The presidents daughter, p.17
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       The President's Daughter, p.17
 

           Ellen Emerson White
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  “Well.” She stretched, trying to look tired. “Night, I guess.”

  “Good night, Meg,” her father said, giving her a hug, and she could tell he understood.

  She nodded, and then looked at her mother. “Night, Mom. Have, uh, have good dreams and stuff.” Then she left, not hearing anything behind her.

  She went up to her room, closed the door, and sat on the bed. Then, she lifted Vanessa onto her lap and stared at the shadowy suitcases and boxes.

  Now, she really couldn’t sleep.

  IN THE MORNING, her mother didn’t mention their discussion, so Meg didn’t bring it up, concentrating on the craziness of their last couple of days at home, what with packing and good-byes. And arrangements. There were lots of arrangements. Like the caretakers who were going to move into the house—while the Secret Service kept it under continuous protection, transferring records to their new schools in Washington, and that kind of stuff.

  Probably the saddest thing was having to say good-bye to Trudy, who was going to Florida to live near her son and his family. But, she had promised that she would come to visit them regularly at the White House, where her mother assured her that she would be waited on hand and foot—which Trudy thought sounded great.

  On their last afternoon in Chestnut Hill, Beth and Sarah came over, sitting on the bed to watch Meg throw a few last-minute things into the Red Sox duffel bag she was going to carry with her on the plane.

  “Wow,” Beth said. “Can we like, have your autograph and everything? So people’ll believe we know you.”

  “Maybe,” Meg said in an “if-you’re-lucky” voice.

  Beth looked thoughtful. “Actually, get a couple from your mother, too, so I can throw them up on eBay.”

  “Beth!” Sarah elbowed her. “That’s not funny.”

  Meg struggled with the zipper on the duffel bag, feeling a lump of homesickness starting before she even got downstairs. The zipper, actually, was quite happy to zip, but she kept fussing around with it, not wanting to look up, afraid that she was going to cry or do something otherwise disastrous.

  “You need help?” Beth asked, getting up.

  “No. No, I’m—” Meg let the zipper close. “Everything’s fine. It’s all set.”

  “Look, it’s going to be great,” Beth said. “You’re going to be great.”

  Not likely.

  “Beth’s right,” Sarah said. “And you get to live in the White House, and I bet your school has thousands of cute guys, and—well, everything!”

  Meg sat down at her desk, not sharing Sarah’s enthusiasm. She swallowed, wondering if she really was going to cry—and hoping like hell that she wouldn’t.

  “Are you that scared?” Sarah asked.

  Meg shook her head. “No. Just kind of.” She smiled weakly. “Kind of a lot.” Her smile weakened even more. “Kind of petrified.”

  “Well,” Sarah said awkwardly, “you look nice.”

  Since she had now joined a world where she was supposed to wear dresses and skirts all of the damned time. Meg shook her head and went over to her dresser to check the drawers for the fiftieth time and make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything crucial.

  “Miss Powers,” Beth made her hand into a microphone, “looking nothing if not ravishing, recommends traveling in simple tweeds—”

  “I’d call this wool,” Meg said, looking at her skirt.

  Beth ignored her. “Tweeds, and a single strand of pearls. The President’s daughter also likes a shoe with a low heel and favors a thin black vanity case for afternoon outings.”

  “I prefer a money belt,” Meg said to Sarah, who laughed, uncertainly.

  “Her makeup is subdued,” Beth went on, “in muted blues for winter, accenting her best features.”

  “Which are?” Meg asked.

  “Her best features being, of course, the young woman’s knees,” Beth said.

  “Oh, no,” Sarah disagreed. “I think it’s her eyes. Meg, you have great eyes.”

  “Well, maybe,” Meg said. “But, have you seen my knees? I have kind of incredible knees.”

  Sarah frowned. “I never noticed.”

  “The President’s daughter is also a very accomplished girl,” Beth said. “She makes Christmas decorations out of egg cartons—”

  Meg laughed, picturing the foil-covered monstrosities they had made when they were in junior high—which Trudy had tactfully put on the tree, in the back. “Hey, remember that?”

