For the first time in months, I haven’t started my day in the campaign office Christian has leased my team inside his towering skyscraper downtown. Instead, I’m in my kitchen, enjoying the cup of coffee my wife has poured for me, staring out at the black water of Lake Washington beneath the dark gray clouds that will likely bring rain by the afternoon. This could be it. All that is left for me. Or, today could change my life and the lives of everyone I love forever.
It’s election day. The polls open in thirty-five minutes and then it’s all in the voter’s hands. Months and months of tireless work all comes down to this.
I have to win. Not for pride or glory, but for my daughter-in-law, who was so terrified of her own home after what the man I used to consider my best friend had done to her that she still hasn’t been able to go back. For my son, who has lost all trust in everyone around him he doesn’t consider family. For the dozens of people who lost everything they owned in the apartment fire set as a diversion to give a mad man time to kidnap Anastasia and get out of the city before the police could arrive. For the people who are still out there and who may have cause to come after Christian and his family again.
I have to win.
I take another long drink of coffee to drown out the warning Grace has given me over and over again, which now echoes through my mind.
You can’t do this just to get revenge for Christian. This is a real job. If you’re elected, people will be depending on you.
I know this. I know that what I’m setting out to do isn’t just a free power grab into the inner workings of the government. I’m going to be mayor of the largest metropolis in the Pacific Northwest. There are well over a half a million people in this city. People who will depend on my leadership, to ensure good policy is being made that encourages economic growth and provides sustainable jobs. That protections are put in place for the small businesses competing against the giant conglomerates that have moved in and caused an unprecedented population boom since the early 2000s. We need direction to deal with the housing crisis and the overwhelming problems of poverty and homelessness that plague this great city.
I’m going to do all of those things. I understand the commitment and I’m going to dedicate myself to being the best public servant for this city that I can. But I am also going to make sure that everyone who is responsible for what happened to my son, or who had a role in covering up what was done, is going to face real and serious consequences.
I turn and see Grace coming into the kitchen behind me, hooking an earring through her ear as she moves to her purse on the counter. She looks stunning. Exactly the way this city’s first lady should look.
I can’t express how important and valuable her support has been to me over the past few months. She hasn’t missed one rally, one debate, or one fundraiser. She’s answered phones, she’s overseen the production of pamphlets and advertising signs, she even did an interview last week with the KIRO 2 news team about “the man behind the campaign.” And, through all of this, she hasn’t missed even one appointment with any of her patients. She’s spent every Wednesday afternoon with Calliope while Christian and Ana went to therapy together. She hasn’t missed a beat, and for all the love I’ve always held for this woman over thirty years of marriage, I have never admired her more.
“You look beautiful this morning, sweetheart.”
She smiles. “Thank you, dear. I’m guessing there will be press there to cover you casting your vote so I thought I should put in a little extra effort this morning. Ana called. She and Christian are heading to the polling place first thing this morning and she’s in a panic because she can’t find that outfit we bought for Calliope last week. It’s no wonder with the mountains of clothes that baby has. She’s going to outgrow most of them before she even gets a chance to try them on.”
“Haven’t we bought most of those clothes?” I ask, raising an eyebrow, and she smiles again.
“So I like to spoil my only grandchild. Sue me. I don’t know why she’s making such a fuss anyway, she might as well dress her in her pj’s and mismatched socks. Christian won’t let anyone with a camera near that baby.”
“Do you blame him?”
Her smile falters and she plays with the strap on her purse to buy time so she can decide how or if she should say what she wants to next. “You don’t really think there’s still someone after them do you?”
“I don’t know,” I reply honestly. “But if I win today, I’m going to find out.”
“I know, I know. It’s not just for them.” I move across the kitchen and place a finger beneath her chin, giving her a sly kind of smile. “I also just really like the sound of Mayor Grey.”
“Well, then you better get downtown and vote. Come on, if we hurry we might be able to beat the morning traffic and catch Christian and Ana at the polls.”
