The presidents daughter, p.11
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       The President's Daughter, p.11
 

           Ellen Emerson White
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  Her mother was probably supposed to be the first one out, but Meg felt so claustrophobic, that she beat her to it. When the crowd saw someone with shoulder-length dark hair, they cheered—and cameras went off all over the place—and she stopped, horrified.

  “Not me,” she said quickly.

  “They know it’s not you,” Steven snorted, climbing out of the car right behind her.

  “Come on, kids,” an agent said. “Hustle it inside.”

  Her mother was on the sidewalk now—and in no apparent hurry, to the Secret Service’s undisguised dismay.

  “I’ve been singing ‘New York, New York’ all the way over in the car,” she said.

  People cheered, some of them yelling things like, “Go, Kate!”

  “One thing’s for sure,” her mother was always able to make her voice heard without seeming to be shouting, “it’s great to be home!”

  There were more cheers.

  Meg watched her move along one of the barricades to greet people, flanked by police officers and agents. What a consummate politician. At least Meg had almost never seen her kiss babies. She’d probably die laughing if she saw her mother kissing babies—although she had been known to dandle them, here and there. Once, in New Hampshire, she had shaken hands with Meg and Steven in the middle of a large crowd, then looked appalled at herself and gave them hugs. If the people didn’t know who she and Steven were, they probably thought her mother was kind of weird.

  “A real pro,” Preston said, next to her.

  Meg nodded.

  “Come on,” he said, his hand on Neal’s shoulder, gesturing for Steven to come over, too. “Let’s get you guys upstairs.”

  “What about Mommy and Daddy?” Neal asked.

  “They’ll meet us later.” He ushered them into the discreet lobby, which was filled with smiling Waldorf staffers. “Now, let’s—”

  “Won’t they worry?” Steven asked uneasily.

  “What, you don’t trust me, kid?” He guided them over to a private elevator. “I just talked to Russell-baby.”

  “Is it going to be like this all week?” Meg asked.

  Preston looked around the packed lobby and the chaotic street scene outside. “Kid, this is minor league,” he said.

  THEY WERE STAYING in the Presidential Suite, which seemed really weird—and more than a little premature. Glen had been kind of crowing about the fact that Senator Hawley had apparently wanted to stay there, but it had been given to her mother, instead, and he was either in the Royal Suite—or at another hotel, entirely; Meg wasn’t sure which. Anyway, the suite was so fancy, that the word “opulent” would have been a grotesque understatement.

  Neal was completely horrified when they walked in, and asked where they were going to sleep—apparently assuming that the hotel was going to fill the elegant living room with roll-away beds. The fact that the suite had four bedrooms, and was bigger than most people’s houses, seemed to have escaped him. He was also upset that there was no television, until someone pressed a button and a cupboard magically opened to reveal one of the most high-tech screens she had ever seen. When their personal concierge explained that the suite had been stocked with a wide variety of multimedia devices for their entertainment, including dozens of video games and movies, Steven had immediately disappeared in the indicated direction, and she hadn’t seen him since. Neal, on the other hand, just stood in the middle of the living room, so afraid that he might break one of the vases or something, that he refused to move at all until Preston sat him down at the antique table in the majestic, formal dining room, and arranged to have some food sent up. Even when very nervous, Neal was usually happy to eat, although he immediately—and politely—asked why there was “funny” cheese on his hamburger, and Meg had to scrape it off for him. Since she liked blue cheese, she went ahead and ate it herself, wrapped in a piece of what Neal thought was “too fancy” lettuce.

