Well here we go, Book Five.
Where to begin to introduce this one. Things change, as they always do. I need to continue to build with these characters, and that means facing this mammoth obstacle.
Plot has become the driving force behind this book and the next one. People that have read this one like it. I know the subject matter, and it is so very much a part of Ottawa.
Submitted for your approval.
As usual Comments or questions direct to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feed back is welcome.
Of all the properties which belong to honorable men, not one is so highly prized as that of character.
There was a sense of euphoria in the air, a feeling of victory and accomplishment. Will watched the results go up on the board as various poling stations came back to the campaign headquarters. It had been a close race, both candidates had given a tough battle for the riding but his side was now clearly winning.
The candidate, standing off to one side with his daughter wrapping her arms around him, excitedly looked every inch the perfect candidate. Robert Avery was a stately man, regal and dignified, exuding power and control, and that was what this riding had desperately craved. A man to stand up and say `I will' rather than the incumbent conservative who preferred a platform of the status quo.
Will smiled; Robert was the antithesis of the status quo: a man born on Grafton Street in Halifax who had built his own company and had risen to prominence bringing growth and prosperity with him. He wasn't a middle-aged white ultraconservative, and that had been what the voters had wanted.
There was change in the air. After a near-disastrous minority government the Liberal Party was on the verge of a slim majority. One seat, one riding granting them the capability to lead the country. One seat that they now looked set to win hands down.
Will breathed a tight sigh, his hands thrust deeply into his pocket as he stared at the board, willing the numbers to climb. This was do or die, all the months of work, all the dedication he had put in, the long nights or standing on doorsteps bringing the issues to the voters. It all came down to the last few polls, and they were winning.
Robert glanced at him, the old man smiling at his protege, a simple gesture of thanks for getting him there, and Will returned the nod. It was strange how Robert was so calm; Will was excited and nervous like a child craving something so badly he could almost taste it.
It would be a few minutes until the last of the polls were in, and Will had to get some fresh air. He couldn't take the anticipation much longer, he just wanted it over, he just wanted to know. And he smiled inwardly at his own impatience.
Out into the Toronto street he felt the rain and ignored it as it splattered on him in fat droplets. He reveled in the nightlife, early evening on Election Day; everyone that passed the headquarters honked their support, and a few people waved at him. He returned the waves with a smile as he found a low wall to lean on.
"Cigarette?" offered a scruffy young man coming out of the headquarters and leaning on the wall beside Will.
"Don't smoke," Will replied, glancing at the young man. He was a mixture of contradictions: the way he dressed with a tweed jacket thrown over a hoody and tee shirt; the baseball cap pulled low to hide his eyes that still shone brightly; the five o'clock shadow that was neatly trimmed; an unlit cigarette in his hand that he seemed in no hurry to light.
"Mind if I do?" the young man asked; there was an intelligence to how he spoke, another contradiction. Anyone that passed him would have just written him off as another street punk, as would Will except for the designer tag still on the sleeve of the jacket that should have been clipped off had it not been forgotten about.
"They say secondhand smoke is worse than smoking," Will replied, running a hand through his damp hair and enjoying the rain on the early fall evening.
"Hmmm," the young man said thoughtfully as he watched a streetcar rumble past on up Queen Street. "I should think about quitting, then."
"Might make your other half happy," Will replied.
The young man's eyes sparkled again, "Depends; personally, I think he likes me a little rebellious."
"Sounds like an interesting man." Will stepped out of the shelter of the lee of the building and let the rain fall on him, "Tell me more about him?"
"Oh, he's handsome," the young man replied, "if a little...daft..." he faked a British accent for the word, "at times. Definitely successful."
"Sounds like quite a catch," Will said with a smile, turning back to the other man, watching him spark up the cigarette and take a long puff on it. "What's he think of you chatting up strange men on the side of the street?"
"Oh, he gets jealous really easily," the young man said with a half laugh as he hopped up to sit on the wall letting his sneakered feet dangle down, "but he trusts me."
"Hmmm," Will replied thoughtfully, "so I guess there's no chance of taking you home, then?"
A dirty-looking panhandler walked by and extended a hand to Will, completely ignoring the other young man. Someone in a shirt and tie had to have some spare change. Will thought it was typical of assumptions, but absently fished out a twoonie and pressed it into the old man's hand, offering a smile to the man's words of thanks.
