The iCandidate: 21st Installment
To begin with Installment 1, please click here.
The iCandidate is a guilty pleasure - a unique interactive thriller about a political reality show to choose a potential President of the United States - in which the reader has a key say in how the plot unfolds.
In The iCandidate, eight finalists from all walks of life face the kind of challenges they might have to deal with in the Oval Office:
• Will they use the nuclear button?
• What will they do about ISIS?
• How will they cope in a crisis?
At the end of each round the reader gets to cast an iVote to help determine who stays and who goes home. It is democracy in its purest form, free from party loyalties, donor obligations and antiquated electoral practices - and it keeps the authors on their toes!
In the novel, serialized weekly only on NoteStream, the eventual people’s champion goes on to challenge the political establishment in an iCampaign for the presidency climaxing in an explosive finale in Washington on November 8.
But The iCandidate has even greater aspirations to trigger a revolution in the way America selects the most powerful man or woman on the planet, and really, would it be any crazier than what we've got now?
Change America one iVote at a time - and cheer on your iCandidate! Be sure to cast your in-app iVotes to save your favorite iCandidates!
NoteStreams are readable online but they’re even better in the free App!
The NoteStream™ app is for learning about things that interest you: from music to history, to classic literature or cocktails. NoteStreams are truly easy to read on your smartphone—so you can learn more about the world around you and start a fresh conversation.
For a list of all authors on NoteStream, click here.
Read the NoteStream below, or download the app and read it on the go!
CHAPTER 59 - REUNITED
Once Ayesha heard Zia’s side of the story she had a few minutes to make up her mind: whether to trust Zia and give him and America another chance, or to turn away and make a final dash for her flight.
She chose Zia.
Neither knew quite what to do next, so they just continued to hold hands smiling at each other. The relief on Zia’s face evident; a second more and she would have been lost to him.
If he had any doubt about the depth of his feelings, the sheer panic he felt at the thought of losing her made things clear. To hold Ayesha’s hand as they walked away from the departure gates was all Zia needed.
“I am so happy I got here in time,” he said softly.
“Me too.” Ayesha’s eyes burned into his. He still hadn’t seen her face, but that wasn’t important now.
“I have my driver waiting outside. I will take you back to Harvard. You probably need to let them know?”
Yes, thank you.” Ayesha needed to talk to Emily.
Zia signaled for his driver. He didn’t try and hug Ayesha; a look was plenty.
So this was his destiny after a lifetime of assimilation; he’d fallen in love with a traditional Pakistani girl. He couldn’t wait to tell his father.
Pakistan wasn’t a concept of a better life any longer. He didn’t have to rely on his father’s stories. It was so real he could almost touch it.
Across the city, sitting in her car in the afternoon traffic, Emily was lost in her thoughts. She had been hesitant leaving her young charge, so sad and vulnerable. It reminded her how emotionally raw she still was herself, some 30 years later.
But at least now Ayesha was going home to what she knew, to be with her family.
She was too delicate for America, Emily realized, despite her intelligence and yearning for a better life.
Emily wondered who the caller was as her cell phone came to life, and an unknown number appeared on her screen.
“Emily, it’s Ayesha,” came the excited voice. “I want to stay! May I please come back to Harvard?”
Emily was stunned. “Are you sure, Ayesha?”
“Never more,” she said quietly, looking up at Zia as she spoke softly into the phone.
“Ok. I will turn around and come pick you up. It’s going to take me about 30 minutes though.”
“Oh no, Miss Emily! You don’t need to trouble yourself coming back. I will meet you at the university later.” The line went quiet and Emily heard Ayesha take a deep breath. “Zia is with me.”
That’s when Emily knew. The man who had rushed past her at the airport. That had to have been him.
“Oh, I see.” Emily paused as she tried to register what had just happened. “Ok, I will meet you in the quad. I’ll make all the arrangements, it shouldn’t be a problem.” She hesitated. “But… are you sure, Ayesha? I mean REALLY sure? This is it now?”
Ayesha understood. “Miss Emily, you have helped me so much.
Thank you. You’ve given me new courage.”
“Hmm, was that me or was it because Zia showed up?” Emily said gently. “You must do this for you. Never define yourself for someone else, especially a man.”
“Miss Emily, I promise you, I will not let you down.”
Emily already knew this was true. “Alright then. I will see you later… and Ayesha…” she added quickly… “I am very happy you’re staying.”
