Episode 172 – Max Meets up With Susan

In the District, itself, Susan Wheatly sat at a table in the bar of one of the larger, more luxurious hotels in town. A double Manhattan and a plate of Maryland crab cakes had been placed in front of her, but her attention was riveted to her tablet which was running a video taken that afternoon.

The dance wasn’t working. Two weeks before the premiere at the Artists with Disabilities Festival and her grand debut piece was not coming together. Not even close. Susan knew better than to panic. This would hardly be the first time a piece she was choreographing got stuck. But it was the first time she wouldn’t be able to dance out the problem herself.

The video ended and Susan started it over again, only to pause it and glare at the screen. She wasn’t sure if she heard the man’s voice first or simply felt his presence.

“You’re Susan Wheatly, aren’t you?” he asked.

Susan was about to question the man’s right to ask, but then she looked up. His hair was brown, as were his eyes and there was a small scar on his chin. His tan jacket was just neat enough to be acceptable, but Susan’s eyes didn’t miss the tiny frays at the lapels and the cuffs. And even as she registered the plaid shirt under the jacket, she realized she’d met the man before.

“I’m sorry,” she began.

He held out his hand. “Max Epstein. We met last spring in Los Angeles.”

“Oh. You’re that reporter my sister’s dating or something like that.” Susan gave his hand a brief squeeze.

Was something like that,” Max sighed and sat down in the chair across the table. “We never really got off the ground and I haven’t talked to her since May? June? Somewhere in there.”

“Kicked you to the curb, did she?”

“No. Just a mutual realization that it wasn’t going to work. We’re still Facebook friends.”

“I didn’t even know she was on Facebook,” said Susan.

“She’s not real active,” Max said. “So I’m guessing you’re in town for the Artists with Disabilities Festival? I’d read you’ve got a dance on the schedule.”

“Not a good time to be asking about that,” Susan grumbled, glaring at the tablet in front of her.

“Ah. The magnum opus isn’t quite coming together yet.”

Susan sighed. “It’s early yet. Today was just the first rehearsal.”

She fiddled with the stem of her cocktail glass, wondering if she should have told Sharon she’d arrived in town.

“These things always seem like they’re going to hell, at first,” Max said gently. “But they come together by the end. At least, that’s what happens when I’ve got a big writing project.”

Susan flipped the tablet face down onto the table. “Yeah. You’re right.”

“And you’ve got crab cakes getting cold.”

Susan grinned and shoved the plate toward him. “Have one. They’re pretty darned good.”

“I know,” said Max reaching over to take one of the crispy brown cakes. “This place is known for the best crab cakes outside of Baltimore.”

“Buy you a drink?” Susan asked.

Max thought about it for a moment. “Sure. Why not?”

“And what brings you to the high rent district?” Susan asked, waving at the waiter.

“An interview. North Dakota’s governor’s in town to beg favors from the president.”

“Does not sound interesting.”

Max shrugged. “It wasn’t. So what brings you to the high rent district?”

“My brother is a rock star and very generous. So I have money and I decided that in this high stress situation, I needed some luxury to de-stress.” Susan took a long sip of her drink. She smiled, suddenly aware of what she wanted. “You want to have sex with me tonight?”

The suggestion clearly startled Max. That was all right. It had startled Susan, who in spite of being decidedly loose of late, was rarely that abrupt. He grinned.

“Sure. Why not?”

Sometime later, after drinks and crab cakes and sex, Max stirred. Susan had pulled herself upright in bed and was again staring at her tablet.

“You okay?” Max asked.

“It’s just not going right,” Susan sighed. “And I don’t know how to fix it.”

Max sat up, himself. “Well, what’s it supposed to be about?”

“About struggle and overcoming and getting back on your feet after a loss,” Susan said.

“Except you can’t get back on your feet,” Max said.

The tablet fell into Susan’s lap and she began breathing heavily. Max wasn’t sure, but thought she might be ready to hit him. Instead, she slowly broke down into sobs. He pulled her into his arms and let her cry. It took a while, but the crying eventually slowed.

