Madam president, p.30

Madam President, page 30

 

Madam President
 



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  Her tone of voice made it clear that it would be wise for him to do as she asked. Judd nodded reluctantly.

  When the bathroom door opened Lauren rushed forward and fell to her knees, retching violently into the toilet.

  Dev grabbed her glasses just before Lauren lost them. Quickly shoving them into her pocket, she held back Lauren's fair hair with one hand and stroked her back with the other, offering quiet words of comfort.

  When she was finished, Lauren sat back on her heels. She was shivering a little, but she did feel much better. Dev handed her a cool glass of water and she rinsed her mouth out with the first sip, spitting it into the toilet and flushing it. Lauren greedily drank the rest of the glass down in one long swallow.

  "Better?"

  Dev's fingers were massaging her neck. She sighed at the coolness against her clammy skin. "Yeah. Much." Lauren grabbed a tissue and wiped her mouth. "Thank you so much." She exhaled raggedly. "This... it would be worse alone." Reaching behind her, she hugged Dev's legs.

  "You don't have to thank me, honey. This is what friends do.” And you won't ever face anything like this alone - not if I can help it.

  CHAPTER VIII

  August 2021

  Sunday, August 1st

  LAUREN'S FINGERS TYPED steadily across the keyboard as the kids played on the floor with Gremlin. A quick command had allowed her to disable the voice recognition input system. Now she was doing her work the old-fashioned way. But she didn't want to add to the noise in the room by talking over it. God only knew what the computer would do with the background noise that ranged from quiet giggles to levels just above a jumbo jet, depending on what mood struck the kids and dog.

  Right now, Gremlin was bouncing around them, yapping and barking and squirming between their legs as they played. To anyone else, his display would have seemed like that of a truly happy canine. But to Lauren's eyes, it was crystal clear that the pooch still wasn't himself. She was beginning to wonder if Dev wasn't right. Maybe he did need a doggy shrink. But the kids do seem to make him happy. If Lauren was sure of one thing in this life, it was that Grem was completely in love with the Marlowe children. She snorted inwardly. You're not the only one, buddy.

  Since she and Dev had returned home from her mother's funeral, the writer found herself using any excuse to spend a little extra time with the children, not to mention their mother. Dev had been wonderful. And Lauren was quite certain that if it hadn't been for her constant support and comfort... She shook her head, forcing herself to stop considering the painful thought. Dev had been there for her every step of the way, exceeding the expectations she'd previously placed on a friendship, much less a romance.

  Dev had pulled out all the stops, even managing to make sure that the family wasn't besieged by the Press at the funeral and during the quick burial service in the graveyard. The President of the United State's attendance alone was an invitation for chaos. But Dev had made it clear that she would stand by Lauren during this very emotional time. And that no one would 'suffer' because of her presence. Lauren had felt a pang deep in her chest when she heard the self-recrimination in Dev's voice. But the Press had been mostly absent and she wondered what favors Dev had called in just to make it happen.

  It wasn't until they were back home in Washington, DC, that a reporter caught Lauren and Dev on their way out of the White House and inquired as to the cause of her mother's death. To her dismay, the writer had burst into tears. Dev's growled 'No comment', coupled with a feral glare that would melt steel, had sent the reporter scurrying, and she hadn't been asked a question about it since.

  Even with the constant pressure, Dev had been a total rock. When the President's popularity took a five point dive during her trip with Lauren to Tennessee, she'd brushed it off with her typical graciousness, assuring Lauren that the numbers would rebound as her tax cut package cleared the House.

  Lauren felt the beginnings of tears. But they weren't sad ones. This time it was simple awe and appreciation over a relationship and a woman she'd come to count on and care about deeply that brought them to her eyes. She reached under her glasses and caught the tears on the tip of her finger. With a sniff, she wiped them away before they could fall and allowed a bittersweet smile to cross her lips. Despite the events of the last two weeks, Lauren had never been happier.

  She glanced at the children, who were now settling down with Gremlin and arguing over which cartoons to watch. Dev was very careful about what her children where exposed to when she was away from the residence. The television set was firmly locked on channels appropriate to their ages.

  The writer also knew that Dev preferred that the children play games or read over watching television. Lauren clicked the off switch, placed her handheld computer on the table, and moved over to the floor with the kids. "Hi, guys."

  They immediately stopped fussing when she joined them. "Hiya, Lauren!" Christopher grinned at the writer and scrunched up his nose as his face turned bright red.

  Lauren smiled back. You're too damned cute for your own good, Christopher. Just like your mama.

  Aaron simply scooted over closer to Lauren, slipping his hand into hers, then placing his head in the crook of her arm.

  Ashley rolled over on her back, turning soft brown eyes on the writer. "How do you feel?"

  Lauren was surprised at the question and blinked a couple of times. "Well, I'm... I'm okay, I guess."

  "It's okay to be sad."

  "You're right. It is," Lauren agreed quietly, knowing that Ashley had misunderstood her tears. She forgot sometimes that the children, even when they seemed as though they were off in their own world, were very aware of everything around them.

  "Yeah," the little girl breathed. "I was sad for a long time when my Mommy died."

