Episode 100 – Kira Plans for Trouble

That evening, Kira Watanabe signed into the video chat room. Matt was already signed in, as were Jodi and Tiffany. Tony pinged in, with Rebecca joining within seconds.

“How bad is it?” Jodi was asking.

“How bad is what?” Rebecca asked.

“All Mom would say is that I have to go to my dad’s this summer,” Kira said. “My dad is suing Mom for custody again and it’s really got her upset.”

“Sounds like you’ll have a sucky summer,” Matt sighed.

“I’m not going,” Kira said. “I’m going to run away and take Allie with me. There’s no way I am going to live with him and I am not going to let him near Allie. She doesn’t deserve that.”

“Kira, you can’t be serious,” Rebecca said. “That’s dangerous.”

“Like living with him isn’t?”

“Rebecca’s right,” Tony said. “It’s bad on the streets. I know.”

“I’ve just gotta think it through is all,” Kira said. “I’ve got money saved, so that should help. And I could probably set up some sort of web business to make more, so nobody knows how old I am.”

“You could stay with us,” Jodi said.

“Her dad could track her to us too easily,” Tiffany said. “I suppose we could sneak her past my mom, but we’d never make it past yours.”

“You know, Kira, it would be good to have some sort of grown up helping,” Tony said. “You really need somebody to help you hide and keep a roof over your head.”

“And you’ll need cash,” said Matt. “You’ll have to find a way to get your money out of your savings account without your mom noticing.”

“Actually, what you need is a plan,” Tony said. “And a back up plan in case things go wrong.”

“I know. We could hide them at my Aunt Susan’s,” said Jodi.

“Why not your dad?” Rebecca asked.

“Too straight,” Jodi and Tiffany said together.

“Tony’s right,” said Matt. “What you need is a plan and a back up plan.”

“And a back up plan after that,” Tony added.

“Okay. So how do I get one?” Kira asked.

Episode 99 – Karen’s Ex Gets Troublesome

At four o’clock the next afternoon, in Washington, June knocked on the door to Karen Tanaka’s office. It was cramped, like everyone else’s office, but it had a window looking out onto the south lawn and a more square shape. Karen had painted the walls a rich, creamy yellow and brought in a glass and brushed chrome desk, complemented by an ebony black entertainment unit on the side wall with a bank of four televisions, each on its own shelf one on top of the other. A simple ikebana arrangement of spring flowers adorned the desk. Framed photos of her daughters dotted the walls.

Karen admitted June with a listless smile.

“What’s going on?” June asked.

Karen looked away. “What do you mean?”

“Sharon texted me last night that something didn’t feel right when she called you yesterday.”  June slid onto the small black leather chair in front of the desk and set her purse on the floor next to her. “She thought something might be wrong.”

“I don’t really want to talk about it, June,” Karen said with a soft sigh.

“Okay.”  June said grabbing her purse and getting up. “I suppose I have to respect that.”

“June. Wait.”  Karen slowly put down the lid on her laptop. “I’m sorry.”

June looked down onto Karen’s desk and saw the legal papers there. Karen saw June’s eyes, then sniffed.

“Yeah, that’s a court filing,” Karen said softly. “It’s my ex. George. He’s suing for custody of the girls.”

“Ouch,” said June, slowly sitting down again.

“It’s nothing he hasn’t done before,” Karen said, slumping back in her chair. “We’ve been through this twice since the divorce.”

“And yet you were able to move here with the girls.”

Karen nodded. “He threatened to sue when I got this job, but I not so delicately pointed out that he’s already blown three court-ordered evaluations.”

“Three?”

“The first when we first got divorced, then the two other times.”

“So if he’s blown three evaluations, what are you worried about?”

“It’s always a little dicey,” Karen said. “Judges have a lot of leeway when it comes to interpreting best interests of the children and the evaluation. Which is why George keeps filing. He keeps hoping he’s going to get a sympathetic judge.”  Karen handed June the papers. “And it looks like this time he may have.”

