The presidents daughter, p.5
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       The President's Daughter, p.5

           Ellen Emerson White
“Hi,” her mother said. “How are you?”

  “Okay.” Meg sat down at the table. “Where are you?” Which was always the first question any of them asked her these days.

  “Detroit,” her mother said.

  Oh. Well, okay. Whatever. “I thought you were in Iowa,” Meg said.

  “I was.” Her mother yawned, and Meg had a momentary disturbing flash of her sitting alone and exhausted in a hotel room somewhere. “I flew up because we ran into some luck today.”

  “What happened?” Meg asked.

  “The UAW endorsed me,” her mother said.

  The autoworkers union. Which was a big deal. Meg wanted to gulp, since—well, her mother was getting a lot of endorsements. Already. “Um, wow. That’s really good, isn’t it?”

  “It’s tremendous,” her mother said. “I really wasn’t expecting it. Or, anyway, not yet.” She yawned again. “What did you do today?”

  Well, it was safe to say that no one had endorsed her. Meg shrugged. “Nothing much. Beth and I went in and kicked around downtown at Macy’s and everything.”

  “Did you pick up anything?” her mother asked. “Aren’t they still having Christmas sales?”

  “Yeah. We were mostly just looking around, though.” Meg mouthed the word “Mom” as Steven came in.

  “Well, you really need a new ski jacket,” her mother said. “That thing you’re wearing around now is disgraceful.”

  Next, presumably, she would have to hear about how terrible her hair looked, too. “I like it.” Even though it was ratty and beat-up, and covered with ancient, partially torn lift tickets.

  “Then, get the same kind,” her mother said.

  “Yeah, but—” Meg pushed her brother’s hand away from the phone. “Steven, wait a minute, will you?”

  “Come on, let me talk,” he said impatiently.

  “I said, wait a minute.” Meg pushed him harder. “When are you coming home again, Mom?”

  “I think maybe next weekend,” her mother said. “So, do me a favor, and get the jacket, and maybe we can all go up to Stowe for a couple of days.”

  “Wow, really?” Meg lowered the phone. “Mom says she’s coming home, and we can maybe go skiing next weekend.”

  “Well, let me talk to her,” Steven said.

  “Okay already.” Meg lifted the phone back up. “Steven’s being a jerk, so I’d better let him talk to you. That’s really good about the autoworkers.”

  “Thanks,” her mother said. “Take care of yourself, okay? It sounds as if your cold is pretty much gone.”

  Meg nodded, dodging Steven’s attempt to grab the phone again. “Mostly, yeah. Where are you going tomorrow?”

  “South,” her mother said.

  “Just in general?” Meg asked.

  “It feels that way. Actually, Atlanta, and Miami; then I have to head up to Washington by Monday.” Her mother laughed. “It sounds as though you’d better put your brother on.”

  “Yeah, really.” Meg scowled at him. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

  “Okay. I love you,” her mother said.

  “Um, yeah, me, too,” Meg said quickly. “I, uh, went to your headquarters in Boston today; they were pretty neat. Here’s Steven.”

  “God, about time.” Steven grabbed the phone from her. “Hi, Mom, where are you?”

  Meg got up, moving to the door. “Dad? Neal? Mom’s on the phone!”

  “Oh, good.” Her father came in from the sitting room. “I thought it might be.”

  “Wow, let me talk!” Neal rushed in, trying to get the phone away from Steven. “Come on, it’s my turn!”

  “God, wait a minute, will you?” Steven pushed him.

  Not that she and her brothers were predictable, or anything. “Neal, don’t bug him,” she said. “He just got on.”

  Neal scowled, and sat sulkily in a chair to wait.

  “She still in Des Moines?” her father asked.

  Meg shook her head. “Detroit.”

  He looked surprised. “What’s she doing there?”

  “She got the UAW,” Meg said.

  “Really? My God, she’s cleaning up on the unions.” He tapped Steven’s shoulder, indicating for him to hurry up.

  Once Steven and Neal had finished, and her father was on the phone, she and her brothers waited at the table.

