Midnight was closing in fast, but as Monica glanced through the West Wing window, seeing the torrential downpour outside, it became all too easy to convince herself into staying later. This was now officially the latest she had ever stayed at work. She was scheduled through five o’clock, but typically stayed at work until eight or nine. Sometimes she’d get out as early as six or seven, and sometimes she’d stay until ten. Her previous record was 11:21 pm. Monica looked at her watch and sighed, confirming the time in her next glance at the local-time wall clock in her large, shared office. It was now 11:53 pm.
I’ll leave once the rain stops, she told herself. And with this, she returned to her desk, grabbed her encyclopedia, and continued her research work. This newest project was a report for Doug regarding a trip to Israel the President was planning for November. She had already finished the “first phase” of that research — listing a few dozen hotels that could be considered, notes on every hospital in Jerusalem and within a fifty-mile radius of the city, learning about local laws, etc. — and now she was on the second phase, the cultural one, where she needed to learn about local and regional customs, notes on recent local news events, that sort of thing.
After some time had gone by, Monica found herself glancing toward the window on the far side of the room. It was still raining cats and dogs outside. She glanced at her watch… it was now 12:14 am, a time that she confirmed on the wall clock, keeping with her subconscious office ritual. It didn’t seem like that much time had passed, but apparently, it had.
Monica let out a vocal yawn, knowing none of her coworkers were around to hear it, and after a much-needed stretch, she decided to go use the snack machine. Two minutes later, she was holding a can of Diet Coke, a small bag of potato chips, and a candy bar. “Dinner,” she said aloud, her frown just barely kept at bay by her love of chocolate. With another sigh, she began to return to her desk, wondering if the rain would ever stop.
Just before she crossed the threshold between the hallway and her shared office, she heard something. Was that someone… howling? She froze in place, careful not to make a peep. No… that’s not someone howling, it’s… something else? Air conditioning or something? She looked around, but nobody else was in that area of the West Wing at that moment. Should she investigate? Yes, she convinced herself. Maybe it’s something I should tell the uniformed Secret Service agents up front about.
Her decision was made. Monica Lewinsky quietly, slowly made her way down the hallway, her ears focused on the sound. Several steps in, she almost felt like she could make out what it was, but then the sound abruptly stopped. undeterred, Monica marched on, believing it would start back up again. As she came toward the end of the hallway, down near the famed Oval Office, that’s precisely what happened. It was a saxophone. Someone was inside the Oval Office, playing around with a saxophone?
Monica decided to peek in. If someone was in the Oval without permission, using it as their personal musical rehearsal space, the Secret Service would need to be notified, right? And so she stepped closer, silencing herself further, walking into the small office just outside the Oval. The room usually had at least one or two Secret Service agents manning the door, secretarial staff, and aides, but at this hour, she was the only person here. She saw that the door was half-open, and the lights seemed to be out in the famed office up ahead. Quietly and cautiously she advanced, soon coming to silently nudge the door open enough that she could slowly poke her head into the President’s office.
A lamp on the far side of the room kept the space dimly-lit. There, standing behind the Resolute Desk, was the tall silhouette of a man, holding another silhouette, this one of a saxophone. His sunken head rose slowly, oblivious to her presence, seemingly watching the rain patter and spray against the window. The man let out a sad grunt, and then his chin sunk back into his chest.
Monica stepped closer, hoping to identify this person. She thought about announcing herself, but instead she waited, her doubt necessitating hesitation. Should she speak? Should she go get security? Should she…
The man blew into the sax hard, and Monica’s stomach fluttered as the firm, smooth sounds washed through every nook and cranny of the Oval Office. Eight notes, strung together through sheer power and emotion. Eight notes that crippled her. Eight notes she had heard before. And then came the next six notes, and then another ten. She knew this song. Everyone knew it. It was “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty. And hearing this man play it, it made her feel… she didn’t know how to describe it. The only word that came to her mind was magical. This man, intruder or not, had made her feel magical.
The man had finished the song’s famous intro, and went back to his long pause. She had to introduce herself, right? She had to see who this man was? She had to…
The thunder belted through Monica’s ears, and she let out a loud yelp. The man turned, startled. “What? Who… who are… Monica?”
She knew that voice. “Uh… sir? Mister President? Is that… is that you?”
