“escort me to wedding?”
Kyle was surprised at the unexpected text and more surprised at the request. For ten months Shelby continued to answer his texts, but she didn’t initiate. Her answers were brief. She answered his calls, but never called herself. She ended them with a rush to class, late for a meeting, an interview was scheduled. Twice she hadn’t picked up.
She had become perfect again the day last August she’d stepped out of his truck at Northern. The past two years slipped from her shoulders and disappeared. He helped her move what amounted to a version of camping gear into the single room on a women’s only non-drinking floor where she intended to spend the next three to four years finishing undergrad, obtaining a law degree.
He had reaffirmed his offer to help her move after she told him he would not be invited to stay and that she did not anticipate seeing him for some time. “This is it for me,” she had told him. “I don’t have time for Haden County and I don’t want to think about it anymore.”
Kyle had put his hands in his back pockets and kicked at the ground and pursed his lips. He had never won an argument with her despite feeling he had ultimately proven correct many times. He gave a shrug without looking up. He didn’t believe they would be far apart from one another for any length of time. It didn’t seem possible. Indeed, it seemed unlikely.
“Are you paying attention?” she’d asked him.
That had annoyed him and he looked up at her and knew his lips were a mean slit. He had practiced this face in the mirror in junior high and she had stood beside him telling him when he had it right. Today she burst out laughing and threw her arms around him and then leaned back and kissed him on the cheek.
The two stood facing one another.
“You don’t really care what I want, do you?” she asked
“I do. I care what you want. I just don’t always think you know how best to get it.”
“And you think you do?” she teased.
“Yes,” he said simply.
Shelby dropped her teasing and looked straight at her best friend. “You do,” she said. And then she added. “I’m not like Lucille.”
“Oh. Really?” Kyle said and opened his eyes wide to mimic surprise.
“Really,” Shelby said, not laughing back. “I am going to be the first female governor of Illinois. I’ll always need a loyal aide-de-camp. I don’t know if I can afford anything else.”
“Okay,” Kyle said. He was somber faced again. He believed she meant what she said.
“My mother will always be an aide-de-camp,” Shelby said. “Some people always will be.”
They weren’t teenagers anymore, although just barely not. But they’d seen a lot and they trusted one another. And they were aged enough to see the value in both.
“Okay,” Kyle said again.
“That is absolutely all I know and as far as I’m going on this point,” she said.
“Okay,” Kyle said. And this time his tone was conclusive.
“Okay,” Shelby nodded.
Kyle had remained at home, living with what he could only think of as grieving parents. “It’s like they lost a child or something,” he would have told Shelby, if she had been there. But she was not there and he did not tell her. They never mentioned Bill Wolf’s death. Not he and Shelby, not he and his parents.
Kyle began criminal justice and law enforcement classes at the community college immediately after high school. It was expected he would continue at SIU where he would also get his law degree and return to Haden. Despite a more linear pattern, he was a half-year behind Shelby. He had dropped all of his courses the semester Shelby quietly became a Prentiss and his mother quietly broke down. He had never returned as a full-time student. He’d taken this spring off as well, to help with the start-up of a youth camp his father’s department endorsed. He had been working and saving money.
By the time he received Shelby’s text, without any discussion, not even with himself, he’d applied and been admitted to Northern’s business school in the fall.
“I’ve been telling you my whole life, Dad,” Kyle said when his father brought in the acceptance envelope. Kyle meant about leaving Haden County. He had not told his parents he was not continuing in law.
“Well I’m not paying for it,” his father said.
The statement was so far off base in Kyle’s mind he wondered if he’d heard his father correctly. “I, I didn’t expect you to pay for it.” He had not expected their financial support. They seemed broken. He had only allowed himself to hope that they would heal enough for him to feel he could leave. They would, he told himself. They had to so he wouldn’t join them.
He would have liked to check this, too, against Shelby’s read of his parents. But even if such a thing was possible, and he understood enough to know it would never be possible again, her opinion didn’t really matter. He knew whatever came that he would continue to tell himself they were fine without him, because he could not remain here.
“I don’t charge you rent,” his father said now. “I buy your food.”
Kyle was again surprised. He and his father drank beer together, watched football together, talked politics together. He had no idea where these sentences were coming from. “Dad, I don’t know what we’re talking about here. Do you want me to pay you rent?”
“No, goddamn it,” Matthew Grosen said, “I don’t want you go to chasing after tail and using college as an excuse.”
