The air is clearer, thinks Kyle, clearer now than at any other time of year.
“HAPPNING NOW!” Shelby texted and nearly immediately followed, “RITE NOW!!!”
He already knew. Her father was being interviewed by the governor. Shelby too, in a way. They all were.
William A. Wolf was actually her step-father. But “he’d brought her up,” which was how the official relationship was always stated. It was more that Kyle and Shelby had brought each other up, using their mothers and their fathers as guides, but not actual participants. That’s how it seemed to Kyle.
Shelby had no idea what he was talking about when he said this. That’s what she always said when he tried to make this particular point.
He had seen the caravan make the corner, still out of sight of Shelby’s upstairs bedroom window and was receiving her text after he’d seen them pull up at the Wolfs’ house. Kyle watched, irritated with himself for not bringing the binoculars. He now saw how childish his earlier notion had been, that someone would spot him, report him if he’d stood across the park and watched her house. He nearly flinched again, thinking what his father would say at receiving such a report.
She was texting again.
There had been a debate which room to host the governor in, the living room or the downstairs third of the split level, the area Shelby called the “basement” only so she could correct herself in her mother’s drawl, “oh- I-do- mean-den-slash-rumpus-room.”
Kyle knew this because Shelby had laughed at her mother’s setting up food and drinks in both rooms. “It’s imperative to be ready for anything,” Shelby quoted in her mother’s drawl, but as frequently in respect as mockery – although in this case she had proven correct. “The governor is not going to traipse through her outdated split-level. He’s going to see if we have three heads, probably kick back a shot of bourbon, compliment her on her outdated split-level and split himself.”
Kyle pictured the governor sitting in the Wolf’s living room, on the sofa where he and Shelby had once made-out, the sacredness of the off-limit-ness of this pastel living room more thrilling than the tumbling which, while also exciting, was more familiar.
It was, explained Shelby, finally an edge of danger, finally the threat of getting caught.
They’d had free rein in both their houses their whole lives. By middle school the notion that any of the four parents would be home before dinner time – if then -- was so unlikely as to never be thought. Their parents and their various grandparents and another few dozen other family names were the committee members that ran Haden County, a wealthy agricultural district marbled thick and deep with successful thoroughbred stock. Some years their wealth alone could give Downstate voters the edge they needed to carry the long state.
“Every great politician has this need,” Shelby told him that day on the sofa. “This need to be caught out and even to be admonished, beaten down, it’s like fuel, the proving you can come back. Winning is thrilling,” she said, and Kyle knew even this first time she said it she was quoting Mr. Wolf, “but coming back has that sweet, sweet taste of cold revenge.”
“So it’s like power,” Kyle had said.
“Revenge. If it tastes so sweet you’re willing to endure humiliation just to get it must be as aphrodisiacal as power.” Kyle could remember saying this. How she looked and how she nodded. He thinks it might be the only time she granted him superior political knowledge.
For a long while this bothered him. And worse, Shelby knew it. But that was before Carlene Deluccio. Carlene Deluccio who thought she could win a seat on the county council because she was Victor Deluccio’s widow. Kyle laughed like his father. It had always been said he laughed like his father, even as a child. “Imagine, Matthew Grosen said, she cried when the reporter asked about Deluccio’s payoffs at the tracks. What did she think? Women just can’t take it. Just can’t take it.”
Kyle’s mother would cut her eyes at his father, but she agreed. “Shouldn’t have wasted her time,” was how Kyle’s mother saw the ill-fated candidacy of Carlene, whom she liked and played bridge with but who clearly didn’t get it. Not simple, bright enough, but unsophisticated, guileless. That is what Kyle’s mother said about her. “She should have gathered up that money and bought a couple of those sons-of-a-bitches struggling office buildings and started squeezing them a little. Four years of that and I would say that seat could have been hers.”
At that his father would roll his eyes. They had worked together, his parents, when his father had been in private practice. She was a club woman now. That’s what she called it. “I’m a club-woman now, Kyle,” she’d retorted when he’d asked her if she missed being out in the thick of things. “I am swimming in the midst of those things your father spends his days trying to sort out. Swimming is much more fun than working, dear. More effective, too.”
