Runner-up: The Senator’s Daughters by Cherilyn Hearn

Congratulations to one of two runners-up in the Whoosh! First Chapter Competition, Cherilyn Hearn. Cherilyn was born and raised in San Diego, California, but now waits and creates, raising her family in Southeast Kansas, with her husband, three children and more than a few animals. Her work and writing interests include fiction novels, non-fiction rants, research collections, children’s limerick and unusual cookbooks. Various titles can be found on Amazon, including The Quiet Republican and Aunt Snow. If she could do anything, Cherilyn would live in a flat in NYC, survive almost exclusively on Starbucks tall, skinny, soy lattes and never drive a car again. But for now, she’s on the farm.

 

Chapter One

When Lucinda was a little girl, her father called her Lucy, some days. Others he would call her Cindy or even Dalinda. He could construct all sorts of silly variations of her name and she was forever a daddy’s girl. Martin Cooper was a big, former military man, upon whose lap Lucinda could disappear, behind his desk on the 23rd floor of the professional building in downtown Pittsburgh. She could also be found in his big chair all by herself when he was in meetings, while her mother shopped or stood nearby staring at nothing. She would spin around and around and close her eyes, always hoping the chair would stop with her facing the huge window overlooking the city. She thought her father was the most powerful man in the world. In his office, she was the princess and she knew it, but she was raised an only child to be respectful, not spoiled. He would often look out of the window while he held her up to see, telling her what each building was and what they did there. He taught Lucinda that she could do and be anything, anything in the world. 

            “Senator? Senator?” Lucinda was startled from her thoughts by her assistant Tori’s soft but stern voice. The young woman adjusted her glasses, standing between Lucinda and the window. From her office on the third floor of the capitol building, she could see all of downtown Harrisburg. “Senator, your daughter is on line two. She says your mobile is off.” She reached for her phone as Tori left the room, pressing the impatient, red blinking button before pulling one earring off.       

            “Amanda?” She assumed it was her youngest, for no particular reason.

            “No, mom it’s Sidney, sorry to disappoint.”

            “Sid, honestly. What’s up?” She shuffled through her afternoon schedule Tori had left on her desk.

            “That’s what I was going to ask you. Mandy says you want to have dinner; some kind of family meeting?”

            “Yeah, we were thinking tomorrow night. Can you make it?”

            “Well, yeah, but what’s the big deal? Just tell us.” Sidney was obviously driving. The monotone sound of talk radio could be heard in the background, along with her turn signal and distant horns honking. She also stopped to take a drink of something in between sentences.

            “Sidney, are you driving? I’ve told you not to talk on the phone when you’re driving.” Tori came back in and silently pointed to another blinking light on the phone. Lucinda nodded, smiling apologetically and mouthed “one minute” while holding up her index finger.

            “Mom? Mom, answer the question. What’s going on?” Family dinners, at least impromptu, had a history of negative connotations in Sidney’s opinion and memory. Lucinda poised over the phone, preparing to hang up.

            “Sidney calm down. It’s nothing big or bad, well, somewhat big, but not bad at all and really it’s about me, but you girls will be affected. I’ll just see you for dinner.”

            “Mom…” Sidney kept talking insistently.

            “Goodbye dear, love you, have to run.” She set the receiver down, pressed the other line and picked it back up. “This is me.”

            “Mom?” Lucinda massaged her temples, sat back down and rolled her eyes.

            “Mandy. Yes, honey I’m swamped here, what’s up?” Tori appeared again, tapping her watch and pointing to the 10am brunch on the schedule in front of her boss.

            “Mom, did you tell Sid about dinner? You know how she always says she’s coming or says she’ll be somewhere.”

            “Amanda I know, she just called and she is coming, why don’t you worry about Amanda.”

            “Mom, Gawd! Why do you always talk to me like I’m twelve?” Lucinda started getting her things together, put her earring back on and slipped into the heels under her desk.

            “Well dear, sometimes you act like you’re twelve. Listen, I don’t want to argue, I’ll see you for dinner tomorrow night if I don’t see you before ok?”

            “Mom, wait, I need….”

            “Bye sweetie, I love you, go to class.” Lucinda hung up the phone and this time left it that way. Tori was holding open her office door and away they went, their heels clicking a familiar cadence along the marble floors all the way.