“Sorry to do that to you,” Max said.

“You were just trying to help,” Susan said with a sniff. “It’s probably the first time I’ve really cried about losing my legs. I mean, I was at the point where I was going to have to think about retiring from the ballet, anyway. And I knew I wanted to choreograph. I just didn’t think I’d have to do it from a wheelchair.” She blinked back a couple tears, then let them fall. “Everyone thinks I’m being so brave and making the best of a bad situation. But I’m not. I hate the way things are. I want to dance. Really dance. And I can’t. My body won’t let me.”

“Sounds frustrating.”

Susan winced. “No shit. Of course, it’s frustrating. My brother, Michael, says it’s like watching a bird with its wings clipped. That’s why he wrote the music I’m using for the dance. It’s literally called ‘Sparrow Without Wings.’ That’s me. I’m clipped. I can’t do what I was built to do. I feel like I’m a shell of myself. Everyone tells me I should be glad I’m alive. And I guess I am. But who am I? What am I? I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be the good little crip and accept it. I’m supposed to accept that my very soul was ripped out of me and be happy? Horse shit. I’m supposed to be happy with making do? I don’t see how that’s going to happen. I just don’t. I get told that if I just accept what happened, I’ll feel better. What bullshit! There is no feeling better. This is permanent. I can see where maybe the time will come where I’ll get used to this. Or maybe it’ll be tolerable. But better? No. It’s not happening. And, damn it, I’m pissed. I’m really, really pissed. And I am sick and freaking tired of people patting me on the head and telling me to accept my reality.”

“Maybe what you need is an angrier dance,” Max said, softly.

“So I can work through my anger issues?” Susan sneered.

“No. I’m with you. I don’t think this is something you work through. You live with it. You put up with it. But you don’t work through it. And if you’re angry, then maybe that’s what needs to be in your dance.”

“Huh.” Susan picked up her tablet again and re-started the video. “I don’t want it to be just about anger. That would be too depressing. Even for me.”

“Possibly. But it can’t hurt to start there, could it?”

“I think you’ve got a point.” Susan was soon engrossed in her tablet, this time making notes.

“Maybe I should be going,” Max said softly.

Susan looked up, suddenly disappointed. “Oh. Damn. Just when I was getting to like you. Any reason you can’t stay the night? A goldfish to feed or something?”

“Not really.” Max snuggled down into the pillows. “I mean besides not having a toothbrush on me. Or fresh undies.”

“I could call the hotel’s concierge,” Susan offered.

“Nah. I don’t have to work tomorrow, so I can sleep in here and get clean clothes after I get home.”

Susan turned back to her tablet. “Mind if I keep the light on?”

Max chuckled. “Not really. I’m kind of enjoying watching you work.”

Susan rolled her eyes and kept working.

Episode 167 – Uncle Mark on the Way

light romance, sweet romance, romantic fiction serialSharon only stopped long enough to shut her laptop down and grab her purse. As she hurried to the Metro station near her house, she called Mark.

“Hi. Is this serious?” Mark asked when he picked up.

“It’s about Matt. He just called me.”

“Where is he? The school just called me and I can’t get a hold of him.”

“His battery was dying and I told him to turn the phone off for the time being. He’s at Union Station in a total panic. It seems some of the boys at school set him up at some mall by putting merchandise in his pockets without him knowing, then ditched him. He found the stuff before leaving the store, but he’s scared to death that the mall security is after him.”

“Not quite, but things are a pretty mess. I’m heading to the school now. Tell you what. I’ll have a car meet you at Union Station. You bring Matt back to school. I’m not sure what all is going on, but I’m pretty sure they’re not going to charge him.”

“Matt’s pretty worried about this hurting you.”

Mark chuckled. “He would. Tell him not to worry. We’ll get it all straightened out.”

“Okay. I’ve got to go underground. I’ll call when I catch up with Matt.”