  Lauren's smile was bittersweet. "My mama was very sick. There wasn't much-"

  Ash put her hand on Lauren's arm. "But it's still okay to be sad. Mom used to be sad all the time." Ashley's face suddenly brightened, and Lauren could not help but mirror her instant enthusiasm.

  "What happened?"

  "You came to live here."

  "Oh, yeah?" Lauren fought the urge to cry again, knowing that it would only confuse the kids. Besides, she was tired of crying. "That makes me feel really good, Ash. Thank you for telling me."

  Ashley shrugged, totally unaware of the significance her simple statement held for Lauren. "It was the truth."

  "What was the truth?" Dev asked as she strolled into the room. She wore an enormous grin.

  But Ashley was already focused back on the television.

  Lauren stood up to greet Dev. "It's not important." She narrowed her eyes. "Why do you look so happy, and why do I have a feeling I'm not going to like it?"

  Dev laughed. "I'd better watch myself. You're getting to know me far too well, Lauren Strayer."

  "Uh huh. That doesn't answer my question, Madam President. Spill it."

  "I just spoke with Julio, and he gave me the green light to start jogging again. My hip is as healed as it's going to get. We're going out right now as a matter of fact. Hence, my lovely outfit." Dev gestured down her body with one hand. She was wearing a navy blue T-shirt, running shoes, and gray gym shorts.

  The smile fell from Lauren's face. "Great," she said with a hundred percent false enthusiasm. "You know how much I love to jog."

  Devlyn laughed. "Oh, I certainly do. But if you'd rather, I can just tell Michael Oaks that you're not up to it."

  Lauren stepped close enough so that only Dev could hear what she said. "That was such a low blow," she teased. "Do you really think I can be baited so easily?"

  "Yes."

  "True."

  Dev looked down at her shoes. "Actually, I was hoping to invite just you and the number of agents that David will let me get away with."

  Dev's head was tilted downward, but Lauren could see the contemplative, serious look on her face. "It's been a couple of months..." she continued, talking about her hip and the physical therapy, and Laur
en eventually caught a clue.

  She's embarrassed about how slow she's going to be. Before, she could keep up with even the most fit agents. This is an easy one to help you out with, darlin'. "You know, Devlyn, for the last couple of months we've been working out in the gym and walking, but I really haven't been running. Do you think that maybe I could run up in the front with you, but that you could take it easy on me? Just until I get back in shape?"

  Dev's eyes lit up. "Sure," she agreed enthusiastically. "I mean, if you really want me to, that is."

  Devlyn had a healthy ego, but was truly egotistical about precious few things. Her fitness level, however, happened to be one of them. Lauren enjoyed indulging her friend where she could. And was happy to do it here. That, however, didn't stop her from nearly having to bite her lip through to keep from smiling. "If you wouldn't mind too much, it would really help me out if we could go extra slow for a while." Lauren gave Dev a hug and whispered in her ear, "I'm so glad your hip is doing so well, Devlyn." She held Dev a little tighter, the thought of the shooting sending a dull ache to her heart. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been okay. I-"

  "Hey." Dev felt a tremor run through the smaller woman, and she tightened her hold, her mind racing to catch up with what had just happened. "It's okay." She pressed her cheek against the top of Lauren's head, hearing and feeling a series of unexpected sniffles. Dev didn't say anything for a moment so that Lauren would have a little time to get herself together.

  "You okay?" Dev finally burred.

  Lauren nodded against her shoulder. "I didn't mean to do that. I think it's been building all day."

  "It happens," Dev said quietly. "You're doing great. Better than I would under the same circumstances." If my mother had hung herself in the living room... Jesus.

  Lauren snorted. "Somehow I doubt that." She lifted her head and looked at Dev's T-shirt. "I got you all wet."

  "Like I give a damn."

  Lauren gave Dev a watery smile. "Thank you."

  "For what?"

  "For everything. For being there when I needed you. For giving me the opportunity of a lifetime with this job. For just... just everything." Lauren exhaled in frustration, unhappy that she wasn't able to articulate what she wanted to say any better than that.

  She's thanking me? When the mere thought of being without her makes me physically ill? "Don't be silly, Lauren. I didn't do anything anybody else wouldn't have done."

  Gray eyes flashed. "Wanna bet?"

  "Lauren." Dev drew out the word.

  "You dropped everything to be there for me." Lauren shook her head. "No... Nobody-"

  "Else is as lucky as I am," Dev finished for her. She lifted Lauren's chin with two fingers. "And I intend to keep it that way."

  Lauren surged forward and kissed her soundly, willing Dev to understand every emotion she was feeling, and just how much she cared for her. She broke away giggling when the kids began screaming 'ewwww' and 'gross', and Ashley broke in with the kissing song.

  "Aren't they romantic?" Dev asked drolly. "Little demons." She shot her offspring an evil look that still somehow managed to look smug.

  Lauren blinked at Christopher, who was giving his mother a miniature version of her very own challenging, arched eyebrow glare. "Oh, boy." She winced. Dev gets to take care of that little man. "Okay, I need to go get changed if I'm going to let you torture me."

