MEG WAS TEN minutes early. It was her mother's opinion that three minutes were more than sufficient, but Meg liked to play it safe. Less pressure that way.
She slouched into the country club, wearing old blue sweatpants, a baggy V-neck tennis sweater, and a faded green Lacoste shirt. The receptionist at the front desk nodded, and Meg nodded back. It was Friday afternoon, so the place was pretty quiet, although commuters would probably start showing up any minute now for after-work drinks. Which meant that her mother would have to shake hands all over the place. Pretty embarrassing.
She sat down in an uncomfortable upholstered chair, checking to make sure that no one was watching before swinging her legs up onto the coffee table. There were a bunch of tennis and golf magazines stacked there, along with the latest copies of Travel & Leisure, Architectural Digest, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. She had a tremendous urge to go up to the desk and ask if they could get her a couple of tabloids, but repressed it. Sometimes people didn't have a sense of humor about things like that.
She glanced over at the clock. Seven minutes of five. That meant she had four minutes to go—unless her mother's plane was late, or she was tied up in Boston traffic. Some Fridays, that happened.
To occupy herself, Meg unwrapped the blue bandanna from her racquet handle, not sure whether to tie it around her head as a sweatband or just hide it inside her tennis bag. She could never decide if bandannas were cool or trendy—it was impossible to be both.
The front door of the club opened, and she heard a familiar voice: Glen, her mother's top aide.
"—at eight-thirty," he was saying. "And then, at nine—"
Her mother nodded, looking both dignified—and tired—in a grey silk dress and her London Fog raincoat. She saw Meg, and her face changed, the fatigue and political smile replaced by a grin. She crossed the hall with swift grace, and Meg stood up to receive an enthusiastic hug, smelling bold but understated perfume.
"I hope I'm not late," her mother said, glancing at her watch.
"No," Meg said. "I was just kind of early."
"Well, I'm sorry you had to wait." Her mother held her away. "Smile."
Meg smiled obediently.
"Oh, you look beautiful," her mother said. "Much older." She turned to Glen, and her press secretary, Linda. "Doesn't Meg look beautiful without her braces?"
Linda and Glen nodded. They weren't what you'd call effusive types. More like what you'd call grumps.
"Well." Her mother checked her watch again. "We'd better get moving." She looked at Glen and Linda. "I'll anticipate seeing you shortly before eight."
Glen scanned whatever message had just come in—he always carried the newest and most flashy handheld gadgets; cost be damned—and then shook his head. "I think seven would be more—"
"I haven't seen my family since Monday," her mother said, somewhat sharply. "Eight will be quite sufficient."
He sighed, but nodded.
"Thank you," her mother said. "I'll see you in a few hours." She took the tennis bag yet another one of her aides had just brought inside. "Thanks, Frank." Then, she put her free arm around Meg. "Come on, let's not waste any court time."
"See you later," Meg said to Glen and Linda and Frank, then followed her mother down to the womens' locker room. Watching her, Meg decided that her mother was the kind of person who made her wish that she had on pumps. Not that Meg could walk in pumps.Not that she really wanted to walk in pumps. Put-together, that's how her mother looked. As if she'd never had a grey hair. Except, forty-four was kind of old for that.
"Mom?" she asked.
Her mother unzipped her tennis bag. "What?"
It was maybe tactless, but—"Do you color your hair?" she asked.
Her mother instantly shook her head. "No."
Hmmm. Meg considered that. "Never?"
"Occasionally." Her mother turned to looked at her. "Why?"
"Just curious," Meg said.
Her mother lifted an eyebrow, but didn't pursue that.
Meg sat in the lounge part of the locker room, slouched low enough to avoid the many mirrors. She wasn't heavily into mirrors.
In short order, her mother came out in a designer pleated skirt/striped shirt ensemble, walking over to the largest mirror to put up her hair, doing so with three deft bobby-pin jabs. She frowned at the mirror, retouched her makeup, then shook her head to loosen some of the hair in the bun. The Senator prepares to enter the public eye. She saw Meg watching, and smiled.
"I only color it when it starts greying strangely," she said.
Meg put on her best solemn expression. "I guess only your hairdresser knows for sure."
"What, are you kidding? I do it late at night," her mother said.
"Do you turn the lights out first?" Meg asked.
Her mother laughed. "Always." Leaving the locker room, she glanced down at Meg's outfit. "What happened to all of those nice clothes you got for your birthday?"
