It was true that marriage had been more complex and complicated than he had anticipated, and he had not expected it to be easy by any means. They were not his parents. Diane had her own, robustly pursued, career. Kurt’s mother had been a homemaker for most of his life. Navigating marriage with a wife, a partner, who demanded equality in every aspect, who demanded respect for her beliefs while disparaging his, had its challenges.
None of that mattered. Not really. On paper, Diane was utterly enraging. Self-opinionated. Hypocritical. Holding him to far higher standards than she held herself. Rude. On paper they should have hated each other. On paper they should have barely been able to exist in the same country, let alone the same home. The same bed.
In reality, he adored her. He was somewhat familiar with the Madonna/Whore idea. He didn’t have any time for it. He knew that Diane wasn’t some kind of perfect person. He didn’t expect her to be. Honestly, she seemed to find it much harder to deal with human weakness than he did. As much as her infidelity hurt, and it hurt, he was far quicker to take a deep breath, and forgive her, that she had been to forgive him. He loved Diane, he would be the first to admit it, despite such an example of openness flying in the face of everything he had ever been told about how men should act. He loved her but he didn’t expect perfection from her. She had expected perfection, or something like it, from him. She had thought that loneliness would have no effect on him. She assumed that he was not subject to the same temptations and weakness as everyone else.
It had been difficult. He would admit, grudgingly, that perhaps their relationship could have proceeded more smoothly. He would admit, honestly, that his actions, his weakness, had almost fatally damaged her trust in him.
That was why this was important. Kurt did not generally put a great deal of stock in “big gestures” and he did not believe that Diane did either. She had asked him to marry her in an almost off-hand manner. It had taken him aback. It didn’t fit any of the “norms” of relationships, of marriage, that he expected. When they did marry it was a private ceremony. Almost casual. It had suited her. He had accepted it. He hadn’t wanted a large ceremony, but it hadn’t been what he would have chosen. Nonetheless, it was what Diane wanted, so he nodded, and pushed aside his own feelings on the matter.
He was good at that.
This was a big gesture. It had taken a lot of work. He had to be nice to his cousin, which frankly did not come naturally. Kurt was not a man designed by nature for wheedling and negotiating. He did not enjoy going cap in hand to anyone, let alone a man who put his career far ahead of his beliefs. Kurt did not agree with Kent’s politics or many of his beliefs, but he would’ve had much more respect for him if Kent had at least stuck to them when it was important.
Diane looked beautiful. She generally did. Kurt smiled slightly and she raised her eyebrows.
‘Are you going to tell me that I’m overdressed?’ she asked.
‘If you’re taking me bowling in an evening dress, I’m going to be annoyed.’
Kurt took out his bow tie. ‘We're not going bowling.’
‘Good.’ Diane took the tie from his unresisting hand and put it around his collar. ‘Those bowling shoes would clash dreadfully with my dress.’
He just smiled at her. A long time ago he’d dated women who would begin by finding his taciturn nature an alluring challenge but rapidly decide it was just challenging. Diane had never seemed to mind. He wondered if she would enjoy teasing him half as much if he actually responded to it with more than a smile or a few words.
‘I’ve put on my good lingerie,’ she said, as they headed out to the car. ‘I hope this is going to be worth it.’
‘Are you going on dance on tables?’ he asked.
She put her hand on her hip. ‘Only if you ask me very nicely.’
He’d hired a limousine with a driver to take them. Diane gave him a playful look as they got in.
‘Are we going to prom?’ she asked.
‘If we’re going to prom you should have brought a corsage,’ she suggested. ‘And afterwards you could pop my cherry.’
He smiled at that. ‘A little late for that.’
‘How dare you,’ she demanded, eyes shining. ‘I’ll have you know that I was a sweet and demure girl all through high school.’
Kurt thought about it. ‘Neither sweet nor demure are synonyms for virgin.’
She laughed. He loved her laugh. A low and dirty chuckle.
‘You’d be surprised how many people assume they are. Or maybe not.’ She looked out of the window. ‘D.C. is always too hot.’
‘You’re a Chicago girl,’ he suggested.
‘I suppose so.’ She smiled at him. ‘Thank you for coming with me. I’m sure that legal conferences can’t exactly be thrilling.’
‘I wasn’t the one in the sessions,’ he said mildly.
‘What did you do?’ she asked. ‘Please tell me that you wandered in and out of the gift shops looking at the mountains of cheap tchotchkes.’
Kurt chuckled. ‘I walked around. Met with Kent. Had lunch. Went to Arlington.’
