Summary: The governor and his staff prepare for an unexpected visit, while trying to keep it a secret from Clayton.
"Our Little Secret"
by Christine Henderson
"Good morning, everybody," Governor Gene Gatling said cheerfully, as he entered the kitchen at the mansion. Most of his staff had gathered there, as usual, before starting their workday. "I just got some wonderful news."
"What is it, sir?" secretary Denise Stevens asked.
"Well, you weren't here at the time, Denise," the governor told her, "but I'm sure the rest of you remember that baby boy who was left on our doorstep last year."
"Somebody left a baby here?" Denise exclaimed.
"That wasn't even the biggest surprise," press secretary Pete Downey recalled. "For some reason, the little guy was crazy about Clayton."
"Really? That's hard to believe," she said, amazed.
"It came as quite a shock to Clayton, too," the governor remarked. The others laughed.
"Especially when the governor made him take care of the baby until the social worker arrived," Gretchen Kraus, head of household affairs, added.
"Boy, I would've loved to have seen that," Denise said.
"I took a picture of the two of them together," Pete told her. "If you want, I can show it to you."
"It's probably the most amazing thing that's ever happened around here," budget director Benson DuBois remarked. "You said you had some wonderful news, sir?"
"Oh, yes." The governor smiled. "The baby was placed with a young couple, and it's been a full year now. The adoption's being finalized today."
"That is wonderful," Miss Kraus agreed.
"Better yet, they're going to stop by here later, after the courthouse ceremony. They thought we'd like to see how big he's gotten."
"I wonder if Clayton'll recognize him," Pete said.
"Don't tell him about it," the governor cautioned them. "I want it to be a surprise. He's been a little…out of sorts since Benson's new proposal was approved, and his wasn't."
"Out of sorts?" Benson exclaimed. "More like out of his mind."
"Well, maybe this'll cheer him up," the governor said.
"If that sweet little face doesn't do it, nothing will," Miss Kraus declared.
Clayton Endicott III, the chief of staff, entered the kitchen through the swinging door. "Ah, here you all are. Didn't anyone else come here to work today?"
"We were just having a little friendly chitchat," the governor explained.
"I see." Clayton took a small juice can out of the refrigerator and shook it. "I suppose that's why I wasn't included."
"He did say it was a friendly chat," Benson agreed.
"Celebrating your good fortune behind my back, Benson?" Clayton retorted. "Why don't we just have a big party?"
"Good idea. How 'bout your going-away party?" Benson shot back.
"All right, you two, that's enough," the governor told them. "Clayton, I know you're upset about that proposal, but I have to say, you could've given it a better effort."
"I worked on it for two weeks, sir," he protested. "What more could I have possibly done?"
"The same thing Benson did. Try thinking about the little people for a change."
Clayton looked confused. "Little people?"
"The average citizens," the governor explained. "The ones we're supposed to be helping, remember? This isn't a competition, so I don't want to hear anymore complaining. Got it?"
"Got it, sir," Clayton muttered.
"Good. Oh, by the way, there's a meeting in my office at 2:30."
"There is? It wasn't on the schedule."
"I know," the governor said. "Something came up."
"Well, who are we meeting with?" Clayton asked.
"Just a few…VIPs."
"Do these VIPs have names, sir?"
"Of course," the governor said. "But I'm not at liberty to say."
Clayton stared at him. "Why not?"
"Uh…because it's top-secret. Government business."
"But I'm a government employee," Clayton pointed out.
"Yes, I know, but they don't want to give out too much information to everyone at once," the governor told him.
"That doesn't make any sense, sir."
"Right. You know how the government is. Just be in my office at 2:30." The governor left the room.
"Did that make sense to anyone else?" Clayton asked.
"Nope," Pete admitted with a shrug. "But you know how the governor is."
Something strange was definitely going on, though Clayton couldn't quite put his finger on it. There seemed to be a lot of lowered voices whenever he was around. Kraus accepted a delivery at the back door-a bouquet of flowers with a balloon that said "Congratulations." Before he could ask who it was for, she scurried away. His curiosity finally got the better of him when he saw Denise carrying a box into the governor's office. He stood near the partially open door, eavesdropping.
"I found the banner, sir," Denise said.
"Oh, good," the governor replied. "We can put it up over here."
Banner? Bouquet? Just who were these top-secret "VIPs," anyway?