  “She does very nice paint-by-numbers, and shyly confesses that she’s been known to read four or five romantic novels at a sitting,” Beth said. “While most of her conversation is disjointed, if not, in fact, gibberish, she has been known to—”

  Sarah shook her head. “Beth, you’re terrible. Why don’t you say something nice about her?”

  “I was about to,” Beth assured her. “Anyway, like I was saying, she has been known to make witty comments with biannual regularity.”

  “I thought it was more like biennial,” Meg said.

  “She also likes to show off her vocabulary,” Beth said to her unseen audience.

  “Meg, come on!” Steven shouted up the stairs. “Everyone’s waiting!”

  Meg swallowed and opened her duffel bag to recheck the contents. “You guys are going to come down during spring break, right?”

  Beth nodded. “Definitely. I’m going to bring my camera, and then sell the pictures.”

  Meg smiled; then, they all looked at each other.

  “I, uh,” Meg took a deep breath, “I’m not so great at good-byes.”

  “This is only a see-you-later,” Sarah said.

  Maybe. “I’m not good at them, either.” Meg gave each of them a stiff hug, then stepped back. “I can’t cry or anything if I’m going to walk out by all those stupid photographers.”

  “It would spoil the look,” Beth said.

  Yeah. “But, I kind of—” Meg had to blink quickly. “I kind of—”

  “Meg, come on already!” Steven yelled.

  Right. “Okay, I’m coming!” she yelled back, then picked up her suitcase and took one last look around her room.

  Beth put a friendly arm around her shoulders as they walked down the stairs. “If it helps, think about how nice you look in your tweeds.”

  Meg nodded. “They do hang well. Would you believe I’ve had them since college?”

  “You guys are weird,” Sarah said. “You really are.”

  Of this, Meg had little doubt.

  “Oh, and remember,” Beth said. “It’s been a few months, so you’re about due for a witty comment. So—choose it wisely.”

  Meg nodded. “I’ll try.” Then, she grinned. “Make sure you give Rick”—with whom she had ultimately refused to go out—“my love.”

  “Oh, you jerk,” Beth said sadly. “You wasted it!”

  15

  THEIR FIRST FEW days in Washington were a blur of honorary breakfasts and dinners, special concerts and theatrical performances—and Secret Service agents. She and Steven and Neal were going to have three rotating shifts, with two primary agents on each one, although others were going to work in various logistical positions, she assumed. In any case, the guards were going to go everywhere with them, including school, the movies, or anyplace else they happened to be. Each of her father’s shifts would have six to eight agents assigned to it, while her mother seemed to have hundreds. Steven, who was really bugged about the whole thing, kept asking if the agents were going to stand on the mound with him when he was pitching. It was a stupid question—but Meg couldn’t help wondering if, when she was on the tennis court, they were going to make her play doubles now. She hated doubles.

  Steven had also asked if Kirby and the cats would have to have guards—which she thought was quite funny. Most of their agents were men, although there was one woman on her detail, and two or three on her mother’s. They would probably have these agents for no more than a year, and then they would get new ones, because the Secret Service worried about people gett
ing emotionally attached to their protectees and relaxing on the job. Steven and Neal were going to have theirs changed more frequently, because the younger people were, the more likely it was that attachments would form. Meg kind of wondered if the inference there was that she and her parents were too old to like. Anyway, for the next four—or eight; God forbid—years, they would all have official, constant protection. How depressing.

  Meg woke up very early on the day of the Inauguration. They were staying at her mother’s Georgetown apartment—instead of the more traditional site, Blair House—because her parents wanted them to have one last chance to be in normal surroundings. One last chance to have some privacy. Which was why even Trudy—who hated crowds and attention, anyway—wasn’t staying with them this time. In fact, she was hiding out in Florida.

  She went out to the kitchen, her brothers appearing almost simultaneously.

