Madam president, p.7

Madam President, page 7

 

Madam President
 



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  They were becoming friends. Lauren could feel it. And while professionally she was certain this was a bad idea, personally she couldn't dredge up a single drop of will power to fight against it. She liked Devlyn Marlowe. And the more she got to know her, the more she wanted to know.

  During the times she wasn't trailing after the President like a wayward puppy, Lauren was researching Devlyn's family tree, consulting several well-known genealogists and even a cultural geographer. While Devlyn's lineage wasn't going to be the focus of the biography any more than the campaign was, most readers seemed to appreciate it if you started at the beginning. Though, on occasion, Lauren would skip around chronologically and focus on the present day, trying to fit pieces of information with other bits and scraps of knowledge that would ultimately paint a portrait of an American President and a truly unique woman.

  Lauren had already turned up at least one interesting tidbit that had required considerable digging. All evidence pointed to the fact that Devlyn's great, great, great Grandfather was a Native American. Chippewa to be precise. And the biographer suspected that Devlyn could trace her dark hair, lightly tanned complexion, and angular bone structure back to this side of her family. It was likely that this information had never come to light before because, by the early 1800s, the Marlowe family had evolved from French fur trappers into society bluebloods. And in 19th century America, having an Indian lover was something no daughter of privilege would have ever admitted to.

  Lauren turned the page in her notebook. She dropped her pen when the newest pile of photographs she'd taken caught her eye. One in particular captured her attention, and she pulled it from the stack.

  It was of Dev and the kids, stretched out on the floor of the residence living room. Dev was sprawled on her back, holding a book slightly above her face, and the children were all lying on her, their heads each resting on a different body part. It was a fairytale, Lauren recalled. She had been invited to spend the evening with the family and remembered enjoying the story nearly as much as the children. Dev looked younger, her face relaxed and happy. Dark hair spilled onto the light-colored carpet, and her blue eyes stood out vividly against the shadows created by the book and the fireplace.

  The writer sighed audibly as she traced the photograph carefully, lingering over Devlyn's face. She has such interesting eyes and lips. So expressive.

  It was a beautiful picture. A portrait of domestic bliss that, to Lauren, looked as alien as it did comforting. For the most part, her own childhood had been unremarkable. While not overly loving, it wasn't abusive either and was characterized more by simple indifference than anything else.

  Her parents were stuck in their roles as 'provider' and 'keeper of the house', and she always considered them in a never-ending rut. Each living out his and her lot in life with a stoic acceptance of their place in the world and an almost intentional blind eye to their own happiness or the happiness of those around them.

  Lauren's own dreams of travel and education were neither encouraged nor discouraged. And she learned very early on that she was expected to make her own way in life, unburdened by the sentimentality and support of family. Still, she loved them, and felt that love timidly returned in the form of actions, if not words.

  There were sporadic moments of harshness amidst the general blandness of her youth, but she didn't dwell on them. She had grown up and gotten out, saving most of her contact with her parents for her monthly telephone calls home and short visits home at the holidays. Lauren glanced at the photograph again, and a bittersweet smile flickered across her lips before disappearing completely. No. She shook her head a little. Her childhood hadn't been anything like that.

  She compared the photo in her hand to several others where Dev was in full Chief Executive mode, exuding power, intellect, and an unsurpassed determination. Lauren grinned in amazement. Each picture perfectly suited a different aspect of the President's personality. She was never 'in' or 'out' of character as so many people were. These were all Devlyn. Every last one.

  At first, four years studying Devlyn and her life sounded like more of a prison sentence than an opportunity.

  Now Lauren wondered whether four would be nearly enough.

  Friday, February 19th

  "Well," David stood directly in front of the boss' desk, a thick stack of newspapers in his arms. "Twenty four days isn't quite a month."

  Dev didn't even bother to look up; she just sighed and extended her hand. "What?" she asked in a voice that wavered somewhere between amused and annoyed.

  "I." He dropped a copy of the Washington Post on the desk under her nose. "Told." Next came the New York Times. "You." Followed by the Los Angeles Times. "So." Then he just tossed the rest of the stack, which consisted of a majority of the papers with the largest circulation in the United States.

  Dev picked through them until she found The Columbus Dispatch. "Oh, look. They're trying to figure out what caused the explosion at the gunpowder factory." She drew a deep breath, pursing her lips and covering them with a finger as her face scrunched up in contemplation. "Could it be... oh, I dunno... gunpowder?"

  "Top half of the front page, Madam Smartass." David flipped the paper over and pinned it to the desk with a long, ruddy finger. He gestured with his chin.

  Devlyn made a show of squinting at the page. "You mean that tiny, little one column, barely two inches long announcement that a biographer has been hired?" She snorted. "Big deal."

  "That one is nice to you because it's your home state, and you know it. The New York Post is comparing you to Bill Clinton and wants to know if you and Lauren are playing house inside the White House."

