Am I the Only One – E. K. Blair

Washington DC, a city filled with prestige and corruption, American dreams and political fallacy. Money was the blanket hidden agendas lay beneath. It seemed if you wrapped yourself in designer labels and surrounded yourself with the proper society, people were willing to turn a blind eye to live in their false reality of perfection. Who wanted to disrupt a seemingly charmed life and risk social disgrace? No one wanted a scandal; that’s why people lied. God forbid we weren’t all perfect. Emma wasn’t attempting perfection though. Instead, she was a mule for someone else’s modus operandi. But Emma knew this. She was a smart girl, always excelling in her studies while in high school, earning a substantial academic scholarship to the distinguished Georgetown University. It was almost three years ago when Emma packed her bags, said a tearful goodbye to her family, and left home in Tennessee to chase her dreams in the nation’s capital. Rain fell in a soothing patter on top of Emma’s umbrella as her high heels tapped against the wet pavement of the empty sidewalk of the city. It was late, and she picked up the pace against the chill of the night. Snow patches still lined the curb, and when she rounded the corner and spotted the upscale hotel she’d been instructed to go to, her steps slowed. The lights from inside cast a soft glow through the fog-covered windows. She couldn’t see through the glass, but Emma knew he was in there.

From everything she’d been told, he would be eager for someone just like her. He, who’d been graced with power and admiration, elected by the people to uphold the law and fight for justice, garnered a certain . je ne sais quoi. Maybe it was confidence, maybe arrogance, maybe entitlement. Or maybe it was a mixture of everything, creating an intoxicating elixir to get punch-drunk on life’s delightful sins. Opening the door, Emma stepped out of the rain and into the warmth of wealth. “Evening, Miss.” She looked up as a man in a suit stepped behind her to assist in the removal of her coat. “Thank you,” she murmured as she slipped out of the wet garment and handed over her umbrella. When he strode off to check her items, she turned to scan the room.

Since it was nearly empty at the late hour, it took only a moment to spot him across the grand space. He was the only one sitting at the bar, suit coat draped over the back of his chair, tie loosened, sleeves rolled up. Making her way through the room, she watched as he slipped off his glasses and rubbed his forehead. “May I?” she questioned softly, looking to take the seat next to him. “Um, of course . yes.” She smiled at his flustered demeanor. Stress and a lack of sleep carved the lines around his eyes, which beamed all-American blue. His briefcase was open opposite him to show stacks of files and papers. “Working off the clock?” He looked over to her, smelling of spiced cologne and scotch.

“In my line of work, there are no clocks.” “What can I get for you?” the bartender asked, pulling Emma’s attention as he set a cocktail napkin in front of her. “Grey Goose martini, up, stirred, with a twist.” When she looked back to the man whom she already knew so much about, he was wearing a slight smirk. “So, no clocks,” she started, picking up the exchange. “How do you know when to stop?” The clink of the martini glass being set down sounded at the same moment his eyes landed on her cleavage. “I’m not a man who likes to stop.” Carly Two months earlier . Looking over the suit-jacketed shoulder of my husband is a view I’ve come to know well. No longer in front, no longer beside, but always one step behind.

I stare out into the sea of eyes, which are filled with hope as they watch the man I fell head-over-heels in love with nearly thirteen years back. This wasn’t my world before him, before we crashed into each other after a conference he was the guest speaker for at the community college where I used to work. It was after our cars collided in the cramped parking lot that I got my first look at him. His tailored suit screamed I’m out of your league, but the charm in his smile soothed my insecurity. A whirlwind romance it was. He whisked me away into a world I knew nothing about as I clung to his reassurance that I belonged wherever he was. My heart beat in an unexplained rhythm for William Montgomery III, the Ivy League alum who adopted the nickname of Tripp during his college years. He adored me. I adored him. It was nothing short of a fairy tale, and seven months later, Tripp could no longer hold on to his heart.

