The presidents daughter, p.20
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       The President's Daughter, p.20
 

           Ellen Emerson White
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  She went into her very pink room, looked at the books some unknown stranger had unpacked and put on the shelves for her, and took out a copy of Living History—which she had appropriated from her mother’s collection, long ago. Kind of a fun book to read in the White House. She carried it out to the West Sitting Hall, deciding to wait there until her parents got home.

  It was pretty comfortable, sitting on the couch from home with her feet resting on Kirby’s back, and she must have fallen asleep, because suddenly she smelled perfume and saw her mother sitting next to her.

  She tried to wake up, wondering who had covered her with a light blanket. “What time is it?”

  “Almost three,” her mother said, reaching over to smooth her hair back.

  “Oh.” Meg yawned. “You guys have a good time?”

  Her mother nodded. “We had a marvelous time.”

  “Your mother was the belle of the ball,” her father said, taking off his gloves.

  Felix came out of the kitchen. “Is there anything we can do for you, Madam President, Mr. Powers?”

  “No, thank you,” her mother said. “And please—much as I appreciate it—I don’t want you all to think you need to stay late like this.”

  Felix nodded politely, and returned to his post.

  The staff probably wasn’t going to be thrilled when they found out that her family tended to be night owls on a regular basis.

  “Steven and Neal asleep?” her mother asked.

  Meg yawned again. “Yeah. They were pretty tired.”

  “Maybe you ought to get some sleep yourself,” her father said.

  “Yeah, I guess.” She glanced around, remembering all of the guests who were supposed to be spending the night, mostly up on the third floor. “Where is everyone?”

  “Downstairs celebrating,” her mother said. “If tonight is any indication, I’m afraid my administration is going to be known for drunken revelry.”

  Meg grinned. “Does that mean you guys, too?”

  “Nope.” Her father stumbled and fell on the couch.

  Her mother laughed. “Will you stop?”

  “Melly, I ain’t so very drunk,” he said. Slurred, really.

  Her mother laughed again, and Meg put on an intelligent smile, almost sure that he was referring to a scene in Gone with the Wind. She hated it when she didn’t get her parents’ references.

  Last of the big-time Babbitts.

  Damn it.

  “Take your hands off me, woman!” her father was mumbling.

  “You’re very silly, but you’re awfully cute,” her mother said, and looked at Meg. “I love this man very much, in spite of himself.”

  “Should I, uh—” Meg edged towards her room—“maybe leave on that note?”

  Her father got up, no longer drunk. “Sleep well, kid.”

  “Night, First Gentleman.” She shook hands with him, then with her mother. “Night, Madam President.”

  Her mother smiled. “Good night. Do you need any—”

  Meg shook her head. “No, thanks. Think I can deal with it. I’m glad you guys had a good time.”

  “The revelry hasn’t even started,” her father said, drunk again.

  Meg grinned back at them and went to her room, noticing that someone had turned down her bed and laid out a nightgown—although there were no chocolates, because, frankly, she looked. Usually, she slept in old, very large t-shirts.

  There was a scratch on the door, and she quickly let Vanessa in, before she could do any damage, then started to get undressed.

  This room was extremely pink. The sooner she turned the lights off, the better.

  SHE WAS UP and dressed by eight the next morning, deciding to wear a skirt—just in case, but hoping she’d be able to go back to regular clothes soon. The plan was for her family to have a private breakfast in the Presidential Dining Room, while everyone else slept late.

  The dining room had deep blue draperies, a blue, gold, and white rug, and its antique wallpaper was covered with scenes from the Revolutionary War. Battle scenes. The table was already set beneath the huge chandelier, with an arrangement of fresh flowers—mostly yellow roses—as a centerpiece. As she hesitated on the threshold, yet another butler came out to greet her. How many were there?

  “Good morning, Miss Powers,” he said, and bowed a little, the way most of them seemed to do. “What would you like for breakfast?”

  Meg resisted the urge to curtsy back. “You mean, I can choose?”

  He nodded.

  “Wow, not bad.” She thought for a minute. “What do you have?”

