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 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 135 – Sharon and Karen Talk to Mark

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

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

“Well?” he asked slowly.

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

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

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

Mark nodded and sighed. “You noticed.”

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

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

“Not yet,” said Karen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 132 – Rose Makes a Plan

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

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

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

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

Episode 119 – Sharon and Karen Pay a Sick Visit

The visit turned out to be relatively brief. Al Eddington, aka Warmonger, was the president’s military and intelligence advisor, one of the six full-time advisors on Mark Jerguessen’s full-time Advisory Board. The group worked together to keep the president on top of pretty much everything. The goal of the Board wasn’t to formulate policy – there were plenty of others who did that for him – but to act as a research group that he could turn to that wasn’t as hooked into the politics as most other advisors. Warmonger worked at home, partly because at age 70, he wanted to, and partly because he was a heavy smoker.

Unfortunately, his wife, Caroline, had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer.

“The prognosis isn’t good,” Caroline told Sharon and Karen that evening.

Her head was swathed in a colorful scarf – a sign of the chemotherapy. Thin plastic tubes adorned her nose, since she was also on an oxygen tank.

“How’s Al taking it?” Karen asked.

Caroline took a deep breath. “Total denial, but what do you expect?” She breathed again. “That’s his training.”

Sharon and Karen nodded. The three nattered on for a while longer, then Caroline sent the two others on their way. Warmonger, a tall man with gray hair and the utterly erect posture of a former member of the military, stopped them on the way to Karen’s car.

“I, uh,” he hesitated.

“It’s okay, Al,” said Karen.

“We’d do it for anybody,” said Sharon. “You are more important than just anybody.”

“I’m fine,” Al snarled, then softened. “As long as Caroline is happy. That’s what matters.”

“No kidding,” said Karen.

“Seriously, we are your servants,” Sharon said. “If there’s anything we can do, please let us know.”

“I will,” Al said.

In Karen’s car the two women rolled their eyes.

“You think he’s going to ask?” Sharon asked as Karen navigated their way around the Beltway to Sharon’s Georgetown townhouse.

“Are you crazy?” Karen said. “So not in this guy’s training.”

Sharon sighed. “I was hoping.”

“Nope,” Karen said. “We’re going to have to enlist another White guy. Maybe Eli.”

Eli Weatheral was the Advisory Board member overseeing environmental issues. Though technically a part-timer, Eli was closest to Al in age. The downside was that Eli was about as diametrically opposed to everything Al believed in as one person could get. Still, the two respected each other.

“Maybe,” Sharon said. “I hate feeling this helpless.”

Karen shrugged. “Get used to it. One thing you learn from popular culture is that it while it reflects the larger culture, it’s also constantly changing and leaving the dinosaurs behind. Al is going to be the way he is because that’s what he was taught to do. On the other hand, younger guys are learning to be more open about their feelings.” She sighed. “When they aren’t being taught to be knuckle-scraping Neanderthal frat boys.”

Episode 113 – Susan Meets George Watanabe

16-1102-whr_pullquoteIn the Orange County, California, home of her parents, Susan Wheatly’s good mood was quickly evaporating. It had been a good couple days. There was the usual rush of anxiety that she got right after accepting a choreography job, as she began to wonder how she was going to create a dance. And while the fear seemed somewhat more intense because she was now in a wheelchair, it felt a lot more normal than anything else in her life. Then there had been the horror of that afternoon, then the enormous relief that the far-away events hadn’t been an issue.

More annoying was the event she was getting ready for. It was a fundraising dinner celebrating a major addition to a local hospital. Susan’s brown hair and eyes reminded everyone of their mother, even though Susan had her father’s slimmer build. And some seriously developed arms, Susan noted with some disgust. She shifted her chair around and headed for the lift downstairs.

She was only going to the event as a favor to her friend Mira, and wouldn’t have been doing that much if it hadn’t been for her niece Jodi and her best friend Tiffany. The two girls had asked Susan to shelter their friends Kira and Allie Watanabe if they ran away to avoid staying with their father.