My world went spinning off its axis the day we were enjoying a peaceful afternoon at Dumbarton Oaks Park. He couldn’t keep his hands and lips off me. When the clouds severed and the rain poured down, the slow, sensual mood eclipsed into my squealing and laughing as we ran, bolting across the gardens hand in hand. Soaking wet with the sky filled with our abounding mirth, he grabbed me, awed delirium in his eyes. “What are you doing?” I had asked breathlessly, but Tripp had been too busy watching the heavens rain down on my face as I had smiled up at him. “Marry me,” his heart spoke. Two simple words. That was all he needed. I knew he was it for me. His were the only hands I wanted on me, so without hesitation, my own heart replied, “Yes!” We never made it out of the rain that day; instead, we ran through the flowers and escaped into the Orangery greenhouse where Tripp pushed me against the vine-covered wall.

He couldn’t rein in his desire, and neither could I. Unfastening his pants in a rush, Tripp hoisted me off the ground, pushed the skirt of my dress up, and yanked my panties to the side. The two of us had made love in a frenzy of raw ecstasy. That was then, and this is now. Spontaneity has been exchanged for schedules. Lost are the days of decisions made purely from our carnal desires when we loved beyond love’s capacity to love—boundlessly and freely. “It’s time to take the next step,” Tripp announces to the crowd, snapping me out of my remembrance. “It’s time to put a true anti-corruption expert in the governor’s mansion.” The crowd’s applause spreads like wildfire, growing louder at each of Tripp’s strategically placed pauses. “I am running for governor, and I intend to win.

You have my word that, as governor, I will work for the citizens of Maryland with a level of intensity, tenacity, transparency, and rigor that this state has never seen before.” Roars erupt when Tripp takes a step back to soak in the peoples’ encouragement. It’s a moment he’s been striving toward for a long time. After ten years of working for the state as one of its leading prosecutors, he won the vote of the people to become the state’s attorney general, but his term is coming to an end, and he has his eyes set on becoming governor. He turns to me, takes my hand in his, and raises them up as a symbol of our united promise to the people. I knew my husband and I would be presented as a package deal. He will be running for governor, and I will, in turn, have to gain the confidence of the people that I can hold my own as First Lady of the state of Maryland. So, I smile to the crowd and take the kiss my husband proffers, a kiss that was discussed and choreographed the night before. It wasn’t a spontaneous gesture of love and devotion, but rather a plotted act of American family values to give the perception that he’s a loyal and faithful husband—a man people can trust. I wanted to express my concern that the kiss would look too staged, but I’ve learned through the years that any opinion of mine that contradicts Tripp’s parents’ was null and void.

So, I keep my behavior proper just as my mother-in-law had pressed, and when Tripp pulls back, I gaze up and give him an adoring smile. And with that, I nail the performance. After the rally, we go back to the house for a little breather before we head to DC where Tripp’s parents are hosting a large celebratory party. While Tripp is on a call with his campaign manager, I slip out of my conservative attire and put on the deep-red dress that I bought for this very occasion. It isn’t my typical color, but this isn’t a typical day. I’m able to take one glance in the full-length mirror before Tripp calls out from downstairs, “We need to go. Are you ready?” “Coming.” After grabbing my clutch, I head downstairs with a little more bounce in my step than usual, excited to show off my new outfit to my husband. I spot Tripp from across the room, wearing the new tie I picked up for him. He’s on his phone and barely glances my way when he grabs the car keys and mouths for me to come on.

Disappointment returns. It’s a feeling I’ve become familiar with, especially lately. Trailing behind him, I slip on my wool coat before we head out. The drive is a little over an hour, but Tripp spends the whole time on the phone. I get it. He just made his big announcement and people are excited, but with how busy everything has been leading up to this point, and knowing that, moving forward, it’s only going to become even more hectic, I was hoping to snag a little of his attention on our drive. Just because I’m irked beneath the surface, I go against my instinct to say something because I know it would wind up coming out accusing or snarky, so I opt to keep a tight lip. This is his moment, after all, not mine. We hit some slight traffic in the city, so when we arrive, we are a bit late. Even though I’m exhausted and the last thing I want to do is to mingle with the influential people of Maryland and DC, I’m ready to dazzle.