The man clapped his hands together twice, and the lights in the Oval Office quickly burst on. It was indeed the President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, dressed in jeans, tennis shoes, and a Yale sweatshirt. “What are you doing here, Miss Lewinsky? Shouldn’t you be home? It’s late!”
“I’m… I’m sorry sir! I mean, I’m sorry Mister President! I didn’t mean to… I… I didn’t… I thought I heard…”
The President smiled, his cheeks as blushed as Monica’s. “Hey, relax ‘lil lady. I didn’t mean to… you just startled me is all. And I apparently startled you, too. You okay, Miss Lewinsky?”
“Yes, I’m okay.” She had gotten a hold of her breathing by then. “I didn’t mean to startle you, Mister President. I heard something from down the hall, and I wanted to see if everything was okay, and then I came into the Oval, and it was dark, and…”
“I understand. It’s all good. You were just lookin’ out for the nation, is all.” Bill Clinton looked Monica up and down, and then smiled. “What’s that you’re holdin’?”
Monica had to look down to see what he was referencing. She’d forgotten entirely about the food she’d gotten from the vending machines. “This? This is… dinner.”
“Dinner? Awe, like Hell it is! Come on over here, Miss Lewinsky. Take a seat.”
“Yes sir,” Monica timidly replied.
“I ain’t the President right now, okay? Think of this as two work buddies just hanging out, shootin’ the shit after work. I’ve had my fill of the ‘yes sirs’ and ‘mister presidents’ today. For the rest of the night, just call me Bill.”
“Yes sir… yes, mister… Bill.”
The President laughed. “Mister Bill?” He laughed again. “Oooh nooo!” he shouted in a high-pitched voice. “You get it? Mister Bill? From Saturday Night Live?”
Monica let out a nervous giggle. “I remember those skits, when I was little.”
“Anyway, like I was saying, you just call me ‘Bill’ tonight, Miss Lewinsky, okay? And we’re just two friends hangin’ out after work. I really need a break from all the ‘presidential’ stuff.”
Monica smiled. “Sure thing, Bill. But only if you’ll call me Monica.”
“I reckon I can do that, Monica. Hey, hold on a second.” Bill grabbed the phone from his desk. “Hey, It’s me,” he said into it. “Can we get a couple of burgers and some fries sent up? Oh! We got any pie? Yeah? Peach cobbler sounds great. Yeah, extra bacon, don’t you know it. Uh huh. Thanks.”
“Bacon? On peach cobbler?”
Bill laughed heartily at her. “The burgers. Bacon on the burgers.”
“Oh!” Monica laughed, embarrassed but also amused. “Thanks sir… sorry… thanks Bill.”
“Hey, don’t mention it.” Bill came out from behind the desk, walked around to its front, and leaned back against it. “I’m hungry too, and I can’t let you eat that and call it dinner. Not on my watch. Say, what are you doing here so late, anyway? It’s gotta be after midnight, right? Did the Philippines invade Bulgaria or somethin’? Were people called back in?”
Monica laughed again. She had no idea the president had a sense of humor, not like this. “I decided to stay late. I had some work to do, and I didn’t feel like walking around in the rain. Not that much rain, anyway.”
“Yeah, it’s really comin’ down in sheets out there.”
“Why are you here so late… Bill?” It was going to take her forever to get used to referring to the President of the United States of America by his first name.
“Me? I just… I needed some alone-time. I figured nobody would be in the West Wing tonight.”
“Oh? Should I go? It’s not…”
“I didn’t word that right,” Bill interrupted. “I meant more like, time away from… it don’t matter. I just didn’t want to be in the residence tonight is all. Not right now anyway.”
“I totally get that. to be honest, I didn’t really want to go home either. I don’t like being alone. It’s so… lonely? That doesn’t sound right.”
“No, I know what you mean, for sure. That’s why I’m here. It’s better to be lonely and alone than lonely sitting with somebody else, you know?”
“My wife… aww hell, you know what Hillary’s like. You remember that thing she did? That prank she pulled on you?”
Monica shuddered. “It’s impossible to forget.”
“Imagine living with a woman like that. Imagine being married to her for twenty years. Sometimes, you just need to get away. You just need to go find someplace to be alone, and play your music, and try to forget, you know? But I lucked out, because you’re here, and maybe I can make a new friend tonight.”
“I’d like that,” Monica replied, sporting her big signature smile. “So… you play the saxophone?”
