Utterly exhausted an hour and a half later, Dan fell back into his father’s new office carrying the lunch Fionna had prepared for him. After she’d read over his lesson plans for the day, she’d prepared enough for five but Dan was about to inhale each and every bite.
“You okay?” Governor Vindico looked concerned.
Dan shook up a protein shake and downed it in one gulp. He wiped the milky residue from his chin. “I taught them to siphon shields today.”
His father chuckled. “And you let them try to siphon yours to show them just how much they still had to learn and how much muscle they needed to add before they could complete that task.”
Dan nodded as he tore into Fionna’s homemade macaroni and cheese. “Yeah and Jeff Strenton failed to mention that Logan and Rainer had already given him a few lessons. So, he did know what he was doing. You should’ve seen how delighted he was when he almost brought me to the ground.”
The Governor smirked. “He’s a good kid and there’s always something very appealing about even coming close to upping your hero.”
After Dan ate his weight in macaroni and cheese, Hawaiian chicken salad on Mr. Styler’s legendary croissants, three slices of Hawaiian haupia pie, and two apples, he could think clearly again and began reading over he ledgers. “When is the last time all of this was reconciled?”
“Three years ago,” the Governor spat.
“You can’t be serious?”
“It seems three years ago Dean let a whole lot of things fall by the wayside.”
“Where did you even start with all of this?”
“With all of the extra mentor seminars and conferences. I’m so furious I can’t see straight. But honestly I can’t seem to discern if I’m angrier with him or with myself. I can’t believe I let this academy slide because one of my friends was running it. That’s exactly the kind of crap I swore I’d never do when I ran for Governor three decades ago.”
“It’s been a rough few years, Dad. I’m sorry for the part I played in all of it.”
“Don’t apologize. You’re my son and you went through hell on multiple occasions. Being a father always took priority over me being a Governor. I regret nothing I did to help you through Amelia’s death, or your endless vengeance, or what happened to Fionna.”
The itemized list of the last decade of his life sucker punched Dan. How could it possibly all be summed up so quickly?
“It wasn’t just him and Bryant that were going to all of these conferences. A lot of the staff went as well. We used to approve two conferences each year. Mentors were only allowed to attend one at the school’s expense. I should’ve seen the waving red flags.”
Dan sighed. “He tried to get me to go one on in Philadelphia when I signed my contract last summer. It was all to be at the expense of the school,” Dan recalled.
“Yet another conference that was never approved through me or even the budgetary committee. What did you tell him when he asked you about Philadelphia?”
“We’d just found out Fi was pregnant again. I was still a disaster over everything that had happened. We’d just adopted Aida. I told him that I wasn’t coming home a week early from Kauai and that I wasn’t going anywhere overnight without my wife. No questions asked. He informed me that spouses were not included and that absence made the heart grow fonder. Oh, and that getting away would be good for both me and Fionna.” Dan shook his head as the conversation was cast in an entirely new light. “I told him Fi was pregnant again and that I wasn’t leaving her overnight. She’s too high risk with the gunshot wound and the scarring. I wasn’t polite. He dropped it when he realized that he wasn’t getting anywhere.”
“Good.” Governor Vindico went back to the computer. “There were apparently conferences in Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and one in Chicago that I never approved and had no knowledge of. Then they took twenty-five mentors to Vegas for a week. That was approved by the budgetary committee but not by me. There is a healthy allotment for furthering the mentor’s education but he’s well over budget. I’ve at least stumbled upon some of the missing money. He was robbing the general fund for his out of town conferences.” A vicious scowl creased the slight wrinkles in his father’s face. Dan eased away. He’d seen that look before. It still made him a little uneasy.
“The academy was paying for his affair,” Dan joined his father’s acrimony.
“I doubt Wilshire sees it that way and I’m certain the mentors that were there to actually learn something gained some benefit from them. Now I’m going to ask you to go back to the information you have from the emails and texts. I need you to tell me if Wilshire and Bryant actually attended classes at these seminars. Did they surface long enough for that or was Venton quite literally paying for their weekend getaways?”
“That’s not going to be easy to prove, Dad.”
“I know, Dan, but I’m not messing around with this anymore. I want to know the truth. I want to get to the bottom of this black hole so I can fix what I let slide.”
“I bet they did attend some of the sessions.” Dan let his Visium predilection take over. “If they’d missed too much, the staff would have talked long before the story broke.”
With another impressed grin, the Governor nodded. “That is true so,” he hemmed, “next question, is it my job to legislate another man’s morals? If he went to the classes and learned something, other than the overages he used, can I really tell the mentors and administration of this school or any academy what they can and can’t do in their off hours while out of town?”
