Episode 162 – Mark Spots Sharon Up to Something

romantic fiction serial, romance fictionThe activity in the kitchen was rather frenetic, but come six o’clock, the hors-d’oeuvres were ready, the raw bar was set up, two bars for drinks were staffed by the contractor and ready, and the guests began arriving.

Mark stayed hidden in the kitchen. June found some cooks jackets and pants for Sharon and Lena to wear while setting out the buffet. Though Mark was focused on cooking, he did notice Sharon and Lena chatting as they prepped the ham, cheese, and olive plates. Sometime later, he saw Sharon talking to the home’s director and handing the woman something.

He was finishing cleaning up when he heard the director, a stately woman in her early fifties, turn on a microphone.

“Excuse me,” she announced. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for the speeches. I’ll do my best to keep it short. As most of you know, I am Lorraine Chavez, and I am director for the Laine Children’s Home. Our mission here is to find stable, loving homes for our neediest children and to shelter those who are waiting for such homes. It’s not an easy mission, and indeed, one of our toughest challenges is how to help those of our children who are aging out of the system. In most cases, children who turn eighteen are basically cut off and turned out, and it’s no surprise when many of them end up guests of our criminal justice system. Thanks to your generous donations and time, many of our children get mentors and scholarships for college educations and get a chance to become the successes they deserve to be.”

Chavez stopped for the smattering of applause and took a sip of water.

“You are here because you are have donated already, so I’m not going to ask for more money tonight. But I will be asking again soon. Our board of directors has decided that we need a new capital campaign, not to expand our facilities, although we could use quite a few more beds. Our goal is to increase our endowment so that we can hire more counselors to help our foster families create stable homes for our children. One of the biggest problems in our foster care system is finding long-term family situations. We’ve all heard about children being bounced from home to home to home. Our goal is to prevent that. We also want to provide more mentors for our children aging out of the system. In fact, I’ve got a perfect example of what your kindness and generosity have already done. Lena, will you come out here?”

Blushing furiously and ducking her head, Lena hurried out from the kitchen in her chef’s jacket and checked pants. Chavez put her arm around the girl.

“Lena Dutton is one of our success stories. She was raised by her grandmother and the two dreamed of opening a restaurant, serving good home cooking. Sadly, her grandmother passed away when Lena was ten and Lena came into the system. In five years, Lena was placed in seven different homes and was sexually assaulted in one of them. Somehow, she has hung on to her good nature and her passion for cooking. In fact, she volunteered to assist our substitute cooks today and was responsible for hand-slicing the ham you enjoyed on your cheese platters tonight. Lena, who will age out in two weeks, recently received a scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America, in New York. The only problem was, it did not include her books and tools, nor did it include room and board. I am happy to announce that tonight, one of our volunteers has offered to pay for anything the scholarship doesn’t cover. We do need to find a mentor or two to help Lena make her transition from the system into normal life, but she is well on her way to success thanks to the generosity of people like you.”

In the kitchen, Mark’s head whipped up and his eyes fell on Sharon, whose attention was focused elsewhere. Chavez finished up and Lena came back to the kitchen, her eyes overflowing. As Mark gave the sink a final wipe-down, he saw Sharon out of the corner of his eyes, handing Lena a package wrapped in a towel he recognized from Sharon’s townhouse. Lena shook her head. Chavez wandered by and Sharon stopped her. The two talked and Chavez took custody of the towel-wrapped package while saying something to Lena.

Sharon also insisted that the after-party for the volunteers happen at her townhouse and the basement rec room known as the PFZ – Protocol Free Zone. Mark found an excuse to slide upstairs to Sharon’s kitchen and noticed that her special hand-forged knives were not in their spot in her butcher block.

He also managed to wrangle a dinner invite to her place the next night, a Sunday. The knives were still missing.

Monday, the city was buzzing with the rumors that it had been the President cooking for the children’s home dinner. Many scoffed simply because there were no YouTube videos posted, or even a fuzzy photo on Facebook or Twitter.

“I can’t believe no-one thought of it,” Karen told Sharon as they two ate lunch together in the White House mess.

“We were all pretty busy,” Sharon said. “Besides, everyone was probably thinking someone else was taking the pics. I hear Jean’s pretty mad.”

Jean was Jean Bouyer, the President’s press secretary.

“Fit to be tied.” said Karen, giggling. “The boss won’t let her confirm the rumors. Or deny them, either. And the eligible bachelor hashtag has been trending off the charts.”

“Yeah. I saw that. Rich, single, powerful and he cooks!” Sharon shook her head.

“Jean spent an hour in my office trying to talk me into getting the boss to confess,” Karen said, contemplating her sandwich.

Sharon speared a lettuce leaf with her fork. “I can see why he doesn’t want to own up to the children’s home. He did it because it needed doing and he does like to cook. But you know somebody will make it out to be some political maneuver.”

“That’s what I told Jean and she finally agreed. We just have to convince the boss that it’s okay to come clean on the cooking thing. Most folks know he does. And it does humanize him.”

“You sure it doesn’t make him too good to be true?”

Karen thought about it. “Nah. He’s not that good a cook.”

Episode 161 – Getting Beyond the Disaster

romantic fiction, romance serial, light romanceSharon was already packing a good-sized tote as she and everyone else hung up. Her mind was buzzing through the whole host of possibilities as she dropped evening shoes and a cocktail dress and her makeup bag into the tote. She quickly added a brush, then ran downstairs and looked at her kitchen. There wasn’t much she could bring, but she did finally wrap her good knives in a towel and added the package to the tote.

She did make one stop before heading to the Metro. On the corner near her townhouse was a small bodega and butcher shop. The butcher knew her and while he was somewhat surprised by her request, he did have an option. Sharon called Mark immediately.

“What?” asked Mark.

“Sir, I think we’ve scored some beef tenderloins. Whole ones. And a wheel of manchego cheese, plus a boatload of olives,” said Sharon. “I just need someone to pick them up.”

