The next night was Jodi’s party with her father’s family. Everyone had gathered in Orange County at the Wheatly home for supper and music. There was singing, with the dogs howling along, there was bickering and plenty of eating and wine. In the middle of it, the phone rang.
“I’ll get it!” hollered Toby, grabbing the kitchen phone. “Wheatly residence.”
“Office of the president calling for Ms. Sharon Wheatly,” said Mark’s voice on the other end.
“Which president?” asked Toby.
There was a pause as Mark tried not to laugh. “President of the United States.”
“Bugger!” Toby yelped then yelled loudly. “Aunt Sharon, it’s your boss!”
“I’ll take it upstairs,” Sharon called, heading for the stairs.
“What am I supposed to do?” Toby screamed back.
“Uh, hello,” Toby said hesitantly into the phone. “Um, I’m Toby.”
“I’m Mark Jerguessen.”
“Oh my god! You really are the president!”
There was a soft click.
“I got it!” Sharon called from her parents’ bedroom.
“Bye!” Toby said quickly, then slammed down the phone.
“Good evening, sir,” Sharon said into the phone.
Mark laughed. “Your family is good.”
“That was my niece, Toby. She’s Michael’s kid.”
“Sounds about right. Is she the birthday girl?”
“No, that’s her sister, Jodi. She turned fifteen yesterday. It’s gotten to be a family tradition that we all get together for Jodi and Toby’s birthdays. Not sure why. We don’t get together for anyone else’s birthdays.”
Sharon reached for the door to the bedroom and closed it, but it didn’t help. The music floated upstairs nonetheless.
“It sounds like a fun tradition. And noisy one, too.”
“We do like making music together.”
“Cool.” Mark sighed.
“Yeah. Just wishing I could spend time with my nephew like you’re spending with your nieces.”
“So you doing the cake and presents thing?”
“The cake, yes. Presents, sort of.”
“I don’t get it. That’s only two nieces. And if I remember correctly, three aunts and a pair of grandparents without other grandkids. Jodi should be making out like a bandit.”
Sharon laughed softly. “You’d think so, I guess. But we’re kind of funny that way. We don’t do a lot of presents, and Jodi, this year, decided she wanted to save the planet and asked us all to donate to her favorite charities – like science foundations and books for the poor, stuff like that.”
“You sure that kid is human?”
“It’s not all that surprising,” Sharon said. “We’re just not very materialistic as a family. I think it’s because we spent so much time moving from place to place when we were kids. When you have to pack up all your belongings every few years, you get the idea pretty quickly that less is more. Things are nice, but they’re not that important.”
“You having trouble understanding that?”
“Actually, no.” Mark mused. “Not at all. It’s kind of weird. Most people are surprised that I don’t tend to collect things, either.”
“Aside from your gadget habit.”
“Aside from that. But even then, unless it’s actually useful, I don’t keep it around long.”
Sharon thought about all the toys on Mark’s desk. “That’s right, you don’t. I don’t think I’ve seen anything on your desk that you don’t use. How did that happen?”
“Um. It’s a long story. I just learned at a very young age that the people who were giving all sorts of stuff weren’t the people who cared that much about me. Whereas, the people who really cared about me didn’t give me a lot of stuff, but did give me their time and their love. After a while, it was pretty easy to figure out how important stuff was. Or wasn’t.”
“Sounds about right. Interesting.”
Mark chuckled. “How do you mean?”
“That we share that kind of life value, I guess,” said Sharon. “It’s not real common. Most folks are surprised that I don’t really own anything.”
“What about all that stuff in your townhouse?”
“It’s not my townhouse. It’s my friend Carla’s. That’s mostly her stuff. Except for the kitchen tools and my cast iron skillet.” Sharon finally plopped onto the bed. “I had a condo for a while, but I was traveling so much that I was hardly ever there. I barely had a table and chairs, let alone any real furniture in it. So I sold the darned thing. Although that is one nice thing about Carla’s place. It doesn’t look like corporate housing. I’ve done more than my share of that, thank you very much.”
“Ugh. Me, too. All those hotels on the campaign trail. And actually, the place I had in DC while I was in Congress and the Senate was pretty bare. It horrified June.”
“I’ll bet.” Sharon chuckled. “Anyway, is there any business you need to discuss?”
“Uh, not really. You covered it in your last email. I guess I’ll say good night, then.”
“Good night, sir,” said Sharon.
As she hung up, she paused. The noise from downstairs was still pretty intense, but something else was nagging at her. It wasn’t until quiet finally descended on the house and Sharon went to bed that it hit her. The president had called just to chat.
The conversation hadn’t been all that deep, although the fact that they seemed to have the same values about material things wasn’t exactly glossing the surface. But there was something… Sharon shuddered. If only she and Inez hadn’t been talking about biological clocks and if only Sharon hadn’t had that image of Mark Jerguessen as daddy.
Groaning, Sharon flopped onto her side and threw her covers over her head.