"I don't know," Meg said, a little self-conscious about the contrast between them. The Senator and the slovenly daughter. "I feel like I'm not supposed to perspire in them."
Her mother nodded. "No point in ruining good clothes by wearing them."
Meg looked at her uncertainly, not sure if that was a joke.
"How's your ankle?" her mother asked.
Christ, not that again. "That was months ago, Mom," Meg said. "I'm fine." She had rolled it pretty badly during the quarter-finals of the North Sectionals, and even though she was still able to win the match, she had been diagnosed with such a severe sprain that her parents made her withdraw from the tournament, and she'd had to gimp around on stupid crutches for a few weeks.
Her mother nodded, a little bit defensively. "Okay. I was just asking."
They continued towards the courts in silence.
"I was going to win," Meg said, "and go on to the MIAA." Which was the tournament to determine the high school state champions.
Her mother nodded—except that it wasn't very convincing.
"I was," Meg said, although, privately, she wasn't too damn sure of that.
Her mother nodded again.
"You don't think I was going to win?" Meg asked.
Her mother sighed. "Meg, I know you wish we had let you play, but you were injured, and you weren't going to get past that kid—what's-her-name?—from Concord-Carlisle, anyway."
Well, okay, probably not. Especially since she—her name was Janice Yates—was three years older, ranked 7th in the New England USTA 18-and-under division, and had ultimately ended up winning the individual state title.
"Next season, though," her mother said, as they took their court. "Next season, I'm picking you."
She was probably just saying that to be nice, but it was nice, and Meg nodded, slightly mollified.
"Rally for a while?" her mother asked, already on the other side of the net.
"Um, yeah, sure," Meg said, starting to take her Babolat racquet out of her bag—she had only brought two along—but then, changingher mind and pulling out the Volkl, instead. Her mother was like, a phenomenal tennis player, and Meg generally felt lucky to get more than a few games off her, although she would play as hard as she could. Over the last year or so, more and more games had gone to deuce, and sometimes Meg even won a set.
Not often enough, but sometimes.
They kept the court for almost an hour, her mother winning 6-4, 7-6. When she lost the last point, Meg wanted to swear very loudly, but she let out a hard breath, instead, looking down at her racquet and wondering whether she should have gone with the Babolat. Or maybe, she should have brought her Yonex. Yeah, she might have won with the Yonex.
Meeting her up at the net, Meg noticed that her mother was flushed and trying to hide the fact that she was out of breath.
"Are you okay?" Meg asked, just to be sure.
"Fine." Her mother blotted her face with a towel. "You've been playing a lot lately?"
Meg shrugged. "Pretty much."
Her mother nodded. "It shows."
"Hello, Senator," one of the women taking over the court said. "How's Washington?"
"Not bad," her mother said. "How's psychology?"
"Not bad," the woman said.
"Have a good match." Her mother draped a light sweater around her shoulders, then picked up her tennis bag.
"How do you remember all that stuff?" Meg held the door as they left the court area. "I mean, all the people you meet."
"Practice, I guess," her mother said. "I've never been one for mnemonics."
Meg nodded intelligently, rather than asking, "What are mnemonics?"
"I mean," her mother's voice was very casual, "I personally find that memory devices complicate things even more."
Meg blushed. She would have to work on her intelligent nod.
"Hey." Her mother paused near the club's bar. "Feel like going into the Grille to get something to drink?"
Meg shrugged and followed her, trying to get her sweater to drape just as sportily around her shoulders. Or at least half as sportily.
The bar was crowded, and it took a few minutes for her mother to finish shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with various people. Then, they sat at a table in the corner, a waiter instantly hurrying over.
"What can I get you, Senator?" he asked.
"Orange juice, thank you." She grinned. "It's not just for breakfast anymore."
"I know the chef would love to send out a tasting menu for you," the waiter said, "if—"
Her mother shook her head. "Thank you, that's very thoughtful, but we'll be having supper at home very soon."
With—judging from the time—Glen and Linda, and probably Frank.
"I believe," Meg said, "that I'll have a martini."
"That's what you think," her mother said. "How's orange juice sound?"
"Not as good as Coke," Meg said.
Her mother nodded at the waiter, who nodded back and scurried off to get their drinks. When he returned, her mother took a sip of juice, glanced around at the other people in the bar, and leaned forward.
"How can you play tennis, or golf, and be terribly healthy, and then come in here and drink?" she asked.