  There were huge flower arrangements everywhere, and baskets with fruit, cheese, candy, and champagne, as well as sliced fruit and vegetable platters, and arrays of freshly-made chocolates on various side tables. A gold plaque on the wall outside the main door listed some of the many world leaders who had stayed in the suite, including every President since Herbert Hoover, the Queen of England, Nikita Krushchev—whose name seemed to be spelled wrong, as far as she could tell—Charles de Gaulle, King Hussein, Menachem Begin—and on, and on. There were famous paintings everywhere—all of them by American artists, the concierge assured her—and Meg wondered whether she had looked as though she suspected otherwise, or even cared one way or the other. Marble fireplaces, huge chandeliers, carefully carved wall moldings, silk draperies, thick and presumably priceless rugs and carpets, Presidential artifacts—including one of John F. Kennedy’s actual rocking chairs, a table with gold eagles for legs which had come from Ronald Reagan, sconces provided by Lyndon Johnson—all in all, the place was pretty unbelievable. Hell, there was even a grand piano. Not that any of them played. But, if she was being honest, she might have admitted that she was also sort of afraid to touch anything. It all seemed way too valuable, and historic.

  When her parents finally came in, Meg couldn’t help being annoyed that her mother did nothing more than glance around vaguely, pluck a fresh strawberry from one of the fruit plates, and then start making phone calls and reading through the massive stack of messages waiting for her. It had to be difficult to swagger on high heels, but it would be fair to say that her mother’s stride did not lack for confidence.

  “Aren’t you even a little impressed?” Meg said, when her mother finally paused long enough to let a campaign minion bring her some espresso.

  Her mother shrugged. “I’ve been here before, Meg,” she said, and promptly went back to what she had been doing.

  There were so many people around that she didn’t feel comfortable making the sort of cut-her-down-to-size response that that remark required—but she glanced at her father, who looked almost exactly as simultaneously irritated and amused as she was, which made her feel better. At least she wasn’t the only one who thought the Candidate just might be in danger of tumbling over the edge into rather off-putting arrogance.

  Despite the fact that the suite was huge, there were so many campaign people and party officials and so forth coming in and out, that she began to feel claustrophobic, and escaped to the ornate bedroom where she was going to be sleeping. They were supposed to attend a formal dinner later, although her father had already said that Steven and Neal didn’t have to go—and half-heartedly extended the offer to her, too, although she knew that he—along with the entire campaign staff—wanted her to show up, to help make her mother look like a Good Parent with Well-Adjusted Children. So, it looked as though she was stuck.

  Her bed had four plump pillows, plus bedrolls, and she selected one at random and stretched out.

  Which got boring after about five minutes, so she decided to call Beth, instead.

  “They put us in the Presidential Suite,” she said, when Beth answered.

  Beth laughed. “Playing it safe, hunh?”

  That was one way of looking at it. “I’ve been assigned my own hair and make-up person,” she said. Information that had pretty much stunned her, when she was told this by one of Linda’s very chic and sleek assistants, Caryn. “My mother has an entire team.” Just about enough to go up to the Bronx and take on the Yankees, in fact. Whether they would win the game was another question, of course—but Meg would certainly root for them.

  “God, I love your life,” Beth said. “Hell, I want your life.”

  She was welcome to it. “A bunch of designers are going to be coming by, too,” Meg said. “To, you know, try and outfit us.”

  Beth just laughed.

  Yes, that was the only rational response. Meg glanced over at the door, to make sure that no one was within listening distance. “The last time I looked, she was sitting at General MacArthur’s desk taking notes, for Christ’s sakes. She doesn’t even think it’s unusual.


  Now, it was silent on the other end.

  “No way,” Meg said. “It’s not going to happen. Not a chance.”

  “Meg,” Beth said quietly.

  Nope, she didn’t want to hear this. Meg shook her head. “It’s only because she’s from New York. It’s like—professional courtesy, for locals.”

  There was more silence.

  Meg sighed. “And even if it does—” Yes, her mother had a lot more delegates than anyone else, but she was still far enough from going over the top that a brokered convention was more likely than not. And Senator Hawley was nothing if not a tough guy, so she assumed he’d be more than willing to let the entire floor—and Democratic Party—turn into a virulent dogfight, in order to come out on top. “She won’t get past Griffin in the main election. I mean, no way.”

  Again, it was quiet for a long time on the other end of the line.

