It was entirely too easy for Carly to convince her dad's secretary to let her in to his office unattended. Worse still, he hadn't changed his password after she'd lectured him multiple times about the importance of online security. So, posting her press packet with the hashtag #FamilyPride to all of her dad's @MayorLancaster accounts was easier than she'd anticipated. The hard part was the three days of lectures and brooding she had to put up with after the fact. Bu there was nothing Evan could do. If he took the videos down, it would only lead to negative speculation and a torrent of questions he didn't need and didn't want at the moment.
Things rolled along uninterrupted but the plan had become much larger than some minor side project for Carly and Stephanie to bond over. The more social media attention Carly got, the more her family members felt the need to add their input and exercise some level of control over the looming event. None was more vocal than Carly's grandmother Irene. “Stephanie, tell me you’re sure Chief O’Rourke’s mulatto love child was placed on Carly’s security detail.”
“Of course I am mother, I’m nothing if not thorough.” Stephanie waved off her mother's nagging. "And I certainly cannot afford to leave my daughter in the hands of that Purifoy witch."
“Well, just be sure she actually shows up” Irene insisted. Irene was not about to leave anything to chance, but she hadn’t counted on Carly overhearing.
“Make sure who shows up?” Carly demanded.
Irene looked uncharacteristically startled, but Stephanie quickly covered for her. “Your security detail of course. Honey you’re a bit of a public figure now. We can’t afford to leave any stone unturned.”
There were twenty-four hours before the meet and greet, but the way her family had been going back and forth with each other it felt like it would be ages before the whole spectacle was over with. She could barely breathe without having to sit through another debate or demand from someone. Everyone wanted to change things or cancel the whole event all together. Everyone except, surprisingly, her mother. Instead of fighting with them she shot her grandmother an untrusting look, then announced to no one in particular "I'll be in my room, if anyone even cares what I'm actually doing."
As soon as she was out of earshot Evan came stomping into the room demanding one last time that Stephanie cancel the event. "You have to pull the plug Steph, if I do it she'll think it's because I disapprove..."
Stephanie raised an eyebrow in shock. She figured of all people Evan had no room to judge anyone else's sexual preferences. "Well, do you? Because, honey..."
"No, of course not!" Evan insisted. "But there are bigger things at stake."
“Darling, what is all the fuss about?" Stephanie patted Evan on the shoulder for reassurance. "Carly is a hot commodity now, one we can use to our mutual advantage.”
Evan pounded his fist against the adjacent wall. He was trying to restrain himself but it was so hard sometimes with Stephanie. She could be so infuriatingly dismissive.
“Stephanie, this is not about Carly and you know that. I just had to plead with Rev. Price not to pull his endorsement. “
“Once again Evan, you’re thinking far too small" Stephanie scoffed.
“Small?!” Evan laughed incredulously. “Rev. Price means a five-point bump in the polls. He’s basically the black vote in the city.” He clenched his jaw, “There’s nothing small about that.” Evan stood firm “Talk to your daughter Steph,” he demanded. “Call this thing off.”
But Stephanie was not one to be told what to do. And she surely wasn't going to be made to do her husband's dirty work for him. “Rev. Price WAS the black vote Evan. The only people who still follow his influence are old church ladies.”
“You mean like your mother?” Evan couldn’t resist the jab.
At that, Stephanie decided it was time to reveal the full scale of her motives. She hoped it would be enough to bring Evan fully on board. “Here you are quibbling over five points when I have the ability to deliver ten points your way" There was a lingering scent of something delightfully menacing in Stephanie's tone as she finished, "If everything goes to plan"
“How in the hell are you going to do that?” Evan scoffed.
“The police officer’s union, obviously.” Stephanie staked her claim matter-of-factly as if it was just a thing that was going to happen out of the clear blue sky.
Evan scoffed his disbelief again. “There’s no way you can pull that off. Danny O’Rourke hates our family.”
Stephanie, feeling newly enraged by her husband’s lack of confidence in her skills, leveled her palm flatly and swiftly against the side of his face. “First things first hubby, don’t ever doubt me like that again. Secondly, Danny O’Rourke hates you. THAT, my dear Evan, is a very important distinction.”
Evan pretended to be upset about the slap, but it was useless. Stephanie knew him too well, especially the perverse side of him that needed desperately to be put in his place. He turned his face away from her in shame. Stephanie couldn’t help teasing him, she felt oddly comforted in her knowledge of his weaknesses. “I do so miss the sound of you begging at my feet like a dog Evan. But pick your tongue up off the floor.” Stephanie scolded. “And call one of your glorified concubines to clean up the drool.”
Finally the day of the event had arrived. The room was lined wall-to wall with every big name in the city. The gym must have maxed out at around a thousand people. Between the crowd and all the camera equipment, Carly worried they'd have to start turning people away. She was unmistakably proud of herself for having pulled off an event of this magnitude in such a short time frame, her mother's assistance notwithstanding. She probably could have done without the rainbow themed balloons and streamers, but all-in-all, it was better than she'd expected. The only thing putting a damper on her self-congratulatory celebration was the complete drip of a security detail they'd assigned to her for the evening. She couldn't budge three inches without Officer O'Rourke monitoring and following after her.
"Ever hear of a space bubble?" Carly complained. "I mean, I know everyone's mugging to grab a photo with me, but damn, can I breathe!"
“You think I want to be here?” Officer O'Rourke laughed at the assumption. “Trust me I’ve got far more important work to do that does not involve babysitting you.” She, of course was referring to the fact that her father pulled her from her first night patrol in order to assign her to Carly's little exercise in narcissism. But Carly couldn't possibly know that. Not that Monica thought she would care even if she did know. "The name's Monica, by the way" Officer O'Rourke offered smartly.
