Madam President, page 9
"Oh, Daddy, I'm so sorry. We never meant for that to happen. And for the millionth time, tell Mama to stop reading that trash." Not that the 'respectable' papers were much better, she thought sourly.
"We?" The word was said with as much rancor as the man could muster. This couldn't possibly be true, could it? "Who exactly is 'we'?"
"Ummm..." Lauren fumbled for something to say, suddenly feeling very guilty despite the fact that she and Dev hadn't done anything wrong.
"Girl, are you living there? In the White House?"
"Surprise," she teased listlessly. "I was going to tell you next weekend when I called."
"You didn't tell them?!" Dev whispered harshly in Lauren's ear.
Lauren shrugged a little defensively as she pulled away from Dev. She had been abroad for nearly two years when she did Cardinal O'Roarke's biography. And her parents never inquired once about her exact whereabouts. Never asked her for her address. They were content to have her phone number, which they never used. It hadn't occurred to her to let them know anything other than the fact that she'd be in Washington D.C.
There was a pause while Howard Strayer covered the receiver with his palm. "I told you to get away from those bushes, God dammit!"
Lauren looked at Devlyn in panic when she heard the unmistakable sounds of her father's shotgun being loaded.
"Mr. Strayer, this is Devlyn Marlowe," Dev jumped in. "Please don't shoot the press. I'll make sure your local police keep them from trespassing on your lawn."
Lauren turned and looked at Dev, her jaw sagging. What are you doing, Devlyn?
"Yeah, right!" the man snorted. "And I'm the King of France."
Lauren covered her mouth, stifling a sudden laugh.
"I um... but I am Devlyn Marlowe!" Dev persisted indignantly.
"Girl, this is no laughing matter. And stop making your voice all deep and gravely like a man's. I should think you're too old for such nonsense."
Two sable eyebrows curved upwards. Dev put her hands on her hips and mouthed "Like a man?" to Lauren, who was now doubled over with laughter.
"Daddy, this really is President Marlowe," Lauren finally choked out when she caught her breath. She motioned to Dev. "Say something while I'm talking, so he'll believe me."
"Mr. Strayer, it really is me." Devlyn spoke over Lauren's renewed laughter.
"No shit." Dev replied smoothly, now smiling herself.
"Well then, Madam President, I only have one question for you."
Dev tilted her head toward the intercom. "Yes?"
"What in the Sam Hill are you doing in my daughter's room at 11:30 P.M.?!"
Dev's eyes widened at the scolding, parental tone. Could someone else's father ground you? "Uhh..."
Sunday, February 21st
The writer liked Sundays. This fourth Sunday in the White House was quiet and nearly what an ordinary person would call normal. Why would anyone want this job? There was never really any time to rest. Even today, Dev was called into a meeting over a brewing crisis in the Middle East. This was the time she had set aside for the kids, and they all wanted to go outside and play in the fresh two inches of snow that had fallen overnight.
Lauren's plan was to stay in and write. Though she knew she needed to take Gremlin for a walk soon. Lauren was craving some time outside herself. Gray eyes slid over to her little companion, who was curled in a tight ball at her feet.
A noise drew her attention outside the window next to her bed, where she could see Christopher and Aaron and their Secret Service agents romping in the snow and having a good time, squealing as they pelted each other with soggy snowballs. The two young agents who were assigned to them were honestly playing, and looked to be having nearly as good a time as the children. She noticed several other agents standing in the background, drinking steaming beverages and keeping a watchful eye over the snowball fight.
The blonde woman stood up to get a better view of the winter mayhem and wondered where Ashley was in the melee. Her eyes searched the lawn, pale brows drawing together when she realized the little girl wasn't there. "Come on, Gremlin, let's go for a walk."
Gremlin jumped up as though he hadn't been snoring only seconds before. He was ready to go in an instant, bouncing wildly at Lauren's feet, circling her madly as she gathered up her jacket and his leash. She shook her head and laughed at the dog's antics. "Crazy." Bringing along Grem's leash was more a habit than anything else. Here at the White House he wasn't required to be on his lead.
There were faster ways for Lauren to get to the lawn, but she strolled along the route that took her by the kids' bedrooms and the President's living room. Sitting in the hall outside the living room was Agent Hamlin. As she and the dog approached, Gremlin darted into the living room ahead of her. Lauren laughed to herself. I'm going to have to leave you here when I'm finished with this assignment, aren't I, Grem?
At the doorway the writer paused, leaning on the frame and watching the dark-haired little girl, who had a few coloring books laid out in front of her. Her jacket and cap were balled up on the table next to her crayons.
Gremlin gave a little bark and Ashley immediately perked up, wiggling herself out of her chair and flopping onto the carpet to give him a loving scratching. Gremlin was purring as though he were a fat cat. He was clearly in canine heaven, and Lauren wondered what she could do in this life to insure coming back as a spoiled pooch in her next.
The woman took off her glasses and stuffed them into her jacket pocket, knowing they'd just get so steamy outside they'd be of no use anyway. Besides, they were bifocals and she really only needed them for reading and writing, but it was just easier to leave them on all day and not worry about it. She pushed off from the doorframe. "Hey, we're just about to go out for a walk. Would you like to go with us?"