“Yes ma’am. I kinda thought everybody knew that. You know, after that whole ‘Arsenio’ thing, I mean. People thought it was just a publicity stunt, but nope, I really do play the saxophone. I play it as much as I’m able. As much as I’m allowed, anyway.”
“I suppose I just forgot about that. You get so used to how things work here at the White House that memories like that seem to slip right through the cracks.”
“Sure, I get that.”
“I love that song, by the way.”
“Oh, that. Yeah, I love that song, too. Not a lot of saxophone in rock and roll music, especially not like that. Somethin’ about that riff, it just… it sums up exactly how I’m feelin’ right now. It sums up the rain, the solitude, that stuff with Hillary, all of it, you know?”
Just then, a team of White House kitchen staff pushed in a food cart, trying to seem as invisible as possible, their stealth shattered when Bill shouted, “Hey! Dinner’s here! Thanks, guys! Y’all gonna accept my tip today or what?”
“I’m sorry Mister President,” one of the men replied, smiling. “You know the drill, sir.”
“Yeah-yeah. Hey, you get my…”
“Extra bacon, yes sir.”
“And the hon…”
“Honey mustard dipping sauce for your French fries, of course Mister President.”
“Y’all are the best!”
“Thank you, Mister President.” With this, the men finished setting out the meal, then took a deep bow before exiting the Oval Office.
Sitting before Monica and Bill was an elegantly-prepared meal, the labor of love evident in how perfect every little bite appeared to be. The buns had several different types of seeds. The meat was juicy, caked thick with cheese, bacon, shredded lettuce, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and pickles, a toothpick struggling to hold it all in. The steak fries were plump, the salt glistening under the room’s lights. and between their two plates sat a large peach cobbler pie, freshly cooked in record time, the steam serving as evidence of its recent preparation. Tall steins of bubbly beer accompanied the meals, though Monica still had her heart set on her soft drink, which she cracked open as Bill sat on the sofa opposite hers, his hands fording through fries to fish ones up from the bottom of the pile.
“This job has some perks, but this one? This is my favorite.” He shoved the fries into his face, while Monica tried to figure out how to tackle the massive burger before her. “Second-favorite. I mean, I can pick up that phone, say a few words, and a private jet will take me anywhere in the world I wanna go, right now, no questions asked. You ever been to Fiji, Monica? We could go to Fiji right now.”
“I wish,” Monica said after chewing her food. This was the best burger she’d ever eaten in her entire life. “I’ve never really been anywhere that exotic. We went on vacations when I was younger, places like Europe, and skiing trips up to Calgary, but never anywhere tropical. San Francisco is probably the closest to a tropical place I’ll ever get to see.”
“San Francisco? Where’s that?”
“It’s a small town in California. We have a lot of hills, and a couple of bridges, and people decorate their homes and businesses with rainbows, though I never really understood why. I think that’s like, a local flag or something. We’re most famous for our rice. I’ve never actually seen a rice paddy in San Francisco, but yeah, I guess we export a lot of rice. It’s ‘the San Francisco treat,’ apparently.”
“San Francisco, huh?” Bill took a swig from his beer. “It sounds like a lovely place. I’d love to see it some day.”
“The people would love to see you, Bill. It’s a very happy town. Everyone is super-friendly.”
“It sounds perfectly gay.”
“Oh, it’s the gayest! It’s the gayest place on Earth! I love it!”
“Why would you ever leave such a beautiful, gay town?”
Monica finished chewing before replying. “Well, it’s the White House, you know? My parents knew Mr. Panetta, and he had this internship opportunity for me, and it sounded so perfect. I couldn’t pass it up, you know? The chance to work at the White House, and to meet my heroes…” she realized then that her smile had morphed into a frown. Bill surely was taking note of that. “I love this place, I love this opportunity, but… but it can be challenging sometimes. And not the good kind of challenging. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss home every single day, but that’s not to say I don’t love it here. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…”
Bill laughed. “On your chin.”
“Oh!” Monica quickly grabbed a napkin and started patting her face. “How embarrassing!”
“Aww, don’t be.”
“So, what about you? Where are you from?”
“Me? I’m from Hope.”
“The very one.”
“Wow! What was life like in the big city? Was it as exciting as all those movies make it look?”