  “Just don’t forget how cool all of this actually is,” Beth said finally. “I mean, God, Meg, try to remember to enjoy some of this stuff.”

  Meg shook her head. “No, it would be cool if I got to watch your mother do it. When my mother does it, it’s just selfish and annoying.”

  “Yeah, okay, I think I’d be pretty damn annoyed at my mother.” Beth paused. “Oh. Wait. I’m almost always annoyed at my mother.”

  Well—yeah. Beth and Mrs. Shulman had been engaged in an epic personality conflict pretty much ever since kindergarten.

  They were both quiet for another minute, but this time, it felt more relaxed and companionable.

  “It’s starting to seem as though it could maybe all turn out to be—well, you know,” Meg said. Real.

  “Has been for a while,” Beth said.

  Yeah. Meg looked around her incredibly fancy room, including the delicate writing table—complete with a gold pen and pencil set, and stationery that actually had her name engraved on it.

  “So, what are you going to wear tonight?” Beth asked.

  “You mean, what are they making me wear,” Meg said grumpily.

  Beth laughed. “Even better,” she said. “Tell me everything.”

  THE FIRST COUPLE of days at the convention passed in a blur of shouting crowds and bright flashes from what seemed like thousands of cameras. Her mother mostly stayed back at the hotel, receiving a long stream of party officials and prominent Democrats, who were supposedly just there to pay courtesy calls, but also seemed to be doing a certain amount of plotting and planning. Unlike most of the others—who were swiftly ushered in and out—Governor Kruger stayed for almost two full hours, and Meg was pretty sure that if her mother had a short list for possible running mates, he was at the top of it.

  Over at the convention itself, the families of all of the politicians—including Mr. Hawley’s sons, who seemed to be on their best behavior—had special reserved seats, and quite a few television cameras and reporters congregating nearby. There were noisy, foot-stamping demonstrations for candidates—complete with chanting and sign-waving—that sometimes went on for as long as half an hour. They were so exciting that Meg wished she didn’t know that they were all staged, although maybe “artfully encouraged” was a better phrase. Enthusiastic, intricately choreographed demonstrations were sort of a convention tradition.

  On the third night, the night of the balloting, her family stayed in a room overlooking the convention floor. Potential nominees traditionally didn’t show up until a candidate had officially been chosen, and Glen and the rest of the campaign brain trust wanted her mother to remain holed up at the Waldorf, but her mother was not only going a little stir-crazy, but also pointed out that she hadn’t missed a single Democratic Convention since she was twenty-one years old, and that she definitely wasn’t going to start with this one. Although, in lieu of having her make a public appearance, they made their way into the building and upstairs through a private underground entrance.

  The room was actually a luxury box, during the NBA and NHL seasons, but now that the campaign had invaded the space, it was cluttered, and noisy, and full of confusing activity, like the Hill Street Blues station house—an old television show she had started watching when her father bought some of the DVDs, and even though it seemed kind of dated, it had rapidly become one of her all-time favorites. Aides were hurrying in and out, barking at each other, and taking and making phone calls.

  Her mother stood in one corner, drinking coffee and nodding a lot, as people talked at her. Her father was pacing around, looking very distracted and uneasy, with Neal trailing behind him. Preston, who had been spending hours on the floor, charming uncommitted delegates, came in every hour or two, and gulped soda and water, so he wouldn’t lose his voice. It was easy to tell who the campaign floor workers were, because they were all hoarse.

  Meg and Steven hung out near a row of televisions, watching everything that was going on, both down on the floor, as well as on the sets.

  Steven yanked at the knot in his tie. “It should like, start soon.”