CHAPTER 60 – FIGHT CLUB
There was a small restaurant on the way back from the studio the contestants stopped at a couple of times in the early stages of the competition for a quick cocktail. The owner would find them a quiet table overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
It was harder now that the show was so popular, but tonight, Cameron was alone and asked the limo driver to wait outside. He hoped he could slip in for a drink unnoticed.
He ordered a Mexican beer at the bar and took it across to the same table he’d sat at with the others. There was a family out on the patio and a young couple sitting at a raised table by the bar. Otherwise, the place was empty.
Closing his eyes, enjoying the slight breeze off the water and the chance to relax, he smelled her before feeling the tap on his arm.
“Excuse me, aren’t you Cameron?”
The blonde from the bar was leaning over him, her soft perfume filling his senses. “I knew it was you. I bet my friend.”
Cameron smiled. All this was still new to him. And she was pretty.
“Would you like to buy me a drink?” Clearly an autograph wasn’t going to be enough. She sat down a little too close to him.
“Sure,” Cameron mumbled. “What about your, er…friend?”
“Oh, we’re not together and he knows how crazy I am for you. I’ve voted for you every round.”
He ordered her a drink and looked across at the guy, who was staring at his phone, apparently unconcerned.
Cameron turned back to the girl and just had time to ask her name before he was grabbed from behind and dragged out of his chair by her friend.
In one motion he was pulled up and thumped in the face, knocking him to the floor. A foot slammed into his ribs as he tried to get up, but the guy stood over him, accusing him of trying to steal his wife.
On his knees, Cameron put a hand to his face and saw it was covered in blood from a cut above his eye. He looked back up to see the girl filming the whole thing with her phone.
The barman and the family were gone and there was little Cameron could do to stop the couple as they made a dash for the side door. The girl paused just long enough to say: “Sorry about that Cameron. I really did vote for you. Good luck!”
And that’s the last he saw of them until the video turned up later that night as an exclusive on TMZ. In 30 minutes it had more than half a million views.
CHAPTER 61 – MIRROR MIRROR
Grace cherished the few precious moments of solitude. The Green Room was cozy, peaceful, and safe. In a few minutes, she would be walking out on the stage with Todd, Cameron and Tom for the next challenge in front of millions of people.
Staring at her face in the mirror, the cut still raw under the make-up, Grace finally felt fully alive. If anything, the attack only served to make her stronger, more determined to make a better life for herself and those around her. She could bring people together. She could make a difference.
She searched the counter for her lipstick, and looking back into the mirror she practically jumped out of her skin. Cameron’s reflection had appeared behind hers.
She spun around. He touched her arm, making her jump again.
“Grace, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you, I knocked but you didn’t hear.”
“That’s okay. I’m just a bit on edge, that’s all.”
Wearing a simple Caroline Herrera dress, she searched her dresser drawer to find the carnelian and silver spiral necklace with matching earrings she’d found at a street market last summer.
She turned to face him. “Are you ready for the next challenge?”
“Sure. Whatever. You know that it’s packed out there. Even Jen is here to support us. Who’d have thought?” Grace smiled at him through the mirror, saying nothing. “You look stunning by the way,” he added.
“Thank you. I’m sure you say that to all the girls,” she smiled.
“Actually I….” He caught sight of the deep bruise under the make-up. “Grace, what is that?”
“What?” Grace’s hand instinctively flew up, pulling her bangs across her forehead.
He gently moved her hand to reveal the dark welt. “Oh, it’s nothing. I fell in the bathroom, I….”
“Hit your head on the bath. Yeah, oldest one in the book and I’m not buying it. What really happened?”
Grace hesitated. Since when was he so concerned? “Hang on, you have a cut about your eye too.” She frowned. “Were you bar brawling again?”
“Something like that. Tell you what, you share your story and I’ll share mine?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, so please don’t ask me again.”
He looked at her strangely. “You’re a weird one Conwright. Always trying to be so strong and brave. You can trust me you know.” There was silence, and he saw her jaw tighten, her eyes revealing nothing.
“Ok,” he sighed, heading for the door. “Good luck tonight.”
“You too, Cameron,” she murmured. He shrugged and left.
Grace sat down to finish getting ready. She tried to concentrate on the challenge ahead, but all she could think about was Cameron.
Chapter 62 – LOVE HURTS
Zia waited patiently in his father’s office. Nobody knew they were father and son; it was still becoming increasingly difficult for them to get time together the closer the mission came to completion.
Tariq was against the meeting but Zia argued that his office was the most sensible place to talk. Who would ever suspect anything there?
He didn’t want to wait any longer to tell his father about Ayesha. She was everything he could possibly want in a bride and Zia wanted to ask for his blessing before asking Ayesha to marry him.
