Georgie was right. On the road, things affected you a little different: the lights probed you and the flashing lenses of bug-eyed cameras were much more intrusive without a warm hand to hold; something secure and worthwhile to rely on. The truth was, the world was a frightening place and Jeb hadn’t always been put out there on his own to experience it. He was a bit more logical than Georgie, a bit wiser on the inside, but they did share the same blood, and by extension, the same problems. It was an unfortunate thing, and in the past, Jeb had seen it in his older brother, the man who ran the country for a time and elicited many a mixed response; the rather dim-witted teenager who carried on a stuttering speech in front of his high school and returned home shell-shocked and silent. The issue was a relatively tiny thing whose course was concluded when the time finally came for Georgie to run his own campaign. It went by two words: stage fright.
Georgie had always seemed to have his own problems with speeches, but Jeb was considerably more compromised, as with stage fright, he had never grown out of it. It was the reason why he was sitting here, pondering the carpeted floor of the luxurious hotel and occupying the open lobby at a dangerous hour. He wasn’t a fool: 9:00PM generally wasn’t chosen as an appropriate bedtime for kids of even the most time-conscious parents, but nine was the time which he had designated for his own rest and the clock had strayed far beyond that hour, ticking into the reaches of the dawn. His sat with weary bones and stretched skin, documents and words and filth clogging his mind and ears. He wrung a script in his hands, though he’d always hated the sensation of paper rubbing against his skin. He tore the thing piece from piece, and soon, he was wetting it with his tears.
There was an agent who turned his back to Jeb; remained calm even in the light of his own tiredness, and the man with a black tie remained pondering the moon outside the window as he stood in the way of the lobby entrance with his eyes focused on the frequent passers-by.
What a wonder it was that the moon and stars could at all be seen in the city. The more frequently Jeb had found himself traveling away from home in his youth, the closer he had found himself coming to the conclusion that he didn’t like it. He didn’t like the artificial lights and the drugs and the worn-out, plastic happiness. He didn’t like the skinny jeans and the backwards hats; the wristbands and the Vans backpacks. He wasn't a suit and tie man either, if he was honest, and the world seemed to want things just the opposite of the idea of perfection he had set out in his mind. Retirement looked to Jeb a lot like clean brown pastures at the feet of a glowing red-brick house, the lawn of which sported the swaying flag of a southern state where the deer and the antelope made rounds beneath the leaves in the forest. That was home. It was home to Jeb. But he didn’t want home in an America he didn’t recognize.
Jeb, for the moment, found even the uncomfortable blue couch cushions of the hotel a more accommodating place than the shuddering light of the stage, where he would always falter and where the clinical feel of politics shone brighter than Texas’ midday sun ever could, even when the smog was weaker and the skies were not cloudy all day. Unlike Georgie, Jeb had never liked silence, especially not that of his own. He enjoyed hands on his shoulders and words directed toward him (even from the mouths of idiots), but the quiet was as cold as it was lonely.
The only noise he could hear on that huge stage was the noise of his words and their failures. His breath had stumbled out in fragments and stutters, and there was little that could be done to resurrect his point by the time his shortcomings were aired to the viewers of the country.
It was a mean world. But the truth of the matter was that regardless of the plans he wrote down in the wee hours of the night (generally, this counted as somewhere around 11:00PM to him), the stone-cold feeling of ineptitude and uncertainty was a thing Jeb was unable to escape. He was in too deep. He lifted red eyes to the modern abstract hotel mural of a pigeon and realized he was in too deep. He turned his head and witnessed the passionate lip-locking of a rather androgynous-looking teenage couple and realized that he was in too deep. Upon dropping his eyes an inch lower, he noticed an actual domesticated pigeon resting contentedly at the feet of a fur coat-clad woman and knew that John Ellis Bush was in far too deep.
