You can catch up with the previous parts of this short story HERE.
The election had been brutal. There was no denying it. Worse than the campaigning, the traveling, the long days, had been the media coverage; non-stop negative stories aimed at destroying Matthew Grant before he could even open his mouth. The media machine was out of control. There was no denying it, especially after that first month of campaigning when one of the state’s biggest newspapers had questioned his staff’s lack of diversity.
From there it had been combing through Matt and Liam’s social media accounts, searching for anything that would sink them in the political arena. One rogue satirical Tweet from his college days, labeled as sexist by feminists, dominated headlines for a few days, but as it always was with the current 24-hour/7-day a week news cycle, the press had turned it’s hungry eyes to another candidate, another subject the following week.
The polls showed Matt losing and big, right up until election day, but the night of the election the numbers had come in fast and furious late in the evening. Matt had won by a landslide. Apparently the silent voters, the one who didn’t want to be yelled at or condemned for their opinions, had come out in droves and sent a hard message home to the incumbent and his political party: “We’ve had enough of the status quo and of corrupt politicians with empty promises and even emptier apologies.”
Matt knew, though, that in six months he could be in the same boat and it could be his rear end with the boot of the voter against it as they shoved him out the door. Voters, like public opinion, were fickle and ever changing and some days nothing a congressman did could make anyone happy. Matt had only been a congressman for two years but he felt like it had been ten. Now he had a small idea why so many presidents went gray while in office, though thankfully he didn’t have the same pressure as a president.
He yawned, stretching his arms out as if he intended to stand up and head up to bed, but he didn’t. Instead he fell back on the couch again, remote in hand. He surfed streaming services, suggested shows and movies scrolling by his eyes, but he wasn’t really seeing any of it. His mind had slipped back to two and a half years ago, to near the end of the election when the news stories were at their worst. He was being called a racist, anti-woman, anti-this, anti-that. He had lost count of all the names they had called him during that time.
“Is this even worth it?” he asked Cassie one night in bed, snuggled close against her.
“If you can get in there and really help facilitate some change, then, yes, it’s worth it,” she assured him.
But then the win came and with it came more news stories, personal attacks against him and his family. The worst came when one of his staff members brought him an article about Cassie, accusing her of being fired from her previous job.
He was furious. “Where did they even get that story? Cassie was never fired from her job. She left to support me and be with the children.”
Scanning the story he saw a former co-worker of Cassie’s was quoted and offered only summations, not facts. Still, the headline suggested the accusations were true. It wouldn’t have upset Matt as much if it had been about him instead of Cassie. He’d grown accustomed to being accused of inappropriate acts or offensive words, or anything else the press could come up with, but Cassie?
Cassie was off limits.
Only she wasn’t off limits.
She wasn’t off limits because he had made her fair game when he’d decided to accept the party’s urging to run. He’d dragged her out into the open and essentially thrown her to the wolves. The story had been pushed to the side quickly in a few days with another news story, about another congressman, overshadowing it. The fast pace of the 24/7 news cycle was one of the only good aspects of it. It meant a story that was in the forefront one day, was gone by the next day and even though the story on Cassie had faded fast, he still felt incredible guilt about how much he’d exposed his family during this process.
He’d always wanted to protect Cassie now he didn’t know how to. The negativity was coming at him from every side in a hyper-political atmosphere that was beginning to suffocate him.
His phone rang and he glanced at the ID before answering it.
“Hey, bro,” he said to Liam. “You hanging in there?”
“Yeah. Locked myself in my office. You?”
“Yeah. Feels weird just to be sitting at home.”
“A good weird or a bad weird?”
“Things okay with Cassie? The kids?”
“Kids are doing great. They don’t know much about what’s going on. Cassie’s . . . okay, I guess. She seems tired.”
“Is she mad at you for all this?”
Matt laughed. “She doesn’t seem mad, really. She just seems like Cassie. She’s cooking for the kids and me, cleaning, checking on her parents.”
“Did you ask her if she was okay?” Liam asked.
“Yeah, she said she’s fine.”
Matt heard a small laugh on the other end of the phone.
“What?” he asked. “No, don’t even say it. You think ‘I’m fine’ is code for something else.”
“You know I’m not expert on women,” Liam started.
“Uh, obviously,” Matt snorted.
“But, I am learning during this that apparently when a woman says she’s okay, she’s really not,” Liam continued. “I didn’t know that Maddie was struggling, Matt. I just thought she hated me, that I was doing everything wrong, but I think she feels — I don’t know. Abandoned. She pretty much told me she feels like I abandoned her.”
Matt sighed, laying on his back, staring at the ceiling. He slid his arm behind his head. “In what way did you abandon her?”
“Staying at work too much, for one,” Liam answered. “She says I worked more so I didn’t have to face us losing the babies.”
“No, I . . .”
Liam’s voice trailed off and then there was a brief silence. “Yeah,” he said finally. “Yeah, I did. When you asked me to be your press secretary I jumped at it because I knew I would be so busy I wouldn’t have to think about losing the babies, about that empty hole in the center of my chest.”
Matt sat up, propping his elbow against his knee. “Liam, I’m sorry I was so focused on the election, on me, that I didn’t notice all you were going through.”
“Dude, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I didn’t even admit to myself how much it was bothering me.”
“I know, it’s just — I’m really realizing how out of touch I’ve been with what really matters; you and Maddie, the kids. Cassie. When I decided to run I pulled all of you —”
“Matt,” Liam said. “No. You were doing what you felt was right. And it wasn’t just you who decided to run. We all decided. As a family. We knew this could be rough. Yeah, it’s a little worse than we expected with all the extra political drama going on these days, but we are still in this together. It’s okay. We’re all okay. Well, we will be okay, one way or another anyhow. None of this is your fault.”
Matt flopped back on the couch again. “I know it isn’t. But I still feel . . . guilty. I don’t know. What I do know is that all of this, this forced slow down, has opened my eyes up to what I’ve been missing lately. I don’t like that our family, or our country, is going through this, but it’s putting some things in perspective for me.”
Matt heard his brother sigh on the other end of the phone.
“Yeah,” Liam whispered. “It’s doing the same for me.”