“Good. And, uh, thanks.”

“No problem.”

As Mark swiped his phone to hang it up, he noticed Secret Service Agent Riff Butler, a tall, broad Black man with the blank demeanor most agents wore, already ordering the car. Butler paused.

“Sir?” he asked. “We’ve got a car on the way to Union, but is it for Ms. Wheatly?”

“Yeah,” said Mark. “Do you know if Matt ditched his detail?”

“No, sir. He didn’t. But they won’t interfere if he’s not in actual danger.”

“That’s right. But Matt was set up by some boys.”

“Yes, sir. We know. But it will be better for Matt if his detail doesn’t step in.”

Mark frowned. “I don’t see how that will help keep him safe.”

“It’s not personal safety, sir,” said Riff. “It’s socialization at school. No point in reminding everybody that he has government bodyguards. Makes him more of a target for resentment and harassment.”

“I see.” Mark glared out the window. “I know why you can’t tell me what’s going on, but Tony Garces was saying that Matt’s been getting a lot of grief from Duffy and Rob.”

“Yes, sir.” Riff shifted as he checked his tablet. “Duffy McIntyre and Rob Ayres. Duffy’s father is Andrew McIntyre and Rob’s father is Stephen Ayres.”

“No.” Mark groaned softly.

Andrew McIntyre had made his extreme fortune buying and selling software companies. His hardline approach to business and everything else meant that he was a frequent and very loud critic of Mark’s. Stephen Ayres was part of a real estate dynasty, and while he wasn’t the blowhard McIntyre was, he was no fan of Mark’s, either. Mark tried to remember if either were active parents. Mark knew Paul Marley’s mother, Senator Janet Marley. She was from the opposition, but the two were friends.

Episode 166 – Matt’s in Trouble

romance fiction, romantic fiction serial, light romanceSharon did not sleep well that night and woke up the next morning with her mind grasping at fuzzy images of Mark Jerguessen. As she ate breakfast, she debated going into the office that day, but decided the chance of running into Mark was not worth it.

Besides, there were fewer distractions at her townhouse. Determined to get the jump on the week ahead, Sharon fired up her laptop and began reading.

She was so absorbed that she barely noticed that her mobile phone was ringing and only just switched it on before the call went to voice mail.

“Wheatly,” she answered quickly, wondering who would be calling on a Saturday.

“Aunt Sharon, it’s Matt.” The boy’s voice sounded upset.

“Is everything okay?”

“No. I don’t know what to do. They set me up, Aunt Sharon. I didn’t do anything, and I think I got all the stuff out of my pockets. But what if they’re after me?”

“What? Who’s after you?”

“The mall police. They think I was shoplifting. Only I wasn’t.”

“Of course, you didn’t, Matt. Now, take a deep breath and let’s start at the beginning. What happened?”

“It was Paul and Rob and Duffy. They’re guys from school. They’re on the football team. I got to know them a little before Africa. They were really mad when I left the team. But they got some off-campus passes and invited me to come with them. I figured they were trying to make peace, you know?”

“Okay.” Sharon got up and began pacing. “So they weren’t?”

“No. Paul does this pickpocket thing. I mean, he’s really good and you can’t tell he’s pulling stuff from your pockets. Only this time, we were at a department store and Paul and the guys put a bunch of stuff in my pockets then ditched me. I found the stuff before I left the store. But you know how they have all these cameras all over the place. I’m sure someone saw me. I got everything out of my pockets I could and got out of there. I didn’t even stay at the mall. I took the Metro into DC, but then I thought what if this gets Uncle Mark into trouble? Aunt Sharon, what am I going to do?”

“Take another deep breath.” Sharon paused long enough for Matt to take his breath. “All right. Now where are you?”

“Union Station.”

“Okay.” Sharon thought it over. “Why don’t you stay put? I’ll come get you and we’ll work out what to tell your uncle and see how he wants to handle it. It shouldn’t take me that long to get there. So just stay put. Okay?”

