Episode 135 – Sharon and Karen Talk to Mark

romance, romance fictionAs it turned out, Kent Jeffries, the administrative assistant and gatekeeper for the President, couldn’t find a space in Mark’s schedule until late Thursday afternoon. Sharon and Karen met in the foyer of the Oval Office, neither really in the mood for the coming discussion. Sharon had her laptop and Karen had her tablet.

For his part, Mark knew the second he saw their faces that this was not going to be a pleasant meeting. He got them seated on one of the two facing tan silk sofas, prepared some coffee, then took his seat in the chair at the head of the group, blue silk jack-something-or-other, June had called it. The material on the upholstery had a paisley design woven in.

“Well?” he asked slowly.

“It’s about June,” Sharon said getting right to the point.

“We’re concerned about her, as her friends,” Karen said quickly.

“Sir, there’s no easy way to say this, but based on her behavior this past month or two, we believe that she’s suffering a relapse of anorexia nervosa.”

Mark nodded and sighed. “You noticed.”

“Actually,” Sharon said, “I noticed as early as late last month. But I’ve known a lot of women with anorexia, so I can spot the signs pretty quickly. And Matt was asking questions a few weeks ago.”

“I see.” Mark pressed his lips together and nodded again. “Have you talked to her about it?”

“Not yet,” said Karen.

“Look, Sir,” Sharon cut in. “We know that it’s one of those conditions that make the person with it pretty resistant to facing it.”

“But there’s a lot of good research that shows the right kind of intervention has a high success rate,” Karen added.

“No. Not an intervention.” Mark suddenly got up and began pacing. “The last time we tried that, June totally blew us off and ended up in the hospital.”

“Sir, that’s probably why she landed in the hospital,” Karen said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

Sharon looked at him. “I’m guessing you’ve been through this before.”

“Yeah. We have.” Mark shook his head and shuddered a little. “It’s the watching it that’s the hard part, knowing that you can’t do anything.”

“Which of June’s friends participated that time you had trouble?” Sharon asked.

“June really doesn’t have that many close friends,” Mark said. “It was me, my dad and her buddy Doug. You know, the hair stylist.”

Too well, Sharon wanted to say, but bit her tongue.

“All guys?” Karen looked at her tablet. “We’re going to propose something different. It’s an all-female group, including me, Sharon, her friend Niecy and her friend Carla.”

“Carla’s had her own problems with anorexia,” Sharon explained. “She’s pretty much over it, thank God, but she can speak to June in ways even I can’t. And I’ve done more than a few interventions for the disease.”

“We’ve also got a psychologist in Los Angeles who’s helping us plan the intervention and giving us pointers, things to look out for,” Karen said.

“Do you have any idea what kind of chance you’re taking?” Mark asked, his voice thick with pain.

“Not that much of one, Sir,” Sharon said. “It’s not generally the sort of thing that makes people worse, even though they can get pretty resistant. People who don’t respond are usually not going to respond to anything. You still don’t want to go in without any planning or without consulting a professional first.”

“Which we’ve done,” Karen added. “Plus, Sharon and Carla have experience with the disease. I’m doing the additional research.”

“We need to know what her triggers are,” Sharon said. “What sets her off.”

Mark stopped pacing and thought. “I don’t know,” he finally gasped. “She simply won’t talk about things. Dad and I have tried. She did a fair amount of therapy after we went to live with our father. But she just doesn’t talk. She wouldn’t even talk to our grandmother.”

“That may be why she hasn’t had very many close friends,” Karen said, looking at Sharon.

“Well, she does now,” Sharon said firmly, then stood. “Thank you for your time, Sir. Karen and I will keep you updated.”

Karen stood also, then put her hand on Mark’s arm. “Sir, she was there for me when I most needed someone. We’re going to take very good care of her. It’s the least I can do.”

Mark swallowed. “Uh, thanks,” he whispered, then recovered himself just enough to dismiss the women.

Alone, he sank onto the couch. Neither Sharon nor Karen had asked for his permission to stage the intervention. They had merely asked for his perspective, which meant they were focused on helping June. He knew he should be terrified, and he was afraid. He knew he should be angry, but he wasn’t. If anything, it felt as though the two women had slipped in and quietly lifted a huge boulder off the pile on his shoulders.