  Neal sat up at the counter in his pajamas. “Where’s Mommy?”

  “Taking the first shower.” Meg got down some cereal bowls. “I think she wants to go over her speech again.” The staff was under strict orders not to show up until eight-thirty—and she assumed that Glen, who was going to be her chief of staff, and her other aides were already pacing around nervously outside on the sidewalk, despite the fact that it was barely seven.

  Steven took orange juice and a carton of milk out of the almost empty refrigerator. “Want some juice, brat?” he asked Neal.

  Neal hit him. “I’m not a brat!”

  Steven held the carton over his head. “You want some juice?”

  “Steven, don’t be a jerk, okay?” Meg tried to get it away from him, and they scuffled for a minute until she finally yanked it free. “Mom and Dad’ll be uptight enough without you starting trouble.”

  “Meggie thinks she can play mother,” Steven grumbled to Neal.

  She got out a loaf of bread. “Want some toast, brats?”

  “Meg!” Neal hit her, too.

  She put four slices in the toaster. “Think Mom and Dad’ll want cereal, or something better?”

  “Why don’t you make poached eggs?” Steven asked, and snickered.

  “I know how to make them,” Meg said. Defensively.

  “And boy,” he dumped sugar on his cereal, “are they good.”

  “You’re going to get another cavity,” she said, watching him. Two days earlier, all three of them had had to pay a visit to their new dentist—who was an Army Lieutenant Colonel—and they had each had a cavity. As a result, she was anticipating many “have you flossed yet?” and “did you use your fluoride rinse?” daily questions from her father for the foreseeable future.

  “Tastes better this way,” Steven said, but—she noticed—pushed the sugar bowl aside.

  Their father came into the kitchen in his plaid bathrobe. “You guys all set on breakfast?”

  They nodded, and Meg surreptitiously moved the sugar all the way to the end of the counter.

  “I’m going to try to get your mother to eat an omelet,” he said. “Anyone else want one?”

  Steven gagged. “No way. Hey, what time do we have to be at the White House?”

  “Who says you’re coming?” their father asked, melting butter in a frying pan. He grinned at Steven’s expression. “Ten-thirty. The President and the First Lady want to meet our whole charming family.”

  “Toto, too?” Meg asked, scraping the burnt parts off the first batch of toast.

  Steven started to reach for the sugar, but then pulled his hand back. “I bet Meggie’ll be quiet and bookish.”

  “I bet you’ll chew with your mouth open,” Meg said.

  “Bet I won’t,” he said.

  Yeah, right. “Bet you will,” she said.

  “Well.” Their mother came into the kitchen, her hair wrapped up in a large blue towel. “If it isn’t the Storybook Family.”

  By ten past ten, they were all dressed and sitting in the limousine that would take them to the White House.

  “Well.” Her mother looked them over, then smiled. “Very good.” She straightened the front of Steven’s hair, fixed Neal’s—even though he didn’t need it—then lifted an eyebrow at Meg. “You look very old.”

  Meg glanced at herself, worried. “Is that bad?”

  “It’s just frightening,” her father said, looking from her to her mother, and shaking his head.

  Meg slouched against the seat. The clothes did feel too old. The boots were great, though—high black suede ones that kind of wrinkled at the ankles. Spiffy, her father had said. Her dress was a very basic, but unquestionably elegant, dove grey sweater dress, which reached down to her mid-calf—hiding her knees, too bad—and she was quite certain that it would look better on her mother. She was also wearing a long wool coat Beth had helped her pick out at the Chestnut Hill Bloomingdale’s. She had gotten her hair cut so that now it just grazed her shoulders, and it was very full, making her look even more like her mother—except without quite the panache.

  Instead of just being adorable, Neal was oddly masculine in grey flannel pants and a blue blazer from Brooks Brothers. Sort of a miniature adult. Steven’s jacket was a brown herringbone tweed, and she knew he was going to die when he grew out of it. He’d stubbornly insisted on wearing his Top-Siders, saying he didn’t want to be seen in any damn patent leather, and following his example, Neal rebelled, too. There was something appealing about the well-worn leather they’d both tried to shine.

