By on Apr 2, 2023 in Fiction

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Massachusetts state house with aid and journalist

I first laid eyes on her in a Massachusetts State House conference room. She was taking notes during a debate over a new voting rights bill. I was there as an ambitious investigative reporter in search of an interesting story.

I nudged Lucas, my friend and fellow reporter. “Know her?” I asked.

He leaned into me and whispered. “Jessica Boyd. Committee staffer.” He frowned, shaking his head. “She’s involved with some dude named Leo.” I accepted the information as gospel. Lucas—single and always on the hunt—knows the skinny on every Beacon Hill mark.

I recorded her name in my small spiral notebook, saving it for future reference. Jessica Boyd. In time I’d call her Jessie.

We met three weeks later when I spotted her hustling up the front steps of the capitol. The gleaming rays of a February sun reflected radiantly off the building’s dome as I stepped up beside her.

“I’m calling security if you keep following me,” I said.

Startled, she fumbled an armful of file folders onto the capitol steps. I offered a lame apology and helped retrieve the scattered papers.

“Jonah Burke,” I said. I was impressed by her surprisingly strong handshake. Her light brown hair hung in seductive curls around her high-cheekbone face—a genuine All-American girl with magnificent green eyes.

“I know you,” she said with a mischievous smile. “I read your articles all the time.” Her forehead wrinkled. “You’re not writing something awful about me, are you?”

I grinned. “Please tell me there’s something awful to write about.”

She flashed a wide, beautiful smile that I instantly fell in love with.


In the beginning, ours was just a friendship. I had a wife, while Jessie, who had been married once before, was currently single. As usual Lucas’s research was spot on—she was dating a guy named Leo. But their dysfunctional relationship soon ended, and I learned that she had muddled through a series of equally unfulfilling courtships over the past few years. Her record of failed relationships had earned her a reputation as a woman who always fell for the wrong guy. “She’s the best,” Lucas liked to say, “but she’s attracted to the worst.”

After she left her Senate staff position later that year and joined a powerful Boston lobby firm, we spent even more time together. I scratched her back, giving her inside dope on breaking news, and she scratched mine by passing on the latest Capitol gossip, some of which I used in my newspaper column and attributed to an anonymous source. We’d make the information-for-rumors trade over drinks at a few Beacon Hill bars. I’d listen to her stories about the legislative crowd, and she would hang on every new revelation I shared about my latest investigation. I became her personal confidant, offering romantic advice that she rarely heeded and always cautioning her against rushing into a new relationship.

As for me, the truth was that I was moving on autopilot in my job at the newspaper. I was facing an old-fashioned case of burnout. I confessed my frustrations to her at lunch one day.

“The job has grown stale” I told her. “I’m tired of chasing stories about sleazy politicians.”

“Then quit” was her unusually sharp reply. “Stop whining and start writing the way you’ve always wanted to. You’ve got a ton of stories in you—let them out.” But she could tell that my dissatisfaction with my job wasn’t the only thing that was eating on me. “Okay, buster,” she said, “What’s really going on?”

I shrugged, sucked in my breath, and told her that I was getting a divorce. She opened her mouth in feigned surprise, but it was just an act. She knew too much about my relationship with Joanne for the announcement to come as a shock.

“Don’t do it, Jonah,” she said in a stern voice. “You’re not meant to be single.” Then she cocked her head and smiled. “You need mothering.”

I was in no mood for her humor. “Look, I was a freshman at UMass when I got married. Just a kid, for chrissake. The marriage hasn’t worked for years.”

“Don’t underestimate what you have with Joanne. She loves you, and you love—”

“I care about Joanne,” I said, correcting her. “She’s the mother of my two girls, so sure, I have feelings; but the kids are the only thing holding us together. She’d stay in the marriage forever, I guess, but I can’t. There has to be something more than just growing old together and punching the clock, neither one of us satisfied.”

 “Look at me, Jonah. All I’m asking is that you don’t do something stupid. I know a thing or two about bad relationships, and breakups aren’t always the answer. At least promise me that we’ll talk again about all this before you do anything rash, okay?”

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James W. Fried graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a political science degree and a love of writing. He currently has four novel manuscripts (in various stages of completion) and over fifty short stories ready for submission to agents and short story publishers. His latest two stories ("Playing Handball Off a Curb" and "Along Michigan Avenue") are scheduled for publication in the coming weeks. His works of fiction are drawn from his forty-five years of experience as a banker, legislator, and lobbyist. He previously co-authored The Winning Edge (with Jack Fried), a nonfiction sports book that chronicles a college football team’s season-long journey to a national championship.