Not According To Plan
When Tariq finally arrived 15 minutes late he was irritable and stressed. Things were not going to plan.
“We need to talk about contingencies,” he told his son. They talked business for 30 minutes. Usually that was all they talked about, but this time Zia needed to steer the conversation in a different direction.
“It’s my birthday tomorrow. Does that make you feel old?”
“Yes. Ancient.” His father offered a rare smile.
Zia took that as a good sign and forged ahead. “It’s also the anniversary of mom’s death. Can you tell me a little about her again?”
He could see the pain in his father’s face. Discussing Zia’s mother was the one time he saw his father soften, if only a little. He had no photos, no relatives, only his father’s memory to go by.
Say It Again
“You’ve heard all this before.”
“I just like to hear it.”
“She was beautiful.” Tariq was lost in thought. “She was bright and clever and crazy and wild. I don’t really know what she saw in a boring guy like me.”
He looked across at Zia. “You are so much like her.” His voice cracked a little. “She was studying political science, the same degree as you.”
“Do you miss her?” Zia always asked the question.
“Every day,” was always the answer. Tariq had chosen a lonely path a long time ago. It tortured him, wondering how his life could have been with a wife and a son. But now, he was close to making all the sacrifices worthwhile.
Then Zia told him about Ayesha and he could see everything they’d planned falling apart. “This is not the right time.” It wasn’t up for debate. “You must stop seeing her.”
“I can’t do that.” Zia was defiant. “I thought you’d be pleased that she’s from Pakistan.”
Tariq wasn’t used to being challenged by his son. He stood up and crashed his hand down on his desk. “Why do you think we’ve spent all these years turning you into the perfect all American boy? Do you understand nothing?”
Zia was stunned.
“We haven’t worked this hard for you to wreck everything by marrying a Pakistani! That would be madness! If a whisper of this gets out we’re finished. You must end it…NOW!”
Confused, frustrated, and hurt, Zia just shook his head at his father. “I come to you happier than I have ever been in my life, eager to share this news with you…and this is your reaction?”
Turning on his heel, he was at the door. “You want me to be this perfect, confident, successful American - But I’m not just an American, and neither are you. Why can’t we be proud of who we are? What are you so afraid of?”
Tariq said nothing, just glared back at his son.
“I just don’t understand you!” Slamming the door, Zia stormed off. He realized this was the first time he had ever done that.
Tariq looked at the closed door for a moment, and sunk into the chair, exhausted. As he watched Zia’s hurt face just now, the memories of his son’s mother in the delivery room that day came flooding back.
He could see her now, the same hurt expression etched on her face. They were so alike in so many ways.
CHAPTER 63 ~ FLASHBACK
Tariq. Manhattan 1980…
Her arm was draped across Tariq’s bony chest in their closet apartment in the East Village. She reeked of vodka and cigarettes, a combination that worked the previous night but disgusted him now.
Her pretty mouth, lipstick dissolved in their kisses, was slightly open, her panda eyes scrunched shut against the morning light. He looked down at her concave stomach, a silver bar shining from her belly button, and wondered if his baby was somewhere inside .
Tariq leaned up on one elbow to check the alarm clock just as it exploded with Blondie’s ‘Call Me.’ He squinted at the digital display, lost without his glasses. The time was 11:3:00 a.m. The date blinked: October 24. He had a class at 8.
Jolted awake, Emily drifted into the bathroom holding her head. “I made the alarm for later,” she said, leaving the door open. “You need to chill out.”
He scrabbled around for his clothes and was dressed by the time she climbed back into bed, her mop of pink-streaked dirty blonde hair pulled up into a loose bun.
“You’ve missed class now. You might as well get back into bed.” She was wearing the unbuttoned dress shirt he’d worn the previous night and pouted up at him like a naughty schoolgirl.
Not for the first time, Tariq was tempted to stray from the plan. He knew it was risky to choose the hot girl. But he couldn’t help himself.
“I’m going to see the T.A.,” he mumbled. “Try and get a make-up assignment.”
According To Plan
Emily called after Tariq, but she used his American name; the one all his friends used. “Pick me up some aspirin. It must be something I ate last night. My head is killing me.”
Barreling down the four sets of stairs from their tiny three-room walk-up, Tariq knew exactly why his girlfriend was suffering. She’d been so busy downing cheap white wine there hadn’t been time to eat.
They’d made love in a sloppy, drunken frenzy after the cold air outside the bar had virtually poleaxed Emily; she certainly had no clue whether or not he’d used a condom. That much, at least, was going to plan.
