Madam President, page 50
Dev padded over to Lauren who was still watching quietly with a grin plastered across her face. "Mornin'. Sort of," Dev whispered, placing a soft kiss on Lauren's lips. She wrapped her arms around the smaller woman.
"Mornin', darlin'." Lauren squeezed Dev back, sinking deeply into the warm embrace.
"I fell asleep."
Lauren laughed. "I know. I'm sorry. I crashed myself, or I would have come and gotten you."
"Did the kids ask-"
Lauren shook her head and led Dev by the elbow to the couch, where they both dropped down with twin groans. "Ashley blamed your being passed out under the tree like an old drunk on the Secret Service."
Dev laughed, then smacked Lauren's arm playfully. "I was asleep," she whispered loudly. "That is not the same thing as passed out!"
Lauren stuck out her tongue.
"I need coffee," Dev whined.
"Me too. I'll get some coffee for us and some juice or something for the kids."
"You don't have to do that." Dev's protest was half-hearted. "We just sat down. I can wait."
"Please." Lauren rolled her eyes knowingly. "You're the biggest coffee addict I know. And besides, if I don't get some caffeine soon myself, I'll die. And I hear that sort of thing is a real downer on Christmas morning."
"Thank you." Dev wrapped her arm around Lauren's shoulders as they both stood. "I love you."
Lauren bumped hips with Dev. "I love you too."
"It seems strange without Emma around," Dev commented, not quite ready to let Lauren go.
"True," Lauren allowed, smiling at Ashley's squeal of delight when the little girl discovered some brightly colored nail polish in her stocking. "But the woman does deserve a vacation. I can't believe you sent her and her sister on a cruise. That was so sweet. It's all she's talked about the last two weeks."
Dev shrugged and found something interesting about her feet. "She deserved it."
"I know." Lauren smiled indulgently and gave Dev a little shove. "Go on, take some pictures and start passing out presents. I'll be right back with some coffee. Maybe I can bribe a couple of agents into taking Gremlin and Princess for a quick walk, too."
"A couple? Why not just one?"
"They're still not talking to each other."
Dev looked confused. "The agents?"
"No, Grem and Princess."
Dev snorted disgustedly.
Lauren winked at her lover then lifted her hand to gently rake her fingers through dark, disheveled bangs that were sticking out in several directions. "Then we can find out what Santa left for you under the tree."
Dev leered at the blonde, wriggling her eyebrows. Her voice dropped to a purr as she pressed her lips to Lauren's ear. "I thought I got my present last night."
Lauren blushed, then burst into embarrassed laughter. She glanced towards the kids who were lost in their own world of chocolate, toys, books, and clothes. What could be better? "Well, I consider that the gift that keeps on giving."
"If I'm lucky."
The biographer smacked Dev on the bottom and turned for the kitchen. "Trust me, Devlyn," she said, smiling over her shoulder. "We're both lucky."
* * *
David knocked on Dev's door for the third time. It was nearly 11:00 A.M., and Dev was expecting them. The agent outside the door could only shrug. He'd heard movement in the apartment very early this morning, but since walking Gremlin several hours ago, and taking him back to the President's apartment, he hadn't heard a blessed thing.
"Good Lord, David, just open the door!" Beth moaned. Her arms were full of gifts, and the puppy Dev had given them as a ‘gift' was jumping anxiously at their feet. "The kids will be up; it's not like we'll catch Dev and Lauren naked on the couch or anything."
"Of course not!" David snorted. Then he paused and started to truly consider what his wife had just proposed.
Beth rolled her eyes and pushed passed David. "Keep dreaming, pervert. But it will never happen." She juggled her packages and turned the knob. "Hello?" She stuck her head around the door and peered into the room. "Awwww... we should have brought a camera."
The living room was strewn with bright-colored wrapping paper, and Bing Crosby was softly crooning about a ‘White Christmas'. The lights were off, except for the tree, and the fragrant scents of pine, burning oak, and chocolate filled the air.
David and Beth moved quietly farther into the room, and David bent down to let his puppy off his leash. The little dog immediately toddled towards the Christmas tree, where he carefully navigated his way between the piles of open boxes and paper. He found a large stuffed bear and plopped down next to it, closing his eyes. The puppy had seen Dev and fully intended to bare his teeth in a ferocious growl. He was saving it for after his nap.
The McMillians looked at each other with huge smiles on their faces. Dev was sound asleep on the sofa, wearing a Santa hat and a sweater that still had tags hanging from its arm and neck. Tucked safely in her arms was Lauren, who was snoring softly and clad in a worn T-shirt, pajama bottoms, and new snow boots.
All three children were asleep in various parts of the room. Aaron was half under the tree, and Beth had to duck down to see the little boy's face. He was asleep in a pile of candy wrappers with chocolate staining most of his cheeks and lips.
Christopher was slumped in a chair, a half-completed puzzle in his lap and a racing car at his feet. He wore a crisp Hawaiian print shirt, complete with tags, over his navy blue, footie pajamas.