“Trying to see if I’ve been listening to you these past thirty years?”
“That and I feel like I’m chasing my own tail.”
“You know Jeff Strenton asked me something similar a few weeks ago.”
“What’d you tell him?”
“I told him it was about the money not my judgment on Wilshire. Not sure I actually believe that though.”
“Then talk your way out, son.”
“All right. If Wilshire had been single or even just dating someone casually and he had gone on a company expense paid trip and attended what the company wanted him to attend and had decided to hook up with another woman at night, you and I wouldn’t be sitting in his office.”
“That’s true,” the Governor allowed.
“But it’s never quite that clean cut. He did misuse appropriated funds to go on the trips. Whether or not he had sex on the trips is irrelevant. On the other hand, I did something similar.”
“You did what?”
“I’m not talking about Fi, Dad. I’m talking about when I was head of Iodex. The day I got the call that Wretchkinsides was in D.C. and planning on attacking Haydenshire farm while half the Realm was there, I knowingly and willfully went against protocol more than once. I’d sat day in day out watching my relationship with the woman that means more to me than anything in the world fall completely apart because, Dad, I knew she was pregnant and I knew she was scared to death.”
Governor Vindico grimaced. “Still kills me she was so scared.”
“But nothing could have stopped me from doing what I did. Not you, not Governor Haydenshire, not Will, no one, not even Fionna. In fact,” he forced the story from his lips, “The last thing Fi said to me before I left and took Matilda and locked her up, knowing perfectly well that I could lose my job over that alone she said, ‘Dan, stop. You’re scaring me.” He swallowed down the emotion that formed a rock-like enclosure around his throat whenever he thought about that horrific day. “I didn’t stop and I wasn’t going to stop until I had what I wanted. Was that immoral? Hell yeah. Was it wrong? Yes. And I’m sitting here today without a badge because of it. I’m certain I could drum up some support under the fact that I killed a mass murderer and ended his outright evil organization so I shouldn’t have lost my job. But Governor Haydenshire didn’t see it that way and neither did you.
“All the reasons aside, I’d already broken protocol and I’d already proven that I was perfectly willing to bend the rules to get what I wanted. You don’t come back from that. You leave it to burn because Wilshire might not have out and out stolen the money but he’s proven over and over that he’s perfectly willing to make the books and the money work for him instead of him working for this academy.”
“So, you did learn something.”
“Yeah, I guess I did.”
“Tell me this, since you apparently went and grew up on me at some point. Let’s say it’s ten years from now and my granddaughters are attending here. You find all of this out. Chancellor’s been having an affair with a mentor and all of the details that played out online. As a parent how do you feel? I can tell you that Stephen and Lillian are furious that this was going on while Connor and Logan and Rainer and Emily were here.”
Dan knew that his father felt like he’d not only let down the Crown Governor but one of his best friends as well. He tried to envision the details of his father’s scenario. “I’m not sure. I can tell you that the students knew what was going on. Wilshire would show up in her classrooms at the end of her classes so anyone paying attention generally picked up on something. Fi was devastated when it was confirmed. He’s the guy that told the Angel Owners they should come see Fionna challenge, that she was good enough for the pro’s. He signed me into Special Ops. He came to Amelia’s funeral. You can’t work here and work with the kids and not become a part of their lives. It might ultimately be between him and Ellen but he let a lot of people down. More than he’ll ever realize. It kills me if something or someone disappoints Aida. If she’d been here and had been hurt by his actions, I’d be pissed. But that still wouldn’t be your fault. You didn’t force him to have an affair, or to misuse funds, or whatever the hell else we find out.”
Deep concentration etched his father’s face. “Not sure I agree with that last part.”
Dan’s cell phone rang. He smiled as a picture of Fionna came up on the screen. “Hey, baby. Yeah, just helping Dad with a few things. I’m leaving soon.”
When he ended the call, his father stood. “Thank you for your help, Dan, but go take care of your girls.”
“I will definitely take you up on that.”
Ordering himself not to be disappointed, Dan’s eased in the door to his home. Fionna was sound asleep on the couch under her favorite quilt. He’d managed to get home before Aida but she was clearly exhausted. An hour later, Fionna stirred. “Hey, baby.” He kissed her cheek as she willed her eyes to open.
“You’re home.” A broad grin formed on her features.
“Want some coffee?” A cup of Kauai-an coffee sounded perfect right about then.
“Yum, you’re home and making me coffee.”
Heading into the kitchen, he ordered his cock to give him a break. It had just been so long.
“I saw you on the news this morning,” she informed him as he returned with coffee several minutes later.
“Did you see when Katherine Bryant arrived?”
