The Substance of Things Hoped For
by Kyra Cullinan

There are shots, as sudden as a heartbeat, and she can't do anything, can't think anything, frozen in the moment just before panic. The glass shatters right in front of her, right in front, and still she can't move until they are grabbing her and pushing her to the floor, Will and Toby, the weight and aftershave-smell of them both all around her, four hands on her head and she's holding her breath waiting for more, for what's next.

Later, when enough moments have passed for her mind to begin processing things again, to understand, that's when she starts shaking, hands trembling even faster than her heart's beating as adrenaline remembers to start pouring through her veins. The Oval Office is bright and full of more people than she can readily grasp. It's enough to get that the President is there and okay, and so is Toby, close close close to her, and she steps nearer rather than away.

Later still, working calms her, the sudden need to be CJ-the-Press-Secretary giving her focus. The office is still dim and full of people, but in a good way, and she concentrates on the feeling of the chips between her finger, the shinyslick of the cards, the rhythm of banter. Acting okay so she will be.

I believe in us, she says, and she's the master of wordplay, the fucking queen, so of course she knows how many things can be tangled up in one word, while she looks evenly at him and talks about America. Adrenaline making her bold. The whole night is turning out so differently than it had begun, and Will is intent and knowledgeable as always, although strangely authoritative in his uniform, and she thinks, anything could happen. Anything could be happening now.

She wants, she needs to believe that eggs can balance on end, that bullets shatter windows but not bones, that Toby will always be standing close to her when bad things happen.

They are the last two in the room, and she can already see the rest of the night unfolding ahead of her, the stale smell of her car, the cold whisper of her sheets. Midnight, and she's turning into a pumpkin even as she straightens the cards, and she knows she'll feel better in the morning, without all this desperation still buzzing under her skin. But he's walking by her to leave, and for a split second she imagines grabbing him and kissing him, how he would taste like beer and how it would be exhilarating because it would lead to nothing, would be for the moment only, for the way his palm would cup her hip, sudden and intent, for how fear rises like bile in the back of her throat.

He walks out. Gone, and she brushes her fingertips over the smooth whiteness of the egg as it trembles and wavers and does not fall. So sudden and perfect her breath catches and she's afraid to breathe, cupping possibility between her hands.


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