The small brunette was stretched out on her belly in front of the fire, which had burned down to bright orange coals. Ashley was snoring louder than Lauren and wore a pair of sunglasses and a white baseball hat that proudly proclaimed ‘Tennessee Volunteers' in bright orange letters. She held a Barbie loosely in one hand and a comb in the other. Barbie's blonde mane was standing straight up.
Gremlin was snuggled up against one side of the little girl with Princess snuggled up to the other. Doggy estrangement was an odd thing.
Blue eyes opened wearily, and Dev gave a little wave to her guests, careful not to jostle Lauren. "Merry Christmas," she mouthed silently, tightening her hold on the woman sleeping in her arms before closing her eyes.
Beth and David deposited their packages on the ground in front of the tree. David held a hand out to his wife as they wandered over to an empty loveseat. They sat down quietly and snuggled together, closing their eyes. It had been a solid month of formal parties, visiting dignitaries, tuxedos, banquets, champagne, gowns and speeches. Both David and Beth let out a long, contented sigh. They always did like the Marlowes' idea of a quiet family holiday.
Monday, December 27th
David watched from the wings as Sharon continued her morning briefing of the Press. He was expecting the room to go up in flames in about thirty seconds. David glanced at his watch, wondering how Dev managed to live without one. Then again, I don't have Liza following around after me, briefing me on my agenda every five minutes.
"And, finally, the White House is happy to announce the engagement of President Marlowe to Ms. Lauren Strayer of Nashville, Tennessee. The President and Ms. Strayer became engaged just before Christmas and will be wed in the President's home state of Ohio sometime next year. No official date has been set for the wedding."
David smiled at the collective gasp that went through the group. He watched carefully as it took everyone a moment to grasp what Sharon had just said. Then the room erupted in a flurry of questions.
"Who proposed?" the newest CNN correspondent managed to get out first.
"One of the two parties involved," Sharon offered with an absolutely straight face.
Half the room groaned while the other half chuckled. When Sharon responded with this kind of answer... they weren't going to get a damned thing out of her, and they knew it.
Another question. "Where did the proposal take place?"
Sharon sighed inwardly, wishing that Dev had been a little more forthcoming with the details. "The President and Ms. Strayer were at ho
The Washington Post reporter politely raised his hand, and Sharon pointed to him. "When exactly did this happen?" he asked.
Sharon looked over at the reporter and resisted the urge to be a smartass. "A few days before Christmas. If possible, I will provide more details at a future press conference," Sharon said again. Ah... my new mantra.
"What were the circumstances of the President's proposal?" The man from the Times held his tape recorder high in the air.
"The exact circumstances surrounding the proposal are a private matter for the happy couple."
Another groan from the more seasoned reporters. That was Sharon speak for ‘You're never gonna get that particular bit of information'.
David's smile shifted into a shit eatin' grin. He just loved the way Sharon handled the Press. That's it, Sharon; give them your world famous ‘bite me' answers.
A new reporter from the Boston Globe caught Sharon's eye from the back of the room. "Is this a push by the President for all states to legalize same sex marriages?"
Ahh... an intelligent, if inappropriate, question. "Absolutely not. This is simply an announcement by the White House to keep the public informed." Sharon sighed and looked down at the podium, even though she had absolutely no notes on the subject. David had told her only moments before, explaining that Dev was so damned excited she was practically shouting from the roof tops, so Sharon had better make the announcement before it leaked out. Sharon nodded to a tall, black man in the front row.
"Will Ms. Strayer be taking over the traditional duties of First Lady? And will she continue work on the President's biography?"
Sharon pushed her hands into her blazer pocket and stepped away from the podium. "Ms. Strayer will continue to write the President's biography. As far as taking over the duties of the First Lady, that will be for Ms. Strayer to decide for herself."
"Will the Press be invited to the wedding?"
"I know this is all very exciting, and it's been a hundred years or so since the last Presidential wedding, but this is simply an announcement of the engagement. No wedding plans have been made yet, so the guest list is obviously undecided."
"Will Ms. Strayer continue to live at the White House? Has she moved into President Marlowe's room?"
"Ms. Strayer will continue to maintain her own room within the residence until after the wedding. Just as she has done since her arrival here at the beginning of the year."
David smirked as he watched Sharon finish up the briefing with the announcement that she would take one more question.
"Has a spot for a Presidential honeymoon been selected?"
"Nothing has been decided as of yet. As soon as the President and Ms. Strayer decide to release more information regarding their nuptials, and plans for after, I will let you know. Let's take things one step at a time." Sharon moved back to the podium and picked up her notes. "Have a good day, ladies and gentleman; I'll see you at the five o'clock briefing."
With that, Sharon strode off the small stage and joined David. She nudged him as they began the walk back to the West Wing. "Couldn't she have just declared war on someone? I would have been much better prepared to answer questions about that."
David chuckled. "Ah, Sharon, don't you get it? Knowing Dev's, but most especially Lauren's, penchant for privacy..."
