All Romance Ebooks
Melody Clark Books
A novel regarding reincarnation, and where two prominent founding fathers would have stood on gay marriage, particularly after falling in love - with each other.
US founding father descendants, T.J. Delaney and John Adams Paulson, have been friends and occasional lovers since Harvard. Jack's uncomfortable with this, but he's even less okay with T.J.'s belief their love is fated. T.J. is virtually certain they're the literal reincarnations of their legendary ancestors. Jack is virtually certain T.J. is nuts, but he will soon change his mind.
"Mr. Thomas Jefferson, as I live and breathe," the cabbage rose organza-clad Asian man said to his long-time employer.
The employer entered his office for the first time that morning and shined at the Asian man, his secretary, a genuine if patient smile. "Please, Lee, just Tom Jefferson ... I have exaggerated enough expectations, thanks to the press." He moved across to hover a moment by the other man's desk. "So how is my morning to unfold?"
Lee handed Jefferson his morning messages. "Here is the paper trail, as you requested. I’ve also emailed it all to your PDA, my liege. You have a press conference on the Senate steps and then a meeting with Senator Paulson."
Tom smiled a little to himself at the morning's prospects. He pouted a little at the messages in his hand. "No word yet from the Founders Committee?"
"No, nothing. And since you mentioned it, mind if I ask what that thing is anyway? You're certainly all worked up about it."
"It is only the most prestigious social group in Washington,” T.J. said. “They're all direct descendants of the US founding fathers. You have to have a lot of friends inside the organization to get in, even with the right family tree.”
“Sounds like a bunch of boring dumbasses to me,” Lee said. “Let’s face it, you only want in because Jack’s in there.”
Tom nodded a little. “Yes, and there’s something to be said for acceptance as well. Jack wrote an introductory letter for me. I'm a little nervous for an answer."
"Aw, come on, a popular new Senator like you? If they let in the Beltway's top sparring partner, Jack Paulson, then you're a shoo-in. I mean, how many inside friends can he have?"
Tom tilted a cautionary eyebrow in Lee’s direction. "You were saying what about my dear friend?"
"Oh, I'm sorry but even you must admit he's never going to win Mister Congeniality on the Hill. So I mean, you know, they'll have to like you."
Tom laughed, glancing dully through his messages again, as if he might have missed something. "It isn't that simple, I'm afraid. My ancestor was President Jefferson’s French love child, you see, and I myself was born and raised in England, so all of that together -- "
“-- doesn't matter a whit beside the real issue which is that you're a big old queer," Lee said.
Jefferson nodded. "Probably. Jack says I'm crazy to care about it at all, but it would sort of be a formal acceptance into the larger family of the American Revolution. The first revolution, I mean, not the ongoing one. Speaking of which, did you hear that insane fascist bastard this morning?"
"How could I not? He ran his mouth on TV all this morning about how the Bill of Rights is Marxist propaganda. I thought our old King George was a fascist. This one makes him look like Mr. Rogers."
"On that note, I'd better go feed the press. You'll want to pencil in for tomorrow that Senator Paulson and I will be driving in a bit early for the Independence Hall re-dedication."
Lee flipped open his laptop, hitting a key for the right screen. "I still can't believe the monuments people actually invited him."
T.J. lowered his voice a little. "This is solely between you and me, but they didn't invite him. I'm inviting him. If I don't, I'll have to hear for days on end about how my ancestor's more beloved than his ancestor."
"So that's the real reason for the pricey threads ... a road trip with Jack," Lee said, grinning wisely as he pointed at the other man's clothes. "I thought the Armani was for the unveiling."
"It is. I'm gussied up for the press, as they say among my constituents."
"Then why are you wearing it today, my captain?" Lee asked, raising an eyebrow.
"For the same reason. The press. Remember, the p-conference?"
"Bull. You wore Harvard sweats to your last p-conference,” Lee said, thumping a finger at his boss’ chest. “You bought the suit for tomorrow for Jack and you wore it today in case he doesn't go tomorrow. I just hope for your sake he notices this time."
Tom shook his head a little tiredly as he peeled open his office door again. He let himself smile a little. "If he did notice it, he'd die in agony before he admitted it."
Lee evoked an audible sigh as an overt reply then tapped his Gigantor the Space Age robot wristwatch. "And speaking of dying in agony, my captain, your journalistic firing squad awaits.”
He always stopped along the Potomac to jog in place just long enough to give the finger at the Jefferson monument before he journeyed on. His destination was an amphitheater-shaped pit of despair, wholly of stone and of an iron color, also known as Dante's fourth level of hell and sometimes, the US Senate building.
The Beatles blasting into his ears, he ran up the steps to the Senate, past the gaggle of reporters with their lollipop mikes all aimed in the direction of the media’s latest Senate darling – the new gentleman from Virginia. The darling’s attention darted for a moment in his direction before the Virginian tossed him a regretful smile – a smile Jack briefly met with a more grudging one of his own.
He had trod all the way to the top of the steps before one of the reporters on a live feed recognized him. She said loud enough to be heard, “Massachusetts Senator Jack Adams Paulson has just jogged past us, perhaps we can get his opinion on Senator Jefferson’s domestic partnership legislation -- ” And Jack replied by pointing at his ear buds, shrugging his shoulders and making a mad dash through the doors to relative safety.
