The presidents daughter, p.12
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       The President's Daughter, p.12
 

           Ellen Emerson White
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  Meg entered the two votes on her score sheet, next to Wisconsin. Adding the newly-committed votes to her mother’s guaranteed votes showed how close they were—and they were very, very close. Terrifyingly close. So, even though there was a long way to go, Meg knew her mother only needed sixty-three more uncommitted votes to go over the top. Sixty-three, and they were only on—

  “Hey, that’s another!” someone yelled, as Indiana finished casting its votes.

  Sixty-two. And they were only on Indiana. She closed her eyes. Maybe she should go hide in the ladies’ room for a while, or—

  “Hey,” a voice said, right next to her.

  She stiffened, then saw that it was only Preston.

  “I have to talk to you seriously,” he said.

  She swallowed nervously. That sounded bad.

  “See, kid”—he put his hand on her shoulder—“I don’t want you to look in that back corner for a few minutes.”

  Automatically, she glanced over.

  “Hey!” he said. “Thought I told you not to look.”

  Right. She turned her head in the other direction.

  “The thing is,” he said, “is that it’s very hot out there, and I’m going to go into that corner and change my shirt. I don’t want you to lose control or anything.”

  She stared at him, then realized that he was kidding. “That’s a joke?”

  He grinned. “Yeah, Meg, it’s a joke. Relax, okay?”

  He expected her to relax?

  “What,” he said, “I’m not a funny guy?”

  She smiled, in spite of the fact that her mother had just gotten three extra votes from Iowa.

  “Much better,” he said, then aimed several mock boxing punches at Steven before continuing to the back of the room.

  Meg looked at the nearest television. Every state had to make a big production out of its announcement, taking as much time as possible, while each delegate struggled to get on camera—which slowed everything down considerably. At this rate, the balloting was going to go on all night.

  “Wyoming, here I come!” Preston said, getting smiles from most of the people who heard him. He left the room, buttoning his cuffs.

  Meg’s father was leaning up against a table, fist-curled hands tight in his pockets. Neal was standing next to him, in imitation that was either unconscious—or not. But, at least neither of them had cigarettes. Steven was twisted up in his chair, his tie and jacket off, his shirt untucked, while her mother stood with a cup of coffee—how many was it now?—very stiff, her face absolutely expressionless as she picked up four extra votes in Louisiana.

  This was not, in any way, a fun evening.

  “Oh, come on, Fran,” her father said, when the Massachusetts delegation finally came on, and a woman with a microphone shouted the votes to the convention chairman. “Give her all of them!”

  “You know her, Daddy?” Neal asked.

  “Sure. Look, there’s Mr. Foster,” he said, pointing. “On her right. And remember Mr. Seymour? He’s behind the girl with the hat.”

  When Michigan announced its votes, Meg stiffened. Automatically, she wrote the numbers down, then punched them into her calculator. She added the rest of the guaranteed votes to that number, and the result was—good God. Her mother had just—she was going to be the—she let the calculator slide out of her hand, hearing it drop on the floor from somewhere far inside her head.

  Glen, very quiet, was saying something to her mother, who nodded, and there was a brief, noticeable silence as she detached herself from the group around the televisions and went to the back of the room with her coffee. There was something impenetrable about the set of her shoulders as she stood there, staring at the wall, and no one went after her.

  That meant that it was true. She glanced at her father, who was hanging on to the table, staring at the televisions, looking as stunned as she felt. Someone yanked on the sleeve of her dress, and she saw Steven, with his tie and jacket back on, his expression very worried.

  “What?” she asked, her voice unexpectedly squeaky.

  He shook his head, dragging her off to the side.

  “Steven, what is it?” she asked impatiently.

  He glanced at their mother, who still hadn’t moved. “Did she lose?” he whispered. “Everything’s different.”

  “She won,” Meg said.

  His eyes got huge. “What?”

