On Sundays, after attending the obligatory church service, Mark made brunch for his sister, June, who was in residence at the White House to do all the things a first lady would do had Mark been married. It was a not entirely satisfactory arrangement, since June was the very successful owner and designer of a clothing company based out of New York, which meant she had other things to do besides open pre-schools and champion non-controversial causes. So Mark, who enjoyed cooking, made his sister a nice brunch every Sunday morning.
The Sunday after his meeting with Sharon, he put together a ham steak, with asparagus and hollandaise sauce, some stone-ground grits, and a maple brioche.
“You look happy,” June observed as they began to eat.
Her hair was blondish and short and her eyes deep blue. Although June had never modeled, her face had the sort of symmetry one associated with fashion models. She also had the stature and figure of a runway model. Rumor had it, she had an eating disorder, but rumor was only partly correct. She was a recovering anorexic, and even though she was over fifteen years into her recovery, she still did not eat a lot.
“Okay.” Mark scrunched his face as he tasted the asparagus. “I don’t think I put enough butter in the hollandaise. It’s tastes too lemony.”
“The hollandaise is perfect, as always. I said you look happy.”
“Well, not so happy, so I know you’re not getting any.”
Mark glared at his sister. “No, I’m not getting any. And I wouldn’t discuss it with you if I were.”
June looked him over more carefully. “But something’s going on. You’re happy. I noticed it Friday, at the press conference.”
“If I noticed, then you know who else did.”
“Oh.” Mark stopped eating as he considered what June had really been saying.
It was something they seldom talked about and when they did, it was almost always in the most oblique terms.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said finally. “And if I don’t, then she doesn’t have anything to go on.”
“Since when has that stopped her?” June delicately cut a bite of ham. “I’m already hearing whispers about Kelly Won.”
“I haven’t seen her in over five years.” Mark turned back to his meal, his appetite somewhat soured.
June shrugged. “Well, like I said… And besides, the way you’re claiming to live like a hermit while you’re in office, she may be assuming you’re bluffing.”
“She’ll have to assume. There’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t stop seeing someone that I’m not seeing in the first place.”
“Okay. But don’t be surprised if it gets ugly again.”
“I’m never surprised when it gets ugly,” Mark sighed.
He tried to stay cheerful, but June’s observation had him nettled. He really wasn’t seeing anybody. It was true that it did tend to show when he was, even when he didn’t say anything. But there was no woman in his life at that moment.
Except the previous Thursday morning he had met a very lovely – he corrected himself – a very competent, amazingly intelligent, very sweet woman. June was watching him.
“I’m not seeing anyone,” he said.
But he had been vaguely concerned about hiring Ms. Wheatly. Johnetta was pushing him to make it final and he had been putting her off, saying the final background check needed to be completed. And there was no question, she was the best for the job.
But there was something about her that just made him feel good. The trouble was, if June could see it, then to let Ms. Wheatly anywhere near him was to leave her vulnerable and exposed. He’d seen it happen before, even as far back as when he was in the state legislature, and it had been bad. And those kinds of attacks were the sort that would seriously compromise her effectiveness as an advisor.
He was still debating what to do about the situation on Monday morning when Johnetta cornered him after their first briefing of the day.
“Sir, you’ve got to make a decision and you know Wheatly is your best candidate,” Johnetta said.
“Yes and no, Johnnie,” Mark said.
“What are you talking about? The background check came through and she’s as clean as a whistle, even with past relationships.”
“I don’t doubt it.” Mark started twisting the buttons on his suit coat sleeve.
“Hands in your pocket, Sir.”
Mark sighed and put his hands on the desk. “It’s just… I’m not sure how to say this.”
Johnetta’s eyes rolled. “We always said, the best person for the job, no matter what. You’ve got to hire Wheatly.”
“I don’t want to see her made into a target for the media.”
“Well, there is that.”
“It won’t help her effectiveness.”
“Possibly.” Johnetta sighed, getting up and heading for her special door. “I think you oughta just let the media and Ms. Wheatly work it out on their own. Anyway, it’s time to get going. You’ve got the milk lobby coming in and I’ve got a ton of phone calls to make.” She opened the door and paused. “Jugs, go ahead and hire Wheatly. I’ve got a feeling she’ll be good for you.”
Mark smiled at the use of his old nickname, then sighed. “Good for me, huh? I’m afraid that may be exactly the problem.”
“Then make it the solution,” Johnetta said, then left the office.
Mark took a deep breath, then had Kent summon Sharon Wheatly to the Oval Office that very afternoon.