The presidents daughter, p.27
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       The President's Daughter, p.27
 

           Ellen Emerson White
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  Getting dressed on Monday morning, she thought about Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlett had been caught with Ashley once in what looked like an affair, but wasn’t, and she had to go to a party that night to face all of Atlanta’s society, a society that had never liked her much in the first place. So, she went looking her best, her attitude a damn-the-torpedoes sort of defiance.

  Accordingly, Meg decided to attempt to look her best, an outfit that included her black boots, her Inaugural Day skirt, and a black velvet blazer that Beth had always insisted made her look très chic. Dashing, even. She also spent a long time blow-drying her hair so that it would be thick, full, and dramatic, sweeping back from her face. She even went with some mascara and lip gloss. What did she care if Adam had spread rumors all over the place.

  Okay, she cared a lot—but no one else was going to know it.

  She was at her locker, getting her books before her first two classes, when Josh Feldman walked by, eyes nervous behind his glasses, but smiling at her.

  “H-hi,” he said, reddening at the stutter. “How was your weekend?”

  Meg stiffened and concentrated on her books, not answering. What was he trying to do—get her off the rebound? See if he could burnish his reputation by tricking her into a date and making his way past second base? What a creep.

  Josh hesitated, saw that she wasn’t going to respond, and reddened more, backing away through the morning crush of students.

  Except for that beginning lapse, she was careful not to be rude to anyone, but she didn’t go out of her way to be friendly, either. Adam never spoke to her, and none of his male friends would make eye contact with her, either. She made a point of avoiding the opposite sex in general—which, stupidly, got her quite a few smiles from girls in her classes.

  She was staring down at her math homework, most of which she was sure was wrong, since she was having some trouble grasping the correct polar coordinates, when someone sat next to her.

  “Hi,” Alison said cheerfully, wearing tapered pants and a cropped wool blazer, layered on top of a slim-cut t-shirt.

  Meg smiled briefly. “Hi,” she said, and looked back down at her notebook.

  “What’s with you and Adam?” Alison gestured up a few rows to where Adam was sitting and laughing with his friends. “I thought you guys went out on Friday.”

  Meg shrugged.

  “How’d it go?” Alison asked.

  What, like it was any of her business? They were complete strangers, for Christ’s sakes. “It was fine,” Meg said, her hands tightening on her notebook.

  “Did you have a good time?” Alison asked, sounding much less sure of herself.

  Yes. It was swell. Meg nodded, not looking at her.

  “If you say so.” Alison flipped her own book open, rather forcefully. “Sorry I asked.”

  Meg shrugged. Yeah, this was the only person at the whole damn school who had been making a genuine effort to try and get to know her—but, so what? Who needed friends, right? Everything she’d ever read said that most Presidential children had trouble fitting in; why should she be any different?

  “How come you make it so hard for people?” Alison asked.

  She made it hard for people? But, points for Alison, for being a bit of a pit bull.

  “Up until now, the only person you really talked to was Adam,” Alison said. “Now, you aren’t talking to anyone. No wonder they think you’re obnoxious.”

  Whoa. “Who thinks I’m obnoxious?” Meg asked, carefully expressionless.

  “It doesn’t even bother you, does it,” Alison said.

  Maybe it did—and maybe it didn’t.

  Alison nodded, and turned away with what appeared to be disgust. “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”

  She didn’t consider herself obnoxious, but she maybe didn’t consider herself to be particularly friendly, either. “It bothers me,” she said quietly. “It bothers me a lot.”

  Alison slapped her book shut. “Can I tell you something?”

  Meg shrugged and nodded at the same time, her hands tightly clasped together under her desk.

  “Adam is just a big, conceited—well, you name it.” Alison glared at the back of his head as he said something to the group of guys around him, and they all laughed. “If the rest of us weren’t scared of you, someone would have told you. I almost did after gym on Friday.”

  “Why would anyone be scared of me?” Meg asked.

  Alison looked at her, rather pityingly.