  “Just about everything,” he said.

  “Okay. Um, orange juice?” she asked.

  He nodded, and she could tell that he wanted to smile.

  “And—cereal?” she asked.

  “Certainly,” he said. “What kind would you like?”

  “Hmmm.” She shot a glance at the door. “Do you have Captain Crunch?”

  He nodded again. “We weren’t sure what you and your brothers liked.”

  “Oh, wow, great,” Meg said, impressed. “All we get at home is boring junk. Mom and Dad always say—” She stopped, deciding not to mention that her parents thought cereal with added sugar would rot their teeth out—and make them hyper and annoying, to boot. “Yeah, that sounds good. I’d like some Captain Crunch, please.”

  “Anything else?” he asked. “Toast? English muffins? Doughnuts?”

  Meg grinned. “Sure. Oh, and could you bring the box, please?”

  He looked confused.

  “I like to read the cereal box,” she said. “It’s kind of a habit.”

  “I’ll bring the box.” The butler left the room, smiling.

  Meg glanced around, finding the bold Revolutionary scenes somewhat intimidating. She’d read somewhere that a few previous Administrations had taken the wallpaper down and painted the walls yellow or light green, depending. Why would anyone have wanted to put the war back up? It was going to be like eating in Cyclorama.

  She studied the five place settings, and the ornate silverware, then touched one of the glasses, which was very thin and delicate. Boy, the staff was going to hate Steven. He was always breaking things. She sat down, deciding on the chair that corresponded to her position at home. This wasn’t a table where a person could lean her elbows. It also probably wouldn’t be appropriate to throw mashed potatoes, either. In spite of age and maturity and all those things, she and Steven generally threw mashed potatoes. It had gotten so that Trudy refused to make them anymore.

  She heard tentative footsteps, and Steven peeked into the room.

  “Hi,” she said.

  “Hi.” He came in, subdued in neat flannel slacks, a dark blue sweater, and a white Oxford shirt.

  “Where’s your tie?” she asked.

  “What?” He stopped, looking down at himself. “Do I have to wear a bloody tie just to have breakfast?”

  “Hey, watch your mouth!” she hissed, checking the door.

  “Yeah, well, I’m not wearing a stupid tie,” he hissed back. “Mom won’t make me!”

  The butler came in, carrying a silver tray. “Good morning, Master Powers,” he said, pouring juice from a crystal pitcher into Meg’s glass.

  “Uh, hi,” Steven said.

  “What would you like for breakfast?” The butler set a pitcher of milk on the table, along with a basket of hot muffins. Then he lifted the box of Captain Crunch, filling Meg’s bowl.

  “What she has looks pretty good,” Steven said. “We never get to have decent cereal.”

  The butler smiled, and brought the box over.

  “Would you like anything else?” he asked, after pouring Steven some juice as well, and making sure that they both had muffins.

  “No, thank you,” Meg said.

  “No, thank you,” Steven said. Then, as soon as the butler was gone, he put down his spoon. “Some room.”

  Meg nodded. “That’s for sure. Don’t the walls make you nervous?”

 
“Yeah.” He looked up at the chandelier. “If that thing falls, we’re in trouble.”

  “Good morning,” their mother said, striding into the room.

  Apparently, being the President agreed with her, because after no more than a couple of hours of sleep, she still looked cheerful and refreshed.

  “You look nice, Mom,” she said.

  “You think?” Her mother checked her outfit, adjusting the cuff of her dress—which was dark red—and pushing her gold bracelet down. She lifted an eyebrow at Steven’s bowl. “Captain Crunch?”

  “Want some?” he asked.

  “Why not,” she said, and reached for the box.

  The butler hurried in. “Madam President? What may I bring you?”

  “Good morning,” she said, smiling at him. “Just some coffee, please.”

  “The President of the United States should have some protein,” Meg said.

  Her mother shrugged. “So should the President’s daughter.”

  Which Meg took as a cue to drop the subject. Immediately.

  Neal and her father came in with Kirby, who went under the table the same way he did at home, presumably expecting people to sneak him food.