  She winked at her brothers, who were sitting in the jump seats, and they gave her shy smiles back.

  So, for all his big talk, Steven was nervous. He probably was scared he would chew with his mouth open or something. She tilted her head, making a contorted face at him, and he laughed, the tight hands in his lap unfolding a little. She reached forward with her left boot and kicked him—quite hard—in the ankle, and he relaxed more, kicking back.

  That taken care of, she studied her father. She didn’t think of him as being handsome, but he was, in a craggy sort of way. He looked solid, he looked healthy. His suit was—big surprise—grey, and very distinguished. This wasn’t a man who burned omelets and swore, especially when his wife only took one bite of hers and then set it aside; this was a man who was served a silver tray with poached fish, melon in season, light flaky croissants—she liked the man who burned omelets.

  There was a myth or something about a person who could hold a bird in his hand, and no matter how hard the hand was crushed, the bird would be safe—there was something so strong and safe about the person that he could always protect the bird, no matter what. Her father was like that, she decided.

  And maybe her mother was like the bird. No matter what happened, her mother would pop out without a feather ruffled. She might be little and scared—birds’ hearts always beat like crazy when they were held—but then, it would open its mouth, start to sing or whatever, and it would suddenly seem very big. Yeah. Yeah, maybe that was her mother.

  Meg grinned. Like, wow, how profound.

  It wasn’t exactly a shock that the President-elect looked smashing. So smashing, in fact, that Meg was almost positive that she’d heard Glen say quietly to the hair and make-up people, “Don’t make her look too pretty.” Not that the President-to-be was vain or anything, but she had apparently instructed her handlers not to follow that advice.

  Her dress was bright blue, and very regal, and made her eyes seem even more striking than usual. Behind the scenes, it had taken quite a few weeks for her mother to find an American-designed dress that she genuinely thought would fit the occasion, and Meg knew that, privately, she was still wishing that she could have gotten away with wearing some of the French haute couture she had always—and, often, notoriously—preferred.

  And, even though it was barely forty degrees, she had declined to wear a coat, although a minion had been duly assigned to carry gloves and a swingy short coat that looked more like a cape. Apparently, future world leaders did not get cold.

  They had turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue, a
nd the motorcade was now stopping to go through one of the White House gates. They drove inside, pulling up in front of the house at the North Portico, where the President and the First Lady were waiting to receive them, with Marines in full dress uniform standing behind them at attention. A huge press pool was gathered in a strategic spot on the North Lawn to capture the moment for posterity.

  “Wow,” Steven whispered as they went inside, staring at the marble columns across the great hall, a red carpet running down another hall behind the pillars. The floor in the Entrance Hall was incredibly shiny, with a checkerboard pattern, and Meg hoped like hell that she wasn’t going to slip in her new boots. There were huge chandeliers, and open doors behind the red carpet revealed what could only be the Green Room, the Blue Room, and the Red Room. On top of all of that, a small Marine Band, in bright red uniforms, was set up over to the right, playing traditional American tunes.

  They were introduced to both the Curator and the Chief Usher, and other smiling White House employees seemed to be everywhere. And they were supposed to live here, and be at all normal?

  “Why don’t we go upstairs?” the President said, and they crossed to the left side of the hall, and walked up four red-carpeted steps to a small landing, and then more steps leading to the—also red-carpeted—Grand Staircase.

  Dignified paintings of former Presidents hung on the walls, and Meg thought about how much the one of her mother was going to stick out someday. They were escorted upstairs, and through the Center Hall, which was yellow and quite formal, with lots of chairs and several small antique couches and settees, a small piano, and what looked like Chinese screens or something running along one wall. Famous paintings, mostly European, hung on the walls, and there were also built-in white bookcases, filled with historic artifacts—and even some books. There were fresh flowers all over the place—probably because this was such a big day, Meg figured. Having them all the time would be pretty expensive.

 
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