“The Rover”

[Estimated reading time: 11 minutes]

[This is a work in progress.]

Fran's evening, a trip to the hospital

Fran pushes the pizza box against the door, her purse balanced on top, the keys in the same hand that's supporting the box, and awkwardly unlocks the door.
Her grip shifts down to the handle and she carefully stumbles into her apartment, in a well-practiced and rehearsed motion.

The door slams shut behind her, Fran puts the pizza and her stuff on the ground, then lets out a long-held scream: "Ahhhh! Fuck that scum-sucking fuck! Fucker!"

She stands and breathes and centers herself.
The explosion is good, it's helpful and cathartic, and now she just needs to regain her composure.

Mr Binx walks into the hallway, unphased by his human's strange behaviors.
It's not the first time.
Binx approaches the pizza box and gives it a sniff, then wanders between Fran's legs.
She picks him up and hugs him, buries her tear-streaked face in the orange cat's furry belly.

The cat eventually signals that it's done being held, so Fran lets him go and finally gets her stuff off the floor, carries her dinner to the coffee-slash-dinner table the living room.
She turns the TV on and CNN starts playing.
The current story is about the rising tensions in Germany.
Fran is glad it's not-

The story changes and this one is about Alexander Gibbs.
The establishing could have been made from the roof of Fran's building, the long shots of DC with the White House smack in the center.

Fran forgets about the pizza and starts moving around her apartment.
She finds a blue-star poster with Alexander's cell-shaded face on it and rips it off the wall, crumples it and drops it at her feet.
Everything must go.
The framed photos Fran carefully takes apart, but anything without glass in it is just wadded up or torn, destroyed in the quickest way that Fran can manage.
The books are paperbacks and Fran tears them apart at the spine.

After about ten minutes of removing Alexander from her life, Fran finally has a slice of pizza.
Then her eyes fall on the large banner behind the TV and Fran wonders aloud: "How the hell did I miss that eyesore?"

The poster is from Alexander's congressional run, back when Fran was still a lowly intern.
She applies some shipping tape and quickly folds up the poster into a garbage bag and piles all the rest of the crap into it.
For a moment Fran ponders about burning it all, as-is, complete with her apartment and herself.
Fran looks up at the clock, it reads 9:12pm.
"Too late to die, Jeopardy's on soon," she decides and plops back down on the couch.

Her eyes fall on the Echeveria gibbiflora, Henry, the anthropomorphized succulent plant.
It sits in the corner, under its special heat lamp.

Fran recalls the presidential campaign and the ingenious PR stunt of associating the plant with Alexander Gibbs.
It was a random stroke of luck, a stunt that a few late-night comedians called a grab for the elusive Mexican gardner vote, but it worked to pull the attention back to Alexander's corner.
She remembers when Alex (before he started going by Alexander, at the suggestion of the same PR firm) presented her with Henry, she remembers all the dingy apartments that Henry has lived in, she recalls bringing Henry with them to DC.

Fran grabs an ancient, quarter-full handle of bacon vodka, takes off the cap, and upends the whole thing over Henry, making sure to cover every thick green-purple leaf.

"Fuck you, Alex.
Fuck you very much."

Fran switches off the heat lamp for the first time in almost a year, and drops back onto the couch.
She looks around and with a bit of happiness appreciates her work de-Alexifying her apartment.

Mr Minx comes sniffing, no doubt called by the "bacon", but quickly distances himself from the plant once he understands that vodka is involved.
Fran smiles at the rough joke that's been played on the cat: he's a fiend for bacon, but cannot stand liquor, like vodka or whiskey.
She calls Mr Minx over and the cat is happy to oblige.
They sit and share a slice of pizza.

The TV catches Fran's attention as CNN shows a scary red graphic and announces a breaking report: the President is being rushed to Walter Reed, after collapsing at a speaking engagement in Georgetown.
Fran gets up and through the living room window is able to see the tell-tale flashing blue of the President's motorcade as they speed through town.

"Damn it all," Fran mutters through clenched teeth.
She grabs the closest phone, the landline, and dials the number of Samara Flores, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff.
She answers on the second ring.

"Sam, what the fuck is going on?"

"He just keeled over.
We were at the- the function, and it- it happened after the speech.
He was wobbling a bit, slurring his- his- his words, and then just kind of collapsed."

There are sirens in the background and Fran imagines the motorcade is plowing through light after light on their way to Walter Reed.

"Maybe it's an allergic reaction to wiping his ass with the Constitution," Fran says, and the line goes dead.
She throws the phone at the wall and a shower of electronics explodes all over Fran's living room.
Mr Minx isn't bothered at all, he just kind of sits there, and watches the human drama unfold, alert only to food offerings.

On the campaign trail, Henry, an offer, the kick

Fran walks through the front door of the campaign HQ - an old Dairy Queen that still smells of ice cream and fries - and notes the empty bullpen.
For the past two months the large open space has been a wild cacophony of voices as interns and political operatives ran around like their hair was on fire, in constant high-pressure mode that Fran has long accepted as a way of life for a politician.
Every desk has two phones, a binder full of donor names, a random collection of candidate-themed swag, and of course the ubiquitous Echeveria gibbiflora succulents that has become so well-associated with her boss.

