Diane Branson was attempting to apply lipstick despite her shaking hand. How is it, she thought, that a word of only three letters could grow into such a continent of deceit?
Yes, she had gone to Grand Rapids South High. No, she hadn't known Jerry Ford, the college football champion. Like most in Grand Rapids, Diane knew of the all-star athlete, but they had never exchanged even a glance. If it hadn't been for Steve Branson and his questions, she would have gone a long time without thinking of the football player.
She wasn't sure how Steve would react when the mirage vanished. Diane had concealed the truth until the last possible second, and now the president was due to arrive within the hour. She had excused herself to take refuge in the quiet of the ladies' room, though she knew she could not hide much longer. The drone of milling campaign supporters was increasing. Soon it would be too late.
In the years since Steve had courted her, he had taken it upon himself to inform everyone about his wife's connection with Michigan's beloved Jerry Ford. His version of Diane and the politician's relationship evolved with each broadcast. By the time that Jerry Ford started his fourth term in Washington, Steve considered him a former rival who had good-naturedly lost the prize of Diane's hand.
Mrs. Branson found it endearing that her husband had used the fabled romance to spark fraternal affection instead of jealousy. It seemed a harmless tale and Diane gradually felt less guilty as the decades spread out between reality and fiction.
She did not feel like dissolving Steve's imaginary friendship over something arbitrary like facts, especially since boasting of Jerry's accomplishments gave her husband such pleasure. When Jerry became the House minority leader, Steve was delighted. He was overjoyed with Agnew's resignation and when Americans gave Nixon the pink slip, he was beyond proud. "Their man," as he now referred to Ford, was in the Oval Office. They emptied two champagne bottles in celebration.
Now Jerry needed help keeping his job so Steve planned the biggest fundraiser in Flint. With the president's attendance confirmed, Diane realized that confession was her only option. She knew her husband could not resist the chance to tell Jerry of their mutual acquaintance.
It was her fault for not uprooting the false idea from Steve's mind at the start. She had tried and failed a thousand times in the past weeks. Gathering her skirt and courage, Diane went in search of her husband. Entering the ballroom, her heart plummeted to her heels. There stood Steve with his arm around the president's shoulders. Her face was scarlet as she approached the pair.
"Hello Mrs. Branson," the president said, taking her hand. "It's been too long." The rest of the conversation was a blur of social niceties that Diane hardly heard through her confusion. Later, as they sat watching Steve and Betty dance, Jerry reached again for Diane's hand.
"You really haven't changed at all, Diane. You know, I still think about you, about us, every time I think of Michigan, about Grand Rapids." He gave her hand a little squeeze. She smiled uneasily and looked away.
Driving home at the end of the night, Diane put her head on Steve's shoulder. "You know, honey," she said, "I don't think we should vote for Jerry after all. He's not to be trusted." Steve looked down at his wife and smiled indulgently, dismissing her words as the result of too much champagne and reminiscing.