  “Guess what Mommy said?” Neal asked, leaning forward on his elbows. “She bought me a cowboy hat in Texas! A real one!”

  “How dumb is that?” Steven snorted, his mouth full of Oreos he’d found on top of the refrigerator—since Trudy always hid unhealthy food from them.

  “Yeah, well, she got you one, too.” His face fell. “That’s supposed to be a surprise.”

  “Yeah?” Steven looked eager. “What color are they?”

  “If you really think it’s stupid, we can have Dad tell her to take yours back.” Meg helped herself to some Oreos, giving one to Kirby, who wagged his tail and retreated under the table to eat it.

  “Meg, shut up, okay?” Steven said, blushing.

  “Be careful, okay?” their father was saying. “Well, I have to worry, I can’t help it.” He listened. “Okay, I love you, too.” He listened again, then hung up to see Meg grinning, Steven pretending to throw up, and Neal giggling. “Little brats.” He picked up what was left of the package of cookies. “Come on, who wants to go watch the Celtics game?”

  “Gross,” Meg said. “I hate hockey.”

  “Cute,” her father said.

  SHE SPENT THE next couple of days looking forward to going skiing, but began to lose enthusiasm when she realized what it was going to be like. The first warning came on Monday night when her father remarked that “there would be some politics going on, and they all had to be prepared for that.” What she had seen as a relaxing family weekend was going to be more of a marathon three-day campaign session. Glen was coming, Linda—who Meg had decided to call the Ice Queen—was coming, campaign coordinators and pollsters were coming—and Meg didn’t feel like going.

  She didn’t communicate that to her brothers, both of whom were so excited that the weekend was all they talked about. She was anything but eager.

  Wednesday night, hearing her father wandering around—he did that a lot when her mother wasn’t home, especially after they were all in bed—she got up and went downstairs, finding him coming out of the den.

  “What are you doing up?” he asked, automatically checking his watch.

  She shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not tired.”

  “Terrific.” His expression was wry. “It’s going to be fun waking you up tomorrow.”

  Since she always stayed up as late as possible, it was probably never fun to wake her up.

  He reached forward, touching her forehead with the back of his hand. “Do you feel okay? You’re not coming down with anything, are you?”

  Oh, good idea. If she was sick, she wouldn’t have to go. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just can’t sleep.”

  “Would you like me to make you some warm Coke?” her father asked.

  She looked at him uncertainly. “Would that help?”

  He laughed. “No.” He sat down on the stairs, indicating for her to sit next to him. “What’s wrong? Are you still upset about this weekend?”

  Well—yeah. But, she shrugged. “I don’t know. I thought it was going to be just us.”

  “She’s running for President,” he said. “There’s no way it’s going to be ‘just us’ for a long time.”

  Meg slouched down, not wanting to hear that.

  “Oh, don’t worry.” He put his arm around her. “It’s not going to be that bad.”

  If they had to do stupid politics the whole time, they weren’t even going to get to ski. “Will people be taking our pictures all over the place and asking questions and everything?” she asked.

  He nodded. “Probably.”

  “Sounds like fun,” she said grumpily. “What am I supposed to say to reporters?”

  He sighed. “We’v
e gone over that, Meg. Just be polite and friendly. And don’t worry about it. Your mother’s staff will keep them out of the way—that’s what they’re there for.”

  Meg kicked at the bottom stair with her right foot.

  “World champion fretful child,” her father said.

  Yeah. So? “Don’t make fun of me,” she said.

  “I’m sorry. Look,” he kissed the top of her head, “please don’t worry. It’s going to be fine. All you have to do is stand there and smile.”

  Right. “Look daft, you mean?” she asked.

  “I’ll buy that,” he said, grinning. “But, it’s really going to be fine.”

  Not likely, but she didn’t want him to call her fretful again. “Do you promise?”

  He nodded.

  “Can I quote you on that?” she asked.

  “Sure,” he said.

  THEY GOT TO Stowe right before dinner on Friday night. The place was packed with reporters and cameras, and her mother’s staff was very excited. Her mother had a press conference, and then, there was a quick photo session, naturally. They ate at the Tavern at the Inn, a dinner which wasn’t exactly restful, but they were together, as her father kept pointing out.

