Chapter Twelve

White House Rhapsody started out as a novel that wouldn’t end. The romantic fiction serial was a popular blog site on its own and it’s being featured here on my main blog.

Pull quote from romantic fiction serial White House Rhapsody: It's nothing I want to be doing

Early Monday afternoon, June called Sharon from New York.

Barely missing a beat as she typed furiously on her laptop, Sharon hit her the button on her headset.

“Hey, June, what’s up?”

“Just checking in,” said June. “Five o’clock okay for your makeup and hair for tonight?”

“Not even.” Sharon sighed and stopped typing. “I’ll just do my own in my office. I’m swamped, what with going home next week and the Mexico trip after that.”

“You sure?”

“It’ll have to do, June. But thanks.”

“Okay.” June hung up reluctantly.

But Sharon was relieved that June didn’t press the point. The formal dinner that night at the Russian embassy had originally been just a meeting with the ambassador. However, since the event at the South Korean embassy almost two weeks before had been such a success, the Russians had decided they’d better go one better. Sharon was glad her mother had shipped out all Sharon’s party clothes and formals the week before.

The dinner, itself, turned out to be beyond boring. Sharon was seated next to the ambassador, as dictated by correct seating. The only problem was that Mark was seated at the other end of the very long table next to the ambassador’s wife, whose English was not as good as she thought it was. Even more disturbing, after the dinner, as Mark and Sharon left the embassy, there were the usual questions about Sharon’s dress.

“This is ridiculous,” she grumbled as the presidential limo left the embassy.

“What?” asked Mark.

“All these stupid questions about what I’m wearing,” Sharon groaned. “Who cares? Nobody asks you who designed your formal wear. And I don’t even want to think what Jean’s going to say tomorrow.”

“Why would Jean say anything?”

“Because I have no clue who designed my dress,” Sharon replied, testily. “I didn’t say so, but I got it off the rack my first year out of college when a whole bunch of us were sent to a company retreat, and then told we had to dress for dinner.”

“It’s a very nice dress,” Mark said, feeling somewhat wary. It was a very nice dress, strapless and straight in apricot silk with a jeweled belt. “But why are you so prickly about it?”

Sharon sighed. “Because our honored guest from Russia kept making eyes at me all through dinner. I tried to talk to him about some of our talking points, but he kept blowing me off. He didn’t say anything, but it just felt like he didn’t want to talk business with the president’s date.”

“You may have a point.” Mark frowned.

“It probably wouldn’t be so bad if I got asked substantive questions on the press line. But all they want to know is who I’m wearing.”

Mark nodded and pulled his iPhone from his pocket. “All right, I’ll make a note to talk strategy on this with Jean and Gus. Do you want in on the discussion?”

“Can’t even if I wanted to,” Sharon said, pulling out her Blackberry. She kept one eye on it as she scrolled through her email and messages. “I’m trying to get on top of several things, including that Mexico trip. Plus we’ve probably got a situation in Nigeria developing and you don’t want to know what a mess the Middle East is again.”

Mark winced. “You’re right, I don’t. But I’ll probably have to soon enough.”

“Well, you’ll get it in your national security briefing tomorrow.” Sharon paused as she read an email. “Good news, it doesn’t look like it’s going to break out in open hostility.”

“Good.” Mark shifted and rubbed his left shoulder.

“You okay?” Sharon asked.

“Oh, yeah. Just a little stiff. It’s been a few years since I pitched overhand.”

“Pitched?”

“I’m throwing out the first pitch of the season at the National’s game on Wednesday.” Mark grinned. “I’ve been working out with their pitching coach.”

Sharon snorted. “Given their bullpen, you’d have done better with a Little League coach.”

“Very funny.” Mark chuckled. “He clocked me at 83 miles an hour.”

“In the strike zone?” Sharon grinned.

Mark shrugged. “Mostly.” He looked at her again. “You’re a baseball fan.”

“Yeah. It was Dad’s way of keeping us in touch with our U.S roots since we were living everywhere else. I’ve been rooting for the Dodgers all my life.”

“Hmmm.” Mark grinned. “This could be a problem. You realize that June and I are big Minnesota fans.”

“I suppose I could cut you some slack on that.” Sharon smiled, as well.

At Sharon’s townhouse, Mark walked her to her door but didn’t go in.