  "You don't have to come." Dev smiled. Lauren was going to come, and she damn well knew it. Once she said she was going to do something, she never backed out.

  "I know. But I will." She jogged back over to the sofa and picked up her tiny computer.

  "We need to get you an office."

  "I don't want an office," Lauren insisted. This was about the tenth time she had told Dev that since moving into the White House. "I like the view from the desk in my room. I just wanted to visit the kids today. Besides, the cherry blossoms were fabulous this spring. I looked out at them every day while I was supposed to be working." Her eyes twinkled. Say it. You know it's the truth. "I'm already looking forward to seeing them again next year."

  Dev tried to hide the smile on her face by pursing her lips together, which didn't work. So then she bit the inside of her cheek. But that only held it at bay for a second or two. She had the nearly overwhelming urge to jump up and down like a little kid and scream, 'Thank you, Lord!' Instead, she reached out and pulled Lauren closer, kissing the tip of her nose. The relief that flooded through her was almost enough to knock her off her feet. She needed something to hold on to. "You're not looking forward to it nearly as much as I am, sweetheart."

  Thursday, August 12th

  Dev knocked on the door with her elbow. She let out a disgusted breath even as she glanced at the heavy crate in her arms. Leaning the box against the wall, she lifted her hand to knock again, but the crate shifted, and she decided she shouldn't risk it. The President set the box down and pounded on the door with her fist. "Come on, Strayer! I know you're in there. You and that little demon you live with can run but you can't hide!" She narrowed her eyes at a passing staffer whom she swore had sniggered at her.

  Lauren pulled the door open and tugged her glasses from her face. "I was on the phone with the Attorney General. Did you know she thinks you're cute?"

  Dev smirked. "I am cute. But would you like to see what is not cute?" She bent over and retrieved the box. "Well? Aren't you going to invite me in?"

  "Oh, sure." Lauren stepped aside so Dev could fit past her. She cocked her head and looked at the crate "What's up, Devlyn?"

  "Where's that little monster you live with?"

  "Grem?" She shrugged. "I'm not sure. He's around here somewhere." That was a lie, and she knew it. Lauren had seen him scoot his chubby butt under her bed an hour ago. She wasn't one hundred percent certain he was still there. But then again, she hadn't seen him crawl out either. The poor pooch had been so despondent lately, she just didn't think he was up to a showdown with Devlyn. "Why?" she asked warily. What have you done now, Grem?!

  "Because I intend to sue him for pupamoney. Or pup support! Or, or, arghhhhh... something!"

  Oooo, there's that little pulsing vein in her forehead again. "What are you talking about?" Lauren chuckled.

  Dev flipped the lid off the crate to reveal an enormous, bloated, miserably pregnant Pomeranian. The female lifted her tired head and whimpered softly, before letting it drop to the bottom of the crate in defeat. "You remember my mom's prized, pure breed, show dog?" Dev tapped her foot impatiently. "This is all that's left of her!"

  Lauren burst out laughing and backed up a step from a glaring Dev. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" She continued to laugh.

  "It's not funny! I'm in trouble with my mom. If she could reach my butt with her wooden spoon, it would be bright red by now!"

  Dev's comments did nothing to curb Lauren's snorts of laughter. "Your mother will forgive you anything, and you know it. Besides, how do you know he did this?" she challenged uselessly, covering her smile with her hand. "He couldn't have been the only male dog in the area."

  Dev lifted an eyebrow. "Look how unhappy she is." She pointed to the dog whose enormous belly forced her to lie on her side like a mutant pig. "Only sleeping with Gremlin could make a dog look that pathetic!"

  Lauren rolled her eyes. But when she peeked down at the former champion again, she couldn't help but wince. "Oooooo... that's why I'm never having children." Time to face the music, buddy. But I'd be more afraid of facing that Pomeranian than Devlyn. Lauren turned her head and gave a soft whistle. "Gremlin, get your snaggle-toothed little ass out here."

  The pudgy beast slowly crawled out from under the bed. Suddenly, he stopped and sniffed the air. His tail began to wag furiously, and he broke into what almost resembled a run. Unfortunately, he wasn't very good at almost running, and hit the crate head on, causing Dev and Lauren to jump back in surprise. But Gremlin's face was already basically flat, so he was completely unaffected. His chunky rear end wiggled wildly as he tried to
use stubby back legs to climb into the crate.

  The Pomeranian, 'Princess', began to whine, and her tail began to wag too, thumping rhythmically against the bottom of the crate.

  "Ah ha!" Dev accused.

  "That's not proof!" Lauren cringed when the rotund Pom tried to sit up to greet her now howling pet. "Okay," she admitted, "that's proof."

  The writer took pity on Grem and hoisted him up into the crate, setting him gently next to Princess. That wasn't an easy task, considering lifting Gremlin was like lifting a small torpedo, and both dogs were shaking so hard it looked like they were having spasms. "Well, what do ya know?"

  The dogs immediately started nuzzling each other, with Gremlin purring like a cat the entire time.

  "He looks so happy now! They must have been missing each other." Awwww... Grem you romantic devil, you. You were pining for your sweetheart all this time. "Isn't that sweet, Devlyn?"

 
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