Weathering the Storm
E. Kennedy Bradshaw

Disclaimer: The following is a work of RP fiction, or fiction involving the use of actual people and associated entities as subject matter. The author of this work states that this is fictional writing, and is not an attempt to defame the character of said subjects and associates on the basis of libel (slander in written form). No false claims are being asserted about any actual people. Any similarity between the actual person and the fictional version of the person portrayed here is purely coincidental.

He sat by the nightstand at the edge of the king-sized bed, heavily contemplating in the muted darkness that veiled the most intimate room in the stately plantation home. Though it was well past noon, the dark, rich interior of the room, clad in shades of burgundy and cherry wood, with occasional splashes of gold, stood dim as if in twilight. With the lights out, the darkness of the room seemed amplified, not that David noticed, nor cared. Outside, from beyond the heavily-shaded windows and dark wood-paneled walls, thunder rumbled in the distance. David didn’t even bother to pull back the curtains to see if it might be raining.

A fleeting moment of deliberation plagued him before he reached for the phone on the nightstand, and lifted the old-fashioned receiver. Already, David was dialing with fingers that had that particular number so many times, they acted almost without his volition. He whisked the receiver to his ear, and waited. The phone rang. Once, twice, three times, then a fourth. Still, David waited, hoping--praying--to hear that lovely, melodic voice which, in itself, never failed to make his heart soar to the skies with love.

“Hello.” His heart skipped a beat. “You’ve reached the voicemail of Senator Rick Santorum.” With a pang, his hopes spiraled downward like a dove shot through one wing, the cruelest fate. He listened, as if to a death announcement, as the rest of the message played out. “…leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks.” Beep.

“Hey, Rick.” He forced his tone to be as jovial as humanly possible. “It’s David.” He sighed, a mournful sound, and hoped Rick’s voicemail hadn’t picked it up. “Guess you’re not there, huh? Well. I really need to talk to you. I miss you.” He paused, weighing his words. “Call me when you get this, all right? I love you. Bye.” With a heavy sigh that seemed to accompany perfectly the sinking of his heart down to his toes, David replaced the receiver and lowered his head into his hands.

Somewhere in Metairie, Louisiana, the rain fell in buckets, pounding down upon the roof and windowpanes. In the silence of the bedroom, hearing the rain hammering against the house, David was at least sure it was raining now. A heavy sigh escaped him and he closed his eyes, massaging his temples with his fingertips. On a whim, he found himself thinking of the lyrics to some old blues song he remembered from long ago that seemed to fit the atmosphere. The sky is crying, said one of the lines. See the tears roll down the street…

When he raised his head, David found himself gazing into the placid green eyes of his lover, naturally in photograph form, staring at him from a frame on the nightstand that he kept beside his and Wendy’s wedding photo. Just gazing at the clear, emerald pools took David back to the last time he’d been with Rick. It had been in November, just after winning the general election for the Louisiana senate seat. Both senators claimed they were off on business when they met at Rick’s small penthouse in Penn Hills, but for those three days they spent together, policy was the last thing on their minds.

When he closed his eyes again, David was back in the Penn Hills apartment with Rick. He could see him clearly in front of him, standing at the stove in the kitchen, trying in vain to cook blackened chicken like the ancient cookbook--older than either of them--had dictated. He had an adorable look of set resolve interred with confusion as he went about his business, determined to get the recipe right. In the end, the chicken had been a bit over-blackened, with a tad too much marinade, but David had eaten it willingly with a smile. All during dinner, David teased Rick about his crispy, overly-Cajun chicken, and the cute little apron he had worn while he was cooking. And Rick, good-natured in response, just laughed.

David could still hear his laughter. It was so easy to make Rick laugh, at least where David was concerned, and he did so often and intentionally. God, how David loved the way Rick laughed. It was a bubbly, infectious noise that seemed to take his soul in a warm embrace, and made everything around him seem a few shades brighter.

And going back to those eyes of his. Rick had the most gorgeous eyes David had ever seen. David had never recalled being a huge fan of green eyes, but there was just something about Rick’s that held him spellbound each time they locked gazes. Just thinking of the way Rick gazed into his eyes while they were making love, the jade orbs turning to cloudy pools of liquid lust, sent shivers through David’s entire being. Then, there was the way Rick looked at him afterward, meeting his stare in a calm, contented, loving way, as if thanking him for pleasing him. There wasn’t a thing David wouldn’t do to please Rick, and both of them knew it.

