The presidents daughter, p.10
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       The President's Daughter, p.10
 

           Ellen Emerson White
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  “Now,” he said.

  She bolted past him and halfway up the stairs, then stopped to lean against the railing, feeling hot, clumsy tears start down her cheeks.

  “Okay,” she heard her father saying gently in the sitting room. “It’s okay. Come on, take it easy.”

  She let go of the railing, running the rest of the way upstairs and into her room, crying harder. Vanessa jumped off the bed, scurrying out of the room, and Meg got under the covers, bringing the blankets and her knees up as high as they would go, shaking so hard that the tears wouldn’t come out right, feeling angry, and guilty—and very, very alone.

  THE NEXT MORNING, she stood in her closet, trying to figure out what to wear to school—and still upset about the night before. She smelled perfume before she heard anything and knew that her mother had come into the room.

  “I’m leaving now,” her mother said.

  Meg nodded, not turning around.

  Her mother sighed. “I’m not going to be back for at least a week, Meg. I don’t want to leave with us still angry at each other.”

  “Does that mean you’re staying?” Meg grabbed a shirt and a pair of pants, carrying them over to the bed.

  “You know I can’t,” her mother said.

  Meg didn’t answer, going over to her dresser to get socks and underwear.

  “Meg, I’m sorry,” her mother said. “I lost my temper. I didn’t—well, I really am sorry.”

  Meg shrugged.

  It was quiet for a minute.

  “Is that what you’re wearing to school?” her mother asked.

  Meg frowned, realizing that she’d picked out plaid madras pants and a striped Oxford shirt. “Yes.”

  “Very attractive.” Her mother came over and put a hand on Meg’s shoulder, ruffling it up through her hair. “You’re not going to break down and smile?”

  “It’s not funny,” Meg said, even as a little grin escaped.

  Her mother also grinned, sitting down on the bed, and Meg looked at her, noticing the perfection of the green silk dress and smelling the light, penetrating perfume.

  “You look pretty damn beautiful,” she said grumpily.

  Her mother frowned. “I’m not sure that’s a compliment.”

  “I’m not sure either,” Meg said.

  “I admire your honesty.” Her mother put her arm around her. “It irritates me, but I admire it.” She brushed a light kiss across Meg’s hair. “Let’s not be angry, okay?”

  Meg shrugged. “You’re going to miss your plane.”

  Her mother nodded, automatically glancing at her watch.

  Meg got up to put the striped shirt back in her closet. “You’d better get going.”

  “It’s not always going to be like this,” her mother said.

  Meg hung up the shirt, selecting a pale yellow one, instead.

  “It really isn’t,” her mother said.

  Meg frowned at the yellow shirt and exchanged it for a light blue one.

  “You are the most obstinate person I’ve ever met,” her mother said.

  Meg turned and looked at her. “I’m not sure that’s a compliment.”

  “I’m not sure, either,” her mother agreed.

  Well, okay, then. Meg turned back to the closet, pulling out a white shirt.

  “Kate?” Meg’s father called up the stairs. “It’s almost seven!”

  “I’m on my way,” her mother called back. She glanced at Meg. “I’ll see you soon?”

  “Whatever.” Meg brought the white shirt over to her bed, hearing her mother’s small sigh. She listened to her walk out to the hall, then couldn’t stand it anymore and went after her. “Mom?”

  Her mother stopped at the top of the stairs.

  “Be, uh,” Meg blushed, avoiding her eyes, “careful, okay?”

  “You, too.” Her mother smiled at her. “Wear the blue shirt.”

  Meg looked at the white one, then nodded, and her mother went down the stairs.

  WHEN SCHOOL ENDED, the plan was that they would all go on the road with her mother, and her father would take a leave of absence from the firm, so that he could travel with them the entire time, too. They would campaign with her, and when she had to go to Washington and be a Senator—which she did less and less, these days—they would campaign without her. Not only was Meg dreading that part of it, but since she and her mother still weren’t getting along most of the time, that meant that she and her father weren’t doing very well, either. So, she wasn’t looking forward to the concept of all of them spending several weeks together, non-stop.

