighth time, the millionth time. But because we’re Americans, we’ve got a north star, something we’re struggling toward that’s simple and beautiful and right.”

            He took a deep breath.

            “Maybe that means that we have to listen to pundits—and, you know, Europeans—mock our failings while we crawl over broken glass just to push things an inch in the right direction. But that’s our curse and our blessing. Our work will never be done. But we know what the work is. And we know that the journey is the point. It’s the thing that makes this country what it is.”

            Melanie nodded, impressed he’d stuck the landing. Thinking how adorable he looked. “Okay, I’m with you.” A pause. “But I don’t really have to talk about the internment camps, right?”

            He sighed. “Maybe not. I might use the Henry Ford stuff, though—this is a union state, after all.”

            When Melanie first told Donna about her self-discovery, the subject wasn’t broached again for weeks. Like it might pass on its own. Just another one of Melanie’s whims, like cross-stitch and swing dancing and Reiki. The only clue the conversation had happened was Donna’s shaken confidence in bed, her new habit of saying, “Did that feel okay?” and “Did you…you did, right?” after every assignation. As though she hadn’t seen Melanie’s convulsions from two inches away.

            As Melanie sat in campaign strategy sessions and played on her phone while Donna sweet-talked county executives and state chairmen, she realized it wasn’t just that they weren’t discussing her bisexuality, weren’t making progress toward accepting it. No, she was holding back. Staying silent about her feelings because she didn’t trust her wife to be able to cope.

            If Donna had been the one with the realization, this would’ve gone one of two ways. Either she would have insisted that Melanie deal with the situation and make her peace with it, or she would have buried it deep down and left it there. Rightly confident that she could hold it there forever.

            But it was Melanie’s thing, so things played out very differently.

            It was their anniversary and they were in New York. At Cornelia Street for old time’s sake. Three bottles in without a single embarrassing spill. Donna’s hands rubbed insistently across her wife’s fingers. Making Melanie wet, her mind racing forward to the Airbnb they’d gotten above West 3rd Street, to its massive bed and plush comforter.

            Her hands running through Donna’s soft gray pixie cut. Her hips rising, lick after lick. So lost in the moment that when Donna leaned in and asked if she had any fantasies, Melanie said, without hesitating, “Maybe fooling around…with a guy?”

            Donna recoiled. Said, her voice all fire, “What, with Jonathan?”

            “I didn’t say…”

            Donna told her attraction was one thing, but if Melanie thought she would sit and watch her wife suck some guy’s cock, she was sadly mistaken.

“I didn’t think that!” Melanie objected. “And you asked!” A pause. “Anyway, why can’t I fantasize about what I fantasize about?”

            Now, watching Jonathan sketch out transitions within the speech, Melanie wondered if this was what sexual tension felt like between a man and a woman. And when Jonathan turned and stepped backward to refer to some notes written on the back of a recalled CHATWIN FOR PRESIDENT flyer—somehow the printer had misspelled the state’s name—there was a brief, vertiginous moment when he slipped, stumbled her way. Righting himself with a hand on her chair. His body so close, his eyes lifting until they stared into hers. She knew she only had to lean forward, put her mouth on his. And everything—absolutely everything—would change.

            Imagining their future. After the election, everything settled. Stepping off the train with a new haircut, a new look. Walking unnoticed through the crowds on Sunset, sunglasses absorbing the glare. Seeing him in front of Cliff’s Edge, a breeze ruffling his hair.

            Waiting for her.

            It’s awkward at first. Watching him peruse the cocktail list as her hefeweizen loses its head. The two of them trying not to mention Donna or the campaign or even politics. Melanie’s two beers in when she asks if he remembers that day in the field office—when they kissed. “How could I forget?” he says, and kisses her again.

            Back at his apartment, they make out on the sofa. Melanie’s a mass of sensations—everything familiar yet strange. Hands and mouths in the same places, but different motions, pressures, cadences. The kissing so forceful, his fingers rough. Not used to craning her neck to meet his mouth, or how heavy heavy breathing is with men.

            Then, into the bedroom. Enjoying the novelty of a whole new sexual organ. Enjoying the weight of him, the nervous anticipation. That first slow slide forward, the feeling so different than glass or metal or silicone. Watching his face. Her hands sliding down until she’s squeezing his ass with every thrust. Until he’s gasping her name like it has nine syllables. Then snuggling together, sweaty beneath the sheets.