Good question. Meg gulped some Coke. "Are you sure I can't have a martini?"
"What do you know about martinis?" her mother asked.
Another good question. "Lots," Meg said.
"Right." Her mother finished half the juice, still flushed from playing. She lowered her glass, looking at Meg thoughtfully. "Since it's just the two of us, I thought we could have a—"
"Senator Powers." One of the men who had been standing at the bar was suddenly at their table. "I wanted to congratulate you on the work you did on the chemical dumping bill."
"Oh, well, thank you," her mother said. "How've things been going for you?"
He shrugged. "Not bad, not bad."
"Oh, I'm sorry." Her mother turned. "This is my daughter, Meghan. Meg, this is Mr. Garvey."
"How do you do," Meg said.
"Hi," Mr. Garvey said briefly. "Senator, what I wanted to ask you was, the wife and kids and I are going down to D.C. for a week. What's the chances of us being able to get some gallery passes?"
Her mother nodded. "Call the Boston office, and talk to Harriet. She'll arrange everything for you."
"Okay, thank you. Thank you very much," he said, and went back to the bar.
"Another day, another vote," Meg said.
Her mother grimaced.
"You know, there's a pothole on Hammond Street that's really bugging me," Meg said.
Her mother grinned wryly. "Call the Boston office. Be sure to use my name."
Right. "How come you have to go out and give speeches tonight?" Meg asked. "I thought you were going to be home."
"Well." Her mother looked uncomfortable. "It's only two. I should be back by ten-thirty, at the latest."
Meg nodded. It wasn't as though this was the first time.
"Anyway," her mother said. "I thought since it's just—" She glanced around to make sure. "Since it is just the two of us, I thought we could have a talk."
Meg stiffened. "Am I in trouble?"
Her mother shook her head. "No, of course not."
That still didn't sound good. "I wasn't limping before," Meg said. "I just tripped." Which was actually true.
"I know. I just want to talk to you," her mother said.
Meg relaxed. "If it's about sex, I already know," she said, sitting back in her chair.
"Since we went over it about six years ago, I should hope it's sunk in by now. At any rate," her mother went on, "your father and I have been discussing this at length, and—"
"What," Meg said, "sex?"
Her mother looked impatient. "Meg, come on, I'm being serious."
Recognizing the irritation in her mother's voice, Meg was quiet.
Her mother took a deep breath. "I guess I wanted to talk to you before your brothers, because—well, it's about the next election."
Whoa. Meg sat up straighter. "You mean, you're not running?"
"I'm not running for Senate," her mother conceded.
How completely excellent. "You mean, you'll like, live at home all the time?" Meg could almost feel her eyes lighting up, or whatever it was that eyes did.
"Meg, I want to run for President," her mother said.
Meg choked, losing half her mouthful of soda on the table. She shoved her napkin onto the liquid, still coughing. "Are you kidding?"
Her mother shook her head.
"Oh my God," Meg said.
"A lot of party people have been approaching me. And, quite frankly, a lot of the big donors," her mother said. "They think the country's ready for—well, what do you think?"
At the moment, she kind of thought it would be nice if Mr. Garvey came back over and ignored her some more. "Isn't it kind of early?" Meg asked, because she couldn't come up with anything else to say. "In the, you know, election cycle?"
"It's kind of late, Meg," her mother said. "Almost everyone else already has organizations on the ground, and the greybeards are signing on, and—well, I don't have much time left to decide."
Her mother had always been pretty well known—she had already been in Congress when Meg was born—but after she had given an incredibly well-received keynote address at the last Democratic Convention, she had turned into the kind of high-profile politician who regularly appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows, and who made national news on a not irregular basis.
"Is this because of the speech?" Meg asked.
"Well, I like to think there's more to it than that," her mother said.
Yeah, but, President? Meg frowned. "Will you be in the primaries and everything?"
Her mother nodded. "At least the early ones. And—well, I would be planning for considerably more than that."
This whole conversation felt like a really bad dream. Or, anyway, a really weird dream. "Will you be able to be home at all?" Meg asked.
"Not much," her mother admitted.
Great. "What's Dad think?" she asked.
"I want your opinion," her mother said. "Not his."
Meg studied her, healthy and alert, the thin neck and face quite tanned against the white sweater. "You look like a President."
Her mother's eyebrows went up. "Now?"
"Yeah," Meg said. "You dress right. And you're tall enough."
