The presidents daughter, p.6
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       The President's Daughter, p.6
 

           Ellen Emerson White

  “The other day,” her mother settled herself more comfortably, “I gave a speech at a Rotary Club luncheon and afterwards, at the reception, a very pleasant-looking man came over and told me that I was a harlot.”

  Whoa. “What did you do?” Meg asked.

  “Well, you know me,” her mother said. “Always quick on the uptake. So, I said, ‘What?’ He repeated himself, I said, ‘Oh,’ and he walked away.”

  “At least you told him off,” Meg said.

  Her mother shrugged. “There’re a few in every crowd. Anyway, that’s why Linda is the way she is. If you spend that much time with your defenses up, it gets to be a habit.”

  “But you’re not like that,” Meg said.

  Her mother shrugged again. “To a degree, I am. You have to be.”

  Hmmm. “Has anyone ever called you a strumpet?” Meg asked.

  Her mother nodded. “Trollop, too. I gather Preston has been keeping a running list of insults. He has a pool going for various words, too.”

  Which sounded like something Preston would do, both to amuse everyone—and to try and take the sting out of some of the considerably more unpleasant invective that had to be coming her mother’s way on a daily basis.

  “Floozy and hussy are long gone, of course,” her mother said. “So, I took ‘doxy’ in the pool, and I believe your father went with ‘slattern.’”

  All too often, hanging around her mother made her want to run for the nearest dictionary.

  “But, let’s talk about something other than politics, okay?” her mother said.

  It was hard to avoid, when it was the perpetual elephant—or, okay, donkey—in the room. “Do the other candidates have as many reporters following them around as you do?” Meg asked.

  “Probably not,” her mother admitted. “I don’t think it means much, though. I may just be a novelty act.”

  Somehow, that didn’t sound very convincing. “Who’re you worried about the most?” Meg asked. “Governor Kruger?” Who was an avuncular, decorated military veteran from the South—and from what she could tell, he seemed to be so reasonable, and surprisingly progressive, that he was the only other candidate she found appealing.

  The only one who struck her as a serious threat, too.

  “Well.” Her mother folded her arms, considering that. “He’s certainly very impressive. Hawley’s doing well, too. And you can never tell about Mertz. Every four years, he throws a scare into people. And Jarvis seems to have a little boomlet going.”

  Which seemed to be about the same way most of the pundits saw the race shaping up, so far. “What about Mr. Sampson?” Meg asked. Who was proud to describe himself as a gadfly, and played the role to the hilt.

  “Oh,” her mother brushed that aside, “no one takes him seriously. But, who knows? Maybe Clay Grundy will come from nowhere and take a lot of votes. He’s been spending most of his time in New Hampshire, and he just might make some inroads there. But Lloyd, and Foster, and McGreer are all getting ready to drop out, I think.”

  Not that she watched C-Span—a lot—or, say, checked in on the Washington Post website—often—but, that sounded about right.

  Her mother bent to tuck in the blankets, and then hugged her, long enough for Meg to feel awkward.

  “You should go rescue Dad from the grumps,” Meg said.

  Her mother grinned. “You mean, rescue the grumps from him.” She went over to the window, checking to make sure that it was locked, and then closing the curtains.

  “No, don’t do that,” Meg said. “How will Arthur get in?”

  “I’m sure he’ll think of something,” her mother said.

  5

  HEADING FOR THE life line for a third time the next morning, Meg felt someone glide up next to her, and turned to see Linda, stiff but well-groomed in her light blue ski suit, smiling that sterile smile.

  “Would you like to share a chair up?” she asked.

  “Sure,” Meg said. Being trapped on a ski lift had to be the ultimate example of a captive audience.

  “I thought we should get to know each other better,” Linda said.

  Oh, boy. Her mother had undoubtedly put Linda up to this. Meg smiled and nodded.

  “H-how is it?” Linda gestured up the mountain.

  Meg shrugged. “Great. Maybe a little icy.”

  Linda looked nervous. Scared, actually.