It’s a madhouse in downtown Seattle between the morning commuters trying to get to work and the thousands of people pouring in from all over the city to cast their ballots. It takes us nearly an hour to find parking, but as we come up the long walkway to the courthouse we see Ana and Christian standing at the top of the stairs in front of a crowd of reporters. It looks as though Christian is answering questions while Ana hovers uneasily behind him, holding a swaddled Calliope in her arms.
“Ah, here he is!” Christian says brightly, motioning to Grace and I as we climb the steps. There’s a new wave of commotion as the cameras turn on us and we wade through the dozens of questions being asked. Grace pays attention to none of it. Her eyes are set only on her pride and joy. Her granddaughter.
“How has she been this morning?” she asks, and Ana lets out a heavy sigh.
“Fussy. She’s not used to this kind of commotion and I think she’s starting to reverse cycle with Christian at work all day and me trying to finish this book… She had me up all last night and now she’s exhausted.”
“Well she just needs a little nappie,” Grace coos into the blanket. “Tell you what, I’ll take her and give you a little break this afternoon.”
“Actually, we were hoping you’d spend the day at our house,” Christian says. “Kate and Elliot are coming over after their appointment this morning. They’re finding out the gender today.”
“Today? That was today?” Grace asks, panicked.
“Well, it was supposed to be at the end of the week,” Ana says. “But Kate thought maybe having a little family time this afternoon and focusing on the new baby might make it a little more bearable until we get the results of the vote this evening.”
“You’re not working, son?”
“Not today. Today’s about you, Dad.”
I smile and clap him on the shoulder. “Thanks, Christian. We’d love to come. Just let me go do this thing and we’ll meet you at home.”
He nods and reaches for Ana, but she’s having a hard time getting away from Grace.
“We’ll see you soon, angel. Grandma loves you. Yes she does. Yes she does.”
“Okay, Grace,” I say, taking hold of her elbow and moving her back away from our granddaughter. “The sooner we let them leave, the sooner the baby gets a nap.”
She frowns but lets me lead her away, and after we wave goodbye to Christian and Ana, we’re followed into the courthouse by the the continuous flash of cameras behind us.
I’ve practiced law in this city for nearly twenty years. The King County courthouse is a building I know by heart. But today, when I walk through the doors, it feels different than any of the million times I’ve done it before. I can feel the momentous weight of what I’m about to do and it leaves me confuddled in a strange mix of pride and fear. I think I have a real chance at winning this thing, but the task just on the other side of victory is intimidating.
“Good luck,” Grace says as she steps through the curtain into the booth where she’ll cast her vote. I smile at her one last time, and then follow her lead into the stall next to her. There’s a table there for me to place my ballot on, and when I open the folder and see my name on the sheet in front of me, my ears heat.
⃣ Carrick Grey (I)
With a deep breath, I take my pen and punch through the checkbox by my name, taking a second to revel in the joy of the moment, and then quickly move down the list of other open offices and marking the boxes next to the names of the people I want to work with. It takes only a few minutes, but it’s the culmination of months of anticipation and when I step out of the voting booth, the fear dwindles enough that, for just a brief shining moment, I can bask in the unbridaled sense of pride.
“I voted for the other guy,” Grace says. “You know, so I wouldn’t seem biased.”
I laugh. “How long have you been planning that line?”
“Since September. And in my mind you were much more incensed.”
“Well how dare you!” I exclaim, then lean over to kiss her cheek. “Let’s go. We’ve got another grandbaby to celebrate today.”
Christian and Ana have the news on when we get to their house but, for the most part, it’s ignored. Ana has Calliope on her play mat, surrounded by all her favorite toys, and the four of us spend a good part of the morning completely engrossed in her tiny feet kicking with joy every time she’s able to wrap her little fingers around something. For the first time in a long time, Christian and I talk about things other than the election: fishing trips we hope to take, plans he has for business, and the new Bugatti Veyron model that was revealed for 2012. Ana and I discuss the Seahawks dismal 2-5 start this year and how desperately we need to find a decent quarterback in the draft next year.
“Honestly at this point we should throw the rest of the season,” she says furiously. “Take the losses now for better draft picks next year. I swear to god, I couldn’t talk to Bob for a week after the Steelers blew us out in week two.”
