Murray watches as Gary heads toward the back door. I turn and head back into my office before he can make eye contact with me, but a few moments later I know he's standing in the doorway.
"Was that him?"
"Yeah, the guy I was telling you about." I sit behind my desk. I'm suddenly very tired. "I don't know that he'll be able to help us as much as I'd hoped."
Murray closes the door and steps toward the small couch. "No. I mean, was that him?"
And then we are silent. Murray stands at the arm of the couch, hands in his pockets. He's a big guy -- tall as me, and heavier. And he uses his size, way more than I do. He uses it with the staff, with reporters, on very rare occasions with my wife, when she contradicts him in front of the staff (after which we always have it out). But he never uses it with me.
I don't look at him. I sit down at my desk. I don't say anything. I don't have to.
"I guessed this morning. The way you reacted. Too calm." Murray sits, too. "If it had been a lie, you would have made a joke. Instead you were respectful. Quiet."
"How do I get out of this?"
Murray slumps onto the couch. "I don't know."
We both sit there for the next five minutes. I'm looking at Murray. Murray is looking at the picture of Kennedy at the United Nations which hangs over my cheap filing cabinet. He occasionally takes a break to contemplate his shoes.
"If I know the exact truth, maybe I can figure something out."
So I tell him everything. About the neo-socialist organizations in undergrad, the kind of self-righteous idealism that blooms out of control on college campuses, about the protests and the arrests. All of this he knows -- it's a matter of public record. I tell him that one of the key members of our group was Gary's dorm-mate, and when our attention turned to Gay Rights and AIDS care, Gary joined us. I tell him how we worked day and night, the group of us -- rallies, speeches, sit-downs. And I tell him about the electric sizzle around Gary, for whom college meant the freedom to explore the sexuality he'd hidden his whole life. About how early one morning, after about six hours of working together, just the two of us, on an editorial for the paper, Gary kissed me, and about how I let him, and kissed him back. And more. I tell him how ... cool I felt -- how special I felt to be let in on that electricity, like a powerful extension of the work that I was doing, that we were doing. I tell him about our secret meetings over the next few weeks, and how once the novelty wore off I was less electric, and more confused than anything. About how a chance meeting between me, a barrel of whiskey-coke, and a biology major named Samantha made me face the fact that I wasn't beautiful and different, that I was just me. Heterosexual. Plain. Me. About the accusations, the almost losing Gary's friendship, the promises of secrecy. About realizing how hurt Gary was, how hard it was for him to come out of the closet, how betrayed he felt at my "trying it out." About realizing how hard life outside of that insulated, idealized university environment would be for Gary. About how eventually we rekindled our friendship, or something like it, at least. About how, despite its dramatic impact on my life, I had spoken to no one about it, not even Jessica. That only two people in the world really knew: Gary and me. Or so I thought. Obviously I was wrong.
The whole time, Murray never looks up from his shoes. When I'm done, he slowly stands. He's angry, more at my withholding from him than anything else. He's always lecturing me about transparency, about how we can use anything to our advantage as long as we are open and honest and know everything about each other. That way no one can surprise us. That way we always have an answer.
"Will he back you up?" he asks.
"I don't know." That's a lie, and I can tell he knows it. "I don't think so."
Murray's eyes are dark. Electric. "This is horseshit, Justin. This shit can't happen. You can't keep this shit to yourself."
"I know. I honestly haven't thought about it in years. I never imagined..."
"Is this what you want your public service to be about? Do you want this shit dogging you? Through your legislative term, following you to a House seat, a senate bid? The Show? Constantly defending yourself, being blind-sided by accusations, all because the public can smell secrets on you? You saw what secrets did to Clinton. Fucking hamstrung him. Eight years in office, he maybe had two free of this shit. Couldn't get anything done. Nothing big, anyway. Had to attack everything in bite-sized chunks. Exhausting. He was cursed by his secrets."
"To be fair," I say, "I haven't been sleeping around on my wife. This was..."
"Yeah, but you're no fucking Clinton, either." He's furious now, spun up. "And he at least fucked women." Normally I'd try to calm him down with a clever joke or something. But normally his anger isn't my fault. "Jesus Christ on a fucking stick." He stands still for a moment, hand on his forehead. "This guy, Modesto. Can he be reasoned with?"
"Can we lean on him?"
I'm surprised by the suggestion. "I ... don't think it'd work." I really don't. "When we talked -- I think he's got something else going on. Ideological support. I'm just guessing, but I used to know him pretty well. In the old days he would not have responded well to pressure. Now..."
"Fuck. Okay. No point in dwelling on your massive fuck-up. Can't fix it. We need to move on."
"This is what we do. I'll talk to Jean when she finishes the statement. Make sure it's soft. You're happily, married, you're not gay, etc. Stay away from denying the relationship. When pressed, you'll acknowledge a close friendship. Can we round up a few others who will acknowledge it -- maybe paint it as a group of friends?"
"I'll call a few people."
"Good. A group of friends, sharing the same ideals, same belief that people should be unashamed of who they are, etc. Turn it into an inclusive, idealistic message, instead of a defense. It might even win us a few votes. Who fucking knows?"
I shake my head. "It won't matter if Gary goes public."
"At least we won't be contradicting ourselves. If it happens, we'll paint it as experimentation, like Clinton with weed. We'll run damage control. See what happens."
"It'll be over."
Murray buttons his coat and heads toward the door. "Possibly. Here, anyway. We can look toward the Bay area next time. Anything could happen."
"Yeah." I'm almost believe him -- he's that good.
He stops just before opening the door. "In case he does go public, Jessica needs to know."
"Yeah, you should probably tell her." Murray does not share my weak smile. "I know. I'll talk to her."
He turns to me again. He's the coach again. He's given me my half-time ass-chewing. Now it's time for a few words of encouragement before I head back to the court. "If we can get past this, man ... this could be something big. Everything else will be a cakewalk."
"If," I say.
He opens the door. "Get your head together. Talk to your wife. Be tough." He smiles. "The end is in sight."
I want to hug him. Instead, I say " That's what those crazy guys downtown with the Apocalypse signs say."
Murray smiles. "Maybe they're onto something."
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