His office lay on the shallow end of chaos, which usually made for a quiet morning.
His secretary, Taneesha, looked like one very unhappy young black lady, waiting for him at his lobby office door. She waved the messages in her hand while stabbing a long acrylic nail at the muted overhead TV. “I know it’s awful to say, but I swear I hate Republicans. Did you hear what that pickle-faced, two-bit one-trick-pony dictator of ours said this morning?"
“First of all, you don’t hate Republicans, you just hate idiots. But yeah, I wish we had a non-idiot in office right now.” Jack pulled the buds from his ears as he slowed down to a circling walk to keep leg cramps at bay. He grabbed his messages from her hand. "What do we expect? Nobody with more than a quarter-inch of forehead voted for him."
"Well, I'd like to kick his tiny ass from here to Katmandu."
Jack pointed to his Revolution t-shirt and gave her a one fist salute. "Sing it, sister."
"I swear, I gotta get me that t-shirt. It’s so -- "
"Senator Paulson!" rang out a reedy little voice he knew too well, from the inner direction of his office.
On the other end of the voice stood one of those well-dressed social barnacles who forever set his teeth on edge. There hovered Ms. Anna-Beth Franklin from the Founders Renaissance Committee – a group of pretentious busybodies who used their incidental descent from a founding father to curry social favors on the Hill.
“Good morning, Ms. Franklin,” he called out as if accepting the terms of his surrender. “Wonderful to see you, as always, but I'm sorry to say I have a monstrously busy morning ... don't I, Taneesha?"
His secretary nodded avidly. "He does. Busy. Monstrously so."
"I swear I won't have but a few minutes of your time," the lady barnacle said. “It's about Senator Jefferson's membership application. I felt I should come to you directly ... as you are his sponsor advocate to the Committee."
Jack groaned softly, pinching at the space between his already tired eyes. He nodded. "Five minutes," he said, motioning her to follow him through the door to his private office. He yanked a bottle of water from his office fridge. Uncapping it, he drank from the bottle while he slumped backward into his desk chair. "So, enlighten me. What's all this about?”
Ms. Franklin gestured with a little primal despair. "The Senator is ... a friend of yours, is he not?"
"Most of the time. Why? Is there some problem with T.J.'s candidacy?"
"There are ...” she said, gesturing once more, as if beyond words in a land where she barely knew the language. "There are a few issues I'd like to address with you confidentially, as his host to the committee."
“Well … for one thing, it's my understanding that his real last name isn’t even Jefferson."
“No, it’s Thomas Jefferson Delaney, Jefferson is his middle name. He changed it for political showbiz purposes. Why does that matter? My last name is Paulson but I’m still an Adams.”
“Of course,” Ms. Franklin said, emphasizing the words. “But you must see how this name-change might suggest, well, that the Senator is trying to trade publicly on his ancestry.”
“Ms. Franklin,” he said, trying to laugh only politely, “you are the head of a whole organization of people who trade publicly on their ancestry. You have your Benjamin Franklin family tree on your personal letterhead, for heaven sakes. Anyway, it’s Tom’s ancestry to trade on, isn’t it? I know that he submitted ludicrously exhaustive proof of his family heritage. And I know he had to pony up the blood and bucks for the background study like the rest of us did.”
“Yes, of course. It’s just --” She gestured toward a chair. “May I sit?”
He shrugged. “Believe it or not, that is what the chairs are for.”
She primly poised herself at the end of one of the plusher seats. “In your case, Senator Paulson, you have a direct line of unbroken descent from President John Adams, as clearly witnessed by public records. Your mother's family has a long and meritorious history of public service.”
“My father's family, on the other hand, had a long history of driving trucks. Semis. Eighteen wheelers. Driven by sweaty, hairy men who can barely spell. My mother, the Adams, was a schoolteacher. I went to UMass as an undergrad. T.J. attended Oxford before he transferred to Harvard, for christsakes. And he has a very respectable record of public service too. Plus his family has a direct line from President Jefferson’s son just like I have one from John Adams' son. What's the difference?”
She looked around Jack's office, as if uncomfortable in the company of her own thoughts. “Yes, but ... his ancestor was a son ... born out of .... wedlock."
Struck silent for only a moment, he shook his head hard and moved forward in his chair. "Ms. Franklin, it seems you haven’t heard the bad news. I regret to inform you that Queen Victoria is dead. Born out of wedlock? And pardon me for further pointing out the facts of life to you, but when Ben Franklin called his son, the Royal Governor, a little bastard, he wasn't just speaking pejoratively."
She pulled a sour face. "Senator Paulson, please understand. It's merely harder to make a case to the board -- "
“T.J.'s ancestry is backed up by abundant genealogical records and Jefferson’s own letters to Paris. He accepted absolute paternity of T.J.'s ancestor."
“Let this be very clear, my reservations about his candidacy are not based upon legitimacy. I am satisfied that he is an actual direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson’s. It’s just that I must think of the reputation of the Founders Committee. And my own reputation in making this recommendation. If it was merely one thing ... "
Jack pressed a hand against something hot and bristling behind his eyes. “Ms. Franklin, I have known T.J. Delaney … pardon me, Tom Jefferson … since Harvard law. T.J. is very much in line with your organization’s aims and beliefs. One hell of a lot more than I am. I didn't even want to write the stupid introductory letter for him until he badgered me incessantly for it.”