“Harboring runaways? I don’t think so,” Susan had told Jodi and Tiffany the week before. “That’s insanely illegal, and you have no idea how much trouble Sarah got our parents into when she tried hiding a friend at their place.”

“But, Aunt Susan, we’ve gotta do something,” Jodi pleaded.

Susan had said she’d think about it, and then Mira called, also pleading and begging for Susan to show.

“It’s turning into the fundraiser from hell,” Mira had complained. “Just today, George Watanabe, head of emergency medicine at County/USC? He not only decides to get involved, he makes this mondo donation and want his name in the program and they’re already printed! I hear he only made the donation because he needs to look good because he’s suing his ex for custody.”

Susan pondered the odds that there were multiple Watanabe’s suing their exes for custody in Southern California and decided it was worth the risk and agreed to Mira’s request.

Susan checked her mobile phone for the time. The car service was due at any second. She hoped she could check Watanabe out (assuming he was Kira and Allie’s father) and leave the dinner before the evening got too drawn out.

It was a standard hotel fundraiser. Although Susan did note there were several others in wheelchairs there, including one guy from her rehab facility who looked like he was still trying to score with her. Susan made a point of avoiding him.

She found Dr. Watanabe almost by accident when he backed into her to avoid a waiter rushing dirty dishes back to the kitchen. He was of medium height, built solidly with a square face and coal black hair. Susan introduced herself and he smiled with interest. It wasn’t a leer, but darned close.

“Watanabe,” Susan said slowly. “You wouldn’t happen to be related to Kira and Allie Watanabe, would you?”

“My daughters,” he grunted, the interest evaporating immediately. “Why?”

“My niece Jodi is friends with them. I understand they’re coming out this summer.”

“At some point, yes.”

Susan smiled. “It’d be great if we could set up some time for the kids to get together. Maybe do a sleep over or something.”

“It would, but I don’t know when they’re going to be here. My ex is being a bitch about it.”

“Well, I could email you.”

“I don’t have time for that.” Watanabe glared for a second, then dug out his prescription pad from his suit and a pen. “Tell you what. I’ll write up the permission now and you let my secretary know when you want the girls.”

He leaned over her to write on a nearby table, whipped the paper off the pad, and handed it to her, his eyes already sweeping the room and lighting on a tall blonde near the podium.

“My number’s on the pad,” he said and stalked off.

Susan looked down at the paper. Sure enough, he had granted her permission to take the girls and had not specified when or for how long. Susan wasn’t sure if she was elated or appalled. But she carefully put the paper in her purse, went to find Mira, and left the party the very second she could.

Jodi was thrilled to get the text. Susan still winced. How could anyone be so casual about where their kids went while spending huge amounts of money to get custody of them? Jodi had said the custody suit was more about Watanabe being angry at his ex. Susan shook her head. It certainly seemed that way.

Episode 112 – From Matt’s Perspective

romantic fiction serial, light romance, fiction serialFrom News&Perspectives.com,

By Matthew Jerguessen

….We finally did figure out what had happened and I have to cop to the blame. Turns out when Tomas was asking us about Sharon, and I said, “No es muerto,” what it sounded like to Tomas was that Uncle Mark wasn’t dead. I’d made the classic mistake we English-speakers make when speaking Spanish. I’d forgotten that you have to change the endings of words based on whether you’re talking about a male or a female. So what I said was, “He isn’t dead.” And Tomas apparently thought I was trying to point out that at least my uncle wasn’t dead, which meant that Sharon was. Or something like that.

Anyway, Tomas is the one who told the rest of the media that Sharon was dead and they all jumped on it. Sharon was pretty cool about it. I mean, I know more Spanish than that, but Sharon said that it was probably the stress from the whole shooting thing that made it hard for me to think in Spanish. She says that language is one of those things that’s almost hard-wired into our brains and that the two things almost any human being will do in their native language is pray and count. So while I do have to cop the blame for the mix-up, it was also the situation.

