The Governor’s Mansion

Born and raised in Mt. Sterling, KY, Will Haydon is a recent graduate of California State University, Northridge where he earned a B.A. in Political Science. He has been a writer and musician since ... [+]

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
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The balmy evening sent warm air rushing through the open window of Garrett Roth’s F-150, joining with his fingers as they ran through his salt and pepper for the hundredth time since leaving the farm. His hand slid from his hair down the side of his stubbly face, over his sun-kissed neck and to the papers tucked inside the breast pocket of his plaid button-down, still wet with the ink of his signature. The drive was lined with the rolling hills of Kentucky’s bluegrass, speckled with hay bales and barns and lazily grazing cattle. That soon gave way to a tree-lined I-64 W, whose long stretch set out to chase the setting sun and deliver Garrett Roth back to the capital.
He looked out over the murky waters of the Kentucky river as he crossed over the bridge and into South Frankfort. Golden streetlights dotted his way past the picturesque street shops and colonial townhomes. Before long he was on Capital Ave., passing by his residence of the past three years.
As he pulled into the small, reserved lot on the east end of the Capitol building, adjacent to the Governor’s Mansion, he spotted his aide, Veronica, waiting as instructed on the sidewalk in front of the lot. She stood from her seat on a memorial bench, garment bag and shave kit in hand.
“You’re a life saver,” Garrett said as he stepped down from his truck and walked up to meet her.
“Don’t mention it,” Veronica smiled. Her jet-black hair was pulled back tight in its usual ponytail, her matching dress likewise complementing her youthful frame.
“Is she here?” Garrett asked as they walked towards the members’ entrance.
“Yes, sir. In your office.”
“And Cliff?” He asked.
“I haven’t seen him.”
He swallowed hard and said nothing.
The members’ entrance opened to a small, dated foyer and then down a few steps to a long corridor housing the building’s maintenance and security offices as well as the private elevators. Veronica led the way down the fluorescently lit hall to the brass elevator situated directly beneath the Governor’s office. With a turn of her key the doors parted and the two stepped in.
“So, you still won’t tell me what this press conference is about?” Veronica asked, eyeing the unusually mum Governor.
Garrett grinned and checked his watch. 8:10 PM.
“You’ll know in twenty minutes.”
The doors parted to a wood-paneled entryway boasting a large, gold-framed mirror offering one last chance to spruce up before turning into the Governor’s office. Garrett gave himself a once-over, still not entirely used to the faint lines beginning to form at the ends of his green eyes. He thought his wind-licked hair suited him fine and his recent morning runs had given him some tone and color that made the incessant photo ops a bit less painful.
“Here you go, sir,” Veronica said, handing Garrett the garment bag and shave kit. “Your wife is inside.”
“Thanks again, Veronica. You’ve been a big help.”
A faint blush flashed across the girl’s face before she quickly took her exit through the door to the left.
Marley Robinson was pacing in front of the oversized mahogany desk when Garrett walked through the threshold.
“You’re late,” she greeted him.
“I had to wrap some things up.” He patted the papers still tucked in his breast pocket.
Her lips broke into a smile and her eyes watered. “You’re really doing this.”
He nodded.
She walked over to where her husband stood and wrapped her arms around him. “I’m so proud of you.”
He rested his cheek on her brown bob and breathed in her familiar lavender that had put him at ease since law school.
“Have you seen Cliff?” He asked.
She pulled back, dabbing her wet eyes and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Gar. His letter is on your desk.”
He looked over to see the short, hand-written resignation letter he had requested of his chief of staff earlier that morning.
"Well, he said I could either have his resignation or attendance tonight. Guess he’s a man of his word.”
“It’s just a lot at once. He knows this is the right thing,” she reassured him. “Now, get dressed. You don’t have a lot of time.”
“Thank you for everything.” he said, hugging her tight again.
“I love you,” she said before disappearing out of the office’s formal entryway.
Garrett walked across the blue carpet to the private bathroom tucked in the corner of the wood-paneled room. His anxiety pulled him out of his body and he watched from above as he lathered his face and shaved it clean. He undressed slowly and deliberately, afraid that if he paused for even a second he would flee from the reality he had set in motion. He pulled on the pants of his favorite blue suit, then his white button-down, then his tie, then he took the tie off and unbuttoned his top button. Fuck it, he thought. He slid on his tan, leather shoes and pulled on his jacket before standing silent in front of the mirror, waiting for his mind to return to him.
He saw before him the 63rd Governor of Kentucky. A young veteran of the Air Force, a graduate of Georgetown Law, a Democrat in a decidedly red state, and someone who was about to make history, for better or worse. Garrett thought of his mother who was no doubt in bed asleep, having already been informed of the news her son was about to announce to the world. His father was dead of a heart attack, but Garrett liked to think he might have been proud of his son in this moment. He couldn’t be sure. Sighing off the melancholy, Garrett opened the door to find Cliff Jordan leaning against the conference table in front of him.
“God, I’m glad to see you,” Garrett exhaled as if he had been holding his breath since they had last talked earlier in the day. To some, Cliff’s muscular frame and stern face might have been intimidating, but Garrett knew better.
“Just tell me one more time why you’re doing this,” he said in his soft baritone. “Why you’re throwing away everything we’ve worked for.”
“I explained it to you this morning, Cliff.” Garrett responded.
“That didn’t convince me,” he said flatly. “I want to stand with you out there, but I have to be convinced this is the right move.”
Garrett walked over and leaned against the table next to Cliff. He reached inside his jacket pocket and brought out the papers he had transferred there a few moments earlier.
“I didn’t want to tell you about this until it was a done deal, but I bought back Dad’s farm today.”
Cliff took the papers from Garrett’s outstretched hand and flipped through them, finding the deed to the land in the back.
“Listen, I’m well aware of the risk I’m taking here,” he continued, “but it’s no bigger than the risk we’ve been taking this entire time. We did what we did because the ends justified the means. Because Kentucky wasn’t ready for... this.”
Cliff raised his eyes from the papers and looked at Garrett. “And what’s changed?”
Garrett crossed his arms and looked up. “A few laws, I guess. Public attitude to an extent. That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? I thought that laws would be enough—that they would be the agents of change and we would be the beneficiaries. But laws don’t have agency, they’re just words on a page. We’re the change. We have to be.”
Garrett returned to Cliff’s gaze. “So, I’m gonna go out there in front of those cameras with my wife and announce that Kentucky has been ably served by a gay man and an extraordinary first lady for the past three years. I’m gonna say that I fully intend to run for re-election and continue serving this state and its people, and I’m gonna do it with my former chief of staff and partner of 20 years by my side.” He paused. “If he’ll still have me.”
Cliff looked at Garrett with the same quiet affection that had shifted every tectonic plate in Garrett’s world since 1L year at Georgetown.
"You’ll lose,” Cliff warned softly.
Garrett stood up, taking the papers back from Cliff.
“I don’t think so,” he winked, sliding the papers back into his jacket pocket.
Cliff stood and grabbed the Governor’s hand as he turned for the door.
“Okay,” he said. “You’ve convinced me.”