“Again, his philosophical fitness isn’t our issue,” she said.
“Then what could possibly be the problem? That he’s English? He became a citizen at sixteen. Beneath the posh accent, he’s a freaking Yankee Doodle Dandy. He has a floor-to-ceiling wall poster of Independence Hall in his office. I have long suspected he’s had an inappropriate relationship with it.” Jack drank more water before screwing the lid back on the bottle and tossing it in the desk drawer with a week’s worth of unfinished water bottles. “So why don’t we discuss the real problem you have with him?”
“All right, if we are to be honest," she said, nodding. "I am troubled by his more … militant social positions."
“You mean the militant social position that he occasionally has sex with other men?”
Jack smirked to himself as a moment of prissy discomfiture rippled through her sniffy countenance.
Ms. Franklin lowered her voice. “Of course not! I am not a homophobe. But members of the Foundation have raised concerns about this … latest legislation of his.”
“Then members of the Foundation had better wake up and smell the 21st century. Thomas Jefferson Delaney, by whatever name, is a brilliant attorney and splendid senator. He and I may have had our personal differences in the past, but I assure you that he’s a great asset to your organization, not a liability.”
Ms. Franklin exhaled. “Senator Paulson, can you honestly say you support this domestic partnership legislation?”
"Of course not."
"Then you see our problem --”
"Oh, I’ve always seen your problem. My problem is his bill doesn't go nearly far enough. While you were reading through the public record, you might have leafed through my own legislative history prior to this little suck-up session we’re having. As the name should make clear, I co-sponsored the Moyers-Paulson bill. T.J.'s dom partner bill is a thin, wimpy, politically truckling shadow of that one."
“But Senator, you’re thought of as a moderate,” she said.
“Yes, and I think it’s very immoderate to say nothing of inherently un-American to give special rights to my own people while denying them to others. We're a nation of laws, Ms. Franklin, not religion. In a Republic, the government only exists to protect the minority from the simple minded beliefs of the mob."
Her mouth twisted with a touch of bitterness. "Let's hear you say that in the Senate."
"Who are you talking to? I already have. Twice, in fact." Jack groaned, pulled open his top desk drawer and dragged out his checkbook. He snatched up a pen. "All right, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. How much?"
"How much? To buy T.J.'s way into the Promised Land. You must need something. A new plasma TV for the imperial tea room, a nice expensive rug woven by impoverished, half-blind Chinese artisans. Something. Give me a number."
"Senator Paulson, really! Our organization has a long history of high selectivity of membership. We admit only true and honorable descendants of our American founding fathers. Membership cannot be purchased at any price," she said. "However, should you want to make a donation, which is not a surety, I promise you, we could use a plasma TV for our social office."
"Fine, this should cover it nicely," he said, scrawling out a check, tearing it free and handing it over. "Consider this a donation. It's a write-off for me and it'll secure some ... oh, let's call it benign myopia in assessing T.J.'s application. Frankly, I'd just as soon you turned him down. I wouldn't belong to your group myself if you guys hadn’t gone to my wife to have her talk me into it.”
“I didn’t realize you had a negative feeling toward the Founders Committee,” she said.
“I don’t have a problem with the Committee itself,” Jack said. “I have a problem with the prissy, right-wing fascists who often populate it. Present company accepted, of course. But T.J. wants in really badly, for some inane reason. On the other hand, if you don't accept T.J., you can consider this my official resignation. Since I am one of the few Ancestral Founders Committee members still in any kind of elected office, you may want to think carefully over your decisions."
“Don't be silly, of course there's no real problem,” she said, standing while she laughed with the sound of a bag of nervous cats. She stowed the check in her handbag. “I merely wanted to make my concerns known. I will inform Mr. Jefferson of his acceptance later today.” She moved a little to the door, as if reluctant to part company with the chill in the air between them. “I hope you’ll give my very best to Mrs. Paulson.”
Jack picked up the first pile of the usual morning chaos from his desk. “As much as I'd love to, I can't. You need to catch up with your tea-pouring social chinwag, Ms. Franklin. My wife died well over a year ago.”
“Oh," she said sharply. An uneasy silence passed between them. "I’m so – "
“Sorry. I know. You’re sorry. We’re all sorry. Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I have an appointment coming through the door right now."
“Of course,” she said gently, turning to walk through his office door and out into the public office only to have her path crossed by a sprightly stepping Tom Jefferson coming through Jack's lobby door.
“Ms. Franklin, delightful to see you again,” he said, smiling.
“Senator Jefferson,” she said, extending her gloved talons, “it's my great pleasure and honor to welcome you to the Founders Committee.”
And so they babbled mercilessly on beyond his range of hearing because, wanting to prevent nausea, Jack had returned to his desk to shuffle through the morning flotsam before the previous English voice made its way to his office door.
“I can't believe it! Did you hear? I’m in!” Thomas said/
“Yes, I’ve heard, believe me,” Jack said dourly. “Now come in and close the door before that arrogant, uptight old biddy comes back in here. Enjoy your little Mr. Smith moment on the Senate steps?”
“Did I look like I was?”