The next day, Karen made a point of seeking the president out, which got her invited to the meeting with Gus and Jean that afternoon.

“This could be a real problem,” Mark told them. “I know Sharon is great PR, but I can’t afford her losing credibility because everyone sees her as my arm candy. We’ve got to find a way to get the press off the dresses.”

Karen and Jean looked at each other and nodded.

“Actually, we were about to suggest the same thing,” Jean said slowly.

Karen nodded. “It’s that blond thing. She’s female, she’s attached to you, it must be about the pretty looks.”

“So what do we do?” Mark asked.

“Two things,” said Gus. “Why not set her up on the pundit rounds? She could even do the comedy channel’s news show. Put her in a position to talk about what we’re doing to build our foreign relations and someone’s going to notice that she’s got brains. You might even want her on… What’s his name’s show, the big mouth. She’ll make mincemeat of the turkey.”

“That’s if we can get her to do it,” said Karen. “She’s not joking about preferring a lower profile.”

Jean shrugged. “I think Gus can talk her into it. But what’s the second point?”

“Keep her off the photo lines,” Gus said, shifting in his chair. “Meet her inside the venue.”

“She’ll like that,” said Mark. “Okay. Let me think about it. As for the pundit rounds, keep it light. She’s pretty busy. And come to think of it, so am I. Do we need to discuss anything else?”

The others didn’t and the meeting was dismissed. Outside the Oval Office, Karen and Gus decided to talk to Sharon together. Sharon, not surprisingly, declined. Until Wednesday.

The first day of the baseball season wasn’t that big a day for Mark in many respects. What happened on the mound when he threw out the first pitch would have no permanent ramifications. His political career would be largely unaffected. Nonetheless, most of the Advisory Board was in the presidential box by the time batting practice started, along with some of the press staff and Johnnie and her husband, Tyrone.

June had seen to it that everyone had jerseys and hats from their hometown teams. Although since Karen didn’t care and Sharon did, Sharon got the Dodgers jersey and Karen wore the Angels. Oddly enough, Sharon was the one who had lived, for a time, in the shadow of Anaheim stadium and Karen not far from Dodger stadium.

As Sharon entered the box, she smiled at the preponderance of Minnesota Twins jerseys. Both Eddie and Johnnie were from Minneapolis. June, of course, was decked out in Twins regalia. But Sharon noted an average-sized man standing next to June who looked vaguely familiar, also sporting a Minnesota jersey.

June waved Sharon over. “Come here and meet my dad!”

Thomas Jerguessen was considerably shorter than June and Mark, but he had passed his green eyes and square jaw onto his son. Sharon marveled at how little June resembled her father.

“How do you do, Mr. Jerguessen?” Sharon asked, shaking his hand.

“Fine, thanks, and call me Thomas,” he answered, his smile both warm and rather familiar. “So I hear you’re one of June’s latest B-  Whaddya call it?”

“Dad,” June laughed. “BFF – Best Friends Forever.”

“Right,” Thomas said. He turned back to Sharon. “I’m glad. June deserves good friends.”

“I’m doing my best.”

Thomas glanced at her jersey. “National League, huh?”

“’Fraid so,” Sharon said.

“Ladies and gentlemen, will you please rise and join in our national anthem,” the loudspeaker announced.

Sharon went to the viewing platform in the box, followed closely by June and everyone else. Thomas noted with satisfaction that Sharon remembered to take her hat off. June was startled by Sharon’s excellent singing voice, as she harmonized with Eddie, Gus, and Karen.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer’s voice crashed over the cheers from the end of the anthem. “Throwing out the first pitch of this year’s baseball season, the President of the United States, Mark Jerguessen.”

The crowd cheered loudly as Mark trotted out to the mound wearing a Nationals jersey and cap.

“It’s a good thing he doesn’t have any buttons on his sleeves,” June muttered to Sharon as Mark waved to the crowd.

“He doesn’t look all that nervous,” Sharon said. “But Al and I had a briefing with him earlier today and I don’t think he heard five words.”

“He threw pitches at Dad last night for two hours,” June said. “He wasn’t this stressed on election night.”

Mark went into a full windup from the pitcher’s mound, with the catcher crouched and ready behind home plate. Sure enough, the ball slapped into the mitt with a solid thunk and the crowd went wild. On the television in the box, one of the sportscasters noted that Mark had pitched in college. The board flashed the pitch’s speed – 79 miles an hour.