“Terrific. Let’s see… Gus said he’d be willing to do some running and so did Tanks. What’s the address and who’s the contact?”

Sharon gave him the information and told the butcher that he’d be getting a call. From there, she ran to the Metro stop.

Cordelia and Rebecca Cooper were waiting for her at the Vienna Metro station.

“We’re going out to the farms,” Cordelia said to Sharon as they hurried to Cordelia’s small sedan.

“Can’t I drive, Mom?” Rebecca asked.

“Are you out of your mind, girl?” Cordelia retorted. “We’ve got split second timing going on here.”

The drive into the Virginia countryside was somewhat tense, but the rewards were three country-style hams and several bushel baskets of vegetables. After checking in with Melody, the women stopped at a supermarket, then went directly to the children’s home.

Mark was already there. The kitchen proved to be quite large, with two industrial range and oven units, a full-sized commercial refrigerator that was at least half-empty and a full complement of utensils. In addition, Mark had pulled a tall warming oven from the White House kitchen.

Gus Guerrero had picked up the beef, cheese and olives from the bodega near Sharon’s townhouse and had even better news.

“A raw bar?” Sharon gasped.

“With crab, shrimp and lobster,” said Gus. “Turns out the governor’s catering company was getting desperate since it was going to be too small for the Smithsonian folks. But still, there was all this seafood already delivered. We scored it for our party, instead.” Gus let out a hearty laugh. “This whole town is going crazy. It’s only four events and a wedding. In August, no less.”

“Those three are pretty big events,” said Melody, frantically sifting through the sheets of paper on her clipboard. “But a raw bar will help. When will it be here?”

“By four,” said Gus.

It was already close to one in the afternoon when Mark and Sharon surveyed the collection of ingredients as Rebecca, Matt and an older teen from the home looked on.

“We’d better get those hams soaking,” Mark said. “But what do we do with them?”

“Do we have a slicer?” Sharon asked. “Maybe we could do paper-thin slices and serve them on plates with the cheese and olives, like tapas.”

“I don’t think we have a slicer,” Mark said, looking around the kitchen. “I suppose I could slice them by hand.”

“I can do that,” piped up the young girl from the home.

She was somewhat chunky, with dark, chocolatey skin, and about average height. Her dark eyes shone with excitement.

“Um, I’m Lena,” she said, suddenly backing off. “I really like cooking and I’m good at it. I think. I bet I could slice that ham pretty thin.”

Mark looked at Sharon, who shrugged and nodded.

“Okay,” said Mark. “We’ll give it a try. But those hams need soaking first.”

“Oh, I know,” Lena said. “My grandma used to cure her own. Had to soak them for a week before we could eat them.”

Lena set to soaking the hams in the huge two-part sink in the kitchen while Mark and Sharon debated the rest of the menu. In addition to the beef, they had six turkey breasts to consider. They finally decided to cook the beef on the stove top and bake the turkey breasts. As for sauces, Sharon talked Mark into doing a wine-based sauce for the turkey and a more traditional gravy for the beef.

“It’s not the usual sort of thing,” Sharon said.

June, for her part, had started making calls the moment her plane landed.

“The freaking Police Fund has already snagged every freaking table and chair in the city,” she complained to Karen Tanaka over the phone.

“It could be worse,” Karen said, sorting through bolts of fabric at a fabric store in the suburbs. “We could be in the middle of the social season.”

“But that’s also why we can’t get the tables and chairs,” sighed June. “I wonder if we could get away with borrowing from the White House stash.”

“Good question,” said Karen. “It is a charitable event and it is in a crisis situation. But there could be fall out from the opposition about using government resources for a private entity.”

“I wonder what the home has available.”

“I already checked. They have one long table and about twenty chairs. Wait. It’s going to be a buffet anyway, right?”

“Yes. So?”

“Why don’t we set up a few tall tables and use the home’s sofas and see if we can score some more over-stuffed furniture and make it a more relaxed, more party-like kind of thing.?”

“Great idea. We can do the hors d’oeuvres outside on the lawn, then serve dinner on the first floor, like usual, only there won’t be table settings, just furniture and a some tall tables. And let’s keep to a multi-color scheme, say rainbow pastels?”

Karen looked over the bolts of cloth and thought. “Rainbow pastels should be doable. There’s a warehouse store near here. I should be able to pick up the flatware and plates, as well.”

“And Mark says to save your receipts. We’ll get you reimbursed, okay?”

“We’ll see,” said Karen.

As it turned out, Melody had found a stock of tables and chairs from her husband, Roy’s, church. Karen was able to find enough fabric to make instant table clothes and ribbons for the chairs. She bought plates, silverware and glasses at an outlet in the Virginia suburbs. June pulled several vases and dishes from her personal collection and made centerpieces from those. Matt, Tony, Jodi, Tiffany, Rebecca and Kira were drafted to pass hors d’oeuvres, and Mark drafted his assistant Gen Flowers and a couple of her friends to serve drinks.

Episode 160 – A Social Disaster Strikes

romantic fiction, romance fiction, romantic serialThe rest of the week passed quietly. It was the end of August in Washington, and with most of the Congress still gone for the month’s break, that meant few meetings. Even Sharon had less to work on than usual and by Friday, found herself looking forward to a nice, relaxing weekend and downloaded several books onto her tablet in anticipation of some extended reading time.

Which was why she was less than thrilled when her mobile phone rang around 10 that Saturday morning and the President’s number was flashing on the screen. She took a deep breath and answered.

“Sharon, we’re going to need some help here,” said Mark’s voice even before she could say hello. “Melody, are you there?”

“I’m right here, Mark.” Melody’s voice was a little faint and sounded considerably more agitated than usual.

“June?” Mark asked.

“You’ve got me for the next ten minutes,” June said on her end of the conversation. She’d spent the week in New York. “We’ll be landing soon and I’ll have to turn the phone off. Oh, my god. It’s on the news already.”

“What?” asked Sharon, searching for a TV remote. But she was in her kitchen, cleaning up after her breakfast and the nearest television was in the back study.