            Meeting his parents, his mother skeptical about the age difference, his father starstruck. Meeting his sister and her wife at their backyard Lunar New Year Party. Meeting his grandparents in the receiving line at their wedding, stifling a laugh as his grandmother frowns, says, “You look familiar—have we met before?”

            Moving to a Seal Beach three-bedroom after their second daughter is born. Settling into a comfortable life that feels like something from a sitcom. Beautiful backyard. Healthy kids. Family vacations to Catalina and Big Bear and Joshua Tree.

            Sometimes, after the kids are asleep, Melanie and Jonathan retreat to their jacuzzi tub. Making love amid the bubbles while fantasizing about picking up another woman. Melanie’s hips up, pressing against her husband, imagining her head between the legs of some bicurious party girl, the heat inside her building and building.

            And before she realized she’d done it, Melanie found she was touching Jonathan’s arm. “Oh,” she said, blushing. “Sorry, I….”

            He played it off. “I know, I know: I’m clumsy. But I’m working on it!”

            “No, no, it’s fine, I’m…when do you think you’ll have a draft?”

            He frowned, hurt. “I mean, I have a draft. I just wanted to validate, you know, that you were comfortable with the direction…”

            “Of course! Totally comfortable!”

            Jonathan nodded, took out his iPhone. As he photographed the whiteboard, Melanie felt an urge to say…something. What, exactly, she didn’t know. Not some big confession. That would be ridiculous. Melanie was just off-balance and vulnerable. She wanted a last joke, a touching moment. Something to end this interaction on a positive, joyful note.

            There was a long silence. Each expecting the other to conclude the meeting, give permission to go their separate ways. As they waited, Grace and Lane walked by in the hallway outside, chatting happily. Melanie decided she’d say something about young love, how long ago it seemed. Then he’d say, well, not that long ago.

            Something like that.

            But before she could speak, Jonathan glanced over at the women, asked “Maybe this is a weird question, but…do you know if Grace is single?”

            Melanie forced a smile. “I think I heard she has a boyfriend.”

(7)

            Melanie settled into the makeup chair, watching sweat bloom on her face in the mirror. Her skin glowing yellow beneath the horseshoe of bulbs as the makeup artist sighed and went for more foundation.

            She was a mess. Exhausted. On her third outfit after Lane finally admitted, yes, maybe you could see the sweat stains from a few feet away. Not having a panic attack, but not not having one either. Forcing herself to inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth, like that cute Adams Morgan yoga instructor always said. Overhead, speakers played the same medley of eighties hits that accompanied every Chatwin event. These Dreams and True Colors and enough Pat Benetar that Melanie wondered if she had her own line item in the campaign budget.

            The mood in the green room was positive, considering. Staffers picked at a cheese plate. The state’s junior senator chatted up the hotel’s bored, busty concierge. Lane took selfies with a cardboard cutout of Donna, texting them to her friends. Melanie felt like she was under the only stormcloud in the place.

            She was almost ready—her hair passable, makeup on—when she felt a hand on her shoulder. And turned, heart jumping. Steeling herself for a profoundly uncomfortable heart-to-heart.

            Instead it was Jonathan. Wearing a mustard yellow suit that almost matched the manilla envelope he dropped into her hands. Saying he’d gotten so worked up after their conversation that he’d locked himself in his hotel room, making the updates and tweaks they’d discussed—so here it was. “Oh,” she said, surprised. “You shouldn’t have.” Feeling touched, but also annoyed that she’d have to lug the envelope around all night.

            He shrugged. Said, “Don’t tell Donna, but I think you’re my favorite to write for. There’s just something about your voice; it’s so real and…human.”

            “You mean ‘awkward,’ right?” she teased.

            “No, no—you know what I mean,” he said. Then startled her for the third time in as many minutes by hugging her.

            She leaned into it. Enjoying the pressure of his body, his chin against the top of her head. Nervous jitters in her stomach. Goosebumps. Like her body was living a different life, one filled with joy and desire and…hope.