Ashley looked up and gave her a little shake of her head. But the profoundly sad look in the little girl's eyes said more than most of the words the writer had ever put on paper. She stepped into the room and knelt down next to Gremlin.
"You sure?" she asked gently. "Your brothers are having a ball. Why aren't you out with them?"
Ashley glanced to the door but didn't say anything. Lauren sighed. "C'mon," she coaxed. "I think Gremlin wants to play. And I'm sort of tired this morning. You'd be doing me a big favor if you'd play with him for a while and wear him out."
"Really?" she asked interestedly, allowing the dog to lick her hand.
"But isn't it cold out?"
Lauren pursed her lips. Since when did a kid care about the temperature when it came to playing outside? "Well, I suppose. But you'll be bundled up, right? And we can always come back inside if it gets too chilly."
"Kay." The girl immediately brightened.
"Good." Lauren nodded. "You put on your coat and gloves and..." She looked at the big pile of clothes on the table. "And whatever else is in that pile, and I'll let Agent Hamlin know."
Ashley didn't bothering answering; she was already tugging on her boots.
Lauren marched purposefully to the door. Leaning out, she spoke very quietly. "Get your ass up out of that chair and get ready to go out. Ashley and I are taking Gremlin for a walk. It is not too cold to have a little fun outside. What do you think her brothers are doing at this very moment?" God, no wonder Ashley wasn't hitting it off with the agent. The woman acted like she was an old lady! Wasn't Emma enough for any household?
"But..." The agent looked into a pair of very unamused, slate-gray eyes, and her protest died on her lips.
The blonde turned back to see Ashley and Gremlin happily bounding toward her. As they stepped into the hall Lauren heard Agent Hamlin speaking behind them. "Princess and Mighty Mouse are on the move. We're headed out to walk the dog."
Mighty Mouse? Mighty Mouse! Oooo, Devlyn Marlowe, they had better not have gotten that moniker from you. Then she laughed at what David had covertly suggested the Secret Service call Devlyn. As Lauren follo
Friday, February 26th
They were sitting in Devlyn's living room. Exhausted. Lauren looked at her watch. It was almost midnight, and they had been up since five in the morning. Almost twenty hours straight. She glanced into the face of the woman across from her, watching as she sipped a tall glass of milk.
Dev shoved a plate of cookies at Lauren. She sighed and propped her feet on the coffee table. The fireplace was gently glowing, but Dev didn't think the flames were responsible for the dark shadows under Lauren's eyes. It had been a bear of a day, and she herself was drained to the bone. "Tired?" she asked needlessly.
Lauren looked at her like she was crazy, but answered the rhetorical question anyway. "Heck, yeah. I'm dead." The writer stared into her glass of milk with mild distaste. She hadn't drunk milk since she was a little girl. What was Emma's obsession with the white liquid? When they'd walked into the living room the older woman, with her hair up in rollers that had to be antiques, simply pressed the cold glasses into their hands and then marched off to bed without another word. Weird.
"I don't know how you do it day in and day out. I don't know how I follow you day in and day out." The shorter woman yawned. "And I'm not sure how we're going to survive four years." She picked up several double-stuffed Oreos and sat them in her lap, not giving a rat's ass about the black crumbs on her crème-colored skirt. That's why God invented dry cleaning. She passed the plate back to Dev.
"Today actually got a little out of hand, and you know it." Blue eyes rolled. "That little fit the Secretary of Defense threw was quite unexpected, and it totally FUBARed my schedule."
"That man," Lauren plucked up a hapless Oreo and twisted it apart, digging out the impossibly sweet, creamy filling with her teeth, "is an ass."
Dev shrugged, dunking her own cookie in her milk until is was properly soaked. "He hates me."
"Then he's a bigger ass than I thought. Why does he hate you?" Lauren moaned a little as she sipped her milk. It was actually good. Who knew?
"Because," Devlyn quickly popped the soggy cookie in her mouth, sucking out the milk before swallowing, "and these are his words, not mine –," Dev affected a heavy Bostonian accent, "– 'She's queer as a three dollar bill'."
"All that fuss today was because you're gay?"
The tall woman snorted. "Lots of people hate me because I'm gay." She sipped her milk as an evil grin crossed her lips, nearly causing the milk to drip out of her mouth. Dev leaned forward just a bit and whispered in a conspiratorial tone, "I want the Federal Treasury to print three dollar bills just to piss him off."
Lauren burst out laughing, and was only able to keep from spraying Devlyn with cookie crumbs by slapping her palm over her mouth. An impish smile twitched at her lips. "You might not want to start out with something so drastic. Maybe you could start small? Like with a Devlyn Marlowe rainbow postage stamp?" I know I'd buy a book. Then Lauren's face grew serious. "Why have a cabinet member who hates you?" She glanced down enviously at Dev's feet.
Dev made a show of wiggling her happy, socked toes. "Please do. And, by the way, you have to be dead before they put you on a stamp. I don't want to give him that much satisfaction."