Shelby’s smarts would only get her so far, Kyle had eventually reckoned. Certainly far enough, farther than most girls. But he was a man and he knew he had the edge whether Shelby admitted it or not. And whether she admitted it or not, she knew it too. If there had been any doubt that was cleared up the day her father had asked him to step in for a foursome at the club.
Kyle had gloated and they’d had one of the colossal fights that got both their mothers praying for a permanent break-up. “But don’t you have a gold medal or something up there in that soccer shrine that might make you feel better?”
Shelby had been perfect in high school. Perfect in grade school and even middle school. She played the right sports and was good at them. She made almost straight As, not enough to tar her as unapproachable. But enough to nab a scholarship to – perfect – “go East for University,” as her mother took to saying. “to one of the sister schools,” Lucille announced frequently at bridge.
“More like a southern finishing school,” Shelby complained to Kyle. “But it’s all women, which is what I want. It’s the only way to be school president. Its history department is good.”
Shelby had decided in grade school she would become a history major. Political science was “too political to look good on a resume” while “history has a classical look to it.” While her explanations became more sophisticated, the reasoning remained the same. “And I could stand a look at some of the folks in the East without being in the thick of them. I'd look like a hayseed.”
There was nothing Shelby feared more than looking like a hick. She’d inherited that honestly from her mother and understood just that fear was the source of Lucille's elaborations and grandiose elocutions.
Her step-father would slightly raise his eyebrows, including Shelby in his amusement at the bragging by Lucille, he gave off a slightly embarrassed but bemused air of forgiveness when her mother overstated things. He would lean over and pat his wife's arm or sometimes lift the drink out of her hand. That was how Shelby learned the concept of a faux pas which she'd subsequently tried to explain to her mother who refused to consider either its meaning or pronunciation. Shelby feared this meant Lucille would in the future mispronounce and misuse the phrase .
“She’s my step-daughter,” William Wolf was saying to the governor, opening his arm to invite Shelby into the room. She knew he had to say that. On a lot of documents she had a different last name. And not just any last name. Prentiss. Not merely had her mother eloped with a Prentiss, she'd naturally gone with the rightfully tarred black sheep of the entire clan. Just like that, Shelby admired the man she called "my real father," he comes clean with the governor, who of course would have already known.
“Baggage is baggage,” Kyle said, “but money is money.”
Kyle also said, “Everyone’s got baggage.” Shelby knew he was quoting both of his parents when he said that.
Her "real" father had actually never formally adopted her, although he encouraged Shelby to answer to Miss Wolf and allowed her introduction as Shelby Wolf from virtually the moment he had married Lucille. She had been two at the wedding.
By middle school she’d learned you could change your name by simply beginning to use another. "As long as you aren't doing it for nefarious purposes," she'd explain to her parents, "it's perfectly legal."
"It certainly is," William Wolf had smiled and patted her mother's arm in genial amusement and relief at the ease with which Shelby was growing up. It wasn't much of a big deal. Her mother had been doing just that for years. Her biological father, Phillip Prentiss, had never paid attention to her so it occurred to no one to mention the change to him.
Shelby was shaking hands with the governor and thinking he was as good looking in person as on television. He really was good looking. She turned to catch her mother's eye and saw Lucille's jaw slack with the same realization. Her mother was usually much more careful than that. Caught herself, Shelby saw Lucille pull her neck taut as she began to talk. Then Shelby was being somehow moved back into the doorway and now even her mother was standing too close to her and pushing her through.
“The governor and Daddy need to talk in private, now" her mother was saying."You just scoot along, dear. Oh, and me too?. I’ll just see about some refreshments, Governor,” her mother was calling back and Shelby could see how annoyed she was at being expected to leave the room as well.
Shelby knew her mother would be back in that room soon. Quite soon, Shelby was willing to wager. But she herself wasn’t interested in the talking details, she’d seen the governor and he had been in her living room. That was enough for her right now. She returned to her room.
“Talking now,” she texted. “Gov = Gorgeous.”
“Shit,” Kyle texted back.