Episode 134 – Sharon and Karen Fret Over June

The following Monday brought a return to the usual crazy at the White House. Still, Sharon was uneasy. June had left the Tanaka homestead in Los Angeles pretty early in the celebration and was supposedly in New York tending to her fashion clothing design business. Sharon hadn’t wanted to say anything during the celebration. So, that Monday, in between emails concerning new tariffs being considered by the European Union and the latest efforts to stem the ivory trade in Africa and China, Sharon fretted and finally decided to swing by Karen’s office.

“Hey,” Karen said, looking up from her glass desk. Karen’s office was modern minimalist with a decided nod to Japanese style. “Looks like our court decision on Friday barely raised a blip.” Karen nodded at the black shelf with four television sets stacked one on top of the other. “They were more excited about a 15-year-old giving a press conference.”

Sharon rolled her eyes. “Does Kira know what kind of stir she raised?”

“Don’t know,” Karen said. “Fortunately, she’s grounded, which includes a full media blackout. That doesn’t mean Allie hasn’t told her. I also told Kira that I expect her to talk to me first before alerting the media. She agreed. So why are you here? EU tariffs?”

“We should probably look at that from your perspective,” Sharon sighed. “Actually, I’m here about June.”

“She was eating,” said Karen. “Until we won.”

“And then she disappeared again.” Sharon made a face. “Which means that while she was helping you, she was putting her own issues on the back burner, but as soon as that was resolved, she’s back in relapse.”

“Are you sure it’s anorexia?” Karen asked.

Sharon shrugged. “As sure as I can be. Heaven knows, I saw enough of it in secondary school.”

“Secondary? Is that, like, high school?”

“Basically. It was a boarding school in Switzerland for really rich girls. My dad had called in a few favors while he and his firm were rebuilding some government building and the infrastructure in Prague.”

“Oh, that’s right. Your dad’s a civil engineer specializing in historic buildings.”

“That’s it. So instead of high school, my sister Susan and I went to a boarding school for very high profile young women in Berne. And with all those very spoiled, very image-conscious teen girls, anorexia was epidemic. And after that, at UCLA,” Sharon shuddered. “I was so hoping I wouldn’t have to do another intervention. You want to talk about something that is seriously not fun.”

“Hm.” Karen tapped her desk with a pen. “That means you could get June-”

“I’ve never led one,” Sharon said quickly. “And it’s always different depending on the person’s triggers and how open they are to recovery, all those things. You really have to know what you’re doing.”

“You know what? I know a shrink in Los Angeles who might be able to help. We’ve worked together before on a couple academic papers on culture and body image.”

“And we should probably talk to Boss Jugs,” Sharon added. “He might know what her triggers are.”

“Oh boy, that’s going to be fun.”

“Yeah, especially if he’s prone to keeping it under wraps. It’s one of those things families try to pretend isn’t happening.”

Karen shook her head. “That’s not generally the boss’s style. I mean, it could be.”

Sharon thought it over. “He is pretty open, but he can hold back, too. You want to call Kent and set up an appointment or shall I?”

“Do you mind?” Karen looked at her desk sadly. “I’m way backed up.”

“No problem. And I can cover any fees your shrink friend needs, too.”

“We’ll see what we can work out,” Karen said.

Episode 133 – Text Chat

romance, romance fiction, romantic serialRevRoy: You busy?

Gloryhog: So-so. Perusing a couple bills headed my way. What’s up?

RevRoy: Just checking in to see how June is.

Gloryhog: Oh. Why?

RevRoy: Melody said she thought June was avoiding the buffet table last Sunday at the Fourth of July party.

Gloryhog: Crap. I hate it when other folks start noticing.

RevRoy: We’re just concerned for her well being.

Gloryhog: I know and I appreciate that. It’s just that when other folks start noticing, it’s getting pretty bad.

RevRoy: How about another intervention?

Gloryhog: The last time we tried that, she ended up in the hospital.

RevRoy: That may be why she landed there and not the morgue.

RevRoy: Sorry to be so blunt.

Gloryhog: It’s how it goes. I’ll take it under advisement.

RevRoy: I’ve got some good resources. I’ll email you in the morning.

Gloryhog: Sure. Thx.

Episode 132 – Rose Makes a Plan

romance, romantic serial, romance serial, romance fictionIn her Minnesota home, Rose Jerguessen glared at her iPhone. The blasted thing had its uses, she supposed, but it was completely lacking when it came to ending calls. Swiping your finger was not nearly as satisfying as slamming the headset into its cradle.