“Oh?”  June thumbed through the papers.

“My attorney called just a bit ago. There was a surprise temporary order hearing this morning. It was just luck that I got the summons yesterday, and I called Lewis immediately. So he was able to get in on the hearing. He called just now. It is not looking good.”

“They can’t hold hearings without notifying the other side.”

“In child custody cases, they can.”  Karen came around the desk and plopped into the leather chair next to June. “It’s the temporary emergency order thing – the idea is to protect kids from a potentially violent parent.”

“But you’re not violent,” June said.

“They can do it for other reasons. According to Lewis, George’s attorneys are arguing that I brought the girls here to DC against his permission and that he signed the agreement under duress. Which he kind of did.”  Karen tightened her lips. “Lewis said this new firm that George has, they’re scorched earth specialists. And Lewis can’t prove it, but they just happened to get a judge who’s notorious for giving the fathers custody if they show the slightest interest in the kids, never mind what the evaluations show.”

“Well, the girls are old enough, the judge will have to listen to what they say, and based on what I heard last month, they’re not too excited about being with their dad.”

Karen snorted. “They’re arguing that I poisoned them against George. And the girls’ grades are down. Part of it is just the new school. Allie’s grades are coming back up. But Kira’s are still off.”

“How bad is it?”

“Just a few percentage points, but…”  Karen rolled her eyes. “I hate buying into the stereotype, but for George, anything less than 100 percent is huge. Since we got here, I haven’t been riding them that hard. And you know what?  Kira’s actually been making friends – more than she’s ever had at one time. You know, Coop’s kid Rebecca. And Sharon’s nieces, Jodi and Tiffany. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but for Kira, it’s amazing. She’s always been a loner. I just don’t know how far that’s going to go with George’s new attorneys.”

“Scorched earth specialists.”

“Figures.”  Karen slumped back again. “It’s just George’s style. The only thing Lewis and I can’t figure out is how he’s paying for them.”

June frowned. “I thought George was a doctor.”

“Head of emergency at County USC – which means he could get more elsewhere, but he’s still pulling in some good money.”  Karen shook her head. “Lewis said these guys, they’re seriously high-end, the firm you hire when you’ve got hundreds of millions in assets to protect and you can afford the long court battle to get your kids. Lewis and I keep pretty good tabs on George’s assets – it’s not like he hasn’t tried hiding money from us – and Lewis said he has no idea how George is paying for these guys.”

June suddenly reached into her purse and pulled out her tablet. Glancing at the legal papers, she quickly started typing onto the pad.

“What are you doing?” Karen asked.

June swore. “I thought as much. I just googled George’s firm and another one that I know. They’ve got a cooperative agreement. Which means I know how George is paying for them. Or rather, who’s paying them for George.”

“What?”

It was June’s turn to sniffle. “Look, Mark and I don’t talk about it much, but there is someone who has a lot invested in making trouble. This person can’t bring down Mark, so… Well, the people around Mark get hit instead. And you just got some publicity as Mark’s friend. The timing is just too suspicious.”

“You mean..?”  Karen thought. “Lewis did say that opposing council did seem to be rushing this through.”

“That picture of Mark hugging you only came out a little over a week ago.”  June fumed. “And your situation with your ex was ready made for this kind of attack.”

“You know, Lewis was saying that I might have to give up the girls because these guys are really good at digging up and slinging dirt and making even a hangnail look like major carelessness.”  Karen started crying full on. “I don’t want to lose my babies, but I can’t let them get hurt that way.”

June reached over and gently grabbed Karen’s arm. “They’re not going to. I swear. I’m not going to let these SOBs hurt you or Kira and Allie. It’s because of me and Mark that they’re involved.”

“It’s not your fault, June.”

“I know.”  June swallowed. “But, Karen, I know what it’s like to live with the wrong parent. Believe me, there’s a reason why my mother and I are estranged. I won’t let that happen to another kid.”