Episode 111 – An Assassination Attempt

romantic fiction serial, romance fiction, The levity and good feeling lasted through the next morning as the U.S. party loaded themselves into a limo motorcade that was joined by President Mendoza’s own motorcade. Mark later was hard pressed to remember where the group was headed. All he remembered was that as he got out of the limo and bent to help Sharon out, he was flattened and shoved back in by body guards. He never even heard the gun shots.

An American Secret Service agent, unnamed, was later credited with spotting Pablo Tomenco’s gun and calling it out in time for one of the Columbian agents to knock the gun askew and send the bullets skyward. Somehow, no one was hit in the attempt on both the Columbian and American presidents.

In the U.S. presidential limo, Mark realized that Sharon was underneath him and as he slowly got up, he saw that she was unconscious.

“Are you all right, sir?” asked the ever-present Riff Butler, an imposing African American man with a buzz cut and a perfect Secret Service demeanor.

“I’m fine,” Mark snapped.  “Sharon’s out.”

Mark glanced around. Calvin Whitecross was in the facing seat next to Matt. Sharon groaned and tried to pull herself up. Riff reached around the tight space and helped her up as he let out a stream of Spanish, directing Tomas, the Columbian driver, to head to the nearest hospital. Sharon responded, her Spanish far too fast for Mark to follow in spite of her grogginess, but Riff not only glared her down, he repeated the order.

At the hospital, the limo screeched into the emergency bay. Doctors, nurses and orderlies were ready with several gurneys.

“Sir, come with me,” Sharon ordered as she was lifted onto a gurney.

She started in Spanish again and the doctor motioned for Mark to join them as they rushed Sharon into the emergency room, with Riff on their heels. Matt swallowed and looked at Calvin.

“Now what?” Matt asked.

“Get out of the car?” Calvin asked.

Fortunately, an orderly who spoke English appeared in the doorway and took them to a waiting room.

“Your driver, he is parking the car someplace else,” the young Columbian said. He was short and slight, but had a firm demeanor.

Matt swallowed. “I heard shots. Did anyone else get hurt?”

“I don’t think so,” the orderly answered. “The radio for emergency, it does not say anyone is coming. I will come for you if it calls.”

“Thanks,” Matt replied.

“So I guess we wait,” Calvin said as the orderly left.

“Yeah.” Matt sighed. “Hope she’s okay.”

Calvin smiled softly. “In my experience, when they’re yelling like that, they’re okay.”

The waiting room could have been anywhere, with green and blue plastic chairs strung together in tight rows and gray walls with supposedly soothing framed pictures on them. Except that the voice coming from the TV mounted on a wall in the corner was speaking in rapid Spanish. Matt watched the images from the shooting site and tried to deduce what had happened.

Tomas, the short and fat limo driver, waddled into the waiting room. With a worried frown, he approached Matt and spoke rapidly in Spanish. All Matt caught was “La Senorita” over and over again and guessed that the driver was asking about Sharon’s condition. Matt’s mind went blank.

“No es muerto,” he finally said.

“Ay! Pero la senorita?” Tomas asked.

“No es muerto,” Matt said again, trying to remember how to say Sharon was mostly okay, especially since he knew that he knew that much Spanish.

It didn’t help. With a loud cry, Tomas went running off out of the hospital. About 20 minutes later, Matt noticed a head shot of Sharon on the TV screen with the caption “Muerta.” Dead.

An obscenity dropped from his lips. “Calvin, it’s saying Sharon Wheatly is dead.”

“What?” Calvin came over and looked at the screen. “You think?”

“Why wouldn’t they have told us?” Matt cried belligerently. “What the hell happened? Where’s that guy?”

He left the waiting room with Calvin on his heels, looking for someone to who could speak English and who knew how Sharon was doing. The two didn’t find help right away, but they found Mark and Riff waiting in an empty room.

“Oh, no!” Matt sobbed.

“Matt? What’s the matter?” Mark asked.

“Aunt Sharon… The TV said she’s dead,” Matt blinked back tears. “And she’s not here.”

“They’re doing an x-ray on her head,” Mark said. “She has a concussion, probably. They’re checking just to be sure there’s no skull fracture.”

“But the TV,” Matt gasped.

