Bill had been surprised when she saw her name on the visitors list. Lately, she would usually visit Hillary as she became more his wife’s friend and confidant, even though he had met her first, years ago.
He heard the door open and he got up from his chair.
“Susan” Bill exclaimed smiling and enfolded the woman in a big bear hug. “It’s good to see you. How is everything? How is the family?” He asked while letting her go.
“Hi Bill. The family is great.”
They were in his private office where he could have some quiet and also follow the senate trial on his small TV. He knew that he should avoid it, that it was only going to bring him pain, but sometimes curiosity got the best of him.
They both awkwardly stood in front of it before Bill switched it off and they sat down.
Susan Thomases, who had been his consultant in his 1992 campaign beside other things, sighed.
Something about her expression told Bill that this wasn’t just a friendly social call.
“When I told you that if you ever had extramarital sex during the campaign I was going to leave and take everyone with me… What were my exact words?” She pondered. “If you’re stupid enough to blow this whole Presidential thing over your dick. And if that turns out to be true, buddy, I’m going home, and I’m taking people with me. If you don’t have enough self-control to keep yourself straight, then it’s just dumb.” She paused. “I guess I had to be more specific on the time limit.” She joked.
Bill crossed his arms and pulled himself up defensively. “It’s not as simple as they make it sound.”
She was not the first one. Susan was just one of their many friends who told him off just before showing him support in public. Some were still intimidated by the office he occupied but others not and talked to him straight and didn’t hide the anger or disappointment towards him.
“I know. Like I know you will get through this too.” It had never occurred to her otherwise. She had never been worried about his ability to weather anything, not after everything he had to go through as a child. So, she could see him using the devices he developed for himself to keep himself on track, focused.
“Do you remember when you told me you had a thing for Hillary?”
Bill chuckled. “You told me she was too good for me.” He smiled nostalgically. “And you were right.”
“That you would have been lucky if she talked to you and not to get your hopes up.” She said, “Who would have thought that she would have been the one crazy about you?”
“It goes both ways.” Bill immediately told her. “I’m crazy about her too. You know that.”
“Hillary called me the other day. She told me about her intentions of running. Harold is meeting with her tomorrow to talk about polls and numbers.”
He nodded. “I know.” He was proud that she was considering it. She would make a great Senator.
“I told her it was a bad idea. They are going to attack her. She’s going to take the heat for your mistakes.”
Bill winced. Of course, he also knew that. There was that guilt again.
“I love you like a little brother, but sometimes I think how different Hillary’s life would have been if she hadn’t met you. The possibilities…Do you love her?”
Bill was taken aback by the question. “Of course! With all my heart.”
Susan knew she had to tell him the next part even if it was going to hurt him. “Then you should leave her.”
Bill felt like he had been punched. “What?” he just managed to whisper.
“If you love her you should let her go. Let her run and have the future she deserves without you as a burden.”
Bill got up, upset. “Look, you know how Hillary and I work. We’re a team, we always have been that. Yes, she will be attacked but we will get through it together.”
Susan got up too and looked down before saying “I know you are bonded together. And you can stay with her as her best friend, but not as her husband. Women will not understand why she stayed.”
Bill gritted his teeth as he tried not to lose his temper. “Susan, I understand you mean well, and I’ve always valued your counsel, but only one person can make decisions about our marriage and if she no longer wants to be married to me and that’s Hillary.”
“She’s never going to do it. It has to be you.”
“And I won’t do it. I love her. I love our family and live together. And I’m working very hard to be a better man for her, for us and to deserve her forgiveness.”
She shook her. “It isn’t easy telling you this. I love both of you and care for you, but at the end you will see that I’m right.” She walked towards the door. “Think about it.” Were her parting words before leaving his office.
Bill thought about her words during the rest of the day. His insecurities and doubts resurfaced again during the rare evening they were both at home. They were watching TV and Hillary noticed that he was unusually quiet, and she asked if he was okay and he automatically nodded reassuring her that he was. But it was farther from the truth.
Later that evening, as they were laying in their bed, the one he had been invited to again just a couple of months before, Bill couldn’t fall asleep. His thoughts took him to another bed, 26 years back in time, in Massachusetts.
Bill had come to visit Hillary during the Thanksgiving break. They had spent the day visiting Boston, talking and walking through the city just like their first date in Yale. They talked about everything and anything and Bill was reminded once again why he was so in awe of her and why he loved her so much.
Once they arrived back at her place, they went straight to the bedroom, to catch up with all the months they had spent apart. They had gone from living together and going to sleep and waking up next to each other, to talking on the phone every other day. They needed human contact.
The woman was still laying in his arms, her head on his chest after they had made love. He kissed the top of head and tightened his hold.
“I’ve missed you so much.” He whispered.
She smiled. “Me too.” She snuggled her face in his chest.