“Some of us wouldn't know. Some of us have to go through six years in Congress before we can graduate to the Senate. Some of us go Hollywood, serve one term in Congress, take the Senate in a year, and end up giving Mr. Smith epistles on the Senate steps."
T.J. smiled playfully. “Don’t be jealous, Jack.”
“I’m not jealous, T.J., I’m resentful. There’s a difference. Now, why have you chosen to go slumming in the office of a political capital-poor Senator who barely squeaked by his election when your rainbow flag waving acolytes are waiting for you in the streets below?”
Jefferson grinned. “I’ve come bearing an invitation. The monument people want us both to unveil the refurbishments to Independence Hall. They asked that I bring the idea to you personally."
Jack squinted with a thousand suspicions. "I can certainly see why. I mean, just last month you unveiled the redo of the Jefferson monument too. I suppose my invitation to unveil the Adams monument should be coming soon. Oh, no, wait, that’s right, President John Adams doesn’t have a national monument, does he?”
Jefferson laughed and shook his head. “Christ, here we go again.”
Jack squinted on, smirking with even great misgivings. “Yes, President John Adams, founding father, member of the continental congress, signer of the Declaration of Independence, first US Vice-President, and second US President doesn’t have a national monument. I keep forgetting, just like they do. So why would they remember me now? And why not come themselves?"
"Perhaps it's setting a new trend. You certainly rag on them about it often enough. As for me being here in their place, well, for some unfathomable reason, it seems they’re afraid of you.”
Jack shook his head, flipped open his laptop and hit the spacebar for the screen. He struck the keys for his business schedule. “Knowing you, you've already checked with Taneesha. You will already know that my schedule is free for whenever this is to take place --”
T.J. grinned more widely. “Tomorrow at 2 PM. And yes, I've already asked."
Jack shut his laptop. “Plenty of advance notice, I see. Very well, as I have sunk one paw in the tar pit of destiny already, I'll just surrender. Shall we drive in together or did you plan to have your leather-wearing minion hand-carry you triumphantly through the streets of Philadelphia?”
“That’s a little ostentatious, don’t you think, Jackie? Let’s drive in together. Looks green, saves gas. I should warn you, Senator Paulson, as we'll be alone for some time on the road together, you’re really quite adorable when you’re sarcastic.”
“As my late wife would assure you, I am always adorable. Tomorrow at nine say?”
“That's right, I forgot all about your beauty sleep.”
So the plan had been for Jack to jog up 14th Street to Constitution instead of his usual path down Independence Avenue. That change would nail another few minutes onto his daily pace to safely and plausibly make him reach the Senate by 9:45 am. This would make for a thoroughly innocent, or arguably so, degree of lateness which would force T.J. to leave DC without him. Even if T.J. waited, Jack would have the excuse of needing to change into his suit and then he would still be pardoned with an acceptable reason for absence. And he’d evade another hideous public appearance. Thank. God.
But it seemed that T.J.'s counter-insurgency plan had been to drive up Independence to Constitution to see which route Jack took. At roughly 9:20 am, Jack heard the hideously annoying meep of Tom’s hybrid horn as the car pulled up at his side.
“Lucky I found you!” Tom called over, popping open the door.
Jack slowed his pace to a momentary plod. He stopped in his tracks, undisturbed by the threat of leg cramps while in the face of this gently looming hell.
“Yes … lucky …” he said, his words chugging out with each breath. He pulled his neck towel around to dab at his face. He remembered and gestured down at his sweats. “Too bad I don't have time to change though.”
“Yes, you do. I nicked a suit from the spares in your office closet. We’ll dodge by the truck stop off Manhattan on our way out of town. You can shower and change there.” He popped open the door. “Come on, be a man, stop pouting, get in.”
Jack firmly exhaled, closing his eyes. He shook his head, resigned to his fate and climbed into the car. He settled into the seat and yanked on the seat belt to connect it. “At least turn on the air conditioning, would you?”
Tom buzzed down Jack's window instead. “Air conditioning is bad for you.”
“Worse for me than DC air? Get real!”
“Yes, worse for you. Now shut up and stop moping. You agreed to this so act like a grown-up and deal with it.”
“Who the hell is Marmee?”
“The mother in Little Women, of course,” Jack said, scowling. “You’ve never read Little Women?”
“Funnily enough, I don’t read books for little girls,” T.J said with a smirk.
“Little Women is a fine piece of American literature. Anyway, I read everything when I was a kid. I'm secure enough in my masculinity to admit it.”
Tom grinned to himself again. "You really thought you'd get away with that, I suppose?"
“With reading Little Women?”
“No, with that nakedly puerile attempt to avoid going to this unveiling with me.”
Jack shrugged, glaring at him sullenly before turning his face toward the window. "I had hope. I don't suppose I could persuade you to let me grab a motel room for an hour rather than force me to shower at a truck stop."
"Not enough time. Thanks to you. You're the son of a truck driver. You'll manage."
The truck stop sat atop a kind of earth-built belvedere which provided a nice view of the interstate and Virginia in one direction. The lot was semi-crowded, quite literally, with every imaginable make of truck. It was early on a workday. Thankfully, there wouldn't be a line.
Tom cracked open his newspaper and, without once looking up, gestured to the door. "Remember the suit. And your shaving kit."
