The presidents daughter, p.26
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       The President's Daughter, p.26
 

           Ellen Emerson White
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  “Meg, come on.” He tried to touch her shoulder, and she shrugged him off. “I really am sorry. I like you. I didn’t know I was going to—I thought you’d be—I don’t know. Famous. But, I like you. When we started fooling around, I didn’t even think about those guys. I kissed you because I wanted to. Really.”

  She nodded, pushing the door all the way open.

  “Can we try again sometime?” he asked. “I’d like to.”

  “Well, I wouldn’t.” She got out of the car. “Tell your friends that, too.”

  He sighed. “Meg, at least let me—”

  She slammed the door, ran over to one of her agents’ cars, and jumped into the back.

  “Is everything—?” one of them started.

  “Just take me home, okay?” She folded her arms. “I mean, please.”

  Both agents nodded, and the one behind the wheel, Ned, started the engine.

  23

  AT THE WHITE House, she went straight upstairs to her room, ripping off her coat and throwing it on the bed. Luckily, her family wasn’t home yet. Of course, why would they be? It was only ten. She took off her sweater and skirt, slamming them onto her closet floor, and then changed into a battered, huge chamois shirt, a pair of old navy blue sweatpants, and her hiking boots.

  She went out to the hall, where Felix was just coming out of the kitchen.

  “Did you have a nice time?” he asked, smiling.

  None of this was his fault, so she definitely wasn’t going to snap at him.

  No matter how much she wished she could.

  “Yeah, I did.” With a great effort, she smiled back. “Do you think I could have a Coke, please?”

  When he came back out, carrying her glass on a silver tray, along with a crisply pressed napkin, and a plate of cookies—which she didn’t want—she thanked him, and carried the glass up to the solarium, where she could be alone for a while.

  She sat down on one of the couches, knowing that she was going to cry, but afraid to start. To distract herself, she turned on the television, and slumped down, watching SportsCenter for a few minutes. She was going to call Beth, but it was Friday night, and any normal person her age had friends and was out with them. She sipped her soda, occasional tears sliding out and down her cheeks, not bothering to wipe them away.

  At around eleven-thirty, by which point she had given up on television and was just plain crying, she heard footsteps in the hall and dragged her sleeve across her face to get rid of any traces of tears.

  “Hi,” her mother said.

  Meg didn’t look at her. “When’d you come home?”

  “Just a little while ago,” she said. “Felix told me you came in, but I wasn’t sure where you were.”

  Meg didn’t answer, drinking her Coke.

  “Do you want to tell me about it?” her mother asked.

  “About what?” Meg looked up at her mother, who was, naturally, ravishing in a slim red velvet dress. So beautiful, in fact, that Meg felt a strong flash of hatred, hating her for always looking, and being, so perfect.

  Her mother must have felt something, because she paused on her way across the room. “May I keep you company?”

  “Why?” Meg asked. “So you can gloat?”

  “I don’t think you meant that,” her mother said.

  Well, maybe the President wasn’t quite as god-damn smart as she thought she was. Meg didn’t say anything, her arms tight across her chest as her mother moved Kirby off the couch and sat down. They sat there in complete silence, Meg scowling and her mother brushing at an invisible piece of lint on her sleeve.

  “Well,” Meg said finally. “Aren’t you going to say I told you so?”

  Her mother shook her head. “No. What happened?”

  Meg clenched her fist, very close to crying again. “He only asked me out because of you, okay? You were right, are you happy?”

  “I’m sorry,” her mother said, and put her arm around her.

  “Don’t!” Meg moved away. “Please don’t touch me.”

  Her mother slowly withdrew her arm. “I want to help you. What can I do?”

  Meg shook her head, bringing her left hand up to cover her eyes, the tears starting again.

  “I really am sorry.” Her mother reached over to rub her back. “I wish I could—”

  “I just want to be by myself,” Meg said, feeling the tears come harder, not wanting anyone to see them. “Please?”

  “Oh, Meg.” Her mother kept rubbing her back. “I don’t want to leave you alone.”

