Dylan left Yale and joined the campaign to make a difference, not keep tabs on some girl. But with the paternity scandal blowing up and Peyton asking questions, he's been tasked to watch her every move. As he gets to know the real Peyton, he finds it harder and harder to keep a professional distance.
When the media demands a story, Peyton and Dylan give them one—a fake relationship. As they work together to investigate the rumors about her real father and Peyton gets closer to learning the truth, she's also getting closer to Dylan. And suddenly, it's not just her past on the line anymore. It's her heart.
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Bain stares at me. Dylan scrolls in his tablet and hands it to me, my speech all lined up. This isn’t necessary though. I’ve memorized it.
I memorized it because that’s something I can control. There are too many other things I can’t control. Like my mouth, which is now so dry, it’s hard to open.
“Honey,” Bain says, and his inflection makes an otherwise endearing address sound caustic. “If you can’t do it in front of me, how do you expect to do it in front of America?”
“I got it, okay.” I stare him down. Or, at least, I try to.
I start off in a low voice and only shake, oh, about the level of a 4.2 earthquake when Bain snaps, “Louder and look up.”
I look up, but my words trip and fall over each other. All I can think about is how Bain should retire to one of those little islands where the drinks have umbrellas. He’d like that, right? Yeah, he should retire and leave me alone.
“Stop, stop,” Bain says. “Gin, make yourself useful and get her a cup of water.”
Gin dashes to the bathroom.
“Peyton, I know I’m not your favorite person. But you need to look up when you talk. Speak loudly and clearly.” As if in demonstration, he locks my eyes and continues in a slow, precise voice. “If you stumble, we’ll know it’s because you’re nervous or distracted. But America will think it’s because you don’t believe what you’re saying.”
Gin dashes back with my water so fast he trips. The cup goes flying, drenching my right side.
Cold shocks my skin, but Gin looks worse. He’s red and still on his knees. I reach down to help him up. “Are you okay?”
“I’m sorry,” he says.
Bain looks to the ceiling, a vein in his neck threatening to pop out. “Peyton has to meet with funders in twenty minutes.”
He says it as though Gin wouldn’t have accidentally spilled water on me if only he’d known that fact.
“It’s okay,” I say, flipping my dress away from my leg and dabbing it with some paper towels that Dylan hands me. “If we can find a blow dryer or something it won’t take long at all to—”
Bain snaps his fingers and juts his thumb in Gin’s direction.
Gin scrambles out of the room.
Bain sighs. “Dylan, get over here.”
Dylan strides to Bain, and Bain puts his hands on Dylan’s shoulders, turning him to face me. “Okay, you don’t need to say your speech looking at me, but you need to be looking at someone. So, can you keep your eyes on him while you talk?”
“Yes,” I say, but too softly for Bain’s liking.
He puts his hand behind his ear and leans toward me. “I’m sorry, did you say—”
“Yes!” I yell. I breathe in. Before Bain can mock me again, I start my speech. “I didn’t have any siblings…”
I focus on Dylan’s brown eyes. When he smiles, I get lost somewhere between the memorized words and muddy comfort. When I start talking about my dad, Dylan’s eyes crease, his chin dips forward further. He coaxes the words out. He coaxes the memories.
“…Please help us welcome the next Vice President of the United States of America,” I conclude, but don’t look away from Dylan.
He grins and pulls something out of his pocket. A neatly folded tissue.
I barely hear Bain’s booming voice as he exits the room, off to complete another task on his long to-do list. “Fantastic, Peyton, just like that.”
I take the tissue and glide it under my eye.
Gin scrambles in with a hair dryer and holds it out to me. “It’s fine, really,” I say. He looks around and, realizing Bain’s gone, he shrugs and leaves.
I go to the corner and plug the hair dryer in. At first I turn it on my leg, but that’s of course too hot. I try to hold my dress out myself, but really, it would be best if…
“Why don’t I hold the hair dryer and you hold your dress,” Dylan says, taking the tool out of my hand.
I hold it out for him as he delicately sprays warm air toward some of my more sensitive parts. He’s got to get close to do it correctly, so when he looks up and asks me if it’s too hot, his breath is only a couple of inches from my mouth. He’s got me cornered.
My face warms.
He clicks off the hair dryer. “This is kind of ridiculous.”
“I’ll take my dress off.”
His mouth parts.
“In the bathroom,” I say, pointing.
He laughs, but it’s this weird laugh that’s more of a grunt. I guess we’re back to the frustrated grunts. He steps aside and I brush by him.
I stand alone in my underwear in the bathroom, blowing the bottom of my dress dry. Just another day on the campaign trail.
Caitlin Sinead is represented by Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger, Inc. and her debut novel, , is available now from Carina Press. Her writing has earned accolades from , and Writers & Artists, and her stories have appeared in multiple publications, including , , , and. She earned a master's degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University.