Lucinda Cooper Lanning had been hurrying up and down the halls of the capitol building for nearly six years, following her staff to interviews, running late for meetings with lobbyists and almost never arriving or leaving during daylight. Her office as a State Senator was a natural progression for her. She had started getting involved in the community and in the schools, first with Sidney and then later with Amanda. It was something her husband Ian appreciated and supported at first. He started a small law practice after graduating from law school and marrying Lucinda. Just before Amanda was born he accepted an internship in the district attorney’s office, while working his own practice as time permitted. School and community activities were just the type of thing he expected of his wife. Ian Lanning had always wanted a son, but loved his daughters and doted and indulged them appropriately. They were the perfect public family.

            After Amanda was in Kindergarten, Lucinda successfully ran for school board President and served concurrently as PTA President, which she had been elected the previous year. As her schedule got busier, she always made time for Amanda and Sidney, which was easy, since they were in school that was usually where she could be found. She was less available for what she saw as meaningless banquets and luncheons with her successful husband. He was the first to admit she was only there for appearances, to satisfy an image, a role she did not expect him to fulfill for her. Of course, he saw her positions as hobbies she dabbled in for her daughters and to keep busy. The two never saw eye to eye on the importance of what Lucinda felt was an equally noble calling.

            Ian often remarked that as the girls got older, Lucinda’s need to serve the school system would lessen and this conflict would fall away. That isn’t exactly what happened. Lucinda decided to break the news over dinner at Teague’s Tavern on the Water. It was their favorite restaurant and Ian would never make a scene. She waited until they had finished their second drink, waiting for their salads.

            “So, I had an interesting conversation with Alice Myers today.”

            “Hmmmm.” Ian was looking around for the waiter to see to his empty glass.

            “Ian?” Lucinda straightened her napkin on her lap.

            “Yes, sweetie, I’m listening, Alice Myers.” The waiter quickly swapped Ian’s dry glass of ice for a new bourbon.

            “Well, Alice and I guess some other members of the school board, think I should run for City Council. Well, not that they think I should, I mean, I wouldn’t do it for that reason alone. She said some of them wanted to nominate me and I thought it would be a great start, you know, toward public office.” There, it was out.

            “Public office? Since when are you interested in public office?” Lucinda had a flash back of a conversation they had last year when she announced she’d wanted a hybrid vehicle. Ian had been very patronizing, suggesting she knew nothing of the intricacies of green emissions and that economical transport was her new crusade. He repeated the same story at every cocktail party for months after that.

            “Well, in a way the things I do now are a type of public office, this would just be the next logical step.” Ian laughed a little as the waiter set each of their Caesar salads in front of them, including Lucinda’s dressing on the side. He was then examining his fork.

            “Waiter, could you bring me a new salad fork. This one is a little smudged. Thanks.” The waiter scurried away.

            “Ian.”

            “Hmm?” He had taken a bite with his dinner fork and his mouth was conveniently full.

            “Why did you send him for a new salad fork if you don’t need it?” Ian looked at her as if she was making no sense. “Never mind, did you hear what I said, about public office?” His reply was typical and blanketing, the way he did when he was no longer interested.

            “Whatever you say dear. Run for office.”

            “Well, it’s not that simple, it’s a commitment for the entire family.”

            “Luce… I thought you were cutting back, you know since the girls are getting older. We discussed this.”

            “No, Ian. I mean, yes, we have discussed it. But I never really said I was cutting back. We just discussed it. There was never really any consensus.” Ian looked shocked. Suddenly Lucinda wondered why she bothered. It had been this way throughout their entire marriage. Ian remembered conversations that he led, that he had an interest in. Her opinion, her ideas were catalogued somewhere between Christmas lists and recipes in Ian’s mind. Those were the types of things she was in charge of developing. His rolling eyes and cheek full of arugula would forever remain imprinted in her brain as a turning point in all their lives.

Lucinda did run for City Council and won. That first conversation over dinner set the tone for many conversations. Every time she suggested running for another board or taking on more responsibility, or some other cause. Ian’s argument was always centered around her responsibilities to him, to the girls; responsibilities he felt were suffering. Sidney and Amanda however, loved their mother’s chosen path. Amanda would say it kept Lucinda out of her hair, allowed her more freedom. Sidney respected their mother’s independence, loved telling people about her successes and her rising position in the community. When the time came for their mother to consider running for State Senator, Sidney was twenty-four and Amanda was fifteen. Amanda was in school and Sidney had just finished. Ian on the other hand, had just achieved yet another of his dreams, carving out his own title as the District Attorney of ***, a station in life which he felt demanded even more of his wife’s time with him. Lucinda didn’t see it that way.

