July 24, 1994
The Sunday edition of the Vicksburg Daily Chronicle sprawled across the kitchen counter, its headline proclaiming "PRESIDENT HOME FOR REUNION." Christi stared at the huge, front-page, color photo of Cameron surrounded by some of their childhood friends. She smiled to note that Kelly was not among them. As far as Christi was concerned, her friend Kelly should have gotten Cameron Coulter out of her life a lot sooner than she did.
Christi squinted to decipher the newsprint, but vowed that she would not give in to the need for reading glasses. Forty-seven was too young.
The telephone rang twice before Christi noticed it.
"Christina Boudreaux?" asked an unfamiliar voice.
"Yes," Christi answered tentatively.
"Please hold for President Coulter."
Christi frowned, wondering why Cameron would be calling her now, after everything that had happened. Maybe he was finally going to apologize.
Moments later, Cameron's early-morning, raspy voice greeted her cheerfully, as if there had never been a problem.
"Hi, Christi! How are you?" the President asked.
"Fine," she answered flatly. "You sound sick."
"Been up most of the night," he confessed with a light chuckle, "and my allergies are bothering me, but it's nothing serious."
"That's good," Christi responded automatically, then paused to let a silence grow between them.
"We all missed you last night," he offered lamely.
Again the silence.
She finally asked, emphatically, "Did you really?"
"Of course we did. Would I lie to you?"
Christi let that one ring in his ears until the silence was deafening.
Cameron cleared his throat nervously. Christi closed her eyes and pictured him tightening his jaw. Still, she didn't speak.
"Well, anyway," he began again, more hesitantly, "we did miss you last night. It was a great party."
Christi smiled to herself, listening to the publicly-smooth-talking Leader of the Free World groping for conversation as he used to do in high school whenever Kelly was around. It made her suspect that his call had something to do with her old friend. She waited, determined to make him work for it.
"Kelly was there," he said with forced brightness.
Here it comes, Christi thought, but didn't respond.
"She told me she finished her book."
Again, the silence.
"I'll bet it's good. She's a great writer," Cameron continued, trying to ignore Christi's lack of response. "Have you seen it?"
"Well, I was wondering," Cameron cleared his throat again, "if maybe she would let you read the manuscript before she sends it off to a publisher. I mean, you've always been such close friends."
"You've been more intimate with Kelly than anyone else has," Christi noted sarcastically.
Cameron glossed over her comment. "I'll bet she'd be happy for you to read it. I'm sure you're in it too."
Christi was beginning to get exasperated. "Let's get to the point," she suggested firmly. "If you're calling, after all this time, asking me to read Kelly's manuscript and then advise her not to publish it, you're barking up the wrong tree. She's been working on that book for nearly ten years and she's not trying to hurt you with it. If Kelly had wanted to hurt you, she could have sold out during the election, and she's not the only one who had that opportunity. Ask her to let you read the book, and if you don't want it published, you tell her. From my perspective, it looks like she always does whatever you want."
"Whew!" Cameron exclaimed. He took a breath before continuing. "Listen, Christi, things are different between Kelly and me right now. I was just thinking that maybe you could get her to back off it for a while. She's been working on it for nearly ten years, so what difference could another couple of years make to her? In the meantime, you might like to do something like be our ambassador to the Bahamas. Invite Kelly to spend time with you down there. She loves the beach and y'all could have a great time. Then we could help her get the book published later on. I'm sure it's a good book, but it might make me look bad, and I don't need that in the next two years. It's just that I could never come right out and ask her not to publish it. That book means too much to her."
"But, you want me to ask her not to publish it."
The silence returned.
"No," Cameron finally replied, "I'm not asking you to do that. Forget we talked about the book, Christi. I just called to say we missed you last night. You can tell Kelly that. You can tell her I called to say we missed you last night."
"I will tell her that you said to say that," Christi replied. "I suppose I'll leave out the part about the ambassadorship. And, by the way, I'm not interested in being an ambassador - to the Bahamas, or anywhere else. You know what I want, and I hope that someday it will become politically expedient for you to deal with it. Otherwise, it's just a matter of doing the right thing, or following through on your promises, and I've learned never to expect either of those from you."
Christi heard Cameron catch his breath, but didn't give him a chance to respond. With finality in her voice, she added, "Have a nice trip back to Washington. Good-bye."
"Uh, Christi, uh, I, uh, didn't…"
"Good-bye," Christi repeated, more firmly than before. She hung up the phone, not hearing nor caring if the President had echoed her "Good-bye."
She returned her attention to the newspaper in front of her. The camaraderie of the photo looked forced now. Staged. Empty. She squinted and blinked again, trying to read the article that dominated the front page. Maybe glasses wouldn't be such a bad idea.
Christi remembered that Cameron had reading glasses now, although he wouldn't wear them in a picture. She recalled seeing a news clip of Cameron exiting the voting booth on election day, wearing glasses which he quickly removed when he realized he was on camera. Christi counted back, calculating that Cameron had been forty-six the day he was elected President and was caught wearing glasses.
"At least I'm not the only vain survivor of Vicksburg's Class of 1964," she mumbled half-aloud.
Survivor. The word began to play in her mind like a bad melody that wouldn't go away.
She didn't pay any attention to the tears forming in her eyes, and continued to squint at the words which were now swimming together across the page. Christi blinked a few more times, trying to focus, and then gave up.
Maybe I should call for an eye doctor appointment tomorrow, she thought. Christi glanced at her calendar and started to make an entry, but the date itself grabbed her, and the memories came crashing back.