  But, Steven was the one who really got upset about the idea, furious that he’d have to quit Little League, and refusing to go with them. With Neal, it was different, because he was little, but Steven was so independent and secretive about things that when he blew up, people paid attention.

  It was decided, finally, that Meg and Steven would stay in Massachusetts with Trudy until the Democratic Convention, which was in August. Then, depending upon what happened at the Convention—none of the candidates had locked up quite enough delegates during the primaries to win the nomination—they would all spend the rest of August—which was when Congress recessed—campaigning, or if her mother didn’t get the nomination—they would stay in the “home district,” where, presumably, her mother would campaign out of force of habit.

  It was kind of lonely around the house, but restful—she and Trudy never fought, and Steven seemed to be able to find things to do with himself. Since there hadn’t been any trouble, like the police calling and saying he was smashing streetlights, or something otherwise delinquent, Meg didn’t worry about him. He had gone through a period of minor vandalism when he was about nine and a half—which had turned out to be kind of an expensive hobby.

  Since she wasn’t going to be around for the whole summer, she couldn’t really try to get a job, so she spent most of her time playing tennis and going to movies with Beth and Sarah. A few guys from school called and asked her out, but since she knew they were asking only because she was related to a certain Presidential candidate, she always politely refused. It was Beth’s opinion that at least a couple of the guys might have been more interested in Meg than her mother, but Meg didn’t even consider the possibility.

  It was late July—almost August, almost the convention—and Meg woke up at eight, glanced at the clock, and then fell back onto her pillow. Vanessa, Adlai, and Sidney were all on her bed, and she patted each of them, getting two sleepy purrs and one long, somewhat toothless yawn from Sidney.

  Hearing a noise downstairs, she stiffened. Someone was in the kitchen, obviously trying hard to be quiet. At first, she was scared, thinking it might be a burglar—or an assailant who had gotten past the Secret Service posted outside, but then, she relaxed. How many criminals sat down to have bowls of cereal?

  It wasn’t Trudy, because she could hear her sleeping—Trudy had sinus problems, so she kind of wheezed—which meant that it had to be Steven. Only, what was he doing up so early? It could be some kind of sports thing—he was always putting himself on exercise programs and jogging plans. Definitely his mother’s child. But he’d been awfully quiet lately—maybe he and his friends were up to something.

  Yawning, she climbed out of bed, and the cats followed her as she went downstairs to check. Steven was sitting at the table in his baseball uniform, bent over a bowl of Cheerios.

  “Since when do you have games this early?” she asked.

  “God, Meg.” He sat up, startled. “You always gotta sneak up on people?”

  “We would have been worried if we’d gotten up, and you weren’t here,” she said.

  “I wrote a note.” He gestured with his spoon.

  Since she was up, she might as well eat. So, she opened the refrigerator and took out the orange juice. “I thought Little League was over.”

  “It is,” he said shortly.

  She poured herself a glass of juice, and refilled his, too. “How come they let you keep the uniform?”<
br />
  “They didn’t,” he said.

  Conversations with Steven were not always easy. “So, is this like, an exhibition?” she asked. It had to be something like that, because she and Beth and Trudy had gone to his last game.

  He kept eating. “All-Stars.”

  Whoa. She lowered her glass. “You made All-Stars? When?”

  “Dunno,” he said. “Couple weeks ago.”

  That figured. Steven would probably sign with the Red Sox, and no one in her family would have heard about it. “How come you didn’t tell me?” she asked.

  He shrugged. “Didn’t tell anyone.”

  Oh. “But, you should have,” she said, “we all—”

  “Yeah, sure.” He hunched over his cereal. “Just leave me alone.”

  “Are you playing?” she asked.

  He nodded.

  Good thing this wasn’t like pulling teeth. “What position?” she asked.

  “Pitcher,” he said.

  Wow. “Hey, that’s really great,” she said.

