“Mrs. Knight earned her degree in early childhood education. Did she teach while you were in Chicago?”
“No, no. She did a lot of volunteer work, but we were married pretty young, and she took on the job of raising our family full time. Not a lot of women are willing to commit to that important job anymore.”
Or men. His comment is sexist, and instantly annoys me, yet I plaster a smile on my face as I respond with words that taste stale as they pass through my lips. “I hope I’m lucky enough to be able to stay home with my family someday.”
Senator Knight sits back in his seat, fanning an arm over the side of the couch, an approving smile on his smug face.
“You were only twenty-eight when you made partner at Kleinman & Dell, that’s impressive, you must have had some celebration.”
Turning to look out the nearby window, I watch a change settle in on his face. His jaw clenches and he takes longer to respond. If I wasn’t digging for a reaction, I probably wouldn’t even notice it, but I do, because I’m watching for even the smallest sign. “Yes, well. I was younger back then.” A few seconds later he turns back, mask back firmly in place.
We spend the next hour talking, but the reality is I could’ve written the story without even coming here. There’s nothing new in what he reveals. Desperate to find more, to dig deeper, I decide to push more on his family.
“You only have one son, Jackson, right?”
I could be imagining it, looking for something that’s not there, but his answer seemed almost too quick.
“I’d love to ask him a few questions, if he would have time? I know Paul was set to photograph him today, but if he’s available for a few questions, I’d really like to get a couple of quotes from him. I’m sure he must be so proud of you and everything you support.”
Smiling, he stands, “I’m sure he will make time for you, Miss Michaels.” Another wink.
Following Senator Knight outside to the sprawling backyard, we find Mrs. Knight being photographed by Paul while she gardens. She’s wearing a sheer white shirt, khaki pants tucked into rubber gardening boots, and her perfectly coifed hair is neatly tied back in a pastel colored scarf. Makeup as perfect as her pose, she’s leaning in and digging a small hole to plant a tomato seedling.
I find the whole scene almost comical. Who gardens in an expensive white shirt and makeup? Even funnier, I parked alongside the gardener’s truck when we pulled into the driveway. But I look up at Senator Knight with my best attempt at awe as he looks on proudly at the fake scene that represents his life.
“Your wife is beautiful.” And plastic.
“Thank you.” He stands taller with the compliment, as if he is actually personally responsible for the praise I’ve just given.
“Come on, let’s go find that son of mine so you can have a few minutes with him.”
Senator Knight leads the way down a brick path to a smaller house that looks like a guest quarters, or perhaps the residence of a live in member of the staff. “Jackson prefers the guest quarters to his mother’s constant doting in the main house. This was their compromise when he decided it was time to move out.” He opens the door without knocking and yells in, “Jackson, I have someone that would like to meet you.”
The house is quiet. The Senator steps inside and looks around while I wait in the doorway. A voice from behind me startles me, “Can I help you with something?”
I jump at the unexpected sound, losing my balance, almost falling backwards as I trip over a pair of running shoes left just inside the door. A strong arm catches me as I teeter. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. Are you okay?” Using both arms, he steadies me on my feet as I look up to find the face attached to the voice.
Looking into Vinny’s eyes, I freeze, feeling suddenly lightheaded and dizzy. The Senator’s eyes are the same color, yet something was different, gave me hope that maybe the source was really wrong. But the eyes staring back at me instantly shatter almost all the hope I clung to.
My mouth hanging open, I stare at him blankly. I’m unable to tear my eyes away from the familiarity of looking into them, even though he’s a total stranger. Unable to speak, I nod my head.
Still holding me steady, I can see concern on his face, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Senator Knight interrupts, “Jackson, there you are.” Confused, he turns to me, “Are you okay? You look pale.”
Jackson answers for me. “I just scared her and almost knocked her over.” He smiles at me, revealing a deep creviced dimple. “And I didn’t even get her name yet.”
Releasing my arms slowly to make sure I’m steady on my feet, he takes a step back and extends his hand in my direction. “Hi, I’m Jax Knight.” His smile seems genuine.
“Olivia Michaels.” I finally speak as he takes my hand in his. He shakes my hand, but continues holding it as his father finishes the introductions.
“Miss Michaels is a reporter from the Daily Sun Times. She’s doing a feature story for the re-election campaign. She’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“It’s very nice to meet you Miss Michaels.” A grin on his face, he finally releases my hand.
“Please, call me Olivia.”
He nods, “Only if you call me Jax.”
“Nah, too formal. My father here likes to use Jackson, he thinks it sounds more presidential, but my friends call me Jax.”
Senator Knight’s phone rings and he walks away for a moment, leaving Jax and I alone.
“So what do your friends call you, Olivia Michaels?” The flirtatious smile is back. It’s different than Vinny’s, but I’m positive it has the same effect on women. There’s just something there. A hint of cockiness mixed with good looks is a lethal combination. Jackson Knight is tall, maybe even an inch or two taller than Vinny, and broad just like his father. He’s wearing a plain white t-shirt and low hanging sweat pants, making him appear all the more like Vinny.