“Are you sure you understood what they were saying?” Mark asked.

“Pretty sure,” Matt said.

Mark glanced at Calvin, then glared briefly at Riff. He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and dialed out.

“Yesmenia -” he began, but was cut off. “What? No. She’s fine. I mean, she probably has a concussion, but she’s alive and cranking…  Seriously? Crap…. Even the U.S. news?…. No, no. Get out the retraction. Now. I’ll call Wheatly’s folks…. Yes, I’ve got her phone…. Just get on it, okay?”

Mark swiped off, then rolled his eyes as he dug through the plastic bag holding Sharon’s belongings. He pulled Sharon’s Blackberry free and started scrolling through her contacts.

“Her mother is Madeleine Fauvrillet,” Calvin said. “Father Robert Wheatly.”

“Here it is.” Mark connected through as Matt elbowed Calvin.

“How’d you know that?” Matt hissed playfully at Calvin, who shrugged.

Mark waited as the phone rang in California.

“Allo?” asked a worn female voice.

“Madeleine Fauvrillet?” Mark asked, stumbling over the last name a little.

“Yes. This is she.” Her voice was firm, but she sounded upset.

“This is Mark Jerguessen. It sounds like you may have heard about your daughter on the news.”

“Yes. It is kind of you to call.”

“Ma’am, it’s a false report. I was just with your daughter, and it’s no more than a concussion, maybe a skull fracture at worst. But she is most definitely alive and likely to stay that way.”

“False? She is alive!” There was a sigh, then the sound of her crying and shouting at someone in French. “Oh, grace a Dieu! Merci. I mean, thank you so much. Thank you for calling. I must call the others. Merci. I mean, thank you!’

She hung up. Mark looked at the phone. A second later, orderlies wheeled Sharon into the room.

“Why do you have my phone?” she asked.

“It’s a long story,” Mark said.

Sharon frowned at Mark as he, Matt and Calvin exchanged guilty looks. Matt suddenly sniffed and soundly hugged Sharon.

“Easy!” she yelped, then hugged him back. “What was that for?”

“I’m sorry,” Matt gasped. “I know you’re hurt, but I’m just so glad you’re alive.”

“Of course-” Sharon suddenly stopped and listened. Rapid Spanish floated over from another television elsewhere in the emergency department. “You have got to be kidding me! Oh, my god, my parents!”

Mark showed her the phone. “I just called them. Sorry to use your phone, but it was the fastest way.”

Sharon eased herself back down onto the pillows. “How the hell did this happen?”

Mark just shrugged.

Episode 110 – Sharon Gets Good News

romantic fiction serial, romance fiction, sweet romancePresident Mendoza arrived just as Air Force One touched down. Tony and Matt, who had previously been bouncing off the walls, suddenly settled down and got their ties tied and suit jackets on. Sharon smiled to herself. They were technically there as the president’s personal assistants. It was a heady job, but Mark had chosen well in spite of their youth, with both boys having just enough youthful joie de vivre to be excited about opening doors for the President but enough gravitas to behave appropriately.

Mark made his way down the airplane’s stairway to the podium and red carpet set up nearby. There was a decent-sized crowd gathered on the airport tarmac, and plenty of press, both American and Columbian. Mark greeted Mendoza, a broad-shouldered man who Sharon thought resembled Omar Sharif more than a little. Mendoza made a little welcome speech in excellent English, then Mark made his way through his speech in Spanish. Mark didn’t speak Spanish very well, but Sharon had coached him extensively, and if she was not thrilled with his accent, at least his Spanish didn’t sound forced.

After the welcome speeches, there was an early evening car tour of the city, then dinner in the presidential palace. That went late. Nonetheless, the U.S. party was up again early for tours and talks and much-needed fence mending with local farmers who had suffered at the hands of American soldiers who had been trying to take down the drug cartels. Mark strongly suspected that more than a few of the government officials and citizens they met were members of said cartels, if not the heads of such groups. Sharon didn’t say for sure, but she hinted.