  She grinned rakishly. "No, but you can call the AMA and let them know I wouldn't mind playing doctor..." Dev instantly bit down on her tongue and chanced another glance up into David's wide, practically bulging, brown eyes. "You didn't hear that." She shook her finger at David. "I didn't say that!"

  "Oh, yes, I did! And, oh, yes, you did!" He nervously tugged at his tie. This was not good. No. Actually, this was outright bad. "Deeeeeeev," he drew out her name menacingly.

  "What happened to Madam President? Hell, I even liked Wonder Woman better than Deeeeeeeev." She imitated his worried tone perfectly.

  "What aren't you telling me here?"

  His voice was low and stern, and Dev felt like a child caught with her hand firmly entrenched in the cookie jar. "Nothing, I swear." She crossed her heart. "Nothing is going on; nothing will be going on." Dev frowned, unable to keep how she felt about that prospect from showing on her face. "She's writing a book, and I'm the subject of that book. End of story."

  "Me thinks thou doth protest too much." David pushed aside Dev's steaming mug of coffee and leaned forward. "Something is going on between you and Lauren Strayer, isn't it?"

  "No." She looked him straight in the eye.

  He searched her face. She was telling the truth. So far. "Do you want something to be going on between you and Lauren Strayer?" David carefully enunciated the words, not giving her a way out.

  Devlyn's eyes went slightly round. She wasn't expecting that. Damn you, David. "No." Then she shook her head, knowing that was a bald-faced lie. "I mean 'yes'." But that wasn't quite the truth either. "Shit! I mean, 'maybe'." Jesus Christ, I sound like a hard core Democrat. "I don't know, David."

  David's eyes softened at the look of distress and confusion on his friend's face. He backed off a little, sitting on the edge of the desk and dropping his hands to his lap as he waited for Devlyn to continue.

  "I know that when I'm in the room with her, I feel like a giddy teenager. I find myself thinking about her all the time. Wondering what she's doing. What she's thinking." Why she always smells so nice and what she's wearing, she added privately. Dev stood, turning around to stare out the window and into the dingy, gray, winter sky. "I think I've been alone so long that I'd forgotten what it's like to spend time with someone new, where it felt easy... comfortable."

  "Lauren doesn't want anything from
me except for me to talk and be myself. I mean... I know she's just doing her job." She shrugged one shoulder. "But it feels like more. Like she really cares about what I think and feel. Not like I'm under her microscope."

  He blew out a frustrated breath. David didn't want to see his friend hurt. And Lauren could devastate both her career and her heart. But it was time that Devlyn started living again. Samantha had been the love of her life. But that life was over. And Dev had embarked on a new one the moment her wife had died. David was more than anxious to acknowledge that it was okay to feel again... even if the timing and circumstances sucked great big donkey balls. "Feels good, doesn't it?"

  She nodded without turning around, but he caught her weak smile in the window's reflection. "Yeah," she admittedly softly. A pause. "It really does."

  David allowed the conversation to dwindle down, which was never very hard to do when Dev was working through something in her mind. The tall woman was prone to lapse into long moments of silence as she thought, even if it was in the middle of a conversation. He chewed at his mustache for a moment, and just as he was about to speak again, there was a knock on the door, and Liza entered the office.

  "I'm sorry for the interruption, Madam President." Liza gave her watch a perfunctory glance – the eighth one in the past five minutes. "It's time for your press conference."

  "Don't make that girl use a cattle prod," Jane called from somewhere behind Liza.

  Liza smothered a smile. Jane would say anything to her boss, and, to Liza, President Marlowe's secretary from Ohio walked on water... a goddess of the highest order.

  Dev rolled her eyes, properly chastised by Jane. "Right. Of course." She turned and retrieved her jacket from the coat rack, handing it to David. As per their ritual, he held it for her, and she shrugged into it, buttoning all the buttons as he smoothed the shoulders. It was simple and intimate in a way that spoke of their affection and true friendship. Dev had done the same thing for him on many occasions.

  The President picked an imaginary piece of lint off the black, wool blazer. "Send copies of those to Lauren." She motioned toward the stack of newspapers. "I don't want her blindsided. And could you... umm... tell her I'm sorry about all this?"

  David nodded. "I've already done it. And I asked her to skip the press conference today, too. I told her you'd call her right after."

  "Good man. I knew there was a reason I kept you."

  "Yeah, my charming personality and good looks."

  Dev burst out laughing. She punched David in the gut, making him instantly regret stopping at the McDonald's drive-thru for breakfast. "No, it's because you're the best damn handler in the business, and we both know it." Dev reached out and took the note cards from Liza and placed them in her left pocket.

  "Are you saying I'm not good looking?" He squared his shoulders indignantly and wrinkled his slightly pug nose.

  Devlyn grinned. "I'd never say that. Your wife would kick my butt."

  "Madam President, we really need to go," Liza reminded, already walking to the door.

  "Cattle prod time!" was heard from somewhere in the distance.

  * * *

  Lauren opened the folded paper, her mouth still hanging open from the last article she had read. Impossibly her face turned a darker shade of red as she scanned the words. "Playing house? The President's little blonde toy? Hanky Panky Washington Style?"