Behind her, in the breakfast room, her friends – such as they were – were probably talking about her behind her back. Rose would review the security tapes later. Given that she was just as likely to be saying something malicious about any of them, depending on who had stepped out to go to the ladies’ room, it only made sense to keep up with what they were saying about her.

More disturbing was the news from Los Angeles. It was supposed to have been a simple operation, but apparently, that Tanaka bitch knew how to make herself look like a perfect saint. It was frustrating, really. Rose paid for the best people there were and they still couldn’t get that grasping little witch where it hurt. The best that could be hoped for was that she was distracted from going after Mark.

Rose sighed. A couple of her aides had suggested that perhaps Tanaka was not interested in Mark. It was possible. Still, her son was president – someone had to be going after him. And his head was so easily turned. It was up to her to protect him. But first, there would be some culling among her network. Then, perhaps, she would visit the White House, herself. Rose smiled to herself. Not only would she see for herself what Mark was really up to, her friends would be impressed. They’d been asking about when she’d go. Rose mulled it over. Maybe not right away, but soon. Soon.

Episode 131 – The Celebration

Later, at the celebration at the Tanaka house in San Pedro, the port area at Los Angeles’ southern edge, Sharon saw Karen off in a corner holding Kira as the young girl sobbed. The party continued on as if no one noticed, so Sharon pretended not to, either. However, she and June finally cornered Karen.

“So have you and Kira made it up?” June asked teasingly.

Karen sniffed and wiped her eyes. “More or less. She’s still grounded.” Karen sighed. “Poor kid. She took so much on herself. She said she had to make sure that Allie didn’t have to live with their dad. She wasn’t worried about herself. She didn’t like being with him. But he was really messing up Allie, calling her stupid and good for nothing and that no man would want to marry her. And Allie was apparently taking it to heart. They didn’t want to tell me because there was nothing I could do about it and they didn’t want their father to use any of my complaints as an excuse to get custody.”

“So Kira doesn’t think he’ll try again?” Sharon asked.

“He can’t,” said June.

“Well, he could try,” Karen said. “But he probably won’t get very far. According to everything I’ve heard, if he couldn’t get custody from Judge Weltzer, he won’t be able to get it from anyone. This was truly his last chance.”

“Wonder if Kira’s little press conference had any effect,” June said.

Karen and Sharon shrugged.

“That’s probably what all the talking heads are debating right now,” Karen said. “My staff volunteered to keep an eye on the pundit-o-mania so I don’t have to. I may ask for a run-down after all. But we’ll probably never know for sure. Judge Weltzer isn’t going to be saying any time soon.”

“Or admit it, even if the publicity did sway him,” Sharon said.

“This is true,” Karen replied. Then she shrugged. “I don’t know that it’ll have that much effect in the long run. And I sure hope it doesn’t. Heaven only knows what Kira will try the next time she gets pissed at me.”

Sharon and June laughed along.

“Well,” Sharon said, finally. “At least now you’ll be able to get back to normal.”

Karen laughed even harder. “Sharon, you so do not have kids. Parents do not have normal. We have crazy and less crazy.”

“All right,” Sharon put her hand on Karen’s shoulder. “Then we’ll get back to less crazy. Which doesn’t entirely reflect Washington, but what the heck.”

Episode 130 – The Custody Hearing

The next morning, Karen had gotten over her angst and seemed almost calm as she joined her attorneys at the defense table in the tiny hearing room. The lawyers surrounding her ex-husband didn’t seem quite so calm, Sharon thought.

Judge Weltzer came in and called the hearing to order. Watanabe’s lawyers began their closing argument, pushing hard on the claim that Karen had poisoned Kira and Allie against their father. In fact, they pushed so hard that Weltzer broke in.

“Do you have any proof that the defendant poisoned the children against their father?” Weltzer asked testily. “This is a court of law, not a court of what we wish were true.”

Sharon bit her lip to keep from laughing. Watanabe’s lead council, however, was not deterred, choosing to put Kira’s own attitude forth as proof.

“Please,” Weltzer snarled. “I’ve been on this bench long enough to know what it sounds like when a kid has been poisoned against a parent by the other parent. You guys have bupkes. How about some proof that Dr. Tanaka has been abusing or neglecting her kids? Oh, wait, you can’t bring that up without some serious challenges that Dr. Watanabe was always working when his girls were there for a visit.”

