Home > The Sixth Wedding : A 28 Summers Story(3)

The Sixth Wedding : A 28 Summers Story(3)
Author: Elin Hilderbrand

Bess has mellowed as she’s gotten older. She approved of Ursula’s vote against confirming Stone Cavendish as a Supreme Court Justice and when Ursula announced her bid for the presidency a short while later, Bess joined the campaign, courting Gen Z voters.

But the development that brought mother and daughter closer, the event that finally made them friends, was Ursula’s defeat on Election Day.

Ursula had been stunned when first Florida and then Ohio swung for her opponent, Fred Page. Ursula de Gournsey and Fred Page weren’t that dissimilar. Fred was a centrist who leaned a little left and Ursula a centrist who gravitated a bit right, but they agreed on more than they disagreed on and their debates had been civil, even collegial. Ursula felt she could afford to be nice to Fred (she hadn’t run a single attack ad) because she was dead certain that she was going to win. All of the polls had her ahead by three to five points. Her campaign had outspent Fred’s campaign by 20 percent. Bayer Burkhart, who served as Ursula’s shadow campaign manager, assured her daily that a de Gournsey presidency was a lock.

So what had happened?

All Ursula can come up with is that when people were alone in the voting booth, they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a woman.

The problem wasn’t Ursula. It was American society.

Of course Ursula harbored plenty of private fears—that ultimately, she wasn’t likable; that the country saw her naked ambition, her quest for power; that somehow she hadn’t projected her desire to serve as effectively as Fred had. Ursula had focused too much on foreign policy, and not enough on controlling the pandemic. She had mentioned Notre Dame too many times, or Georgetown Law; she had seemed like a braggart when she told Anderson Cooper that she was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian. She rarely attended church, despite her Catholic background. She hadn’t seemed maternal enough, or like a devoted-enough wife. So much more was expected of a female candidate.

It didn’t matter. Fred Page had won fair and square. Ursula gave a beautiful concession speech wishing Fred the very best and encouraging her supporters to celebrate his victory.

She spent the next two days in their house in South Bend in a numb fog while Jake and Bess dealt with the news vans lined up on LaSalle Street. At night, Ursula would lie on the couch, clicking among the news outlets, listening to everyone’s surprised reactions about the outcome. Bess brought Ursula mugs of tea that she didn’t drink and made her sandwiches she didn’t eat. Bess covered Ursula with a blanket at night and kissed her mother’s temple.

“I’m proud of you,” Bess said. “You’re taking time to process. You aren’t making excuses. You aren’t blaming anyone. It takes an extraordinary person to handle this kind of loss as graciously as you are.”

At these words, Ursula sat up and stretched out her arms. Bess came to her and, finally, Ursula cried. She cried for her broken dreams, dreams she’d nurtured since she was a child, she cried out of embarrassment, she cried for her dead father; she had wanted to make him proud. She cried from exhaustion and bone-deep weariness. She had given the campaign everything she had—nearly two full years of her life, trips to forty-three states, bus rides, flights, hotel conference rooms. How many women, not to mention girls, had told her she was inspiring? How many virtual fundraisers had she attended where she had given some variation of her platform speech, “Straight Up the Fairway”? She spoke out for common sense politics, against extremist agendas. Ursula would be a moderate, clear-eyed president who would use her intellect and her excellent judgment to govern.

She cried because she had been rejected, plain and simple.

“It hurts,” she told Bess. “It really hurts.”

“I know, Mama, but that’s okay,” Bess said. “Pain means you’re growing.”

 

 

The call came three weeks later while Ursula was still convalescing, still dismantling her campaign, and still working as a United States senator from Indiana.

It was Fred Page. He asked Ursula to serve in his Cabinet. Attorney general.

This was, needless to say, unexpected. Indeed, unprecedented. And it wasn’t just a good-guy Fred Page promotional stunt. It wasn’t a “nod to unity.” Fred said, “You’re the most accomplished lawyer I know. I would trust you with the job above and beyond any other candidate on my list.”

Yes, Ursula thought. He’s right. I would be the best at this job.

Ursula told Fred she’d consider it, and she called her executive coach, Jeannie. After an hours-long conversation, Ursula and Jeannie reached some conclusions. Ursula didn’t want to be attorney general. She didn’t want to stay in politics at all; when her senatorial term was up, she would return to private life. She wanted to go back into mergers and acquisitions. She wanted to live in New York City.

She would do both, she decided.

After she hung up with Jeannie, she went to the kitchen where she found Jake walking in with a pizza from Barnaby’s.

“We have to talk,” she said.

 

 

Jeannie and I decided…

…you and Jeannie decided? You didn’t bother to ask me what I thought? Because I don’t matter, because you have no consideration for me or for this so-called family. Bess and I have always bent to your will and now your will is to be an attorney in New York and you think I’m just going to…what? Pick up and move my life there? I’m not, Ursula. I’m staying here.

Ursula had laughed. I’m not staying here one day longer than I have to. South Bend is the last place I want to end up.

Jake stared at her. I should have stood up to you long ago. Do you know why I didn’t? Because I have always believed that you were special. But I’m not giving in on this. If you go to New York, Ursula, you go alone.

It was an ultimatum, but was he serious? Was Ursula serious? They let the topic drop; Ursula still had a year of her term left so going anywhere was a moot point. Maybe Ursula was suffering from PTSD. Maybe she would change her mind and decide that it would be nice to stay in the Bend with her mother and Jake’s parents nearby. Or…maybe Ursula and Jake would finally get divorced. While they were dating, they had broken up a handful of times and seen other people but they had always gravitated back to each other. In the late nineties, Ursula had had an affair with her associate, Anders Jorgensen. Jake had conducted a one-weekend-a-year affair with a woman named Mallory Blessing for the entirety of their marriage. They had survived all that; surely, they would survive Ursula’s presidential loss.

 

 

Now, it’s four years later. Fred Page will sail easily into a second term and Ursula is the managing partner at Hamilton, Laverty & Smythe, the biggest M&A firm in the country. She bought a two-bedroom apartment on the seventy-eighth floor of 436 Park, which is the premier address in Midtown, maybe in all of New York. Ursula lost the presidency and lost her husband—but she’s gained a city. She loves the noise, the taxis, the subway, the sushi restaurants that deliver twenty-four hours, the elegant hotel bars, the doormen, the bodegas with their rainbow of floral bouquets out front. She loves the Cuban coffee place and the Vietnamese food truck. She loves racing down to Soho when she needs something new to wear, she loves the FDNY, she loves the guys who drive the horse carriages in Central Park, she loves the Upper East Side mommies and nannies, she loves the ten-story screens in Times Square and the tugboats on the East River. She loves that while everyone knows who she is, nobody cares, because this city is also home to Alicia Keys, Yoko Ono, Sarah Jessica Parker, people far more exciting than Ursula.

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