“Everything's better when you’re around.” He told her sincerely.
“But how much of that is you missing having regular sex more?” She smugly asked.
He chuckled. “There’s that too.” He lightly tickled her side. “And are you telling me you don’t?”
They stayed in silence for a while. They both knew they had been putting off the hard conversation they needed to have.
“You know we’re still avoiding talking about our situation and what it means for our future.” Bill broke the silence.
She sighed. “I know.”
“We can’t continue this long-distance thing forever.” He wasn’t saying anything she didn’t know already.
She sat up and put a hand over her blanket, so it wouldn’t fall and cover her breast. “Do you want to see other people?”
“No. You are the only woman I love and want to be with. Do you want to see other people?” He gulped, afraid of her answer.
“No, of course not.”
“If I can’t recruit a Democratic candidate to run for the Congress seat, I was thinking of entering the race myself.”
“You’re not telling something I hadn’t figured out already.” She chuckled. She knew him too well.
“I really want you to marry me, but you shouldn't do it.”
Hillary smiled at him and looked at him wondering where he was going with that.
“That’s not a very good sales pitch.”
“I know that nothing in my background indicates I could be part of a stable marriage and that’s why you have reservations…”
“It’s not that.” She reassured him
“Then what is it?”
“You’ve got everything figured out and even if you want to try a different path you’re not afraid of jumping right into it, while I need time to consider and analyze everything. You’re a force of nature and I’m… not”
“Yes, you are. You are the most incredible person I’ve ever met. I know most of the young Democrats our age who want to go into politics, they mean well, and they speak well, but none of them is as good as you are at actually doing things to make positive changes in people's lives.” He sang her praises. “You should go home to Illinois or move to New York and look for a chance to run for office.”
She laughed out loud. “Are you out of your mind? Nobody would ever vote for me.”
“I would. In a heartbeat.” He leaned down to kiss her. “So, it’s still a no in getting married?”
She gave him a sad little smile. “Not yet. I love you so much William Jefferson Clinton and when I get married it’s going to be for life and I don’t want any doubt in my mind.”
“Okay. I’ll wait.” He understood her reasons. “Just don’t turn me into a Vladimir or Estragon”
She laughed. “What?” wondering where his brilliant mind was taking her this time.
“You know? Waiting for a Godot that’s never going to come.”
She gave him a soft smile. “I won’t.”
“But you’re still coming to visit me in Arkansans for New Year’s Eve?”
“Of course. I’ll be counting the days.”
And the rest as they say was history. She then followed him to Arkansas after Nixon resigned and fortunately she had loved her life there. He meant what he had told her that night. She had a big brain, a good heart, wonderful organizational and political skills. She could have become anything she ever wanted. He had loved her so much to want her both closer to him but also what was best for her. And it seemed he hadn’t been that to her. All the hurt he had caused her during their marriage. He had been selfish at the time. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
His conviction remained throughout the day. Later that afternoon, the verdict from the Senate trial arrived.
After months of suffering and having his dirty laundry plastered all over the news, the result was anticlimactic. He heard some cheers from some offices. Some young staff members were too naïve to understand that the verdict wasn’t a win. His senior staff knew better. He was feeling anything but victorious. Yes, he did the right thing fighting the impeachment until the very end. Not having succumbed to the Republicans’ dirty games would be his badge of honor, but at what cost?
With his staff, he quickly worked on a small speech to deliver to the press. Hillary was in her meeting with Harold Ickes talking about the perspective of a run for Senate, so she was too busy to help him with the draft, but he had been hoping for at least a phone call.
And so, in the rose garden he again delivered his apologies, hoping that they were going to be the last he would deliver for a long time, at least to the public.
As he was leaving, a reporter asked him a question “In your heart, sir, can you forgive and forget?”
He had been ignoring all the questions shouted at him during these brief statements, but this one he felt compelled to answer. He sighed and tried to think of the right words as he turned again towards the podium.
“I believe any person who asks for forgiveness” he paused. “has to be prepared to give it.”
He walked away, head down. He hoped that Hillary would find it in her heart to forgive him for what he was about to do.
A couple of hours later, Bill entered the residence. Hillary was in the Yellow Room looking at everything Ickes had left her to consider: statistics; polls; maps…
“Hey.” He said from the threshold.
Hillary looked up, startled. “Hey.”
He fully walked inside the room and sat on a chair opposite hers. “How was your meeting?”
She chuckled. “He definitely left me with a lot to think about. If I decide to do this there’s a lot to consider: we would need to find a house in New York State and we haven’t really talked about our future when we’re out of here. I’ve never run for office myself, they will see me as an outsider; a woman has never won statewide in New York State.”
Bill started looking at the papers and notes while she continued talking. Something caught his eyes. He recognized Ickes’s handwriting.
