I glance up at the clock. It says "5:17PM."
"RWN posted it around 3:50," Chris says. "Drudge linked it just after four, and as of 4:30, it was linked and commented at Sullivan, Instapundit and every other conservative blog we watch."
"Plus, it's showing up all over the left -- Kos, TPM, MyDD -- they've all put it out there." Jean shakes her head.
Jessica's voice surprises me from the corner of the office -- I didn't even see her come in. "What's the general feel on the left?" She looks calm, composed. She is, however, as far away from me as she can get in this small room. I glance around to see if anyone has noticed that, and am happy to find that everyone seems otherwise occupied.
"Confusion, mostly," Jean answers. "They're holding back for right now -- they don't know how to comment yet. The open threads are going nuts, though. There's a lot of 'not that there's anything wrong with that' going on, but there seems to be a general resignation that, if it's true, we're sunk, electorally."
"There seems to a be a small but agressive contingent that has been excited by this," Chris says. "They're saying that this is good, that it forces the gay rights issue into the forefront of the election, where it has to be dealt with by both sides."
"It's horseshit. We've been trying to make it a centerpiece since day one. It's on the damn front page of our website: 'The Gay Marriage Ban is a blight on California's Constitution, says challenger Justin Kellerman.'" Jean rises to her feet. "It's a quote from the fucking Times!"
"So our friends don't know what to say. What about our enemies?" Murray is strangely calm.
Chris shrugs. "What you'd expect, mostly. A lot of 'is this who you really want representing us?' Hawkins says 'the great thing about Kellerman is that, since he's gay and he lied about it, we can all agree to despise him.'"
"Touching," I say. "Not even a federal race, and we're getting both barrels."
Murray glances at me, then back to Chris. "Any quotes? Any confirmation from this supposed lover?"
There's a lead weight in the pit of my stomach. I try to make eye contact with Jessica, but she looks away. Chris and Jean are flipping through a pile of printed web pages, and Paul is watching them, but Murray sees the whole thing. He shakes his head at me -- now is not the time to try to patch things with Jess. The team can't become suspicious that any of this might be true.
"None that I saw." Jean says.
Chris nods. "They seem to have gotten the story from the Richardson camp, but we knew that. There's the denial from Sharon, but no comment from the supposed accuser."
"Okay," I say. I try to cover my relief over Murray's success with Gary. I don't want to think about what he might have done -- right now I'm content with the silence. "Given all this, is it time to respond? Or do we wait until morning?"
All heads turn toward Murray, who is standing beside my chair. His hands are in his pockets. He looks around the room, measuring the contents of each person's throughts through his or her eyes. He's brilliant at this -- if I could do it even half as well as he, I'd be running for President. I follow his glance, trying to see what he sees.
Suddenly, it occurs to me that maybe he's just pretending to stare into each person's soul -- he's really just biding time to formulate an answer. The thought creates a cold, squiggly feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I've just had an answer I didn't want to a question I never should have asked. His eyes stop on mine and grow wide for just a fraction of a second -- it's almost a moment of tranferrance. What passes between us is electric and suddenly I understand. Fear passes Murray's eyes for a second as well, then recognition. Then it's over. He turns away.
"I think we should let it sit for tonight. Polish the remarks, practice, wrap our heads around the ramifications. If the regular outlets have it in the morning, we go straight to press. There's no point in making the majority non-blog-reading public aware of this before we have to." He looks to me for agreement, and I nod.
Jess nods her head as well, all the while looking at her feet.
Murray moves out from behind the desk. "Okay then. Jean -- get hardcopies of those remarks for me, Justin and Chris. We'll meet in the conference room in 10 minutes. Oh, and a copy for Jess. You and Paul keep on the wire -- if the story goes legit I want to know immediately."
Jess is the first person out the door, and everyone else follows. In a flash, I am left alone with Murray.
"This is it," he says.
"Do you still want this?"
I look into his eyes again. For nearly a decade I've relied on him as a friend and advisor. I've gone to him for solutions to every crisis, and I've taken his advice very nearly 100 percent of the time, mostly with good results. I never questioned his intelligence, his nerve, his wisdom. I've questioned Jess's, and my parents', and, God knows, my own, but never his. I've always found safety in those eyes, and trust. In those eyes I've always seen the future, that everything would be all right. Now, what I see is a reflection of myself, staring back at me, searching for something that I suddenly know never existed except in my own mind. I see the fear I'd never seen -- never wanted to see -- before. I see the self-doubt, the weight of compromise. I see my thinning hair, his deepening wrinkles. I see who I want to be, who I'll never be, what he wants from me, and that neither of us can give each other the support we need, but, for tonight and maybe tomorrow and maybe the rest of the campaign and our careers and, God help us, our lives, we're all we've got, and that may not be enough. I see the friends who have helped get us here. I see the people we've helped, and the people we did not, because we couldn't or because we didn't know they needed that help, or because we chose not to in order to move forward ourselves. I see Jessica, and what she wants me to be, and how I'll never live up to it, and how she deserves better.
Murray looks away first, and for a second I can't breathe, like the time Ron Gonzales kneed me in the solar plexus while we were playing hoops. Do I want this? Is the struggle worth the prize? And, once I get there, can I do enough good to justify the lies, the compromise? Do I play it soft so I can keep climbing? How high do I need to go before I can stop and do the good I desperately hope is in me, knowing it'll likely prevent me from ever moving on? Is it worth the sadness in Jessica's eyes? The fear in Murray's? Will I know when the right time comes? If I do, will I be able to act? Is this just vanity? Is there more here than ego? Can I really make a difference? Now? Tomorrow? Ever?
I blink twice. I monitor my heartbeat, relax my eyes. The room stops spinning, and my brain focuses. I know Murray can't do this for me, can't answer these questions. The only way to answer any of this is to move forward, and see what happens.
Murray heads toward the door. "Conference room in ten."
I sit back down in my chair. "Yep."