  He shrugged, putting what was left of his cereal down on the floor so that Kirby could eat from the bowl.

  She noticed how neatly he’d put on his uniform and wondered how long it had taken him. His cleats were scuffed, but well-shined, and his pants were carefully bloused just above his ankles. But, it made her sad that he had done this great thing—and not bothered letting them know about it.

  “How come you didn’t tell us?” she asked.

  He scowled at her. “I’ve been going to practice every stupid day! You never even asked where I was going! No one did!”

  “Well—” She flushed, knowing that he was right. “I figured you were going to play baseball with your friends.”

  “Yeah, right.” He got up and poured his juice out into the sink, not having touched it. “I bet you don’t even care I had my picture in the paper.”

  “When?” she asked.

  “Couple days ago,” he said.

  “Well.” She felt even guiltier. “Did you save it? I want to see it.”

  “Because you feel bad.” His voice was as hurt as it was angry. “That’s all. I didn’t show you, ’cause all you care about is going out with your friends and playing stupid tennis. You could care less about me.”

  “Steven,” she said, uneasily, “that’s not—”

  “Oh, yeah? How come I heard you on the phone that time Trudy went out, saying you couldn’t go anywhere because you had to stay home with Stupid Steven?” He mimicked her voice, and Meg flinched at the accuracy of the inflections.

  “Well, I—” She twisted in her chair, uncomfortable. “I didn’t mean—”

  “Yo, save it,” he said grimly. “I so totally don’t care.”

  She had definitely screwed this one up, from start to finish. “What time’s your game?” she asked.

  “I don’t care if no one comes,” he said. “Like, big deal.”

  She put her glass in the sink, too. “Do you care if someone does come?”

  “You have a stupid tennis lesson.” He put on his cap, very carefully adjusting it in front of the mirror. Preston’s influence.

  “Yeah, but”—she coughed—“I’m really not”—she coughed harder—“feeling so well. I kind of thought I’d cancel.”

  “Yeah, sure,” he said.

  “I mean, all that running around. And I’m really,” she coughed as hard as she could, “very sick.” She rested her forehead in her hand. “The doctor says I only have a month to live if I don’t rest today. He thinks I should go to a baseball game or something.”

  “Yeah, well—” But he grinned as she had a long fit of coughing, falling off her chair. “You’d really skip it? To come to the game?”

  She nodded. “Of course.”

  “You don’t have to or anything, it’s not so big,” he said. “I mean, it doesn’t matter if no one—”

  “I wouldn’t miss it.” She got up from the floor. “Do you mind waiting until I get dressed, and then I can come watch you warm up?”

  He looked so happy that she felt even worse about having paid so little attention to him lately.

  “Yeah,” he said. “I can wait.”

  10

  AFTER THAT, FEELING like a complete and absolute skunk, Meg made an extra effort to spend time with him every day and include him in things she did. Steven was noticeably happier, and she felt like even more of a jerk for not realizing that just because he didn’t advertise, he needed attention, and maybe even needed her.

  Her parents and Neal came home a few days before the Convention so that everyone would have time to pack, and her mother—who Meg noticed was much too thin—could have a brief rest. Steven’s good mood was contagious, and everyone got along very well—the house hadn’t felt so relaxed in months. It was ironic, because the most important part of the campaign was still to come—one way or the other—but, it was nice.

  With her mother home, the Secret Service seemed to be everywhere. They had a sort of command post set up on the porch, and regular shift changes, and guards patrolling, and the whole nine yards. Her mother spent part of each day out on the patio, lying in the sun, and it was kind of amusing to think of the Secret Service having to watch her the whole time. Her father didn’t think it was so damn funny.

  On the afternoon before they were going to leave for New York, she saw her father in the upstairs hall and went out to intercept him.

  “What kind of stuff am I supposed to bring, Dad?” she asked.

  “Well, I don’t know.” He glanced at the battered Radcliffe sweatshirt and tennis shorts she was wearing. “Not that kind of stuff.”

  She grinned. “You sure?”