  “It’s not that bad,” Meg said quickly. “Just stay away from the fall line.”

  Linda nodded. “Your mother tells me you’re very good.”

  “I don’t know.” Meg leaned forward against her poles for a few seconds, stretching. “Steven’s probably going to be the best out of the three of us.”

  “What about Neal?” Linda asked.

  “Well,” Meg straightened up, moving forward in line, “he’s been doing it since he was three, so he’s pretty good, but Dad doesn’t like him skiing alone, so we take turns keeping him company.” In fact, keeping Neal company was sometimes one of her favorite parts of skiing. She loved to watch him square his shoulders, push off down a slope—and laugh all the way down. She glanced at Linda. “Have you been skiing long?”

  “Not particularly,” Linda said. “I went a few times when I was in college. I prefer golf.”

  Which was only the most boring sport in the world, in Meg’s opinion.

  “And, of course, I go to the gym,” Linda said.

  Which was almost as boring as golf. Meg—who considered herself to be in pretty damned good shape—had once taken an exercise class with Beth and Sarah Weinberger, neither of whom did more than an occasional flight of stairs, and had found it so difficult that she had had to fake a sudden, extreme headache.

  They didn’t say much of anything else until they were in the chair on their way up the mountain.

  “Eric told me he saw you talking to someone from the Times this morning,” Linda said, shifting her poles to her right hand.

  Maybe her mother hadn’t initiated this, after all. “Oh, the Times,” Meg said. She hadn’t been sure where the man worked. “I knew he was from one of the papers.”

  Linda looked at her critically. “What did he ask you?”

  Meg thought back. “I don’t know. It was no big deal.”

  Now, Linda frowned. “Well, can you try to remember?”

  “He wanted to know how the skiing was here, and I said that it was really good.” Meg moved the zipper on her new jacket—her mother had insisted—up and down, thinking. “Then, he asked if I liked coming up here, and I said yes, and he said it must be nice to be spending time with my mother, and I said yes, and he said it must be hard to have her away so much, and I said that we missed her and everything, but that she was always there if we needed her.” Meg glanced over. “Is that okay?”

  “That’s fine.” Linda’s smile was significantly less sterile. “I should have realized that you’d be pretty well politicized.”

  “But, it’s true,” Meg said. “I wouldn’t have said it, if it wasn’t true.”

  Linda just nodded, seeming very pleased by her performance.

  “She always comes if we really need her,” Meg said.

  Linda nodded.

  Maybe she was protesting too much, but—“Like on Neal’s birthday,” Meg said. “She flew home and everything.”

  “No one is saying that she didn’t.” Linda’s voice was calm. “You just have to remember that your mother isn’t running for school committee; she’s running for President. There’s a great deal at stake.”

  Wait, she was running for President? Of the country. Wow. Who knew?

  “But, in the future,” Linda said, “I’d rather that you didn’t talk to the press unless I’m there, or someone from my staff is sitting in.”

  Great. More rules to follow. “Yeah,” Meg said, “but—”

  Linda immediately cut her off. “I’d like that to be the policy.”

  “But—” Meg released a slow, frozen breath, ordering herself not to lose her temper. “What if someone
comes up and asks me a question? Do I say, I’m sorry, I can’t answer that unless someone’s with me?”

  “We need to be very careful, that’s all,” Linda said. “People have an image—”

  Meg grinned, in spite of herself.

  “—very important that you and your brothers come across as happy, well-adjusted—”

  “Fake it, you mean?” Meg asked.

  Linda did not smile. “That’s not what I said.”

  Meg grinned, then recognized two familiar shapes twisting down a steep slope below them: one small and darting in bright red, the other tall and graceful in royal blue. “There’s Mom and Neal.”

  Linda looked down, wincing as the figure in blue took a jump over an uneven patch of snow and stayed airborne for several feet before landing effortlessly.

  “Your mother is sometimes incautious,” she said.