“But what can you do?”

“I can pay for the attorneys you’ll need to fight this.”

Karen bounced up. “June, I can’t let you do that. This could cost-”

“I know how much it could cost. Or will cost.”  June got to her feet. “I know how these guys work. They’ve got George convinced that only he can save the girls.”

“Oh, he was already convinced of that,” Karen snapped.

“Then all they had to do is gently push him into the ends justifying any means to get his kids for him. And if George is the controlling jerk I have every reason to believe he is, he bought it hook, line and sinker, and these new attorneys are going to scorch the earth and then some to get George full custody of Kira and Allie. The only thing those girls have going for them is that you’re willing to cave in rather than let them get scorched in the process. And you can’t let that happen.”

Karen looked at the ceiling. “I can take care of my girls.”

“In a fair fight, you can and then some.”  June walked over to Karen and put her hands on her shoulders. “This isn’t going to be a fair fight. They’ve already tried sneaking a temporary emergency order hearing past you and your attorney. And they got the sympathetic judge. No, we can’t prove it, but I’m pretty darned certain that was no luck of the draw.”

“How will I pay you back?”

“You’ll raise your daughters and protect them and keep them safe. And you’ll let me play auntie.”  June shrugged. “That’s all I need. Karen, money I’ve got, and more seems to keep following me. I may as well put it to some good use.”

“Won’t it hurt if it gets out that you’re paying my attorney fees?”

“We’ll find a firm that can spin anything they throw at you. Please, Karen. Like I said, I know where this is coming from and, no, it’s not my fault. But Mark and I are the reason it’s happening and if he found out, he’d be doing the same thing.”

“Oh, God.”  Karen sank into the chair in front of the desk. “I guess we’ll have to do it.”

“The first thing we’re going to have to do is get on that emergency order.”  June sat down next to her.

Karen nodded. “George wants his summer visitation rights enforced. As if I wasn’t going to. I bought the plane tickets for the girls two weeks ago. I told Kira last night she was going to have to go.”

“I’m guessing she wasn’t happy.”

“She flat out refuses to go. Good thing I’ve got until the end of June to change her mind. If I can change her mind.”

“We’ll figure something out. You’re not alone in this, Karen. You have support. I’ll be with you every step of the way. Scorched earth specialists can be beaten and it can be done without using the same tactics. You have the truth on your side and it’s pretty hard to beat that. You just can’t give in.”

Karen nodded sadly. Slowly she turned to June and the two held each other as Karen at last relented and sobbed. June started crying, too.

Episode 98 – Mark and Sharon Talk Baggage

Late the next day, Sunday, the President and staff members boarded Air Force One for a five-day tour of the Middle East. Sharon rode on board with the executive staff, while Faiza Moussel had gone on ahead to the first stop Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Monday was filled with talks, but successful ones, then there was a busy day in Jordan, and a very tense day in Palestine, Wednesday, because Mark’s visit was setting a historical precedent.

That night, after a debriefing session with the full staff in the hotel suite’s conference room, Mark left first, then quietly returned when he noticed that Sharon hadn’t left yet. She was still sitting at the conference table, talking in Spanish on her mobile phone. The room was relatively small, but decked out in gold and red, in spite of the modern furniture.

Mark stood next to the door, nodding when Sharon noticed he was there, and trying to indicate that she should finish her call. She nodded and continued her conversation for another couple minutes, then hung up and held up a finger while she made several notes.

“Yes, sir?” Sharon asked, as she finished.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” Mark said, trying to sound casual.

“It’s been pretty busy.”  Sharon fidgeted with her pen.

“Maybe. But you’ve still been avoiding me.”  Mark moved over to the table and sat down. “I’m not worried, per se. I just wanted to be sure nothing’s wrong.”

“There’s nothing any more wrong than there ever has been,” Sharon said. “I just… It…”  She looked over at him. “I just had to face facts Friday night about my issues with the unattainable. It’s my pattern. The guys I tend to fall for all seem to have some particular baggage that I just can’t work around. Mostly, they’re famous.”

