The next morning, tension filled the small sedan. Hideo, a slight man with a stoop, dark hair, and a long narrow face, drove in complete silence. Sharon sat in back with Kira and Allie. Kira, who was 15, was just a hair taller than her mother but had her father’s square face and her hair cut very short in a defiant fade. Allie, not yet 13, looked more like her mother, with long straight hair and a stylish beret. The young girl filled the car with her nervous chatter, mostly about the past semester at school.
Kira, however, seemed the most calm of all. Sharon thought she looked resolute, or maybe even oddly confident, as if she had a secret (and she probably did) that would take care of everything.
She only broke down when it came time to leave her mother and pass through airport security. The terminal at National Airport was crowded with early morning commuters and tired tourists and the line for security ran back and forth several times.
“Mom, please don’t worry,” she told Karen as she held her mother tightly. “Seriously. It’s going to be okay.”
“Of course it is,” Karen said, trying not to cry. “You be good, now. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Allie burst into tears as she got her farewell hug and it took Kira’s cajoling to get her into the security line.
“Call me when you get to L.A.” Karen called.
The girls, flying as adults because they were too old for the airline’s children’s program, disappeared into the crowd. Sharon reached over and put her arm around Karen’s shoulders while Hideo held Karen from the other side. Karen, however, shook them both off.
“Let’s go,” she said, quietly. “Drop you at home, Sharon?”
“Nope.” Sharon held up her briefcase purse. “I’m going into the office. It’s been a week. Or close enough.”
“Do you mind taking the Metro?” Karen asked. “I’d rather let Hideo go on his own.”
“Sure,” said Sharon.
Hideo nodded and left for the parking garage, while Sharon and Karen walked slowly toward the Metro stop.
Sharon’s return to the office was greeted with quiet enthusiasm and repeated offers of concern that she was coming back too soon.
“I’m going to tell The Boss on you,” Eddie Cooper teased.
“Go ahead,” Sharon told him. “Like he’s going to cut short his trip just to make me stay home?”
Still, when the President called later that morning, Sharon spent several minutes reassuring him that her headache was gone and that she was getting extremely stir crazy at home.
“Seriously, I really need to get back to the office,” Sharon told Mark while scrolling through the list of emails on her laptop. “We’ve got all kinds of fun happening in Eastern Europe, it looks like Algeria has the gender thing going on again, and you did hear about the mayor of Sidney going rogue, didn’t you? The YouTube video is all over Facebook, according to Karen.”
“Silly me, I even clicked on it,” Mark sighed. “At least it’s not an issue for us. But do be aware that the European Union is getting fussy about our environmental practices again.”
“I’ve already heard. Did Raoul give you a solid briefing?”
“Yes. Good enough,” Mark grumbled. “I hate to say it, but you do a better job.”
“How’s the weather there in Portland?”
“Drizzling. It hasn’t stopped in three days. On the other hand, we did get out to the Willamette Valley. Tasted some amazing pinot noirs yesterday.”
“Sounds like fun. I’m sorry I’m not there. In any case, I can give you a more complete briefing tomorrow, if you like.”
Mark chuckled. “That would be good. And you will be receiving a few bottles for your cellar.”
“Sir, that’s not…”
“Eddie and the others are getting a few, too, so it is perfectly appropriate. I simply chose with your palate in mind. Have fun at the office.”
“Harumph.” Sharon grumbled outwardly and tried not to feel too happy about the wine coming in.
Of course, her conference with Karen early that afternoon about the viral video of the mayor of Sydney, Australia, disgracing himself while drunkenly dancing with a stripper brought Sharon back to earth quickly.
She and Karen looked at the image frozen on Karen’s laptop screen.
“You know,” Sharon said, frowning, “you really have to wonder what this guy was thinking.”
“Guys like him often say they weren’t,” said Karen. “The strongest theories are that it’s a fear of success reaction – they unconsciously shoot themselves in the foot to avoid facing their own success. Although with some of these guys, I think it’s that they feel invulnerable, that they can do anything and try to push the boundaries as far as they can to prove it.” She frowned at the image. “I’m smelling fear of success here.”
Sharon shrugged. “Possibly. I know we’ve got a Sydney trip coming up. I just can’t remember when.”
They were in Karen’s office, which was cramped, as all White House offices were, and minimally furnished with black and glass desk and pictures of Kira and Allie on the walls.
Karen’s mobile phone rang.
“It’s Kira,” she said, answering. “Hey, sweetie. How was the flight?…. Good. Can I speak to your dad?…. Oh.” Karen looked up at the four televisions on her office wall and quickly aimed a remote at one. “Well, it’s on the news. Still…. Um, okay. Can I speak to Allie, please?…. Hey, darling. I heard you had a nice fight…. Yeah, I know, honey. Go ahead with Ms. Barmwell and it will be all right…. Good. I’ll talk to you later. I love you, baby…. Hey, Kira…. Yeah, go ahead to the hospital and it will be okay…. Right, I love you, too. Bye.”
Karen swiped the phone off, her lips tightening.
“This does not sound good,” Sharon said.
“George didn’t make it to the airport to pick the girls up,” Karen said softly. “Kira said that there was a massive pile-up on one of the freeways and he had to stay at work, so he sent his secretary for them.” She gestured at one of the monitors. “As you can see, it’s on the news, so that part is legit.”
Sharon shook her head. “Still, you have to wonder.”
“Look, the girls are okay. That’s the important part.”
“You’re right.” Sharon glanced at her laptop. “Are we set on the Sydney thing?”
“Looks like.” Karen paused. “And in more fun news, Warmonger said that Caroline was finally up for visitors at the hospital. Want to go with me this evening?”
“Yeah, we really need to do that.” Sharon winced. “This does not sound fun, but maybe it will help you stop worrying about your girls.”
Karen snorted. “You are so not a parent. That being said, we do need to do the visiting the sick thing.”