“It’s a complete disaster,” sniffed Melody.

“Hang on, Mel,” said Mark. “We can make this work. Sharon, the children’s home is having their big donor’s party tonight. It’s one of their most important events because they need to raise money.”

“I can’t believe it,” Melody said. “I spoke with the caterers just yesterday. They said everything was ready to go.”

“That’s what everybody’s saying,” said June. “And today, gone. Poof!”

“The catering company just went out of business overnight,” said Melody, sounding as if she was trying not to cry. “Overnight!”

“I doubt that,” said June. “But, Sharon, it’s one of the biggest companies in D.C. And they had at least three other major parties they were doing tonight and today. And a wedding. Oh, my god, that poor couple.”

“We need to focus on the donor’s dinner,” Mark said. “Solly took the weekend off and most of her crew with her to cater her niece’s wedding in New Orleans. Russell said he could do the couple’s wedding.”

“Russell?” Melody asked.

“The sous chef here at the White House,” Mark said. “Solly left him behind just in case I needed feeding. I told him to work the wedding before Melody called me about the dinner. So how many are we expecting, Mel?”

“About a hundred and fifty,” Melody said. “They delivered the wine and the liquor for the bar – I think that was a sub-contractor, which is why we have it. But there’s no food and folks are supposed to be here at 6 pm. What are we going to feed them?”

“Get a ham or two,” said Sharon. “The weather’s hot enough, you can serve it cold and a ham feeds a lot of people for minimum effort. I’ve got a double oven here, so I could bake a couple and bring them over.”

“This was supposed to be a fancy sit-down dinner,” Melody said.

“Well, it’s not going to be anymore,” said June. “Don’t stress on it, Mel. Are the decorations there?”

“Nothing. The caterer was going to do that and we don’t even have the tables and chairs.”

“June, can you handle the decorations?” Mark asked.

“Yes,” said June. “I’m texting Tanks now. Shavings. They’re telling us to turn off our phones. I’ll catch up with you as soon as I’m on the ground.”

Sharon finally found her way into the study of the Georgetown townhouse where she lived and clicked on the TV.

“This looks major,” she said into her phone. “I just heard a fill-in chef say he’s going everywhere to find ingredients.”

“And Augie is texting me that that Maryland fundraiser their governor was doing tonight was canceled,” said Mark. “I wonder….”

“You think we could use their catering company?” Melody asked.

“Nope,” said Sharon. “The Smithsonian nabbed them already, according to CNN.”

“We’ll take care of it,” Mark said. “I’ve done parties before.”

“This was supposed to be a luxury sit-down dinner,” Melody whimpered.

“It’s not going to be now,” Mark said. “But if it’s making this big a splash in the news, your donors are going to be impressed if you can give them anything more than salted peanuts and a glass of wine. Sharon, how fast can you get out to Vienna?”

“What?” Sharon asked.

“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Mark continued, speaking very fast. “I’ll get Eddie to meet you at the Vienna station. You guys go grocery shopping out there. Even odds everyone else will be freaking out but staying in town. You pick up whatever you can and we’ll figure out the menu based on what you get. I’m thinking a basic buffet. Two hot meat dishes, a salad, some vegetables.”

“We’ll need at least one vegetarian hot dish,” said Sharon. “What about hors d’oeuvres?”

“We usually do passed hors d’oeuvres,” Melody said.

“We’ll add that to the mix,” Mark said. “Maybe the kids at the home can do the passing.”

“No,” said Melody. “This is their night, too. Believe me, it’s really important to have them as guests. That way, they interact with the donors and tell their stories. It’s really important.”

“Fine,” said Mark. “We’ll get Matt and his friends to do the serving.”

“For sure,” said Sharon. “Let’s see, that’s two, four, six. Do we want to rope in Deborah and Allie? They’re sort of part of the group even though they’re the younger sisters.”

“Why not?” Mark said.

Sharon turned off her TV and went into the guest bathroom off the kitchen. “I’m about as decent as I can be. Where are we going to cook everything?”

“We have the home’s kitchen,” said Melody. “It’s pretty big.”

“I’ll scope that out,” said Mark. “I think our biggest challenge is going to be getting the food in, then we’ll figure out how to handle it.”

“Okay,” said Sharon. “Let me get a couple things together just in case I can’t get back here. Sir, can you text Coop and tell him I’ll text him when I get to the Vienna station?”

“Already done and Eddie has texted back. Cordelia will meet you at the station, text her the second you get above ground.”

“I need the number.”

“Coming at you.” Mark chuckled. “This is going to be fun. Melody, we’ve got this one in the bag. Your job will be to keep track of who is doing what. Think you can handle it?”

“Of course,” Melody said in a voice that said she was not at all sure she could.

“Good,” said Mark. “I’ll text everyone your number and have them text you so that you’ll have all our numbers in your phone. Keep a charger and plug on you. We are going to rock this one.”

It’s Valentine’s Day! Special Freebie!

romantic fiction serial, romance, sweet romance, fiction serialWe interrupt our usual bit of White House Rhapsody to bring you a special Freebie! Because it’s Valentine’s Day, what better thing to do than give you a free ebook – namely the first part of White House Rhapsody. It’s the easiest way to catch up on the popular fiction blog.

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Episode 159 – Toby Falls Hard

Romantic fiction, Romantic fiction serial, romance serialThe next day, Michael and his family arrived early at the townhouse where Sharon lived. She was dressed, but just barely. The limo only had to wait a few minutes for Sharon to pull her hair into a ponytail and then grab the salad she’d promised to bring.

The party was at the Cooper home in Vienna, Virginia, a suburb at the end of the DC Metro line feeding into the city. It was a quiet area filled with split-level homes surrounded by lots of trees. The house shared by Eddie and Cordelia Cooper and their four children was actually a colonial with two stories and a basement that opened onto the lush green backyard.