I laugh at the angry pink tint that colors her cheeks and then try to steer her away from football to a less touchy subject. But, when I ask her how Ray is doing she simply narrows her eyes at me and says, “He’s just as pissed about the Seahawks as I am.”
Even Christian laughs this time, but it’s short lived as we’re interrupted by the sound of the doorbell ringing. We all turn to look towards the front of the house as Taylor moves to the entrance hall to answer the door, but it’s not immediately apparent who has arrived once he lets them in because the first thing we see coming into the living room is a pair of nondescript legs holding a giant box.
“Ana?” Kate calls.
The box slips about a foot to reveal Elliot, and he glances between each of us until his eyes land on Christian. “Where can I leave this?”
“What…is it?” Christian asks.
“We got it from a party supply store,” Kate explains. “We had the doctor put the gender in an envelope, so even we don’t know. When we open the box, either pink or blue balloons will be released and we’ll all find out together.”
“Well, open it, for god’s sake!” Grace exclaims.
“Don’t you think we should wait for Mia to get here?”
“No,” Ana says.
Kate laughs and turns to Elliot. “Just go put it on the dining room table until we’re ready.”
“We’re ready!” Grace argues, but Elliot just laughs at his mother’s impatience, then kisses Kate on the cheek before heading into the dining room. Once he’s gone, Kate crosses the room and plops down on the sofa next to Ana.
“Check it out, I’m officially a Grey.” She reaches into her purse for her wallet, then pulls out her driver’s license, beaming as she hands it to her. “I just got it yesterday.”
“Oh, how unorthodox. Changing your name before you get married.” Ana gives Kate a hard look, which makes her roll her eyes.
“When are you going to forgive me?”
“When you have a real wedding that you invite me to.”
“It’s not like I purposely kept just you out, no one was invited. That’s kind of the point of eloping.”
“I did not give you permission to elope!”
“I didn’t ask!”
It was only two days after Kate and Elliot’s surprise engagement and subsequent pregnancy announcement that we all got the early morning phone call telling us they’d taken a late flight to Vegas and gotten married the night before. Grace was furious and while Ana was excited and happy for them over the phone, Christian later told me that, after the reality had sunk in and she realized that she wasn’t at Kate’s wedding, she cried. Clearly, she’s still upset. Personally, I half expected something like this. After what happened to Christian with Carla, Elliot was insistent that they be married before the baby was born, just in case. And between their jobs, the election, and the energy being poured into building their new house, there was no way they were going to have time to plan a wedding. They’re both very spontaneous kids, I think it’s fitting. I suppose that I wish, in hindsight, that we would have at least gotten a phone call to give us the opportunity to come, but they both seem truly happy. At the end of the day, that’s all I really care about. And hurt feelings aside, I have another daughter now.
Ana lets out an angry huff and crosses her arms over her chest. “We swore we were going to have the other as Maid of Honor when we got married. You got to be mine, and I would have gone to Vegas if you would have just called me.”
“I know, and I’m sorry that you didn’t get to be my Maid of Honor, but doesn’t the fact that we’re really and truly sisters now make up for it, just a little bit?”
Kate’s lower lip juts out and she gives Ana her best puppy dog look, and while Ana tries to keep up her indignant front, eventually, she can’t stop herself from smiling.
“Okay, fine. But, to make it up to me, I better get to be in the delivery room with you when you give birth.”
“You’ll have to fight me for that,” Elliot says, coming into the room and bending over the sofa to kiss Ana on the forehead, then slumping down onto the floor at Kate’s feet. Ana glares at him.
“She has two hands. You can hold one, I can hold the other.”
“Um, do I get a say in this?” Kate asks.
“No,” Elliot and Ana respond together, and as the two of them laugh, she rolls her eyes.
“Well, as long as we’re all on the same page, I guess…”
“Are we really not going to open that box?” Grace asks, and it’s clear by the frustration in her voice that she has been fuming about this from the moment Kate asked Elliot to take it into the other room. “The answer to whether or not I’m having my first grandson or my second granddaughter is fifty feet away from me, and you’re all just sitting here like it doesn’t even matter.”