“So go then” Carly insisted. “I’m not chaining you down.”
“Would if I could, but uh…” Monica pointed to three men huddled in the back corner of the room stealing glances at Carly. “See those three creepers over there. They’ve been eyeing you for half an hour and have yet to bid on a single item.”
“Probably just window shopping” Carly dismissed.
“Yeah I thought that too, but that one in the track suit hasn’t taken a single sip out of that Styrofoam cup he’s been holding.” Monica stared them down leaving Carly to think the young cop had totally lost it. But Monica was just overly perceptive. She’d earned the respect of her peers because of it. So, if her gut told her a person holding on to a cup full of liquid without even once drinking from it had other plans for the contents of that cup, she knew she was right.
The room was a buzz with so much chatter and so many people moving around eager to place bids, It was understandable no one paid any attention to the oddballs huddled up in a corner to themselves. The three gentlemen made their way over to Carly and introduced themselves in unison. “Hey Carly, we just wanted to say we think it’s great what you’re doing here.”
Carly turned her attention to Monica “See, they’re harmless.”
“Thank you, I’m glad you guys made it out. Hopefully, you’ll be making a donation. We’ve got multiple auctions going on.”
“Oh, most definitely” the guy in the middle spoke up. “And, uh, one other thing”
“What’s that?” Carly implored. Had she been paying attention she would have noticed the shift in his tone. But that was Monica's job.
The guy in the middle lunged forward, but Monica blocked him off taking the full brunt of the liquid he hurled toward Carly while shouting “Mayor Lancaster’s a punk-ass bitch.”
Carly jumped up from the table in shock. The liquid turned out to be red paint and Monica was dripping in it.
Monica was quick to run after the bastards but Evan held her off, insisting his security detail had it under control. Instead, he directed her toward the restrooms so that she could clean herself up. He wasn't completely convinced his wife's plan would pay off, but he'd already told Rev. Price to piss off, so there was no other choice but to bet on Carly and Monica hitting it off. Though, from the looks of things, they were butting heads more than anything else.
Carly, finally managing her way out of her dazed trance, put on a smile and followed after Monica to ensure she was okay. On her way she’d grabbed a mustard colored jumpsuit from Bella. It was accented with bold gold zippers. Not exactly Monica’s style from what Carly could tell. But it was the only item on the rack not specifically tailored for someone else.
When Carly arrived at the restroom, she found Monica unbloused, with her hair down, her chest dripping with the water she’d clearly been trying to salvage her uniform with.
“Like what you see?” Monica laughed after catching Carly staring for entirely too long.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to…here.” Carly stammered while nervously handing over the jumpsuit she’d brought with her.
“Yeah, I’m not wearing that” Monica declared dismissively while still trying to wipe the paint out of her uniform.
“Doesn’t look like you’ve got better options” Carly teased.
After looking down and realizing she’d actually made the mess in front of her worse, Monica relented. “Fine.” She made quick work of stripping away her uniform and dawning the jumpsuit that fit her surprisingly well. She even managed to strap her belt around the waste without it sagging or falling off as she walked. “How do I look?” she asked.
“Like a badass” came Carly’s honest answer.
Lori's initial plan was just to be a casual observer, just there to make sure Carly's big shindig hadn't hit any snags. Thus far she'd done a pretty damn good job of mingling without being noticed too. She simply sipped on her drink did a couple rounds of chitchat and then spun back into the crowd without even once approaching the guest of honor. That was, of course, until the incident with the paint sent Carly whizzing right by her chasing after the commissioner's brat. She didn't even turn her head. Didn't notice Lori as she zipped right past and nearly knocked her drink out of her hand. That, from Lori's perspective, was simply unacceptable. So, when she spotted the two of them jonting out of the restroom together, suddenly thick as thieves, she decided it was only right to make a proper introduction.
“What happened to being a serious thespian” Lori joked as she made her way over to the bidder's table. “I mean, this isn’t exactly the London Theatre.”
“We all make compromises. I'm sure you're familiar with the sentiment” Carly shot back.
“Yeah, but not you. You’re supposed to be real” Lori insisted. But Carly was in no mood to be lectured by a woman who couldn't even give her an honest answer about their break up.
“I am real. Can’t get any more real than coming out on camera" Carly snorted. "And, like you should be the one telling me to be more authentic?”
“Look around you” Lori spun a judgmental finger in the air, pointing toward all the cameras, staging, and strangers. “What part of this is supposed to be authentic?”
“Are you going to buy a ticket?" Monica finally interjected. "Cause if not, you’re holding up the line.”
Lori made quick work of sizing the other woman up. But she decided she couldn't take a cop in a yellow jumpsuit seriously.
“How much" she asked with her attention squarely focused on Carly.
“Ouch, that’s kinda steep” Lori teased. She then took out her checkbook and quickly scribbled fifty-thousand in the amount field. The volunteer worker who was sitting next to Lori nearly shot his eyes out of his head when he saw the amount.
“How many tickets will that get me?” Lori asked.
“All of them” the volunteer interjected before anyone could say anything, earning himself a jab in the side from Carly.
“Matty’s being hyperbolic” Carly tried to play it down. “But it is a very generous donation” she conceded.
“Anything for the community, right?” Lori let the words slip playfully from her mouth before walking away. She didn't bother looking back. The unmistakable heat of a particular set of eyes watching her as she exited stage left was all the confirmation she needed. She still had Carly, no matter what. Nothing Stephanie had done to push them apart could keep that from being true.