Rebecca Cooper had arranged that everyone would meet there for a welcome/school’s starting party, the idea being that the more casual setting would make Mark less intimidating for Jodi. It was a kind thought. But Jodi found herself managing the crowd quite well. She knew most of the teens there, if not in person, then by video chat. The parents were pretty much non-entities, although Jodi was polite and thanked the Coopers for inviting her and her family.

Toby took over the social duties after that, introducing Jodi, Tiffany, Michael and Inez to Eddy and Cordelia, then Roy and Melody Hodgkiss, and Tony Garces, then Karen Tanaka and Hideo Matsumoto, and Kira and Allie, and finally to Matt and June.

Mark slipped into the party somewhat later, which turned out to be lucky for Toby. As soon as she saw him, her jaw dropped.

“He’s gorgeous,” she whispered to no one in particular.

Sharon, however, happened to overhear.

“Do you want me to introduce you?” Sharon asked Toby.

“No!” Toby yipped. “Yes! No. Let’s wait a few minutes. I mean, he just got here, right?”

Sharon laughed as Toby wandered to the other part of the backyard from where Mark was.

Mark, for his part, got a can of beer and wandered somewhat aimlessly until he saw Tony Garces talking rather animatedly with a slender blonde teen-age girl. Curious, Mark wandered closer.

“But I still use pen and paper,” Tony was saying.

“Of course,” the young girl said. “It’s totally a fixed medium. You can easily scan it. Still, you’ve got to admit that the new e-pens are working just as well as a pencil.”

“Not as well as a pencil.” Tony looked up and grinned at Mark. “Oh, hi. This is Jodi.”

Jody grinned and stuck out her hand. “How do you do, sir.”

“Quite well, thank you.” Mark smiled, feeling a little confused. “What are you guys talking about?”

“Drawing tablets,” Tony said. “Although I think we’re sliding into the whole digital versus analog debate.”

“Does it have to be one or the other?” Mark asked.

“Well, digital does have certain advantages and it can replicate some of the softer virtues of analog formats,” Jodi said.

“Not always,” said Tony.

“It also depends on what you’re talking about,” said Jodi. “Like self-driving cars. They have been proven to anticipate a problem and brake faster than a human.”

“What about making the decision regarding where you want to go?” Mark asked, enjoying the banter immensely.

Kira got into the conversation on the acoustical side of the issue and Mark finally slipped away to say hello to Eddie and Cordelia. He was also vaguely aware of a young brown-haired girl watching him from the edge of the yard. As he chatted briefly with Eddie, Sharon walked up.

“Hey,” said Sharon. “I saw you talking with Jodi.”

“Yeah.” Mark looked back over the group. Jodi and Rebecca were talking with Matt and Michael. “I thought you said she was the shy one. We had a great little debate going.”

Sharon laughed. “Well, she told me last night that Rebecca and Tiffany have been helping her fake it when she’s nervous. She figured she’d better get used to meeting people with the new school and all.”

“Rebecca’s coaching her? That’s my girl,” said Eddie with a slightly rueful chuckle. “Has to take care of everyone and everything. No idea where she got that from.”

Mark and Sharon snorted as Eddie laughed and took a pull on his bottle of beer.

“Anyway,” Sharon said. “It seems Jodi and her sister Toby have switched roles.”

Mark nodded at the young girl on the edge of the yard. “I’m guessing that’s Toby skirting the bushes back there.”

“That’s her,” said Eddie. “You should have seen her ten minutes ago. All Ms. Social Butterfly, introducing everybody to everybody else.”

Toby appeared to have gotten her nerve up and walked toward the adults.

“Hi,” she said softly to Mark. “I-I’m Toby.”

Mark shook her hand. “Nice to meet you, Toby. I hear you’re going to High School for the Performing Arts this fall.”

“Yeah. I’m taking an acting program,” said Toby. “It’s, uh, kinda what I do.”

“That’s interesting.”

“Yeah. Thanks. I-I’ll talk to you later.” Toby dashed away.

“I’d better go check on her,” said Sharon, working very hard not to laugh.

June had found Toby first.

“That’s your brother?” Toby was asking her. “He is so amazing. Oh, my god, he is so cute! And he’s really sweet. Oh, my god, how did you stand living with someone so gorgeous?”

“I managed,” said June, struggling to hold in her laughter. She saw Sharon approaching through the corner of her eye and didn’t dare catch her friend’s eye.

“Aunt Sharon, isn’t he the dreamiest?” Toby gasped. “You are so lucky you get to work with him. I can’t believe how gorgeous he is.”

Toby wandered off, first finding a soda from the bucket near the serving table, then sliding back to the bushes to admire Mark from afar.

June and Sharon turned their back to her and let the laughter roll.

“She is seriously crushing on your brother,” Sharon giggled.

“Ya think? I mean, I haven’t seen a girl react to Mark like that since I was in high school.”

“Hey, guys,” Mark walked up to the two woman. “What are you two laughing about?”

“My niece,” said Sharon. “Toby.”

“Someone’s got a serious baby crush on you, brother dearest,” June said with a giggle.

“Oh, come on. She’s just a kid,” Mark said. But he glanced back at Toby and saw the look on her face and sighed.

“Don’t worry about it,” Sharon said. “She’s sure to come out of it soon enough.”

“I hope so.” Mark said.

“It’s cute,” said June.

“You don’t have to deal with the fallout from the broken heart,” Mark said.

“Neither do you,” said Sharon. “The Tobester is made of sterner stuff than that. Besides, she’ll be in New York. You’ll be here.”

Mark wandered off to talk to Roy Hodgkiss.

Episode 158 – An Odd Emergency

The rest of the week passed quietly. It was the end of August in Washington, and with most of the Congress still gone for the month’s break, that meant few meetings. Even Sharon had less to work on than usual and by Friday, found herself looking forward to a nice, relaxing weekend and downloaded several books onto her tablet in anticipation of some extended reading time.

Which was why she was less than thrilled when her mobile phone rang around 10 that Saturday morning and the President’s number was flashing on the screen. She took a deep breath and answered.