“My battery is dying.”

“Where at the station are you? Can you get to the food court?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Hang there and I’ll be on my way in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

“My battery is dying.”

“Turn the phone off, then turn it back on again in about 30 minutes. Okay?”

“Okay. Bye.”

Episode 165 – Warmonger has a Problem

light romance fiction, romance fiction serial, sweet romanceThe following Monday brought the sad news that Caroline Eddington had passed away. The news made for a very long week for everyone in the White House. The funeral was held on Friday. Al Eddington was his usual stoic self, which bothered Mark a lot more than he realized.

“Something just seemed off about the whole thing,” he told Sharon as the two prepared a cole slaw in Sharon’s kitchen to go with the pulled pork that Chef Solly had made and Mark had brought over.

“That’s because his daughters were completely avoiding him,” Sharon said. “All three of them. They pretty much hung onto their husbands and barely said squat to Al.”

“You think that’s what got to Al?”

Sharon paused as she sliced some red cabbage with her second-best knife. “No. I think it was Caroline dying. But he’s not showing his grief and in the process, he’s pushing his daughters away from him when he most needs them. I hope he takes some time off, but I’ve got a bad feeling he’s going to be at the Advisory Board meeting on Tuesday.”

“I told him not to come in, but he’ll be there.” Mark frowned. He thought as he shredded a small carrot onto a cutting board. “He even pointed out that there were some rumbles of genocide in Nigeria.”

“More than a few rumbles,” Sharon said. “It’s looking pretty grim, according to Bantu. But I have to agree with Al. It’s not even close to time for us be get involved militarily. For one thing, no one is asking us to come in.”

“Al seems to think no one is going to ask,” said Mark. “What the hell is he doing, keeping an eye on that?”

Sharon shrugged. “I guess it’s a distraction. But if he’s holding his grief in like it looks like he is, I am seriously not looking forward to when it all comes crashing out.”

“That is not going to be pretty.” Mark sighed. “I think I’m going to have to make a point of getting my briefings from Wanda Dereske.”

“Wanda?” Sharon asked.

“Al’s second in command,” Mark said. “I would have hired her except that Al was willing to come on board. But her contacts are almost as good as Al’s, and she’s not dealing with his issues right now.”

“I don’t think I’ve met her.”

Mark chuckled. “You need to come up for air more often. Her office is just down the corridor from yours.”

“Huh. Maybe I’ll go introduce myself on Monday. Do you want to do sandwiches with these? We can use the barbecue sauce as a dipping sauce.”

“Let’s just eat the pork as is. If you want the barbecue sauce, we can have it on the side.”

Sharon sampled a bit of meat. “Oh, my god. This is wonderful. Hm. Sauce or no sauce. I’ll just put some in this ramekin and we can dip at will.”

“Sounds good,” said Mark.

Once again, he found himself caught up in watching Sharon as she quickly laid out place settings on the counter next to the dining area. Which is why he left to go back to the White House shortly after they finished eating and cleaning up.

Sharon, for her part, was happy to see him go. It had been an uncomfortable week. And while dinner together had made things a lot more relaxed, she was still closer to Mark than she wanted to be – and not close enough.

Episode 164 – Text Chat

romance fiction, romantic fiction serial, light romance, sweet romanceText message chat:

Matt – Hey.

Tiffany – Hey back.

Matt – What are you doing?

Tiffany – Homework.

Tiffany – Writing an essay for American History. You?

Matt – Algebra Two word problems. Blech.

Tiffany – Do you want me to get Jodi?

Matt – Nope. Deshawn’s hel

Matt – Sorry. Deshawn’s helping me and Tony just threw a pillow at me.

Tiffany – Jodi’s trying to hack the school server. You think they’re okay with us having a thing?

Matt – They seem to be. I mean, it’s all been chats and hanging with them so far.

Tiffany – I guess. It’s getting late and I’ve still got a lab to write up.

Matt – ‘K. Love you

Tiffany – Love you.

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.”

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.