            Jonathan pulled back. Adjusted his tie. Looked to see if anybody was watching—which, nobody was, except a cub reporter from a local paper that nobody important actually read. Then excused himself, saying to let him know if she had any notes. Joking that he’d ignore them, because the speech was perfect, but she should still feel free. And darted off, stopping only to snag a glass of red wine off a passed tray.

            Melanie got a glass for herself, then slumped onto an empty couch. Alone with her hopeless thoughts in a room full of upbeat people who wanted more than anything to install her in an office in the East Wing with views of the Washington Monument—well, the South Lawn anyway.

            “Melanie!” Lane called out. “Want to watch the repair guys try to fix that busted smoke machine? They said we could!” Gesturing toward two unamused technicians by the door. Melanie declined. Saying Lane should take pictures; that way, they could fix any future dry-ice emergencies themselves. Lane scoffed: “That’s a totally different kind of fake smoke! Didn’t you ever work tech?”

            Melanie rolled her eyes, returned to her wine. And promptly spilled it on herself when her name was called. “Jesus! I don’t want to watch them fix the smoke machine, okay?” Only to find herself face to face with Donna. Five minutes later, she watched Donna unlock the hotel’s business center, flick on the light, and plop into a rolling chair. Melanie sat, too. Looked at the merlot stain spreading above her left breast. Said, “Okay, you start.”

            Donna sighed. “When was the last time for the two of us, really? When we fooled around because we wanted to and not because we thought we should, or because it’d be depressing to let it go any longer. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I come, you come—you do come, right?”

            Melanie nodded.

            “But it’s awkward now. Like we don’t have the right chemistry—but I know we used to have it. Part of me is afraid we can’t get it back. That we’ll end up sleeping in separate rooms, going about our lives like some sad old straight couple.”

            Melanie looked into her wife’s eyes. “Is that why you fucked her?”

            Donna sat up. “That isn’t what this is about, okay? That’s not the problem. We’re the problem.” Her eyes suddenly wet. “Do people come back from this? Is there a future where things start clicking again, where you feel like my lover instead of my friend?”

            “Donna, I’m your wife,” Melanie said quietly. “Hannah’s your lover.”

            Donna shook her head, frustrated. “You know what I mean. Things haven’t been right since your big realization,” she said, finger quotes slashing like claws. “Personally, I think you’re kidding yourself, but maybe we’d be better off if you just fucked him and learned it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

            “This isn’t about me being bi, or about men…”

            “Right.”

            “Only one of us is having an affair, Donna,” Melanie said, hearing the anger in her voice and wondering distantly if that was what she felt. “And it hurts, okay? How am I supposed to go out there and smile and wave when I know you’d rather go home with your campaign manager than me?”

            “I mean, that’s just the job,” Donna said, exasperated. Then stopped. The gravity of the words hitting her.

            “Fuck you, Donna. Just, just—fuck you.” Melanie rolled her chair in a little semi-circle. Her back to her wife, the hotel lawn in front of her lit by headlights. Trying to will herself to walk away. To head outside and just keep going, until she was in some other place, some other life.

            Behind her, a phone buzzed…and Donna swore. A moment later, Melanie felt her wife’s hand on her shoulder. “Look, I’m sorry,” Donna said. “That was really stupid of me…all of this is stupid. We’ve got a lot to figure out, but if there’s any chance to get back where we used to be, I want to try.” Then exited the room, flipping off the light from force of habit. Leaving her wife alone in the dark.

            Melanie just sat there, stewing in Donna’s words—which were self-serving and painful, but probably mostly true. Remembering what it was like to feel feverish with desire for Donna, when she would’ve done anything to spend another five minutes at Caffe Reggio, drinking thin cappuccinos and listening to her talk about direct action and that jerk who always interrupted her during ACT UP meetings. Thinking how different it felt now. How impatient Donna was with Melanie’s hesitation, how irritated Melanie got when Donna endlessly discussed her pet interests, or played devil’s advocate anytime anybody expressed a strong opinion, or jumped in to explain what Melanie had thought or felt or said, even when Melanie was right there, because clearly she could say it better than Melanie ever could.

            She wasn’t sure what to do—or if there was anything to do. Right now, she just needed to get out of this room, get through the night. And then sleep, hoping things looked better in the morning.