"Yes, Marmee," Jack shot back and leaned over to snag the black suit and accoutrements with which Tom had so thoughtfully accommodated him. He popped open the door and dragged himself and the suit toward a sign that read "Manhattan Tower Truck Stop -- SHOWERS THAT WAY".
Jack had seen the good and decent man who was his father drag in, dirty and dragon-eyed, off enough long haul routes that Jack was not in the least afraid of the majority of dirty, dragon-eyed people who turned to look at him as he made his way to the shower.
A couple of them smiled wanly in recognition of him. Probably vaguely recognizing him from CNN or CSPAN, he decided. He smiled. He nodded. He just wanted to curl up and die.
The coin-op shower thankfully took paper dollars. He shoved one in, went inside and did everything he had to in as brief a time as humanly possible. Finally, he stepped into the locking dressing room to throw on his city duds.
As he walked up toward Tom's car, the trunk popped open with a hush. The implication was clear. Jack stored his sweats there and slammed the trunk closed.
"You're insufferable," Jack said, climbing in and yanking down his seat belt again.
"Thank you," Tom said. "By the way, you always look smashing in that."
Jack leaned back a little, staring over at his friend in near amazement. "Good lord, was that an actual compliment?"
"One should give the devil his due, I always say." He buzzed up the window then leaned over to click on a dashboard switch. "And now that we've deodorized you, we can switch on the AC."
"Will you look at it?" T.J. murmured as they pulled into Independence Mall's special guest parking area. He hung halfway out the window while he steered them into the lot. He beamed his usual Independence Hall smile. "Isn't it magnificent?"
"They painted wood and fixed floors, T.J., they didn't bedeck it in sapphires and saffron. Anyway, can we please temper your Independence Hall orgiastic glee just a little so you don't completely embarrass the crap out of me this time?"
Jefferson shut his eyes and breathed it all in. "You can just smell the history."
"Actually, I think that's the trash dumpster across the street," Jack said though his friend hadn't heard him. Thomas had sprung from the car already and started walking quickly in the building's direction.
The front of the building wore a big red, white and blue plastic shroud that would have looked tacky on a used car lot. Here, it transcended the merely tacky to aspire toward a tragically chic, high-end glitz.
"Unbelievable," Jack said. "They manage to take classic architecture and make it look like Glitter Gulch."
"See!" T.J. said with a triumphant smile. "I knew you loved it! You were just going on to cover your tracks."
"I recognize its importance enough that I don't want it to look like a whore house tourist attraction ... even if it is one. I don't maintain pointless emotion for big piles of brick, wood and glass."
"Thomas!" a voice shot out of the sands of time and landed between them.
There stood Charlie Puget, lieutenant governor, a tall man in business gray evidently covered with enough nuclear-powered Scotch to remain fragrant above the “Essence Polie pour les Hommes” he had splashed on to cover the Scotch.
"How good to see you!" Puget said, greeting Jefferson with a capped tooth smile. He took up T.J.'s hand like a true politician and pressed serious flesh. "What a pleasure to see you again! And --”
Puget turned toward Jack with a kind of hazy vague recall one saw in the eyes of a late stage dementia patient. Too much data, just not enough room on the drive.
"Jack Paulson," Jack told him.
"Of course!" Puget said in a loud enough voice to convince Jack he didn't know who the fuck he was.
"Senator Jack Paulson," Jack went on. "I'm an Adams descendant. John Adams. You guys wanted me here, remember?"
"Of course I remember, so good to see you again!" Puget said, in a convincing enough voice that further reassured Jack the man didn't know who the fuck he was. "If you gentlemen will follow me, we'll get the unveiling behind us." And Mr. Lieutenant Governor, wearing his air of eau de hooch, was just as quickly gone.
When Thomas looked back, Jack was practically tanning him with red-hot eyes.
T.J. gestured his capitulation. "Yes, all right, I lied. I didn't want to hear you whine about your not being invited."
"I wouldn't have known about the stupid unveiling if you hadn't told me about it," Paulson said.
T.J.'s reply was cut in half by the voice over the sound system announcing Thomas' name.
"Here's your cue, Batman,” Jack said, with a tone of disgust. “Gotham waits."
"You're coming with me," Thomas said, grabbing his arm to tow him along with him toward the temporary podium on the Hall's front steps.
"Oh, no, I’m not."
"Oh, yes, you are," he said and used his natural tall man’s leverage to pull Jack in the direction he was going.
T.J. delivered his speech to the crowd and yanked the ugly tarp off the new front of Independence Hall. Glory hallelujah, Jack thought to himself, as the crowd dispersed.
An hour remained before the Hall opened for tourism. Jack could see a few bored-looking camera toters herding scattered gaggles of children all over the mid-week sidewalk. The people occupied themselves with the reading of colonial history plaques: John Hancock spit there, Button Gwinnett here relieved his horse, that kind of thing.
"I've asked security if we can go in before it opens and have a look around," T.J. said, grabbing Jack's arm yet again and towing him through the door before Paulson could even hope to object.
Letting go of Jack's arm, T.J. hurried down the middle of the front hall where sunlight splashed from the high ornate window up toward rooms used often for great parties, and just as often as a makeshift hospital during the Revolutionary War. The sun, mediated by shadows, shimmered down the ascending stairs and over Thomas' face. He lifted his smile toward the particles dancing through its beam. He shut his eyes, as if in the act of receiving dusty bits of god.
