I managed to take in some of the article, despite it facing Joseph’s furrowed-brow gaze. …the bible belt of America would be the obvious place to plant some sort of impostor to fool the masses and force some kind of ideological coup against the ‘nonbelievers’ who dare to live lives of godless sin and blasphemy…
Sharon exited silently. I watched as Joseph shook his head, eyes still fixed to the front-page. A question came up in a quizzical voice. “Who is this Vatican?”
“Huh?” Joseph and I both uttered, almost in unison?
The supposed-holy man’s finger traveled to the headline, pointing at the word. “It is a man? Or perhaps a thing?”
Something caught in Joseph’s throat, and he forced himself to stand, likely buying himself more time to think. “The Vatican and The Pope are a group of busy-bodies who believe they are the only ones who deserve the light of god- your father who art in heaven, your holiness. They’re jealous that you arrived to display yourself among us, and not them. The Catholics too, pretending they’re too good for the rest of us.”
“I see.” The man replied.
I looked at him and the Pastor, the entire exchange leaving me in awe. Joseph paced the best he could in the few square feet the center aisle of the RV provided. I caught his glance next before it went to the paper. In a swift motion, he grabbed it up and shoved it into the lower cabinet where their garbage can was stored. “Jude, come outside with me if you would.”
I stood and allowed the Pastor to trounce down the stairs first. I caught sight of Jess sticking her head out of the bunk, mouthing to me something along the lines of sorry.
Joseph had his hands in his pockets as the wind blew about him. “Why must you bring that filth before me and my family? Before his holiness, to fill his head with drivel?”
“It wasn’t…” I began, unsure of how to simultaneously clear my name and somehow leave Agent Barth’s name free from suspicion of the betrayal.
Joseph turned towards me. “I can handle it, Jude. I know the office of President isn’t all fun and games. The eyes of the nation… nay, the whole world… are on the White House. I pray for God to give me strength and to thicken my skin. I am one who has such necessary strength. But I want to leave my family and his grace out of it.”
All I could do was shrug. “I agree, reality is harsh.”
The Pastor let out a huff. “Reality? Speak to me of the media, and reality in the same breath? No. I know why you did it, Jude. We both best be coming clean.”
“You’re interested in our good Agent Barth, aren’t you?”
I held my breath. “Are you saying…”
“Jude, you can’t expect me not to notice these things,” he interrupted. “I’ve seen the both of you splitting off and having your little chats. What is it? The rules say you can’t date if he is assigned to me? Is that why you want to discourage me from this campaign?”
“Jude…” Joseph let out a solemn breath and took my shoulder in his hand. “Now, Jess filled me in on what you said to her about your… preferences. I don’t think any less of you, even if the good book tells me I should. I’m a smart enough man to know which of the Scriptures are to be taken literally or not. Saying that I can’t understand why someone like you can’t just decide on whether you like men or whether you like women, but I won’t hold it against you. You’re still young, you can decide in time. But I’ll tell you this- I won’t fire you or anything of the sort. If you want to have your little shindig with the agent, it will have to be in the case of you quitting, or me somehow dropping out of the race. And we both know how much momentum we have.”
I hid my face and bit at my lip. “Yes… sir.”
Joseph gave me a heavy slap on the back. “Come now, let’s head inside. I’ll have to pay you back for the coffee. Then we can announce the plans for what’s coming up next.”
“Next?” I asked. Joseph ignored my question and pried open the door.
“Yes sir, a good heart-to-heart.” He announced proudly as he entered before me. “Now, the first votes for the primaries will be starting to roll in very soon, aren’t I right, Jude?”
I stepped inside after and answered, attempting to avoid the gazes of the family members. “That’s right…”
“Here in Washington… we’re in neutral territory. The prime chance to sway the last of those doubtfuls, those who would rather vote for Caine, as fine a man I’ve learned he is.”
“Atta’ boy.” Sharon chimed in, praising her husband.
“And I say we kick it off with one big rally. One to fire everyone up. I know dang sure that the offices here have my back too. Jude, Sharon, time to start making calls.”
I nodded in hollow agreement. Just outside in the parking lot, I saw one of the Agents disappear around the corner.