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White house autumn, p.1
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       White House Autumn, p.1

           Ellen Emerson White
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White House Autumn


  Feiwel and Friends

  This one, is for my father.


  An Imprint of Macmillan

  WHITE HOUSE AUTUMN. Copyright © 2008 by Ellen Emerson White. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address Feiwel and Friends, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  White, Ellen Emerson.

  White House autumn / by Ellen Emerson White.

  p. cm.

  Summary: Seventeen-year-old Meg’s surging emotions after her mother, the United States President, is shot, threaten her relationship with boyfriend Josh and best friend Beth, but she strives to maintain control to help her father and younger brothers.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-312-37489-1/ISBN-10: 0-312-37489-5

  [1. Presidents—Family—Fiction. 2. Assassination—Fiction. 3. Family life—Washington (D.C.)—Fiction. 4. Celebrities—Fiction. 5. Schools—Fiction. 6. Washington (D.C.)—Fiction.] I. Title.




  Originally published in the United States by Scholastic Press.

  Feiwel and Friends logo designed by Filomena Tuosto

  First Feiwel and Friends Edition: August 2008

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  MEGHAN POWERS SLOUCHED in the back of her Political and Philosophical Thought class, incredibly bored. Her friend Alison yawned at her from across the aisle and Meg nodded, feigning death from ennui. Top that, Camille.

  “Miss Powers?” her teacher asked. “Do you have a problem?”

  Meg sat up hastily, death scene arrested. “Sir?”

  “I realize,” he spoke with some sarcasm, “that a discussion of the Presidency can hardly be expected to hold your interest—”

  Most of the class laughed.

  “But,” he said, “I would appreciate it if you would try to pay attention.”

  Meg blushed. “Yes, sir.” She was going to add, “Forgive me, sir,” but he might not find that as amusing as she would. One of the many problems with being the President’s daughter was that she had to watch every single thing she said—and did—in public. Rise above her natural inclination to be—well—a jerk. Her mother had only been in office about nine months, and Meg was still trying to get used to it. Hell, her whole family was.

  She slumped down into her turtleneck. Turtlenecks were good to hide in. But, this was a nice skiing shirt, and she shouldn’t stretch it out. She sat up, turning around to check the clock. Ten minutes to go. Major drag. It was only October, and she wasn’t supposed to have senioritis yet.


  Maybe she would look at Josh for a while. She liked to look at Josh. Except that he was looking at her, and it was too embarrassing to stare back. Besides, gazing lovingly was sort of a public display of affection, and one wanted to maintain decorum whenever possible. That made up for the times when it wasn’t possible. Like during the last song at dances. Amorous embraces seemed rather appropriate at such moments. Except for White House dances. Although officials who had had a little too much to drink had been known to break that rule—like Raul, the prince who had taken their association as dinner partners as an engagement or something, and spent the whole night trying to kiss her, until Preston, her father’s press secretary, had tactfully tangoed her away. Meg was exceedingly fond of Preston.

  The bell was ringing, and she closed her notebook. That was the good thing about thinking—it was an excellent way to kill time. Not that she ever accomplished much. Reflections, by Meghan Winslow Powers. Swell. She and Rod McKuen could walk off into the sunset together. Admiring the sunset.

  “You coming?” Josh asked.

  “Yeah.” She zipped her books into her knapsack and smiled back at him. He had a very nice smile. And nice hair and nice eyes and a nice nose—the kind of guy people asked for directions, although knowing Josh, he would get rattled, blink a lot, and send them blocks out of their way. Not miles, just blocks.

  “What are you thinking about?” he asked.

  She grinned sheepishly. “I don’t know. Things.”

  “Interesting things?” he asked.

  “Not really.” She walked closer to him in the hall, smelling his aftershave. It was pretty funny to imagine him putting it on in the morning when she knew he didn’t shave. Or, as he put it, he shaved every three weeks, whether he needed it or not.

  “I’m sorry I can’t come to the match,” he said.

