Madam president, p.16

Madam President, page 16


Madam President

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  Lauren felt a genuine, heartfelt smile stretch her lips for the first time that night. "I'd love to." That earned her a broad grin from Devlyn, and both women started for the residence once again. "Dev, I cannot believe I was ditched by Casey!"

  "I'm sorry. Did you really like her?” Twist the knife, Dev.

  "Right," Lauren snorted indignantly. "Give me more credit than that please."

  Dev sighed inwardly. Even if Lauren didn't care for her the way she cared for Lauren, she didn't want to see her friend hurt. "Yeah, well, can you imagine how I feel?" she teased. "The biggest slut I've ever met just dumped me..."

  "The President of the United States," Lauren chimed in for effect, grateful that Devlyn was taking this all in stride.

  A dark eyebrow rose, but Dev continued. "... for a morgue clerk. Not a great evening for my ego."

  Lauren chuckled. "No. I suppose not." Dev's hand brushed hers as they walked, and she wondered for a brief moment what would happen if she reached out and took it. "Can I ask you something?" she said in a soft voice.

  Dev smiled, placing her hand gently on the small of Lauren's back as they climbed a short flight of stairs. "Why would you stop now? You know you can ask me anything."

  "You didn't seem very surprised that Casey was a woman. Were you?" She smiled wryly. Like I was.

  For a moment Devlyn didn't know what to say. Somehow, she didn't think it was a good idea to tell Lauren she had nearly swallowed her damned tongue. "Well, I mean, I was surprised." The words tumbled out nervously. "But what was I supposed to say? ‘Gee, Lauren, didn't realize you'd gone all lesbian on me.'"

  Lauren slid off her glasses and tucked them into the front pocket of her blouse. "I didn't realize that I had either." She held her breath, waiting for Dev's reaction.

  "See, there you go. It would have been rude for me to point it out in front of your date.” What do you mean, you didn't realize?

  Lauren laughed weakly. "Yeah, I guess it would have."

  "So, um, this was your first date with a woman?” Please don't let me be totally misunderstanding this conversation.

  Lauren nodded as Dev opened the door to the living room and ushered her inside.

  Blue eyes widened a little. "Wow."

  "Yeah, wow. I guess I've always known there was some interest there," Lauren clarified, wanting to be honest. "This was just my first actual date... that, um... didn't include a man." She could sense Dev was upset about something, and she wasn't sure if that ‘something' was her.

  Dev grunted with satisfaction at the softly lit room and the fireplace, which was already burning. She chewed on the inside of her lip as she reached for the house phone. She was dying to hear more from Lauren, but it seemed so personal. Dev kicked off her shoes, then removed her jacket. "Yes, send up two corned beef sandwiches with all the trimmings." She paused and looked at Lauren. "What do you want to drink?"

  "Beer. And since I'm being brave and asking you outright, does it bother you that I like women?” Something is bothering you. You always chew your lip like that when you're upset.

  Dev took a deep breath. "Send up an ice bucket full of beer, too.” I’m gonna need it. She put the phone down and put her fists on her hips. "Why would it bother me? I like women too, in case you hadn't noticed."

  Lauren shrugged, her insecurity showing. "I dunno, Devlyn. We're friends, right?" She looked up at the older women with an expression so open it was nearly painful in its intensity.

  Dev sighed and took a seat next to Lauren on the sofa. "I'd really like to think we are. I'm... well, I'm very fond of you." She really wanted to pull the young woman into her arms and just hold her until they both felt better. "I always have such a good time when we're together. And, God, I was so miserable tonight. Then, when I saw you, I wanted to” Kiss you senseless, she finished silently. Of course, I'd probably have a heart attack before I got the nerve up to try it. But it's still a nice thought. “Well, let's just say I'm really glad we're here now."