  “Very.” He leaned forward to tousle her hair, keeping his hand there.

  The night before, he’d come into her room while she was reading Fiasco—she didn’t know enough about Iraq, and had also been reading books like Hubris and A Tragic Legacy all summer—and sat on her bed for a while, which made it pretty hard to read. “How’s it going?” he’d asked finally, and she’d said, “Fine.” “I missed you,” he said, and she said that she’d missed him, too. “Well, I love you,” he said. “I wanted to be sure you knew that.” She’d blushed and focused on the book cover until he gave her a hug, kissed the top of her head, said it was late, and that she should go to sleep. She didn’t argue.

  “Ask your mother what to pack.” He took his hand away. “She knows those things.”

  Meg nodded. “Preston said stilettos and mini-skirts.”

  Her father laughed. “Sounds like a good plan.”

  Downstairs, the back door slammed as her mother came into the house.

  “What’s she whistling?” Meg asked.

  Her father listened for a second. “‘Rhapsody in Blue.’”

  God forbid she pick something less demanding. A Christmas carol, maybe.

  Her mother came up the stairs, wearing white shorts and a pale yellow unbuttoned Oxford shirt of her father’s over her bathing suit. Meg looked at her, deciding that she must have recessive genes. Three days in the sun—even though she’d been wearing high-SPF sunscreen—and the woman was Rhapsody in Bronze.

  “Hi,” her mother said, reaching out to move the hair her father had just ruffled back out of her face.

  When her parents felt guilty, they always touched her head.

  Meg frowned briefly, wondering why that was. “You look pretty good, considering how old you are,” she said.

  “Thanks a lot.” Her mother studied herself with a critical eye. “Do you think I got too much color? I don’t want the delegates to think that all I do is lie around the beach.”

  “I think you look great,” her father said, and her mother smiled a tiny smile.

  Yeah, really. Who was she kidding? She knew how good she looked; she had just wanted someone to say it aloud.

  And, looking from one to the other, she had the distinct—and appalling—sense that her parents wanted to be a little romantic.

  Which was her
cue to leave. Immediately.

  “I think I’ll go get some watermelon,” she said. “Mom, later, will you show me what kind of stuff to bring?”

  “What you have on will be fine,” her mother said, and Meg wasn’t sure if she was distracted, or being funny.

  “Well.” She shifted her weight, feeling very self-conscious. “Guess I’ll see you guys later.”

  By the time she got to the bottom of the stairs, she heard them laugh softly—and made a point of not looking behind herself to see if they were kissing.

  Frankly, she would just rather not know.

  SHE ENDED UP packing dresses, with skirts for being casual. Oh, yeah, real casual.

  The Convention was being held in Manhattan—her mother’s hometown—and they took a campaign-chartered flight the next day, then rode in the usual small, security-laden motorcade into midtown. When her mother’s father had died, some years before, her mother had immediately put the Fifth Avenue apartment where she had grown up on the market—which, at times like this, she probably regretted. Or, anyway, Meg assumed that she probably did, since she would never have the nerve to come right out and ask.

  So, they were going to be staying at the Waldorf, instead. Like Preston said, the woman had style.

  Judging from the crowds gathering on the street as they drove down Park Avenue, the city was pretty proud of this native New Yorker who was running for President. Meg stared at all of the people, wondering for a swift uneasy second if her mother was actually going to win. The concept of her winning—really winning—was something she hadn’t let herself think about much. She rubbed her hand across her forehead, the idea very scary.

  “Wow.” Steven peered out through the tinted windows. “Are they all here for you, Mom?”

  “I went to a very large high school,” her mother said.

  Meg smiled weakly. Her mother had actually attended an exclusive private school on the Upper East Side, but it was the right moment to make a joke.

  When they pulled up near what was supposed to be a relatively private entrance to the Walfdorf Towers section of the hotel, there were still what looked like hundreds of people standing and waving from behind police barricades, undaunted by the massive group of NYPD officers and Secret Service agents trying to secure the area.

 
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