Brentwood, a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee
"I didn't mean for it to happen," Jessica Caldwell said. "This is the last thing I want in my life right now."
Jessica spoke into her wireless phone. It had been resting on the nightstand at the base of a brass lamp, beside the alarm clock, two unfinished books, and the remote control to the flat-screen television in her bedroom. Jessica had reluctantly answered after seeing his number on the caller ID. It was a conversation she dreaded, but it could be avoided no longer. There was no small talk between them. Their verbal exchange was an argument from the first word. That was more than fine with her.
"But it happened, and we've got to deal with it," Jessica said.
She sat in the middle of the bed in the upstairs bedroom of her Brentwood town house. Her legs and feet were still under the covers. The rest of her body was covered with a Vanderbilt University T-shirt. The glimmer from the half-moon filtered into the room through the venetian blinds of the second-floor window. The only other light was the glow from her digital alarm clock. It was 11:45 P.M. central time on Monday, the second week of May.
Jessica had arrived home after a late dinner, changed clothes, and watched late-night television before climbing into bed. It had taken a while to wind down. She had just fallen asleep when the phone rang.
"I was being careful," she replied to the biting comment from the other end of the phone. "I've been using birth control for years."
She felt agitated and scared at the same time. No one had ever talked to her like that. Shifting her legs, she crossed them under the covers. She held her head in her left hand, the wireless phone in her right, and closed her eyes briefly.
"I told you I didn't mean for it to happen. But it's not all my fault. It took both of us, or have you forgotten?"
Jessica ran her hand through her shoulder-length auburn hair and tucked it behind her ears. Tears welled up in her brown eyes, but she refused to let them escape onto her cheeks. She refused to give him the satisfaction of making her cry. She had never loved the man on the other end of the phone, but during that conversation her feelings for him grew extremely close to hate.
No, she decided. Hate isn't strong enough. I loathe him.
"I don't want this any more than you do," she said. "I'm just beginning my career and -- "
The male voice interrupted with yelling and profanity. He had never yelled at her during their relationship. He had always been polite and kind. The yelling and profanity were almost more than she could take. It was certainly more than she expected.
Then he said something that caused her heart to leap into her throat. She swallowed hard and spoke with determination. "I'm not doing that. I don't think that's right. And it's my body. I'll do what I want to."
The flood of harsh words intensified, angering and upsetting her even more. Jessica despised the day she had met him. She wished him dead.
"What?" she screamed into the receiver, punching the mattress through the comforter and sheets. "Tell your wife? Are you crazy? Of course not! Why would I do something like that?"
Jessica couldn't fight the tears any longer. The dam burst, and they began to stream down her face.
The man on the other end of the call continued to scream at her.
They'd had a comfortable relationship until then. It wasn't love, Jessica knew, but they had found pleasure in each other's company. Then one thing had led to another...and now this had happened. He had gotten what he wanted -- her.
But no more. The physical relationship was officially over, Jessica vowed. She couldn't continue with him after this lashing, but they would always be connected. It was inescapable.
Like the relationship, the conversation needed to end as well. She was sick of talking to him. Jessica briefly held the wireless away from her ear and thought about simply disconnecting the call. She wiped tears from her cheeks with her free hand.
"I don't know how your wife found out," she finally screamed after she had endured the berating for several more minutes. "But I'm through talking about this. I'm hanging up."
The man's yelling continued as Jessica removed the phone from her ear again and pressed the End button. She turned off the power to the wireless phone and growled at it before slamming it down on the nightstand. She also angrily unplugged the landline telephone cord from the wall. After she was certain she wouldn't be disturbed anymore by the telephone -- any telephone -- she extinguished the lamp, buried her face in her pillow, and wept. What sleep she experienced the rest of the night was restless.
The White House, Washington DC
President Richard Wallace left the two black-clad Secret Service agents in the hallway and entered the residential area of the White House. It was the only place in the world where he had any privacy. And privacy had become a rare commodity since his election to the presidency eighteen months earlier. He was a handsome man. Fifty-five years old. Brown and gray hair. Strong jaw. Rugged. He worked out almost every day in the White House gymnasium.