"It's so nice of them to come over here," Denise commented. "Now they can meet the man who helped make it possible."
"He certainly does deserve some credit," the governor agreed.
"Clayton, what are you doing?" Benson demanded.
Startled, Clayton jumped. "I wish you wouldn't sneak up on me like that."
"Looks like you're the one who's sneaking around," Benson said.
"Well, you can't blame me for wanting some information," Clayton pointed out. He eyed him suspiciously. "Do you know what this secret meeting is all about?"
"Would you tell me if you did?"
"No," Benson said.
"Aha! You do know. Why won't you tell me?" Clayton demanded, following him into his office.
"Because the governor asked me not to. Besides, you'll find out soon enough."
"I'm his chief of staff, and he can't even confide in me? What does that say about our relationship?" Clayton sank onto Denise's desk.
"Clayton, you're making a big deal out of nothing," Benson told him.
"Nothing? That's easy for you to say. The governor thinks you can do no wrong." Suddenly, he realized what was going on. They really were going to throw a party for Benson. The governor hadn't wanted him to know because he didn't want him to complain about it. Why else would he have made up such a ludicrous story?
"Maybe I should just go in there and see for myself," he declared, getting up. But before he could get to the door, Pete intercepted him.
"Oh, there you are," he said.
"Very observant, Peter," Clayton said sarcastically.
"I wanted to ask you something," Pete continued.
"I've told you before, I'm not loaning you any money."
"No, it's not that." Pete glanced back at the governor's door. "I just finished the rough draft of the governor's speech, and I thought you'd like to check it before it's typed up."
"Very well," Clayton said impatiently. "Just leave it on my desk and I'll look at it later."
"Why not right now?" Pete suggested.
Clayton stared at him. "What's the big hurry? The governor's not even giving the speech until next Tuesday."
"Well, yeah, but…I thought it'd be nice to get it done early for a change."
"Trust me, it can wait," Clayton said. He brushed past him just as the governor came out of his office.
"Oh, there you are," he said.
"Yes, sir," Clayton mumbled.
"I was just wondering if you'd like to join me for lunch," the governor said.
"Why?" he asked, still suspicious.
"Because it's lunchtime," the governor said, "and I'm hungry."
"No, sir, I mean, why do you want to have lunch with me?"
"Why not? I just wanted to make sure there weren't any hard feelings about what I said this morning."
Clayton looked at him blankly, still thinking about the party cover-up.
"You know, about the proposal," the governor reminded him.
"Oh. No…I suppose I had it coming, sir. I'll try to do better next time."
"Good." The governor smiled. "So, are we on for lunch?"
Probably just trying to get him out of the way, Clayton thought. Or maybe it was a consolation prize to make up for the upcoming festivities. Either way, what did it matter now?
"Fine with me, sir," he replied.
Back in his office later, Clayton looked at the clock on the wall and sighed. Almost time for the big event. He turned back to the handwritten draft of the governor's speech on his desk, giving it a disinterested glance.
Benson knocked on his open door, then stepped inside. "Aren't you ready?"
"Almost. Just give me a few more minutes."
"Whatever it is you're working on, it can wait," Benson told him. "This is more important."
"Yes, I'm sure it is," Clayton said. "To you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
He pushed his chair back, away from the desk. "Benson, have you ever asked yourself, 'why am I here?'"
"Yes. Maybe you can explain it to me some time," he joked.
"You know what I mean. Don't you ever wonder what your purpose in life is?"
"Not really," Benson said. "I just try to do what's right, and trust my instincts. That's really all anyone can do."
"I come to work here every day, and I don't know that it even makes any difference," Clayton admitted.
"Funny you should mention that." Benson turned to leave. "Why don't you stop feeling sorry for yourself, and go to the governor's office?"
"All right, all right." Might as well get it over with, he thought.
"My dad let me leave school early, so I could see the baby again," Katie Gatling told the adoptive couple, who were standing by the governor's desk. "Can I hold him?"
The woman smiled apologetically. "Well, I'm afraid he's a little leery of strangers," she said.
"That's perfectly normal," the governor reassured them. "Mom and Dad are their whole world at this age."
The baby squirmed in his mother's arms, trying to get down.
"I guess he doesn't want me to hold him, either." She laughed, setting him down on the carpet. "He wants to walk everywhere now."