            But out in the hallways, the mood had turned. The hotel workers seemed like their usual tired, disinterested selves, but the campaign staffers had lost their effervescence. Their smiles tentative or sad. Footsteps tinged with panic. Even Pat Benatar sounded off, like the speaker was damaged—or like love was even more of a battlefield than she’d previously thought.

            Melanie found the green room half-empty. The cheese plate abandoned. The junior senator long gone; though, in fairness, so was the concierge. The campaign staff a skeleton crew, huddled together. Whispering. Passing a phone around. When Melanie barged in like a drunk relative on Thanksgiving, demanding answers, an intern just squeaked and handed it over, the article already pulled up—DEM PRIMARY TOO CLOSE TO CALL: HIGH TURNOUT THREATENS CHATWIN CORONATION.

            “Shit,” Melanie whispered. Her body flooded with adrenaline, her mind a mass of cloudy, contradictory emotions. Then she felt a forceful hand on her arm, spinning her around. It was Hannah, eyes steely, hair uncharacteristically limp—like it, too, was taking this whole thing hard. “Where’s Donna?” Hannah demanded. “We’ve got a situation on our hands.”

            “I haven’t seen her for twenty minutes,” Melanie said. “I figured she was with you.” It was true. Melanie had assumed the text Donna received said something like im wet 4u. That Donna was in some penthouse love nest, waiting for a postcoital page saying it was time for her victory speech. “She told me, you know.” Unsure exactly what she hoped to achieve, other than spreading the pain around.

            Hannah’s eyes widened. “Oh?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Did you…want to, um, talk about it?”

            “I don’t know what good that would do,” Melanie told her. A pause. “Look, I never want to be the kind of person who blames it all on the other woman. But that was a shitty thing to do.”

            Hannah looked away. “Yeah…”

            A server swung by with glasses of white wine and they both took one. Their eyes met again and Melanie took in Hannah, like she was seeing her for the first time. Big, authoritative brows. A sweetness in her eyes that vanished by the time you got to her thin, pursed lips. Not the woman you imagine when you imagine who your wife would rather be with than you.

            “Look, I’m sorry,” Hannah said, after nursing her wine. “But it’s just…”

            “Spare me, okay?” Melanie told her. “You don’t want to say it and I don’t want to hear it.” Hannah nodded. Finished her wine. Walked away.

            A minute later, she was on the big monitor at the center of the room, strolling across the ballroom’s stage. Making her way reluctantly to the microphone, like a tenth-grader who hasn’t actually read Ethan Frome but still has to tell the class about it. She cleared her throat. Waited for quiet, for all eyes to focus on her. “My name is Hannah Legon and I’m Donna Chatwin’s campaign manager,” she said. “Obviously, there’s a lot going on. But it’s looking like we won’t have anything else to say tonight.”

            The room filled with a startled, angry roar as she scuttled off stage. For a moment, Melanie thought a riot might break out. But it was an older crowd and the chairs were pretty heavy. The worst that happened was a few loud obscenities and some tossed drinks as the crowd thinned, separating those who had had quite enough for one night from those who planned to fully enjoy the open bar.

            In the green room, the staffers were stone-faced, the interns were crying, and if “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” played one more time, Melanie thought she might scream. She was five drinks in. Playing on her phone. Ignoring texts from reporters asking for comments and college friends wanting the inside scoop. The part of her that was constitutionally incapable of not picking at scabs opening Instagram to check out the page for Russell’s facial hair, which was broadcasting live from a Holiday Inn across town.

            The crowd there was on its feet, triumphant, as Russell celebrated the blow that had been struck tonight. Saying no matter how the primary played out, the people had been heard. That there was no reverting to a status quo that didn’t prioritize climate change. “The only way forward,” he bellowed, “is…forward!”

            Melanie closed the app, a ball of anxiety in her stomach. Wondering suddenly where Lane was, whether she was okay. And although it wasn’t her job to keep tabs on Lane—technically, it was the other way around—she set off in search of her body woman.

            Backstage, a few hotel employees milled around, waiting out their shifts. They obviously knew she shouldn’t be there, but no one cared enough to tell the drunk middle-aged lady that climbing a fifteen-foot ladder in her state probably wasn’t a good idea. To Melanie’s credit, she didn’t fall—though at times the stage looked miles below her.