"You and Independence Hall seriously need to get a room," Jack said, shaking his head in wonder. “It's probably a gay thing, you know. A phallic obsession or something.”
T.J. aimed good-humored pique in his direction then suddenly saw something past his old friend's shoulder. "Look, Jack, the assembly room is open!"
"Look, Marmee," Jack said with equal eagerness, "there's no line for Splash Mountain!"
Thomas swung a wounded look back in the other man's direction. "Can't you restrain your cynicism for fifteen minutes? Surely you know this place means a lot to me. You may have grown up mere hours from Philadelphia but I've only been here twice before. And I'd love a private audience with the assembly room before we get dragged out of here by our naughty scruffs."
Jack felt a hard tug at his conscience. "I'm sorry. Okay, I know it's special to you. I'll play nice. I seem to remember that the assembly room is through that door."
The primary shades in the Assembly Room were dark green and a deep honey wood but somehow the net effect was gold.
"My god, look at it," T.J. said, sinking his fingers into his hair. I read the history on it last night again. "That's actually Washington's chair. Think of it, Jack, Washington's chair! Right there.”
“Yeah,” Jack said disinterestedly, “where Washington's own holy butt cheeks were planted.”
T.J. continued on, “Of course, most of the rest of the original furniture was burned when the redcoats seized Philadelphia, but the ink stand is also real."
"Fascinating," Jack said dully, fighting a yawn and checking his watch.
T.J.'s eyes narrowed as he pointed to a single window. "And Jefferson sat right there, by that window, not there, where they usually say he did," he said, in a soft ghost of a voice. "I know in my bones he did."
"I thought you said you read the history last night."
"I did, but that's not how I know, Jack," he said, his voice bright with wonder. "I just know, like I know that John Adams sat right there. Not the usual place they attribute to him, not the third chair but the second from the end. My god, I know it, Jack. To a certainty."
Jack, finally clued in, shook his head at the very old ceiling. "Oh, god, not this reincarnation crap again!"
"Scoff all you like, but we were here, Jack. The two of us. I know it sounds a bit crazy ... I know it does ... but I know equally well that I’m right."
"Look, T.J., I’m glad you have something to believe in. With all the loved ones I’ve lost, I wish I could believe in an afterlife, but I can’t. I think we are here for seven or so decades, if we’re lucky, and then we’re dead. Dead and gone. Dust to dust. We have one life and nothing else remains but track marks through the ashes and a lot of empty words. Probably a few beer cans. But that’s it.”
"Then how do you explain your knowing where the assembly room was? You can barely find your way to the Congress men’s room and you went there every day for six years."
"Lucky guess," Jack said. "Cellular memory from my ancestor, I don't know. Just not some past life nonsense."
T.J. smiled at him knowingly. “The idea we were here before really scares you, doesn’t it?”
“No, it annoys me. We were not here before. They were here before. They are not here now because they are dead. We're not dead. We're not only not dead, we're damned hungry. If you're done snorting the cremains of history, can we go grab a sandwich or something?"
T.J. sighed sadly, softly, and then checked his watch. "It's more time for dinner than for lunch."
"Call it whatever you like. So long as there's food involved, I'm in."
“So long as the restaurant doesn’t have a friendly mascot, so am I."
The Perry Tavern was deep and dark, lit by candles kept by clay holders like small ceramic hands guarding the flame.
From the windows, they could see the sharp bend of the city traveling up the sky. They had been seated in the main room. They were the only male couple among a group of couples sipping at wine, studying menus.
Jack regarded his own menu. "I seem to recall Izzy thought the squab was okay. And the lemon pepper pasta. I think I just got hammered, last I was here."
"You've been here before?"
"Yeah ... in this lifetime, I mean," Paulson said, tossing a knowing grin in the other man’s direction. Then Jack's face left levity behind. He sipped at the Montrachet they had ordered. "Izzy and I came here for our last anniversary."
"God ... Jack," T.J. said, letting the two soft words speak volumes. "I'm sorry. I didn't know.:
"I know you didn't know," Paulson said sharply. "Listen, Isabel and I were married for fifteen years. If I avoided places without memories of Izzy, I'd stay at home half the time. I have to get used to it. Life now means living without her. Missing her is just the price of loving her as long as I did."
T.J. nodded slowly. "I miss her a lot, too, if that's any small comfort." He set aside his own wine and leaned forward a little. He stayed silent for a long moment before finally murmuring, “I also miss ... us."
"Yes." T.J. smiled and punctuated it with a wink. "Us."
"Oh!" Jack said sharply, his eyes widening in scale to the width of the room. He set down his wine flute with a considerable thud as he blushed darker than the drink in his hand. "That us. Sorry, it's been a while. At least it seems like it."
"It's only been a year and a half, Jack. The last time the three of us were together like that, she was so ill, all we did was hold her and talk. After Izzy died, it was like I lost both of you. I know Izzy always initiated ... us. That was her thing. But I truly could have thought you have been avoiding me for the last six months for all the --”
"I was not avoiding you."
"Maybe not consciously. But I've called you, I've emailed. I've dropped by."
"I called back!"
