Shawn McHenry gazed into the mirror as he straightened his navy blue tie, the miniature white stars appeared to be small polka dots. He ran his tongue over his teeth and his fingers through his sandy hair.
“Four-score and seven years ago,” he practiced in the mirror and shook his head. “My fellow Americans,” he started again. He nodded as he felt the importance of the tone. What had Bill Clinton said when he was in this situation twenty years ago?
“I am in love with my wife Vanessa and would never do anything to cause her harm,” he spoke into the mirror, testing the words as they rolled off his tongue.
He turned about-face and strolled to his desk where he picked up a small notepad and pen. “When a man loves a woman,” he started, but then he was reminded of the 60’s song sung by Percy Sledge.
He paced, twiddling the pen between his fingers, tapping it against the notepad. “The young woman I am accused of having dalliances with is a dear friend that I have mentored over the last year.” He pressed the pen against his lips and then stopped his pacing to scribble some notes. When he was done, his pacing started again, his soft-soled shoes tapping on the dark wood floor of his office.
“When Ms. Leal came to me, she was finishing her freshman year of college and looking to become more active in politics. I took her under my wing and showed her how to run a city and introduced her to many of my contacts in city government. She attended public functions as my guest and ate dinner in my home with my family.”
Shawn nodded as he found a flow. He would set the record straight and blow these reporters out of the water. He glanced out the window at the brilliant blue sky. A small cloud drifted across the sky, reminding him of the afternoon Shay Leal had been escorted into his office by his secretary, her off-the-rack, gray skirt suit fit a little awkwardly, and he found out later she had borrowed it from her mother. She was looking for a chance for growth and to help her community. She was nineteen, and her father had been a city sanitation worker before he died of cancer four years prior. She was pretty and outgoing and a hard worker from the middle class, all things that would be appealing if she ever ran for office.
Shawn placed his cool palm against his forehead and returned to the present task, almost physically pushing his thoughts back on track. His pacing resumed as his mind raced through word possibilities and debated tone. “With an age difference of eleven years, Ms. Leal has been like a daughter to me.” He thought of the evenings they would sit in this very office, him giving her an interview for an essay she was writing for school, or her helping him dig through his files or law books, looking for the perfect quotes or precedence for some action he was taking to improve their city. By this time, her dress code had relaxed from her mother’s hand-me-down suit to something more relaxed, jeans and polos or sweaters.
“On the allegations that I paid to keep her silent about our supposed affair, the only money or gifts I ever gave her were out of the kindness of my heart to help her reach her dreams.” Shawn remembered a shopping trip where he had accompanied Shay and Vanessa to pick out a dress for a cocktail party they were all attending to raise money for the governor’s campaign.
Vanessa was the driving force, advising what would be appropriately glitzy enough for this type of function. She had gone to enough of these things to be a pro where Shawn couldn’t tell the difference between silk and satin and wouldn’t be able to say if a low back was in this season or a faux pas. He was just there for his wallet and sat in the husband waiting area while the ladies fawned over dresses. Shawn had also paid for Shay’s ticket for the event, but it was worth it to see her face light up as she met local celebrities and her look of star-struck horror as she met the governor and almost spilled her drink on her brand new gown.
A knock sounded at the door, and Shawn stopped pacing as his secretary stuck her head in the office. “The press is ready, and we’re going to start the conference in five minutes,” she said.
“Okay, I’ll be out in a moment,” Shawn said, and she shut the door behind herself with a click.
Shawn sighed and scribbled some more notes on his notepad. Vanessa was waiting out there for him, and so was a blood-thirsty crowd of reporters. Vanessa, his beautiful wife of eight years, with him for two years before that as he struggled through school, with him through his first arduous campaign against the incumbent mayor, printing campaign posters, pasting on grins as she attended PTA and women’s meetings to get out the vote. Why would anyone think he would ever do anything to hurt her?
He gave one last look in the mirror, untieing and re-tieing his tie. He straightened his spine and held his shoulders back for a look of confidence which he was fighting to control as his insides quivered at the thought of facing a mob that would like nothing more than to see him burn to sell some newspapers or ad time or get more clicks.
He opened the heavy, cherry wood door of his office and walked down the gray hallway, the blue of the industrial carpet below his feet worn to a dingy brown-gray. “Maybe next year I can find some money in the budget to get it replaced,” he thought.
He reached the door to the conference room where his press conferences were held and took a deep breath.
His secretary was standing there to meet him, and Vanessa was at her side. “Your lawyer is out there now lambasting the press. He said for you two to come out holding hands, and you would give her a kiss before taking the podium.”
“No problems there,” Shawn said, clutching Vanessa’s cold hands in his left hand. His right hand still held his notepad with all of the notes of things he would like to say.
With that, the secretary opened the door, and Shawn and Vanessa entered the conference room.
Shawn’s lawyer was standing at a podium emblazoned with the city’s seal, wearing an expensive pin-striped suit and angrily answering a reporter’s question. The reporters were stacked upon each other in rows of folding chairs that had seen the butts of many Shriners and VFW vets.
When the reporters caught sight of Shawn and Vanessa, they started shouting their questions in the couple's direction.
What did Vanessa think of her cheating husband? Would she be leaving him?
How could Shawn abuse his power to take advantage of a young woman? Is it true he bought her clothing and jewelry?
Shawn’s lawyer waved him up to the podium, and never one for huge public displays of affection, Shawn turned to Vanessa, squeezed her hand, and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. As their fingers parted, his stomach dropped, and his heart started to race.
He stepped up to the podium and set down his notebook. The shouted questions continued, layering on top of each other until they were incomprehensible. His mouth was dry, and his mind was blank.
He opened his mouth, and despite his careful notes of what he wanted to say, he said the first thing that popped into his head. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”