  “You have been for sixteen years,” Meg said. “Why stop now?”

  There was a silence so silent that Meg was sure she could hear both of their hearts beating, especially hers.

  Why had she said that? She never should have said that. She swallowed. “Mom, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that. I don’t know why I said that.”

  Her mother sat back, looking suddenly smaller, her face expressionless.

  “I’m sorry,” Meg said. “I didn’t mean it.”

  “I expect you must have,” her mother said, so softly that Meg almost couldn’t hear her. She stood up, her eyes as distant as a Time magazine photograph. “Excuse me.”

  As she started towards the door, Meg knew she didn’t want to let her leave first, since she’d be afraid to go downstairs, if she did. So, she jumped up and hurried past her, running downstairs to her room and slamming the door, leaning against it, too out of breath to cry.

  Why had she said that? She shouldn’t have said that. She should have just told her that she hated her, or something. Lots of people said they hated their parents when they were angry, and her mother would know that she hadn’t meant it. And she hadn’t.

  Well, okay, she had, but not really. It just came out. But how come, when she felt terrible, she had had to turn around and immediately hurt someone else? A hell of a thing to know about herself.

  Slowly, she pushed away from the door, realizing that she was crying again. She hadn’t even shouted it in anger—she had said it calmly. Maliciously. Vindictively. Somehow, that made it worse. Anyone could get mad and yell things. Nothing like going for someone’s weak spot, though.

  She sat down on her bed, taking off her hiking boots and sweatpants, then getting under the covers and reaching up to turn the light off. She stared up at the chandelier in the darkness, tears sliding down her cheeks and into the pillow. She lay there, feeling a lot of tired hatred—almost all of it directed towards herself.

  SHE DIDN’T SLEEP much, and the next morning, she was afraid to go to breakfast. Only, she would have to face her sooner or later. So, she got up, took a shower, put on jeans and a thick ragg sweater, and went out to the Presidential Dining Room with its stupid wallpaper. She hesitated in the doorway, seeing her parents at the table, eating silently. They glanced up, neither of them looking very happy to see her.

  Her father. She had forgotten about her father. He was probably ten times angrier than her mother was. She backed up toward the hall, figuring that she would just skip breakfast.

  “Meggie, come on!” Neal shoved her from behind, trying to get into the room, so she took a deep breath and went over to sit in her usual place.

  “Morning.” Neal hugged their father. “Hi, Mommy.” He went over to the other end of the table, fastening his arms around their mother’s waist.

  “Hi, Neal.” She hugged him back, her face hidden by her hair as she kissed the top of his head.

  Meg tentatively checked her father’s eyes, found them very cold, and focused on her place setting.

  “What would you like for breakfast?” a butler asked.

  “Just cereal, please,” she said, not looking up.

  “What kind?” he asked.

  “Uh,” she tried to think of a brand, “Rice Krispies.”

  Once he had served her, she tried to eat, but her stomach felt like lead. Neal kept up a high-pitched running conversation about the play they had seen the night before, which he had apparently loved.


  “And then,” he bounced in his chair, “when the man came out and danced, and his friend, his friend came out, and he started dancing—”

  “Hi.” Steven came in, wearing sweatpants and a cut-off compression shirt, which meant that he had a new athletic conditioning plan to get ready for baseball. He took a boxer’s stance and gave their father several light, quick punches on the arm. “Hi, Pop,” he said breezily. Then, he saluted the other end of the table. “Hey, Prez.” He sat down, slapping Neal on the head. “How ya doin’, brat?” He grinned across the table at Meg. “Betcha looked pretty ugly last night. D’ja have to pay him to take you?”

  Something snapped somewhere inside, and Meg threw her cereal and milk at him, then put the bowl down, running out of the room. She saw the surprise on the butler’s face, and heard her father’s furious “Meg, get back here!” but she didn’t stop, even though she wasn’t sure where to go. She kept running, and then ducked into the Lincoln Bedroom, lying down on the antique bed and wishing that Lincoln’s ghost would come along and carry her off.