“Sir,” the lead council interrupted, “there’s an excellent reason for that. Dr. Watanabe didn’t want to take a chance on being accused of improper behavior by his ex-wife. She did manipulate him into letting her take the girls to Washington, DC.”

“Yeah, funny thing about that,” Weltzer scratched his forehead. “She was going to expose some behavior on her ex’s part to his superiors. Sexual misconduct, according to Ms. Kira Watanabe. And she had proof of said behavior. Dr. Tanaka, can you explain why you haven’t brought this up in the hearing?”

Karen gulped. “It was my understanding that as long as Dr. Watanabe’s improper behavior stayed at work, it didn’t fall under the confines of this hearing.”

“Hm. I understand that your boyfriend just moved in with you and the girls.”

“It’s a committed relationship, sir,” Karen replied. “Nor did we make the decision lightly. My daughters seem happy to have Hideo there.”

“Hm.” Weltzer waved at Watanabe’s attorneys to continue their argument, but didn’t seem to be listening to them. Nor did he pay much attention to the defense presented by Karen’s attorneys.

He dismissed the court for a short recess, then convened even before the two sides could start eating lunch, let alone finish.

There was a tense silence in the hearing room as Weltzer shifted in his seat and adjusted his glasses over and over again.

“First up, Dr. Tanaka,” the judge drawled slowly. “I have to say it’s pretty admirable that you haven’t said anything against your ex-husband. But you haven’t exactly been backing him up, either. You may want to think about that. Sometimes it’s the sins of omission that hurt the most.” He paused, adjusted his glasses again and shifted his papers.

Sharon looked over at Kira, who looked like she was about to go after the judge’s throat.

“Not in this case, however,” Weltzer said, speaking up just in time. “Dr. Watanabe, if your daughters have been poisoned against you, then you’re the one who has done it.” Weltzer waved his hand, stopping the vocal protest from Watanabe’s attorneys. “As I frequently note, I have been on this bench a very long time and I’ve talked to a lot of kids. So, Dr. Watanabe, it is saying something when I tell you that your daughter is one of the most angry young women I have ever met. She told me yesterday that she would take her sister and live on the streets rather than live with you, and I believe that was no idle threat. She even had a plan – not a great one, mind you.” Weltzer looked over the top of his glasses and glared at Kira. “But she had one. I assure you, it’s pretty easy to tell when a kid has been coached to say something – and your daughter had not been coached.”

“I wonder how true that is,” June whispered to Sharon.

“Don’t know,” Sharon whispered back. “It probably depends on the kid and the judge. He believes it, and that’s what counts right now.”

“I want you to understand, Dr. Watanabe,” Weltzer continued, “that your daughters are almost grown up. I am legally required to listen to and give due weight to their preferences regarding which parent they want to live with, and they have made it clear that under no circumstances do they want to live with you. You’ve got a lot of work to do to mend that relationship. So while I cannot give you custody, I will give you some hope. Dr. Tanaka will retain full custody of your daughters. But you will visit your daughters every month, under the supervision of a trained counselor and you will travel to where they are to do it. Those girls are almost adults and you can send them into adulthood believing that their father doesn’t love them, or you can work your backside off to mend what you broke. And I’m telling you, it will only get harder to fix this relationship.”

Sharon could see Karen fighting to keep her face free of emotion. Watanabe, on the other hand, was speaking angrily to his attorneys. Weltzer interrupted a couple times to clarify instructions and other points, then instructed his clerk on how the order was to be written up, and then finally gavelled the hearing adjourned. All stood as he left the bench. The quiet lasted only long enough for the judge to leave the hearing room. Then it wasn’t quite cheering, Sharon thought, but the noise was joyful as Karen was quickly surrounded by her mother, June, Kira, Allie, Tiffany and Jodi. Watanabe started to leave, then walked up to Kira and Allie.

“I only wanted you to be good Japanese daughters,” he told them. “You have no respect for our culture.”

Kira folded her arms, glared at him, then answered him in Japanese. Karen pressed her lips together very tightly, as did Watanabe, though for different reasons.

“What did she say?” June asked Sharon as Watanabe stalked off.

“That she respects her culture. He’s the one who doesn’t because to respect the culture, he must respect his daughters, and he does not.” Sharon tried to stifle her giggles.

“That girl is getting pretty scary,” June said.

