Home > Off the Record (Record #1)(15)

Off the Record (Record #1)(15)
K.A. Linde

“No problem here. I’ll be running sound and this thing will be running itself, thanks to my new tripod,” he said, tapping his finger on the camera.

“Thanks, Justin,” Liz said with a big smile. “Really appreciate it.”

“Are you going to be in the booth?” Justin asked.

“Nah,” Liz said, shaking her head. “I’m going to try to get a closer look. I reserved a front-row seat, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to sit still.”

“First shindig all on your own, huh?” He fiddled with the sound equipment.

“Yeah. First campaign-related appearance on campus this season too,” she told him. She wiped her palms on her high-waisted black skirt. She had paired it with a tucked-in V-cut Carolina-blue blouse that was loose and flowy, with little gold buttons up the front. Her nude suede heels finished off the outfit. She had chosen it all carefully and felt a little silly. She normally dressed nicely to begin with, but this had something…everything to do with Brady.

“It’ll be fine. I’ve done shit like this before. Their crew tries to take over anyway. You probably won’t have to do much,” Justin told her.

“True.” She tried not to think about it all. She stood as her nerves took over. “Hey, will you be able to splice this for me later? I want to get some of it up on the website as soon as possible.”

“No way. Not tonight.”

“Oh come on, what are you doing?” she asked, leaning her hip into the counter.

Justin shrugged noncommittally. “Stuff.”

“Do you want me to pay you, is that it?” she grumbled. They had paper resources, but she wasn’t in control of much. Normally she would have to get expenses approved through Hayden, but since he wasn’t here…

“I might find some free time,” he admitted.

“Fine, whatever,” Liz said, turning to leave. “So difficult.”

“See ya around, Liz,” he said, chuckling.

“Bye, Justin.”

Stupid AV abilities.

Liz walked out of the sound booth, frustrated with Justin. She had met him in her intro journalism class freshman year. He didn’t really have any interest in writing and had made that blatantly obvious. The professor hadn’t taken his shit, though, and forced him to complete all the assignments as written. Though she had allowed him some extra credit with his excellent videos.

Liz had forged a friendship with Justin from the beginning. He was also on scholarship, living in her dorm, and seemed to always be around. He refused to work for the paper or the UNC news channel, even though it was obvious that they could use his skills. He preferred to be freelance. They hung out sometimes with mutual friends, and he could be funny when he wanted.

Her heels clicked against the hard wood floor as she circled the room. She recognized some familiar faces in the crowd, but not that many. A group of girls waved at her as she walked by. She smiled tentatively and waved back, not used to people recognizing her. She walked purposefully to the front of the room and took her seat in the front row.

She felt a bit n**ed without her voice recorder, but she didn’t really need it, since Justin was videoing for her. She pulled a small legal notepad out of her bag and flipped to the event page she had mocked up. She had a few questions that made the list. Some of them were from the Raleigh event and some of them were new. Heather Ferrington had said that she wasn’t going to get to ask any questions until the close of the event, and Liz wanted to be prepared.

Her stomach flipped just as it did every time she thought about getting an interview with Brady after the event. Could she get that close to him again?

Liz pushed down the thoughts she had been harboring for the past two weeks. She was a professional…despite her actions. If her editor wanted her to get an interview, then she could do it. It didn’t matter if it was Brady Maxwell or the President of the United States. This was her job, and she was going to take it seriously. She couldn’t let her sexual attraction to the man mess up her career.

The buzz in the room died down as Heather Ferrington walked onto the stage. She was everything Liz remembered her to be—unbelievably gorgeous, with long blond hair, a tall, slim build, and a fresh gray skirt suit. She could have been a model, and Liz wondered what had made her become a press secretary instead. Did she see that Brady was going somewhere and jump onboard as soon as she could? Had she done more to get to this position?

Thinking about whether or not Brady had slept with his attractive press secretary wasn’t going to get her anywhere. It was only going to make her jealous.

“Hello, Chapel Hill! Thank you so much for coming out today!” Heather said brightly. It was a completely different façade than Liz had seen from her before. With press she had been biting and strong; on the phone she had been condescending and demanding; now she was über-cheerful.

Don’t underestimate her.

“My name is Heather Ferrington and I am Senator Maxwell’s press secretary. Senator Maxwell is thrilled to be back at his alma mater today. Only a few years ago he was sitting in the same classrooms and attending the same events as you. He was playing basketball for your beloved team, and loving every minute of it. He cherishes every memory from his hometown, and appreciates you inviting him to come speak today.”

Ha! Invited! Liz laughed to herself. Hadn’t Heather called only a week ago and explained that they were planning Chapel Hill as an extra stop for the Senator? Would the lies always be boundless?

“Before the Senator comes out to speak, I am pleased to introduce your fellow student Leslie Chester, president of Political Action NOW and cofounder of North Carolina Students for Progressive Action,” Heather said with a smile as she began the applause.

Liz sat up in her seat. She didn’t know they were going to have an introductory speaker.