Kyle shocked both of them, shooting to his feet and clenching his fists and screaming, “Why do you always do that? What is it with you two? What has she ever done to either of you?”
“She’s using you,” Patsy’s voice from the kitchen door made both men jump, Matt from his seat as Kyle whirled. She was leaning in the jam. “She has always just let you tag along, Sweetie, and we just hate seeing it. We just hate seeing you treated like poor Bill Wolf.”
Matthew Grosen looked across at his son and nodded his agreement. Then he sat down back down and gestured Kyle to sit as well.
Kyle did and took a deep breath and then another. “It just isn’t like what you think it is,” he finally said, looking at his hands. “I’m not love struck following her up there. I’m not following her up for sex,” he said, looking up at his father, “Trust me on this,” he said. “Maybe I do love her, but it’s not that. It’s just that I am a part of whatever it is she’s going to do. And it’s sort of the other way too.”
“I don’t think so,” Patsy said, still leaning, watching her son’s back. “I don’t see anything changing about her life for you.”
“Well,” Kyle said, and turned to his mother, “no, not as much maybe. But she really is going to be governor. I can’t not be a part of that. I can’t help it. I don’t want to help it. And I’m escorting her to the wedding.”
“Jesus Christ,” Patsy said and turned and left the room.
The wedding was going to be a small, private affair, which disappointed Lucille but she was used to disappointment and it did seem a small price to pay for the long-term reward.
It would be held in Haden, so no matter how small and private, it certainly wouldn’t be secret. So there was that. What an opportunity to not-invite. She would not invite any board member who had voted her off. She would invite not a single central committee member who had ever sucked up to Carlene and that went for the commissioners as well. “So many not to invite,” she had chortled to her daughter. Not to invite Al Plover. So that part would be fun.
Who to invite was more difficult. She had a funny impulse to invite Matthew Grosen, who had been so good to her that day. He had done it for Bill, of course, which made it both more dear and more difficult to invite them.
“I wish that silly little Patsy Harrison would just get over herself,” she had said just last week to Ruth Prentiss.
Lucille decided to ask Shelby about the Grosens.
“A June wedding,” Lucille had gushed to Shelby. “So much to do!”
Her mother had come up to the city. She needed a trousseau and was “getting a few things” for Shelby as well.
“The campaign starts the minute we get back. Easier spending now than when the press starts monitoring every report,” Lucille said. “It’s legal,” she answered to Shelby’s raised eyebrows, “but it looks frivolous. Now this is a great deal more scrutiny than you’ve had before. You’ll be the step-daughter of the future governor.”
“Not exactly,” Shelby laughed. “Besides, I live in a nun’s room, Mother and study like a monk. I only come out to attend classes and occasionally network with the very ‘right kind’ of people as determined by my esteemed professors. You make a far greater stir than I.”
Both women laughed, but Shelby regretted saying it. Lucille’s connubial background had been picked up by the press and she had confided to Shelby that she worried this marriage, less than eighteen months since her widowhood, would revive the negative headlines.
Indeed there had been headlines. Lucille Wolf had been escorted to her husband’s funeral by Lieutenant Governor Thornton Wilson whom the governor had tapped as the administration’s show of sorrow for a loss of one of its own. Paulie was correct in his assumption that his own appearance would displease Lucille.
Thornton had reappeared to swear her into office barely two months later. He had been widowed, more decorously by cancer, midway through his prior term as Paulie’s lieutenant. He was ambitious and wanted another wife.
Lucille had shed her spring mourning suits by summer and began attending a variety of state functions on Thornton’s arm. She was introduced as Lucille Temple and little was made of some commissionership she held Downstate. The few gossip column mentions of her multiple marriages fanned out quickly.
The courtship created quite a stir in Haden County, but not as would be expected. It seemed everyone wanted the marriage. For one thing, no one wanted her to stay. Besides, the lieutenant governor needed a wife and it was becoming increasingly apparent he could become governor in the next election. It looked to Haden County like the proverbial win-win.
“I want her seat,” Stanley Thorne told Irene Hanley.
“Why you and not me?” she had asked, quite annoyed.
“Because I’ll be the one to win her the mansion,” he said.
Irene ignored him. She was having just about enough of Stanley Thorne and wondered who else she could get to run for central committee and get him replaced as the treasurer. Although, she admitted to herself, it wasn’t easy to get a treasurer.