Sharon nodded.

Episode 129 – Karen Vents

Karen waited just long enough to see Kira safely into the car, then shut the car’s door and watched, trembling ever so slightly as the car pulled away into the late afternoon traffic. Sharon slid up next to Karen and gently took her elbow. She looked back at the gaggle, now clustered around June, who was telling them that she couldn’t comment on the case because she didn’t want to risk violating the gag order.

“Looks like June drew the press hounds away,” Sharon said. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

Karen swallowed. “I’m supposed to go back to my parents’ place.”

“Then that’s where we’ll go. In fact, here comes June and the car’s right here.”

In the back seat of the car, Karen sank down between June and Sharon and tried not to sob.

“What the hell was she thinking?” Karen all but shrieked. “I swear, she told them she’d run away and live on the streets before living with her dad. At least, that’s one of the things they were asking me. What was she thinking?”

“That she really doesn’t want to live with her dad?” said June, softly.

“Somebody’s bound to think I put her up to this,” Karen groaned. “Oh, crud, what if the judge thinks I did?”

June and Sharon glanced over at each other. June winced – someone had asked if Karen had put Kira up to the impromptu press conference. Sharon nodded.

“I don’t think the judge will believe that,” Sharon said. “And we’ll be there to testify that Kira’s little press conference was as big a surprise to you as it was to us.”

“But what if he does and gives George custody?”

“Then we’ll fight it,” said June calmly. “Besides, it’s been going around on Facebook and Twitter that Judge Weltzer has gotten into trouble before for giving kids over to abusive fathers. He has to have heard the chatter. Nobody is that out of touch.”

Sharon thought it entirely possible that Judge Weltzer was that out of touch, but decided it was not the time to say so.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this angry at Kira in her life,” Karen gasped. “I’m ready to kill her. I just want to shake the living daylights out of her and ask her what the hell was she thinking?”

Sharon bit her tongue. She had a pretty good idea of what Kira had been thinking – that she could manipulate the press and try the case in the public arena. The scary thing was, it looked like Kira had succeeded. Admittedly, the teen needed some work in the finer points of massaging a story. But Sharon knew there were many, many adults who couldn’t have pulled off Kira’s little coup.

Not that Karen wanted to hear that part. Because the sad truth was, the fact that Kira pulled it off so neatly would lend credence to the idea that she’d been set up to do it. Sharon held in a sigh, looked over at June and the two let Karen vent.

Episode 128 – Kira Pulls a Fast One

For Sharon, there wasn’t much time to relax, let alone wonder about Mark. First, she had to finish cleaning up, then pack for the trip. Then there was the call from China that had to be dealt with right away, plus the amendments to her report for the Advisory Board meeting that she would probably miss. Then there were the emails to her Asia expert, Katie, who would have her spin on the situation. The flight to Los Angeles was a very early one, which meant Sharon got almost no sleep. She hoped desperately she’d get the chance to nap on the plane.

And while the flight turned out to be more restful than not, Sharon did not get much shut-eye. Aside from the usual avalanche of emails demanding her attention, she was seldom able to sleep while flying. As the plane landed, Sharon put her hand up to hide a jaw-cracking yawn. She was so tired, she was almost glad not to see any of her family members waiting for her near the luggage carousels.

Still, Sharon made a point of calling Karen as soon as the airport shuttle got on the freeway toward Downtown Los Angeles. The call went straight to voicemail, so Sharon tried texting, instead. Several minutes later, Sharon’s phone beeped with the reply.

“Judge put gag order on me and George. Kira just started her interview. Allie goes right after lunch.”

Sharon pressed buttons in answer.

“I’ll check in at hotel, first, then meet you at the courthouse. Got the address?”

Three minutes later, the phone buzzed with the link. Sharon checked the directions and realized she could take L.A.’s subway directly there from the hotel. Checking in took longer than it should have, and Sharon stopped to eat lunch, but she got to the courthouse well before Allie had finished with her interview. June was already there, pacing the narrow aisle of the tiny hearing room while Karen sat stoically in the audience seats. Karen’s mother, a tiny Japanese woman with inky black hair cut short and styled in a poufy do, sat next to Karen knitting placidly. Or perhaps not so placidly, as she periodically would look up and send George Watanabe a scathing look.