  “It’s no big deal.” She automatically swung her arm, as if she were holding one of her tennis racquets. “I don’t think we’re going to win, anyway.”

  He grinned. “You mean, you think you’re going to win, but the rest of the team isn’t.”

  Well—yeah. Pretty much.

  “Nice attitude, captain,” he said.

  “Well,” she glanced around, “don’t quote me.”

  He made his hand into a microphone. “Yes, fans, you heard it here. Miss Powers concedes that—”

  “Funny,” she said, pushing him off-balance. Actually, it was too true to be funny. Reporters were always showing up at her matches, and even members of opposing teams sometimes took pictures of her. The one which seemed to be making the rounds recently was a terrible photo which had shown up in some tabloid, of her hitting a drop-shot. On the run, mouth open, eyebrows furrowed. Really most attractive. And embarrassing. It was like, she spent thirty five hours a day trying to get people to forget who she was—and one stupid picture would blow it in about ten seconds.

  “Melissa Kramer’s really going to want to win today,” he said.

  Her opponent, who was ranked fourth in the 18-and-under, USTA, Mid-Atlantic Section—and seemed to think that meant she would be heading off to Wimbledon, sooner rather than later. Meg nodded. “Yeah, but she’s all hat, no cattle.” Or, more specifically, all serve, and no ground-strokes or cogent strategy.

  And had made the grave error, earlier in the season, of popping off on the sidelines after winning the first set they played, 6–2—whereupon, Meg had won the final two, 7–6, and then, 6–1. After which, Melissa complained that it “wasn’t fair” that she had to play someone famous. It had taken a great deal of effort for Meg to do nothing more than smile pleasantly and say, “Oh, I’m sure I just got lucky.”

  Yeah. Right. Lucky.

  “You gonna smash them or what, Meg?” their friend Nathan shouted down the hall. Nathan was six-four, and one of the few football players she’d ever genuinely liked—and trusted. He had huge shoulders, a close-cut Afro, and always wore those baseball shirts with brightly colored sleeves.

  ”Six-love, six-love,” she shouted back.

  “Boy, some people sure are conceited,” Josh said.

  Meg laughed, and pushed him again. “You’re really a jerkhead, you know that?”

  He nodded. “Yeah, you tell me all the time.”

  “Mrs. Ferris says for us to get ready as fast as we can,” Alison said, meeting them at Meg’s locker.

  Meg missed the last number of her combination and had to start over. “Big pep talk?”

  “And how.” She looked at Meg, then at Josh, and grinned. “I’ll see you in the locker-room.”

  Meg flushed. “Uh, yeah, I’ll be right there.”

  When she had her books and her tennis gear, and was waiting for Josh to get his stuff, she wandered down to the corner where Wayne, one of her Secret Service agents, was.

  “I’m just going to change, and then head out to the bus,” she said.

  He nodded. On days when she had away matches, her security detail was increased, with two agents ridin
g on the bus, plus follow cars, and other agents doing advance work. At the beginning of the season, the Secret Service had wanted her to ride in a separate car, away from the rest of the team, but Meg had protested so vehemently that, luckily, they had agreed to compromise. Having agents on the bus was bad enough, especially when everyone was talking about sex—which was most of the time. No wonder they lost so many matches.

  Josh walked her to the locker-room, and they paused outside.

  “I’ll call you tonight,” he said.

  She nodded. “Have a good lesson.” Two afternoons a week, he worked with his piano teacher, preparing for auditions for the conservatories he was applying to, even though he insisted that he would never get in and would end up majoring in history somewhere.

  “Have a good match.” He leaned over to kiss her, and Meg made sure that no one was around before relaxing against him. Well, her agents were around, but they never looked. She didn’t think. “Do it for the Gipper,” he said against her mouth.

  “I’ll try my best, Knute.” She hugged him, then pulled away. “Talk to you later?”

  He nodded, kissed her one last time, and she went into the locker-room.