“Ian. This is just the same argument we’ve had a million times.” She was sitting at her vanity, fixing her hair for Sidney’s graduation, while her husband adjusted his tie in the reflection behind her. “We are never going to agree on this. Why can’t we just leave it at that?”

            “Leave it at that? He tore at his tie and started over. “Why would I want to leave it? It leaves me completely unsatisfied and without a wife, that’s why.”

            “Without a wife?” She looked down in her lap to hide her smile. “Don’t you think you’re exaggerating just a little? I’m here Ian. I’m right here. I always have been.” She set about lining her eyes.

            “Really Luce? Is that how you see it?” The question hung in the air. “You haven’t been here for years.” He walked away and she stopped and watched him leave the room through the mirror.  She set her eye pencil down for a moment and stared at the woman looking back at her. She was fifty-two years old, her children were nearly grown, starting lives of their own. They were healthy and happy, save some adolescent angst from Mandy about once a week. She was about to run for State Senate, in a district where she had every realistic possibility of winning. These were all good things. That is, unless you asked her husband. Ian’s lack of support had been the snag in her stockings for years. Every triumph was missing that one essential supporter, the vacant spot in her corner that could be filled by no one else.

            When it was clear that she was the favored candidate in her district the summer after next, Ian asked Lucinda for a divorce. The shock, well, it was a shock. He gave her a big speech, he was good at those. He said he wanted someone to take dance lessons with and vacation with. She was so busy and what little time she had, was spent on the girls, as it should be, he wanted that; he didn’t want to interfere with that.

            “I just want a wife Luce. I’m done feeling guilty for wanting that.” It was a Saturday night in August. Amanda was sleeping over at a friend’s and Ian was sleeping in the guest room.

            “What about the girls? What will we tell them?” The truth stung. Ian stared at his wife for a moment, searching her face for the young girl he’d married. She wasn’t even putting up a fight. She was all business, immediately squaring things away in her head.

            “It’s not 1950 Lucinda. The girls are grown. Most of their friends’ parents are divorced. The girls will be fine.”

            “They aren’t most of their friends Ian. That doesn’t make it ok. That doesn’t mean it won’t change their lives.” She was sitting on their bed in her robe, her hands in her lap. “They’ve spent their entire lives in this house with both of us.”

            “They will still be in this house and I’m not leaving town, I’m just leaving this room. I’ll get another house, close by.” He had obviously already resigned himself to this, already had this conversation and sorted these details in his head as well.

            “Can we wait until after the primary, to tell the girls I mean.” She saw the grimace in his face. “Not for me. I mean, I’m going to be swamped until then and if they’re upset, they will be upset. After that, I can be home more, I can spend some time with them.” Ian paced the floor and rubbed the back of his neck, the way he always did when he was about to say no. It really was his nature to please. It was that nature that had kept him married for twenty-five years.

            “No.” The word hit Lucinda like a quick wind. “No Lucinda. I’ve waited too long already. We both have. We need to get on with our lives. I’ll make time. They’ll be ok. We all will.” He sat on the edge of the bed and started his nightly ritual of removing his cuff links, his watch, the thin, ornamental wallet from his pant pocket. Lucinda watched him like an old movie, knowing each step before he took it, silently predicting his movements as he undressed and found his night clothes. He paused unexpectedly and looked back towards her, though not quite looking at her. “So, Amanda will be home tomorrow. I’ll call Sidney in the morning and ask her to come for dinner. I won’t tell her anything.” He waited for some argument, but there was none. “Do you want to cook or I can pick up something.” It took her a moment to realize an answer was necessary.

            “Ok. I mean, yes, I’ll cook.” It was all she could say. “I have some work downstairs.” She left the room and began her own nightly ritual of returning emails, checking the stats her staff sent her and looking over the next day’s schedule of meetings, interviews and luncheons with constituents. Sometimes she could manage two or three lunches in a day and still somehow forget to eat. At this moment, at her desk under a dim lamp, she thought of her father. He had passed away a few years back, so proud of his daughter. He had never suggested she was less of a wife or mother. He had always pushed her to be all that she could, to never be limited by a title or assumed role. Her mother was more traditional and sometimes suggested that Lucinda step back a little, to let Ian have the spotlight, as she had always done. The two women just weren’t the same. Lucinda could already imagine her mother’s reaction to the divorce. She worried most about Amanda. Sidney was fiercely independent and modern and would probably look at her mother’s new found freedom as a natural progression in the life of an ambitious, intelligent woman. It was Amanda who adored her father, looked for him in the house when his car was in the driveway. It was Amanda who expected everything. She was easy to disappoint.

 

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