Diane crossed her legs. ‘That’s very… wait, who’s Kent?’
She raised her perfectly manicured eyebrows. ‘You have a cousin?’
Kurt nodded. ‘His name is Kent.’
‘Oh. Have you mentioned him before?’
‘We’re not close.’ Kurt leaned forward and kissed her softly. ‘You’re more interesting than anything I could say about him.’
She smiled and it lit up her eyes. ‘A suspicious person might think you were trying to distract me.’
‘What do you think?’
She patted the car seat. ‘I think you should come over here and we’ll pass the time until we get to this surprise of yours.’
She was more than a little surprised to be ushered into the building by armed men. Fundraisers were nothing new. She’d been to plenty in her time both for politicians and for charities. There was a point, when serious money was at play, that it was difficult to tell the difference between them. She rarely went to them with Kurt. Never political fundraisers. It would have meant one of them being stuck in a room with hundred of people actively working against something they believed in. They would do it for each other if asked but then neither of them was selfish enough to ask.
There were large pictures of Selina Meyer everywhere. Oh, well that was something different. Diane had never been to a presidential fundraiser before. That explained the security. She wondered if it would mean a better grade of food.
‘Are we likely to see Meyer?’ she whispered to Kurt.
He gave her an odd look. ‘Yes.’
‘I don’t mean giving a speech,’ she said, playfully batting his arm with her purse. ‘I mean closer than that. Walking around the hall or whatever.’
Diane smiled slightly. Meyer certainly had her faults, god knew, but she was the first female president. That was huge. By all accounts she took no shit from anyone. While obviously Diane didn’t approve of employers hurling ornaments at their staff, there was nonetheless something thrilling about a woman president reaming generals and congressmen.
‘Good.’ She looked around as Kurt checked a seating plan. She wondered how much he’d paid for this. It had to be expensive – separating the guests from their money was the point, at least it was from Meyer’s point of view. She couldn’t imagine that Kurt was thrilled at helping her re-election chances even for Diane’s sake.
‘Mr McVeigh and Ms Lockhart?’
They turned. A woman pursed her lips slightly as she regarded them. The tag on her White House ID said, “Sue Wilson.”
‘Yes,’ Kurt said.
She nodded. ‘Please follow me.’
Diane flashed Kurt a look. ‘Are we being thrown out?’
‘Mr Davison was concerned that Mr McVeigh might be uncomfortable if forced to mingle for too long,’ Sue said.
Kurt grunted. Diane couldn’t tell if it was an acknowledgment or a denial. She took Kurt’s arm.
‘Who’s Mr Davison?’ she asked.
Sue raised an eyebrow. ‘Mr Davison is President Meyer’s senior strategist. Widely considered to be her most valued aide.’
‘Goodness,’ Diane said, thinking that she couldn’t possibly give this information the weight and import Sue thought it deserved without several hours run up.
‘My cousin,’ Kurt said. ‘Kent.’
‘Oh!’ Diane grinned at him. ‘This is why you met him earlier today.’
Kurt shrugged. ‘Partly.’
Sue clasped her hands together. ‘This is your table. Mr Davison and myself will join you shortly.’ She stalked away without waiting for answer.
Diane watched her go. ‘Does that mean that she and your cousin are together?’
Kurt scratched his temple. ‘Could be.’ He held a chair out for her.
‘How old is he? She seems rather young to be dating a contemporary of yours.’ She crossed her legs. ‘Although he does work in politics. They all seem to be on their third trophy wife by the time they’re forty.’
‘Not the third trophy wife.’ Kurt sat down. ‘Not Kent's style.’
Diane propped her chin on her fist. ‘So, you do know him at least a little then.’
‘A little,’ he admitted.
‘Is he anything like you?’
He gave it some thought. ‘No. Not at all.’
Sue made him retie his bowtie. She regarded him critically. It had bothered him once: that critical gaze. She never unwavered in her demands that he always operate at his highest capability at all times. There was no slacking. Nothing abandoned because he couldn’t be bothered to complete it. That was not to say that she didn’t understand about bad days. That she had no understanding of the tiredness that sometimes crept up on a person when they least expected it. She accepted that there were days that he needed to be supported, protected, and taken care of.
‘Very handsome,’ she said.
‘I hope I meet your approval,’ he said.
She raised an eyebrow. ‘You always meet my approval.’
She smoothed his jacket. ‘Always since we resumed dating.’
‘I don’t consider any time before that to be meaningful,’ Sue said.
‘You look beautiful,’ Kent said.