“Most new friends call me Olivia, but my closest, oldest friends call me Liv.”
“Okay then, Liv.” He grins. “I was just going to head out for a run, but I forgot my water so I came back.” He pauses. “I’m glad I did. Can I get you something to drink?”
“Your mother wants me in the garden for some photos.” Senator Knight turns back to us as he makes his way to the door. “Be on your best behavior with Miss Michaels, Jackson,” he scolds his son before walking out.
Ignoring his father, Jax motions for me to follow. “Come on, I’ll grab us some waters and we can take a walk outside while we talk, if you want.”
“That would be great, thank you.”
Surprisingly, our conversation flows freely as we walk. Unlike Senator Knight, every question seems to be answered without rehearsed speech. Our banter is easy, natural, and so many of his responses border on flirting, but he doesn’t cross the line.
“So, what made you get into the world of Financial Management?” I know he made a name for himself in managing high net wealth personal portfolios. The Wall Street Journal even took notice of the returns he secured last year for his investors.
“My father,” Jax responds with a truthful answer that I don’t expect.
“Not your first choice, huh?”
He laughs, “Nope. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done well, and it’s an interesting enough job.”
“But…,” I encourage him to continue. Obviously there’s more to his statement.
“But, what I really would love to do isn’t exactly a great long term career move.”
“And that is?”
Jax smiles sheepishly, he almost seems embarrassed to admit his childhood dream. “I always wanted to get into pro boxing. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.”
I stop in my tracks. Jax takes two steps more before realizing I’m not walking next to him anymore.
“Liv. You okay? You’re scaring me again.” One arm quickly reaches for me, as if he’s afraid I’m going to lose my balance again.
The reality of what’s been hanging over my head since I was given this assignment finally hits me and I feel sick. Allowing it to sink in for the first time that, no matter how much I want the story not to be true, I can’t change the truth. Time freezes, my anything’s possible life suddenly flashes before my eyes. Doors that I see open in my future slam shut and I just know nothing will ever be the same from this point on.
“Liv. Do you need to sit down?” There’s concern on his face and I realize I didn’t even notice him coming to stand in front of me, both his arms holding my shoulders tightly. I’ve actually lost time, stuck somewhere in my own head.
Shaking my head to physically force myself to snap out of it, I finally regain my senses. “I’m fine. I’m sorry. I should’ve eaten something this morning. Sometimes my blood sugar gets a little low and I get a little foggy,” I lie.
“Come on, let me sugar you up inside.”
Once inside, Jax makes me sit and eat some fruit and drink a full bottle of Gatorade before he allows me to stand. Yet another thing he has in common with Vinny, bellowing demands that I seem to follow like a petty officer to a drill sergeant.
“You sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“You know, if you want me to hold you, you could just ask. You don’t need to pretend you’re going to faint.”
“What? I wasn’t…” I’m about to set him straight when I look up and see he’s joking written on his face. He laughs and it helps me relax a bit.
“You sure you don’t have any more questions for me?” Jax smiles in response to my telling him I’m done and should probably go. Standing, I casually grab both our empty drink bottles from the table and head to the garbage. Just as I’m about to toss his in, I change my mind and slip it into my jacket pocket. Hoping he didn’t notice, I walk to the sink and set my plate down in the basin.
Turning around, I find Jax standing behind me. Close. Too close. My back to the sink, I have no room to back up to put the requisite personal space between us. He notices my looking around, ready to make my escape, and puts one hand on either side of the sink and cages me in, his body close enough to feel the heat resonating from him, but not actually touching. “Have dinner with me, Liv.”
Oh boy. “I, I can’t. I have a boyfriend.” Who I’m pretty sure at this point also happens to also be your brother.
“I don’t see a ring on your finger.” He arches one eyebrow and smirks. “One date. Tonight.”
“My boyfriend is here with me, I don’t think it would sit well if I told him I was going on a date tonight.”
Releasing me from where he’d cornered me, he grins. “My loss. You know where to find me if you change your mind.”
I help Paul pack up his equipment and the entire Knight family walks us to our car. “Thank you so much for all of your time.” I address all three members of the family. “It was very nice meeting you.” Senator Knight and Mrs. Knight say their goodbyes and chat with Paul about getting advance copies of the photos to review. Jax walks me to my side of the car. I extend my hand. “It was nice meeting you, Jax.”
“You too, Liv.” He pulls my hand in his toward him and turns my shake into a hug.
Laughing, because it’s done playfully more than harassingly, I whisper in his ear before pulling away. “You should give boxing a shot. Don’t ever give up your dreams.”
It’s starting to get dark as I begin my run back to the hotel. I have no idea where the time went. The five mile run to Arlington Cemetery couldn’t have taken more than a half hour, which would mean I spent four hours wandering around and sitting at my father’s graveside. I’d seen pictures of the cemetery on TV, but nothing could have prepared me for the emotions I felt walking in and seeing miles and miles of stark white headstones perfectly lined up, many with American flags waving in the afternoon breeze.