“Sharon, we’re going to need some help here,” said Mark’s voice even before she could say hello. “Melody, are you there?”

“I’m right here, Mark.” Melody’s voice was a little faint and sounded considerably more agitated than usual.

“June?” Mark asked.

“You’ve got me for the next ten minutes,” June said on her end of the conversation. She’d spent the week in New York. “We’ll be landing soon and I’ll have to turn the phone off. Oh, my god. It’s on the news already.”

“What?” asked Sharon, searching for a TV remote. But she was in her kitchen, cleaning up after her breakfast and the nearest television was in the back study.

“It’s a complete disaster,” sniffed Melody.

“Hang on, Mel,” said Mark. “We can make this work. Sharon, the children’s home is having their big donor’s party tonight. It’s one of their most important events because they need to raise money.”

“I can’t believe it,” Melody said. “I spoke with the caterers just yesterday. They said everything was ready to go.”

“That’s what everybody’s saying,” said June. “And today, gone. Poof!”

“The catering company just went out of business overnight,” said Melody, sounding as if she was trying not to cry. “Overnight!”

“I doubt that,” said June. “But, Sharon, it’s one of the biggest companies in D.C. And they had at least three other major parties they were doing tonight and today. And a wedding. Oh, my god, that poor couple.”

“We need to focus on the donor’s dinner,” Mark said. “Solly took the weekend off and most of her crew with her to cater her niece’s wedding in New Orleans. Russell said he could do the couple’s wedding.”

“Russell?” Melody asked.

“The sous chef here at the White House,” Mark said. “Solly left him behind just in case I needed feeding. I told him to work the wedding before Melody called me about the dinner. So how many are we expecting, Mel?”

“About a hundred and fifty,” Melody said. “They delivered the wine and the liquor for the bar – I think that was a sub-contractor, which is why we have it. But there’s no food and folks are supposed to be here at 6 pm. What are we going to feed them?”

“Get a ham or two,” said Sharon. “The weather’s hot enough, you can serve it cold and a ham feeds a lot of people for minimum effort. I’ve got a double oven here, so I could bake a couple and bring them over.”

“This was supposed to be a fancy sit-down dinner,” Melody said.

“Well, it’s not going to be anymore,” said June. “Don’t stress on it, Mel. Are the decorations there?”

“Nothing. The caterer was going to do that and we don’t even have the tables and chairs.”

“June, can you handle the decorations?” Mark asked.

“Yes,” said June. “I’m texting Tanks now. Shavings. They’re telling us to turn off our phones. I’ll catch up with you as soon as I’m on the ground.”

Sharon finally found her way into the study of the Georgetown townhouse where she lived and clicked on the TV.

“This looks major,” she said into her phone. “I just heard a fill-in chef say he’s going everywhere to find ingredients.”

“And Augie is texting me that that Maryland fundraiser their governor was doing tonight was cancelled,” said Mark. “I wonder….”

“You think we could use their catering company?” Melody asked.

“Nope,” said Sharon. “The Smithsonian nabbed them already, according to CNN.”

“We’ll take care of it,” Mark said. “I’ve done parties before.”

“This was supposed to be a luxury sit-down dinner,” Melody whimpered.

“It’s not going to be now,” Mark said. “But if it’s making this big a splash in the news, your donors are going to be impressed if you can give them anything more than salted peanuts and a glass of wine. Sharon, how fast can you get out to Vienna?”

“What?” Sharon asked.

“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Mark continued, speaking very fast. “I’ll get Eddie to meet you at the Vienna station. You guys go grocery shopping out there. Even odds everyone else will be freaking out but staying in town. You pick up whatever you can and we’ll figure out the menu based on what you get. I’m thinking a basic buffet. Two hot meat dishes, a salad, some vegetables.”

“We’ll need at least one vegetarian hot dish,” said Sharon. “What about hors d’oeuvres?”

“We usually do passed hors d’oeuvres,” Melody said.

“We’ll add that to the mix,” Mark said. “Maybe the kids at the home can do the passing.”

“No,” said Melody. “This is their night, too. Believe me, it’s really important to have them as guests. That way, they interact with the donors and tell their stories. It’s really important.”

“Fine,” said Mark. “We’ll get Matt and his friends to do the serving.”

“For sure,” said Sharon. “Let’s see, that’s two, four, six. Do we want to rope in Deborah and Allie? They’re sort of part of the group even though they’re the younger sisters.”

“Why not?” Mark said.

Sharon turned off her TV and went into the guest bathroom off the kitchen. “I’m about as decent as I can be. Where are we going to cook everything?”

“We have the home’s kitchen,” said Melody. “It’s pretty big.”

“I’ll scope that out,” said Mark. “I think our biggest challenge is going to be getting the food in, then we’ll figure out how to handle it.”

“Okay,” said Sharon. “Let me get a couple things together just in case I can’t get back here. Sir, can you text Coop and tell him I’ll text him when I get to the Vienna station?”

“Already done and Eddie has texted back. Cordelia will meet you at the station, text her the second you get above ground.”

“I need the number.”

“Coming at you.” Mark chuckled. “This is going to be fun. Melody, we’ve got this one in the bag. Your job will be to keep track of who is doing what. Think you can handle it?”

“Of course,” Melody said in a voice that said she was not at all sure she could.

“Good,” said Mark. “I’ll text everyone your number and have them text you so that you’ll have all our numbers in your phone. Keep a charger and plug on you. We are going to rock this one.”

Episode 157 – Toby Has a Crush On

Romantic fiction serial, romance fiction, light romanceThe next day, Michael and his family arrived early at the townhouse where Sharon lived. She was dressed, but just barely. The limo only had to wait a few minutes for Sharon to pull her hair into a ponytail and then grab the salad she’d promised to bring.

The party was at the Cooper home in Vienna, Virginia, a suburb at the end of the DC Metro line feeding into the city. It was a quiet area filled with split-level homes surrounded by lots of trees. The house shared by Eddie and Cordelia Cooper and their four children was actually a colonial with two stories and a basement that opened onto the lush green backyard.