“Not bad for an amateur,” Gus said, nodding.

Sharon happened to glance over at June and Thomas and caught the nervous look between them. When Mark entered the box later, mid-way through the first inning, he greeted everyone with a smile, but Sharon noticed he was not happy.

He went out to the viewing platform to watch the game. Sharon came up to his side.

“You okay?” she asked softly.

Mark glared down as the National’s batter whiffed at a fastball. “I should be.”

“That was one sweet pitch,” Sharon said. “Right on the inside corner.”

“Maybe.” Mark nodded at the batter. “But even he could’ve knocked that out of the park.”

“At seventy-nine miles an hour?”

Mark glared. “I wanted at least eighty.”

“Hmm.” Sharon tried not to laugh. “Okay. It sucks that you didn’t do as well as you wanted. I get how that feels. But your not-so-good was still miles better than what most of us could do. Including the team.”

Eddie came up. “Hey, Boss – I guess if this presidential thing don’t work out, you could tear up minor league ball.”

Mark chuckled as a whoop went up behind him from inside the box. Sharon looked up and saw a close up of her and Mark standing together at the rail. She couldn’t quite hear the commentary, but had a good idea of what was being said from the way Karen glared at Al. She retreated into the box, annoyed because she wanted to watch the game.

A minute later, she pulled Gus and Jean together and told them to set up a few appearances on some news shows.

Thomas, for his part, quietly watched the goings on, especially Mark. Later, as Thomas and Mark finished dinner together back at the White House, Thomas sat back.

“Good job on the mound today,” Thomas said quietly.

Mark shrugged. “I was clocking over 80 in practice.”

“Yeah. I heard.” Thomas played with a wine glass. “Sounds like you’re trying to impress everybody again.”

“Nah.” Mark winced, then sighed. “Maybe. I thought I was just trying to beat my personal best.”

“I’d say that’s legit except that you’re still sulking about it.” Thomas chuckled. “You’d think being president would be impressive enough.”

“Not if I want another four years,” Mark sighed. “Randler, over at the party headquarters, is already talking about the next election.”

“Throwing an 80-plus mile an hour fastball isn’t going to get you a second term and you know it,” Thomas said.

Mark made a face and debated going back to work. Thomas stopped him.

“Mark, one of the things I’ve always admired about you is the way you keep trying to best yourself all the time. But we both know how that can get out of hand and we both know why it happens to you.”

“Look, I haven’t needed her approval since I was in high school.”

“Not intellectually, no. But sometimes it does get to you.” Thomas shrugged. “And it’s too bad. You did a hell of a job today and you couldn’t enjoy it because you had it in your head that you could have done better. So, I’m telling you to cut it out. Okay?”

Mark smiled awkwardly. “Yes, sir.”

“All right then. You promised me a game of chess, didn’t you?” Thomas got up and stretched.

On Friday morning, after the Advisory Board meeting, Sharon hurried out to the Metro and from there to the airport to make her commuter flight to New York City for an interview segment on The Carl MacArthur Show. MacArthur was notoriously opposed to Mark’s politics, so Sharon wondered why Yesmenia had booked her on that show, but Jean Bouyer had assured Sharon that it was part of an overall plan. Gus had also briefed her extensively because MacArthur was known for liberally interrupting his guests and sometimes even ridiculing them.

Yesmenia was waiting for Sharon at the studio and offered a few more talking points. But as it turned out, Sharon didn’t get to use them or any other points during her segment. MacArthur, a heavy-set man with a full head of gray hair, started out with a rant against the upcoming trip to Mexico, referring to the Mexican president by the wrong name. Sharon corrected him gently, but that only set MacArthur off to the point that he wouldn’t even let Sharon speak.

“So how do you answer that, huh?” he suddenly demanded.

“Are you done?” Sharon asked, looking up from the notes she’d been making.

“I’m asking you to answer a simple question,” MacArthur snarled.

“Are you going to listen to my answer or are you going to interrupt again?” Sharon replied.

MacArthur laughed. “In other words, you don’t have an answer.”

“I have plenty of answers. You just don’t want to hear them.”

And Sharon began to answer MacArthur’s question, but he interrupted again and Sharon went back to writing notes.