“Could it be a secret longing for fame?”

Sharon grimaced. “I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve dealt with it. It wasn’t fun and I don’t want to deal with it again. Maman says that it’s because everyone in our family, we’re all such over-achievers, that’s the kind of guy I like and a good chunk of the time, the fame is part of it.”

“Like your famous brother.”

“Yeah. The running gag until I got this job was that I was the under-achiever in the family,” Sharon smiled softly. “I think it has more to do with that I’m the only one of my sibs who isn’t an artist. I mean, it wasn’t like they thought I wasn’t doing anything. That was the joke – I was way ahead of my peers. But because Michael and Susan were both at the top of their fields and I was still just a VP with a ways still to go up the career ladder, it seemed like I wasn’t doing that much. Then when Sarah started her PhD work, plus selling through some major galleries, well, you get the picture.”

“You’re a pretty intense bunch.”

“So what’s your pattern of baggage?”  Sharon forced a smile.

“My pattern, huh?”  Mark leaned back in his chair and pressed his lips together. He debated telling her the truth, but decided it wasn’t the time. Besides, it wasn’t as though he had other issues. “I, uh, tend to do the love at first sight thing and flame out quickly.”

Sharon winced. “Oh.”

“That’s a big reason why we’re not having a relationship right now. I don’t want to do that to you.”  He smiled at her softly. “Not exactly breaking our patterns here, are we?”

“I suppose not.”  Sharon looked down at her notes.

Mark reached over and touched her hand. “Maybe it’s not the patterns that are the problem.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s you and falling for the guy who’s famous. It’s your attitude toward that fame that’s the issue, not that you shouldn’t be liking him. In my case, it’s not the falling in love that’s the problem, but rushing into it without… Without doing what we’re doing.”

“Which is?”

“Building a friendship, I hope. Learning to like each other before letting the chemistry carry us away.”

“And what about my thing with not wanting to deal with your fame?”  Sharon finally looked up and watched his eyes.

Mark yawned and rubbed the back of his neck. “Truth be told, I have no idea. But I suspect that with enough time, you’ll figure it out. And fortunately for you, time is our best option, right?”

Sharon nodded. “Assuming we can hold out. Anyway, it’s late. You’re tired and we might have an issue with Mexico again.”

“Shavings.”  Mark stood up and flinched slightly as Sharon bounced up with him. “We’d better get to bed then. Good night.”

“Good night, sir.”

He smiled as Sharon left without waiting for him.

Sharon left, dialing Washington, DC. Her conversation with Karen Tanaka was brief and to the point, which wasn’t unusual in itself. But something didn’t feel right. So Sharon texted June, who was in New York again, then went to bed.

Episode 97 – Sharon Dates Max Again

Sharon couldn’t believe she was on another date with Max Epstein. But there he was, across the cocktail table at the Press Club bar, in full monologue. He had called on Wednesday and after the Correspondents Dinner, Sharon had decided he deserved another chance. So she’d accepted and was sorely wishing she hadn’t.

“Max,” Sharon said suddenly, getting up. “Can we go for a walk?”

“Uh, sure,” Max jumped up and followed her out of the bar.

It was still early that Saturday evening. The mid-May weather was warm enough to be comfortable, but without the miserable humidity of full summer. Traffic on the street was light and the sidewalks were largely empty. There were always tourists in D.C., but the summer rush hadn’t yet begun.

“I’m thinking if we head this way, we can have dinner at Stradiman’s,” Max began as the two left the building.

Sharon put her hand on his arm and squeezed. “I’m thinking not.”

“Huh?”

Sharon took a deep breath. “Max, I don’t get it. You’re a nice guy.”

Max slumped. “Oh, great. You’re dumping me.”

“Now, wait a minute!”  Sharon glared at him, then began walking. “There’s nothing here to dump. We’re friends.”