  Meg swallowed. “She got more of the uncommitteds in Michigan than they thought she would, and it gives her enough to win.”

  “But—” Steven blinked. “What about Mr. Hawley?”

  “She won, Steven,” Meg said.

  “Yeah, but—” He looked around, still whispering. “Why’s everyone so quiet?”

  “It’s not official.” Meg listened to Missouri shout its votes, her mother getting almost all of the unpledged ones, instead of the two or three that had been predicted.

  “Bandwagon,” someone said softly, other people nodding.

  “You look like you’re gonna cry,” Steven said.

  “I do not!” She almost forgot to keep her voice low.

  “I feel like I am,” he said.

  “Yeah, me, too.” Meg glanced at the closest television and saw that her mother had almost enough official votes now—and they were only on New Jersey.

  Her mother was still stiff in the back in the room and what, ten minutes earlier, had been eager shouting and kibitzing around the televisions had turned into muttering, nervous voices.

  “There’s something happening out here,” a disheveled reporter was telling the viewing audience, struggling to stay in front of his camera as chanting, excited delegates jostled for position. “You can feel it happening! We’re getting close to a nomination here!”

  “Glen,” her mother said, not turning around.

  He hurried to the back of the room and they talked for a few minutes, everyone else watching. Then, he nodded once and returned to the televisions. Without ever seeing how it happened, Meg noticed that people were starting to leave the room, until the family, Glen, and a couple of his top assistants were the only ones left.

  “Well.” Glen grinned at New Mexico presenting its votes. “I think the three of us’ll head out, and stretch our legs. I’ll be back later, and we can talk.”

  Her mother nodded. “Thanks, Glen.”

  The door closing after them seemed deafening.

  “Well.” Her mother smiled weakly and came back up to the front of the room, where she poured herself a fresh cup of coffee. Meg’s father reached over with his hand, and she took it, holding on very tightly. “Meg, tell me about your tennis lessons. How’ve they been going?”

  Meg stared at her. “Now?”

  Her mother shrugged. “Why not now? What’s wrong with now?”

  The woman was cracking up. The pressure had finally gotten to her, and she’d cracked. First her father, now her mother. Glancing back at the televisions, she saw New York shout out a tremendous chunk of votes, her mother’s total creeping higher.

  Her mother looked over at Steven. “Tell me about your game against Medford again.”

  “We lost,” he said.

  “Well, tell me about your home run,” her mother said.

  Steven frowned at her. “I hit it over the fence.”

  “You can just feel the tension down here!” a reporter was yelling on one of the sets. “Victory is close, and you can feel the anticipation, feel the—”

  “Neal, tell me what you like best about New York,” her mother said.

  He beamed at her. “The horse.”

  Okay, it had taken three tries, but she’d finally found a willing victim.

  “When you rode in the carriage?” her mother asked.

  “I loved the horse,” he said.

  “Well, come over here and tell me about it,” she said.

  Meg watched as the two of them sat down across the room, her mother holding Neal on her lap while he went on and on about the horse, while North Carolina gave its votes.<
br />
  “And then,” Neal was out of breath from the joy of the memory, “then, the man gave me an apple, and I put my arm up”—he demonstrated—“and the horse—the horse put down his head, and—”

  She was listening. Her mother was about to get the Democratic nomination for President, and she was sitting there listening to Neal tell her about Central Park—she wasn’t even faking it. If Meg had told her about tennis, about how she was working on a new second serve, a sort of derivation of the American Twist—she would have listened to that, too. Paid close attention. Nodded a lot. Asked pointed questions.

  Meg looked at her father, who was staring straight ahead, several inches above the televisions. It was kind of funny that they were right in the building, but none of them had spent much time looking out the windows at the convention floor. She moved next to him, and he smiled, putting his arm around her. Steven came over, too, and the three of them stood silently, not watching television.

  Suddenly, Puerto Rico had presented its votes, and her mother needed only two more to clinch the nomination.

  “Kate,” her father said.