  “I’m just, like, normal,” Meg said, feeling grumpy, fretful, and irritated—all at the same time. “You guys are the ones who are intimidating.”

  “We are. Look at you today.” Alison motioned towards her outfit. “My God, you look like the cover of Vogue.”

  Meg blushed, wishing that she’d worn sweatpants, instead. But, even if she put out a hundred percent effort, she was never going to come anywhere close to being Vogue-worthy. “More like Town & Country, probably,” she said.

  Alison laughed. “Actually, yeah. Good call.”

  Not that Town & Country had been her intent. Meg ran her pen slowly down the spiral of her notebook. “At home, I used to wear just jeans and sneakers and all.”

  “No shirts?” Alison asked, grinning.

  Meg shook her head. “No, I don’t like shirts much.”

  “Come on now, settle down, everyone,” their teacher was saying, sounding very annoyed.

  Alison shot a note over, and Meg picked it up, unfolding the paper.

  “Are you really quiet and bookish?” it asked.

  Meg thought about that, then scribbled, “Sometimes,” and flicked the paper back.

  It returned almost immediately.

  “Me, too,” it said.

  SO, AT LUNCH, she sat at the same table where she had been all along. Adam was across the room with a bunch of football players, and she found herself with a group that was mostly female, and—mostly—friendly. Nathan was there, too, his girlfriend, Phyllis, keeping her arm through his, and Josh Feldman sat at the far end of the table with Zachary.

  Meg watched him eat, wondering if maybe he wasn’t one of Adam’s friends, after all. Maybe he was just a bundle of nerves. She shouldn’t have been so—well—obnoxious to him.

  He looked up and met eyes with her, his left hand promptly knocking over his milk. He flushed, blotting it up with some napkins.

  “But, no one’s scared of you,” Alison muttered next to her.

  “He’s not scared of me,” Meg said.

  Although she kind of had a feeling that he was.

  When the bell rang, she managed to get over next to him as he threw away his lunch bag.

  “I’m sorry about this morning,” she said. “You just caught me at a bad time.”

  “No, I’m sorry,” he said, not looking at her. “I didn’t mean to—”

  She shook her head. “You didn’t. I did. Please don’t take it personally.”

  “Oh, I-I didn’t,” he said, his gaze a little to her left. “I mean, it’s okay.”

  “Well, I’m really sorry,” she said, and they both nodded, and went their separate ways.

  After school, she walked with Alison down the hall towards the section of junior lockers, with Marcy—today’s trail agent—behind them.

  “Do you play tennis or run or anything?” Alison asked.

  “Yeah,” Meg said. “I, uh, play some tennis.” And it had been almost nine months, so she wasn’t still pissed off that she’d lost in the semi-finals of the MIAA Tournament.

  “Oh, right.” Alison grinned. “Guess I read that somewhere. Anyway, I’m not that good, but do you maybe want to play sometime this week?”

  She always wanted to play tennis. “Yeah—” Meg stopped, sighing. “I mean, I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

  “Oh.” Alison looked embarrassed. “Well, okay. It was just an—”

  “I kind of got grounded,” Meg said. “I was a jerk this weekend, and I got slammed with two weeks.”

  “Wow.” Alison mu
lled that over. “I never would have thought that they—two weeks, hunh?”

  Meg nodded. “Unless I can talk him down.”

  “Do you think you can?” Alison asked.

  Probably not. “Maybe. But—” Meg hesitated, not sure if this was going to be too forward. “Well, it’s still mostly too cold to play, but maybe you’d like to come over sometime, anyway. I’m going to be like, trapped there, for a while.”

  “Would that be okay?” Alison asked. “I mean, are you allowed?”

  “Sure,” Meg said. “And if you come with me after school, you won’t even have to go through a big production at the gate or anything.” She didn’t think.

  Alison nodded. “Okay, that sounds good. Let’s do it later this week, maybe. Although we have this junior class community service thing coming up, and Gail said for me to ask you, if you maybe wanted to help out with the planning committee.”