  Lauren let out a shuddering breath and felt every ounce of tension leave her body. "That's how I feel too, Devlyn. I just wanted to make sure that that wouldn't change after you saw me with Casey." Lauren pushed off her shoes and tucked her legs underneath her until she was sitting Indian style. "So, do you want me to tell you about my horrendous evening? Or would you like to start?" She leaned back, her eyes twinkling gently. You are so stupid, Lauri. This is where you should have been all along.

  Saturday, April 10th

  When her alarm went off, Lauren's hand crept out from under the comforter and she slapped it silent. Then her hand retreated back under the warm thick blankets with the rest of her body. Wonder what it would take to keep her in bed for just one morning? She groaned and tossed back the covers, rolling over to look at the clock. Five A.M. on a Saturday morning. It just doesn't get any more disgusting than this. "Ughhh, the gym today. Thank God, we're not jogging."

  She briefly contemplated covering back up and playing hooky when Grem crawled up from the foot of the bed and placed his head on her stomach. "Yeah, yeah, I know, Grem. If you can't take the heat, you shouldn't be in the kitchen.

  "But at least this is your favorite day of the week. In a few hours those kids will be here just begging for you to come out and play, so they can spoil you rotten." Gremlin growled contentedly as his mistress rubbed his belly. "And I've got two phone interviews set up for some of Devlyn's old High School teachers. That should be interesting, huh?" She pictured an adolescent Devlyn, all gangly arms and legs, tall, and sparkling baby blue eyes. A smile came to her lips unbidden.

  Lauren gave her pal a long scratch behind the ears, trying to find the energy to get up and pull her sweats on so she could go watch Dev sweat. Not that she minded that part. She laughed softly.

  Her attention was drawn away from her pooch by a loud commotion in the hallway. Not once since she had been here in residence had she heard anything like it. It sounded like the world was coming to an end. Lauren jumped out of bed and pulled a robe on over her pajamas. Haphazardly, she ran her hands through her hair and grabbed her glasses from the nightstand on the way to the door.

  The hallway was teeming with dark-suited Secret Service agents. She stuck her head out, and a hand reached out to stop her, until the agent recognized her and allowed her to step out into the hall.

  Mixed in with the Secret Service were medical personnel. They were dragging or carrying armloads of equipment into Dev's bedroom. For a brief moment, Lauren could have sworn her heart stopped.

  "What's..." She cleared her throat and tried again. "What's going on?" She pulled her robe closed at her throat and ordered her stomach to stop roiling in protest at what her eyes were seeing.

  "The President won't be going out today, Ms. Strayer. You may go back to bed if you'd like."

  "I didn't ask if she was going out. I asked what was going on."

  "I'm not at liberty to say, Ms. Strayer." Michael Oaks gave her a frosty smile. They had stopped pretending they liked each other a long time ago. "And even if I were, it's none of your concern."

  A Secret Service agent tapped Michael on the shoulder, and his attention shifted away from the biographer.

  Lauren tried to peer around the milling men, but she wasn't tall enough to see into the outer room that led to Dev's bedroom. She grabbed another agent as he shuffled past. "What is going on?! Is she okay?"

  He only shrugged and then continued on his way.

  Gray eyes flicked from face to face, and she heard more raised, panicky voices from inside Devlyn's room. Then she did the only thing she could think of...

  Lauren started screaming at the top of her lungs. "Emma!" She knew that if something was wrong with Dev, the nanny would be close by.

  The men around her jumped back as though she were insane. And, from the look on Lauren's face, more than a few of them were sure that that was, indeed, the case. They knew better than to touch her, however. For something like that, President Marlowe would likely have them transferred to t
he North Pole to guard Santa's ass.

  Emma rushed out into the hallway to see what had happened now. "What in the world is the matter?" she asked, trying to grasp why Lauren was yelling at the top of her lungs.

  Lauren immediately stopped and composed herself. She was a little lightheaded from her exertion. "What's wrong with Devlyn? No one will tell me a damned thing!"

  "Didn't you tell her?" Emma looked to Michael Oaks. Her tone was scolding.