  HER TEAM LOST almost every single one of their matches, and someone from the Washington Post took pictures of her perspiring and lunging for cross-court shots. Melissa had apparently been practicing like a mad thing, because her placement was much better than Meg remembered, and the match went to three sets before she managed to pull it out with some of her hardest serves.

  Leaving Melissa, of course, very disgruntled.

  When she had originally been assigned to the top rank on the team, she had worried that it was only because she was the President’s daughter. In fact, when she’d first tried out, even though she knew she could beat the reigning number one player, Renee, easily, she carefully lost her challenge match, so she would come in second and not have to feel as though she had been given special privileges. But, her coach had not been fooled and kept her after practice to accuse her of throwing the match. Meg had allowed as how maybe she could have done better, and Mrs. Ferris said that if she wasn’t going to put out her full effort every single match, she couldn’t play at all. Awkwardly, Meg explained the situation, and her coach had sympathized—sort of—but still said that she couldn’t be a member of the team with that attitude. Meg decided to adjust her attitude, but she still threw points sometimes, because most of her opponents were uneasy about having to play her, and she didn’t want any unfair advantages.

  Nothing like winning a few easy points to make people stop feeling uneasy.

  She and her agents parted in the North Entrance Hall, with its shiny checkerboard floor, marble pillars, and flashy main staircase. Meg usually went up the main stairs, instead of the private staircase, because the main one ended up outside the Center Sitting Hall, near her bedroom. There was an elevator, but she never took it, since one of her many mottos was: when in doubt, burn up calories.

  She dumped her tennis bag and books on the bed, messing up the quilt and pillows a little. She made her bed before she went to school in the morning—her parents insisted—but the maids always changed the sheets and remade it, much more neatly. Neat beds made Meg nervous.

  “Hi,” she said to her cat, Vanessa, who was asleep among the pillows. Vanessa purred, extending a soft grey and white paw, and Meg smiled. “Pretty cute,” she said, and batted her hand against the paw a few times. Vanessa liked games.

  She changed out of her white and maroon tennis shirt, and into a very old green chamois shirt that had once belonged to her father. Her shower could wait—first, she had to have a Coke.

  “Here, come on.” She picked Vanessa up, balancing her in the crook of one arm. “Let’s go see what’s going on.”

  “Miss Powers?” Pete, one of the butlers, came down the hall to meet her. “Maybe I can bring you something? A Coke? Some Doritos?”

  Meg grinned. Nothing like having someone make the offer before she even had to ask. “Sounds great, thank you,” she said, and followed him down to the kitchen, so she could at least take the glass out of the cupboard and feel as though she was helping. The White House staff preferred that the First Family not to help them, but Meg felt funny about being waited on all the time.

  Armed with a delicate crystal glass of Coke and a silver bowl of Doritos, she went up to the third floor solarium where her brothers were slouched in front of the television, watching—again—one of their Brady Bunch DVDs, and eating chocolate cake.

  “Hi,” Steven said, and gave her a more arrogant grin than usual. He’d always been a cocky kid, but being in the eighth grade really seemed to have gone to his head. “You sure look ugly.”

  “Yeah, and everyone thinks we look just like each other.” Meg sat down next to Neal, who was eight, and hadn’t learned about arrogance yet.

  “I think you look pretty,” Neal said, smiling at her, and Steven pretended to throw up on a cushion.

  “Oh. Yeah.” Steven lifted his head. “Stupid Beth called before.”

  “Beth’s not stupid,” Meg said automatically. Beth was her best friend from home, and when they weren’t emailing and texting each other, they talked on the phone a lot. “Did she leave a message?

  “Something about the essay questions for Wesleyan, I don’t know.” He picked up his cake. “Hey, d’ja win or lose?”

  “Got her in three sets,” Meg said.

  “It took you three?” Steven shook his head. “You suck.”

  Yeah, yeah, yeah. She swung her legs onto the coffee table. If there was anything she enjoyed wearing, it was sweatpants. She infinitely preferred herself in sweatpants and old flannel or chamois shirts. “Which one is this?” she asked, indicating the television.