  The school was really big on community service, and everyone in the student body was required to volunteer for a certain number of hours regularly. “Sure,” Meg said, definitely interested. “How come she didn’t ask me herself?”

  Alison just grinned and shook her head.

  SO, THINGS AT school were getting much better. She was mortified every time Adam walked by, but he made a point of avoiding her, too. Which meant that her main problem switched from school—to her mother. It wasn’t even that they weren’t speaking, or anything obvious, but it was like those months during the campaign when they had gotten into so many fights and had to concentrate on being careful with each other. Conversations were a major effort.

  Of course, being President meant that Meg didn’t see her all that much, anyway. The first few months of any President’s term were considered the honeymoon, so that the new President could get used to the job, and that meant that it was a great time to get a lot of policy ideas through Congress quickly. Plus, there was a state dinner coming up, a summit meeting with world leaders in Geneva in about a month, Cabinet members and aides all over the place advising and briefing—there was a lot going on.

  On the nights when her parents didn’t have to make any appearances, and didn’t have company, her mother usually worked straight through dinner—or just came upstairs briefly, and then hurried back down to the Oval Office or her private study to put in a few more hours. Meg hated to look out the West Sitting Hall window at the lights on in the Oval Office late at night, and think of her mother bent over her desk, practically killing herself to run the country. They were all supposed to be going up to Camp David soon, so that she could get a short break, but so far, it seemed to be an idea that her father kept suggesting—and her mother just ignored.

  But, it was more than the fact that she was so damned busy. The only time she ever seemed to come near Meg’s room was when she thought Meg was asleep. Twice, Meg had been awake, but hadn’t moved, afraid to start anything. She couldn’t stand the idea that it was going to be like this for the rest of their lives, but it was certainly starting to seem that way.

  It was Sunday, and she was watching a movie in the solarium with Steven, when it occurred to her that if her mother was down in the Oval Office, her father was probably alone, and she could talk to him.

  “Where you going?” Steven asked, as she got up. “You’re going to miss like, the most excellent part.”

  “I’ll be right back,” she said.

  She went down to the second floor, where she found her father in the Yellow Oval Room, deep in a book.

  “Uh, Dad?” she asked.

  He lowered the book.

  “Are you busy, or can I talk to you for a minute?” she asked.

  He gestured towards the couch. “I bet I know what this is about.”

  Probably, yeah. She sat down next to him. “It’s like it was during the primaries. I don’t know what to do about it.”

  “It’s also for a lot of the same reasons,” he said. “She pushes herself too hard, and then doesn’t have enough energy left for anything else. It’s not that she’s mad at you—or at any of us, for that matter—but, when she gets this exhausted, she knows she has a tendency to start arguments, so she makes an effort to avoid controversial situations.”

  In other words, avoid her.

  “Give her some time, Meg,” he said. “She has so much going on that she—I think the best thing we can all do right now is give her as much room as she needs.”

  Did that mean that her parents were fighting, too? They were so incredibly private, that she sometimes couldn’t tell. Meg slouched into her turtleneck. “Why’s she always so quick to think I hate her?”

  Her father sighed, and put his book down on the coffee table, out of reach. “Why do you ask such complicated questions?”

  “Well,” she frowned, “is it my fault?”

  “Sure, sometimes. There are a lot of reasons, though.” He fingered the gold ring on his left hand, and she wondered if he even knew that he was doing it. “A lot of it is that she hates her mother.”

  Which made no sense at all. “But, she never really had one,” Meg said.

  “That’s why she hates her.” He let his hand fall. “Oh, hate’s a strong word—it’s not that simple. But, her feelings toward her mother have a lot to do with the way she sees yours.”

  Did that mean that they weren’t ever going to be able to resolve it? “But—” Meg said.

  “I know you don’t.” He half-smiled. “I just can’t always convince her.”

  “What am I supposed to do,” Meg asked, “tell her I love her or something?”

  Her father nodded. “It might be nice.”

  “But,” she twisted uncomfortably, “I don’t tell you.”

  “I don’t need to hear it,” he said.

  She slouched lower, folding her arms across her chest.