“It won’t be much longer, Grace,” I tell her. “It’s nearly three. School is out, I’m sure Mia is on her way.”
Her eyes move to the giant clock over the fireplace, and she frowns. “I swear to god if that girl isn’t here in twenty minutes, she’s grounded forever.”
A low cry comes from the baby monitor in Ana’s hand, and quickly grows into a loud shriek, but as she gets off the couch to go get Calliope from the nursery, Grace stands and holds out a hand to stop her.
“I’ll get her. If you’re going to withhold one grandchild from me I may as well attend to the other.”
With a very dramatic flair, Grace leaves the living room and heads off to Calliope’s room, while Ana settles back into the couch and lifts her legs up and over Christian’s knee. He looks over at her and she smiles. “Kate’s baby is still in-utero and Callie is already competing for all the attention.”
“Of course she is,” Elliot says. “She’s Christian’s kid, through and through.”
Christian raises an eyebrow. “Well, let’s hope for your kid’s sake, they take after Kate.”
He waits a moment for Elliot’s incensed reaction, but it doesn’t come. Instead, my oldest son looks back at his brother and nods solemnly.
“Preach, brother. Preach.”
A half hour passes and Grace has returned with Calliope, who she feeds in the oversized cream lounge chair by the back window. The rest of us watch the news for any election updates, but it’s really too early for any news coverage, except the occasional check in with the reporters at the polls. I focus mainly on the number of people I can see behind her. The key to me winning is successfully getting the disenfranchised voters to the polls, and that very obstacle has killed every candidate who has run against him in the last three election cycles.
We’re watching an interview with someone fresh out of the voting booth when the doorbell rings and a few seconds later, Mia’s voice echoes through the entrance hall towards us.
“In here, Meems,” he replies.
Mia hurries into the living room and her eyes zero in on the TV with excited expectation. “What are they saying?”
“Too early to tell,” Elliot answers.
She frowns. “Well, Tibby is eighteen, so she’s voting for you. So is her dad. I asked every single one of my teachers today and Mr. Randall, Mrs. Janisek, and Mr. Polansky are all voting for you too. Mrs. Aldey told me that wasn’t a polite thing to ask someone, so she’s probably not.”
“You shouldn’t be harassing your teachers, Mia,” I chide her, but she shrugs.
“Some kids badger them about recommendation letters for college, some kids hassle them into voting for their father for Mayor. They’re teachers. They’ve seen it all.”
“Speaking of which,” Christian interrupts. “Have you applied to Juilliard, yet? Housing in New York is not easy to find and if we’re going to get you a suitable apartment anywhere near campus, we need to start looking very soon.”
“I’m… working on it.”
“Well, work a little harder. I can’t help you if you don’t help yourself.”
Mia swallows, then nods, but Grace can’t contain herself any longer to even allow her daughter the chance to set her school things down and settle in with the rest of the family.
“Okay, okay. Baby time!”
We all turn to Kate, and her face breaks into a huge, mega-watt smile. “Okay, go get the box, Elliot.”
“Alright,” he says. “But to reiterate, I’m not lifting a finger to help out with the baby unless it’s a boy. Prepare yourself for that.”
“Last call for bets,” I add. “Ana, you want in the pool?”
“I’m going with girl,” she says. “Mostly because if I say boy, Kate will consider it the highest level of betrayal.”
“Truth,” Kate agrees with a laugh. “This baby and Callie are going to grow up so close people will think they’re sisters instead of cousins.”
“Well, one of you needs to have a boy,” I argue. “If you all have girls, who will carry on the Grey name?”
“Calliope,” Christian says. “She’s never going to have any kind of romantic interest in men so she’ll be a Grey forever, and when she inevitably adopts or finds a very highly qualified sperm donor so she can have children of her own, they’ll be named Grey too.”
Ana laughs. “I hate to break it to you, baby, but I’ve seen Callie with me, Kate, and your mom, and I’ve seen Callie with you, Elliot, and my dad. That girl is already boy crazy.”
“You shut your mouth.”
We all laugh but the sound is quickly cut off by Grace. “Gender! Focus!”