“I thought we were dating.”

Sharon shook her head. “It was borderline at best. And don’t try to bust my hump for leading you on. You didn’t even get a kiss good night those other two times.”

“So, if we’re not dating, why are you giving me the break up speech?”

Sharon winced. “Because you’re making me crazy, Max. We go out. You take over. You ramble on without listening to a word I say. And yet, you’re not like that normally. I heard you last week. You were funny. You listened to everyone else. You were great. So what gives?  Why are you such a pain in the ass to date, but perfectly fun to be around otherwise?”

“I don’t take over.”

“Max, you choose the venue. You tell me what I want off the menu. You tell me what wine to drink with it. I’m beginning to feel like I’m not necessary.”

Max slumped even further into himself. “Women like a strong decisive guy.”

“It depends on how strong and decisive,” Sharon said.

“But you called me those first two times.”

“I know.”  Sharon bit her lip. “I probably shouldn’t have. I was just…”

“Just what?”

They stopped at a street light and Sharon gazed at the traffic.

“I was just trying to prove to myself that I’m not in love with someone else.”  She suddenly growled. “And it’s not who you think it is.”

“I wasn’t thinking anything,” Max grumbled. “Why didn’t you just say so?”

“Because I didn’t want to admit it to myself.”  Sharon sniffed and blinked back tears. “I was trying to convince myself that you were closer to the kind of guy I want. But, no. I’m falling for the guy who’s unavailable again. And then I go and hurt you. I’m so sorry. I just can’t do this. I’ve tried settling and believe me, that didn’t work out. Which is probably why I’m so cranky about your control issues.”

Max snorted. “Except that you’re not the first woman to tick me off for that. I’m sorry, too. I didn’t think I was that nervous going out with you, but I always start chattering and taking over when I’m nervous.”

“Maybe we could just go out as friends.”

“No.”  Max sighed and shook his head. “If I’m really honest, it wasn’t you, per se, making me nervous. You’re just the first… Well, I got really turned around right before Christmas last year. Family crap.”

“Sounds unpleasant.”

“It was. Anyway, I thought I was past the crappy parts. You may have heard, I don’t have a good rep with women.”

“Multiple times.”

“Yeah, well, It’s kind of a problem I have. My dad was kinda down on women. He always blamed it on my mother leaving us.”  Max frowned and swallowed. “Only I found out this year that he hadn’t exactly been honest about what happened.”

“Oh, dear.”

“It gets worse. I finally decided to look for my mother – my last girlfriend said I needed to get over my mommy issues. My mother’s tried to contact me off and on since I became an adult, but I never responded because Dad had always told me how controlling and mean she was. And I was angry that she’d abandoned me. So I’m looking through the court records for their divorce and find out she left because Dad was hitting her – there were pictures. And she’d taken me with her. I was only two at the time, so I don’t remember any of this. Anyway, then I find an old warrant for Dad’s arrest on kidnapping charges. Turns out when he was transferred by the Air Force to Germany, he took me from my mother and she couldn’t get me back because the Air Force wasn’t willing to enforce the custody order. And that’s probably why Dad stayed. He couldn’t go back because of the kidnapping warrant.”

“That’s harsh.”

“Yep.”

“Have you connected with your mother yet?”

“Yeah. It’s been going really well. One of the reasons I thought I was ready to start dating again.”  Max laughed bitterly. “I’m guessing I wasn’t.”

“Well, I’m guessing my taste for the unattainable didn’t help.”  Sharon looked up and saw a small Spanish restaurant next to them. “Why don’t we just have dinner here – strictly friends and we can talk about our respective issues and why we’re terrible for each other.”

Max laughed. “Yeah, what the hell.”

Episode 96 – Rose Jerguessen Plans

Rose Jerguessen pursed her lips then looked up at the man with the thin lips, the pale, pale skin and dark, slicked back hair.