  Her mother straightened with a look of utter terror, and he nodded.

  “Let’s go watch television for a minute, Neal,” she said.

  A bulky man in a too-tight, off-the-rack suit was holding the microphone as the cameras moved in on the Rhode Island delegation.

  “The distinguished state of Rhode Island”—he bellowed—“yes, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, the smallest but greatest state in the Union, would like to—”

  A woman wearing a bright pink pantsuit got in front of him, waving with both arms. “Hello, Cranston!” she shrieked.

  “Would like to,” the spokesperson went on. “Is proud to—”

  “Say it!” Meg’s father yelled.

  “—thirty-two votes for the next President of the United States, Senator Katharine Vaughn Powers—”

  He never got the rest of it out, as the entire convention went wild, confetti flying, balloons dropping down from the ceiling, as everyone screamed at once, screamed and cheered and jumped up and down, the noise actually rattling the windows of the luxury box.

  In the room, no one made a sound for a long second, then Meg burst into tears—which she hadn’t planned on doing—and everyone was hugging everyone else.

  “The first time ever!” a reporter was saying on one of the televisions. “The first time in the history of the United States! The first time—”

  They were all hugging and laughing and crying, and Meg felt an intense wave of victory surging up into her back and neck, into her head and arms, laughing and shouting even as she shivered harder, seeing the faces of women on the convention floor, faces sharing the same electric excitement, faces crying because a woman had won, because a woman was going to run for President, because—well, just because.

  11

  MEG HAD THOUGHT that the primary campaign had been about as intense as a campaign could get—but, she was wrong. Minor league, as Preston had said. There were many more magazine cover stories, and her mother was never not on the front page of the newspaper. Every newspaper. She was on all of the national newscasts, night after night, and the Internet seemed to be on the verge of exploding with pages and posts and blogs about her, as well as videos and photos and sound-clips.

  As Meg had expected, her mother had chosen Governor Kruger as her running mate, and he and his wife had flown up to Boston and had dinner with her family. The Krugers’ children were adults, although Meg had met one of their sons at the convention, and he seemed—like his parents—to be very nice, and polite in that Southern courtly way.

  The Republican candidate was Congressman John Jasper Griffin—Jay-Jay, to his friends. He was the kind of person who spent a lot of time talking about “God’s Country.” He was from New Mexico, a wealthy and flamboyant man, buoyed by the current President’s enthusiastic endorsement, support—and considerable fund-raising skills. Mr. Griffin was broad and bulky, and Meg thought he looked like the word “obsequious” personified. Her mother called him “the last and greatest of the big-time Babbitts.” Naturally, Meg had laughed intelligently at that, but later had to ask her father what it meant.

  “Babbitt was a book by Sinclair Lewis,” he explained. “He was what you’d call a good old boy.”

  “Ah,” Meg said, with a wise nod.

  “Bible-thumper, goes to the country club to drink his lunch, conforms to everything anyone says—you know,” her father said. “Your mother thinks he’s a sexist, unscrupulous puppet.”

  Meg laughed. The press would love to hear that one. “Is he?”

  Her father laughed, too. “Well, let’s just say that his principles aren’t as high as your mother’s.”

  She probably shouldn’t bring this up, but—“How high is that?” Meg asked.

  Her father sighed. “Very high, Meg. How many times are we going to have this conversation?”

  “I don’t know.” She blushed. “Probably pretty many.”

  “Well, why don’t you discuss it with her?” he asked.

  “I can’t do that,” Meg said quickly. For one thing, it would hurt her mother’s feelings; for another, would she really tell Meg the truth? If she weren’t honest, that is. How could someone be the Democratic nominee for President without, somewhere along the way, having done a few—

  “Meg, look,” her father said. “Do you think of me as being an honest person?”

  Meg nodded. “Well, yeah. Of course.”

  “Would I respect someone who wasn’t?” he asked.

  She hesitated.

