Part 1 of a challenge in which I was instructed to write stories based on the two prompts "sacrifice" and "reunion." I opted to merge the two into one story.
"I'm not going to automatically agree with you just because it's your name on the ballot. I'm going to argue with you, I'm going to piss you off, I'm going to be demanding. By the time this is all over, you're going to wish you'd never met me. But I promise, come election night, you'll be named the next president."
A flash of movement from the hallway caught Jack Ross's attention. He'd returned to his office to escape from the seemingly endless group of well-wishers and elated staffers. His assistant had been instructed to keep visitors away, but there were always a few reporters lurking around. He leapt to his feet when the familiar blonde head of his campaign director came into view.
Cassie Bradford stopped abruptly, her shoulders tense and heart pounding. This was what she'd been trying to so hard to avoid. While Jack gave his victory speech, she'd packed her two suitcases and arranged for a flight to Austin.
"Why aren't you at the party?" Her voice was thick with unshed tears. It was a struggle to keep from crying her eyes out. Once she was out of the hotel, out of Jack's life, she'd allow herself to weep.
"Too noisy. I don't think they even miss me." Jack shrugged his shoulders offhandedly and reached for her arm. "If you've got time, I'd like to go over a few appointments and key staff positions."
This was it. Time to cut herself loose. Time to break her own heart. "That's really something you should be discussing with Roy Holt."
"Roy Holt? You're my chief of staff, Cass."
Cassie shook her head slowly. There was no way to make this easy on either of them. "I'm not going to the White House with you."
"Maybe chief of staff is too much. You do deserve a break. How about director of communications? You're the queen of spin." Jack flashed the million-watt smile that had won the hearts of thousands of women across the country. A few months shy of forty, he was the youngest president to date. His rugged good-looks and unmarried status had the press dubbing him "America's Most Eligible Politician."
"I can't be on your staff. At all."
"Can't or won't?"
The challenge had a flush of color rushing to Cassie's cheeks. Did he think this was her choice? What started out as a job had turned into aN obsession. She believed in Jack, respected his intelligence, and marveled at his ability to charm just about anyone. Adored him. He was going to be one hell of a president and she wasn't going to let anything get in the way of that.
"Well, Cassie? Which is it?"
"Won't." Cassie spun on her heel and jabbed one slim finger in the middle of Jack's chest. "Your COS's job is to keep you from committing political suicide. Having me on your staff, hell having me anywhere near you, would be exactly that. There's a reason I've let Roy and others be the face of this campaign. If there's one person the GOP hates more than you, it's me. Our party only tolerates me because I piss off Republicans."
Jack arched one dark eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. She wasn't telling him anything he hadn't heard dozens of times. He'd been wary of the pint-sized dynamo when she first signed on with the campaign, but she'd proven herself time and time again. Her methods were sometimes questionable and she took risks he wasn't always comfortable with, but in the end she'd done exactly as promised.
Cassie blew out a deep breath to try and calm her rising temper. Had he always been this incredibly obstinate? "For 16 years, we've had a Republican president with a Democrat Congress. This is the first time the roles have flipped. You're going to have a hard enough time getting anything through without me there to make it worse."
"What about a more... personal role?" Jack couldn't keep the hopeful note out of his voice. Throughout the campaign they'd flirted, teased and worked up more than enough sexual tension. He wanted to pursue an intimate relationship, but the timing never seemed right.
"That would be worse. It's best if I stay as far away from your administration as possible." Cassie's stomach twisted at the kicked-puppy look on Jack's face. God, if he'd only been at the party she could have dodged this entire confrontation. "Please don't be difficult."
"Excuse me for not making it easy to just walk away."
"It's the hardest thing I've ever done." Cassie's quiet confession had an air of resigned finality. Blinking back tears, she stood on her toes to press a soft kiss to his cheek. "Take care of yourself. Watch out for Salvatore. I hear he's up for Speaker. He'll try to cut down anything you even hint at supporting. Go strong on Social Security, welfare and health care. Stand your ground with education. Don't be fooled by the crap you'll hear from Janey and the rest of the Right."
"Goodbye, Mr. President. It was a pleasure working with you." On shaking knees, Cassie rushed out of the hotel and into the waiting taxi. Through dry eyes she watched the lights of Richmond pass by. She managed to keep the tears at bay throughout the ride to the airport, the wait in the lounge and the first twenty minutes of the flight. It wasn't until the handsome businessman in the aisle seat asked about the election results that that she lost the tenuous hold on her composure.
It was done. The country had a leader who would undoubtedly lead them into an era of peace and prosperity. She'd just have to find a way to function without heart.