She kissed his cheek. ‘That is accurate but unnecessary.’ She knew as she walked to the door that he was frowning slightly. ‘What?’
‘How is telling you that you look beautiful ever unnecessary?’
Sue pursed her lips. ‘Because I know that you consider me beautiful and, additionally, I already plan to have sex with you tonight.’
He grinned as he strolled towards her. ‘Are you saying that it’s unnecessary in future for me to tell you that you look beautiful?’
‘Certainly not.’ She flicked back her hair. ‘I’m sure that you derive great reassurance from saying it.’
He chuckled. ‘You forgot the part about getting you into bed.’
‘Please. When I want to have sex with you, I don’t need some paltry compliment to give me an excuse to admit it,’ she said. ‘And when I don’t want to have sex with you then telling me I’m beautiful probably wouldn’t work.’
‘Probably?’ Kent asked.
Sue opened the door. ‘It’s a pure assumption based on logic and previous experience,’ she said. ‘Given that it has never arisen before.’
He cocked his head. ‘Did you just say that you’ve never not wanted to have sex with me?’
She narrowed her eyes. ‘Shut up. We need to go eat dinner with your fascist cousin.’
Kent followed her out of the room. ‘Fascist is rather harsh.’
‘You said that he’s a Republican,’ Sue pointed out. ‘And a supporter of police rights.’
‘Well, yes, that is true,’ Kent admitted. ‘But he’s more a misguided believer in the “rugged individualist” ethos that has been sold to men as being an intrinsic part of manhood.’
Sue pursed her lips. ‘Not fascist. Merely a selfish idiot. Got it.’
Kent followed her out. ‘That’s still quite… judgmental,’ he said mildly.
‘Good. All ideas and opinions should be judged and many of them should be mocked relentlessly.’
Kent groaned. ‘Sue, please don’t mock Kurt. He’s not a bad person. He’s only here for Diane. He should get some credit for supporting her despite their political views being radically different.’
‘I will never understand that,’ she said. ‘He believes that abortion is murder, yes?’
Kent shrugged. ‘As arguments go, yoking together scientific inaccuracy and hysteria is surprisingly effective.’
‘He thinks it’s murder,' Sue said. ‘He should be repulsed by anyone who not only feels that abortion is acceptable but is willing to fight for a woman’s right to do it.’
Kent held the door open for her. ‘Perhaps Kurt is simply pragmatic.’
She raised an eyebrow. ‘Would you fall in love with someone who thought that shooting cats for sport was not only acceptable but would fight for their “right” to do it?’
Kent opened and closed his mouth. ‘That’s hardly the same thing!’
‘Unless of course he doesn’t really believe that abortion is murder and instead wishes to outlaw abortion as a way of imposing control on women and women’s sexuality.’
Kent put his hand on his hip. ‘Where is all this coming from?’
She was quiet for a moment. ‘I’m pregnant of course.’
He opened and closed his mouth. ‘Oh.’
She knew Kurt’s cousin immediately. Oh, he carried himself differently, and there were some small cosmetic differences – a neat beard instead of a moustache, more silver than grey in his hair – but they were things that only someone who spent entirely too much time watching Kurt would probably have noticed. She saw the way that he inclined his body towards Ms Wilson. The way his hand grazed against hers as they walked. As they drew close, Ms Wilson took his arm in a blatantly territorial fashion. He gave Ms Wilson a look that Diane recognised at once. It wasn’t a smile, nothing so obvious, but it was doting. Kurt claimed that he and Kent had nothing in common. She wondered if he genuinely thought that was true.
Kurt was standing up and introducing her. A charming bit of old-fashioned courtesy. That was a very deliberate choice. Kurt could be extremely old-fashioned, even archaic at times, but courtesy was not in his usual repertoire. When she had first met him, she had thought he was stoic, uninterested in the meaningless social niceties which were still so common. That wasn’t entirely wrong, but it also wasn’t entirely right. Kurt wasn’t so much disdainful of social niceties as he was uncomfortable with them. Much of them time he appeared standoffish he was not making a choice to be aloof but was simply too uncertain or uneasy to engage.
Kent’s brusqueness reminded her very much of Kurt’s. He also glanced at Ms Wilson as if seeking reassurance.
‘Miss Wilson said that she would be joining us,’ Diane observed.
‘Yes,’ Kent said as they all sat. ‘It would rather odd if she didn’t.’
‘Oh, you’re dating then! We weren’t sure,’ Diane said. She looked at Sue. ‘I don’t know about Kent, but Kurt is terrible at remembering things like who is dating whom.’