  She knew they wouldn’t follow her, and no one did, so she stayed there for what seemed like a very long time, hands folded behind her hair, staring up at the chandelier, which she decided that she hated. She hated all of the chandeliers in the house. In fact, she hated every chandelier in the world. They didn’t have chandeliers at home; they had lamps. She liked lamps. She lay there, hating chandeliers, sitting up when she heard a gasp.

  “Glory, and you startled me, Miss Powers,” the housekeeper in the doorway said, holding a dust cloth. “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect—I’ll just come back later.”

  “No, I’m finished.” Meg got off the bed, smoothing the wrinkles. “Sorry.”

  She moved out into the East Sitting Hall, trying to decide where to go next. But, the longer she put it off, the more time her father would have to simmer. Maybe she should just go back to her room, and if she ran into him on the way, she could at least find out how angry he was.

  He was in one of the chairs in the Center Hall, holding the morning Post, obviously waiting for her, and she wondered what time it was. Seeing her, he stood up, folded the paper under his arm, and indicated the Presidential Bedroom with one sharp point of his hand.

  “I-I don’t feel good,” she said. “I have to sleep.”

  He just looked at her, and she swallowed, and went down to her parents’ room. He followed her, closing the door behind him.

  He couldn’t actually kill her. It would be all over the news.

  She sat in a rocking chair, and he sat across from her on a small sofa. He put the paper down, folding his hands, and she wondered if he was going to crack his knuckles. Sometimes he did, although it drove her mother crazy. He looked at her, cracking them halfway.

  Yeah, he was mad, all right.

  “I didn’t mean it,” she said, making an effort not to sound nervous, holding onto the worn wooden arms of the chair.

  He frowned at her. “Why did you say it, then?”

  Good question. She avoided his eyes. “I was mad.”

  “A little below the belt, don’t you think?” His voice was very calm. Almost casual. People in her family didn’t yell much.

  “Does she, uh, hate me?” she asked, not looking up.

  “What do you think?” he asked.

  Meg shrugged, running her hand along the right arm of the chair.

  “Do you hate her?” he asked.

  She shook her head. “You know I don’t.”

  “I’m not always convinced,” he said.

  She nodded, watching the bones and muscles of her hand move as she tightened and loosened her grip on the chair. “As usual. Taking my side.”

  “Hey!” He grabbed her arms, holding them just above the elbows so she would have to look at him. “Let’s get something clear. I don’t want any more fresh remarks out of you. Not to your mother, not to me, not to your brothers. Is that clear?”

  She looked right back at him. “You’re hurting my arms.”

  “You know I’m not,” he said, but loosened his grip. “Is that quite clear?”

  She jerked free, folding her arms so it would be hard for him to grab them again.

  “Well, it had better be,” he said.

  Yeah, fine, whatever. “What happens now?” she asked.

  “First of all, you’re grounded,” he said. “More because of what you did to your brother than anything else. For two weeks, and if you don’t shape up by then, I’ll add on more time.”

  Big deal. “Just moving here grounded me,” she said, standing up.

  He glared at her. “Where are you going?”

  “I thought we were finished,” she said.

  “We aren’t,” he said.

  Oh. She sat back down.

  “Look, Meg,” he said. “I know you were upset last night. Neither your mother nor I is even exactly sure what happened, but we know how upset you were. Do you want to tell me about it?”

  She shook her head.

  “Are you sure?” he asked.

  Very god-damn sure. She nodded.

  “You might feel better,” he said.

  She shook her head again.

  “Well, all right, but I think it might help.” He sighed, pulling absent-mindedly at his tie—which he normally wouldn’t be wearing on a Saturday morning. “I know how difficult it’s been for you—it’s been difficult for all of us. What it means is that we all have to try harder, especially with each other, okay?”

  “I’m sorry,” she said stiffly.

  “Neal and I aren’t the ones who deserve apologies,” he said.

  No, probably not. Meg got up. “How angry is she?”