With a halfhearted smile, David picked up Rick’s picture, took a good, long look at the handsome, boyish face of the beaming senator. He sighed solemnly and placed the ornate, gold-framed portrait closely against his heart.

I wanted you to know that I love the way you laugh
I wanna hold you high and steal your pain away
I keep your photograph, and I know it serves me well
I wanna hold you high and steal your pain

Because I’m broken when I’m lonesome
And I don’t feel right when you’re gone away…

As David replaced the portrait on the nightstand, doing his best not to let tears come to his eyes, he heard the slight sound of footfalls at the doorway. He didn’t look up. Presently, he felt a gentle hand come to rest upon his shoulder.

“David?” The soft, feminine Southern drawl of his wife Wendy. David raised his eyes. “Honey, what’s the matter?” David just shook his head wordlessly. “You’re upset. I can tell.” Wendy eyed him knowingly. “This is about Rick, isn’t it?” There was no crossness in her voice at the mention of David’s lover’s name. David sighed, nodding. Wendy regarded her husband sternly. “Honey, you know what I told you about Rick.” She smiled. “I don’t mind if you see him, or even if you love him, as long as you stay here for the kids. That was the deal.”

“I know.” David said with subtle grief that was characteristic only of his gentle method of speaking. Wendy’s face took on a look of sympathy, and she sat down on the bed next to David.

“You miss him, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do.” At this, Wendy squeezed David’s arm.

“Then why don’t you go to him, honey?” She smiled lightly. “You know I wouldn’t mind.”

“I wish I could,” replied David, dejection more evident now in his voice. “It’s not that easy.” He paused. “Karen still doesn’t know.” A subdued silence passed between the two before Wendy spoke.

“I thought you said Rick was going to tell her?”

“He backed out. Said she wouldn’t understand.” Wendy shook her head slightly, as if mentally weighing the prospect in.

“What’ll he do if she finds out?”

“I don’t know, dear,” responded David with a fatigue that was more emotional than physical. “I just don’t know.” Outside, thunder crashed loudly, rattling the walls and windows with its force. The storm was now overhead, a bad omen as far as David was concerned.

* * * * *

Karen Santorum stepped out of the bathroom in her pink terry bathrobe, her wet hair wrapped in the yellow towel she had used to dry herself off with after showering. As she emerged into the bedroom, she found that Rick was no longer in his chair by the window as she had left him, poring over the speech he was to give on the renewal of the Patriot Act in a week. Quirking an eyebrow, Karen went to the door and peered out.

“Rick?” The upstairs hallway was seemingly deserted. Karen rolled her eyes. “Leave it to him to disappear without telling me…” she muttered to herself as she stormed down the hall to the staircase, coming to stand at the top step. “Hey! Anyone here?” she bellowed down the stairs.

“Me!” someone shouted back, presumably the eldest child, Richard Jr., who was a spitting image of a younger Rick, and went by Ricky.

“Ricky, do you know where your father went?”

“To the post office,” Ricky called back. “He had a bunch of letters to mail. Left in a pretty big hurry, too. He said he‘d be back as soon as he could.”

“Well, he was supposed to stay here in case the carpet cleaners called,” snarked Karen. “Did the phone ring by any chance?”

“Well, Dad’s cell’s been going crazy for the past hour and a half. They might have left a message with him.” At this, Karen stormed down the stairs and into the kitchen where she knew Rick had left his cell phone the last time he’d used it.

“Inconsiderate, good-for-nothing…” she grumbled as she picked up the phone, flipped it open, and went to Rick’s voicemail. There were a couple of messages from Majority Leader Frist, asking Rick to call him back as soon as possible concerning the judicial nominee Pryor. One was from John Kerry, asking Rick to come to his senses and change his mind on supporting the President’s Social Security plan. And there was one message that, to save her life, Karen Santorum could have never, ever prepared herself for in a million years.