She was a trust fund kid from the Netherlands and had only been in the city a few months. She had few ties there and just a few friends from their classes.
That was how he justified selecting her... If only she wasn’t so damn amazing.
To his surprise, his mother didn’t oppose his choice. Even if a bohemian, sexually promiscuous Dutch girl was hardly her ideal choice, as his mother, she recognized good genes when she saw them. As long as he didn’t reveal his true feelings, Tariq had no trouble justifying his decision to pursue Emily. He couldn’t drop his grades at school though. That would never fly.
He rushed a handful of blocks to Stern and paused for a second outside the T.A.’s door to look suitably contrite. He’d considered her at one point; she was attractive in a sharp-faced, brainy kind of way, and she clearly liked him. But she came from Long Island and had too many friends.
The inevitable finally happened about five weeks later, the morning after Tariq told Emily with absolute sincerity that he wished they could go on living like this together, forever.
She was suffering from the usual hangover but had pushed him away the previous night and closed the bathroom door the next morning. She came out 30 minutes later in tears.
“I think I’m pregnant.”
Emily looked up at Tariq but this time her eyes were full of tears. “I’m so sorry. I should have gone on the pill. It’s all my fault.” She barely finished the sentence, folding into his arms and sobbing on his shoulder.
Tariq didn’t have to pretend. He hugged her tightly and allowed himself to dream about running away and starting a family where nobody knew them, where nobody could reach them.
“We can do it.” She looked up at him again in deadly earnest. “I have money. You can stay at Stern and I’ll care for our baby. We’ll be happy, I know it.”
But he wouldn’t let her tell her parents. This was America. This was 1980. They could do what they wanted. They didn’t have to feel ashamed about having a child out of wedlock but they would tell her parents in their own good time. He was persuasive and unyielding.
Alone and vulnerable, Emily relented.
By the time she called him, a little less than nine months later in the middle of an accounting class to tell him her waters had broken, everything was in place.
They rushed to NYU Medical Center like any other expectant couple, full of excitement and foreboding. She clutched his hand as she was pushed on a gurney from one room to another. He had to be right there to ensure there were no last minute hiccups.
Strands of blond hair were pasted to her face with sweat, she grunted and groaned like an animal, her body was left torn and bloody and she called Tariq a bastard more than once. To Tariq, Emily never looked more beautiful.
No Chance To Flee
He was so caught up in the birth and the joy at welcoming his baby boy that he forgot all about what would happen next. The doctor almost ran from the room with one hand across the child’s crumpled face.
Emily scarcely seemed to notice but squeezed Tariq’s hand and wearily opened one eye with a weak smile. “We did it.”
Then with a feeling of utter dread, Tariq looked up to see his own mother standing in the doorway, unsmiling and determined.
Any fleeting thoughts of running away to live happily ever after evaporated.
The smile froze on Emily’s face. Something was wrong. She backed away in the bed as Tariq’s mother walked slowly towards her.
“I’m so sorry.”
Emily screamed, yanking her hand from Tariq.
No! My baby!”
“There was nothing to be done. He was already dead.” The older lady didn’t move from the bedside.
Emily tried to get up but Tariq took hold of her hand again and his mother blocked the door.
“I need to see my baby!” Emily was screaming. “Let me see him.”
Tariq steeled himself. Now was not a time to show weakness. He knew what he had to do. Emily understood very little about who he was, but it was enough.
She could find him. She could ruin everything.
He leaned over and hugged Emily tightly, feeling the sobs wracking her frail body. “He didn’t even have a name,” she cried.
“Don’t worry,” he answered. “You’ll get through this.”
She clutched him tighter. “As long as I have you.”
This was the moment. He could daydream but there would never be picket fences. “I’m sorry, but that can’t happen.”
He felt her stiffen against him. “But I thought…”
“I have to go.” Tariq pulled away and the sour-faced doctor moved in with a muscly male nurse holding the bewildered new mom down on her bed. “You need something to help with the shock.”
Emily reached out again for Tariq just as the doctor plunged a syringe containing 5 grams of sodium thiopental into her arm, sedating her into unconsciousness almost immediately.
She slumped into Tariq’s arms and he breathed in the familiar sweet scent of her skin, mingled with the faint aroma of sweat from giving birth to his son. It was the same smell he recognized after they made love.
He didn’t know what would happen to Emily. He didn’t want to know.
His mother was standing in the doorway beckoning for him to leave. In her arms, swaddled in white, was his son, Zia.
With one last look at Emily, Tariq turned and hurried out of the hospital room.
Emily had played her part well.
But he no longer had any need for her.