Elliot groans as he gets off the floor and moves into the dining room with a light, brisk pace to retrieve the box. When he returns, Christian moves the coffee table out of the way so they can place the oversized box in the middle of the room, and we all gather around Kate and Elliot with our phones out.
“Okay, I’m recording,” Ana says. “Open it!”
Kate nods and squeals nervously, but stops before her scissors touch the tape sealing the box closed. “But what if it’s a boy?”
“Good!” Christian calls. I turn to look at him, and smile at the genuine look of excitement in his eyes.
This is it. One of those perfect moments where my entire family is together and blissfully happy. Before Kate slices through the tape at the top of the box, I take just a moment to take a mental snapshot so that I remember this moment forever.
“Okay,” Kate says, bracing herself. She takes the scissors and forces the tip down through the clear tape, then drags the blade across the top of the box. Once it’s cut open, she and Elliot each take one of the cardboard flaps in their hand and look anxiously into each other’s eyes.
“One,” Kate begins.
“Two,” Elliot continues.
“Three!” We all yell in unison as Kate and Elliot pull back the lid and a steady stream of pink balloons float up into the air.
“It’s a girl!” Kate screams and she practically leaps at Elliot, who blinks a few times in shock and then begins beaming just as brightly as his new bride. They hold each other tightly, swaying back and forth as they hug. When Kate finally pulls away, she cups either side of Elliot’s face and says, “A girl! Ah, you have such good sperm.”
He laughs. “Thanks, babe.”
“Katie!” Ana comes around the box and envelopes Kate in a tight hug. They both start to cry and make very quick plans for everything they want their daughters to share. Christian comes around to Elliot and grips his shoulder.
“Well, when they’re teenagers, we can drink together.”
“Hear, hear.” Elliot says, and Christian pulls him into a one armed hug.
The celebration, hugs, and general merriment continue well into dinner, which is the only time we have pried ourselves away from the television since this morning. As we sit around Christian and Anastasia’s dining room table together, looking at the ultrasound pictures the doctor put in with the gender reveal and talking about names together, the election results seems to matter very little. For the first time in a long time, I look across the table at Ana and see the young, happy, carefree girl we all grew to love. Not the broken, hollow person who tries but can never hide the constant, unshakable fear behind her eyes. Next to her, Christian holds his daughter in his arms and laughs with his brother just a freely as he did a few months ago. I’ve worried for months that we may have lost this part of them, but tonight is like a glimmer of hope.
Maybe I won’t win.
Maybe I won’t be able to make this right for them.
But, maybe if we stick together as a family, it’ll still be okay.
“Mr. Grey,” Taylor says, entering the dining room with an urgent kind of seriousness that contradicts the lackadaisical atmosphere all around us. “The polls have closed. They’re counting the ballots now.”
Every pair of eyes around the table turn to me, and I take a deep breath to hide the sudden wave of nausea that washes through me. It’s funny how, in moments like these, when things are final and there’s absolutely nothing more you could do, your mind suddenly begins racing through every one of your shortcomings. I hadn’t felt very nervous today until this moment, and under everyone’s persistent gaze I find myself asking if what I did was enough. If I lose tonight, is it because I didn’t fight hard enough?
“Well, we should… get back into the living room,” I tell my family, and rather than a murmur of agreement, I’m met with the steady clink of silverware against china and the sound of chairs scraping against the stone floor.
Everyone’s nerves are palpable as we move back to our places in front of the TV. Ana takes Calliope and as she returns to the sofa, and Christian wraps both of them in his arms. Kate pulls Elliot up onto the couch with her, half-sitting on him as she stares anxiously at the news coverage, and Grace pulls a chair from across the room so she can sit next to me and take my hand. Mia settles down on the floor and twists one arm around my calf while resting her head against my knee. I gently brush through her hair with my fingertips, squeeze my wife’s hand, and then focus all of my attention to the news reporters on the TV.
The wait is agony. Numbers trickle in slowly, and at first, they’re not promising.
“This is bullshit,” Elliot says when my opponent jumps to a nineteen point lead within the first hour. “His approval ratings have been garbage for years. Why would anyone vote for him?”