“Hey, Rick. It’s David…” The tone of the voice on the other end made Karen stop and listen, really listen. “I really need to talk to you…” Karen’s curiosity peaked. Who was this man with the soft Southern accent that was speaking to her husband in such an unprofessional, personal manner? “I miss you.” Karen raised an eyebrow. “Call me when you get this…I love you…” Karen’s jaw dropped. Without a word, she flipped the phone closed and replaced it slowly on the table where it had rested before. With a thought process as slow and deliberate as water dripping from a leaky faucet, Karen considered the words. I love you. The phrase circled and repeated itself in Karen’s head until it became an almost unbearable presence in her mind. Who was this person, and why was he calling to tell Rick he loved him? For how long had he been missing Rick so desperately? And did Rick’s sudden disappearance have anything to do with this?

She’d find out as soon as Rick returned. With that resolved in her mind, Karen pulled out one of the chairs from the kitchen table and plunked down in it to sit and wait for Rick to return.

She didn’t have long to wait. Not five minutes after she sat down at the table, Rick’s white Lexus swerved into the driveway and nearly hit the garbage can in front of the garage. Karen winced. On any given day, she would have hit the door yelling at Rick for his driving skills, or lack thereof. Rick, never was one to look out for reckless drivers on the highway; he was one others looked out for.

Karen heard mild scolding at the door before Rick opened it and entered, flanked at his feet by several puppies that were of their Lab Prissy’s first litter.

“Remind me to remind myself to take the dog to be fixed,” said Rick good-naturedly, to no one in particular, as he walked in the kitchen from the garage. When Karen looked up, Rick was struggling with one of the squirmy black fluff balls, which was trying in vain to climb up his chest and lick his face while he held it. Surrendering, he lifted the puppy to his face and allowed it to lap gleefully at his nose. “Hey, honey,” Rick greeted Karen, through the puppy‘s assault. “I almost took out the trash can again. I wasn’t driving your car this time.” Rick kissed the puppy’s nose, put it down, and watched it scamper off into the hallway. He smiled. “The carpet cleaners didn’t call while I was gone, did they?” Rick looked at Karen, for the first time noticing the unnamed emotion written all over her face. “Karen? You okay, honey?”

“Rick.” When her voice came out, it was strained, and on the verge of breaking. “When were you going to tell me you’re having an affair?” A wave of panic washed over Rick, but he resolved to keep his cool. Never confess to a mere accusation, he always said. He tilted his head, forced a smile.

“Who told you I was?” He laughed. “Weekly World News? A reporter from Star?” Trying to hide his nervousness, Rick grabbed a glass out of the dish drainer and went to the refrigerator. “I’m not a popular guy, you know,” he said matter-of-factly. The clinking of ice cubes into his glass punctuated his statement. “I have enemies, ones who aren‘t above petty slander.” He went to the sink to fill his glass. “You should know that by now.” Karen’s expression was stony, her eyes yielding no emotion toward Rick now.

“Rick?” She fixed a piercing gaze on Rick. “Who’s David?” Another surge of panic. Don’t admit to anything without proof…

“Well, I know a few Davids,” answered Rick nonchalantly. “I am a U.S. Senator, after all. I know a lot of people.” He shrugged.

“Are you having an affair with someone named David?” demanded Karen.

“What? No!” Rick tried his best to sound indignant. “Of course not!”

“You wouldn’t lie to me, would you, Rick?”

“Of course not,” Rick offered his most charming smile. “Karen, you’re my wife. I love you. I would never keep anything from you, I promise.” An almost-sadistic smile crossed Karen’s face.

“Cross your heart?” Her voice was riddled with cynicism. “And hope to die?”

“I’ll let God decide that for me,” answered Rick, trying to maintain a dignified composure.

“I see,” Karen’s voice was unemotional. “Well, while you’re waiting for God to sort things out for you, you can check your messages. Ricky said the phone’s been ringing constantly since you left.”

“I’ll check them later,” Rick shrugged. “No reason to hurry.”

“No, I insist. Check now. You might have missed something important. Something like your secret boyfriend calling to tell you how much he misses you, and that he loves you. Too bad you’re not having an affair, right, Rick?”

