Summary: Feverish Clayton dreams of what might have been.

"Coulda, Shoulda"

by Christine Henderson

Benson DuBois, the state budget director, got up from his uncomfortable chair as Governor Gene Gatling entered the hospital room.

"Well, what did the doctor say?" he asked.

The governor looked at his chief of staff, Clayton Endicott III, who was moving restlessly in the hospital bed, mumbling incoherently. "He has a temperature of 105, but they're not sure why," he said. "They're going to run some more tests, and try to bring the fever down. A temperature that high can be dangerous."

"So all we can do is wait?" Benson asked, lowering his voice.

"I'm afraid so." The governor glanced at him curiously. "Why are you whispering?"

Benson gestured toward Clayton. "In case he can hear us."

"Oh, right," the governor said. "I think I'll try talking to him. Why don't you go on home? It's getting late."

"You sure you don't want to come with me?" Benson asked.

"Yeah." He sighed. "I guess I'm feeling a little guilty. I actually accused him of faking illness to get out of our meeting on that environmental bill."

"You had no way of knowing, sir," Benson reassured him.

"Until he collapsed," the governor added. "I'll see you tomorrow, Benson. Thanks for the ride."

"You're welcome, sir. If there's any change…."

"They'll let us know."

Benson nodded, and left the room. The governor walked over to the chair he'd vacated, next to the bed, and sat down.

"Clayton? Clayton, can you hear me?" he asked.

Clayton pushed a cold cloth above his eyes, and looked around. "Where am I?"

"At the hospital," the governor told him. "You weren't feeling well, remember?"

"Oh…yes." Clayton leaned back against the pillow. "Why is it so hot in here, sir? Isn't the air conditioning working?"

"The air conditioning's fine. It's you."

Clayton looked confused. "I'm not working?"

"Well, no," the governor said. "I mean, you have a fever."

An attractive young nurse came over just then and looked at his chart. According to her ID badge, her name was Marissa. "Hello, Mr. Endicott. How are we feeling?"

"I don't know about you," Clayton told her, "but I'm not feeling so good."

She checked the IV bag beside him. "Well, you're still pretty hot. If you need anything, just press this button, okay?"

After she left, Clayton smiled, closing his eyes. "She thinks I'm hot," he remarked.

"I'm afraid she was referring to your temperature," the governor explained.


"Why don't you try to get some sleep?"

Clayton sighed. "I don't know if I can."

"Well, whenever Katie couldn't sleep, I'd tell her a story," the governor said. "Would you like to hear one?"

"Yes…that would be nice."

He really must be sick, the governor thought. For some reason, his staff usually scattered whenever he started to tell a story.

"Let's see…Oh, I know. Did I ever tell you about my uncle Sam?"

"Uncle Sam?" Clayton repeated, surprised. "You mean, the man on the Army poster?"

"No, he couldn't pass the Army physical. Flat feet," the governor said. "He was my mother's brother-in-law."

"Ah," Clayton mumbled.

"Anyway, he used to take me ice fishing out on the lake in the winter," the governor continued. "Just imagine how cold that was."

Clayton nodded. But as the story began, he found it difficult to pay attention. The governor's words became increasingly distant, until finally he couldn't hear them anymore.


"Good morning, Miss Kraus," Clayton said as he entered the kitchen at the governor's mansion.

"Good morning, Clayton." Gretchen Kraus, the head of household affairs, smiled at him. "So, tonight's the big night, huh?"

"Yes, it is." He poured himself a glass of juice. "I can't believe it's finally here."

"Well, you deserve it," Miss Kraus said. "You've been working your tail off for months. Aren't you about due for a vacation?"

"As a matter of fact, I was thinking about renting a cottage out by the lake. It should be much cooler there."

"Ja, this is some heat wave we've been having," Miss Kraus remarked.

Governor Gatling and Benson came into the kitchen.

"Here he is," the governor said, smiling. "Our very own Man of the Year."

"Now, sir, you know I can't take all the credit," Clayton replied. "It's teamwork that gets things done around here. Isn't that right, Benson?"

"Right," Benson whispered.

"What's the matter with your voice?" Clayton asked, concerned.

"He has laryngitis," the governor explained.

Miss Kraus laughed. "I can't believe it. For once, Benson is speechless."

Benson wrote something derogatory on a notepad, and showed it to her.

"Oh, yeah? Same to you," she told him.