As soon as the segment was taped, Sharon gathered her belongings and made to leave. MacArthur sidled up to her.

“Great segment,” he told her. “I loved the way you hit me back there.”

“You’re welcome, I suppose,” said Sharon coolly.

“You know, you could’ve butted in more.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. MacArthur, I was raised to be more polite than that.” Sharon got her bag from Yesmenia and pulled out her Blackberry.

“Aw, come on. It’s just showbiz.”

“I understand that, probably better than you think.” Sharon turned to him. “But I’m not about show biz. I’m about providing top level information and advice to our president. And if I chose to treat you with respect, maybe you should have taken that as a hint. Now, I’ve got a plane to catch. Good day, Mr. MacArthur.”

Sharon turned on her heel and walked away with Yesmenia following quickly behind. Yesmenia was elated.

“That went even better than we expected,” she burbled in the limo back to the airport.

Sharon glanced up from her email. Yesmenia Alvarez was a small woman in her early 40’s who nonetheless had a girlish mien. Her fluffy pink clothes and giggling masked a devastating intelligence and deadlier wit.

“I suppose,” Sharon said.

Yesmenia patted her hand. “Don’t worry. I just called my contact at Newsbreakers, told them what happened and they bumped Trudi Little to put you on Monday.”

“Who’s Trudi Little?”

“Flavor of the moment pop star good girl gone bad.”

“Oh. Her.” Sharon sighed. “And I’m taking her place. That doesn’t sound good.”

Yesmenia just giggled. “I’ll take care of your briefing and I’ve cleared your schedule with Julie.”

“Yeah. She’s asking when she should book my flight back here.” Sharon glanced out the windows at the crowded sidewalks along Avenue of the Americas. “If it weren’t for that dinner at the Indian Embassy tonight, I’d just stay in town.”

She wasn’t entirely surprised when the limo went to a private airstrip near the airport. Douglas Lee and June were waiting next to a small jet. Sharon all but groaned.

“I thought we weren’t supposed to be taking advantage of perks like this,” she told them.

“We aren’t,” said June.

“It’s my jet,” Douglas said. “Well, it won’t be after I get it to DC. I sold it to some lobbyist. But since we need to bring it to him and since the four of us need to get back home, may as well take it and get you done up while we’re in the air.”

June grinned. “I’ve got the perfect dress for you.”

Sharon tried not to roll her eyes, but boarded and let Douglas do his thing.

It was just supposed to be a simple inter-office softball game the following day, with the White House staff going up against the State Department. The format was slo-pitch, which meant that Mark had to play outfield and Sharon finally got to pitch because she was the most accurate.

But since both the White House and the State Department tended toward rather intense, high-stress workloads, both work environments attracted rather intense, highly competitive workers, which meant that this was no simple inter-office softball game. Which became pretty evident in the first inning when Earl Wallace, the deputy secretary, trashed his shoulder whiffing at one of Sharon’s pitches.

It wasn’t until the fourth inning when a State junior staffer finally got a significant piece of a pitch and teed off into right field. Mark ran hard after the ball, made a diving catch, only to land hard on his left knee and feel a pop.

The searing pain was bad enough. Having the Secret Service go nuts and clear the field was worse. Coop and the rest of the Advisory Board were laughing, too. As Riff Butler got Mark upright and off the field, Mark told everyone to keep the game going. He tried to convince Riff to let him stay, but Riff wasn’t buying it.

The president’s limo arrived at Walter Reed at roughly the same time as three trauma victims of a car crash. Mark could see the people on the gurneys and wondered briefly why it seemed like all the doctors were surrounding his.

“Is it my imagination, or do those folks look pretty badly hurt?” he finally snarled.

“Sir, you’re a priority patient,” explained an older doctor.

“Look, I am in no way a critical case,” Mark growled. “Why don’t you check those guys out and get them stable and then we can play with my knee.”

The older doctor grinned. “Thanks. Guys, let’s move.”

The doctors scattered. Riff frowned.

“Sir, you do pose a security risk by waiting for treatment,” the agent grumbled.

“Like the psychos just knew I was going to blow out my knee and land here,” Mark grumbled back.

“I agree the odds are against it, but it’s always possible somebody wouldn’t mind taking advantage of an opportunity,” Riff said, his eyes darting everywhere.