“A little too exciting.” Bill paused to sip down some more beer. “In a city that big, that alive, everything moves so fast. You move through life like you’re on a bullet train. Nobody takes the time to appreciate the little things. It’s all just… fast. And don’t get me started on all the homosexuals.”
“Homosexuals. They’re everywhere in the big city. You can’t get away from ’em! They all want to do your hair, and help you shop for clothes, it’s horrible! That’s why I signed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ into law last year. Next year I’m planning to sign the ‘Defense of Marriage Act,’ once that one gets finalized. I mean, I know it’s 1995, and we’re all supposed to be accepting of people, but they wanna get married! To each other! Let me tell you, there ain’t nothin’ gay about homosexuals.”
“Well, I dunno… if two people love each other, who are we to tell them they aren’t allowed? It shouldn’t matter who they are, you know?”
“I guess,” Bill replied, his tone dripping with uncertainty.
“I mean, what’s gayer than love? What’s gayer than two people who love each other getting married? I’d say the happiest love, the gayest love, is the best love. None of the rest of it matters, not really. People these days, they only care about sex, you know? Well, not me. I want to be in love. I want to be happy and gay. I want to have lots of gay sex with someone who loves me.”
“Lots of gay sex sounds like something we all want,” Bill replied. “I guess that makes sense. I dunno, I just… to be honest, I don’t have a problem with them homosexuals. I actually like them. They’re friendly, clean, fun to be around, there’s nothing wrong with them at all.”
“But you just…”
“I know, I know.” Bill paused, chugging down the remaining beer from his stein. His pause lingered thereafter for another twenty seconds, to the very edge of the silence becoming awkward. “That’s Hillary. That’s Hillary talking through me. She’s the one that don’t like the homosexuals, not me. It ain’t really my opinion. My opinion don’t matter none.”
“Of course your opinion matters, Bill. You’re the President! Of America!”
“That’s what marriage is, Monica. That’s what true love is. It’s compromise. It’s making your wife happy, even at the expense of your own happiness. It’s saying you don’t support homosexual marriage when you really don’t care one way or the other if they get married or not, because your wife has dreams, and your job is to try and help make them come true.”
“How does homosexual marriage affect the First Lady’s dreams? I don’t understand.”
“It’s political. It’s all political, Monica. It’s all political, all of the time. Hillary won’t let me say what I really think. She won’t let me poop without five focus groups and eighteen pollsters telling me if it’s a good idea, or if it’ll hurt the reelection campaign. She won’t let me play Super Nintendo with Al. She won’t let me do anything! She won’t let me be me!”
Bill Clinton clearly had things he needed to get off of his chest. He needed to vent. So Monica sat back, leaving her food alone, and she listened. She let him say whatever he needed to say. Bill ranted about the 1992 campaign, and the upcoming 1996 campaign. He told her how Hillary wanted him to abandon Al Gore, his good, close friend, and take her on as his Vice President. He told her how Hillary was manipulative, dishonest, and cruel. How she would let the whole capital burn to the ground if it would let her have what she believed the world owed her. And she was loveless. She didn’t love him. She married him the way a carpenter purchases a table saw. It really was as he said; It was all political. Procreation was a tool to help polling numbers improve. Her smile was carefully-crafted by PR experts. Even her laugh was an invention from other creative minds; K-Street to help raise funds, and Madison Avenue to attract Joe Q. Voter, the same way a commercial attracts someone to buy things. Hillary Clinton was a political machine. A political monster. And Bill Clinton was little more than a puppet, a charming little toy deployed in an era where women couldn’t win higher office without the support of men. An era she was looking to end once and for all. Monica believed that era should end too, but not like this.
From there, the conversation started to shift toward what Bill himself really wanted. The sort of president he hoped he could be. The sorts of things he’d try to do legislatively, if only he could escape from under Hillary’s thumb. And the whole time, Monica listened attentively, assuring him and reinforcing his confidence as often as she could. Before long, they started talking about Monica, and her life and dreams. And then they found shared interests, and they talked about life, and music, and their favorite flavors of cake, and their childhoods, and Gilligan’s Island, and everything and anything that came to either of their minds.
It wasn’t until the sun peaked through the window that either of them had realized they’d been chatting with each other all through the night and into the morning. It wasn’t until then that they realized that in those hours, the ones that had flown by like a fighter jet, they had discovered incidentally that they were always meant to be the very best of friends.