            When she finally crawled into the control booth, she found Lane and Grace curled together, kissing like they were at some alternate-universe queer high school makeout party—the heat and fervor turned past 10, the hand placement very PG-13. And in front of them, past the mixing board and spotlight controls and panes of soundproof glass, Melanie saw something else.

            Balloons. Hundreds of them, in every color of the rainbow. Waiting for a moment that would never come.

(8)

            Melanie was lost.

            It was after midnight and the hotel was still frantic. She bobbed and weaved down a long hallway, sidestepping chatting guests and weary hotel staffers, dodging steam tables and pallets of folding chairs and endless trays of food. Her mind hazy, her thoughts distant. A half-second lag between turning her head and her perspective shifting.

            Melanie barrelled through a set of double doors and stopped short, startled by the cool wind across her face, by the realization that she was somehow outside. It was sobering, staring out at the parking lot and the chain-link fence beyond, and feeling like she’d reached the end of the line.

            It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, to notice the loading dock where Donna sat, her feet dangling. Stress-smoking two cigarettes at once. Melanie sat next to her, feeling a drunken vertigo. Still angry, but wanting to put things aside, to tell her wife something thoughtful and comforting and sweet. “You might win anyway, you know,” she said.

            Donna turned her way, a cigarette in her mouth, a cigarette in her hand. “Oh, fuck off, Melanie.”

            Melanie felt a flash of heat. “Noted.”

            “It’s just, we’re so close,” Donna groaned. “A hundred delegates, a few dozen precincts and it’s all locked up. But the numbers don’t make any goddamn sense, and nobody can really say what’s happening. And if the worst-case scenario isn’t just a scenario, if it’s just the reality, then all the speeches and rubbery chicken dinners and fake smiles were for nothing.” A long pause. “And that fucking kills me.”

            A voice sounded hesitantly behind them: “Um, Melanie? Governor Chatwin? Hannah sent me to find you?” Lane said, her arms folded nervously, her neck a field of hickeys. “It seemed…pretty urgent?”

            “Okay, here’s the situation,” Hannah explained, holding court in a beige conference room. “I’ve been on the phone with almost all the precinct captains and there’s still a path to victory, but it’s tight.”

            Donna set down her coffee mid-pour. “How tight?”

            Hannah grimaced. “Tight. College-educated voters turned out way above projections and we’re running behind expectations in the smaller counties,” she said, nodding at a state map pinned to the wall. “The cities are holding strong, but some outlying neighborhoods we were counting on could go either way.”

            “Do we know why?”

            Hannah shook her head. “We’ve got guesses, but nothing I’d take to the bank.” A pause. “Sexism. The Bradley Effect. People in the sticks still mad about your school funding reforms. Could be anything.”

            “What else do I need to know?” Donna asked, her voice steely.

            “ABC called it for Van Dyke an hour ago,” Hannah said, “but they just retracted, so that’s a positive sign. And our guy in Thibault Gardens says that our side came in above expectations and the final count is still ongoing; if that pulls through without a recount, we’ll take the state.”

            Melanie closed her eyes. Remembering that lone undecided voter. Wondering how close things really were, if a single person might actually sway this whole thing. Terrified to think that this ten-thousand-person, multimillion-dollar effort might turn on how politely she’d sipped tea.

            Donna, considering: “What if we don’t?”

            “It’s our best chance,” Hannah said. “If it doesn’t come in, we can still bring this home, but we’ll have to fight all the way to the convention.”

            The room fell quiet.

            “So,” Melanie asked cautiously, “what now?”

            Hannah sighed. “I’ll call New York and wake up our lawyers in case there’s a recount. Jonathan’s already working on a worst-case-scenario speech, though it’ll be another hour. Donna, I need you on a conference call with Kevin and the Ohio team; we can’t afford to let them get demoralized. And Lane, scare up that girlfriend of yours—I’m not getting the numbers I need from Halliday Heights and I want answers.”

            Lane nodded quietly, white as a sheet.

            “How can I help?” Melanie asked.

            Hannah looked at Donna; Donna shook her head. “I think you’re done for the night,” Hannah told her, trying to make it sound like a gift, not a snub. “Go get some sleep and we’ll fill you in in the morning.”

(9)

            The alarm sounded just before six and the frontrunner’s wife woke from a nightmare. Terrified. Sweating. So tangled in blankets and sheets that she briefly thought she was actually tied down.