Watanabe, square and angry-looking, sat with his three lawyers – two women and one man all dressed in very expensive suits. Watanabe stared straight ahead relentlessly, only shifting to glare at his watch. They remained at the table immediately in front of the judge’s bench.

Sharon looked around and finally saw Kira sitting in the back of the hearing room next to Susan, Jodi and Tiffany.

“Hey, guys,” Sharon said softly as she went over to them. She bent and gave Susan a quick hug, then hugged Jodi and Tiffany.

“Hey,” replied Susan as June came up.

“It feels like he’s taking forever,” June said.

Kira shrugged. “He’s okay.”

Sharon noticed that Kira was carrying a large manilla folder. She was about to ask the teen about it when Allie came out from behind the judge’s bench, and then the judge, The Honorable Timothy Weltzer, took his place as the rest of the room stood. Karen scrambled to get to her place at the defendants table, next to her three lawyers (all women, also wearing very expensive dark suits).

“All right,” Weltzer began as he shuffled papers and glanced at his clerk. “I’m going to adjourn this hearing for today. We’ll have final arguments tomorrow, as scheduled. I’d like to remind both the plaintiff and the responding party that there is a gag order in place. Any questions or comments? None? Good.”

Weltzer gaveled the hearing adjourned. He’d barely stepped down from the bench when Watanabe stalked out of the hearing room, his lawyers scrambling behind. The others gathered around Karen.

“It’s what we expected,” Karen said. She reached over to her daughters. “How did your interviews go?”

Kira shrugged again. “They went.”

Susan smiled and touched Karen’s arm. “I’m going to take the girls back to our hiding place for tonight. No point in riling up your ex and he hasn’t told me I can’t have them. Are you okay with that?”

Karen nodded sadly. Susan led the way out of the hearing room, and the rest of the group trailed her to the elevators. But when they got there, Kira nodded at Jodi and Tiffany.

“You know what? I think we’ll take the escalators down,” Kira said quickly. “You guys okay with that?”

“Sure,” said Susan and the girls ran off before Karen could object.

“Something’s up,” Karen muttered.

“Of course there is,” said Susan, punching the  elevator call button again.

“Do you know what it is?” Karen snapped.

“Nope.” Susan pushed the call button again.

They found out as they left the courthouse. They found Kira outside near the sidewalk surrounded by a gaggle of reporters. The young teen was standing calmly, talking as she showed the reporters the contents of her manilla folder.

Sharon put her hand over her mouth, then looked over at Karen, trying to decide what to do. Karen didn’t wait. All of her normal calm and composure fled, and she charged over to the gaggle.

“These are all the weekends last fall when my sister Allie and I were visiting my dad,” Kira was saying. “He worked the entire weekend every time. And you’ll note, as soon as we moved to DC, he stops working weekends. Except for the week we were here for Spring Break.”

“What about the allegations that your mother poisoned you against your father?” someone from the gaggle shouted.

“I am so sick of that!” Kira snapped. “My mother has never said one word against him, even when he’s putting her down all the time and telling us we’re just as stupid and mindless as she is. My mother is an intelligent woman and a kind person who wants my sister and me to have a good relationship with our father. But it’s my father who doesn’t want a relationship with us. He doesn’t even want to be around us!”

“Young lady.” Karen’s voice growled low, but loud enough to be heard over the shouted questions from the reporters. “There is a gag order in place.”

“On you and Dad,” Kira replied.

“We will not split hairs. You go with Susan. Now.”

“Dr. Tanaka!” one of the reporters cried.

“Gag order, folks,” Karen said, getting a solid grip on Kira’s arm and pulling her out of the gaggle.

The reporters continued to shout their questions as Karen led Kira to the car where Susan was waiting with Allie.

“Mom-” Kira began.

“Not now,” Karen said. “We will talk later. But you are so grounded you will be lucky if I let you out of the house before you’re fifty!”

Episode 127 – Mark and Sharon Have Dinner

The next day, back in Washington, DC, the heat descended on the city like a heavy wet woolen blanket. Even in the air-conditioning of the West Wing offices, the humidity seemed to seep in and dampen even the least good humor. Economics Advisor Dr. Eddie Cooper did his best to lighten things up by staging a mildly raucous birthday party for himself over the lunch hour, but it seemed to Sharon that the laughter and noise were more about beating back the tension of the day than good cheer on the Coop’s behalf.