Everyone is celebrating at the bar two doors down, but Fran is still working.
She goes into her office, plops down on the beaten and stuffing-free chair, and starts searching for the polling data that Tom-or-Tim was supposed to drop off.

Fran raises her head and is about to call out to her assistant when she remembers the celebration.
Then she notices Alex standing in the doorway of her office.

He is leaning on the doorjamb, swaying a bit, no doubt over the moon and slightly drunk.
The first set of poll results came in just half an hour ago, and he has been celebrating.
There is a succulent in his hands.

"Senator, congratulations!" Fran greets him and gets up.

"Ha, 'Senator', that sounds freaking weird," he muses, then repeats the word a few more times, tests how it feels on the tongue.
Then he waves the thought away, as if swatting at a fly.
"I still like Alex better."

"You'll come around, Senator," Fran teases him.
"What's up with the plant?"

"Oh, this?" Alex replies theatrically and pretends as if he has just now noticed the plant that's in his hands.
"Well, this isn't just any plant, you see?
This is my buddy Henry.
Remember when you suggested running with the gibbifora thing?"

"'Flora', gibbiflOra", Fran corrects him and nods.

"Yeah, that.
Well, Henry here, he's one of the first batch we made, and he's been good luck to us over the past year.
I even had a hand in helping this little guy.
Remember, I was diligently and carefully making a cutting, and someone made me cut myself?"

"Ha, someone!
You're no green thumb, Alex, that was all you."

"Yes, well, counselor, my memory is foggy, but I do recall a fair bit of blood.
Henry here is literally the product of my blood, sweat, and tears!"

Fran bends down and pats the succulent, "Hey there little Henry!"

Alex extends it to Fran.
"I'd like you to have it.
You've moved heaven and earth to get us here, so as a small token of my great appreciation, I'd like you to have Henry.
He will bring you luck and happiness, just as he has for me."

Fran pulls Alex into her office and shuts the door behind him.
She takes the plant and carefully sets on her desk, then kisses Alex.

He reciprocates, kisses her in return, his tongue darting quickly into her mouth.
She tastes the whiskey, and the woody, smokey flavor floods her senses.
His hands grab her butt and her pulse skyrockets.

After what seems like an eternity, Fran pulls her face away and gets a good look at Alex.
His smile and the twinkle in his eyes are all that she needs to know in this moment.
She pushes him onto the old leather couch and kneels in front of him.

"I've never been with a Senator," she muses playfully while undoing his belt and unbuttoning his pants.

"Senator-elect," Alex replies with a silly grin.

Fran pulls his zipper down and comes face to face with a smooth expanse of skin.
Fran blinks once, twice, before she recalls seeing something similar in a movie.

Alex must be reading her mind as he quotes the film in question: "I'm as anatomically impaired as a Ken doll."

Fran scampers back as far as she can, which is just a few feet in her small cramped office.

"What the fuck?!" is all she can dredge up from the recesses of her mind.
"What the fuck is going on?
Where's your fucking dick?!"

"Androids don't need genitalia, they just need to carry out their masters' orders, don't you know?"
Fran looks at Alex and sees a pair of red glowing eyes.

The world tilts and Fran feels like falling.
She kicks and is about to scream when she sees Mr Minx.

"The fuck?" she mumbles and looks around.

She's not on the campaign trail, she's not back in a dilapidated Dairy Queen in New Mexico, she's back in her dilapidated and overpriced DC apartment.
Fran is sitting on the floor, crammed and folded in on herself, somehow, behind the couch.

It's still the night of The Speech, Fran starts to recall.
The clock behind the TV says that it's 3:04am.
The pizza box has one last slice left and the bottle of tequila next to it is almost empty.

Fran looks around and notes that in her sleep she managed to kick Henry.
The plant and the larger planter it now occupies are on their side, the water and soil has spilled out.

Fran flips off the plant, mutters "fuck you, Alex", then hobbles into her bedroom and falls asleep.

The morning after, reconnecting, bagels, revelation, confusion

Fran tosses and turns for a few hours, then decides to call that a night and starts brewing coffee at around 7:20am.
The small apartment is a mess, so while the coffee smells start up and permeate the place, Fran goes around and bins the garbage, strains up the furniture, throws away remnants of last night's binge.
She straightens up Henry, noting that the plant is mostly undisturbed, and mops up the spilled soil that still stinks of bacon vodka.

Just as she is preparing her first cup of coffee - lots of cream, lots of sugar - Fran's phone buzzes and she finally notes the barrage of messages from friends and family.
It seems that the whole country is aware of Alex's collapse and admittance to Walter Reed.
The latest message, though, is the only one that is a shock to Fran: Samara, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, wants to talk.

Fran is chewing this over when the phone rings and Samara's college graduation photo pops up on the phone.
Fran glances around and for not the first time wonders just where the cameras are.
Just for herself, she puts the phone down without hanging up, and has a drink of coffee as the ringer keeps singing the song of its people.

She picks up on the tenth ring and opens up with, "how the hell do you people get around the four ring voice mail hop?"