Walking hand in hand as we enter the house that’s even grander than ours, we’re immediately greeted by Tripp’s father. “There you are, son,” William says with a clap to Tripp’s shoulder. “And Caroline,” he continues, taking both my hands in his as I grit my teeth in distaste for the name he insists on calling me, as if saying Carly would stain his tongue in low-society tar. “Lovely as always.” As he kisses my cheek, I hold my breath against his robust cologne before pulling back with a mock charmed smile. “Thank you, William.” “Oh, you two finally made it!” Eloise, Tripp’s mother, croons with outstretched arms as she approaches. After a kiss to her son’s cheek, she turns her attention to me. I’m not surprised when she gives me a once-over before hugging me and remarking in distaste, “Red is quite a bold statement.” All I can do is force a smile.

No sense in poking the beast. Of course, she would only view me in red as whorish or cheap when my true intention is to give a fashionable, patriotic nod to the Republican Party, which the Montgomery’s are known to be a part of. William leads Tripp away to introduce him to a few old colleagues from his days when he held political office, leaving me to mingle alone. It doesn’t take long until I’m joined by few wives of my husband’s colleagues. These aren’t friends by choice, but necessity. When I married Tripp, the women welcomed me into their sorority because that was what was required of them. It was what their husbands expected. The evening draws on, and I find myself scanning the room for Tripp, not having seen him in nearly an hour. My smile holds with the women, but on the inside, my frustration with my husband grows. “Please excuse me,” I politely interject.

“It was lovely seeing you all tonight. Thank you for coming, but I should greet some of the other guests.” Wanting a moment to myself, I set down my champagne flute and slowly make my way to the other side of the house. I close the bathroom door softly behind me and take my time freshening up. I spend an extra few minutes behind the heavy mahogany door, checking my makeup and hair, but I know I need to return to the party. As I open the door to the restroom, I expect to hear the soft tunes from the baby grand piano in the living room, but instead, I hear a woman’s laughter from down the hall. It’s odd that anyone aside from family would be in this section of the house, so I head toward the muffled voices. Approaching the cracked door to one of the spare bedrooms, my breath catches in my throat when I peek in to find Tripp with one of his staff. Olivia. His campaign scheduler.

My skin pricks in chills as I find my husband cupping her cheek in his hand. The heaviness of my gut at the sight turns me lightheaded, but I can’t look away. It isn’t that I’m shocked to see Tripp with another woman; I’ve been suspicious of it for a long time. Too many unexplained late nights. Too many cancelled dates. Too many days without a kiss, a touch, a look. I’ve yet to see it with my own two eyes, though, and it isn’t something he openly flaunts like other politicians. Quite frankly, I’m peeved that he would choose an event like this to be so blatantly disrespectful and risk being caught. Rage and jealously boil from beneath the surface, furious at the man Tripp has turned into. A man just like his father.

I bite my lip to keep from snapping like a lunatic as I watch the twenty-something-year-old with red hair and red lips run her hand down the length of my husband’s tie. “Come, dear,” Eloise murmurs from behind, startling me. She places her hands on my shoulders and guides me away from the door, saying, “Boys will be boys.” Stunned that Eloise can be so cavalier about what her son is doing steals the words from my tongue. I can hardly speak. Everyone knows the rumors of her husband’s affairs through the years, but is she really condoning the same behavior from her son? She leads me back to the party, and it’s then that I truly realize I hold no value in this family. “Tonight is a very important night,” Eloise condescends as if I don’t know. “The men have it easy, but it’s us who have to win over the wives of all those powerful men. And you know how women can be.” It’s sickening how dismissive Eloise is being, but at the same time, I’m mortified.

Too mortified to say anything to her. To stand up for myself. The desire to prove that Tripp and I have an unbreakable love has always been stronger than anything else inside me. I’ve always wanted to prove that we are nothing like his parents. But the cracks are exposed, and I’m too embarrassed to acknowledge it. So, I simply smile and follow my mother-in-law across the grand room where caterers in black ties serve the finest of hors d’oeuvres and champagne on polished silver platters, all the while, swallowing down the sheer outrage. It runs deep through my core, causing my palms to tingle with hostility. “Ladies, I’m honored to introduce my son’s wife, Caroline.” Eloise beams in fakery to a group of women. Another stab of irritation at the name Caroline cuts me even though I should be used to it by now.