            Remembering nothing but the terror.

            When the adrenaline began to ebb, she settled back against the mattress, feeling drained, aware of a tightness in her temples that verged on a hangover. Closing her eyes. Taking deep breaths. Trying to empty her mind before its contents could rise up and hurt her.

            Melanie woke again a few minutes later. Feeling Donna’s fingers tracing her clavicle. “Time to get up,” Donna whispered, her voice soft and resigned. “Long day ahead of us.”

            Melanie lifted herself up on one elbow. Eyes blinking, lips dry. Taking in her wife—the bluebell pantsuit, the hunched shoulders and weary expression. “What’s the situation?” she asked. “Do we know?”

            Ten minutes later, they were inside a hastily erected tent behind the hotel, the press marching in. All of them waiting to hear the word from Donna—who was pacing backstage, waiting to hear the word from her lover.

            Hannah, hair wild, shoes wet with dew, stood in the hotel’s shadow, holding her phone in both hands. Willing it to ring. Jonathan lingered beside her, holding two envelopes; ready to hand over the right one the moment they knew which one that was.

            As they waited, Melanie sipped too-hot hotel coffee from a tiny styrofoam cup, watching the sun rise over the parking garage across the street. The sky purpling, the concrete glowing. Looking away as the sun fully emerged, blinded by the glare. Listening as Lane sneezed and apologized, sneezed and apologized, until finally Melanie just handed over her sunglasses, saying if she didn’t get it together, she could wait inside.

            The phone rang. Hannah fumbled with it, so agitated and startled that she seemed like she might well drop it. Melanie broke into a sweat. Jonathan looked at the ground, crossed himself. Donna snapped, “Answer it already!”

            Hannah did. “Hello?” Then paused, the silence stretching forever. “Mom! I told you not to call me when I’m working! I’m waiting for a very important phone call!” Another pause. “I don’t know, Mom! That’s what I’m waiting to hear!” The phone buzzed again. “I’m getting a call on the other line, and—” She turned, gave Donna an embarrassed, all-teeth smile.

            Donna pulled a finger across her neck.

            “Sorry!” Hannah chirped and hung up on her mother. Tapped her phone. “Hello?” And listened for ten full seconds. Frowning. Considering. Then catching Donna’s eye, giving her a quick, excited thumbs-up.

            A roar erupted. Melanie stumbled, bracing herself against the side of the hotel, the gesture hitting her like a punch. Donna exhaled, said: “Thank fucking God.” Then reached toward Jonathan. Snapped her fingers. Watching, unamused, as he struggled to deliver the right envelope. “Are we good?” Donna asked as he placed it in her hand. “Because if I go out there and accidentally concede, I will straight up murder you.”

            He nodded, cowed. “We’re good.”

            Donna turned, walked to Melanie, and took her hand. Melanie looked up at her, surprised. “Come on,” Donna said. “Time to meet the press.”

            The two of them walked hand in hand along the muddy trail left by the workers who’d assembled the tent and stage and coffee station. Waving at the reporters and photographers and camera operators as they mounted the steps to the small stage. Donna released her wife’s hand and opened the envelope. “Ladies and gentlemen of the press,” she began, smiling wryly. “Big night, huh?”

            But before the laughter could fully fade, before Donna could delve into her prepared remarks, enumerating the primary’s highs and lows in Jonathan’s elegant prose, Melanie burst suddenly into tears. Her sobs loud and ugly. Her nose openly running, her whole body shaking.

            “Baby, it’s all right,” Donna whispered, completely thrown. “We won. We won, okay?” Melanie tried to nod, to speak. But the tears just kept coming. Overcome now by waves of loss and relief so big and profound and tightly-linked that she wasn’t sure where one stopped and the other began.


T.B. Grennan was born in Vermont, lives in Brooklyn, and received his MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia, where he studied with Deborah Eisenberg and Ann Beattie. His fiction has been published in Brokelyn, Construction Literary Magazine, DASH Literary Journal, Digging Through the Fat, Digital Americana, Inklette, The Seventh Wave, White Stag Journal, Writing Disorder, and “Spaces We Have Known,” an anthology of LGBTQ+ fiction; his nonfiction has appeared in the Indiana Review, Sunspot, and TIMBER.

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