"Did I mention he's generous, too?" the young man said with a warm smile as he tilted his cap back from his eyes.
"Mmm, no, I don't think you did," Will said, stepping up to Marc and leaning in to steal a kiss.
"Ahem." A rather bemused woman dressed in a comfortable suit stood with crossed arms looking at them, "If you two boys are quite finished proving exactly how liberal we really are on election night, they are just about to announce the last of the poll results."
Will turned his head to face Lisa, Robert Avery's publicist and singularly one of his closest friends, "Do I have to, mom?"
Lisa glared at him. Mrs. Sternosti, mother of a bouncing baby boy, hated being reminded of exactly how close to thirty she really was, "You're the campaign manager, I think you should at least see how well you did at the job."
Will stepped back from Marc and bobbed his head still grinning, "All right, I'm coming, I'm coming."
Marc hopped down from the wall and stubbed out his cigarette under his shoe and followed them inside, mimicking Will by stuffing his hands into his pockets and sauntering along behind him.
Will looked around the crowded room at all the eager faces; such a key seat, in such a hotly contested riding, and they were all hoping, just as Will was, that they would win. It would mean real change. Robert Avery's conditions for running meant a cabinet seat and an important role in the Liberal party.
Will remembered back to when Robert had first been talked into running, the party leaders courting what they saw as a desirable candidate, and a visible minority as well. Robert Avery was definitely a jewel in the Prime Minister's crown, and that had given Robert bargaining power.
The man himself nodded to Will as they both turned to face the board. Will stood, as he always stood, directly behind Robert, his arms folded watching the numbers go up. He wouldn't take credit for getting Robert to where he was, but there was an unspoken understanding between the two men that Will would do whatever it took to support Robert.
It was the kind of loyalty earned from trust and deed, and Robert made it very clear exactly how much he trusted William Carter. When someone was willing to give you complete loyalty and asked nothing in return, that was true friendship.
"Here we go," Robert said, holding onto his daughter's hand tightly. Elizabeth, for her part, clung on for all she was worth.
The final number went up and it was official.
The room erupted into pandemonium.
Will was suddenly gripped by a powerful bear hug from Robert before being dropped as the old man moved on to do the same with Lisa. The thrill and elation of the moment was indescribable, Will was literally through the roof. It was a high that electrified him, as he stared in disbelief up at the board again. Robert had won, they had won.
Robert Avery was being pushed towards the front of the stage, to the clamoring crowd that cheered his name and pumped his signs in the air. Balloons and confetti rained down from the ceiling as people began to chant for their hero.
Will clapped along with the other members of the election staff, turning to follow their leader as he stepped up to address the crowds.
"Well," Robert said, turning to look up at the board behind him, "I think that went well."
The crowd steadied, settling down to hear him speak, and he waved them into silence, "Thank you very much, thank you." The crowd cheered again, "My fellow Canadians..." he turned to the board, "thank you!"
Will smiled as he glanced at Lisa who had prepared the speech that was about to be delivered. She looked back at him and smiled; this was it, he'd done his part and now it was her turn.
"This vote, this riding has sent a clear message that you no longer want a divided government, you want strong leadership. After a difficult election, and a difficult position of a minority government you have said `enough debating, it is time for action.'"
"I am optimistic that we can bring this change to the Capital Ottawa."
"I have stood on a platform of equality; equality for everyone black," he gestured to himself, "white," he gestured to a man in the crowd, "gay," he gestured to Will, "straight... It is the basic right guaranteed in the Canadian charter of rights, and is the foundation upon which our great nation is built."
"Together, we will work to make all our public schools excellent, teaching every student of every background and every accent, so that every one has an equal chance to succeed.
"Together, we will address some of society's deepest problems one person at a time, by encouraging and empowering the good hearts and good works of people everywhere..."
Will glanced at Marc, who was listening with interest to the speech. It had been a long few weeks since the election had been called, but Marc had weathered it well; he had even contributed whenever an extra pair of hands had been needed, rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in, seeming just to know how important all of this was to Will.
Marc turned and gave Will a questioning up nod, asking him if everything was ok with the gesture. Will nodded in return and looked back at Robert, winding down in his victory speech; the crowd was excited and cheers punctuated his points as he delivered them. The people that had voted to send him to Ottawa had done so because they trusted and believed in him. Robert was a man who would fight for the things they cared about: equality, development, jobs, and medicare.