  Meg nodded, glancing down at her tally sheet. Listed next to each state and territory were the number of committed delegates her mother had, the number of uncommitted ones who had been persuaded to vote for her, and an empty space to write down the number of votes each state actually cast. She also had a calculator, so she could keep track of the total number of votes as the evening went along. There were at-large delegates, district-level delegates, PLEO—party leader and elected officials—delegates, add-on delegates, unpledged delegates who were known as superdelegates, and—well, as far as Meg was concerned, it all seemed to be more complicated than necessary. Essentially, each state was allocated a certain number of delegates, based upon census figures, and their votes should reflect primary and caucus results, but there were also lots of uncommitted delegates, so it was hard to be sure how they would all ultimately cast their ballots.

  Her mother had about seventy percent of the number of delegates she would need to win the nomination, and Senator Hawley had more than half of the necessary total locked up. Four other candidates, including Governor Kruger, also had earned some delegates during the primary, but no one was pretending that this contest was between more than two people. At any rate, not on the first ballot. Meg closed her eyes, wishing that she could put her mind on autopilot.

  “Think we can get some food?” Steven asked.

  She opened her eyes. “Are you hungry?”

  “Well, yeah,” he said. “Kind of.”

  There were food trays all over the room, but most of them had been pretty well picked over by now. She shrugged. “I don’t know. See if there are any doughnuts left.”

  He returned with three. “Sort of stale,” he said, taking a bite. “Want one?”

  She shook her head. This whole situation was much too nerve-wracking to think of food. The chairman was, unsuccessfully, trying to call the floor to order, and she wished the stupid thing would just start already.

  “We have to do it on the first ballot,” Glen said, for about the tenth time. “Hawley could pick up a lot on the second, and the third would be—” He shrugged, indicating a free-for-all.

  “How close are we?” her mother asked, sounding very tense.

  “So close.” Glen put his thumb and index finger almost together. “So damn close, Kate. This close, Kate.” He moved them barely apart.

  Her mother nodded, her hands fluttering up to straighten the collar of her light beige shirt, her sunburn—and bronzer—very dark in comparison.

  “Two more from California!” a man holding a cell phone shouted. “That’s a positive!”

  Meg scribbled that on her score sheet, hearing other pens writing around her, and keyboard keys clicking, too.

  “I can’t stand this,” her mother said, refilling her coffee cup.

  “The great state of Alaska,” a voice droned on the television.

  Meg glanced up, startled. How had she missed the beginning?

  “How many so far?” her mother asked, and Meg could see the hand holding he
r cup shake slightly.

  “Forty-one,” several people said.

  Meg frowned at her sheet. Forty-one? It should only be forty so far.

  “Picked up an extra in Alabama,” someone said.

  Meg nodded and wrote that down, vaguely aware that her hands were trembling, too.

  The balloting went on and on, each state’s announcement followed by tremendous applause and cheering, including an abortive, transparently rehearsed Hawley demonstration—complete with a brass band—that the chairman managed to quell. Most of the delegates seemed to be standing around talking, and jumping up and waving their signs every so often, but mainly just waiting for their state’s turn to present its votes. The television commentators kept switching to reporters on the floor, who tried to make themselves heard over all of the pandemonium, talking about the mounting tension and excitement among the delegates.

  “What do you know about tension?” Meg’s father snapped at the nearest television at one point. “I’ll give you tension!”

  “Dad’s losing it,” Steven said in a low voice.

  Meg had to laugh. “He’s not losing it.” She looked at her father, who was pacing back and forth over the same five feet of carpet, tie askew, sleeves rolled up, and—she had to look twice to believe it—smoking a cigarette. She had never seen him smoke before. In fact, when she and Beth were in the seventh grade, he caught them puffing away in the backyard, gave them a long lecture about the stupidity and health dangers of the habit, and grounded Meg for a week. “I think you’re right,” she said to Steven.

  “Come on, Idaho!” someone yelled.

  Meg wrote down the number Idaho gave, noticing that her mother had picked up ninety-eight extra votes so far. Jesus.

  “Two definites in Wisconsin,” Preston said, coming in. “And a maybe. The maybe is seventy, eighty percent.” His voice was very raspy, and he took the Coke someone offered, gulping half of it.

 
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