  "Somebody tell me!"

  "C'mon inside." Emma shook her head sadly. "You need to see this for yourself."

  Lauren braced herself for the worst. She swallowed hard and followed Emma into the confusion.

  Dev opened her eyes. Is that Lauren's voice? Then she saw a fair head in the crowd outside her room. A very raspy voice gave the low order. "Make way for the lady."

  The flurry of motion around the bed ceased for just a moment as the doctors and nurses parted and allowed Lauren to take a seat on the bed. Without thinking twice, she took Dev's clammy hand in her own and squeezed gently.

  She heard the doctors talking to Dev, but only got about every other word. Her eyes and her mind were firmly focused on the sick woman. Lauren was about to ask Dev what was wrong when a doctor said, "Madam President, we're going to start an IV." He set down two large test tubes full of crimson blood that he'd drawn from Dev only seconds before. "You're going to feel another prick."

  Lauren's stomach twisted. The thought of Devlyn being impaled by a sharp object was every bit as distressing as if they'd informed her that she herself was next. Shivering, she tore her eyes away from the test tubes.

  The doctor stepped forward, but was stopped dead in his tracks by Dev's grumpy bark. "Get that damned needle away from me.” Can’t you see you're freaking out Lauren? Dev's bleary eyes focused on Lauren's robe, and the pajamas that were peeking out. God, are those pink elephants on her pajamas? Could she be more adorable? I wonder what she'd think if I invited her to a slumber party. “This is food poisoning, not the plague. I don't need any IVs." She motioned weakly toward the tank next to the bed. "Or oxygen."

  Lauren cringed at the words ‘food poisoning', fully knowing how miserable that was, but totally bewildered by the staff around Devlyn who were acting as if she were on her deathbed. She expected the flag outside the White House to be flying at half-mast. Lauren put her face in her hands. "Food poisoning?" she breathed somewhat shakily, reassuring herself that it wasn't any more serious. She willed her heart to resume beating.

  "Mornin', Mighty Mouse. You sure do know how to get attention when you want it."

  Lauren smiled weakly and stroked Devlyn's palm with her fingertips. "Well, I got tired of you hogging the spotlight all the time. And I'll let the Mighty Mouse comment slide only because you're sick. All this," she motioned around the room to the doctors and Secret Service agents, "scared the crap out of me, you know."

  Dev rolled her eyes. God, people overreacted around you when you were President. “Sorry about that. And I'm not really sick. It's just a ruse to get the day off." But her pale face told a different story.

  A tiny, unexpected laugh escaped Lauren's throat. "How are you feeling?" she asked gently. But before Dev could answer, she broke in. "And I want an honest answer, Devlyn."

  "Been up the entire night, worshipping the porcelain Goddess. How do I look?"

  "Like crap."

  "Funny, I don't feel that good."

  Lauren's brow creased with worry. Dev did look terrible. She glanced up at one of the doctors. "It's just food poisoning, right?" She knew she was being nosey. But she couldn't help but worry.

  The doctor, a short, middle-aged man with a bald head and slightly protruding belly, looked annoyed that Lauren had interrupted the notes he was making on Dev's chart. He pulled two labels from a small packet and placed them on the President's blood samples, deliberately ignoring the interruption.

  Dev's brows creased, and she turned her head. "Doctor?"

  "Yes, Madam President?" he answered immediately, giving Dev his undivided attention.

  "Ms. Strayer just asked you a question. It would be in your best interest to answer her. Right now!" Dev growled, pale eyes flashing with sudden anger.

  The writer and doctor jumped, and the man fumbled with the tubes in his hands before settling them on the tray. "The President appears to have a serious case of Salmonellosis, which is commonly referred to as ‘food poisoning'. We believe the culprit was the shrimp from her dinner last night. The blood work is just a precaution."

