"You wanted to see me, Senator?" She pokes her head through Vincent's open door.
"Nadine! Just the woman I needed. Come in," he says jovially.
She settles on a chair in front of his desk, smoothing down her skirt. "What can I do for you?"
"I wanted to ask you about Mike B. How he's fitting in, his quality of work, all of that. I know that you spend the most time with him." Vincent spreads his hands wide, and smiles even wider. "So, tell me."
"Well," she begins, considering, "He does good work. He's sharp, informed, well-prepped. We work well together. He's good at what he does," she says, and she can admit that freely.
"And he can keep up with you?" Vincent asks, raising a disbelieving eyebrow. His eyes twinkle.
She quirks a little smile. "Eventually we were going to find someone who could." It makes him chuckle.
It's something of a running joke between them. When he'd hired her, she'd been so green, so hungry, and so eager to prove herself. She clocked more hours, wrote more briefs, and read more bills than anyone else could even fathom. She blew the rest of them out of the water, and it didn't take long for Marsh to be impressed by her. He still is. Nothing's changed, except that now she's better at it.
She's feeling a little daring, so she tilts her head and asks, "Did someone recruit him for you?" And when he gives her a questioning look she elaborates, "He's not the kind of person you usually like, is all."
Vincent only smiles. "He isn't, is he? Certainly not like you."
She's not sure what he means by that, but yes - she supposes that she and Mike are quite different people.
"Arabelle thought I should take him on," he reveals, and it confirms everything Nadine had predicted in the beginning.
"I see." She nods, then shrugs indifferently. "Well, he was a good choice."
"As long as you like him." His eyes are still twinkling.
"He's good at what he does."
"And you're still happy, Nadine? With the work, the office, with me?"
He looks at her for a long time, then smiles again. "Good. If you're happy, then I'm happy. I'll let you get back to work."
Nadine leaves his office, her mind already running through the rest of the tasks that need to get done today. She runs into Mike in the hallway. He's on his way to the break room, an empty coffee mug in one hand, but she links her arm through his to catch him and turn him around, and walks him to her own office instead. "Not so fast, Barnow. I've been looking for you all morning. I need you to review the healthcare bill again. Mikulski's aide faxed it over last night…"
The months blow by. Senate elections get closer and closer, and the accompanying deluge of campaign work threatens to drown them all. By the time November rolls around, Nadine could hardly care whether or not Vincent gets to keep his seat; she just wants this chaos to cease.
On the night of, the whole staff is jammed inside Vincent's office to watch the returns roll in on the local news channel. He likes to do it this way; likes the camaraderie of it.
Nadine is sitting at Vincent's desk. The Senator stands behind her, gripping the backrest of the chair with tense hands. He'd insisted that she sit in his seat - at this point, she'd been driving the campaign scene for nearly forty hard and relentless hours, and he had wanted her to just sit down and relax for a second. "There's nothing more we can do but wait", he'd said. His words, not hers. She knows that there is always something more that can be done - he just doesn't want her to do them.
Mike stands next to her, leaning up against the desk. The rest of the staff crowd around the coffee table in the corner, manning the phones, while the interns run in and out, tracking coverage on different channels out in the bullpen and reporting back periodically.
The channel goes on a brief commercial break and Nadine groans. The waiting always kills her.
"Hanging in there, Nadine?" Vincent asks behind her. She nods wordlessly. "They're gonna call it any minute now."
Mike twists to look at her. "I'm telling you, he's keeping his seat," he insists, for what is perhaps the tenth time today. "You're still gonna have a job in the morning." He glances at Vincent for a second, then looks back at her. "And even if we lose, I'm sure he'll write you a very nice letter of recommendation."
Nadine glares up at him. As if her investment in this election is about job security. He must be confusing her for himself.
Vincent only chuckles, going along with it. "You'll stay employed in this town if it's the last thing I do, Nadine," he promises.
"See." Mike says.
"If you two keep talking about us losing, I'm going to -" she stops mid-sentence, because election coverage has resumed on the screen.
"Shut it, chuckleheads!" Mike hollers at the rest of the staff. "They're about to call it."
The office falls silent, everyone seeming to hold their breath.
"And Illinois Senator Vincent Marsh will be serving another term."
Everyone erupts into cheers.
Vincent rolls her seat back and Nadine leaps up, turning around. "Congratulations!" She embraces him. Her grin is irrepressible. She turns to Mike and hugs him too.
Mike plants a kiss on her cheek and hugs her back just as tight. He's relieved. For all his cavalierism about the election, she knows he was at least a little worried - if nothing else, his reaction now gives it away.
The interns come flooding in, exuberant smiles on their faces. Their arms are full; they're carrying glasses, champagne bottles, shot glasses, an assortment of liquor. The euphoria in the room is contagious.
Nadine hears the pop of several corks at once, followed by another wave of cheers, and suddenly an overflowing flute of champagne is thrust into her hands. She is folded into the arms of several staffers and interns as filled glasses get passed around the room, and in between their over-zealous hugs she downs her champagne as fast as she can manage for fear of more of it ending up on the floor instead of in her mouth. She's sure that Vincent wants to make a toast before they all drink, but screw it - she deserves this one.
She gets her glass topped off again as everyone begins to calm down. Vincent starts to speak.
Nadine moves in between bodies until she finds Mike. He's standing in the back, and holds a near-empty glass in his hand. He's been preemptively sipping, too. She stands next to him.
"Next stop, the Presidential Cabinet," he muses quietly, so that only she can hear.
"Always thinking big picture, huh?"
"You know you want it, too."
Nadine doesn't answer him, but she doesn't have to. She believes in Vincent. He has so much more to offer than can be proved in a Senator's office, and she's been waiting for him to decide to make a vertical move. And yes, she'll admit it - she wants to head a bigger staff, be a part of larger diplomacy, and Mike knows it.
She doesn't say any of that. Instead she murmurs, "Vincent is a good man. He'd deserve it."
Everyone is raising their glasses, repeating whatever it is the Senator has just toasted. She hasn't been listening but she raises her glass too, as does Mike.
He turns to her. "So would you," he replies. He clinks his glass to hers.