She spent her day mostly observing. Her staff member who oversaw research on South America, Leonidas Bertonetti, had been in Bogota since late the week before and had made a goodly number of contacts even apart from the ones President Mendoza had set up.

The day was a whirlwind, finishing up with a particularly rowdy party with dancing and a decidedly free-flowing bar. Sharon didn’t think she’d had that much to drink, but she was feeling pretty happy.

The news from home was exceedingly good. First, Karen Tanaka, Sharon’s colleague on the president’s Advisory Panel and Sharon’s good friend, had called. Karen, also known as Tanks, had been recently sued by her ex-husband, George Watanabe, for custody of their two daughters, Kira and Allie.

Then Sharon’s sister Susan had called with her news, followed closely by their brother Michael, whose parting advice, while unsolicited (as so much of Michael’s advice was), Sharon had to concede had merit. Which turned out to be fairly convenient, since Mark suggested the two take a light walk around the grounds of the Columbian presidential palace, where the party was taking place.

Sharon was acting as Mark’s “date” that night – a frequent arrangement that made it look like Mark was bowing to the demands created by the social expectations of couplehood. But since Sharon spoke Spanish almost as well as a Mexican native, it also made her readily available as a translator when needed.

Sharon left the party first and found the walkway around the outside of the palace gardens without trouble. She was wearing a long, straight black dress with a sheer beaded overlay. Mark smiled as he saw her standing on a low retaining wall, looking out over the garden with a happy smile on her face. Her hair was pinned up.

“Hey!” she said, turning and seeing him. She lightly hopped down, took a deep breath and spun around once.

“You look exceptionally happy,” Mark said.

“I am,” she replied. “It’s been an unusually fun party and right before we left the hotel, I got some terrific news from home.”

“The Indians and the Pakistanis are making nice?”

She scrunched her face. “I wish. Nope, this was on the more personal front. Has Karen talked to you about the custody suit?”

“Not much,” Mark said. “But she’s been keeping me up to date. Last I heard, her ex got an emergency order to enforce the girls’ visit this summer.”

“Boy, did that backfire on them.” Sharon laughed. “I’m not sure how it worked out in legal terms. But Karen was going to send the girls to their dad’s for the summer and had it set up before the suit was even filed. And since she was able to prove that the emergency order was anything but an emergency, the judge got annoyed. Then Karen’s lawyers petitioned him to stop the visit based on George’s history of abusive behavior and the judge okayed it. Well, at least for the time being. There’s another hearing next week, where George’s lawyers get to respond.”

“That sounds pretty good,” Mark said. “But why stop the visit?”

“Kira’s refusing to go.”

“She’s barely fifteen. How can she refuse?”

Sharon grimaced. “Well, she can’t, technically. But remember when Matt made his unauthorized arrival in DC?”

Matt had, in fact, run away from his very unhappy home, and thanks to the plan he’d put together with Kira, Sharon’s niece Jodi and her friend Tiffany, along with Tony Garces and Rebecca Cooper, the daughter of one of Sharon and Karen’s other colleagues on the Advisory Panel, he’d arrived safely in Washington, DC.

Mark sighed. “Right. They were originally planning Kira’s getaway. They’re not still up to something, are they?”

“I have no idea. I’m trying to play it cool on the off chance someone will confide in me. In any case, with luck, the judge will keep the order in place and Kira and Allie won’t have to go to their dad’s.”

“Or wherever.” Mark smiled. “That is good news, but not normally the sort of thing that has you dancing.”

“That’s the even better news.” Sharon smiled and spun again. “My sister Susan has been commissioned to choreograph a new dance for the Artists with Disabilities Festival at the end of August, and she’s going to use my brother’s music.”

“Susan? Oh, she’s the one in the wheelchair. I mean, uses a wheelchair.”

Sharon chuckled. “Michael and I are thrilled. We didn’t think she’d go for it. It’s been barely two years since the accident and she’s been going through a really bad patch the past few months. The best we can figure is that it’s finally sinking in that her injury is permanent. She’s been pretty angry lately.”

“Wow. Wasn’t she some sort of dancer?” Mark asked.