“It would appear your source has slipped up, Jensen,” she said, holding up a newspaper with the picture of Karen Tanaka and her son on the front.

Jensen pressed his lips even thinner. “My source is good.”

Was good. He got caught, remember?”

“It could be just an innocent hug.”

“You know better than that.”  Rose dropped the paper onto the coffee table in front of her. It was a magnificent mahogany piece – the only bit of color in an otherwise white room. “What have we got on her?”

Jensen flipped through a file. “An ugly divorce and a boyfriend that appears to be staying over a lot. From what my sources in California tell me, the ex is not happy about him and has been wanting custody of their daughters for a long time.”

Rose quirked an eyebrow at him. “Can you do something about the custody thing?”

“That we can do. I’ll call Elwood.”

“In the meantime, we need to alert the public to this Miss Tanaka’s fooling around. She’s obviously making a play for my son and she’s hardly suitable.”

“I agree, Ma’am.”  Jensen’s thin lips slid into an off smile.

Episode 95 – Mark’s Birthday and a Spy

The day was also special because it was Mark’s birthday. After the Advisory Board meeting, Mark spent an hour or so being interviewed by the TV anchor, then the rest of the afternoon was devoted to a party in the West Wing Mess for all the employees and a brace of TV crews.

That night and the next day, shots of Mark hugging Karen Tanaka were all over the TV news, newspapers and websites. Karen took it all with good humor, especially since the next day, a more important story broke: one of the janitors had been caught spying on the president.

“Do we know who for?” June asked Mark that Thursday at breakfast.

“We don’t know in any way provable in court,” Mark said. He looked at his sister meaningfully, then went back to looking over a briefing on his touch pad.

June sighed. “Well, at least we know who confirmed that Ashely Whitcomb rumor.”  She waited, pondering. “Do they know if there’s anyone else on the take?”

“Could be,” Mark said, still reading. “But Riff Butler said that he’s certain there isn’t, and Major Wills nearly had a heart attack when he found out and is now raking the entire staff over the coals.”  He put down the tablet. “I grant you, she’s pretty determined. But that sort of thing just doesn’t happen. The people here are proud of their jobs, and I suspect get a cheap thrill out of knowing things about us that no one, but no one will ever know.”

“I know,” sighed June. “Well, I’m heading out to New York today and probably won’t see you until you get back from the Middle East next week.”

“Okay. Enjoy your trip.”

“You, too.”  June got up and kissed Mark on the cheek before heading back to her room.

Episode 94 – The Press Comes to the White House

Monday and Tuesday turned out to be big days at the White House. One of the television networks had arranged to spend two days in the West Wing, doing a day in the life special on the new administration. Like most of her fellow staff members, Sharon regarded the crew as a nuisance, but little more. Tuesday morning, as she came in late to work, she was congratulating herself on not having done any interviews.

Coffee mug in hand, she hurried through the corridors to her office, only to get knocked into by a young woman holding the cord of a camera as the operator moved backwards. Sharon’s coffee sprayed across her cream-colored tailored top.

“Oh, my god!” exclaimed the producer, a young red-haired man wearing a white t-shirt and jeans.

Sharon forced a smile. “It happens.”

Fortunately, her office was only a few feet away and Julie came out of her cubicle to investigate.

“Good thing I stopped at the dry cleaners this morning,” Julie said, grinning. “I’ve got another suit right here.”

“Thanks.”  Sharon wiped her hand on her skirt.

“At least coffee comes out,” Julie said, reappearing with a dark brown skirt and jacket.

“Running late today?” the young producer asked Sharon.

Sharon looked up while juggling her mug, her briefcase and the clean suit. “Not so bad. It’s only nine.”

“Most folks are here by seven,” the producer said.

“So am I, usually,” Sharon replied, yawning. “But I had to be up at 3 am for a conference call with NATO.”