Rebecca Cooper had arranged that everyone would meet there for a welcome/school’s starting party, the idea being that the more casual setting would make Mark less intimidating for Jodi. It was a kind thought. But Jodi found herself managing the crowd quite well. She knew most of the teens there, if not in person, then by video chat. The parents were pretty much non-entities, although Jodi was polite and thanked the Coopers for inviting her and her family.

Toby took over the social duties after that, introducing Jodi, Tiffany, Michael and Inez to Eddy and Cordelia, then Roy and Melody Hodgkiss, and Tony Garces, then Karen Tanaka and Hideo Matsumoto, and Kira and Allie, and finally to Matt and June.

Mark slipped into the party somewhat later, which turned out to be lucky for Toby. As soon as she saw him, her jaw dropped.

“He’s gorgeous,” she whispered to no one in particular.

Sharon, however, happened to overhear.

“Do you want me to introduce you?” Sharon asked Toby.

“No!” Toby yipped. “Yes! No. Let’s wait a few minutes. I mean, he just got here, right?”

Sharon laughed as Toby wandered to the other part of the backyard from where Mark was.

Mark, for his part, got a can of beer and wandered somewhat aimlessly until he saw Tony Garces talking rather animatedly with a slender blonde teen-age girl. Curious, Mark wandered closer.

“But I still use pen and paper,” Tony was saying.

“Of course,” the young girl said. “It’s totally a fixed medium. You can easily scan it. Still, you’ve got to admit that the new e-pens are working just as well as a pencil.”

“Not as well as a pencil.” Tony looked up and grinned at Mark. “Oh, hi. This is Jodi.”

Jody grinned and stuck out her hand. “How do you do, sir.”

“Quite well, thank you.” Mark smiled, feeling a little confused. “What are you guys talking about?”

“Drawing tablets,” Tony said. “Although I think we’re sliding into the whole digital versus analog debate.”

“Does it have to be one or the other?” Mark asked.

“Well, digital does have certain advantages and it can replicate some of the softer virtues of analog formats,” Jodi said.

“Not always,” said Tony.

“It also depends on what you’re talking about,” said Jodi. “Like self-driving cars. They have been proven to anticipate a problem and brake faster than a human.”

“What about making the decision regarding where you want to go?” Mark asked, enjoying the banter immensely.

Kira got into the conversation on the acoustical side of the issue and Mark finally slipped away to say hello to Eddie and Cordelia. He was also vaguely aware of a young brown-haired girl watching him from the edge of the yard. As he chatted briefly with Eddie, Sharon walked up.

“Hey,” said Sharon. “I saw you talking with Jodi.”

“Yeah.” Mark looked back over the group. Jodi and Rebecca were talking with Matt and Michael. “I thought you said she was the shy one. We had a great little debate going.”

Sharon laughed. “Well, she told me last night that Rebecca and Tiffany have been helping her fake it when she’s nervous. She figured she’d better get used to meeting people with the new school and all.”

“Rebecca’s coaching her? That’s my girl,” said Eddie with a slightly rueful chuckle. “Has to take care of everyone and everything. No idea where she got that from.”

Mark and Sharon snorted as Eddie laughed and took a pull on his bottle of beer.

“Anyway,” Sharon said. “It seems Jodi and her sister Toby have switched roles.”

Mark nodded at the young girl on the edge of the yard. “I’m guessing that’s Toby skirting the bushes back there.”

“That’s her,” said Eddie. “You should have seen her ten minutes ago. All Ms. Social Butterfly, introducing everybody to everybody else.”

Toby appeared to have gotten her nerve up and walked toward the adults.

“Hi,” she said softly to Mark. “I-I’m Toby.”

Mark shook her hand. “Nice to meet you, Toby. I hear you’re going to High School for the Performing Arts this fall.”

“Yeah. I’m taking an acting program,” said Toby. “It’s, uh, kinda what I do.”

“That’s interesting.”

“Yeah. Thanks. I-I’ll talk to you later.” Toby dashed away.

“I’d better go check on her,” said Sharon, working very hard not to laugh.

June had found Toby first.

“That’s your brother?” Toby was asking her. “He is so amazing. Oh, my god, he is so cute! And he’s really sweet. Oh, my god, how did you stand living with someone so gorgeous?”

“I managed,” said June, struggling to hold in her laughter. She saw Sharon approaching through the corner of her eye and didn’t dare catch her friend’s eye.

“Aunt Sharon, isn’t he the dreamiest?” Toby gasped. “You are so lucky you get to work with him. I can’t believe how gorgeous he is.”

Toby wandered off, first finding a soda from the bucket near the serving table, then sliding back to the bushes to admire Mark from afar.

June and Sharon turned their back to her and let the laughter roll.

“She is seriously crushing on your brother,” Sharon giggled.

“Ya think? I mean, I haven’t seen a girl react to Mark like that since I was in high school.”

“Hey, guys,” Mark walked up to the two woman. “What are you two laughing about?”

“My niece,” said Sharon. “Toby.”

“Someone’s got a serious baby crush on you, brother dearest,” June said with a giggle.

“Oh, come on. She’s just a kid,” Mark said. But he glanced back at Toby and saw the look on her face and sighed.

“Don’t worry about it,” Sharon said. “She’s sure to come out of it soon enough.”

“I hope so.” Mark said.

“It’s cute,” said June.

“You don’t have to deal with the fallout from the broken heart,” Mark said.

“Neither do you,” said Sharon. “The Tobester is made of sterner stuff than that. Besides, she’ll be in New York. You’ll be here.”

Mark wandered off to talk to Roy Hodgkiss.

The party wound down fairly early. The next day, Sunday, Matt and Tony had to move into their dorm room at St. Ignatius Prep, as did Jodi and Tiffany at Seaton Ladies’ Seminary.

Episode 156 – The Big Arrival

romantic fiction serial, serial fiction blog,  light romanceThe teens were ready and eager to go, although Kira was still a little steamed that Rebecca had wanted to go to the airport instead of Kira.