  He picked his book back up, but after reading for a minute, he stopped. “Meg?”

  She kept slouching. “What.”

  “Do you?” he asked.

  She tilted her head, not sure what he meant. “Do I what?”

  “I don’t know,” he said. “Like me?”

  She shrugged, blushed, and then nodded.

  “Do you,” he carefully smoothed the binding of his book, “like me a lot?”

  She blushed more, but nodded.

  “Do you,” he put the book down again, “maybe even love me?”

  She blew out an irritated and embarrassed breath. “Yes, okay?”

  “Just wanted to make sure.” He picked up his book and cheerfully resumed reading.

  Hell, that wasn’t fair. She looked at him accusingly. “Well?”

  “Well, what?” he asked.

  Did he really need a road map? “Aren’t you going to say that you like me?” she asked.

  He shrugged. “Are you sure I do?”

  Mostly, she thought he was funny—but, not always.

  He laughed, reaching over to hug her. “Yes, I like you.” He kissed the top of her head three times. “And yes, I even love you.”

  Hmmm. Maybe she should press her advantage, then. “Does that mean I’m not grounded?” she asked.

  He shook his head.

  “Okay.” She pulled out of the hug, arms going back across her chest. “Maybe I don’t love you after all.”

  “God, you’re a brat.” He ruffled up her hair. “Okay, you’re paroled.”

  She grinned, leaning up to give him a kiss on the cheek.

  “This is not a precedent,” he said.

  She just grinned.

  IT WAS PAST midnight, and she was in bed, scrunched up on her side, patting Vanessa and trying to fall asleep. The door slid open, and she smelled perfume, but she stayed huddled on her side, not sure whether she should pretend to be asleep. The gentle perfume was closer, and she felt her blankets being adjusted, then the soft warmth of the quilt from the bottom of the bed being spread out over her. There was a tiny sound—maybe just a breath, maybe a light sigh—and she felt a different kind of warmth, that of her mother’
s hand on her forehead, then on her cheek, before pulling away, the perfume fading.

  “Mom?” she said. “Um, I’m awake.”

  “So, I gather,” her mother said, her voice over near the door.

  Meg sat up and turned on the light, Vanessa giving her a good paw smack in protest. “Um, did you get a lot of work done?”

  “I don’t know.” Her mother dragged a tired hand through her hair—which, for once, wasn’t perfectly combed. “Not really, I guess.”

  “You’ve been working really hard lately,” Meg said.

  “I know.” Her mother sighed. “The harder I work, the more there seems to be to do.”

  She already knew the answer, but–“Are you tired?” Meg asked.

  “I think it’s a permanent condition,” her mother said.

  “Oh.” Meg idly tugged at a loose piece of wool in her quilt—which she was going to have to have Trudy fix, as soon as she came to visit. “I thought we could maybe talk for a minute.”

  Her mother promptly sat down on the bottom of the bed.

  “You’re so tired you fall down?” Meg said.

  “It only feels that way,” her mother said, and Meg could hear the laugh in her voice. “How are you liking the drama club?”

  Which wasn’t really her thing, but she had joined, because—well, there was nothing wrong with trying something new. Meg shrugged. “It’s okay. They mostly just have me working on the sets, a little.”

  “I’m looking forward to meeting your friend Alison,” her mother said.

  Who had come over two days earlier, and even though Steven had been grumping around for some reason or other, and being pretty annoying, she had seemed to have a nice time just hanging out. “Yeah,” Meg said. “Beth wants to come down during spring break, and maybe by then I’ll know enough people to invite some over.”

  Her mother nodded. “I would expect so. Is Sarah going to come, too?”

  Unlike Beth, Sarah seemed to be having some trouble taking the notion of having a friend who lived in the White House in stride, so they weren’t in touch as often these days. Emails, mostly—and not even many of those. “I don’t know. I hope so.” Meg stopped pulling at her quilt, since she didn’t want to unravel it completely. “Um, anyway, I wanted to ask you if you’re still speaking at the women’s leadership conference this week.”

 
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