  “Would I, Meg?” he asked, looking right at her.

  Not a chance in the world. So, she shook her head.

  “All right, then,” he said. “I’m much more demanding than you are. Remember that.”

  She nodded.

  THE FIRST DAY of school was terrible. For one thing, Mr. Bucknell turned out to be her AP History teacher. But, worse than that, even people she had met when they were all five years old didn’t seem to know how to treat her. When she walked into a room, conversations stopped, and people acted as if she had developed an incredibly contagious disease over the summer. Beth was the only person who treated her like a normal human being—even Sarah seemed to be awed.

  “You know,” Beth said, as people moved to let them through the hall, “this is kind of like hanging out with Moses.”

  Meg nodded. “Yeah, I know. I’m having a terrible time taking a shower lately.”

  “Yes,” Beth said, sounding slightly ill. “I noticed.”

  Thank God someone was still acting normal.

  “It’s a difficult life, sacrificing myself like this,” Beth said, and then stopped before going into Mr. Bucknell’s room. “Do me a favor, okay? Don’t let him harass you—you don’t have to put up with that.”

  Meg sighed. “It’s not like I can stop him.”

  Beth shrugged. “Tell him off.”

  Oh, yeah. Excellent plan.

  The bell rang, and they both looked at the door. Mr. Bucknell came over to close it and saw them standing there.

  “Meghan,” he said, frowning, “regardless of your family situation, you’re not entitled to special privileges.”

  “Yeah, Meg,” Beth said, and gave her a shove. “Get in there already.”

  Mr. Bucknell extended his frown to include her. “The same holds true for you, Elizabeth.”

  “My parents are divorced,” Beth said to Meg. “It’s been very hard for me.”

  Meg nodded. “Decay of the family structure. How dare women think that they have any right to be in the workforce?”

  Mr. Bucknell was not amused. “Girls, I’ll be quite happy to put you on tonight’s detention list.”

  Meg and Beth grinned at each other, and went into the room.

  THE THREE PRESIDENTIAL debates were among the most crucial events of the entire campaign season. They were all going to be televised—live—as well as running simultaneous
ly as streaming video and audio on the Internet. Meg, her father, and brothers flew out of Logan Airport on the afternoon of the first debate, to meet her mother at her hotel on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. It was a little bit disconcerting that it had become increasingly less surprising to arrive in a given city and find her casually ensconced in an exclusive hotel’s Presidential Suite.

  That night, during the last hour or so before it would be time to head over to the University of Pennsylvania, where the debate was being held, they were all in—yes, the latest version of a Presidential Suite—which was, as usual, crowded with campaign staffers, and heavily guarded by the Secret Service and local police. The campaigns had been negotiating the details of the debates for weeks, fighting over just about everything, including the moderators, the formats, the question topics, and the height of the podiums—especially since Mr. Griffin was about eight inches taller than her mother was. Glen had even reserved an auditorium at Boston College and held a couple of mock debates recently, during which Jim, the greyest of the campaign greybeards, played Mr. Griffin, and other top campaign advisors fired a stream of complex—and often hostile and insulting—questions at her mother, during two marathon sessions—after which the Candidate had come home and slept for about ten hours straight.

  Meg sat on the couch, wearing a dress that even felt expensive, with Steven and Neal next to her, decked out in ties and jackets, Steven looking like quite the ruffian with the black eye he’d gotten a few days earlier. Ever since her mother had won the nomination, he had been getting in more fights than usual. Linda had quietly suggested that he use some cover-stick on his eye, but he had said that no way would he wear make-up.

  Everyone else in the suite was milling around being tense, except for maybe Preston, who was leaning up against a windowsill, resplendent in a dove-grey three-piece suit, along with a silk tie and matching handkerchief. He kept saying that “everyone should just relax, because the woman is going to be great,” but they all seemed to be too uptight to agree.

  If Meg thought about it, she could really have a major crush on him.

  Unless, just possibly, she already did.

 
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