Mark shook his head. Riff did have a point – they were in a pretty tight cubicle with curtains drawn, so it wasn’t immediately obvious who was in the hospital. But that didn’t mean the press weren’t going to find out something was up soon enough. Mark debated calling Jean and Gus.

About an hour later, he did. Sharon picked up.

“Where’s Jean?” Mark asked.

“On second base,” Sharon replied. “I’m not up for a while, so I’m covering phones.”

“Oh. What’s the score?”

“Eleven to four, our favor.” Sharon laughed and hollered. “Make that fourteen to four. The Warmonger just pasted one over the left field fence. He’s still limping around the bases. How are you doing?”

“My knee hurts and the doctors are dealing with a car crash. When’s Augie up?”

“He just came in behind Jean. Here. I’ll let you talk to them.”

Sharon handed over the phone to Jean, who beckoned Gus over and the two of them huddled together. Sharon shook her head as one of the White House janitors struck out and finally ended the inning. The State Department promptly flamed out and the game ended.

Sharon had planned to fly back to New York on Sunday, but thanks to the president’s injury, she decided she’d better stay in the office until she had to leave on Monday to get to New York for her next taping.

At least, the news out of Walter Reed was good. Mark’s knee was merely sprained and wouldn’t need surgery. Sharon spent Monday morning reassuring the Mexican government that the injury would not keep the president from his trip the following week. She got a brief respite from the frantic emails from all over the world while she was on the plane back to New York and tried to use that time to focus on her talking points for that afternoon’s taping with comedian Larry Rosen’s comic look at news issues, called Newsbreakers.

But again, talking points didn’t matter. As soon as Sharon hit the studio, one of Rosen’s production assistants was asking her how she wanted to deal with the president’s knee injury. Sharon called Gus, then met for a couple minutes with Yesmenia, who was already at the studio. Yesmenia then took care of getting the information to the writing staff while Sharon went back to answering email on her Blackberry.

She was impressed when Rosen met her in the show’s green room about half an hour before the taping was to begin. Rosen walked her through the interview but warned her that he would have to throw her the odd curveball or things would look too rehearsed.

“We really do want you to look as good as possible,” he told her.

Sharon smiled. “I appreciate that. I’m sorry I’m so distracted. The email has been a little crazy with folks freaking out over the president’s knee.”

Rosen couldn’t help chuckling. “Yeah, we’re having fun with that. Hurls a 79-mile an hour pitch, then messes up his knee in a softball game?”

“It was surprisingly competitive,” said Sharon. “And he caught the ball.”

“Can we use that?” Rosen asked.

“Sure.”

“Great. We’ll add it to the interview.”

The taping went reasonably well, with Sharon having to give Rosen the evil eye only once when he joked about how hot she was. She managed to get most of her talking points in and even took some ribbing when she confessed she pitched the ball that got pasted and caused Mark to make his ill-fated catch. Finally, Rosen tossed the curve ball.

“I’m told you know what time it is anywhere in the world,” Rosen said, grinning.

“I do have to do some math,” Sharon said, blushing.

“Okay, Vladivostock.”

“What time is it now?”

Rosen nodded, giving her the time as if the show were airing live rather than in a few hours. She gave him the time. He reeled off three other cities around the world and Sharon correctly pulled up the hour.

“Shnevnitz, Russia,” Rosen said, finally.

Sharon hesitated. “Uh, where is that close to?”

“I have no idea,” Rosen replied, laughing. “I made it up.”

Sharon laughed.

As she left the stage, she found Michael and Inez waiting for her in the green room and promptly left with them.

She let Michael chit chat in the limo back to his and Inez’s place. There, the three put together a quick dinner with some leftover bolognese sauce that Michael had made over the weekend, poured over long spaghetti with a salad on the side and a Barolo to drink. As they settled in to eat, Sharon grinned at Michael.

“So, are you guys ready for Toby’s big visit next week?” she asked, swirling her spaghetti onto her fork with a soup spoon.

“Are any of us ready for the Tobester?” Michael asked, laughing. “That kid is a force of nature.”

“Just like her old man,” said Sharon. “But seriously, Inez, how are you doing with it?”

“I’m starting to look forward to it,” Inez said. “I’m definitely going to have my hands full between the two of them.” She smiled fondly at Michael.

Sharon looked at Michael. “So why isn’t Jodi moving out, too?”

