After voting, we're herded out the back door of the Notre Dame High School Gym in Studio City. The hallway connecting the gym and the cafeteria is blocked-off by security. Jessica heads straight down the hall to talk to the press, and Jean goes with her. Paul, who has been talking into his cell the entire morning, pausing only to mark his ballot, suddenly hangs up and announces he's heading back to HQ to organize some volunteer thing. I nod my head.
I look up at the hallway clock, suspended inside a wire cage as though time were constantly fluttering away and so had to be jailed, and I trip on my untied shoelace and bang my shoulder and left temple against the corner of the a trophy case. The noise is not too loud, and I manage to keep my cursing to a whisper, but Murray looks my way and the corners of his mouth turn up. I put my back to the wall beside the trophy case and slide down slowly until I'm sitting on the floor.
Murray walks over, looks at the security at both ends of the hallway, at Jess and Jean handling the press, and sits next to me. "Not sure how this picture is going to look in tomorrow's paper."
"It depends upon who wins. I'm hoping it'll be my Kennedy moment."
He frowns. "I'm not certain..."
"In the hotel with Bobby. Sitting opposite each other on the bed and the chair, waiting for the outcome."
"Sadly, you are just not as good looking as Bobby, so you might end up cropped out. And there goes glory."
Murray smiles fully. "And you, my friend, are no Jack Kennedy."
"And Richardson is no Nixon." I pause for a second, staring at my shoes. "Yet, anyway."
"Of course, if I lose..."
"Then we're just two grown men in suits sitting outside the high school gym."
"I prefer to think of this as more of a sport coat/slacks combo."
"I don't see how that's anything but worse."
I nod. "Plus, Jessica hates the word 'slacks.'"
"She does that."
We sit for a few moments in silence, both of us watching Jessica at the end of the hall. She says something and laughs, and the dozen or so reporters around her laugh as well.
"She's good with the press," Murray says.
"That she is."
"How are ... you guys?"
I shake my head. "I don't know. I mean, we haven't seen much of each other these past few days, haven't really had time to talk or anything. I think we'll be okay. I dunno."
"I hope so."
Murray stands, and offers me his hand. I wave it away, saying, "I prefer the floor."
Murray shrugs and puts his hands in his pockets. "Haven't heard a peep from Gary?"
"Not a word. I half expected a note or something, after the speech, you know. But nothing. Maybe he's waiting for the lunch rush, I mean to make an announcement and really screw me."
Murray shakes his head. "No, I think if he was gonna do something, he'd have done it. You may have to deal with him again later, but not today."
I nod in agreement, then stare at my hands. I've started chewing my fingernails again, after stopping for almost five years. They are mangled and jagged. My left pinky was bleeding a little bit before bed last night, and the nail is just a tiny nub. I'll have to make a concerted effort to stop again. It won't be easy. I look up at Murray, whose head is turned back toward the press. Jean has taken over, and Jessica is walking back toward us, away from the good-sized crowd that has gathered. "Was it worth it?" I ask, quietly.
Murray looks back at me and shrugs his shoulders. "You got a couple-point bump out of it. It's hard to know the accuracy this close to the election, but the buzz in Sacramento was mostly positive, too, or at least negative for Richardson."
"That's not what I mean."
Murray presses his lips into a hard line. "I don't know. And we won't really know until after we're gone and time passes and we can see if we changed anything, I mean, really changed anything. But at least we'll know we tried."
Jessica is halfway to us now. The smile she wore for the reporters is fading, and when her eyes catch mine it's like a wall goes up between us. "After all this, trying is not enough."
Murray nods and turns around to give Jess a hug. I stand and hold out my hand. She takes it. I lean in for a kiss and she kisses me back, like she's done a thousand times before. I linger for a second on her lips, not knowing how many more times I'll be here. She pulls her head back, not too quickly, but making sure I know who's ending it first. She looks in my eyes and I think I see pity mixed with the anger. Maybe it's love. I'm too tired to tell. "They want to talk to you."
I smile. "I bet they do."
We turn and start to walk back toward the reporters, Jess and I holding hands, Murray following right behind. Jessica squeezes my hand. "They said you're almost ten points ahead."
I glance back at the clock. "It's not even 8:30. Voting's only been open for like an hour."
She shrugs. "That's what they said."
When we get to the reporters, she squeezes my hand again. Jean moves to the side, and I step into a crowd of microphones and lenses. After a flurry of flashes and people talking over each other, a reporter I don't recognize says," have you heard yet that you're ahead?"
"Jessica just told me, yes."
"How do you feel?"
"Well, it's good to know I'm the favorite among early risers." Polite laughter drifts through the crowd. I can feel Jessica just behind me. Out of the corner of my eye I see Jean and Murray, both already on their cellphones, making things happen. Murray catches my glance and gives me a small thumbs-up. I turn back to the crowd, looking for a friendly reporter I know will give me a softball. I let my eyes relax, so they are inquisitive but unconcerned. In the background I'm monitoring my heartbeat, keeping it low and calm.
At the back of the crowd I see a woman holding a "Justin Kellerman for President" sign. The reporters don't seem to notice. I try not to, either.