  Yeah. “A few years ago, she broke her leg,” Meg said, remembering how the incident had been both frightening and amusing—frightening because she and Steven had been skiing with her when it happened, but amusing because of all the pictures Newsweek and everyone printed of the Senator crutching her way around Capitol Hill.

  “It’s over if she breaks her leg,” Linda said grimly. “A candidate, particularly a woman, is supposed to be invulnerable.”

  “Invincible,” Meg said.

  Linda was not amused.

  They dismounted as the lift got to the top, Linda’s descent unsteady.

  “Which trail would you say is the least demanding?” Linda asked, sounding more nervous than she looked.

  “Toll Road,” Meg said, pointing to the right. “And take the Crossover.”

  Linda nodded her thanks. “Please try to be careful with reporters. Everyone will be glad to help you.”

  They separated, and Meg cruised over to Hayride. There was one particularly icy section, and she’d almost fallen on her first run down, so she wanted to try it again and see if she could get it right. She adjusted her sunglasses—blue Oakleys, and in her opinion, very cool—and paused at the top of the trail, studying the terrain to see how she could attack it differently this time.

  Then, she took a deep breath and jammed her poles into the snow, shoving off. She made a few quick parallel turns, enjoying the speed and the challenge of the ice. Her father—who loved projects—always tuned and waxed all of their skis before trips, and she really liked whatever wax combination he had used this time. The edges had good bite, but the bases felt like they were floating, which was perfect.

  Whipping along, carving short, neat turns, she considered slowing down before the difficult part, but decided not to, enjoying the rushing wind too much. She cut one of her turns a little late, and her right ski skidded unexpectedly, sending her down in a hard tangle of skis and legs. She lay on her back for a minute, staring at the cloudy sky, annoyed at her own stupidity in trying to take it too fast. Nothing like being incautious.

  There was a spray of snow as someone stopped next to her and, focusing on dark curly hair and a tanned face, Meg decided that she believed in God.

  “You okay?” the guy asked, his voice flippantly concerned.

  “Yeah, thank you. Just hit some ice.” Embarrassed, Meg used her poles to push herself up.

  “Let me give you a hand.” He moved a thick glove underneath her elbow.

  “Thank you.” She stepped back into her right ski, which had released when she crashed, and then knocked the snow off her jacket and jammed her Red Sox cap back on. Luckily, she had tied the cap to the loop on the inside of her jacket collar, so that while it flew off constantly when she was skiing fast, it would just flap behind her, instead of getting lost.

  “My name’s Dave.” He brushed some snow off her back, and she blushed, the touch somehow intrusive. “What’s yours?”

  “Meg,” she said.

  He studied her for a second, his eyes going down. “How old are you?”

  Unexpected, magical romance would have been too much to hope for. She sighed. “Almost sixteen.” Well, more like fifteen and a half—but, that was a mere detail.

  “Would have guessed older.” His eyes moved again.

  Great. She turned to avoid the scrutiny, reddening more. “How old are you?”

  “Be nineteen in a couple of months. I go to Dartmouth.” His voice was superior.

  “Good school,” she said.

  “Yeah.” He bent to adjust a buckle on his boot, balancing on one pole, and she wondered if she should seize the moment and make a quick escape. He straightened up. “You hear we’ve got a celebrity up here this weekend?”

  “Oh?” Meg tried not to groan aloud.

  He nodded. “Yeah. Presidential candidate. You ever hear of Senator Powers?”

  Meg let herself look faintly puzzled. “She’s the woman, right?”

  “Yeah.” This time, his nod was patronizing, and he spoke in the authoritative voice of a college freshman taking Political Science 101. “Of course, she’ll never win.”

  Oh, really? “Why not?” she asked.

  “We need a man in the position,” he said. “Particularly these days.”

  What a jerk. “We do?” she asked pleasantly.

  “Absolutely,” he said, not even noticing that she’d stiffened. “Certainly, Powers is probably qualified, and she gives a good speech, but she wouldn’t have the authority, especially in dealing with world leaders. If she’s lucky, Kruger or someone’ll ask her to be his running mate—that’d be a better place for her.”