  “When they go to the Grand Canyon,” Steven said with his mouth full.

  Meg nodded, looking at him, and then at Neal. It was funny the way the three of them did—and didn’t—resemble their parents. She and Steven were like their mother, with dark, thick hair and narrow, high-cheekboned faces. Neal was more cherubic, with light brown hair and a gentle smile like their father’s. Even so, people could always tell that they were related—probably because they all slouched the same way. It had to be more than that, but the slouching was obvious. Her parents were always bugging them to shape up on their postures.

  “I like the one where they go to Hawaii better,” Steven said, and went into the little kitchenette to wash frosting smudges off his hand. He had this habit of not using plates or forks when he ate cake. A rather disgusting habit, in Meg’s opinion, but then again, she only ate the creamy part of Oreos, so she figured she wasn’t one to criticize. “What’s for dinner?” he asked, coming back out and using Neal’s head for a towel.

  “Roast chicken,” Meg said. “And I think, plantains and stuff.”

  “Blech,” Neal said.

  Meg shrugged. “Mom likes them.” She liked them, too, actually—especially when they were caramelized.

  “Does that mean she’s coming to dinner?” Neal asked.

  Did she look as though she’d committed the President’s daily schedule to memory? “I don’t know,” Meg said. “I guess so, if that’s what they’re making.”

  “What about Daddy?” Neal asked, taking another hunk of cake without—Meg noticed—bothering with a plate or fork, either.

  Steven grinned. “He had to go shake hands with Miss Cherry Blossom.”

  Neal giggled, and Meg had to laugh, too, even though she felt sorry for her father, because of all the annoying things he had to do—cut ribbons at new buildings, plant trees with Cub Scouts, address the Senate spouses, and so forth. An endless stream of ceremonial, and often, silly, events. In real life—well, life before the White House—he had been a senior partner at his law firm, specializing in taxation.

  They sat through another episode, and had just switched over to The Simpsons, when their father came in, dignified in a grey worsted suit, with a muted red tie, for contrast.

  “How was Miss Cherry Blossom?” Meg asked.

  “Very excited,” he said wryly.

  “Did you kiss her?” Steven asked.

  “We shook hands.” Their father took off his jacket, and Steven put it on, sitting up and trying to look like an adult. Then, their father loosened his tie and frowned at the television. “Filling your little minds with garbage again?”

  Meg looked at the ceiling. “Forgive him. He knows not what he says.”

  Their father smiled. “You all could be in your rooms, reading Dickens.” He tilted his head at Neal. “How was school?”

  “Fun,” Neal said. “We played kickball.”

  “All day long?” their father asked.

  Neal giggled, then nodded.

  “Great,” their father said. “Even the school’s not giving you Dickens.” He looked at Meg. “Did you beat her?”

  Meg nodded.

  “Excellent,” her father said. “Was she a good sport?”

  Meg shook her head.

  “Were you?” her father asked.

  “Well, except for the part where she’d smirked.

  “How about school?” her father asked.

  “I don’t know.” She slumped down in her best teenage punk imitation. “Got drunk again.”

  “Terrific.” He tipped her Coke to the side to study what was left of the liquid, and Meg jerked the glass away, guzzling it and falling back in a drunken stupor. He laughed, then turned his attention to Steven. “How about you? What did you do today?”

  “Read Dickens,” Steven said solemnly. He got a snicker from Neal, a smile from their father, and a groan from Meg, whereupon he glanced away from the television just long enough to cross his eyes at her.

  “Ah,” their mother said, from the doorway. “There you all are.” She came in, tall, and as ever, beautiful, in a blue silk dress, slimly belted in at the waist, and wearing graceful high heels.

  No wonder her father hadn’t kissed Miss Cherry Blossom.

  “Guess what, Mom?” Neal said. “We played kickball! All day!”

  “Well, that sounds productive,” she said.

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