Home > Off the Record (Record #1)(4)

Off the Record (Record #1)(4)
K.A. Linde

But he did.

“Lane!” Calleigh called. She stood in her four-inch black stilettos. Drink in hand, she surged forward, brushing past Liz, and flung her other arm around Hayden’s neck.

Liz took a step away from them, holding her drink at arm’s length to keep it safe. Liz wondered how intoxicated Calleigh was already.

“Hey, Calleigh,” Hayden said, wrapping one arm around her waist when she didn’t let go.

Calleigh took a step backward, straightened out her low-cut cream blouse. Her black suit jacket was discarded in the booth. She didn’t look that drunk. She kept one hand resting on Hayden’s chest as if she needed to steady herself. Her signature dark red hair—nearly maroon—fell down in front of her shoulders, with thick, chunky bangs falling into her ever-vigilant green eyes. Was Calleigh interested in Hayden?

Liz didn’t think she stood much of a chance against Calleigh Hollingsworth.

“I’m glad you made it,” Calleigh said. “Let me introduce you to my coworkers.”

Calleigh grabbed Hayden by the crook of the elbow and pulled him toward the booth. Liz shuffled after them.

“Hey, y’all, this is my friend Lane, the one I was telling you about,” Calleigh said. “Lane, this is Trent, Jenny, Monique, and Rick. They work at the Charlotte Times with me.” They all nodded their heads and responded with their own salutations.

“Nice to meet you all,” Hayden said with his charming smile.

Each of the guys wore a plain, square-shouldered suit jacket. Trent had light red hair, distinct against his green shirt. Rick was dark headed and stocky, with a dark blue shirt and silver tie combination. Monique was exceptionally tall with short black hair shaved on the sides and styled into waves on top. She wasn’t exactly big, but she had a larger bone structure hidden underneath long black suit pants and a billowy black blouse. Jenny was a girl-next-door blonde, small and mousy, with a pale yellow shirt tucked into her khaki knee-length skirt.

“We’ve heard great things about you, Lane,” Monique said.

Hayden chuckled softly, his eyes darting to Calleigh and back. “Thanks. I’m sure Calleigh exaggerates.”

“I would never,” she said, placing her free hand on his arm.

“You’re editor now?” Rick asked, assessing him. Liz saw his eyes flicker to where Calleigh’s hand rested on Hayden’s arm. So, he was interested in her. Not surprising. Everyone was always interested in Calleigh.

“Yeah. I took over this past semester when Calleigh decided to take the job with y’all, and I’m continuing through my senior year,” he told them.

“We were lucky to get Calleigh,” Rick said.

“I think the last editor y’all got from Chapel Hill was Mr. Stewart,” Calleigh said with a giggle.

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Let’s not even bring him up.”

The group laughed, all sharing a private joke that neither Liz nor Hayden understood. She was getting tired of being anonymous and was about to speak up, when Trent noticed her.

“Hey,” Trent said, “aren’t you that girl who asked Senator Maxwell his last question?”

Liz flushed with pride. She knew it was a good thing, but it felt odd that a reporter for the Charlotte Times had noticed her.

“Uh…yeah,” she said. She took a step forward and stood next to Hayden.

“Sorry,” Hayden apologized. “This is my reporter, Liz Dougherty.”

“Well, great job,” Trent said.

“Yeah, she’s great, right?” Calleigh said, finally including her in the group. “Lane really knows how to pick ’em.”

Liz pushed the implication in her words out of her mind. She didn’t care one bit that Calleigh was probably talking about herself. Liz tried to look unruffled.

“That was a stellar question,” Jenny told her, leaning forward. “It’s nice to see the college papers asking bold questions.”

“Yeah,” Trent agreed, looking her up and down. “Bold.”

“I guess I didn’t realize how bold it was at the time,” Liz admitted with a shrug.

She took a sip of her drink. She couldn’t believe where she was and what she was doing. It was pretty amazing.

“Well, it was bold, all right,” Monique said, twirling her hand in the air dramatically.

“I thought it was a great question,” Hayden interrupted. “The kind of questions we need to be asking. Not those questions about his age and his past runs. We all know he’s young. That’s obvious. What people don’t know about is his record. I bet we’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the coming months.”

There was the Hayden she knew. He had all these lofty ideals about how journalism should run; whether it ran that way or not was still up in the air, but he tried to keep things as idealistic as possible. She thought his philosophy kept things at the paper honest, and she appreciated the sentiment.

“Of course it was a great question,” Calleigh said. “You guys should take a seat.”

Calleigh reclaimed her seat, leaving just enough room for one person.

Liz stood off to the side as Hayden took the empty spot. Trent sent her a come-hither look and moved over so she could sit next to him. Liz tried desperately to avoid eye contact.

Hayden noticed she was still standing and nudged Calleigh over. Her green eyes glanced up at Liz, and she thought she saw a flicker of frustration.

Calleigh reluctantly moved down the booth, and Liz sat down next to Hayden. She sipped on her drink thoughtfully. Hayden had stuck up for her, and she appreciated it.

“Before y’all showed up, we were talking about Senator Maxwell. What do you know about him?” Calleigh asked, her mouth quirking up at the side as she looked from Hayden to Liz.

