This is a masterfully written story. Lukas has given us a gripping tale of young, unrequited love channeled into fierce ambition, and confronts us with a difficult and painful present reality, keeping us on the edge of our seats until the final pages. Hurricane Days is a story with a big promise that doesn’t disappoint.The Lesbian Review
The way Lukas told the story kept me turning the page. It’s a worthwhile read. The story was interesting, the main character transformation was satisfying and deep, and the pacing was good. You can tell that she is familiar with the art of telling a story.
“Governor Sanders, I have some news.” Peter Fordham was a sweaty mess who seemed to be choking on his tie.
“I’m sure you do,” she responded in a syrupy drawl. Governor Robin Sanders, the pride of the South, appraised her stressed-out political advisor, then handed him a flute of champagne. “Enjoy a sip or two first, Peter. You work too hard.” That was her way of telling him he was a sweaty mess.
He loosened his tie, eyes darting around the crowded living room of the governor’s mansion. She couldn’t tell how important his news was because he treated everything as if it was the apocalypse.
Surrounded by supporters, Robin Sanders had the easy smile of someone hosting a dinner party, not the surprise leader in a hotly contested Republican presidential primary. Of course it was too soon to celebrate. But she instinctively knew to give the impression of a winner anyway. Never show them a moment of doubt. She once did an entire television interview, calm and poised, with a beetle squirming in her shoe. Anyone who knew of her freakish bug phobia would have been impressed to know that.
Tonight she was throwing one of her famous galas at the mansion. She’d become well known for these events. She’d always had a flair for throwing parties and impressing people. As she always told her staff: “This isn’t politics, it’s show business.”
Robin was a commanding presence everywhere she went, a late-forties Scarlett O’Hara, with thick, dark hair, medium-length—styled conservatively, of course—and stunning ice-blue eyes that always seemed to throw others off balance. She had that charisma up-and-comers like Peter could only wish for—the kind where the air actually seemed to change color the moment she entered a room. People listened to her. She could convince anyone of anything no matter how misguided. As a child, she convinced her brother Kenneth to put his G.I. Joe doll down the garbage disposal, assuring him that the doll was tough enough to climb out. Needless to say, Kenneth cried for days after the machine chewed G.I. Joe’s legs off. She was a natural at the art of persuasion, had been ever since she was in diapers. This skill ran deep in the Sanders gene pool.
“You don’t understand,” Peter persisted. “Something bad has…” His words faded into the party banter, and he was immediately tuned out. Peter was her long-suffering right-hand man, the seventh person to occupy the position since she had been elected to the Georgia state senate. Each of the other six had been chewed up and spit out their first day on the job.
“Give that boy a stiffer drink,” bellowed Jimmy Sanders, slapping Peter on the back. A distinguished Southern gentleman and a former Georgia state legislator himself, Robin’s father had had no higher ambition but to return to his beloved farm when he retired. In truth, he related better to horses, cows and chickens than to people. He always said they were easier to understand. Tonight his tux-covered chest was puffed out in pride as he basked in the acknowledgment of his daughter’s grand achievements and national prominence. It mattered so much to her that he was here tonight. She held his opinion in such high regard that she sometimes couldn’t tell the difference between what he wanted for her and what she wanted for herself. Jimmy winked at his second wife, Abigail, who poured herself another martini—her only salvation at functions like these—though she claimed it was Jesus.
“To the latest poll numbers,” Robin exclaimed to the roaring, puckered-up crowd. As everyone raised their glasses, Robin didn’t notice Peter zipping into the library. She wouldn’t have cared, though. The air at the party was electric tonight—because Robin was getting closer than any woman had been to the highest office in the country.
According to everyone present tonight, these were critical times. For too long liberals had been let loose in the nation’s capital, breeding like bugs and being allowed to spread their sinful, diseased messages and pass unnatural laws granting equal rights to homosexuals—all evil deeds sure to make God cry.