After years of uncertainty under a minority government they could finally be optimistic, even enthusiastic, about Canada's future. And Will found himself sharing that hope.
It was late in the night; most of the celebrators had gone home, leaving the large hall mostly empty except for the last few of the faithful. Will was sitting in a chair, a red balloon in his hands being turned slightly so he could see the Liberal logo on it.
He looked about him at the remnants of the party; weeks of work was finally at an end and he was free to go back to his job at Avery-Woods and get back to his life as a company man.
He had to chuckle, campaign manager just had a better ring to it than Director of Human Resources. Something else to add to his resume he supposed if he ever felt the need to leave his job. Not that he ever would; he loved his staff, working hard and the rewards that came with being a good manager.
Robert Avery glanced down at him from the stage where he was talking to one of his financial advisors. He shook the man's hand and walked to the edge of the stage, resting an arm on the podium.
"Minister." Will stated with a half smile as he clapped his hands together a couple of times slowly and dramatically.
Robert looked down at his friend and confidant, never sure if the man was teasing him or not, "Thank you, William."
"Well, look at it this way," Will said with a shrug. "Gets you out of the way for some bright young spark to take over Avery-Woods." He gave Robert a deadpan look, "I think I'll move into your old office in the morning."
"Ambitious as ever." Robert smiled, "The board will be meeting to elect a new CEO but I'm not recommending you."
Will arched his eyebrow, "Oh, am I still too young?"
"I don't think you'd be challenged in the position," Robert replied simply. "And the investors would never go for it. I have bigger plans for you, Mister Carter."
"Ahh," Will said dryly, "you're sending me to run the Nunavut office."
Avery shook his head, "Tempting, especially after that publicity stunt you had me do involving the mascot for the Blue Jays."
Will smirked, "Actually minister, that was Lisa's idea..."
"Of course, and you had nothing to do with it." Robert gave him that knowing look, "But seriously, William, I have a job offer for you."
"You sound serious." Will grew curious; he often thought Robert Avery was grooming him to take over Avery-Woods, but the way Robert was talking he appeared to have other plans.
"I want you to be my new Chief of Staff when I take over the ministry of Canadian Heritage."
Will sat up straight. "Me?" he asked incredulously. "I'm not qualified..."
"You're pre-eminently qualified," Robert disagreed. "You have run a Human Resource Department for a multinational firm, demonstrating time and time again your capability. And I still haven't forgotten how you handled the Tri-tech situation a year ago."
"That's a little different than running a Minister's office," Will protested.
"True," Robert agreed, "but you'll learn. I need someone I can trust if I am going to pull this off. And you're the only one I know that fits that bill and has the experience."
Will frowned, "I don't know what to say."
"It'll mean moving to Ottawa," Robert admitted. "You'd be uprooting from here, but considering the amount of time you lived there before... I think you will have the easiest time settling. I'll cover your moving expenses, but I need an answer by tomorrow morning."
Brody walked through the pile of boxes that were being unloaded in his house; he lowered his sunglasses and watched as a particularly garish piece of art was taken through.
"Don't tell me, a Jeff Sternosti original?"
Will lowered the painting he was carrying and glanced at the chaotic splashes of colour that warred for attention on the canvas. "Yeah it was my birthday present last year," he said as he carried it through to the living room. "It's called `Mother's Repose'."
"Looks more like mother decomposed," Brody said with a shake of his head as he contemplated the piece. "I think I see a hand..."
Marc carrying a potted plant in from the truck stopped and stared, and looked at Brody. "Acid flashback?" he asked with a grin.
"I was just thinking it looks like something my niece Kaitlin drew me." Brody stood back and studied the painting, "She's two and a half, by the way, so cute..."
Will shook his head at the pair as he went back out to the moving truck to get some more boxes, grinning broadly as a familiar blond head of hair bobbed up the driveway alongside the truck.
Peter had changed little. He was older, yes, but still looked for the entire world like a California surfer kid who was horribly lost. Visor cap, bad Hawaiian shirt and a big grin on his face, he had his arms around Will in two seconds flat, hugging him for all he was worth.
"Hey there li'l one," Will said, grinning as he squeezed the youngster tightly in return.
"Big bro!" Peter said, taking a step back, and caving for a second hug almost immediately. "I'm so glad you're home."
Will chuckled as he untangled his arms from the vice-like grip of the kid who was more a little brother than anything else. "It's good to be home," he said, climbing into the truck and gathering up some more stuff to be taken inside.
