Elsewhere in the city, June was hanging with her longtime friend Douglas Lee. Lee, best known as a stylist for the wealthiest women of New York City, had recently abandoned the Big Apple to live in Washington, DC. Both he and June were debating moving their friendship toward a more romantic one, but both had significant issues to overcome first.
The two had started their day together visiting a gallery in Georgetown, then having lunch together. Then Doug dropped his bomb.
“June, we need to talk,” he said as the waiter cleared their plates.
The restaurant was one that clearly catered to the movers and shakers in town and favored small, sheltered booths, which were great for private deals and conversations.
June held her breath.
“Wow,” said Doug. “This is going to be harder than I thought.”
June felt her stomach leap. He seemed to be proposing, but what?
Doug swallowed. “Look. I know we’ve talked about getting more of a relationship going. And I still would like to. But, here’s the thing, June. I have no idea who I am right now. I thought this move to DC would help me figure it out, but it hasn’t. I’m still confused and I don’t want you waiting for me to get my head together.”
“Oh.” June thought it over. “I wasn’t exactly waiting. It’s not like there’s anyone else in the wings.”
“But there could be,” Doug said. “The thing is, I’m leaving DC. I’m not going back to New York, but I’m going to start traveling. I have to. I need to move out of my comfort zones. I’ve never been anywhere except here and New York and I’ve gotta go check things out. You know what I mean?”
“I suppose,” said June, wondering how she should respond.
“Anyway, I’m going to be traveling – kind of all over the place. I don’t even know when I’m going to be back.” Doug began running his thumb over the handle of his fork, back and forth. “I don’t want to say this is the end for us. It’s just that I’d feel terrible if you were back here waiting for me. What if you gave up someone really good for you because I was off trying to find myself? That would be horrible.”
“Okay,” said June. “I won’t wait for you. It’s not like I don’t have issues of my own to work out.”
“So when are you leaving?”
“Tonight. I’m flying to Paris.” Doug suddenly slammed the fork onto the table. “Wow. I can’t believe how nervous I am. You gonna be okay?”
“I guess. Listen, let’s get the check. I probably should be getting back to work.”
“Yeah. That would probably be good.”
The two left the restaurant together but then went their separate ways with barely a kiss on the cheek. The discreet SUV pulled up next to June and the Secret Service agent watching her that day stepped up to open the back door of the car for her. June settled into the back seat feeling numb and wondering how she should be feeling.
The 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.”
“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.”
Jodi 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.
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.