The women greet me as etiquette would instruct: warm smiles, gracious handshakes, light hugs, and what would appear to most to be genuine compliments that aren’t only for me, but my husband as well. To smile hurts, but I endure the pain through every emotion that’s roiling within me and carry on as if thoughts of what Tripp is doing with that girl on the other side of the house aren’t playing in 3-D inside my head. “Whatever you saw, dear, let it go. You have a job to do,” my mother-in-law whispers into my ear, jabbing the knife deeper into my heart. I stand strong, refusing to let Eloise see me falter. She treats me as if I know nothing about what it means to be a politician’s wife, when, in fact, I know all too well what it takes to swim with the sharks. These women love to present as refined, but behind the doors of their privileged societies and clubs, it’s the gossip and scandal they love to sink their fangs into. Luckily for me, I’ve been able to distance myself for the most part. Ladies’ luncheons are easy to get out of when you have a job, which I do. Years back, William and Eloise pushed me to quit, insisting that the public wanted to see a wife that was devoted to her husband’s career.

At the time, I was able to argue that, as Republicans, we could appeal to the Democratic population if I kept my job at the university. William agreed with the logic, but it still wasn’t good enough for Eloise, who saw my job at the university as trivial. And to be honest, it is trivial. It isn’t a high-paying job, and it certainly isn’t the career I hoped to have, but at least it was mine. This was never my dream. My dream was to open up my own private practice, to build my career from the ground up. I took the initial steps by securing a lease on an office space years back, but the endeavor had proven to be more time-consuming than I anticipated while also supporting my husband’s goals. Tripp’s career has and will always come before anything else. As it stands, I only have two clients, and I pay more for the rent than what they pay for sessions. A big part of me has wanted to go back to school to get my doctorate, but the moment Tripp left his job as a state prosecutor and started his path in politics, it was no longer about us or me—it became all about him.

In turn, my life has become a joke, leaving all my goals in the dust to make sure Tripp could achieve all his. “You’re up early,” Tripp remarks as he walks into the kitchen while I’m screwing the lid onto my coffee mug. “The weather is supposed to turn bad later today, and I have a lot of work I need to get done so I can leave before the snow hits.” “This winter has been brutal.” “Which is why I need to get going.” I grab a few student files and tuck them into my bag. “Not so fast,” he says, pulling me in by the waist. “You looked amazing last night.” Memories of that redhead swarm, and I have to temper my fury so I don’t snap at him. I want to ask why he couldn’t have expressed this compliment to me last night and why he felt it necessary to sneak alone time with that girl instead of me.

“So, you liked the red?” I pretend to flirt. It’s pathetic, really. My having to tuck my tail between my legs for the tiny bit of hope that my husband will give me the attention I’m so desperate for. “Loved it.” Tripp grips my hips tighter and kisses me. I want to get lost in the kiss the way I used to, but I can’t. All I can feel is tension, all I can see is him with her. Wanting so badly to erase the images that are taunting me, I push myself into him in an attempt to spur even a shred of passion. “Whoa, don’t get too worked up,” he lightly jokes as he pulls back. “What’d you put in your coffee?” Sometimes he makes me feel so stupid.

My response is curt, “Nothing. Just forget it.” “What’s wrong now?” I gather my belongings and dodge the fight that’s brewing by avoiding the true issue at hand. “Lack of sleep. I’m just exhausted and running late.” “Okay. Be careful driving.” Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I barely peck Tripp on the cheek. “Will I see you when I get off work?” “I have a four o’clock meeting with Bradford.” “In the city?” “Yes.

Dad wanted to come, so I agreed to meet them there.” “Well, try not to stay too late. The snow is forecasted to start around four.” With a fleeting kiss, I’m out the door and on my way to Georgetown. I’m able to suppress my irritation, but it always has a way of quietly brewing inside me. The once vibrant girl who lived on life’s euphoria is now a thirty-nine-year-old who can only find diminishing glimpses of the rapture that once was. “Good morning, Mrs. Montgomery. I watched your husband’s speech on TV yesterday. For an old guy, he’s kinda hot,” Jenny says when I walk into the waiting room of my office.

Jenny is a freshman who answers the phones and schedules appointments through the university’s work-study program. “Old? Really, Jenny?” I tease the perky nineteen-year-old.

.

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