  Neal stopped when he saw Steven, and scowled at their father. “He’s not wearing a tie—how come I have to?”

  “Can’t make me wear a bloody tie,” Steven said.

  Neal yanked his off. “Then, I’m not wearing a bloody tie!”

  “You two looking for trouble?” their father asked.

  “Ground them,” Meg said, reading the nutritional information on the box. “Ground them for months.”

  Their mother shook her head, putting half an English muffin on her plate. “Ah, another joyful morning with the Storybook Family.” She smiled pleasantly at the butler as he brought milk and sugar for her coffee. “That’s skim, right?”

  The butler nodded. “Yes, Madam President. Unless you would prefer fresh cream, or—?”

  “No, this is perfect, thanks,” she said.

  Well, okay, that made sense. The staff would have been briefed extensively about the incoming President’s likes and dislikes. Quirks. Habits. Pet peeves, even.

  “You’re going to try and be President without a decent breakfast?” Meg’s father asked.

  Her mother waved that off, flipping through the stack of folders and papers to the left of her plate and skimming the top page of the morning news summary some aide must have prepared.

  “Kate, make me happy,” he said. “Have a poached egg or something.”

  She laughed, spooning up some cereal.

  “Wow, Captain Crunch!” Neal grabbed the box. “Do we get to have this all the time now?”

  “Yes,” Steven and Meg said.

  “No,” their father said.

  Neal looked at their mother. “Mom?”

  “No comment,” she said, picking up the Washington Post—which had banner headlines about the Inauguration above the fold.

  The butler came in with a beautiful platter of sliced fresh fruit, which he put within easy reach of her mother. He refilled her barely touched coffee cup, then held up the silver pot inquiringly, and her father nodded. “What else may I bring you, Mr. Powers?” he asked.

  He gave the entire family a pointed look. “Could I have a couple of poached eggs, please?”

  “Right away, sir.” The butler turned to Neal. “Master Powers?”

  Neal giggled.

  “Would you like some eggs?” the butler asked. “Or some French toast, or—”

  Neal shook his head, giggling.

  “How about ‘no, thank you’?” their father suggested.

  “No, thank you,” Neal said.

  Steven grabbed another muffin. “Robot.”

  “Sexist unscrupulous puppet,” Meg said, taking one, too.

  “Bad-mannered children,” their father said.

  The butler waited until they were finished—and Meg was pretty sure he felt like laughing. “Would anyone else like anything? Madam President?”

  “Yes, actually. Thank you.” Her mother lowered her newspaper, her eyes terribly amused. “You wouldn’t happen to have a box of Frosted Flakes back there, would you?”

  18

  MEG AND STEVEN kept trying to count all of the White House employees, but there were so many people like laundresses, switchboard operators, doormen, electricians, and carpenters—to say nothing of the butlers, cooks, maids, and gardeners—that they gave up after a while, deciding to just call it the Cast of Thousands. Weird place, the White House.

  For the next few days, her mother held near-constant receptions—and teas, and breakfasts, and luncheons, and dinners—for members of Congress, for new staff members and their spouses, for government civil service employees, for the permanent White House staff and their families, for the press, for various branches of the military, for prominent donors, and so forth. When Meg and her brothers didn’t have to make appearances, they continued checking out the house and the grounds, trying to get used to everything.

  Whenever they went outside, agents would accompany them, and—almost always—tourists beyond the cast-iron fences would point and wave and aim cameras at them. Between ten and twelve in the morning, they were supposed to try and stay away from the State Floor, because small tours were usually being given. Steven thought it would be funny to go down to the East Room some morning, and bang on the piano for them or something, but her parents made a point of strongly discouraging this idea.

  There were lots of special gardens outside: the Rose Garden, the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, and the Children’s Garden. It turned out that there was even a fully functioning greenhouse up on the roof of the Residence, which they found when they were walking around the Promenade, outside the solarium. The Children’s Garden was near the tennis court—where Meg planned to spend every moment of her free time, once the snow melted. There was also an outdoor heated pool, south of the Oval Office, well hidden by foliage, a small basketball court, a putting green, and a jogging track—as well as a full gym and work-out room, up on the third floor. And they had already gotten to watch a just-released movie in the Family Theater, on the first floor in the East Wing.