“That sounds cool,” the producer said, pulling out a notepad. “What was it about?”
“Sorry. Classified.”  Sharon smiled as her mobile phone buzzed.      She got her suit hung up on her office door then answered the phone. “Ja, Raoul…. Bitte.

She smiled at the TV crew, added a burst of rapid German into the phone, then shut the door.

“Sorry, guys,” Julie said. “She’s got to get ready for her ten o’clock meeting.”

Sharon’s head popped out of the door again, only this time she called softly in Chinese. Katie came running, replying in the same language.

“Woh,” said the producer. “That’s amazing.”

Julie shrugged. “It’s normal around here. Excuse me.”

Sharon was not in a better mood, when changed, she showed up at the Advisory Board meeting.

“Heard you bumped into the crew,” Eddie teased.

“I escaped without doing an interview, but the producer heard me speaking in three different languages and wants to talk with me later,” Sharon grumbled.

“And everybody’s talking about coffee stains around here,” Karen said somewhat dourly. “We can’t be that much worse than the previous administration.”

“We’re not even close,” said Al Eddington, who’d had a post in the White House with the previous president. “It’s just that we’ve got all the designer coffee around here.”

The chatter ceased as Gen Forrest opened the door to the conference room.

Episode 93 – After the Dinner

Later, after the speeches, as people got up from the tables, gently maneuvering around chairs and each other, Sharon bumped into Max.

“Hey, Sharon,” Max said, grinning at her. “Did you have fun tonight?”

“I had a great time. It was a lot of fun.”

“What did you think of your boss’s remarks?”

Sharon smiled, somewhat hesitant and ready to be interrupted. “He did really well. He’s always had pretty good timing. That’s why he did so well on the late night talk shows during the campaign.”

“I agree,” said Max. “I don’t know why no one else seemed to notice that.”

“Hey, Max. Uh, Sharon,” said Gus, coming up with Emilio and Eli in tow. “You still okay with us heading over to the PFZ for post-prandial relaxing?”

“Yes,” said Sharon. “In fact, I’ve already texted for my car.”

“A bunch of us were going to meet for drinks,” Max said. He waved at Gus, Sharon, Emilio and Eli. “Did you want to join us?”

Gus slapped him on the back. “Nah. We got tagged by the boss to head to our super-secret hide-out so he can join us.”

“Maybe next time, Max,” Sharon said, leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. “I’ll see the rest of you guys over there.”

Up on stage, Mark was busy shaking hands, but not too busy to miss Sharon reaching over and kissing Max on the cheek. He grinned and came back to himself, hoping no one had noticed.

But Mackie had.

“What’s with you and Wheaties?” she asked Mark in the limo on the way to the PFZ.

“What do you mean?” Mark asked, although he was fairly certain he knew exactly what Mackie meant.

The older woman chuckled. “When Wheaties kissed that guy on the cheek, it’s not like you didn’t notice. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were jealous.”

“Nah,” Mark replied, hoping he sounded casual. “I’m more worried about Epstein. He hasn’t got a real good reputation with the ladies, you know.”
“I think Sharon’s a big girl.”

“I know.”  Mark sighed and looked at Mackie. “Does this mean you’re in on it, too?”

Mackie frowned. “In on what?”

“The big conspiracy to get me and Wheaties together.”

“No. But I’d like to be.”  Mackie patted Mark’s shoulder. “I get it. You don’t want to be set up.”

“That and there are some very good reasons why it’s not something that’s going to happen,” sighed Mark. “Seriously, Mackie. We’ve discussed it. We kind of had to. We’re just not in a position to do anything about a relationship and may never be.”

“All right.”

Mackie settle back in the limo seat. Mark looked sideways at her, wondering if she was going to take him seriously.

“Looks like the press is onto your gadget habit,” Mackie said suddenly. “And speaking of, have I got something coming up for you.”

Mark chuckled and sat back and listened.