The Press Secretary groaned, imagining the endless questions that Dev and Lauren would never provide the answers to just for spite. "David?"
"I want a raise."
Friday, December 31st
It was late, and together Dev and Lauren had tucked the children in before returning to the living room. Dev jammed her hand in her pocket, feeling for the ring box nestled deep inside. She wondered for the hundredth time if she should just go ahead and give it to Lauren. So what if she wasn't going to be doing any asking. She'd still gotten it for Lauren. Dev was old fashioned enough to want her wife wearing a wedding ring from her. But, to her dismay, she wasn't sure exactly how Lauren would feel.
Dev had been totally thrown when Lauren proposed to her. Thrilled, but thrown. All those weeks of worry and planning had gone up in a glorious poof of smoke in the wake of Lauren's natural tendency to cut straight to the chase. It was a characteristic that Dev adored. But, in this one instance, it left her not quite knowing what to do with herself or the ring in her pocket.
The writer's face crinkled into a smile, and she sucked in a deep breath of pine-scented air. The presents were gone from beneath the tree, but Dev had insisted it remain up until New Year's. To take it down even a day early was to risk bad luck for the entire new year. Lauren shook her head at the surprisingly superstitious custom that came from such a reasonable, down-to-earth family.
The President took a calming breath and screwed up her courage. Just because Lauren wanted to get married didn't mean she'd wear the ring. She sighed and tightened her hand around the box. "Lauren?"
It had been years since Lauren had a Christmas tree, and it was downright embarrassing how happy the simple but comforting tradition made her feel. "Mmmm... nice." She turned to Dev and extended her hand, wrapping her fingers around Dev's, which were slightly chilled, and pulling Dev down onto the carpet to join her in front of the tree. "What's up?"
"Ahhh ..." Dev's mind went blank for a moment, and the muscles in her face twitched nervously. It was stupid, she knew, since she wasn't actually proposing. But still... it was as close as she hoped to ever come again. She licked her lips and cleared her throat a little. "You remember when I told you that I was working on the most important thing I had ever done, and that as soon as I could talk to you about it, you'd be the first to know?"
"Sure." Lauren leaned forward, her curiosity brimming. But thoughts of that evening and their nasty argument caused her to wince internally. Then and there, despite the fact that it was several hours before midnight, Lauren made her New Year's resolution. Well, she admitted privately, it was more of a vow than a resolution, but it would have to do. She'd been given an extraordinary chance at happiness with Devlyn and her children, and she was going to do whatever it took to hold on to it. She'd never had so much to gain and so much to lose at the same time. And she promised herself that when things got scary, and she knew they would, she would hang on tight, and ride the storm out, secure in the knowledge that what awaited her afterward would be more than worth the sacrifice. Wow. Who knew being in love would make me so profound?
Dev turned over the hand she was holding and placed the box in the center of Lauren's palm, curling small fingers around it. "Well... I love you. And this is it." Dev wasn't sure how to explain, so she babbled nervously as Lauren's gaze darted from the box to Dev and back again. "I had it made for you." She bit her lip as Lauren cracked open the black velvet lid. "That's what took so long. I... um... I hope you like it."
Lauren blinked stupidly at the ring, too shocked to really take in its detail, as her mind processed exactly what it symbolized. The most important thing she'd ever done. Oh, God. Her gaze jerked up to meet Dev's very serious-looking face. "You were going to propose?"
Dev nodded. "Yes," she said quietly.
Lauren felt a sinking sensation in her belly. "And the night we quarreled, and you left for an appointment you couldn't tell me about?"
The President laid a hand on Lauren's leg. "Oh, sweetheart, that's not important." She gestured towards the ring with her chin, her eyes hopeful. "Can I put it on your finger?" When Lauren didn't answer, Dev began reaching for the box.
Lauren grabbed Dev's hands, stopping their motion. Her voice was low and harsh and startled Dev with its sound. "I'm so, so sorry."
Dark brows drew together as Dev searched Lauren's face, not quite understanding whether she was declining or accepting the ring. Her heart began to thud in her chest when she saw tears in Lauren's eye
"For the argument. Things got so out of hand. If I'd only known-"
"Stop," the President interrupted, taking a few seconds to let out a long, slow breath. Dev felt nearly lightheaded with relief. She's not turning it down. At least not yet. She smiled and carefully plucked the ring from the box Lauren still had clutched in her hand. "Sweetheart, if you had known," she took Lauren's left hand in hers and slipped the ring on her finger, "it wouldn't have been much of a surprise, now would it?" Then she held her breath and waited.
Lauren gasped when she got a good look at the ring. The heavy platinum band was so wide it nearly touched her second knuckle. In its center was nestled a large, flat, rectangular emerald with four small diamonds clustered at its corners. The twinkling glow of the Christmas lights reflected off the dark, green stone. "Oh, Devlyn." Lauren made a fist and held it up a little, allowing the diamonds to pick up the light and sparkle gently. "It's so beautiful," she said reverently, running the tip of her index finger over it.