"Morning, Francesca.
We need to talk."
Samara is all business this morning.

Probably has something to do with watching her boss keel over, Fran ponders as she considers the situation. Can't be easy on her.

"Well, fuck, sure, why not, what else are sisters for?"

"I will be at your place in ten minutes."

Fran hangs up and growls to no one in particular, or maybe just the hidden microphones: "Thanks for calling after I've straightened up, fucker."

She jumps in the shower and is out in four minutes flat, a reminder of her time in the service.
She heats up two bagels, gets a few tubs of spread from the fridge and pours Samara a cup of black coffee.
Fran watches the clock for a few seconds, walks over to the door with Samara's cup, and welcomes her sister just as Sam and company come up the stairs.

Few words are expressed as the Secret Service does a quick sweep.
Samara stands back and drinks the coffee.
Her eyes are staring into the far distance.
Fran does not envy her sister's position.

The agent finally steps outside and closes the door.
Fran motions to the kitchen table.
Both sit and go through the motions of assembling and cutting up their bagels.
A practice from childhood, the morning that involved the whole family, even if there were disagreements about.

"He fucked all of us over.
He sold out everyone who got him elected, lied to the damn country.
The fucker torpedoed my career!"
Tears flow down Fran's face, past her chin, into her coffee.
She ignores it and eats the bagel, looks off into the far distance.

The same look stares past her: Samara is equally in shock.
She munches on a bagel with salmon spread.

"What the fuck happened?" Fran finally asks.

Samara sits and chews for a while, then she raises her hand, three fingers up.

It's another reminder of their young years, when Sam's answers typically began by staring off into the distance for three whole minutes.
"Now that we are all on the same wavelength," she'd say at the end of the time, and would wax philosophically about Plato or the birth crisis.

Fran drinks her coffee, has another slice of bagel, and tries to prepare herself for whatever world-shattering revelation Samara is about to drop.
Fran's world is going to be flipped on its head yet again.
And here she was, hoping to settle into unemployment by watching some Captain Kangaroo, and the Feds wouldn't even let her have that.

"Alexander has cancer," Samara finally says.
Fran's hands fly to her face and she cries silently.
"He was diagnosed during the last month of the Presidential campaign, but we managed to keep it under wraps.
Marcus, the investigative reporter from the Times, has been making waves in Phoenix about Alexander's Election Night collapse.
Someone is going to connect the dots very soon."
Samara finally looks over at Fran, finally locks eyes with her.
"I'm so sorry I never told you."

"Did he ask you to keep it a secret?" Fran asks.

Samara shakes her head.

"You know you could have talked with me.
No one else is listening to us, aside from you people, right?"
Fran waves around them with a piece of bagel, implicating all the hidden microphones and cameras.

Samara shakes her head again.
"No, and we're not listening right now."

"And that's why you came here.
Because you can't talk about this with anyone else.
Fran stands up and paces the small span of her apartment, then comes back and sits down, faces Samara.
The fuck.

"After the speech, Alexander started slurring his words.
He was unsteady, he had to sit down.
I th- th- thought he was tired..."
Samara is crying as she recalls the events of last night.

The mad rush to get the President to Walter Reed must have been a harrowing experience, Fran thinks, and wishes that she was a better sister in that moment.
Then she thinks better of it and recalls that this man just shat all over her hopes and dreams.

"The cancer, it started to kill his kidneys, he crashed right after the- the event wrapped.
It all happened so quickly, they whisked us away and we were in the motorcade, he was in the Beast, by 9:30.
At the hospital by quarter to ten.
They had a team working on him for almost six hours.
Just... trying to stabilize him.
It was so unreal, I still can't believe it all happened."

Samara finally has a moment to take a look around the apartment.
She notices the general dis-array and the somewhat lack-of-Alexander state of things.

"You are right, Francesca, he fucked us all over."

Fran is surprised to hear her sister swearing, and even more surprised to hear a confession.

"You've always stood behind the fucker, always.
What the hell changed now?" she asks.

"Alexander has.
He is not the same, he has changed.
His policies have been getting further away from the campaign promises, his entire notion of what's good for the Party has changed over the past few months.
He shelved his own assault rifle bill just last month.
Alexander is not the same person we voted for."

"Somehow," Fran adds.

"Right, somehow.
I have no idea what is going on, everything is strange.
Sanders invoked the 25th this morning, so we technically had a different leader for five hours."
Samara shakes her head at the unprecedented crisis.

"The cancer's changing him?" Fran probes.

"The cancer has been in remission for months.
And before you ask, no, there is no easy way to hook up the leader of the free world to a dialysis machine.
Chemo is off the table, for obvious reasons.
No, it is something else.
His medication has not changed in weeks, but last night his kidneys just shut down.
Almost like acute alcohol poisoning."

Fran lifts her head up, her eyes are questioning.

"Nope, it is not what you are thinking," Samara shakes her head.
"Not even a glass of wine, not since the Election Night.
And the Secret Service is constantly on the lookout for someone trying to spike or poison his food.
He does not drink anymore, period."

"Something else is changing him," Fran concludes.

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