“Karen, this is ridiculous.” Rick snatched the phone off the table and began dialing his voicemail. “You know what, Karen? I’ll check my messages right this second. And if it’ll quell your suspicions, I’ll even let you listen to all of them too, just so you know--”

“I already did,” Karen shot back.

“Oh, so you’re invading my privacy now?” Rick placed the phone to his ear. “Good to know we have a solid relationship built on trust.” One by one, he listened to the messages, offering snarky commentary all the while. “Hmm, Senator Frist, Senator Frist, Senator Kerry, I certainly hope you don’t think I’m having an affair with him too…” All until he came to the final message.

“Hey, Rick. It’s David…” Rick’s blood ran cold in his veins as he listened. He could swear he felt the blood drain from his face. At the end of the message, upon hearing what Karen had just heard, he knew there was no way he’d be able to bluff his way out of this one.

“Oh my God.” He flipped the phone, placed it back on the table. “Oh, my God.”

“So it’s true, then.” Karen said flatly. “You’re cheating on me. With a man.” With deliberation, she rose, standing to face Rick. “You lied to me.”

“Karen,” began Rick. “If you just listen, I can expla--” He was cut off by a sharp backhand across the left side of his face.

“Shut up!” screeched Karen, banshee-like. “You lying son of a whore! You cheated on me with a man, and what’s worse, you lied about it!” Startled, Rick took a step back.

“Karen, I really didn’t mean for you to find out this way…”

“So did you even plan to tell me at all?” Rick searched for the right words and found none.

“You bastard. You sorry bastard. I never should have married you in the first place!“ Karen raised her hand again, as if to slap Rick again. But this time, as she brought her hand down, Rick caught her wrist and held it firmly. Flames of rage shot across Rick’s green irises. If looks could have killed, Karen would have been lying on the kitchen floor with daggers through her heart.

“Don’t you lay a hand on me,” hissed Rick. “Karen, we do not need to resolve this problem this way. What if one of the kids were to walk in and see us like this?”

“Don’t bring my children into this, you two-timing son of a bitch!” hissed Karen. “You should have thought of the children before you started sleeping with some white-trash trailer slut from the Deep South--” This time, Rick smacked Karen, hard, across the right side of her face. Her head jerked aside with the force of the blow. The slap seemed to sober her somewhat as well. When she looked at Rick, there were tears in her eyes. “Well, I suppose I know where you stand in all this,” she said, her voice wavering. “I guess all I need to know now is, do you love him?” Rick’s face bore a blank expression, as if he had just flipped a switch and turned his emotions off.

“Yes.” His tone was steely and cold. “I love him.” At this, a sigh escaped Karen in the form of a sob. Rick lowered his eyes to the floor. “I think it would be best if I just left,” he said detachedly. “I think it would be the best arrangement for everyone.”

“Then leave, you selfish bastard.” hissed Karen. “Go, run to your little boyfriend. I don’t care what you do. As far as I’m concerned, Rick Santorum, you can burn in Hell. Because that’s where you’re going. Hell. And I’m sure the Devil has a nice little bedroom all set up for you.”

“I’ll be out by noon,” said Rick simply, turning and stalking from the room. As he reached the doorway, a vase exploded against the wall beside his head. He just kept walking.

You’re gone away,
You don’t feel me here

* * * * *

“David?” Wendy pranced into the bedroom with the cordless phone from downstairs in hand. David was sitting at the window, as he had been now for a couple of hours at the least, gazing out at the falling rain. “David, Rick’s on the phone for you.” She handed him the receiver, saying quietly, “he sounds upset.” David took the phone.

“Hello? Rick?” The words jumped from his tongue with urgency.

“David.” Rick’s voice sounded different, almost alien on the other end. “Hey. I‘m sorry I missed your call. I was out running some errands.”

“Well, that’s all right,” David said sweetly. “How are you, honey?”

“Not so good,” replied Rick. There was a razor-thin edge upon his voice that David had never heard before. “David, Karen knows. And I didn’t tell her.”

“What?” David felt a swell of dread. “How’d she find out?”

“That’s not important,” said Rick hastily. “I told her I was going to leave, that it would be best for everyone if I did. David, I really need you by me right now. I need you to come out to Penn Hills as soon as possible. Do you think you can?”