"Well, thank you." Her mother laughed. "Think we can work 'five eight' into a slogan somewhere?"
Meg twirled her straw, thinking about all of this. "You're not—I mean—what happens if you win?"
"I guess that would mean I'd be President," her mother said.
Perish the thought. "My God." Meg shuddered, dropping the straw. "You think you'll win?"
"I'll be happy if I make a good showing in New Hampshire," her mother said, "forget anything else."
"My God." Meg shuddered again.
Her mother looked at her uneasily. "Well, what do you think?"
"Can I have a martini?" Meg asked.
GETTING HOME HALF an hour later, they found Meg's little brothers Steven and Neal on one side of the kitchen table, making a salad—while Meg's father sat on the other side, drinking a Sam Adams and frowning at the newspaper.
Steven was eleven, thin and pugnacious, with their mother's dark hair and blue eyes—which, all things being equal, was pretty much the way Meg looked herself. Neal, who was six and still hanging on to somewhat blondish hair, took more after their father.
"Hey!" Neal scrambled up. "It's Mom!"
"Hi." She caught him in a hug, dropping her tennis bag.
Steven shoved the carrots away and moved in for his turn. Their mother hugged him, and then Meg's father, which was a different kind of hug. Longer. They looked at each other, and Meg's father brought his hand up to her mother's cheek.
"You look tired," he said.
"Well"—she kissed him lightly—"I've been playing tennis."
"Mom, Mom, look!" Neal rushed out of the room, then back in with a handful of school papers. "I got a hundred in spelling and everything!"
"Well, let's see." She sat down, and Neal climbed up on her lap, grass-stained and disheveled from soccer practice. "Wow, a ninety-five in math. Oh, that's great."
"Hi," Meg said to her father.
"How was school?" he asked.
"Okay," she said. "How was work? Get lots of new clients today?"
"Hundreds." He smiled at her. "How was tennis?"
Yes, that was the more important question. "I got her to a tiebreaker," Meg said.
"Good for you," he said, and then winked at her mother. "Need some Advil?"
Her mother, who had actually been limping a little herself when they got out of the car, shook her head—but grinned sheepishly and took a couple when he went over to one of the cupboards and handed the bottle to her.
"Bet Mom'll make you get a haircut tomorrow," Meg said to Steven, just to get him going.
He threw some carrot peelings at her as the phone rang, and they both jumped for it, Steven getting there first.
"Hello? Oh, just a minute, please." He covered the receiver. "Mom, it's what's-his-name from Texas. Mr. Palmer."
Otherwise known as the Senate Minority Leader. Her mother picked up the phone. "Brian, hi," she said, and went off into a conversation about some Select Committee hearing or something.
"Party business," Steven said, trying to make his voice deeper.
"Party?" Meg said. "Who's having a party?"
"Boy, do we have a dumb sister," Steven said to Neal, who laughed.
Half an hour and six phone calls later, they were sitting down to dinner, observing her father's very strict no-electronic-or-telephonic-devices-during-mealtimes rule as they ate the stew that Trudy, their housekeeper, had made and the salad Meg had had to finish making. On weekends, Trudy usually went home to her house over in Brighton.
Their father frowned, which made him look like the stern, businesslike tax attorney version of himself. His smile, on the other hand, usually made him look more like a jolly lumberjack. "Steven, we'd better see about getting that hair cut tomorrow."
Steven groaned, and Meg laughed.
"You'll probably be even better at basketball if it isn't in your eyes all the time," their mother said, reasonably.
"Me, too?" Neal asked.
"You, too." Their mother leaned over to cut his meat.
He watched her, his elbows on the table. "Were you important today?"
She made four quick horizontal slices. "Not really."
"Did you talk in front of everyone?" he asked.
"I guess I always do, don't I?" She handed him his plate, indicating with her eyebrows for him to move his elbows.
"Boy." He reached in front of Steven for the bread basket, saw his father's expression, and sat back. "Would you please pass me the bread, please?" he asked politely.
Steven grabbed two pieces, then shoved the basket along.
"Boy," Neal said, taking two pieces of his own. "I bet all those Senators listen to you."
Their mother smiled. "Some days more so than others."
"Boy," he said. "You should be President."
She glanced at Meg, who had to fight off yet another shudder.
"Meg, be a good munchkin and pass me the salt, will you?" she asked.
THE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER. Copyright © 2008 by Ellen Emerson White.