"You're staying, right?" Peter pressed eagerly.
"The moving van's my overnight bag," Will replied sarcastically. "You know us gay men have to take everything with us every time we go away for the weekend."
Peter smiled shyly, reaching up to take some of the bags and following Will into the house, "But seriously, how long are you staying? For good, right?"
Will shook his head and grinned as he set the bags down. "For a couple of years at least," he said, looking back at Peter. "Scout's honour."
"You were in the scouts?" Marc asked, looking up from rooting through one of the boxes for a CD, which he plugged into the stereo, much to Body's utter disdain.
"Nahh. Will just likes the uniform," Brody replied, taking the CD from Marc and tsk-ing loudly. "Son," he wrapped an arm around Marc in a fatherly fashion, "if you're going to be living in this house, let me ed-u-MA-cate you on the advantages of vinyl."
"Oh god, here he goes," Will groaned, watching as Brody opened his record collection. Marc, an aspiring musician, took one look at the collection and was in love. Will shook his head; another poor soul lost to record stores and bad coffee houses.
Peter looked questioningly at Marc and over at Will. "Whozat?" the silent question Will knew was being asked with the look.
"Marc, this is Peter, our resident mascot," Will introduced with a nod wiping his forehead with the back of his hand to wipe some of the sweat from all the lifting. "Peter, this is Marc, my boyfriend..."
There it was, official, like someone had just dropped a heavy weight on the entire room. There was a moment's uncomfortable silence as Peter just looked at Will, his mouth moving to say something, but a quick glance at a rather puzzled Marc caused him to pause.
"Hey?" came Lisa's rather musical voice from the front hall. "We came to help, I hope you don't mind." Lisa appeared in the doorway, her husband and a rather short, but definitely curious toddler hiding behind his mommy's legs.
Will was grateful for the break in tension and he grinned at Lisa, "You're a godsend." He glanced past her at Jeff who was smiling at his painting he had just noticed propped up in the room, "I need some help with the furniture."
Jeff groaned and dramatically rolled his eyes, "But..."
Lisa poked him and gestured to the door, and with slumped shoulders Jeff led the way back out to the truck. He clambered up and picked out a heavy-looking bed frame.
"You still got the Jeep, then," Jeff noted, looking at the black TJ sitting at the curb; Will's trusty Jeep that had gotten them into and out of so much trouble over the years. They all remembered Jeff's bachelor party and the desperate escape from a Quebec strip club.
Will nodded, "She did just fine in the T-dot, handled the city streets like a champion." He stopped and looked out at the Jeep, "In fact, she's been a good friend."
"Sentimentality about a car?" Lisa asked him as she accepted a rather large potted plant her husband passed down to her. "That's so unlike the Will we sent to Toronto."
Will shrugged as he helped Jeff with the bed frame, slipping a little on the drive but recovering quickly. The two stumbled their way up to the front door and began to wrestle the thing inside.
"So everything squared with Brody, then?" Lisa asked hopefully.
Will paused and nodded, "I'm renting his house on the condition he comes and goes as he pleases. It's basically back to the way it was before..." he stopped and looked down at the frame, picking it up again and carrying on.
Before he moved in with Andrew, that was the unfinished thought. That was the one subject all of his friends were curious about, but so far none of them had openly broached it. Too much history, too much time and too many excuses. Any which way, life moved on. His relationship with Andrew belonged in the past and he was resolute to keep it there.
Lisa chose, wisely, to drop the subject, admonishing her son Aiden for climbing on the back of the sofa. The little one gave her a disgruntled look before clambering down, content to play with the coasters on the coffee table, at least until mommy was out of sight again.
The bed frame took some negotiating up the stairs past the wrought iron railing, and finally into the old bedroom, and once it was in place Will stopped to look about him. It had been his room through the last years of high school and whenever he had a vacation from Kings University. In many ways this house was his home and had been for so many of the important events of his life. So much history inside of such small walls.
Even though he was going to miss sharing a house in Toronto with his buddy Jared, moving back felt right. He loved Ottawa; the city and its vibrancy was a welcome break from the congestion and stress of a city that had too many people on top of one another.
Marc cleared his throat in the doorway, looking about him at the room before he smiled at Will, "It's bigger than the old place."
"Yeah," Will replied, "quieter as well." He looked over at the scruffy young man who had uprooted his life just to come with Will to a completely new city, "You sure you want to do this?" he asked again for the umpteenth time.