"On your birthday! I'd have called you last Christmas, too, except I gargled down a ton of cheap holiday cheer and passed out watching Frosty the Red-Nosed Snowman or some stupid shit."
T.J.’s eyes grew sad. "We used to spend at least some time on Christmas, the three of us. I realize she was your wife, but you and I are lovers too."
"No, we’re not!" Jack said, aghast.
T.J.’s mouth gaped open wide. "Of course we are. Don't be ridiculous."
"Technically, maybe. Look, I know you and I ... interacted, okay?" Jack said in a voice small enough to only be heard by them. "But like you said, it was Izzy’s thing. We always agreed on absolute honesty and when she ... came up with this idea, she said you'd both only do that if I agreed too and, well, the rest is very, very awkward history. Can we just change the goddamned subject?"
"No, we can't. You are a vision of denial, Jack Paulson. There was at least as much ... interaction, as you would call it, between you and me as there was between Izzy and either of us. I can recall a couple of times when our interactions ended very ... advantageously for you, and loudly so I might add. Izzy may have been watching, but it was me touching you. It wasn't all just performance porn for your wife."
"I didn’t say it was. Look, that's the past. Izzy's gone. Can't we just eat -- "
"No, damn it. Izzy’s gone, but I'm still here, Jack."
"I know that. I know you are. I just don't know where I am anymore.” Jack sat back, abandoning his glass altogether. “As we've said before, we both stuffed our grief during our respective elections. I'm just now coming out of it and maybe you are, too. Can we just have some dinner and leave the private talk for some time when we’re not in public and my stomach isn't competing for attention?"
T.J. surrendered up an uneven smile. "All right, but you still owe me a very awkward, honest talk about all that. Somewhere more private."
Jack nodded as he sighed in relief. "Agreed. And thank you."
“You’re welcome. And by the way, you and I are –"
"What may I get for you gentlemen this evening?" a smiling waiter asked as he stepped up to their table.
T.J. glared up at the intrusion. Seeing the situation, he looked down at the menu again. "Oh, yes, well … broiled squab is dove, right? I don't eat doves. Sets a poor precedent. I'll just have the lemon pepper pasta."
"And I'll have the same," Jack said, having casually glanced at the television set running mutely on the wall. "Is that the game?"
"Yeah, it sucks," the waiter said. "Celtics are winning."
"Not for me," Jack said, "I’m from Boston. What's the score?"
"I forget but Todd German just fouled out so they sent in that new guy, Corey Jackson. He's pretty lame so I think the 76ers have a shot."
"Lame? Bull!" Jack said, his voice dropping a full octave. "Corey has some chops. German's getting old."
"Old?" T.J. broke in loudly. "German kicks ass. You get him on the court in some balls-to-the-wall one-on-one and he'd still make Jackson look like a world champion pussy."
Jack smiled derisively back at his oldest friend, yanking away his menu and handing both menus to the waiter. "Just bring our food, okay?" he said to the waiter as the young man nodded and left.
Then Jack leaned nearer to Thomas. "You can disengage the testosterone turbo-thrusters. I get the point, you’re a brawny, ballsy manly man. But English men just sound silly saying pussy.”
T.J. grinned victoriously and sipped again at his wine. "I am an English-American. We can handle it."
Something in Jack's pocket beeped. He pulled out a cell phone, holding it to the candle to read. "Oh, no."
"It's a text from Taneesha." He read it through, the cell phone held gradually tighter in his hand. "Izzy's Yorkie George had a stroke they think. She took him to the vet and they may have to put him to sleep. He's 12 but -- "
"Say no more. Let's go," T.J. said, turning back toward the waiter. "We'll need our order boxed to go, I'm afraid we have an emergency."
Jack hit the button for Taneesha's phone. "What?" Jack said to the woman who'd picked up quickly. Finally, he added, "I understand. I'll be there as soon as I can. I can have T.J. drop me off -- "
"I'm coming with you," T.J. broke in.
Jack looked at him for a gentle moment then finally nodded. "Okay, we'll both be there as soon as we can." He shut down the phone then turned to the other man again as T.J. was paying the bill and accepting the boxes in a bag. "T.J. you really don't have to -- "
"Jack," Thomas said firmly. He tentatively reached out to capture his friend’s hand. He squeezed it gently for a moment, as if trying to convey the first of what he finished with his words, "I'm still here."
Paulson nodded, looking more than a little contrite. "And I'm glad."
"So let's go, shall we?"
Jack had decided a year ago that human emotion must have an elastic effect on public roads. As they sped out of that city and toward another more distant one, the drive seemed both three times longer and yet twice as fast as it should have been.
T.J. kept him talking about business in the Senate. Being a junior senator versus a veteran congressman. Who was in the closet, with special detail given to the anti-gay ones who were also heavily closeted.
The reflected lights upon the river that sliced through their edge of city led them to Columbia Veterinary Hospital. The lot was empty except for Taneesha's little blue Volvo.
The short hallway with a brief set of steps led up to another corridor. At the top, Jack saw Taneesha's little boy Aberon sitting on the floor. Just beyond the child, Taneesha pressed her nose into a handful of tissue while she dragged a toy train around in a circle as if to keep Aberon's interest.