"Well, I'd love to stay here and chat, but I do have a bill to finish drafting," Clayton said.

"Don't forget, sir, we have a meeting with Senator Harris at one o'clock. And Katie's going to the library after school to work on her history report."

The governor smiled. "Isn't he amazing?"

"Hello, Katie," Clayton said, as he passed the governor's twelve-year-old daughter. "Good luck with your report."

"Thanks, Clayton," Katie replied. "Good luck with your bill."

As he walked to his office, Clayton was joined by Pete Downey, the press secretary.

"Good morning, Peter," he said.

"Hi. Do you have a minute? I need to get some quotes from you for that press release about the award."

"Of course," Clayton agreed. "Why don't you come along with me to my office?"


After their meeting with the senator that afternoon, the governor and Clayton went to the kitchen to take a coffee break.

"Well," the governor said, sitting at the table, "I must admit, I didn't see that one coming."

"Neither did I, sir," Clayton agreed. "If anyone was going to be recommended, I would've thought it'd be Benson. I mean, he is the budget director."

"Who was recommended for what?" Miss Kraus asked, coming over.

"The senator thinks Clayton should run for lieutenant governor," the governor explained.

"Really? That's wonderful," Miss Kraus said. She looked at Clayton. "Isn't it?"

"Yes, it's very flattering," he replied. "But there are a number of things to consider."

"Like the fact that I'd have to find a new chief of staff," the governor said. "Not that I'm trying to hold you back, of course."

"I know, sir. Anyway, I'll have to discuss it with my family first before I make an official decision."

"That's a good idea. How are they doing?" the governor asked.

"Fine," Clayton said. "Well, Marissa did mention that she had a doctor's appointment this morning. Nothing serious; just a routine checkup."

"Or she might be pregnant again," Miss Kraus suggested, smiling.

Clayton almost choked on his coffee. "Good heavens, no. Now that our son's in preschool, she finally has some time to herself. Why would she want to start all over again?"

"Maybe she wants a little girl," Miss Kraus replied.

The governor smiled. "I know I'm biased, but there's nothing better than having a daughter."

"That may be true, sir," Clayton said, "but I think I have more than enough to handle already."


Clayton's busy workday was almost over when secretary Denise Stevens called his office.

"There's someone here to see you," she told him.

"Oh? Who is it?" he asked, but she didn't have to answer as his wife entered the room with their four-year-old son. "Well, what a nice surprise. What brings you two here?"

"I just picked up your tux, and I thought I'd deliver it personally," Marissa explained.

"Thank you," he said, pleased. He took it from her and hung it in the closet.

"I can't wait to see you in it," she told him when he turned around, playing with his tie. "Although you do look pretty hot in a three-piece suit, too."

He laughed, blushing, but before she could go any further, their son pushed his way in between them.

"Daddy!" he said, trying to get his attention.

Clayton sat in his chair, and pulled the boy onto his lap. "Hello, champ! How was preschool?"

"Fun. We had show-and-tell."

"Oh? And what did you show your little classmates?"

"The Wall Street Journal," his son replied.

"Your picture was in the financial section," Marissa reminded him.

"That's my boy," Clayton said proudly.

As he walked them back out of his office, Denise came out to greet them.

"Is this little Clayton?" she asked, smiling.

"Yes, the fourth," he replied.

"Wow, that must get a little confusing," Denise commented.

"Not really," Clayton said. "Each generation has a personal nickname."

"Oh, that's a good idea. What's your nickname?" she asked his son.


"I like that. And what's yours?" Denise asked Clayton.

"Well, it's…." he began reluctantly.

"Skippy," Marissa said. She and Denise laughed. "Isn't that cute?"

"Oh, yes, very cute," Denise replied mischievously.

"You know how mothers are," Clayton said, embarrassed.

The governor came out of his office. "I thought I heard voices. It's nice to see you again." He shook Marissa's hand.

"You, too, Governor," she said. "I'm really looking forward to that award banquet."

"So am I," the governor agreed. "I don't know what I'd do without Clayton. He really keeps things organized around here."

"I'm sure he does. Although sometimes I wish he weren't quite as important, so he could spend more time with us."

"Well, he does have some vacation time coming," the governor told her. "Maybe you can take a trip somewhere."

"Yes," Marissa said, "one last fling."

"What do you mean, last?" Clayton asked her.

"Well, I was going to wait till after the banquet to tell you, but I guess now's as good a time as any." She smiled. "I'm pregnant!"