Episode 92 – At the Correspondent’s Dinner

Sharon ended up going to the annual White House Press Correspondents Dinner that Saturday night after all. Eli Weatherall asked her to go with him, since his date, Gwendolyn Mackie, was accompanying Mark. The two joined Gus Guerrero and his partner Emilio Juarez, as well as Karen Tanaka and her boyfriend Hideo Matsumoto, a professor of Asian History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Karen was unexpectedly giggly.

The Coopers were at the next table over with their eldest daughter Rebecca and Tony Garces, a tall, almost scrawny Hispanic boy with an easy smile. Seated with them, so that his back was to Sharon, was Max Epstein.

The room was packed so tightly that Sharon could almost hear everything Max said. He was alone that night. Given the rumble of his voice, then Tony’s voice, then the roars of laughter from the table, Sharon got the impression that Max and Tony were going head to head in a comedy routine.

“It wasn’t quite head to head,” Karen said in the ladies room, right before the speeches started. “Max is hysterical. I don’t know why you’re not seeing him more often. He’s wonderful fun. And so willing to listen.”

Sharon shook her hands before reaching for the hand towels next to the sink and looked at in puzzlement at Karen.

“Max?” Sharon asked. “Listening?”

“Yeah. He even let Rebecca choose dessert for him. Why are you looking so funny?”

“That’s not the Max I know,” Sharon said. “He had to run everything on the dates we went on. And listen?  I had to fight to get a word in edgewise.”

“Huh.” Karen cocked her head to the side. “Maybe because it was a date thing.”

Sharon shrugged. “Maybe. And speaking of, you seem pretty excited about your date.”

Karen giggled helplessly. “Hideo, that sweetie. We’re going to New York next weekend. He even let me plan it all out and he said I could take him shopping. Okay, only for an afternoon.”

“That’s still pretty good.”  Sharon grinned.

“He’s sansei, like me,” Karen said, referring to the Japanese American tradition of counting the generation from ancestral immigration to the U.S. “Okay, Hideo’s grandparents were a lot older than mine were when they immigrated from Japan, so his grandfather is a lot more old school. That’s why Hideo’s father caved in and agreed to give Hideo a Japanese name. But Hideo’s mother is pretty Americanized – I think she’s sansei, herself – and she wasn’t about to put up with that whole proper Japanese woman nonsense from Hideo’s father. So Hideo’s a regular modern guy, all into equal partnership.”

“Wow. That sounds great. I’m so glad you’re happy.” Sharon smiled. “Dare I ask how Kira and Allie are taking it?”

“Allie adores Hideo.”  Karen finished drying her hands. “Kira seems to like him well enough, but she’s at that aloof age, anyway. She’s more interested in meeting up online with Jody and Tiffany. Although, I think they’ve added Eddie’s eldest, Rebecca, and that cute Tony Garces kid and I believe even June’s nephew.”

“That’s quite the crew,” said Sharon.

Karen giggled again. “It’s the most friends Kira has had at one time in her life. Not exactly the extrovert is my girl.”

Sharon smiled as they left the room.

Episode 91 – IM Session

IM Session

Gloryhg: You there?

ChknCoop: Hold on.

ChknCoop: I’m back. Had to get ‘Becca off her laptop.

Gloryhg: Did you hear about Roy and Tony?

ChknCoop: They approved Roy. ‘Bout time. How’s Tony taking it?

Gloryhg: He’s excited. Found out something odd about Wheatly, though.

ChknCoop: What?

Gloryhg: She can’t drive. She doesn’t know how.

ChknCoop: She doesn’t know how to drive? That’s crazy. We’ll have to fix that.

Gloryhg: I think we will. Can I trust you with the mission? I’ll have to let her know I “accidentally” dropped the news to you. So wait ‘til then to embarrass.

ChknCoop: Wait? Jugsy, I’d swear you were sweet on her.

Gloryhg: I’m not, but it wouldn’t make any difference if I was. I’m in no position to do anything about it.

ChknCoop: Heard that before. Damn that Becca! Catch you later.

Gloryhg: Night.