  By the time they finished, it was too late to do much of anything else, although she and Steven and Neal—and an advisor named Nasira who had gotten her PhD when she was only about twenty-three, and was an expert on the Middle East, particularly issues relating to Iran—went down to the game room and played pool and air hockey for a while. Her parents had rented a townhouse for the family, and the campaign had taken over part of the nearby conference center, as well as a couple of condominiums and a block of rooms at the Inn itself for the ever-expanding staff. Her mother’s formal Secret Service protection hadn’t started quite yet, but she noticed that a bunch of agents and other security people seemed to be around the resort, too.

  Steven and Neal ended up going to bed pretty early, so that they’d be wide awake for skiing in the morning. Meg wasn’t tired, so she hung out down in the living room, watching the same kind of endless strategy session that she usually saw around the kitchen table or out on the patio. And, as usual, her father was making jokes that only her mother seemed to think were funny. Everyone else was too busy being serious, and she wished that Preston had been able to come, since everyone would be a lot more relaxed if he was there. Although, as far as Meg could tell, Glen and Linda never had a good time.

  After about an hour, she gave up, deciding that the meeting was never going to end.

  “Going to bed?” her father asked, as her mother flipped through a thick sheaf of reports and briefing books.

  “Yeah.” She nodded. “I’m pretty tired. Are you guys going to do this all night?”

  “We’re going to call all of the other candidates, see when they’re going to bed, and stay up fifteen minutes longer,” her father said, and her mother laughed, touching his shoulder with a caressing hand, without looking away from what she was reading.

  “Well,” Meg said, self-consciously. “Good night.”

  Her mother took out just enough time to smile at her. “Eight o’clock breakfast sound good?”

  “Yeah.” Meg shrugged. “Sure. Good night,” she said to the room in general, getting a couple of nods, a couple of good nights, and a couple of grunts in response.

  “Don’t stay up too late,” her father said, “okay?”

  “But I’m expecting someone,” Meg said, amused to see three sharp glances from campaign people.

  Everyone seemed very busy and distracted, so she went upstairs, feeling a little lonely. She could watch some television, maybe, or go online—but, she didn’t really feel like it. Since it wasn’t going to be a family weekend, she should have asked if Beth or someone could come along. But, the five of them were supposed to be spending time together, so it wouldn’t have seemed right to invite any of their friends. It would be a lot more fun if she had, though. She stood at the top of the stairs, listening as a man named Jim—who had worked on every Democratic Presidential campaign for the last thirty years—droned on and on about New Hampshire and the early primaries. Well, her leaving sure hadn’t upset things much.

  Steven and Neal must have had no trouble getting to sleep, because it was extremely quiet on the second floor. She changed into her nightgown, thinking about Vanessa. Missing her.

  She was just about to turn the light off, when there was a small tap on the door. Her mother. For a confident person, her mother always knocked very shyly.

  “Is that you, Arthur?” Meg said.

  She heard her mother laugh, and then the door opened.

  “Did you come to tuck me in?” Meg asked.

  “I wanted to make sure you were all right.” Her mother looked worried. “Are you?”

  Meg shrugged. “Sure.”

  “Good.” Her mother glanced at her watch.

  “What,” Meg said, “you have to get right back down there?”

  Her mother shook her head. “No, I just wanted to make sure that you were going to get enough sleep.”

  Oh. Okay. Meg flushed. She had probably been a little quick to be hostile there. “So, uh, you going to read me a story?”

  “Sure,” her mother said. “The Cat in the Hat sound good?”

  “Yeah,” Meg said, and pulled up the covers in four-year-old anticipation.

  Her mother automatically turned down the spread. “I used to love reading to you. You always got so excited.”

  “Yeah.” Meg kept her arms around upraised knees, remembering those nights, the theatrical way her mother read, and how she’d always been able to tease her into reading two or three instead of just one. She pulled her knees in closer, almost wishing she were Neal’s age again, and could still be cuddled. Parental cuddling was nice. She missed parental cuddling.