  Lauren nodded slowly, trying not to lose her temper at the doctor's rudeness. They don't owe you an explanation. Get that through your head. “Thank you." She turned back to Dev and smiled sympathetically. "If you'd seen what I ate on my date last night, you'd never believe that you'd be the one who was sick in bed."

  A nurse approached Dev with a long needle and a tourniquet once again. "I'm sorry, Madam President. I'm afraid we need one more sample. One of your doctors just requested another series of tests be run." She shifted uneasily, not missing Lauren's wide-eyed stare. "This will need to go to a different lab. That's why we need another sample."

  "Oh, all right." Dev held out her arm.

  The color drained from Lauren's cheeks. "You're going to... right now..." Darkness invaded her peripheral vision, and her eyes rolled back in her head as she bonelessly lurched forward onto Devlyn.

  Dev looked down at the woman who had passed out right in her lap. She grinned tiredly at the doctor. "I swear to you, doc, this is not the normal reaction to being in bed with me."

  The doctor rolled his eyes and ordered the nurses to pull the limp blonde off the President. Dev chuckled and told them just to get Lauren settled next to her. The bed was queen-sized, and Dev wasn't quite ready to give up her hand. It made her feel better to know Lauren was close.

  On Dev's orders, reluctantly, one by one, the medical personnel and staff filed out of the room. Emma raised a sharp eyebrow at Dev and, with a nod from the President, left the door open a crack before leaving. After the blood had been drawn, then, and only then, was the young woman brought around with a little help from an ammonia capsule.

  Devlyn waved the powerful chemical capsule under Lauren's nose, and after only a few seconds, the shorter woman's head began to thrash. Confused eyes popped open, and she immediately sat up and looked around the room. She stared at Devlyn and then back at herself. "We're in bed together?"

  Dev coughed and laughed. "Yes. But I assure you, your integrity is firmly intact, Ms. Strayer. You passed out in my lap."

  "Oh, my God. I did, didn't I?" Her hands immediately went to her face, where she straightened her slightly askew glasses. Devlyn's hand covered her own, and before she knew it the glasses were slid off and placed on the nightstand. "Thank you." Lauren swallowed hard, feeling her stomach flutter, although this time it wasn't only because of worry.

  Dev smiled gently. "Would you do me a favor?"

  "Anything I can," Lauren answered sincerely.

  Dev completely bit back the request she wanted to make of the young woman and trudged on with her second choice. "Well, you see, when I'm sick, I'm like the biggest baby in the world." She smiled sheepishly. "I hate to be alone. Emma is far too busy with the children to sit here and hold my hand. Would you stay with me? We could work on the book if you like."

  Lauren nodded mutely. Of course she wanted to stay. If Devlyn hadn't asked, she would have offered. "But... um..." She gestured to their half-reclined, pajama-clad bodies. "Is this okay?"

  Dev took a deep breath. "Well, I have to be here like this, but umm" I can't believe I'm saying this. She looks so damn good with her hair all mussed and in her wrinkled pajamas. But I don't want her to be uncomfortable. “If you want to go get a shower and change, I think I can manage for a few minutes."

  Lauren was vaguely disappointed, but Devlyn's words caused her to suddenly feel self-conscious. "You're right. I don't know what I was thinking coming out of my room like this. I was just worried...

  Dev placed her fingers against Lauren's lips. "I'm glad you did. Thank you for being worried about me." Reluctantly, she pulled her hand back, struck by the softness of those coral lips.

  "But it's just food poisoning, right?" Lauren asked warily, her eyes flicking to the various pieces of medical equipment that were sitting around the room. "You'd tell me if it were more serious?"

  "This is just a precaution. If I weren't the President, I'd be left to my own devices just like any other normal human being. They're not worried about me. They're worried about their boss."

  Lauren frowned. "That's not true.” I’m worried about you.

  Dev's eyes started to grow heavy, and she wondered if the doctor had slipped a little something extra in her last dose of medication. "Sure it is. But you care" She couldn't help the fact that she was falling asleep right in the middle of the conversation. But she had been up all night.

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