“Of course,” answered David, somewhat bewildered, but without hesitation. “Anything, dear. I’ll book an emergency flight out right now and hopefully be able to leave before noon tomorrow. Is that all right?”

“Sure, that’s fine. I just--” Rick sighed. “I really need to be with you right now.”

“I understand, baby. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I promise.”

“Oh, David.” Rick’s voice broke on the other end. There was a long moment, before Rick finally said “I love you.”

“I love you too, Ricky.”

The worst is over now, and we can breathe again
I wanna hold you high, you steal my pain away
There’s so much left to learn, and no one left to fight
I wanna hold you high and steal your pain

Because I’m broken when I’m open
And I don’t feel like I am strong enough
Because I’m broken when I’m lonesome
And I don’t feel right when you’re gone away…

When Wendy entered the bedroom again a few minutes later, she wasn’t at all surprised to see David throwing things into a large suitcase on the bed, looking as if he were preparing for a long stay away from home.

“You’re going, I see?” she observed, matter-of-factly. David looked up, his eyes mirroring sympathy.

“Honey, I’m sorry to rush off like this, I really am,” he said. “But Karen found out, and she and Rick had a fight. He’s really upset, and I just--”

“Hush,” said Wendy gently. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me.” She smiled sweetly. “You go to him,” she said firmly. “He needs you, David.” David regarded his wife with adoring compassion.

“Wendy, you really are too good to me,” he said modestly. Wendy just grinned.

“A word of advice, my good Southern gentleman?” she said.

“What would that be?” asked David, moving toward Wendy, wrapping his arms around her waist. She leaned forward, kissing his nose lightly.

“Don’t you dare wear that shirt with that tie. And when you see Rick, I want you to give him a message. From me.” David raised an eyebrow.

“And what would that be, my dear Louisiana gentlewoman?” With that, Wendy gave her husband a tight squeeze around the waist.

“That,” she replied. David just smiled.

“I will. I’m sure it’ll mean a lot to him.”

“I’ll miss you,” declared Wendy. “You just take good care of Ricky, all right?”

“I will.“ David pulled Wendy close, embracing her lovingly. “You have my word.”

* * * * *

Over a thousand miles away, Rick Santorum was gazing out the window of the high-rise apartment as the early shadows of dusk began to cast themselves over the Pennsylvania cityscape. Dreamily, he watched as the low, black nimbus clouds began to pour in from the west, obscuring the red glow gathering at the horizon. Maybe, he thought, it would rain. Rain always helped to lull him to sleep at night, though perhaps that night, sleep might come with more difficulty. His only reassurance was that he wouldn’t be alone at the empty apartment for long. And truly, he wasn’t alone. He had, after all, brought one of the bouncy eight-week-old Lab puppies with him, the only one that seemed to adore him.

The puppy bounced in the den from the kitchen and barked at Rick’s feet, begging to be picked up. Rick scooped the puppy off the floor and held it between his chest and shoulder, as one would a baby. The puppy promptly stuck her cold, wet nose in Rick’s ear.

“It’s different, isn’t it?” Rick said aloud, speaking to his only companion. “Being all alone out here.” He pressed his cheek against the puppy’s soft fluff. “I guess it’s just you and me, little girl.” He sighed, squeezing the puppy gently. “You and me, and David.” He smiled to himself. “Against the world.” As if agreeing, the puppy licked Rick’s cheek. Rick laughed and wrinkled his nose. “I know it might seem like things aren’t the best right now.” Rick said this more in reassurance to himself than the puppy. “But you and I, we’ll find a way. We just have to.”

The little Lab sighed contentedly and settled onto Rick’s shoulder, its breathing evening out as it fell asleep. Just like a child. As Rick ran his hand lightly up and down the puppy’s back, he continued staring out the window at the setting sun. On a whim--a silly one, he thought--Rick chanced to shift his gaze in a more Southwesterly direction, toward Louisiana, toward the man he loved. With David by his side, it would all be better. It would have to be. For without David, Rick felt he would be obsolete, thrown to the winds and lost forever in a world that would never be fulfilled without him.

Because I’m broken when I’m open
And I don’t feel like I am strong enough
Because I’m broken when I’m lonesome
And I don’t feel right when you’re gone away…

You’re gone away,
You don’t feel me here