It didn’t help that members of the opposition in Congress had been making snide comments about how several members of Mark’s advisory team all seemed to be having issues in their personal lives. Sharon thought the sniping was particularly unfair since it was only Karen and Warmonger who happened to be having issues, nor were the issues anything of their own making but brought on by outside circumstance.

Still, she could see that Mark was taking it rather more personally than he should have. It didn’t take long for Sharon to consider. Not that she wanted to, but it was the right thing to do. So she sent the text message to Mark and shortly received the answer – he was happy to come to dinner.

He wasn’t that happy when he arrived. Gloom closed in around him as if the humidity had taken root in his soul. Sharon had already planned on having a chopped salad with bacon and tomatoes on top, but she asked Mark to do the chopping and he went at it with rather more relish than less. That didn’t stop him from immediately cleaning her good knife. Sharon found herself smiling.

“What’s that about?” Mark asked, his eyebrow quirked.

“What?” asked Sharon.

“You’re smiling at something,” he said, turning his attention to running the towel over the dark gray blade.

“I just really appreciate the way you clean off my knives as soon as you’re done,” Sharon replied. “I noticed that the first time you came over for dinner.”

“It seems like the obvious thing to do,” Mark grumbled as he slid the knife into its spot in the knife block. “It’s a nice knife.”

It was a good knife, a basic butcher’s knife, about 8 inches long, wicked sharp, with a light tan wooden handle striped with the dark grain of the wood. Sharon had a small paring knife and a basic serrated knife as part of the set. There were a couple other dark-handled knives in the block next to the kitchen sink, but Mark had noticed that Sharon didn’t seem to use them unless Mark had gotten to the light-handled ones first.

“It’s pretty special.” Sharon gently stroked the handle of the knife. “It’s one of the few things I actually own. Let’s get dinner served.”

“Fine, but you’re going to have to finish that story while we eat.” Mark was finally smiling as he dished out the salad into bowls and Sharon poured the wine.

Sharon shrugged and they sat down. “Well, you know I don’t have a lot of things.” She waved at the room around her. “This is all my friend Carla’s stuff.”

“You have clothes,” Mark said. “I know I don’t pay that much attention, but you’re not wearing the same thing day in and day out.”

“No.” Sharon couldn’t help chuckling. “That is the nice thing about Washington power wear, though. It does all look alike, and I don’t have nearly as many suits as you might think. Besides, clothes, for me, are more of a temporary thing. I rotate stuff in and out of my wardrobe all the time. I only have a couple dresses, a few tops and some jeans that I’ve had for longer than a year or two. The rest get donated as I see new outfits I like.”

“Okay. So tell me about the knife.”

“That. Well, that’s kind of a long story.” Sharon toyed with her salad for a moment, then took a sip of wine. “I think I told you about how when I was a kid, I didn’t have a lot of stuff because we moved so often. It was just too hard to haul around all the time. So when I got my first real job out of college, I kind of went nuts. My brother Michael bought me a condo, and I spent a fortune hiring a designer and started decorating it. I was going to buy furniture, art, everything. The problem was, because of my job, I was almost never there. I was spending almost all my time on the road. And then when I was there, it didn’t feel like me. It was almost empty, but that wasn’t it, either. I did have one room finished, but it felt like corporate housing. Then after about a couple years of this, I was having some trouble with the front door key after a trip, and my next door neighbor called the cops on me. He’d never seen me before and thought I was breaking in. And he worked at home. I mean, how sad is that?”

Mark laughed. “That’s pretty sad.”

“And then shortly after that, I was at this crafts festival, and I saw that set of knives. You have to understand, what stuff I did have in the condo was pretty much off the shelf, manufactured, nothing terribly unique.”

“That explains why it looked like corporate housing.”

Sharon nodded. “Probably. I did have a couple good pieces of art. But the rest of it was pretty generic. I was about to buy the knives when I stopped and asked myself if I really needed them? And I left them. And I got back to my condo and realized that I didn’t need pretty much everything that was in there. So I made a list of everything I genuinely needed. I figured a few cooking utensils because I do like to cook, my guitars, a few books, my art, and that was pretty much it. And I really debated about the kitchen stuff, only I knew I had a longer-term assignment coming, where I was going to be in Germany for about six months, and being able to cook for myself would be a good thing. And I kept thinking about that knife set. They were hand-crafted. The knife maker was right there in the booth, showing his customers exactly how to keep the edge on them, how to clean them and keep them. So I went back to the festival and bought just the butcher knife, the paring knife, and the bread knife. And I spent the rest of that month before leaving for Germany, selling off or donating everything in that condo, except the clothes I needed and those few things on my list. And then I sold the condo and gave Michael back his money.”