  It would be fun to watch and see how much further he could get his foot into his mouth. She smiled very, very pleasantly. “Why?”

  “No responsibility,” he said.

  Within seconds, she was going to have to perform the Heimlich maneuver on him.

  Or, perhaps, not perform it on him.

  “I mean,” Dave shifted his weight to the other pole, “she’d probably be good at functions—she’s poised, and God, no one can say she isn’t good-looking. But, you have to have a man at the top.”

  It was too late for the Heimlich; they had now moved into emergency tracheotomy territory.

  “But,” he smiled at her, “I’m sorry to go on like that, I couldn’t expect you to be interested.”

  “Why not?” Meg asked in the voice of a champion Ice Queen.

  “Well, you’re—” He paused, searching for the word. “I mean—”

  “Look,” she cut him off. “Before you say anything else, maybe you should know something.”

  “What’s that?” he asked, sounding amused by what he seemed to consider her presumptuousness.

  “Senator Powers is my mother,” she said.

  He stared at her. “Y-your mother?”

  She nodded. “My mother.” She pushed off and down the slope again. “Thanks for helping me up.”

  THAT NIGHT, SHE and her family had dinner at the Trapp Family Lodge, all having gotten through the day without any broken legs or torn ligaments. Right after their salads were served, her father frowned suddenly, glancing at her mother, who followed his gaze across the room and laughed.

  “Meg, there’s a boy over there who can’t take his eyes off you,” she said. “Steven, be a nice kid and pass me the salt, will you?”

  Meg recognized Dave, sitting at a table with two other preppy-looking guys, and returned to her salad. “He’s looking at you, Mom.”

  “No, he isn’t.” Her mother checked again. “It’s very definitely you.”

  “Believe me, it isn’t.” Meg kept eating.

  “Yeah, who’d look at Meg?” Steven said, grinning.

  “A lot of people would,” their mother said. “Your sister is very attractive.”

  Both Meg and Steven snorted, then Meg frowned at him.

  “You’re not supposed to agree,” she said.

  He shrugged. “Hey, except for your face, you’re fine.”

  “If you hadn’t been born without a brain, you’d probably be okay, too,” Meg said, managing to grab a piece of gar
lic bread right out from underneath his hand.

  “How about a truce?” their father suggested. “At least until after dinner.”

  “Oh, but we love each other.” Steven moved his chair closer to hers, putting his arm around her. “Don’t we, Meggie?”

  “Oh, yeah.” Meg kept eating.

  Her father frowned at Dave’s table. “I don’t like it. He’s too old to be staring at you.”

  “He’s only eighteen,” Meg said. She glanced up to see the whole family looking at her. “Oh. Guess I shouldn’t know that.” She shrugged, picking up her knife to cut a piece of lettuce, deciding to start some trouble. “He’s a pretty good kisser for an old guy.”

  Without lifting her eyes, she could feel their heads turning in his direction.

  “What’s his name?” her mother asked casually.

  “Why would I know his name?” Meg asked. “Hey, can I have a martini?”

  6

  THEY SKIED ALL day Sunday, had dinner at yet another reporter-crowded restaurant, then drove home, not getting in until pretty late. Meg was so tired that next morning that she fumbled her way through school, although she didn’t actually fall asleep until her last official class, which was history, and always pretty boring. Her teacher, Mr. Bucknell, was a real pain, always talking about her mother—even though the American History part of the course was only supposed to go up to 1865—and trying to get Meg to drop campaign secrets. Not that she knew any. She wasn’t even sure if there were any.

  “Meghan?” a voice said.

  “What?” She jerked awake, and saw Mr. Bucknell scowling nearsightedly, gripping his tie with one hand, which made her uncomfortably suspicious that he might have called on her more than once. The grins on the people sitting near her made her suspect that even more. “I mean, yes, sir?”

  “I do hope,” he stretched the two words out, “that you don’t mind my interrupting your little nap.”

 
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