The Lies I Tell - Julie Clark
For Pap-Pap, who told me I could.
For Mom, who showed me I could.
She stands across the room from me, in a small cluster of donors, talking and laughing. A jazz quartet plays in a corner, the bouncing, slipping notes dancing around us, a low undertone of class and money. Meg Williams. I take a sip of wine, savoring the expensive vintage, the weight of the crystal glass, and I watch her. There are few photographs of her in existence—a grainy senior portrait from an old high school yearbook, and another image pulled from a 2009 YMCA staff directory—but I recognized her immediately. My first thought: She’s back. Followed closely by my second: Finally.
As soon as I saw her, I tucked my press credentials into my purse and kept to the perimeter of the room. I’ve been to all of Ron Ashton’s campaign events in the past three months, watching and waiting for Meg to make her appearance—called there by a Google Alert I set ten years ago. After a decade of silence, it pinged in April, with the creation of a new website. Meg Williams, Real Estate Agent. I always knew she’d return. That she’d done so under her real name told me she wasn’t planning to hide.
And yet, when she entered, smiling as she handed over her coat at the door, my sense of equilibrium shifted, launching me into a moment I wasn’t sure would ever arrive. You can prepare yourself for something, imagine it a hundred different ways, and still find yourself breathless when it actually happens.
I spoke to her once, ten years ago, though she wouldn’t have known I was the one who’d answered the phone that day. It was a thirty-second call that changed the trajectory of my life, and to say I hold Meg partially responsible would be an understatement.
Scott, my fiancé, will surely argue that the cost—both financially and emotionally—will be too great. That we can’t afford for me to step away from paying jobs to chase a story that might never happen. That immersing myself in that time, in those events, and in those people, might undo all the work I’ve put into healing. What he doesn’t understand is that this is the story that will finally set me free—not just from the fluff pieces I’m paid pennies per word to write, but from the bigger demons that Meg sent me toward so long ago.
I attach myself to a larger circle of people, and I nod along with their conversation, all the while keeping an eye on her. Watching her mingle and circulate. Watching her watch him. I’ve spent hundreds of hours deconstructing her last few years in Los Angeles, and no matter which way I look at it, Ron Ashton stands at the center. While I don’t know her heart—not yet at least—I do know she isn’t the kind of woman to pass up an opportunity to balance the scales.
She tosses her head back and laughs at something someone says, and as Ron approaches her from behind, I marvel that I get to be here to see this moment. That I’m the only person in the room who knows what’s about to happen.
Well, not the only person. She knows.
I turn slightly so I appear to be looking out a large window, at the sweeping views from downtown to the ocean, and I watch as introductions are made. Witty banter, some laughter. He bends down so he can hear her better, and I wonder how she does it. How she can trick people into believing she is who she says she is, into handing over their deepest desires, opening themselves up to her manipulation and trickery. Offering themselves willingly to her deception.
I watch as a business card is passed and pocketed before looking away, my mind latching on to her entry point. Which will now become mine.
Twenty-Two Weeks before the Election
It starts how it always starts.
With me, quietly slipping alongside you—no sudden moves, no loud fanfare. As if I’ve always been there. Always belonged.
This time, it’s a $10,000-a-plate fundraiser. After nearly ten years, I feel right at home among the extravagant trappings of the rich—the original artwork on the walls, the antiques that cost more than most people make in a year, and the hired help I pretend not to notice, quietly moving through homes like this one, perched high on a hill with all of Los Angeles glittering below us.
If you’re one of my targets, know that I’ve chosen you carefully. It’s likely