  Her mother looked at her curiously. “Meg?”

  Okay, she must look about six years old. Meg released her knees, sitting up straight. “I was just thinking.”

  “I’m sorry about this weekend.” Her mother sat at the bottom of the bed. “I wish it could be just the family, too.”

  Meg shrugged affirmatively, bringing her knees back up.

  “It’s not bothering you too much, is it?” her mother asked.

  “Not really,” Meg said. “Some of your campaign people sure are grumpy, though. They don’t even like Dad’s jokes.”

  “And he’s really terribly funny.” Her mother laughed, and Meg wondered which one of his remarks she was remembering.

  “How come you hired such grumps?” Meg asked.

  “They aren’t all grumps,” her mother said.

  Okay, there was at least one exception to that rule. “How come Preston is the only one who isn’t a grump?” Meg asked.

  “Because I need a team of highly organized, serious people.” Her mother’s face relaxed out of her political expression. “You’re right, I like Preston, too. Although, my God, he’s young.”

  Which was probably why he sometimes felt more like a pal, or almost even a peer. “Glen and Linda kind of bug me,” Meg said.

  Her mother shrugged. “He’s a perfectionist, that’s all. You just have to get used to him. And Linda is utterly competent.”

  “Ice Queen,” Meg said disparagingly.

  “Is that what you call her?” Her mother tried to look stern, but Meg could see the amusement in her eyes. “That’s terrible.”

  Maybe, but it was still accurate. “She’s like a robot,” Meg said. “I swear I’ve never heard her say a sentence that didn’t have the word ‘image’ in it.”

  Her mother frowned at her. “I might remind you that she’s in a profession in which women have to work twice as hard.”

  “So are you,” Meg said.

  Her mother nodded. “Precisely. And for all we know, there’s a country full of people who think I’m an Ice Queen.” She smiled. “And worse.”

  “No, they don’t,” Meg said—although she had made the mistake of reading a fe
w angry right-wing blogs, and had promised herself never to go near any of them again. Criticism was one thing; misogyny and graphic insults and not-at-all-veiled threats were another.

  Her mother looked at her sharply. “What?”

  “The, um,” Meg didn’t quite meet her eyes, “Internet. I mean, people say—well, there’s some really bad stuff.”

  Her mother sighed. “Your father and I don’t want you looking at any of that.”

  Yeah, that had been the parental edict, but since references to her mother were everywhere, the only way to accomplish said edict was to stay off the Internet entirely—which, obviously, wasn’t going to happen. So, Meg just shrugged.

  “It’s easy for people to make up terrible rumors about someone they’ve never met, especially when they get to hide behind anonymity. So, it isn’t anything to take seriously.” Her mother glanced over. “Do you think your brother’s coming across things like that, too?”

  Meaning Steven, since, presumably, Neal was too young to be quite that computer savvy yet—although he was already developing a surprising knack for email, and some stupid interactive game he would happily play for three days straight, if his computer time wasn’t strictly monitored. But, even by her family’s unusually high standards, Steven was particularly private and uncommunicative. “I don’t know,” Meg said. “I think he mostly just watches really dumb videos and plays all those weird avatar games and all.”

  Her mother blushed slightly. “I guess I made a little splash last week.”

  Meg couldn’t help grinning, since that particular civilian-filmed clip was one she’d watched herself—several times. Her mother had been giving a speech and started talking about various aspects of the Mile High City, and how much she enjoyed being there—to a crowd of quite baffled people in Chicago.

  “I was very tired,” her mother said, defensively.

  “The view of Lake Michigan right out the window wasn’t, you know, kind of a big clue?” Meg asked.

  Her mother nodded. “Yes, when I noticed that, I began to suspect that something might be amiss.”

  Good thing she hadn’t promptly remarked how pretty the ocean looked. Part of what also made the brief film funny was that when the Senator—in short order—figured out that she was yammering on about someplace else entirely, she’d immediately said something to the effect that as soon as she was finished speaking, she was very eager to go outside and tour the Alamo, and maybe take a ride up to the top of the Space Needle, after that. Fortunately, her audience seemed to find this amusing.

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