  She crumpled the paper and tossed it onto the pile of balled-up newspapers on the floor by her bed. "Arrrggghhhhhh! You—slimy—sons of bitches!" Then she read the byline and snorted angrily, tearing the article with her name and horrific college yearbook photo right out of the paper. "You were an asshole in college, Marjorie. And you're still one!"

  Gremlin whined and buried himself under Lauren's pillow.

  A toneless but soothing female voice rang out in Lauren's room. "Estimated time to press conference, one minute. Activate image feed."

  "Activation authorized... umm... um... crap... 186... um... 1868... ugh! Pause activation."

  She tried valiantly to remember the number, her hands flailing the entire time. Michael Oaks had informed her that the last four digits of her social security number were an unacceptable password and had insisted she come up with another one. Lauren agreed just so he would shut up and leave her room. She'd been sorry ever since.

  Grabbing Gremlin by his back legs, she pulled the pooch out from under her pillow. "Get...," she snatched a squirming leg and gave another tug as he tried to scramble back under her pillow, "...get out of there, you coward! I'm not mad at you!"

  Once she freed him, she flipped him over and peered down at his dog collar, the shiny tags reflecting off her glasses. She raised her voice and read aloud his license number. "Activation authorized 18686GH89ZDC." Let someone figure out that code! she thought defiantly.

  The video image popped into being, and a life-size Devlyn was now standing next to Press Secretary Allen, a few feet from her podium in the press room, and in front of Lauren's desk. The writer's first thought was that the image that had once seemed so vivid and intense, paled in comparison to the real woman. Of course, I was stoned at the time.

  Gremlin began to growl at the dark-haired women. Though even in the best of circumstances, he couldn't quite muster 'ferocious'.

  "Hush!" Lauren wrapped her palm around Gremlin's slightly damp mouth and pulled him into her lap. "And for the last time, you can't bite that... it's just an image."

  He gave a hopeful whine, wiggling his bottom as he got comfortable.

  Lauren rolled her eyes. "You can't bite the real thing either. It's about to start... quiet." She absently kissed the top of his head and folded her legs up underneath her Indian style, staring intently. "Devlyn will take care of this." Lauren nodded. "They won't know what hit 'em."

  Dev shifted back and forth, waiting for the Press Secretary to introduce her. She couldn't help but wonder how Lauren was taking this news. Lauren is a reasonable, mature woman. She'll understand that this was inevitable and really couldn't be helped.

  "Tear 'em to shreds, Dev!" Lauren crowed eagerly.

  "Ladies and gentlemen, President Marlowe will now take a few questions on the topics we've covered this morning." Press Secretary Allen adjusted the microphone on the podium so that it was more suitable for the President's height.

  Dev stepped out, and the cameras were turned on her. When she took her place, her gaze immediately drifted to where Lauren usually stood. Holding in the sigh, and hoping the disappointment didn't show on her face, Devlyn greeted the press. "Good morning."

  Murmurs of 'Madam President' and 'Mornin’ answered her.

  Devlyn shuffled her notes on the podium. "Let's start with the DNA Registration Act, shall we?" She pointed to a man in the front row and smiled. "Let's have it, Bill. I know you're dying to get into this."

  The balding reporter from the Chicago Tribune stood and adjusted the mini-recorder he held in one hand and the notepad he held in the other, jumbling them for just a second as he settled himself. "Actually, Madam President, what can you tell us about Lauren Strayer?"

  Lauren all but snarled. "Set him straight, Dev."

  Dev's expression hardened just a bit, but she answered smoothly, "She's a very talented biographer, and I'm delighted she's agreed to write mine."

  "What?" Lauren exclaimed to Dev's image. She released Gremlin, who stuck his non-existent nose under the edge of the comforter and scooted underneath it to hide again. "That's it?" The writer's tone was incredulous. "That's all you're going to say?"

  Dev gestured to a woman in the middle of the room. "C'mon, Kathleen. I'm sure you can do better than that."

  The correspondent from CNN rose to her feet, pushing a lock of hair from her eyes. "I don't know about that, Madam President. Maybe you could fill us in on the details, like when did Ms. Strayer move into the White House, and why wasn't she put in VIP quarters? Why the residence? There was no press release to that effect. What are you hiding?"

  "Nothing, you moron!
We're hiding nothing!" Lauren tore her glasses from her face and tossed them onto the bed.

  Dev raised a sharp eyebrow at the CNN reporter. "Just because I don't disclose every detail of my private life to the press, does not mean I'm hiding anything," Dev growled.

  "Oh, my God," Lauren muttered, covering her face with her hands.

  Press Secretary Allen, who was waiting in the wings, closed her eyes briefly as she let out a long string of expletives under her breath. She turned to David. "Tell me she didn't use the word 'private'."

  David threw his hands in the air. "I don't think she meant it like it sounded." He shook his head. "Out of the frying pan, into the fire, my friend."

 
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