“Wow.” Mark chewed thoughtfully. “That’s impressive.”

“Maybe.” Sharon shrugged. “It’s just how my life is. I keep the barest essentials, including my cast iron pan and my knives, and the guitars. The art is on loan to a couple galleries back in Orange County. I’ve got my books on my ereader now, so I don’t even have to lug those around, and a few gowns and cocktail dresses that I like. Some of it stays at my parents’ place while I’m traveling, and then when it looks like I’m going to be in one spot for longer than a few weeks, I have Mom ship stuff out to me. I’ll rent a place and if it’s unfurnished, I’ll buy a few essentials, then either sell them or donate them and I’m gone.”

“That’s pretty counter-cultural.”

“I suppose. It’s going to be really interesting being around here for any length of time. I’ve had the same job for several years, but I’ve only had a few assignments that lasted longer than six months.”

“Oh.” Mark felt something in his stomach twist.

“Funny thing is, I’ve been wanting to settle down in one spot for a while now.” Sharon glanced up at the ceiling. “Carla’s supposed to be working in Africa for the next couple years, but she’s already hinted that I can keep living here after she comes back. There’s plenty of room and I’m thinking I might.”

“That’s good to know,” said Mark, his stomach slowly unclenching.

Sharon suddenly smiled at him. “Now, it’s your turn to tell me your sad story.”

“Nah.” Mark felt his stomach clench again, but for a different reason.

“Oh, come on. You’re practically the first person I’ve met who cleans up after himself without being asked.” Sharon lightly jabbed him with her fork. “There’s got to be a reason.”

“Okay. Yeah. You can blame that one on my grandmother. My dad’s mom grew up poor. Since my family has been in the jewelry business since whatever ancestor it was came over here from Norway, my folks have been fairly comfortable. But it was my grandfather and my dad who really built the stores up into the big national chain that it is. And that’s when they got wealthy. But Grandma never quite lost that sense of… I don’t know what you call it, ordinariness, I guess. And whenever I was at Dad’s and later when I went to live with him, I was expected to clean up after myself. The first thing I do when I get out of bed in the morning is make it. It’s a habit. I can’t shower or get dressed until that bed is made.” Mark chuckled. “It drives the White House housekeeping staff nuts because I’m not supposed to do that sort of thing. But I can’t help it.”

Sharon nodded. “I know. I’ve seen the staff glaring at you when you wash the dishes. It’s like they can understand wanting to cook. But clean up after it?”

“Yeah, and speaking of.” Mark pulled out his iPhone and glared at it.. “I thought I felt that buzzing. Yep, it’s Johnnie texting. I have to get back.”

Johnetta Washington was Mark’s Chief of Staff and she seldom texted unless it was urgent.

Sharon looked for her Blackberry. “Is it anything serious?”

“So-so. It’s a late vote on one of the appropriations bills. Johnnie was just letting me know about it, but I’m thinking I’m going to have to bug Jean and Gus and get a statement turned around right away.” Mark stood with a small sigh and picked up his now empty bowl.

“Leave it,” said Sharon. “Consider it my treat. Especially since I have to catch an early flight tomorrow.”

Mark frowned as he set the bowl back down. “That’s right. You’re going out to L.A. for Karen’s hearing.”

“Yep. If you want, I can keep you posted.” Sharon got up and walked Mark to the basement door, where the secret entrance to the townhouse was. The building had been built by a randy senator from the 19th Century, who had installed a secret second door to the street for his various lady friends.

“Why don’t you?” Mark said. “And I’ve arranged to buy lunch for you guys on the day of the hearing, so don’t be surprised.”

“Okay. I’m sure Karen will appreciate it.”

There was an awkward pause, then Mark quickly turned and left. Dinner with Sharon had been extraordinarily relaxing, but thinking of her was getting very much less so.

Episode 126 – Text Session

Text Session –

Matthew: Is everything set?

Tiffany: Yes. We got the sked and J didn’t even have to hack in to get it. Kira likes the statement you wrote.

Matthew: Perfect. Tell her I said to rock on.

Tiffany: Party on, Garth.

Matthew: Party on, Wayne.