“I mean, it doesn’t make sense,” Kira said again as they got onto the Metro car. “I mean, I get that Rebecca is excited about meeting them face to face. But she said she wanted Jodi to feel comfortable and not have a crowd there.”

“Which is what we’re doing,” said Matt.

“But I’m the only one here who has actually met her before. I mean, come on. Technically, you shouldn’t even be here.” Kira jabbed Matt in the chest as she rocked with the movement of the subway train.

“I think Jodi will be fine,” Sharon interjected. “And there’s Tiffany to consider, too. Rebecca had a good plan. We’ll say hi, then let the girls spend some time with their dad tonight.”

Which meant that Kira immediately started thinking up activities for the group to do over the next few weekends, since school was about to start for all of them, never mind that they were mostly going to different schools.

Sharon, Matt and Kira arrived at the airport just after the plane from Los Angeles was to have landed, but it had been delayed and wouldn’t land for another thirty minutes. On the other hand, Michael and Inez had been waiting around for over an hour. Which meant that Michael was pretty antsy by the time his daughters stepped out of the secured area into the baggage claim.

The squealing and hugging and general merriment were almost overwhelming. But Sharon noted that Jodi seemed to be handling it well. Sharon also noted the gleam of lust in Toby’s eyes as she met Matthew Jerguessen. Too bad Matt seemed to only have eyes for Tiffany and that Tiffany seemed to reciprocate. Sharon wondered about that.

Still, as the group waited for the bags to come off the plane, Sharon managed to pull Jodi aside.

“Did Rebecca talk to you about working for the President?” Sharon asked quickly.

“Oh. Yeah.” Jodi smiled. “I can’t wait.”

Sharon blew out a breath in relief. “Great. Rebecca forgot to talk to him about it, though.”

“Oh, no!” Jodi turned pale.

Sharon patted her arm. “It’s fine. I talked to him this afternoon. He’s looking forward to having you. And Tiffany, if she wants.”

“Whew!” Jodi laughed. “I want. And Tiffany does, too. Only I think it’s more about Matt for her. I think they really like each other.”

“Yeah, I was noticing that. What’s going on?”

“They just emailed a lot last spring, before Matt went to Washington. And they’re still emailing and texting and all that stuff. They don’t leave me out. They just have their own vibe is all.”

“Oh. That’s interesting.”

Jodi shrugged and hurried off to talk to Kira while Michael got cornered by a fan and had to sign an autograph and pose for a picture. Then Inez signaled and the teens closed ranks around him so that they could get to the waiting limo.

 

Episode 155 – Getting Ready for Jodi and Tiffany

romantic serial fiction, romance fiction, romance serialJodi and Tiffany were scheduled to fly into Washington Friday evening with Jodi’s older sister Toby. Michael and Inez were to fly down from New York in time to meet them, then after Jodi and Tiffany were settled at their new school, Toby would go to New York with Michael and Inez.

Sharon had to concede that Rebecca had considerable justice on her side. There was no question that Jodi was shy and that being the center of attention made the teen very uncomfortable. And Sharon knew that while Jodi was excited about meeting the President, she was also more than a little freaked out.

The problem was, Rebecca hadn’t taken into account that the President had his own schedule, as did Michael, as did Karen Tanaka (which given that Kira didn’t drive yet, made it difficult for her to plan getting around). In addition, Rebecca had more or less assumed that Jodi and Tiffany would join Kira, Matt, Tony and herself in rotation as the President’s assistants when Gen Flowers was unavailable. It was an assumption that had Sharon concerned since neither the President nor Jodi and Tiffany had said anything about it.

So Sharon made a point of squeezing in a quick briefing with Mark late Friday afternoon

“I thought the world was more or less at peace,” Mark said as Sharon entered the Oval Office.

Ginger Peachy and Kickie Poo yipped excitedly and ran over to Sharon, who bent and patted the tiny orange dogs as Mark shushed them.

“The world is,” Sharon said. “This is a domestic issue.”

“Not your usual bailiwick.” Mark put down the tablet that he was reading and gestured at Sharon to sit down on one of the couches.

“It’s about the Big Arrival tonight and tomorrow,” Sharon said.

“Oh, that.” Mark chuckled as he got up and got two mugs from the credenza. “It’s getting to be quite the production.”

“It is.” Sharon sighed. “I have to give Rebecca credit. She is being very sensitive to Jodi’s issues, and she’s come up with a very appropriate plan.”

“It works for me,” Mark said. He finished pouring coffee into the mugs, added a dash of sugar to Sharon’s, then sat down across from her. “Eddie confirmed that they’re on board. Karen’s okay with it. Even Roy said he could get Tony there.”

“Yeah, well, Rebecca forgot one little detail.” Sharon took her mug and sipped. “Or maybe I just wasn’t in on that group of emails. She is expecting Jodi and Tiffany to join the rotation as your assistants.”

Mark laughed full out. “No. She forgot to talk to me about that, too. She is her father’s daughter. I was going to extend the offer, however.”

“You’re not just saying that?” Sharon said.

“I don’t just say things. You know that.” Mark paused as Sharon shrugged. “Okay. I suppose you have to be sure. But I really was going to ask Jodi and Tiffany to join that merry little band.”

“Are you going to be okay if Jodi decides she’d rather not?” Sharon asked.

Mark’s eyebrows lifted. “Do you think she doesn’t really want to?”

“I have no idea,” Sharon said. “I’m pretty sure Tiffany is all for it. But Jodi… You think I don’t want to be in the public eye. She’s way more shy than I am. On the other hand, she could be totally cool with it. There’s no real way of knowing.” Sharon paused. “I’m just afraid that if you ask her, she’ll say yes whether she wants to or not. Or that you’ll be annoyed if she turns you down.”

“Hm.” Mark sipped his coffee as he thought it over. “You know, it never occurred to me that she might turn the job down. Or might want to. Huh.” He finally shrugged. “It’ll be okay. I’d like to have her. She seems like a really smart kid. But I’m okay with it if she doesn’t want to.”