  Most of the trees and shrubs on the grounds were marked with little signs, and Steven got a kick out of taking Kirby over to the Jimmy Carter Cedar of Lebanon or the Franklin D. Roosevelt Small-leaved Linden. It was possible that the gardeners and horticulturists were less amused by this.

  On Saturday, her parents were going to be gone most of the day and early evening, attending thank-you events for campaign workers and donors, a special mass at the National Cathedral, and a reception at the British Embassy. Her mother suggested that the three of them spend the afternoon exploring the city a little, and having nothing better to do, Meg and her brothers agreed.

  After her parents had left, and Steven was in the kitchen getting more to eat, Meg went to find out what was taking Neal so long. She found him in his room, on his bed with his shoulders slouched, looking close to tears.

  “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Come on, we’re ready to go.”

  He shook his head.

  He had seemed fine during brunch, although maybe a little quiet. She had just assumed he was feeling shy, because they ate downstairs with about four hundred Congressional staffers, as opposed to their bosses—the second in a series of three get-togethers that had been one of Preston’s brainstorms, and would almost certainly pay off down the road, when it came to passing difficult legislation.

  “Come on, it’s going to be fun,” she said. “We can go to the museum with all the rockets and everything. Remember that one? With the planes?” She sat next to him. “What is it? Don’t you feel good?”

  He looked up at her with very worried eyes. “Are Mommy and Daddy safe?”

  “Well—yeah,” she said. Especially considering that, at this very moment, she was pretty sure they were inside a church. “They’re just doing regular political stuff.”

  “Rob told
me,” he gulped, quoting his best friend in Massachusetts, “he said we have to have guards because people want to hurt us. Like—like with guns. Especially Mommy. He said—”

  She put his arm around him. “No one’s going to get hurt. It’s just a rule that we have to have agents. Kind of—a tradition.”

  He shook his head. “Rob says his brother told him—”

  Rob’s brother was a couple of years younger than she was—and had always been obnoxious. “Who do you believe, me or Rob’s brother?” she asked. “The agents are part of it, that’s all. Like, does it bother you that people bring dinner into the room for us? And clear the table and all?”

  “No,” he said slowly.

  “Well, the security is the same thing,” she said. “They’re there to take care of us when we’re outside the White House, and the butlers and everyone take care of us when we’re inside.”

  He still didn’t look convinced.

  Not that she was going to boot this one upstairs, but—“Look, talk to Mom and Dad about it, okay? They can explain it better.” She fixed the knot in his tie. “Come on, let’s go find Steven, and—”

  He pulled the tie off completely. “I’m not wearing this. I don’t like it.”

  Yeah, but did they have a choice? “I know, but we’re not supposed to—” She stopped, considering the fact that he would never have to wear a tie to go around Boston on a Saturday afternoon. Why should he have to here? “You’re right.” She threw it up on top of the Victorian dresser—another incongruous touch in this room where stiff, formal furniture and little boy possessions were fighting for control. “You don’t have to.”

  “Will I get in trouble?” he asked.

  He had better not get in trouble for something so basic. She shook her head.

  “But you look nice,” he said.

  Unfortunately, yeah. She looked down at the dress she had worn to the brunch—which she figured must look okay on her, because several young male congressional aides had flirted with her. In fact, one of the House Majority Whip’s Deputy Directors of Floor Operations—a hot-shot just out of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy—made a point of easing next to her in line at one of the buffet tables and had asked, with a sly wink, if there was a chance she was actually over eighteen, and therefore, fair game, and she’d said that yes, she was, but the family was trying to cover up the fact that she’d been held back four out of the last five years. Luckily—or, unluckily—Maureen, who was one of Preston’s top assistants, had suddenly appeared and began chatting about Meg’s upcoming first day of school until the guy finally grinned, took the hint, and went over to try and charm a blond policy analyst instead.

 
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