Fionna drew a long sip of her coffee. “That was awful. They kept asking her these horribly offensive questions. I felt so sorry for her but then I reminded myself what she’d done. But then I felt guilty for thinking that because I’m sure if I was around her I would feel sorry for her because I would feel how badly she feels for it all but on the TV screen it seems almost surreal.”
Dan was well aware that the majority of the American Realm was getting the flat screen image of the affair. Most people would never know how it all began or the illicit and often haunting details. Most people would only ever see it the way they wanted to see it anyway. Only the one dimension displayed on their television screen. But in the end it was just a horrifying example of what happens when you’re not being constantly vigilant about your life and most importantly your relationships with your spouse and your children.
The door pushed open drowning out that topic of conversation quickly. “Daddy!” Aida gasped excitedly. “You’re home!”
There weren’t many sounds sweeter in the entire world. Dan lifted Aida up into his arms. “Hey, baby girl.”
“When do we go to Open House?” she trilled.
“Uh, what?” Fionna’s brow furrowed. A half second later realization lit in her eyes. “Oh my gosh! Aida, is that tonight?”
“Yes, and I made special artwork for you to see in my classroom. We’re going, right?”
“Of course,” Fionna assured her. “Of course we’re going to that tonight and birthing classes tomorrow night and then Aunt Lindley’s rehearsal dinner Friday night and Mommy will figure out some way to make all of this work.” She provided Aida a bowl full of grapes and a yogurt cup. Dan tried to consolingly rub her back but she was bustling around the kitchen downing her coffee with a vengeance now.
“I have to do all my homework. It’s so much,” Aida added thoughtfully.
“You have homework?” Dan wondered if Aida was struggling with something and needed a little extra help. Surely, kids her age weren’t being given tons of homework.
He’d been bracing himself for this. Aida had never been in school before. Naturally, she would be behind the other students. She handed Dan her purple folder. Fionna moved to read over his shoulder as he pulled out the stapled packet of worksheets from the folder and read the note from Mrs. Powell:
Dear Parents, The School Board of the State of Virginia
has now decided that the seven hours your young
children have spent in school is no longer enough
and have decided that each second grader should complete
an hour of homework each night. As I
myself feel, after thirty years of teaching eight year olds,
that their time after school would better be spent playing and using their imaginations, I
feel that spending a little time reading each night out of a reading
level appropriate book and then perhaps drawing a picture or sharing
with you what they’ve read will be quite adequate. If you disagree, which
I’m certain that many of you do, please feel free to have your student
complete any number of the worksheets I’ve included in the packet. Please
do not feel the need to return them to me at any time. If you need more simply
let me know. I do hope to see each of my student’s family’s at Open House
tonight as the children have worked hard to show you their classroom
and how our school day works. Thank you for sharing your delightful
children with me! ~Mrs. Powell
"She has the best teacher in the whole damn school,” Dan decreed under his breath. Fionna nodded her adamant agreement.
“This says that you need to read each day and then draw a picture about what you read or tell me and daddy about your book.” Fionna soothed over Aida’s tension about having homework.
“It does?” Aida asked. “But there were so many sheets.”
“Mrs. Powell says you do enough sheets at school so you can play, and read, and spend time with Mommy and Daddy when you get home,” Dan explained.
“Those are my favorite things to do and to feel baby Halia in your tummy.”
Fionna smiled, “Well, baby Halia has been wearing me out today.” She rubbed her hand over her belly.
All lamentations about not having sex evaporated from Dan’s mind. “More contractions?”
“Yeah. Not as painful, just for a long time.”
“What did Adeline say?” He pushed away the terror in his soul.
“She said Braxton Hicks contractions were normal to some degree and that if it weren’t for the other problem she wouldn’t be concerned. She did another ultrasound and the scar tissue is actually improving. She took me off bed rest. I ran some errands and came home and did some cleaning and the contractions started again."
Dan started to insist that they call Adeline back, but Fionna held up her hand. "I already did. She says I don't have to do full bed rest again but that for now more rest and more water. Less standing,” she confessed dejectedly. “I'm just not all that good at moderation. And she still thinks going back to Kauai in a couple of weeks will probably help reset my energy and Halia’s.”
“Fi, if you want to go back now…” Dan knew what response that was likely to bring.
“Not without you and not without Aida,” she commanded forcefully.
“I can stay here with Aida. Make certain that I’m home every afternoon before she gets home.”
“She said that might be what has to happen if it doesn’t improve but I’m not ready to discuss it yet.”
"Well, I've never been all that good at moderation either but if we're going to Open House tonight, you're going to rest before and after and we'll get some dinner on the way. You're not cooking."
Another round of heated blood surged in Dan's groin. He called himself an asshole and brought his wife another bottle of water.