Sue crossed her legs. ‘I’d never heard of you either.’
Diane sipped her wine. Apparently, Kent had not taken Kurt’s approach of finding a partner much more sociable than himself.
‘You’re here for a conference?’ Kent asked Diane.
She nodded. ‘Will all the recent changes it can be difficult to keep track. They can be dull though, so I was very glad that Kurt came to the hotel with me.’
Sue gave Kent a look. He reddened.
‘You would have been bored,’ he said.
‘There was a spa,’ she said as if this was an answer in and of itself.
Kurt snorted. ‘A political conference? Can’t think of anything worse.’
‘Worse than legal,’ Kent agreed.
Diane pulled a face. ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re not the one sat in the sessions, does it?’
Sue nodded firmly. ‘They do it as an excuse to get very drunk, dance on tables, and generally act like teenagers.’
Diane widened her eyes. ‘Goodness, Kent. You hardly look the type.’
Kurt coughed to disguise his little chuckle. ‘Do you do that?’ he asked Diane.
She grinned at him. ‘Get drunk and dance on tables? It depends just how drunk I am.’
‘Isn’t it better to go somewhere you actually want to go for a vacation than get dragged to a city somewhere for a conference?’ Kent asked Sue.
‘It’s not as good as doing both.’
There was a rush of sound and movement towards the doors, which then opened to spill out the president and her entourage. Everyone got to their feet, although some people much more slowly than others.
‘I don’t see why I have to do this,’ Sue remarked.
‘I was thinking the same thing,’ Kurt said. ‘But we respect the office if not the individual.’
Sue blinked. ‘I’m not expected to stand up at work.’
‘That would be completely impractical,’ Kent said. ‘You’d spend all day bobbing up and down.’
She smiled slightly. ‘Can you imagine if Gary had to do it? His back would be the least of his problems.’
‘Who’s Gary?’ Diane asked as they settled back down.
‘The president’s bagman,’ Kent said. ‘An assistant who carries the small odds and ends that she might need throughout the day.’
Kurt poured wine from the carafe on the table. ‘You work closely with the president,’ he said to Sue.
She preened. ‘I am the president’s appointment secretary.’
‘The gatekeeper to the kingdom,’ Kent said, waggling his eyebrows.
‘Goodness,’ Diane said. ‘You seem so young for such a powerful position.’
‘Ah, well,’ Kent muttered.
Sue rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t start that again.’
Kurt moved to pour wine for Kent and Sue. Sue caught her breath and then shook her head.
‘No, thank you,’ she said.
Kent looked away but Diane saw him grin.
‘Didn’t realise. How long?’ Kurt asked.
Sue blinked at him and then looked at Kent.
‘I had neither the time nor the inclination to tell him,’ Kent protested.
Diane smiled. ‘But you had this little smile when she declined the drink.’
He looked sheepish.
‘Seven weeks,’ she said.
Kurt winced. ‘Ah. Early.’
Diane offered Sue her most reassuring smile. ‘Would you like to talk about something else?’
‘Yes.’ Sue turned her head away for a moment. ‘The president should be here shortly.’
‘What?’ Diane asked. ‘She’s at her table.’
Kent held up his finger and gestured a clockwise circle. ‘She visits all the ambassador level tables,’ he explained. ‘It’s one of the selling points.’
‘For some reason,’ Kurt muttered.
‘Says the man who specifically wanted to arrange for his wife to meet POTUS,’ Kent said tartly.
Kurt merely narrowed his eyes. Diane kissed his cheek.
‘Thank you,’ she said. Underneath the table she squeezed his thigh. ‘I’ll make it up to you.’
Sue removed her earrings, make-up, and weave before walking into the bedroom. Kent was already there, reading a book in bed. She put her hand on her hip.
‘What are you doing?’ she demanded.
He looked at her and then at the book, as if it might provide an answer. ‘Reading?’
‘You don’t want to have sex tonight?’
‘I absolutely want to have sex tonight. I wasn’t sure if you still did.’
She stalked across to him. ‘And you thought the best way to find out was to read a book about… nothing?’
‘It’s an existentialist essay,’ Kent corrected mildly.
Sue climbed onto the bed. ‘Is that sexually arousing?’
Kent shook his head. ‘Not in the least. Well, not to me. Doubtless there must be someone aroused by it. Rule 34 is generally facetious but tends towards a universal truth.’
Sue straddled him. ‘Kent.’
‘Shut up and fuck me.’