Clayton stared at her. "What?"

"Well, congratulations, you two!" the governor exclaimed. "Wait'll Miss Kraus hears about this." He elbowed Clayton, grinning slyly. "You really are the man of the year, aren't you?"

"I'm going to be a father again?" Clayton asked. "You're sure?"

"The doctor just told me," Marissa replied. "Aren't you happy about it?"

"Yes, of course. I just thought…we hadn't planned on having another one."

"Life is full of surprises," she reminded him. "Maybe we'll have a girl this time. Wouldn't that be perfect?"

"Yes, perfect," Clayton agreed.

She looked at him more closely. "Are you all right? You seem a little anxious. And you're perspiring."

"I am? I never perspire." Clayton looked at himself in a mirror on the wall. To his shock, it was true.

"Why don't you sit down here for a minute?" Marissa suggested. "You know, I really do think you've been working too hard. Maybe I shouldn't have surprised you."

"No, no…it's wonderful news," he insisted. "It's just that…things are happening so quickly. I mean, there's the award banquet tonight, and now another child on the way, and…Senator Harris just suggested that I run for lieutenant governor."

"He did?" She sounded pleased. "Are you going to do it?"

"I don't know," Clayton admitted. "It would be even more responsibility…more work."

"But it's the opportunity you've been waiting for," Marissa reminded him. "I think you'd really regret not going for it."

"Daddy?" his son piped up. "I don't want a baby brother or sister. I want a pony."

Clayton wiped the perspiration from his brow with his sleeve. "Can we just discuss all this later?"

"Of course, darling," Marissa replied. "After all, this is your big day."

"Yes," he said. "It's rather ironic, isn't it? I have everything I've ever wanted, and now I need to figure out what to do with all of it."

Marissa laughed. "You do dream big," she agreed. "What you need to do right now is just relax, and open your mouth."

He looked at her, startled. "What?"

"Open your mouth…."


Clayton woke up suddenly, surprised to see an older nurse—not Marissa—leaning over him.

She stuck a thermometer in his mouth.

He blinked in the brightness of the room, and tried to ask a question.

"Hold on," the nurse said, then finally removed the thermometer. "99.8. That's much better. What were you trying to say?"

"What time is it?" he asked.

"A little past eight. You slept for quite a while. Are you feeling better now?"

"Yes, I am," Clayton said. "But where's the other nurse—Marissa?"

"Oh, she's the night nurse." The woman smirked. "She has that effect on most of the male patients."

"Effect?" Clayton repeated, embarrassed. "I don't know what you're talking about. She was just…nice to me, that's all."

"Hey, I'm nice, too," the nurse teased him. "I'll be back in a little while to give you your sponge bath."

Clayton's eyes widened. "My what?"

"You're drenched in sweat, in case you haven't noticed."

"Can't I just take a shower?" he asked hopefully.

"Not till after you're discharged," she replied, heading for the door.

Clayton sank back against his damp pillow. "I should have known it was only a dream," he muttered. With the exception of a wife and children, it was Benson's life, not his. On the other hand, being successful and "having it all" did seem to require a great deal of work. He had to admit, he'd been a little relieved to wake up.

A few minutes later, the door opened and the governor came in, followed by Benson.

"We just heard the good news," the governor said, smiling. "I guess my story really did the trick. It always worked with Katie, too."

"Yeah, you must have a real talent for putting people to sleep, sir," Benson teased him.

"Benson, I…I thought you couldn't talk," Clayton said, surprised.

"What gave you that idea?" the governor asked. But before he could answer, Benson spoke up.

"Let me guess. You heard me whispering last night, right?"

"Yes," Clayton said. Again, too good to be true.

"You were right, Benson," the governor remarked, "he did hear us." To Clayton, he explained, "Benson didn't think we should be talking in front of you. He was worried about you."

"Well, not that worried," Benson said, embarrassed. "I just didn't want to get stuck with all your work on top of mine."

Clayton smiled. The fact that Benson was visiting him again said otherwise. "In that case, you have nothing to worry about," he told him. "Being here has made me aware of a couple of important things about myself."

"Such as?" the governor asked, curious.

"One, that I still have a lot of unfinished business to attend to," Clayton replied. "Preferably, not all at the same time."

"And what's the other thing?" Benson wanted to know.

Clayton checked to make sure that the nurse wasn't around to overhear him before adding, "That I can't wait to get out of here."

The End

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