“Lead ballerina with the Pacific Ballet, although she was getting ready to retire when the accident happened, being over 30 and all. The good news is that she can still choreograph and since the dance will be about her own journey as someone with a disability, it might help her confront some of her own issues.” Sharon smiled. “She’s really excited about it and happier than she’s been since the accident happened.”

Mark smiled. “It sounds great.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” Sharon spun very, very close to him. “Better yet, my brother suggested I get a little of my own happiness, too, and I thought why not?”

She reached up and kissed him full on the mouth. Mark felt himself rejoicing, even as he worried about the two of them being seen.

“I like that kind of happiness,” he whispered as their lips parted.

Sharon’s lips were still slightly open and her breathing was just a touch heavy. “As much as I’d like otherwise, the good news is that this will go absolutely nowhere since we cannot risk being seen and someone is bound to be headed our way soon.”

Mark kissed her again, starting softly, then stronger and stronger as she responded, melting into his arms and holding him tightly against herself. However, it was he who gently pulled them apart.

“What are we going to do, Sharon?” he sighed. “This distance thing is not working. I can’t lose you as an employee. And I don’t want to lose you.”

“I don’t either.” Sharon blushed, then looked at him, her soft brown eyes almost piercing him to his soul. “And you’re not going to. We’re friends, good friends. Your sister and I are just as close. Your nephew is my buddy and he’s best friends with my niece. Our lives are so freaking tied up together that we’re sort of stuck. We just have to try to stay friends and hold out as long as we can.”

The sound of footsteps crunching on the gravel forced Mark to pull away from her. Leonidas appeared on the path with one of President Mendoza’s aides on his arm. Leonidas was young, dark and smooth, although Sharon couldn’t help wonder if he was finally getting played by the lovely young woman with the very shrewd dark eyes.

They didn’t quite notice Mark and Sharon as they slipped into the garden. Mark nodded back at the building and Sharon went ahead of him.

“I’d better stay out here a bit longer,” Mark said somewhat more loudly than he needed to. “I think I see Matt headed this way. I overheard him and Tony talking about practicing their Spanish with some of the younger ladies here.”

“I did, too,” Sharon replied. “Do you want me to take the outer loop of the garden and see if we can flush them out?”

“Sure. Why not?” Mark turned and headed away from the building as Sharon headed around the other way.

If Mark was hoping that he and Sharon would meet on the far side of the garden, it was not to be. Never mind that their “search” was actually intended to throw Leonidas off, Sharon did actually encounter Matt and Tony and three obviously over-age-eighteen young women near the entrance to the palace.

In rapid Spanish, Sharon not so gently convinced the young women that they might be better off inside back at the party.

“Aw, come on, Aunt Sharon,” Tony groaned as the women left. Tony called Sharon “aunt” simply because her niece Jodi and Jodi’s best friend Tiffany did.

“Uh-huh,” said Sharon.

“We weren’t going to do anything,” Matt complained.

“And what were you guys going to say when not doing anything turned into an international incident?” Sharon asked, her grin belying her serious tone.

“Since when does a casual snog in a garden constitute an international incident?” replied Matt, pulling himself up and acting way more confident than he felt.

Sharon laughed. “Let’s see. All three of those girls are over eighteen. You guys are not. One of them is President Mendoza’s daughter and the other two are nieces.”

“And your point is?” Tony said, trying to imitate Matt, which didn’t entirely work since after a poignant pause, he, Matt and Sharon were all doubled up with laughter.

“Seriously, Aunt Sharon,” Matt said finally. “We weren’t going to do anything, well, serious.”

“I’m sure that was your intention,” Sharon replied. “But let’s be real. Those ladies had serious written all over them. And besides, as the nearest available grown up, I have a sworn duty to keep you two from having any real fun.”

“And speaking of fun,” Tony said, “Matt’s uncle left the party right after you did.”

Sharon rolled her eyes. “Nice try. I have no idea where he is or what he’s up to.”

Which, she had to admit, was the truth, even if it was misleading. Still, the boys each took one of her arms and went with her back to the party.