“Probably not as much as you do,” Hayden said. “What have you heard?”

“Oh, nothing really,” she said, waving her hand.

“Come on, Calleigh. You said you knew his sister,” Rick prompted.

“Well, I don’t really know her,” she said with a smile. “I just know about her through a reputable source—my sister.”

“Isn’t his sister still in high school?” Liz asked. She remembered the biography she had read the night before.

“Yes,” Calleigh replied. “She is, but she’s graduating this year.”

“What is a high schooler going to tell you about her brother that isn’t already in the papers?” Monique asked. “I’ve heard he has a pretty clean slate.”

“I heard he was engaged,” Calleigh got out quickly. “Called the wedding off because she didn’t have enough money or something…wouldn’t fit into the family mold.”

Liz narrowed her eyes. She hadn’t seen anything in her research about his being engaged. Sounded like a rumor to her.

Hayden stretched and bumped Liz’s knee with his own. She peeked up at him when he didn’t move it away, but he was looking at Calleigh. Strange mixed signals.

“Is that all?” Trent asked. “That’s not news, Calleigh. That’s gossip.”

“I don’t believe he’s as clean as he comes off. He’s a politician! How is this guy winning?” She humphed.

Jenny giggled then. “Did you not get a good look at him?”

“You don’t get a picture of him at the polls,” Calleigh grumbled.

“You don’t forget that face when you’re voting,” Jenny said with a smirk.

“I would hope that some people would vote for a person based on their policies and the kind of person they are, rather than on their looks,” Calleigh spat back.

“I just hope people vote,” Liz muttered under her breath.

“Preferably just the educated,” Calleigh said.

Liz glanced away, not wanting to have this conversation. She had very strong opinions about this, and bringing it all up wouldn’t be in her best interest.

“Oh, come on, Calleigh. Cut that crap,” Hayden jumped in. “You don’t honestly think we shouldn’t let people vote if they haven’t gone to college.”

“But that’s such a low bar, Lane.”

“You’re such an elitist,” he said, shifting his weight closer to Liz.

“All right…high school diploma, but I really think you’re selling America short,” she said.

Liz wanted to keep her mouth shut. She swore she would. It wouldn’t help anything to speak up, but…but she just couldn’t stay quiet.

“I think you’re selling America short by assuming that because people didn’t go to college or never finished high school, they aren’t able to form their own opinions about how they want this country or their community to run. Those are antiquated ideals, and if you looked more closely into the research on political campaigns, you would see that even without the same base of information, the majority of people know what is going on in this country. To say they shouldn’t vote because they’re not like you is…reprehensible,” Liz said.

Thankfully, Calleigh didn’t have a comeback. She just stared at her.

Did she find her a worthy opponent? Or was she plotting Liz’s demise for speaking to her this way in front of all of her colleagues?

“I think voting rights were decided forever ago, and we should let it rest,” Monique said. “I know quite a few of my family members who fit into the not-as-educated category who are way more informed than my brother, who is a biomedical engineer.”

“There are always exceptions,” Calleigh said with a shrug.

Liz kept herself from saying anything further. Exceptions were the rule as far as she was concerned, but she already felt as if she had alienated the woman she idolized in journalism. No need to push the envelope.

“Oh my God!” Calleigh shrieked out of nowhere. She latched onto Hayden’s arm and a huge smile crossed her face. Liz didn’t miss the way her fingers dug into his suit jacket or her knee pressed into his thigh.

“What is it?” Hayden asked, checking over his shoulder.

“Look! It’s Tracey Wilson!” she said, pointing into the mass of people across the room.

“Yeah!” Hayden said in surprise. “It is. I haven’t seen her in so long. I thought she was in Chicago.”

“Me too,” Calleigh said, snaking her hand under his arm. “Let’s go say hi. God, it’s been forever!”

Calleigh hopped up and started to drag Hayden along with her. He looked back at Liz with a big smile on his face. “We’ll be right back,” he told her before disappearing into the crowd with Calleigh.

Great. Just what she wanted: for Hayden to disappear with Calleigh Hollingsworth. Not that she thought this was a date. It wasn’t. Was it? Maybe she had misread his interest in her entirely. She had thought that they had a moment when he had asked her to come to visit in D.C. Now that he was running after Calleigh in a dark, crowded nightclub, she was reconsidering.

Liz crossed her leg and leaned back against the booth. Calleigh’s coworkers started talking about the paper, and Liz pushed forward with the conversation even though Hayden had left. These people might be amazing contacts for her in the future if she decided to stay in North Carolina after graduation. She had been a little intimidated earlier at the prospect of being here with other reporters, but now that they were talking she felt right at home. This was what she wanted to do.

Trent kept shooting her looks as if he was going to make a move any moment, but she stayed engaged with the other people at the table and ignored him. She had way more interest in journalism than in the wandering eyes of one of Calleigh’s coworkers.

Liz set her empty glass down in front of her and nodded along with what Monique was saying about spin media. She had taken a special topics class last semester that focused on spinning stories to make them more interesting to the reader. She appreciated that her area of interest was coming in handy and that she was able to contribute to the conversation thanks to her rigorous class schedule.

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