Haden County had already won during Thornton’s courtship. Another road got underway – amazing to get two road starts in a single term! The new agency branches Paulie had doled out little more than a year before were expanded by the lieutenant governor. Each economic development project had Lucille and Thornton holding either side of the ribbon, smiling at one another, each at the head of long lineups of additional smiling dignitaries. The state’s attorney’s office got some new positions as well. It felt that everyone in Haden got a little something good from this serendipitous state of affairs.
“Did you tell him I am going to be the first female governor?” were Shelby’s first words when her mother called to say she had been on her first private, actual date with Thornton, outside their colliding public agendas.
“I might have mentioned it,” her mother had laughed over the phone. “But I am sure he has not so bored of the subject, so do not let this deter you from reminding him from time to time.”
In the early glow of finding such a fortuitous match, the happy couple had thought to wait until Lucille’s term concluded and have the big Springfield wedding to launch Thornton’s campaign. But it was become increasingly apparent that Paulie wasn’t going to weather the investigations. A wedding accompanying Thornton’s unfortunate ascent into the governor’s mansion would be unseemly, they decided.
So they decided to have the wedding quickly, determined to appear old-hat at marriage before – although they never voiced this aloud – becoming the First Couple of Illinois.
Events nearly overtook them. Lucille and Thornton never unpacked until they moved into the mansion. Once the snowball started rolling over Paulie there was no stopping it. In the middle of their honeymoon – five nights in Toronto – the governor was indicted for accepting racetrack stock from Carlene Deluccio. They cut the honeymoon short.
Paulie called a press conference, denounced the lies and fired Deluccio.
Carlene phoned Victor’s lawyer who immediately phoned the prosecutors who in turn spared her jail time in exchange for testimony. Victor’s lawyer went on to negotiate down her IRS fine and reinstated six months of back pay for firing without justification or notification.
But the firing of Deluccio didn’t help Paulie any, nor did the convening of a commission, the extolling of personal virtues or the demanding of more investigations. The governor resigned in August. His wife and her personal possessions were long removed to her parents’ estate in northern Illinois. Paulie retired to a suite in downtown Chicago to prepare his defense and await trial. None of which turned out well. He ultimately moved a few blocks over for a room in the Chicago federal prison.
And Stanley Thorne was the Haden County man in the know.
“She bribed him and deducted it,” Stanley Thorne told the central committee. “He won’t escape the IRS,” Thorne said.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Irene had sad.
“Yes. Carlene believes, as apparently did Victor, that bribes are a necessary cost for doing business in Illinois. What Carlene also believes is that bribes are therefore permitted business deductions on her IRS filings. Given the history of this state, wouldn’t be surprised if her lawyer convinces them,” he said.
As the central committee members laughed and compared notes as to what they had heard and from whom, Irene turned angrily to Stanley. “How do you know so much about it?”
“She asked me about it. I told her I saw her point.”
“She thought Victor’s lawyers were treating her as if she were stupid and withholding deductions only so they could charge her more. She came to me as a certified public accountant to ask my opinion.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Irene said.
“It made sense to Carlene. She started off just asking if she gave away stock wasn’t that a legitimate deduction. I said it was. And it is,” Stanley said. “I’m serious about her lawyers. She isn’t being charged with anything criminal. Right?”
He looked around the room for consensus. “She just has to pay civil fines for being late. We suppose it isn’t legal to pay bribes, but they’ve agreed not to prosecute, so the point really isn’t made either way, is it?” Stanley asked.
“But it’s illegal to take them,” Lydia Prince said.
“Well,” drawled Stanley, looking happily at Irene, “you maybe can give them away and you maybe can accept a gift, but you can’t build a highway interchange to a single racetrack and pocket the stocks and not claim them on your own IRS filings, let alone your campaign filings.”
The next day the Springfield papers reported the story exactly as Stanley had told it. The central committee did recommend that Stanley serve out the last six months of the seat that had held four recipients in four years.
Lucille laughed until tears came to her eyes when her husband, Governor Thornton Wilson told her he had confirmed Haden County Commissioner Stanley Thorne to her former seat.
Lucille had not kept tabs on Haden County. She had been incredibly busy moving in, re-appointing the mansion, hosting dinners, arranging and wrangling. Thornton had two years to pull the state out of its embarrassment with Paulie as he built his case to become the next Governor of the Great Stat of Illinois.
Lucille felt she was just the woman to get him there.