Somewhat hesitantly, Lauren pushed off her low-heeled pumps. She sighed with relief at the feeling of the soft, cool carpet against her nylon-covered toes.
"C'mon," Dev encouraged, wiggling her feet again. "It's always better on the coffee table."
"Oh, please. This one didn't belong to George Washington either." She reached down and wrapped her fingers around Lauren's ankles.
The younger woman yelped at the unexpectedly cold hands.
"Sorry." Dev gestured at the glass of icy milk she'd been holding. "My fingers aren't normally cold."
Lauren remembered their hug from the week before. "I know."
"Now, back to your question." Dev smiled, looking at their feet sitting side-by-side on the coffee table. She has cute feet.
"Yes?" Lauren prompted, wondering why Dev was staring at her feet.
"Right. Why have cabinet members who hate me? Well, it took a lot, and I mean a lot, of dealing to get me here. I agreed to put people in important positions in return for support within the Emancipation Party itself. It got me the Presidential nomination and then four years of putting up with assholes like Secretary of Defense Brendwell. It's a political game. And that's how it's played." She drowned another cookie.
"I see," Lauren answered thoughtfully. But she didn't really. At least not until that very moment. "So, you're not only fighting the Democrats and the Republicans... you have to worry about your own people too?"
"Well, sort of. My party supports me now. It would be stupid for them not to. A lot of sacrifices were made along the way. I've got a lot more enemies around here than friends. The friends I do have are the key. David, for example. He's a Democrat," she sighed. "So he's my deal man. He can cross party lines and not look like a total phony. I also trust him with my life."
Lauren mumbled her agreement. If the public knew how much influence David, and even Jane, really had, America would have a collective heart attack. But Washington was a shark tank, and Devlyn needed a few friendly sharks swimming in her waters to make sure she didn't get eaten alive. Lauren turned her head slightly, watching as the President shoveled in what had to be her twentieth cookie.
Dev stopped mid-bite. "What?"
"You don't ever have to watch your weight, do you?" she asked enviously. "I think I hate you."
Given the opportunity, Dev gave Lauren's toned body a thorough once-over. "I don't think you have anything to be complaining about, Ms. Strayer," she teased, but had to drag her eyes back up to meet Lauren's. "Trust me, with the way we move around, very soon you will learn to eat anything and everything that is put before you. And you won't gain an ounce. In fact, you've lost a little already, haven't you?"
Lauren blinked. "Only five pounds." She arched an eyebrow. "Are you spying on my scale?"
"No," Dev laughed. I'm just noticing everything about you. "But that's the cool part about being here. Suddenly, all food is good for you. You'll need all the extra energy you can find to get through marathon days like this one." She popped another cookie into her mouth, along with another deep swallow of milk. "Besides, I don't have to bother keeping track of my weight. All of America is watching it for me. Three hundred and twenty million people are all interested in how wide my ass will get in four years."
Lauren made a face. "Well, all America may be watching your ass. But no one is watching mine."
Dev grinned. "I wouldn't say that." In a heartbeat, her faced flushed a deep red, and she covered her eyes with her hands. "I'm... ah... I..." Dev scrubbed her face, trying to erase the blush. "I cer... certainly didn't mean to say something as out of line as that." She shook her head. "Sometimes I wonder how I made it this far. David's right; open mouth, insert foot." Worriedly, she peeked between her fingers and saw Lauren's indulgent smile. "I'm sorry." Dev really wanted to kick her own ass right now. God, I can't remember ever being this embarrassed!
Lauren just laughed, enjoying the rosy tint of Dev's cheeks. Was the woman actually flirting? "It's all right, Dev. Just a little slip of the tongue, right?"
Dev's eyes widened slightly, and her blush deepened. "Yeah," she croaked, bringing her glass to her lips.
How am I even going to maintain the pretense of any professional distance from you, Devlyn? Jesus, just look at us now! They were sitting so close together their thighs were nearly touching. And Lauren's brain nearly seized up on the spot when she found herself leaning a little closer, willingly losing herself in sky-blue eyes. I am in so much trouble.
Dev offered her the last Oreo by way of a peace offering, and Lauren chuckled. "A bribe?"
"Well, we are in Washington. Would you expect any less?" She wiggled the cookie, wo
Wednesday, March 3rd
WASHINGTON D.C. WAS A mud pit. Snow had given way to a deep, icy slush, which, in turn, mutated into a soupy, dirty sludge. But, thankfully, the spring warm front had parked itself over the nation's capital and had finally vanquished even the last signs of what had been a brutal winter. Lauren cocked her head toward the window, hearing the faintest chirping of a robin. Oh, yeah, she sighed. I am so ready for spring.
The writer smiled at the vase of fresh-cut, yellow roses that brightened her desk. Every evening when she made her way to her room, a fresh bouquet was there to greet her. At first, she assumed that they were delivered to every room in the residence as a matter of course. Then she realized she hadn't seen them anywhere but her room. She had asked David McMillian about it, and the man just snorted, never really answering her question.