The minute she saw Jack, she stood. "I'm so glad you're here. I mean, your housekeeper couldn't get hold of you so she called me. I got there as soon as I could but I had to pick up my son at the preschool --”
"You did all you could," he said gently, placing an arm around her. "He's an old, old dog. This day was coming. How is he now?"
She shook her head and pressed the tissues again to her nose. "He's gone, Jack. I thought to call you on the road when it happened, but I thought it would be bad enough when you got here. He went real fast. Just gone like a fiddle string. Even before they could put him down. There wasn't any pain at all."
Jack nodded a little, taking it all in. "Thank you. Why don't you take the baby home? You look wiped out and it has to be past his bedtime. I've got it from here."
"I am and it is. But I wanted to stay to tell you. The vet left him in that exam room so you could say goodbye, if you wanted. I guess you guys had set-up a cremation order beforehand, if your pets ever died. They're going to do that in the morning then I can pick up the urn on my way to the office."
Jack nodded once more, reaching out to grab and squeeze her hand. "Thank you. For everything." He gestured to the door marked EXAM. "He's in there?"
"Then I'll go in," he said, opening the door and entering the room without another word exchanged.
Taneesha turned toward Jefferson, shining a tired smile at him. "Thank you, Senator, for coming with him."
Thomas still stared at the door through which Jack had walked. “I wouldn't be anywhere else."
"You look like you lost your own dog too. Did you know George that well?"
"As well as you can know a friend's dog," T.J. said quietly.
She reached out to touch his shoulder, staring deeply into his face. "Is something else wrong?"
T.J. propped up a smile. "Taneesha, you've borne enough problems for the world tonight. I can deal with this one."
"Something about Jack?"
The senator shrugged once, like a gesture of utter resignation. "Well, let's just say that for a while I thought I had lost something. But it turns out the thing I thought I'd lost I never really had to begin with."
"That almost sounds worse than losing something," she said.
"It almost is." He reached out and patted her arm. "You and your young one get along now. I'll stay with Jack. I'll see that he gets home safely."
She smiled in the direction her boss had gone. "Beneath all that bravado and bullshit, you know, he's only about the sweetest man in the world."
"Yes, I know."
She smiled a little teasingly. "Yeah, I just thought you might."
He glanced up with a sharp surprise. "Good lord, am I that damned obvious?"
"Well, probably just to me," she said, grinning while she hefted up Aberon with his toy train. "I best get this one off to dream land. Good night, Senator. See you in the morning."
Taneesha's heels announced her quick descent, the sound fading after her eventual exit through the street level door.
T.J. moved to the exam room door, to listen distantly, quietly, and with more than a touch of guilt for listening at all.
He watched his friend lean over the dog, moving his arms around it. Jack just stood there quietly, his face against fur. Jack finally stood back up, one hand still filtering through little George's graying gold locks. "Nothing gold can stay they say ... So long, little guy."
He seemed to force himself to turn around and walk through the door then he looked half-consciously at the man waiting for him. Jack shook his head grimly. "You have got to have better things to do on a lovely evening than watch me swan dive into an Olympic-sized cesspool of self-pity. Go ahead home. I can take a cab back to my place."
"Will you stop? The only thing I have in the offing is the writing of a position paper on something about which I don't have a goddamned position. That's the worst part of this job. Coming up with the right opinions about stuff you have no opinion on. Besides, you promised me we'd go out to drinks after I won the primary. I still haven't collected on that. So let’s make it a night of drinks at your place."
"What's this, Delaney?" Jack said, trying for a grin but giving only a broken one. "You trying to get me drunk?"
T.J. tossed a grin back with his infectious laugh. "Well, that's not the original intent but if it goes in that direction, I cannot promise that I won't take full advantage of the opportunity."
Jack nodded and laughed and started their descent of the stairway. "Fair enough," he said.
As he stood on Jack's big balcony, T.J. stared northward into the night.
"What are you drinking?" Paulson called out while busily strip-searching his small home bar.
"White wine, if you have it," T.J. called back.
"I have everything. I’m a versatile alcoholic." After a moment of pouring sounds, Jack joined him on the balcony and handed him his wine. Jack was slugging back a snifter of something dangerous-looking. "It's nice to be with a good friend for a change. I'm so sick of bending elbows with passing acquaintances. And yeah, I know that was mainly my fault."
T.J. laughed softly. He looked one way up Brindle Close and then the other. The road was lined with one dark brownstone edifice after another. Finally he decided to just ask what was bugging him. "”Want to answer the $64,000 question?”
Jack shot him a focused look that drifted off into the distance. “Only if there's payola involved.”
“Okay, okay, seriously. Shoot.”
T.J. girded himself for the answer. “What do you think are our legitimate chances of getting the gay marriage amendment through the Senate? You’ve been in Congress a lot longer than I have."
"Truthfully? Snowballs in hell have a better shot."
T.J. grimaced at the words that had been said but then accepted them with a curt nod. "I was afraid you'd say that."
"There’s a wall in our way. A wall of bastards who didn't want to give up old, simple-minded ideas."
"But they're dying off."
Jack nodded and shrugged at the same time. "Yeah, and being restocked by our enemies with a lot of young fundamentalist cretins. Proud graduates of the Bizzaro Jesus correspondence school of law that considers critical thinking the work of the noonday devil.”
“Then we have to find a way through the wall,” T.J. said.