Even more dangerously, liberalism had been catching on with the younger generation to such an extent that conservatives were wetting their collective pants, trying hard to come up with ways to make their Grand Old Party relevant to the youth. A new movement had begun in the South, sparked by a resurgence of Civil War pride. More reenactments were taking place. There were more protests in the streets and more “No Adam and Steve” signs at events, even those that had nothing to do with homosexuals, like ribbon-cutting ceremonies for hospitals and cancer fundraisers. It had gotten a little strange at times. Southern states were pushing for an amendment to the Constitution, “The Marriage Purity Act,” insisting that unless a marriage was between a man and a woman, it wasn’t a true, pure marriage and shouldn’t be recognized. They wanted to push it a step further, taking those who had entered into civil unions, or “illegal marriages,” as they called them, and slapping them with huge fines. The time was ripe for a conservative star to emerge, and the environment in the South had become so weird, so charged, that it was the obvious place from which that star should appear. As it turned out, all five of the top contenders hailed from south of the Mason-Dixon line. Only one of them was female though.
Robin Sanders’ political star had risen quite accidentally, although with her ambition she would have found some way to get noticed eventually. It began when Robin, already an outspoken leader in the Georgia senate, was asked to fill in for an ill colleague who was going to be interviewed on CNN. When she stepped in, she surprised everyone with her charisma and unrehearsed candor. Simply put, the camera loved her. Unlike her male counterparts, who tended to rattle off the same, uninspired talking points, she spoke off the cuff, winning admirers among people of both parties—and earning repeated invitations for future commentary.
Asked during a later appearance to comment on a female senator’s low-cut dress in what became known as “Dressgate,” she shocked Jay Savage, a popular CNN anchor, and the rest of America, with her response. He’d expected harsh criticism from her, especially because the woman was a Democrat. What he’d received instead was a stern rebuke.
“Mr. Savage,” she said coolly in her tough Southern accent. “I don’t care if her dress was cut down to her belly button. What I do care to talk about is what she has to say and why I don’t agree with her.”
“Furthermore, given the looks of your tie, I’m surprised we don’t have a new scandal on our hands.”
Conservative women labeled her a “new kind of feminist.” She wasn’t sure that fit, but she was willing to wear whatever label helped her to gain more recognition. She graced the covers of Time, Newsweek and even Rolling Stone, which featured her in a piece about the new crop of powerful women.
Even for those who despised her, Robin was fascinating to see in action. Her success was partly her own ability as a first-rate orator, as well as the current state of candidates of both parties; they made many Americans snooze at a time when they most needed to be awake.
For the past four years, the incumbent President Mark Ellis, a Democrat, had been a good, but uninspiring leader. He looked like most US leaders who had come before him—a straight, white male with a plastic smile. He’d been coached and briefed on what to say, how to be politely vague and how to make a nondecision seem like a decision. He was exactly what everyone was tired of, someone who seemed like a talking wax figure.
Enter the charismatic Robin Sanders, as compelling as watching a movie star. It was no wonder people who didn’t even agree with her rhetoric found themselves watching her anyway. She livened up the news channels in a way no one else had before.
When asked about gridlock in Congress, she’d say, “There were four of us in my family. We couldn’t all agree on what to have for dinner. Why should we expect five hundred thirty-five members of Congress to agree on anything?”
When Robin was later elected governor of Georgia, she made even more frequent appearances on the Atlanta-based CNN, where she became very popular, embracing the new wave of conservatism, but with enough attitude to make some liberals take notice. Before long, she was on track to become the first female president of the United States.
There was much good she intended to do if given a greater platform. Among her biggest concerns was the US dependence on foreign oil and lack of stronger laws about domestic and sexual violence against women. It wouldn’t be easy, but from her time in the Georgia senate and as governor, she knew how to get the laws she cared about passed. Many of those supporting her campaign were “family values,” antigay protesters, however, so she had to do that dance as well. She didn’t agree with fining gay couples for entering into civil unions, but for now, she was keeping that to herself.
Only one more debate remained. Florida was the last frontier—the state that would determine who would be the Republican candidate in the presidential election. The final debate would take place in Tampa in three weeks.
“To the final debate!” a voice thundered. Tom Rutherford, Robin’s husband, was making his way down the grand staircase. He was the last person anyone expected to see tonight. The rumor mill was always churning about their marriage. He’d been making fewer public appearances lately, so there was speculation that he was either staying in the shadows to keep the focus on her, or he was a blithering drunk whom she had to keep locked upstairs during social events. The crowd parted in front of him, everyone eager to see his condition for themselves.