Hillary saw where his eyes had landed and stopped. She sighed. Harold hadn’t beaten around the bushes and gave her the hard and cold reality of what she had to go through if she embarked on this journey and that meant also receiving attacks because of her husband’s infidelity and lies.
“The Bill factor.” He read with a chuckle and a hint of sadness.
“Well, for a lot of your campaigns your team had to deal with the Hillary factor.” She tried to ease into the conversation.
“Somehow I don’t think you’ve discussed changing my surname or the color of my hair.” He knew exactly what they had talked about. The thing that still had their marriage in balance.
She smiled. “I don’t know… we might have to put a poll out there and see what people think about you dying your hair.” She joked while quickly running her fingers through his hair.
“What? Like Bob Doyle?” He joked.
Hillary laughed. She then saw his expression change, bend his head down and slowly make space between them.
“People, especially women, will ask why you stayed with me. Why did you stand next to me when I hurt you the most? They will not understand.”
“So we will make them.”
He shook his head. “I will be a liability.”
“What are you talking about? Your approval ratings are above 60.”
“Not me as a President but as your husband.” He told her. Here came the hard part, but as much as it hurt him, it was for her own good. “That’s why I think you should do this without me.”
Hillary looked at him shocked, like she had trouble registering his words. “What?” The word forcefully came out of her mouth. They’ve always been a team, for anything decided to do. She’s been next to him for all his campaigns, she couldn’t believe it that he wasn’t going to be there for hers. That wasn’t him. “You don’t want to campaign with me?” She asked, confused.
“I… I mean…” He couldn’t get the words out.
Hillary finally understood what he meant and suddenly got up, the chair scratching the floor. “Are you talking about separation?” She felt like he had punched her in the gut again, just like last August.
“People would be more understanding if you just left me.” At that point he wasn’t sure if he was trying to convince her or himself.
“Oh no,” She waved a finger at him angrily. “Let’s be clear. You are the one talking about leaving, not me.” She suddenly stopped her pacing, one thought jumping in her mind. “Are you leaving me now, so it wouldn’t look so bad when you go back to her after your presidency?” They both knew who was the her she was referring to.
Bill jumped on his feet too. “What are you talking about?”
“You told me that she lied about it, that you have never told her anything that would imply you were going to leave me for her after the Presidency. Did you lie to me about that too?”
“What? Honey, no.” He said desperately. “I never loved her or been in love with her. I told you that and I would never lie to you about something like this.”
“Well, according to her you said a lot of things that would suggest otherwise.”
“She lied.” He shouted.
“You lied to me for months, something we said we would never do to each other, so why should I believe you now?”
“I’m so sorry, darling. You have to believe me.” Tears started falling from his eyes.
“Then why are you talking about divorce? We’ve been going through months of painful counseling, for what? For you to give up halfway?” Hillary was trying not to show her tears, even though inside she was breaking.
“I’m doing this for you.”
“Bullshit!” She snapped. “These are all excuses. All I see is that I stayed next to you throughout the whole impeachment process and now that it’s over you don’t me anymore.”
She stormed out of the room. Bill collapsed on the couch, sobbing.
Why did he have the feeling that once again he committed the biggest mistake of his life?
The next morning, the staff was cleaning the residence.
“I thought you said that things were better between the President and the First Lady? That you even caught them making out the other week?” One of the White House housekeepers told an usher, as they were finishing dusting.
“Then why is the President back to sleeping on the couch?” She asked curiously. Someone had obviously tried to hide the evidence, but she recognized the signs from when the President had slept there for months.
“I guess it’s a work in progress.” The older man shrugged. He didn’t really like gossiping with the staff about the First Family. They deserved the little privacy they could manage.
“Well, if it had been me, he would be lucky to still have all his limbs intact. The things that poor woman has to endure because of him. And let’s not forget about that sweet little girl, Chelsea. She’s probably getting teased a lot at school and has people saying horrible things about her parents.” She continued while cleaning. “I still don’t get it. I guess it’s one thing to cheat if you are in an unhappy marriage, but to love your wife and still do all those things behind her back, it means you’re just hurting her for nothing.”
And they walked away towards another room, unaware that Bill was standing just behind a door and heard everything. The Impeachment might be over, but the gossip would go on and his name would be forever associated with sex scandal. He didn’t only humiliate his wife and family, he had ruined his legacy.
Bill sat down on the couch that served as his bed. After Hillary had stormed off, he hadn’t seen her around, wondering if she was even in the building. He quietly, and sneaky like a thief, got his things from the bedroom and made his bed again, knowing he was probably not going to be welcomed again in the bed anytime soon. Hillary had once asked him why he had chosen the couch in the living room adjacent to the master room, instead of one of the guests’ bedrooms. He told her that somehow, he still wanted to be close to her and that a guest room would make their separation more definitive. Something that he hadn’t told her was that he thought he deserved the physical pain from the back aches that came from sleeping on the couch. He had spent many evenings alone in that room, reading scriptures, thinking and reflecting about the counseling he had received from his pastors and missing his wife.