But these were the things that no-one could change. His mind swung in circles around thoughts of rescuing the world from its brutal demise, and everything around him appeared to be in a rather pleasant-looking state of absolute ruin. He brought his eyes back to the script in his hand and was inclined to let the torn paper fall to the ground in a mess wet with teardrops which were evidence of his own insecurities. Something inside him was too frightened to do so. It could have been how the blue carpet was a shade too green and resembled grass, looping him back into that decades-old, Bible-sworn promise that he would never litter after that day. For all he knew, someone would sprawl themselves out on their stomach, slide with their feet beneath his wrinkled hands, and catch the paper in a plastic bag ready for express shipping on Ebay.
Jeb just didn’t know what to make of the world anymore, and its people were that much more foreign to him. Stadiums blared with screams of hate instead of whoops of sportsmanship, and young fellas these days put their hats on all wrong. It was either backward or straight in the front, not off to the side - everybody knew that. America didn’t seem to be what it had been to Jeb for all the years he’d been raised in it, and that was a thing that frightened him more than he would feel comfortable openly admitting to anyone with whom he didn’t consistently share a bed.
The world was so fragile, but it strangely boasted all this strength that he didn’t think it would ever again truly have. These things stood out to him, and they were bold even in the way the falling rain had to cut through thick streaks of grease on the windows just to slither down the building-side. He closed his mouth because he didn’t want to hear the breaths or whimpers or open sobs that might come of it - he’d heard enough of his voice for tonight.
A man with a wrinkled face, large eyes, and a solid salmon Polo shirt stepped over the carpet very quietly in Jeb’s direction with a stance that didn’t look too overbearing and an expression that told that he wanted almost nothing at all. It might have been the general unassuming nature of this man, brown-haired, creeping on Jeb’s age in his years, that let him brush past Jeb’s agent with hardly a single questioning look passed his way. For a moment, there was the silence that Jeb hated, and he thought he was going to be ignored - hoped, even, that the world would keep its insanity quiet for another turn of the clock.
It felt like it would be that way, and if he kept his surface thoughts shallow and timid, he could almost pretend that the man in the Polo - he was sporting jeans and dress shoes and had set down a fancy suitcase - wasn’t clearing his throat and directing his eyes at him as if he were only a commuter borrowing a bus seat.
“You know, it really wasn't that bad, Jeb.” The man said it like he’d thought it a million times; like he’d trained himself by saying it at Jeb’s image on his screen as CNN aired another stammering speech. Jeb did what he did best. He faltered. He shrugged. The wetness went on streaming from the corners of his eyes for a bit, and God damn the water resistance of his blazer because the sleeves weren’t soaking any of it up. He didn’t respond with anything but the untrained look of shock in his expression.
The man, so unlike the world he’d come to know in these past few years, seemed to just get it. His eyebrows twitched smartly over his tannish-white skin and his thin lips pressed together considerately, like there were no untruths in his mouth or on his mind. “Wasn’t that bad,” he said. He had a smile like he’d recently had a taste of wine and it was lingering on his lips. Jeb was simply silent in his own right, and his eyes never found the watch on his wrist and they didn’t try to water, either. He saw the floor and felt the carpet turn to grass beneath his shoes, and the rain had cut away all the grease from the window until there was only night and the buildings were black plains hidden by the scooping shadows. The lamplights placed atop desks deep inside the thousands of offices were stars so far-buried in the galaxy that his eyes could only etch the very beginnings of their shape.
Jeb heard the silence and didn’t feel the documents and papers washing up on the shores of his mind or tangling his thoughts in any sort of negative thing that wasn’t meant to be there. He didn’t speak. The man that had taken a seat didn’t move to speak again either. The rain made the stars in the hotel lobby shudder as if God had covered them with his hand, and a few screams sprinkled upward from the small crowd of those in the room. He cast his eyes to his side like he wasn’t meaning to take any sort of look at the man, but the man was already standing and his suitcase traveled with him where he went. The bottoms of his shoes stood up and flattened as he walked from the lobby and into the hall, granting the modern abstract pigeon mural a reflective hum as he continued firmly on.
Jeb rested his head on his hand and watched as a lasso trapped the moon in wavering black and white. He didn’t hear the silence and he couldn't hear the noise. He just listened to the rain.