Tom smiled genuinely. He was handsome, late forties, with sandy hair and wings of gray on the sides of his head. His retiring, quiet demeanor was the perfect complement to that of his wife. It also didn’t hurt that he was a prominent Atlanta attorney. “My dear.” Tom kissed Robin’s hand as if he were Ashley Wilkes, returning home from the war.
“Governor Sanders, you certainly snagged the last of the Southern gentlemen.” Minnie Douglas, a popular gossip columnist, fanned herself with her own hand for dramatic effect.
Robin was pleased to have Minnie in the crowd tonight. Her column would surely be buzzing tomorrow with her personal knowledge of Robin’s perfect marriage. Minnie was an absurd little blue-haired woman whose phony laugh echoed all the way to the chandeliers. But anyone who was anyone, or who was trying to be someone, invited Minnie to their gatherings—for the sole purpose of being featured in her column.
“I heard Joe’s bowing out,” Tom announced. He smiled and took a sip of his whiskey. “It’s true,” he told the crowd. “We’re down to the final four. Wait, is this basketball season?” The place filled with polite laughter. Nothing Tom said was really that funny, and Robin didn’t have the heart to tell him.
Robin knew it wasn’t easy for him. She also knew she had a chance to be important, to make history—not only by virtue of her gender but through the changes she thought she could bring to the world. Her ideas might have been grandiose, but her methods were extremely practical. Too often idealists took straightforward approaches and were defeated. To succeed in politics, she knew, you had to play the game. There was no other way. She knew too that in an age of technology, where a lie could spread so quickly on Twitter that it became perceived as the truth, everything about her life had to be perfect. From paparazzi to a wayward drone, there were always forces out there conspiring to catch her in a lie—or a pair of discount jeans. She couldn’t let that happen. If she was to reach her goals everything had to be planned down to the last detail and well rehearsed.
Tom had been taking antidepressants for some time and shouldn’t be drinking. Robin didn’t mind as long as he didn’t embarrass her. Tonight he simply needed to play the part of the doting husband. Good ole Jack Daniels would hopefully make it all much easier. In moments of solitude, feelings of guilt over what this might be doing to Tom would creep in. But she quickly let them go. Otherwise they would destroy her. She couldn’t let that happen.
“Joe Henderson is bowing out? Are you sure?” It was easy for Robin to pretend not to hear potentially bad news, but surprisingly hard for her to trust good news either. She looked around for her political advisor, seeking his confirmation. “Peter?”
Where was he? How odd. He’d been tugging on her sleeve most of the night, and now he was gone.
“Excuse me a minute,” she told Tom. She flitted through the crowd, searching, until she noticed the library door was closed.
“Governor Sanders,” Peter exclaimed as she entered. He muted the TV.
She closed the door behind her, heels clicking across the marble floors.
“What is it?” she demanded.
Staring into the ice-blue eyes so close to him, Peter stumbled.
“Well?” she repeated.
He aimed the remote at the TV, turning the volume back on. Ann DeMarco, a popular journalist, was posing a question: “Will this scandal destroy Governor Sanders’ political career? Does her road to the White House end here?”
Robin faced the screen. “Scandal? What scandal?”
Then she saw the photograph. It was larger than life, a picture of a young, college-age Robin with her arm around another girl.
Peter changed the channel.
“A lesbian affair in college?” Benny Rhodes, the most obnoxious of all the conservative pundits, was shouting. He was very afraid of women intruding in the old boys’ club of politics and frequently ranted for hours about female politicians’ weights and hairstyles—both subjects that seemed to keep him up at night. He would be the first to skewer her. “How can you run a campaign based on Leviticus and be caught with your hand up another woman’s skirt?” He chuckled to himself. “I think she’s ruined.”
Robin grabbed the remote from Peter and flipped the station again. Lindsay Vaughan was the next pundit to dissect the situation. Her commentary was usually a bit more balanced, but this was a pundit’s Christmas come early. “The higher your moral high ground, the farther you have to fall when a skeleton like this comes crashing out of your closet.”
“Governor,” Peter sighed.
She raised her hand. “Please.”
Again the photograph was splashed across the screen. It looked as though the two girls were outside in front of a fire. Robin stood frozen, staring at it. The girls’ smiles were saved for posterity, both of them looking so happy, as if their futures were limitless. Robin caught her breath. She’d never forgotten Adrienne. She could only vaguely remember the other girl—the girl she used to be.
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