  “She’s more hurt than anything else.” He let out his breath. “You and I both hit below the belt, Meg. It’s something we need to work on.”

  “Yeah, I guess.” She opened the door. “I’ll be in my room.”

  The hall was empty, although she could hear a vacuum cleaner going somewhere on the east end of the floor. Inside her room, Vanessa—who had fallen asleep on her chamois shirt—woke up and stretched out a front paw, flexing her claws.

  “I wish it was this time yesterday,” Meg said, Vanessa purring in response—and then swiping at her.

  She was going to check her email, but took an Anne Tyler novel out of her bookcase and stretched out on her bed to read for a while. To read something fun, instead of stupid homework.

  Sometimes, she wished she had a sister. Having a sister would probably have made it easier. Being a son of the first female President meant having a successful, courageous mother. Being the only daughter meant having something to live up to. Her mother was beautiful, a phenomenal tennis player, President—Meg could never do anything as well. It was like she was defeated before she even tried.

  She flipped over onto her stomach—which annoyed Vanessa—since all she wanted to do was read for the rest of the day. Take a vacation from real life.

  For weeks, if possible.

  At twelve-thirty, there was a knock on the door.

  “Do you want lunch?” Neal asked.

  She hesitated, but then opted for cowardice. “No, thanks, I’m not hungry.”

  “It’s onion soup, and hamburgers, and stuff,” he said through the door.

  “Thanks, but I’m not hungry,” she said.

  “Are you sure?” he asked.

  Fratricide. She got up and opened the door. “Neal, I’m just not hungry. Thanks, anyway.”

  When the next knock came, she was reading a Laura Lippman mystery.

  “May I come in?” her father asked.

  “Uh, yeah.” She turned over, so she would be facing him.

  He opened the door, dressed to go out in a dinner jacket and black tie.

  “Where are you going?” she asked.

  “The French Embassy,” he said.

  Oh. Right. There was a big dinner there tonight.

  “They’ll have supper ready for the three of you in about fifteen minutes,”
he said. “I think we’ll be home fairly late, so I’d like it if you spent some time with your brothers, instead of holing up in here all night.”

  Meg nodded.

  “It might be a nice idea for you to go in and say good-bye to your mother,” he said.

  It was hard not to groan. “Now?” she asked.

  “I think it would be a very good idea,” he said.

  If she tried to argue, she wasn’t going to win, so she just nodded and went down the hall. The door was open, but Meg knocked, anyway.

  “Come in,” her mother said.

  Meg put her hands uneasily in her pockets. “Uh, hi.”

  Her mother nodded, not turning from the mirror.

  “You, uh, you look nice,” Meg said.

  Her mother shrugged, putting on her earrings.

  This conversation definitely wasn’t going very well. “I’m sorry,” Meg said.

  Now, her mother turned, looking less than convinced. “Oh?”

  Meg sighed. “I really am. I was upset, so I wanted to make someone else upset. I’m sorry, and I didn’t mean it.”

  “Okay.” Her mother picked up her brush, but lowered it. “I’m sorry I haven’t always been there.”

  “I told you I didn’t mean that,” Meg said.

  Her mother turned away, brushing her hair.

  Great. One slip of the tongue—and apparently, they were never going to like each other again. She eased back towards the door, very uncomfortable. “Uh, have a good time.”

  “Thank you,” her mother said. “Please keep an eye on your brothers.”

  Meg nodded, they looked at each other for a very short, uneasy second—and then, Meg left the room.

  24

  SHE SPENT MOST of Sunday in her room, sometimes doing homework, but mostly reading and wasting time on the Internet. She had apologized to Steven, who thought that getting hit with cereal was funny, but her mother was still distant. It didn’t seem to be blatant, or calculated, but it was definitely uncomfortable. So, Meg stayed in her room.

  Going back to school was going to be terrible, too. Adam was sure to have gone around telling everyone. She wasn’t sure what was worse—having people laugh behind her back, or laugh in front of her. Both were sure to happen.

 
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