Marc nodded. "You were the only thing keeping me in Toronto," he admitted. "Besides, I can probably get into college here easily enough."
Will nodded with a smile on his face. "One of my conditions on accepting the job," he said, pulling an envelope from his pocket. "Robert Avery pulled a few strings and got you into a photography program at Ottawa University."
"You're fucking with me," Marc said, his eyes wide with shock as he tore open the envelope and pulled out the letter, rereading it in utter disbelief. "I can't believe...how did you? Whoa!"
Will grinned as he embraced the surprised young man. "A house warming present," he said, and kissed Marc's forehead gently.
Marc beamed up at him, his eyes filled with emotion as he looked into Will's eyes. Borderline terror as always, Will mused, like Marc was perpetually terrified of the emotions he felt for Will.
Scared of the emotions or not, Marc admitted to them and accepted them. He loved Will, this kind, protective man who took the world on squarely and always seemed to have an ace up his sleeve. He was kind to Marc in a way no one else had ever been. And Marc knew without a doubt he returned those feelings. Which didn't stop the fact he was in love from terrifying the hell out of him. Anyone with any common sense knew to be terrified of that depth of emotion.
"Hello, bitches," Brody said, coming up the stairs. "You two going to stare longingly into each other's eyes or are you gonna give the rest of us a hand moving your shit in?"
Will grinned at Marc's sudden flush of embarrassment, as they headed back downstairs to bring the rest of the stuff inside.
It had been a long day; the workers were splayed about the box-littered living room literally looking exhausted. A couple of open pizza boxes were in the middle of the coffee table and beers in everyone's hands, the traditional payment for friends moving friends.
Aiden was asleep in the guest bedroom, totally worn out like the rest of them by the day's excitement. His mother was curled up against Jeff who was sipping a beer and looking to be enjoying total relaxation.
Will had his back up against the couch watching Peter playing on the X-box trying to beat Marc at halo. That wasn't going to happen, Marc had the game down; unemployment gave Marc plenty of practice time and he used it to its full advantage. Though there was no doubting Peter was good.
"Ohh, head shot!" Brody exclaimed, sipping his drink and looping a leg over the arm of his chair. "And again Canadian snipers prove why we kick ass."
Will shook his head and gestured with a beer. "That is hardly proof of Canadian `kick ass' ability," he stated flatly.
"Oh, and the Brit offers up a challenge!" Brody said with a grin.
Will sighed as Peter offered him a controller, shaking his head as he pushed it back, "That's not even close to the real thing."
"I don't want to think of you loose in the woods somewhere with a loaded weapon," Brody said with a slight shudder.
"Bambi wouldn't stand a chance," Will said with a chuckle.
Lisa gave him a look of sheer disgust, "You wouldn't dare!"
Will turned back to look at her, "My father used to drag me out into the back woods in a desperate effort to make a man out of me." He shuddered at that memory, "Well I do know a little bit about it."
"You know it is hunting season," Brody said with a broad grin. "Once you're settled in we should go for a weekend. Put those mad skills of yours to the test."
Will sighed, wondering what he was being talked into. "The last time I went to a cabin with you," he said with a distant look, "there weren't any mattresses and I ended sleeping on the floor under my coat... I learned to curse your name that weekend."
"Dude," Brody protested, "I didn't make the reservations, that was all her doing." He pointed at Lisa.
Lisa grinned impishly, "I booked the place, I got a bed; I wasn't responsible for the rest of you."
Will sighed, "Yeah, I remember no one warning me of this beforehand, so when it came time all the beds had been taken."
"Well, if you're going hunting I won't be going," she said resolutely. "I am not about to participate in helping your testosterone-driven destruction of our natural resources."
"Hey now," Will replied turning back to her. "You work for the Minister of Heritage not the Minister of the Environment. You're supposed to support our traditional right to hunt Bambi for food."
She screwed up her nose at the thought, "I have the luxury of being able to pick my battles; if I accidentally forget to write a speech on that subject and instead get him to focus on the Americanization of Canadian television..."
"Remind me to fire your ass," Will said, shaking his head.
"You may be my boss, William Carter, but just remember I know where you sleep!" Lisa threatened.
"I'd listen to her if I were you," Jeff said. "She knows kung fu."
Will chuckled as he watched Marc pick Peter off again with another well-placed sniper shot. It was good to be home.