I stood at the back, mesmerized. The seat of my pants was clinging to a rust-colored wall sticky from too many fingers and not enough detergent, but the minor irritation barely penetrated my consciousness. Not when every word from his mouth was another drop in the tremendous waterfall at the front of the room.
I'd already met the man. He didn't remember who I was from one minute to the next, but we'd actually had two complete conversations. We'd talked about the overall game plan for the next few months, about strategically-placed locations throughout the state for him to appear, about how to make sure we eventually got him out of tiny VFW halls and into big conference centers. None of which had prepared me for the sheer poetry of hearing him speak.
It wasn't the words themselves, either, though they certainly validated my positive first impression of Toby Ziegler. No, it was definitely him. He was talking about nothing bigger than a bottle recycling bill, but his New England accent reverberated throughout the room and echoed in my ears during the silences. He gripped the edges of the podium, the lift of his chin and the light in his eyes promising far more than his words alone conveyed, and for a moment I forgot about his temper tantrums and just believed him.
The brush of an arm at my elbow tugged my eyes away. Josh leaned against the wall next to me, arms folded, a smug grin spread across his face. "So?" he whispered.
My gaze returned to the figure at the front of the hall. "Wow."
The Governor raised one hand in the air to emphasize the commanding note in his voice, and my spine stiffened. This was my job, now, to put words in the mouth of the poet. People like William Warren and Jack Gage had been telling me for seven years that I could walk on water, but I could feel the river evaporating from beneath my feet.
"Wait," I hissed, clutching both fists to my chest. "Wait, this is wrong."
"What do you mean?" Josh's voice was concerned.
"I mean ..." I felt my eyes widen as I turned to face him, one stiff finger pointing toward the front of the room. "I- this guy's no Silverstein."
His face relaxed, and the smile returned to his lips. "Nope."
"I've never done anything like this before!"
"Nope." He was still grinning.
"You really think ..."
"Yeah," he said quietly. "Yeah, I do."
Josh's eyes glinted with an absolute certainty that I could do this, that we all could. I glanced quickly back to the front of the room just as the Governor hit his final triumphant notes, and the audience broke into applause. A few people near the front rose to their feet, hands held high as they clapped.
I felt a slight smile creep across my face. Someday, every body in the room would stand at the end. Someday soon. "Yeah," I whispered, nodding. "Okay."