Everyone smiled as the baby toddled unsteadily toward the door.
"Where are you going?" his mother asked in a playful tone. He turned to look at her, grinning, then left the room.
"I'll go get him," Katie volunteered. She almost ran into Benson outside the office.
"Whoa, there!" he exclaimed. "What's the hurry?"
"The baby wandered off," Katie told him. She looked around. "Hey, where did he go?"
"I don't know," Benson said, "but he couldn't have gotten very far on those little legs."
"It's a good thing I know all the best hiding places around here." She ran over to look behind Denise's desk.
Shaking his head in amusement, Benson went into the governor's office.
Clayton was about to leave his office when, to his surprise, he noticed he wasn't alone. A curly-haired toddler in a little blue sailor suit stood just inside the doorway, looking up at him with his finger in his mouth.
"Hello there," he said. "May I help you?" He didn't see anyone else around. "Your parents must be looking for you. Let's go find the governor."
He took the child by the hand, trying to walk slowly. But after a few wobbly steps, the baby lost his balance and landed on his well-padded bottom. Grabbing Clayton's leg for support, he got back up on his feet.
"Well, your desire for independence is admirable," Clayton told him, "but I'm afraid we need to go a little faster." He picked him up and carried him to the governor's office.
"There you are!" Katie exclaimed, relieved. "Hey, Benson, we found him."
Benson appeared in the doorway. "We?"
"Well, Clayton did," she admitted.
"How 'bout that?" Benson smiled. "History repeats itself."
"Hmm?" Clayton asked. He entered the office, and saw the banner, which, like the balloon, said "Congratulations!"
"Where was he?" the governor asked, looking surprised.
"He wandered into my office," Clayton explained. For some reason, everyone laughed, and Pete took a picture of him. He saw a young couple standing nearby. "I assume he's yours?"
"Yes, he is. Thank you." The father took the baby from him.
"If I didn't know better, I'd swear he was looking for you," Miss Kraus told Clayton, sounding amazed.
"Maybe he just wanted to see your office again," Pete joked.
"Again?" Clayton asked.
"You didn't even recognize him, did you?" the governor remarked.
He looked at the parents and their child more closely. The baby smiled, and then realization finally struck him. "Do you mean…is this the baby, sir? Our baby?"
The others laughed again.
"Yes, our little guest from last year," the governor replied.
"Well, it's no wonder I didn't recognize him," Clayton marveled. "He has hair now…and teeth! And he's walking."
"He has parents now, too," the governor reminded him. "Mike and Andrea Fortner, this is Clayton Endicott, my chief of staff. And, of course, Clayton, you've already met their adopted son, Jacob."
"Yes, we go way back," Clayton agreed, shaking hands with the couple.
"So we've heard," Mr. Fortner said.
"As of today, they're legally a family of three," the governor informed him.
"Well, congratulations certainly are in order," Clayton said, gesturing to the decorations.
"Thank you," Mrs. Fortner replied. "We just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate what you did that day. When the social worker called and said she had a baby for us, I was so excited, I forgot to ask if it was a girl or a boy." She smiled. "Not that it mattered, of course."
"But we're on the waiting list for a baby girl," Mr. Fortner added. He looked at his son. "You just might get to be a big brother."
"Oh, that would be wonderful," Denise exclaimed. The others clamored in agreement.
While they took turns chatting with the parents, the governor turned to Clayton.
"Sorry I had to make up that story about government business," he told him. "But I wanted this to be a surprise."
"It certainly was," Clayton replied. "And I couldn't be more delighted for that little fellow."
"I still can't get over how fond he is of you," the governor said. "I wonder if he really does remember you."
"He couldn't possibly." But the baby, still in his father's arms, smiled at Clayton and reached for the glasses hanging around his neck. "Then again…."
"Do you have any idea what it is?" the governor asked the Fortners.
"We were wondering about that, too," Mrs. Fortner said. "We have noticed that he seems to like men with mustaches."
"Ah…." the governor and Benson said at the same time. Clayton was the only staff member who had a mustache.
"Well, Clayton, at least there's one part of you that made a difference," Benson teased him. "And it was right under your nose the whole time."
"Yes, it was truly fortunate that I came to work that morning," Clayton said. He smiled as the baby-Jacob-crawled under the governor's desk. "You see, Benson? You're not the only one around here who thinks about the little people."
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