It made sense that they would pick Leslie. Leslie was scary, with her intensity behind the things she believed in, and she badgered the paper relentlessly for more space for her pictures, articles, and ads. It was a constant battle. Liz wasn’t sure she knew anyone who actually liked her, but the girl sure as hell knew what she was doing.

Leslie Chester walked onstage in her modest two-inch heels. She was on the shorter side, with ashy brown hair and chipmunk cheeks. Liz suspected, like everyone else, that she would make a bid into politics one day, and she was dressed the part in a black pantsuit.

She stepped up to the microphone and cleared her throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow students, thank you for attending this momentous event on campus. As this is one of the very first campaign stops on Senator Maxwell’s tour, I personally feel honored to be able to introduce him this afternoon.”

Leslie went on to list off Brady’s achievements and his career thus far in politics. It was without a doubt a rehearsed speech that the campaign had given her prepackaged. Liz knew all the highlights from her research, but paid close attention regardless. She never knew when they might throw a curveball her way that someone else might have missed.

“Chapel Hill, help me welcome our own alumnus, Senator Brady Maxwell III.”

The crowd clapped, rising to its feet. Liz stood with them, her hands moving mechanically as she kept her eyes glued to the entrance.

There he was. He stepped one foot out onto the stage and then another. Liz swallowed. She had been staring at pictures of him for two weeks and could have sworn that she had every inch of him memorized. But now, with him on the stage, walking toward the podium, waving at the crowd, she realized that no memory could ever do him justice.

He had on another black suit with a solid blue button-down and red striped tie. The politician’s red-white-and-blue seemed to be his MO, and she found herself thinking about the time she had seen him out of those colors…out of those clothes. She was having a hard time bringing herself back to the present.

His hair was perfectly styled, and his smile was overwhelming. She could almost feel his deep brown eyes scanning the crowd for her. Or maybe that was what she wanted to think. They’d had no contact since that night, aside from the tip she had received from his press secretary about the event. Yet the feeling remained.

Then his eyes found her sitting off to the side in the front row. They locked gazes for a brief second, but it was long enough for her entire body to tingle with warmth. His smile grew wider as he turned back to the audience. She would pay more than a penny for his thoughts in that moment.

“Thank you, Leslie,” he said, shaking her hand.

“Thank you, sir,” she said. She was staring up at him with a shock-and-awe expression that Liz was pretty sure she had never seen cross Leslie’s face.

God, this guy can charm anyone! she thought.

Leslie quickly exited the stage as Brady made himself comfortable in front of the podium. Then suddenly, like turning a switch, he was in campaign mode. She didn’t think she had ever noticed it before in the other speeches she had watched of his online. But with him so close she could see the difference. Likely no one else could, but he clearly had a campaign face of sorts, like an actor getting into character.

“Hello, Chapel Hill!” he said into the microphone. “It is so nice to be back in my hometown. How are y’all doing this afternoon?”

There was general applause among the audience. They were happy to be out of classes for the day and indulging in summer break. Most of them were interested in what he was going to say, but Liz was pretty sure that they would rather be at the pool working on their tans. She hated being so jaded about her classmates, but that had been her experience. And she wanted to change it, to educate and encourage her classmates to get involved. This was a good start.

“That’s great to hear. I was just over at Top O eating before this,” he said, talking about Top of the Hill, a local restaurant and bar. Brady paused as cheers rang through the crowd. “I swear the food gets better and better every time I go there. I can’t even tell you how many things I miss about Chapel Hill—Pit sitting, lazy days on the Quad, dribbling circles around my friends in Rams Head.”

Liz looked around to see the students nodding along. They all loved these things as well. He was appealing to their shared experiences. Clever.

“My four years at UNC were the best of my life, and I’m sure most of you feel the same way. You live and breathe the university as well as the community while you’re here and want to see as much done for it as possible, but you won’t always be here. Chris, my best friend growing up, followed me here to Chapel Hill. We were, of course, upstanding gentlemen as a part of the university.”

The crowd chuckled. Liz knew as well as anyone that any basketball player at UNC was not only treated like a god, but was as far from an upstanding gentleman as they came. Had Brady been one of those guys? With his looks and charm, Liz wasn’t sure he would have needed to rely on the fame. Then again, he didn’t need it now, but he was smart enough to use it to his advantage.

“Chris graduated from UNC with me, and instead of staying here, he took a job in New York City. Likely many of you will do the same. You’ll get the best education you possibly can from one of the best universities in the country, and then you’ll leave,” he told them frankly. Liz was curious where he was going, but she had her guesses. “You carry the weight of your university on your shoulders the rest of your life. Now, I know most of you are thinking about how great it is to have the UNC flagship stacked at the top of your résumé. Go ahead, admit it. I know you do.”

His captive audience laughed, some jabbing their friends in the rib cage and whispering to each other.

“Now, stack on student loan debt, a struggling economy, poor job growth, and a depleted basis for internships, externships, and real-world experience that is crucial to success outside of these four walls. How heavy does that weight feel now?” The room quieted entirely. “That’s what I’m here to address today: what I’m planning to do when I’m elected into office to offset these complications all students are facing pre- and post-education.”

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