“Good. I’ll try to talk to her tonight, if I can get her away from her dad long enough.” Sharon quickly checked her phone. “In fact, I’d better be on my way. Do you know if Matt’s ready?”

“I’ll text him now,” said Mark, pulling out his phone. “And I think I saw a text or something that Kira was on her way in from the front gate. You sure you don’t want a car?”

“No point.” Sharon put down her mug and stood up. “Inez has already arranged for a stretch limo for the ride to the hotel. And they’ll get me to the Coopers’ tomorrow for the welcome party.”

Mark chuckled again. “Troop maneuvers.”

“No kidding. But if those kids want to move as a pack, it’s going to take troop maneuvers to do it. At least, Rebecca backed off meeting Jodi and Tiffany at the airport.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” Mark got up as well.

“Sure thing.”

Sharon took off, completely unaware that Mark was grinning as he watched her go. Her focus was on collecting Matt and Kira and getting them to the Metro and National Airport before Jodi and Tiffany’s plane arrived from Los Angeles.

Episode 154 – June’s Turn

But Susan wasn’t picking up her phone. Sharon left a brief message, sniffed, then dried her tears.

“That’s that, then,” she said. “I’d better get going.”

“Stay for dinner,” June said. “We’ll eat up here and you won’t have to be alone and depressed.”

“I’ll get to make you depressed.”

June laughed softly. “Not really.” There was a knock on the door. “And there’s dinner.”

June got up and admitted the junior usher who rolled in a cart draped with a white cloth. Two filled plates, napkins, silverware, two glasses filled part way with a red wine and the wine bottle were laid out on the top. Within seconds, the usher, a young woman with a serious face and brown hair pulled into a bun, arranged the food and service on a small table next to the couch. June thanked her and the usher left, taking the cart with her.

“What’s this?” Sharon asked.

“Spaghetti Bolognese,” June said, handing her a plate. “Solly makes a really good one. You know, the kind that’s simmered for three days.”

Sharon looked at the plate, then picked up her fork. “You know, that does sound good.”

“It is,” said June, who had already twirled up her first bite. “It’s my comfort food.”

“You have a comfort food?” Sharon asked.

“Mm-hm.” June slurped a short strand of spaghetti. “I fell in love with it in Milan. There was a little trattoria not far from the design house where I was apprenticing. Our boss did not want us going there, and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t a model. It was basta on the pasta, per Signor. Which is exactly why I and all the other girls went there every chance we got. And I’ve loved it ever since. At least, when it’s done right. I’ll even eat it when I’m relapsing.”

Sharon chuckled. “How is that going, anyway?”

“Pretty well.” June winced. “I was going to talk to Carla about the incest angle before things went south back in Nigeria.”

“About the what?” Sharon gasped. “June, I had no idea.”

“Huh? Did I just say that?” June shook her head in awe. “Wow. I really must be coming around a corner.” She looked at Sharon. “I’ve never told anybody. Well, I recently told Dr. Williams. She’s the one helping me to talk about it. I was going to talk to Carla first, just as a sounding board.”

“Do you want to talk now?”

“I don’t know.” June set her plate down, then gasped as she thought of something. “It wasn’t Mark.”

“I kind of figured,” Sharon said. “Was it Harold?”

“Oh, yeah. It started when I was five and he was thirteen.” June shuddered. “Good lord, I can’t believe I’m talking about this. I haven’t even told Mark, let alone my dad. I generally try to pretend that it didn’t happen. But then things seemed to be going really well with Doug.”

“As in Douglas Lee, the hair stylist you keep siccing on me?” Sharon asked. “I thought you were just friends.”

“We are and we aren’t. Doug has serious OCD issues. It’s totally weird. He works all day with people’s hair, but he can’t stand to be touched.” June took a deep breath. “But now he wants to move past his disorder and have a real relationship with me. And I want the same. I don’t even know how I’m going to tell him. And Mark. Good lord, he is going to be so upset that I didn’t tell him sooner.”

“Probably.” said Sharon. “But, June, you’re doing the best you can. He’ll understand that, even if he doesn’t like it.”

“I suppose,” June said. “He’s been protecting me my whole life. The one time I let something slip, he lost the election.”

“Huh?”

June sighed. “It was really awful. I was gang-raped in high school. I didn’t tell Mark because, well, I was trying not to face it. Only one of the guys came out and busted Mark for it when he was running for state senate. And it looked really bad. It’s the only election Mark has lost.”

“Oh, June!” Sharon gasped, then got a hold of herself. “That’s horrible. What? You haven’t been through enough?”

“That’s why it’s so hard to tell Mark. It could really hurt him if it got out.”

“But, June….” Sharon swallowed, debating which issue to deal with first. “My god, you’ve been dealing with some terrible shit. But, but…. Look, hiding it hasn’t helped your brother. It hasn’t helped you deal with it.”

“I know.” Tears began to fall down June’s cheeks.

Sharon put her hand on June’s arm. “I’m guessing you haven’t been wanting to deal with it all, yourself.”

“You can say that again.” June paused and took a very deep breath. “I don’t want people feeling sorry for me. And I’ve mostly gotten past it.”

“Except for your relapses.”

June sighed. “Except for those.” She looked down at her spaghetti. “I was supposed to be cheering you up.”

“You did.” Sharon shrugged. “I suppose we both needed each other today. It happens. You made me feel better. I hope I helped you feel better.”

“Yes.” June aimlessly twirled some spaghetti, then straightened and held up her glass. “We are strong women.”

Sharon tapped her glass against June’s. “We are, indeed. That’s why we can hold each other up.”

“Yeah. We can do that.”

The two turned back to their meal, with the conversation bouncing back and forth between Sharon’s grief, June trying to tell her brother about her past and all manner of topics in between. By the time Sharon left the White House, the only problem the two hadn’t entirely solved was what to do about Rebecca Cooper and the arrival of Jodi and Tiffany.