“Name recognition,” Ana says. “They just vote for the name on the ballot they know and move on.”
“Well, it’s not like Grey is an unrecognizable name,” Kate argues.
“There’s still a lot of votes left to count,” Christian says, then turns to look at me. “We’re still in this.”
I nod, give him a tight smile, and redirect my attention to the freshly updated numbers.
Twenty point lead.
As we listen to the commentary and the different reports from the polling centers, Grace starts to grip my hand so tightly, my fingers go numb. Still, I don’t shake her off. I’m too focused on the TV to care about anything else right now. No one talks. No one even coughs. The room is dead silent until 09:30 p.m. rolls around, and the numbers are updated again.
One point lead.
“Yes!” Elliot shouts, punching the air. “We’re gaining on him. You’ve got this, Dad!”
I let out a long, arduous breath. “We’re still behind.”
“Not for long,” Christian says. “Elliot’s right. You’ve got this.”
The footage on the screen changes from a machine being used to sort and count ballots downtown, to a replay of an interview we watched earlier about the new emphasis on local government because of dissatisfaction with federal level politics. But, as the segment changes back to the main anchor, an ominous kind of bell sounds and the screen is plastered with a breaking news bulletin. When they return to the news studio, the woman sitting behind the desk looks somber and it has my heart beating in my throat.
“For the first time this evening, Mayoral candidate Carrick Grey has taken the lead, pulling ahead of the mayor by twelve points with sixty percent of the precincts reporting in. Mr. Grey has taken key battle ground neighborhoods who have traditionally carried the current mayor in years past.”
“Daddy!” Mia shouts, jumping to her feet in excitement.
“And he takes the lead!” Elliot cries.
I stare at the numbers printed on the screen and feel slightly winded. There it is, I’m winning, and with only the precincts I’d polled the highest in left to report. Twenty minutes pass and my twelve point lead jumps to eighteen, and ten minutes after that, twenty three.
“And, I’m hearing from our polling experts that the mayoral race has been called,” the reporter says, just before eleven. “With 98% of precincts reporting, Carrick Grey will become the Mayor of Seattle come January 1st.”
“You did it!” Mia screams. She jumps all around the living room, overwhelmed by adrenaline and excitement, while Grace gets out of her seat to pull me into a hug.
“I’m so proud of you, sweetheart.”
“Thank you, darling. I couldn’t have done this without you.”
“Congratulations, Carrick!” Kate squeals, pushing into my embrace the moment I release my wife. “Oh my god, you’re going to be president someday.”
“Oh, lord help me,” I reply with a smile, before kissing her softly on the cheek.
“Dude, though…” Elliot interjects. “I think this is proof we could slay a national election. Dad could be President, Mom could be the Surgeon General, Christian could be like… Chief of Staff, Kate will be the Press Secretary, Ana will write all of your speeches, and I could be your advisor on Information Technology, or Digital Strategy… Oh! Or like, an ambassador. I want a warm country though, like Madagascar or Equador. I don’t want to be the ambassador to Antarctica.”
“First of all,” Christian says dryly. “Antarctica is a continent, not a country. Second, there is no ambassador to Antarctica.”
“Well, it looks like the plan is perfect then, Christian. I won’t even have to put someone out of a job.”
“Really? And what makes you think you’re qualified to be an ambassador?”
“I’m a really good time. Say we’re about to go to war with someone, right? Dad just sends me over there, I take them out, we party hard, have some laughs… then the next morning they’re like, ‘War? Nah, America’s chill’.”
We all stare blankly at him for several long seconds until Kate bursts into a fit of giggles. Christian shakes his head in dismay.
“I hate so much about what you choose to be.”
“Will you two shut up?” Ana interjects. “Your dad just became the mayor, this is so not about you right now.”
“Thank you, Ana.” She comes forward and gives me a hug, but I don’t release her when she pulls away. Instead, I tuck her under my arm, pull Mia and Kate back into me, and then bask of glow of victory. My picture is on the TV, next to my opponent, highlighted with my polling numbers and the word winner across the bottom.
After months of long nights and hard work, I’ve won.