President Wallace made his way in the dark toward the bedroom suite he shared with his wife, Lauren, and removed his suit coat and loosened his necktie as he walked. It was 1:00 A.M. eastern time Tuesday, and he had been up since 4:30 A.M. the previous day.
He activated only one lamp in the sitting area adjacent to his and Lauren's bedroom -- he was concerned that too much light might awaken her -- and draped his coat over the back of a chair. He knew one of the housekeeping staff would find it at daybreak and have it dry-cleaned and back in his closet before he needed it again. He stretched and yawned before plopping down on the sofa in the sitting room. He knew Lauren was asleep in their bedroom, so he tried to be quiet. He didn't even turn on the television. He laid his head on the back of the sofa and closed his eyes.
Despite his efforts to keep from awakening her, Lauren opened the door to their bedroom and called softly from the doorway, "Are you coming to bed?"
"In a few minutes." He peeked at her through squinted eyes. "I just need to unwind. I didn't mean to wake you."
Lauren walked farther into the room. She wore navy silk pajamas and slipped on a matching robe as she moved toward her husband. Lauren, an attractive, slender brunette with a very elegant appearance even at one o'clock in the morning, was the same age as President Wallace.
"I haven't been asleep long," Lauren said. "You need me to get you anything?"
"I'm fine. It's been a long day, with one crisis after the other." He scratched the top of his head and sat up straight. "I called Justice Robinson's family tonight. They don't think she'll make it another day."
Lauren sat on the sofa, rotated her body toward her husband, and tucked her legs under her. She propped her right elbow on the back of the sofa. He reached for her left hand.
"I hate to hear that." Concern flickered in Lauren's warm brown eyes. "I enjoyed her company on the few occasions I had to talk with her."
"Yeah, me too," he said sorrowfully. "I disagree with many of her decisions but respect her as a jurist."
"You have anybody in mind to replace her?"
President Wallace yawned. "Porter McIntosh and the general counsel's office have been compiling a list and background information for several weeks now. I'll probably start interviewing the leading candidates within the next week or so. The Supreme Court's term starts the first week of October. That's only five months away. So we don't have much time to work through the confirmation process."
"It's a big decision."
Describing it as a big decision was an understatement. Selecting a college or buying a house was a big decision. This decision was enormous. The magnitude of it was beyond description.
"It's probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, decisions I'll make as president. I'm convinced this is one of the reasons God has placed me in this position."
"How difficult will it be, do you think, to have your nominee confirmed?"
President Wallace let go of her hand and stretched his arms over his head. He shifted in his seat. His shoulders ached. His exhaustion had finally caught up with him, and he could barely keep his eyes open. He twisted his head toward Lauren.
"The confirmation process will be one of the most politically vicious and brutal events that I can imagine," he told her. "The liberal-interest groups and senators from the left will ferociously attack any candidate I put forward. It won't be pretty, I can tell you that. But it'll be worth the fight if he or she is confirmed."
Reclining against the back of the sofa again, he closed his eyes. The aching in his shoulders eased, but only barely.
"Why don't you come to bed?" Lauren insisted. "You look completely exhausted."
"I'll be there in a minute," he mumbled. "You go ahead."
Not hearing a response, he cracked his eyes open. Seeing the worry on her face, he gave her a reassuring smile.
Lauren returned the smile and kissed him on the cheek. She affectionately squeezed his hand and stood to leave. "Don't stay up too long. You have another long day ahead of you."
"I won't," he promised.
Lauren returned to their bedroom and closed the door.
President Wallace remained alone. He sat up on the edge of the sofa, lowered his head, closed his eyes, and whispered, "Lord, I know that you are in complete control of every situation. I pray for Justice Robinson and her family. Father, if it's in your will, I ask that you heal her body. Please comfort her. And, Lord, if she passes away, I ask that you comfort her family. I also pray for wisdom and your guidance in this most important decision that may now lie before me. Please provide strength and wisdom to me and also to the person you direct me to...