This loneliness wasn’t new for him. In his younger days he would spend a lot of time alone, mostly reading. He had always appeared as a gregarious person, but he had always kept people at a distance, finding solace in his solitude. Feeling alone while surrounded by people. But all that loneliness stopped when he met and fell in love with Hillary. Without her, what was going to happen to him?
“Do you think people can change?” Bill asked.
In the room he had been joined by his therapist. The man was already scheduled to be there since it would have been the day dedicated for their counseling. It was ironic that he had blown up all the work they had done in the last six months, the day before a visit.
The counselor chuckled. “Well, my profession is based on the premises that people can change and become a better version of themselves with help, so yes.” He could see that the man in front of him was troubled. “What made you ask?”
“Wondering if I’ll ever stop with my self-destructive behavior.” Bill mused.
“Yesterday I told Hillary we should separate.” It hurt saying the words out loud again.
The man looked at the President in shock. He hadn’t been expecting that, not after all he had done to try and make amends and be worthy of his wife’s forgiveness. After all the hours he had spent with them, he could really see that the President and First Lady were meant for each other, despite the husband’s shortcomings.
“What made you say that?” He was there to guide him, not to judge.
“All these years, since the moment I’ve met her, people have been telling me that she was too good for me. And they were right. She was the most extraordinary human being I had ever met and I realized I would never meet anyone like her. I was just a selfish son of bitch. I put myself above her. Part of me knew I would never change, that I was going to hurt her along the way, but I loved her so much and I just wanted to be with her.”
“I wanted to be with you too.” Someone whispered.
Both men jumped in their seats. They had been so focused on Bill’s words that they hadn’t heard Hillary come in. She was standing by the door, tears in her eyes after hearing Bill’s confession.
“I didn’t think you were going to show up.” Bill said, shocked to see her there.
“After all these years, I know when there’s something more behind your words. I just needed the initial anger to dissipate before I could really understand what was going on.”
Bill gave her a small sad smile. She never missed much.
She sat down on the couch, leaving a place between them.
“I’m not going to ask you who it was that finally convinced you to act on your fears.” She said. She already knew who it had been. It hadn’t been difficult to check the visitors and phone logs.
Bill shook his head. “It wasn’t just one person. I don’t want to be selfish anymore. I was in 1974 when I should have let you go, instead of having you come to Arkansas to be with me. Now, there’s a new possibility for you. Imagine what you could accomplish as Senator of New York? You could even run for president yourself in a few years. And I’m not going to be the one to hold you back anymore. You’ve always been the better person between the two of us, and now it’s your time to shine.”
“You know, if you think that I care more about that than saving our marriage and growing old with the man I love, then you don’t know me at all.” Hillary said in an annoyed tone.
“No, Bill. You listen to me. We promised each other that we would seriously consider a divorce only if we stopped loving each other or if we were no longer happy in the marriage. We said we were going to give us another chance, to get our relationship back on track and I thought we were making great progress…”
“We are…” Bill interrupted her.
“Then why are you even considering it? I’m not going to let anyone dictate how I should live my life. I made the decision to fight for us because it was what was best for me and our family, I’m not going to leave you just because it would look good. And anyway, when have we ever done anything just because it was the easy way or backed off from a fight?”
“I don’t want you to regret it years from now. What if I mess up again and not only would I hurt you and abuse your trust again, but you would have lost the election because of me? And I don’t want you to make that sacrifice.”
“Bill, we can’t base our decisions on ifs.”
“She’s right Bill.” The counselor added.
“You don’t think I was scared of deciding to give us another chance? That I didn’t think ‘what if’? But I decided to ignore my fears, not letting them control me.”
Bill sighed. “I love you and I just hate myself for putting you through this.”
“I know” Tears rolled down her cheeks as she put a hand on top of his.
Bill used his courage to put his arms around her, hoping she wouldn’t reject his embrace. Hillary melted in his arms and he closed his eyes, sighing in relief. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too.” She whispered against his chest.
“You could do with someone so much better than me”
“Oh, I know.” She joked and gave him a teasing smile.
“And I will learn how to love you better.” He promised her.
“Bill, we had more good days than bad ones, more joys than sorrows. I just want you to get better, not only for me but also for you. I’m not perfect either. I will work on myself too.”
After their session was over, where they put everything on the table again and Bill was finally convinced to leave the absurd idea of a divorce behind them, Bill and Hillary started doing what they always did best: work together.
They began strategizing what to do for her to win the Senate seat and over the following months they healed their friendship, partnership and marriage.