Michael shrugged. “We haven’t really talked about it yet. I suspect Jodi doesn’t want to abandon her mom. And there’s always Tiffany to consider.”

“Well, yeah,” Sharon said. “You’d have to perform surgery to get those two apart.”

“Maybe.” Michael frowned. “I do get worried that she’s too dependent on Tif. Not that I don’t like Tiffany.”

“We both adore her,” Inez said. “And you know, Michael, I’m not sure that it’s a dependent thing going on. I mean, they both seem to function better as a unit. But when I’ve talked to Jodi about it, she’s pretty aware that some separation is inevitable.”

“I get that, too,” said Sharon.

“Well, we’ll see,” said Michael. Suddenly, he grinned at Sharon. “Good taping, though.”

“Better than last Friday,” Sharon sighed.

“Come off it, Share,” Michael chuckled. “You’re a natural on camera.”

“You are good,” said Inez.

Sharon shrugged. “It’s nothing I want to be doing. I’ll stay in the background, thank you.”

Michael snorted. “Way to do it, dating the president, for cripes sake.”

“We’re not really dating,” said Sharon. “I’m working when I’m out with him.”

“Come on.” Michael’s grin was pure evil. “You expect me to believe there’s no executive slap and tickle going on?”

“Yeah, I expect you to believe it.” Sharon knew Michael was just trying to push her button and fought to keep her voice calm. “He’s not my boyfriend. We’re not dating. I just work for the man and that’s the way I want to keep things.”

Michael burst into laughter. “I’m sorry, sis. But you are so lying.”

“I am not!” Sharon said indignantly.

“Then you are lying to yourself,” said Michael. “You like him. Mondo big time.”

“What do you know about it?” Sharon said.

Michael chortled. “I know you. This is not the first time you liked somebody and tried to pretend you didn’t.”

“Since when?” Sharon looked at Michael, completely puzzled.

“Paolo Fiore.”

Sharon laughed. “Paolo? Is that the best you can do?”

“You can’t say you didn’t like him.” Michael smirked.

“I was twelve.” Sharon glanced over at Inez, who just smiled.

“But you liked him.”

“So?”

“You said you didn’t.” Michael grinned.

Sharon rolled her eyes. “I told you I didn’t so you’d stop teasing me. You’re going to have to try harder, big bro.”

“Eric Lassiter.”

Sharon began to squirm. “I never said I didn’t like him. It just wasn’t a good fit.”

Inez laughed. “Oh, come on, Sharon. Even I could see you were trying not to get involved and I barely knew you then. You two would have been a great couple.”

“We had fun together,” Sharon conceded. “But I would never have been able to handle the rock and roll lifestyle. And I couldn’t ask Eric to give up his life.”

“Bullshit,” snorted Michael. “Sheez, Sharon. You keep saying you hate the fame and glory thing—“

“Miguel.” Inez stopped Michael with a warning glare.

“Michael, I don’t like it,” Sharon said. “I don’t want to be famous. And I’m not dating Mark Jerguessen. Okay? Now, what time is the flight tomorrow?”

June looked calm as she walked into the office located on the West side of Los Angeles. The office looked calming enough, with two overstuffed chairs in a relaxing shade of green, complimented by a tan couch in buttery-soft leather. Dr. Shanetta Williams was calm enough, the kind of classic African-American beauty with dark skin and the calm presence of one who knows herself.

June, however, was anything but calm.

“Good to meet you, Miss Jerguessen,” Dr. Williams said, extending her right hand.

June took it and shook with appropriate firmness. “Good to meet you, Dr.”

“Please. Have a seat.” Williams waved at the couch.

June sat down on the edge of the couch cushion and smiled.

“Now, how can I help you?” Dr. Williams said.

“Dr. Ortiz referred me,” June said, then swallowed. “She said you’re the best for… Well, you can guess my problem.”

Williams nodded. “I understand you’ve been especially reluctant to deal with it. According to Dr. Ortiz, you never mentioned it, even after several years of therapy.”

“I know.” June sniffed. “This is going to be harder than I thought.”

“There’s no rush.” Williams smiled and pushed a box of tissues toward June.

“There is and there isn’t.” June took one of the tissues and twisted it in her fingers. “It’s just… Look. There’s a good reason why I haven’t been able to talk about this before. It has to do with my brother.”

Williams’ eyebrows lifted. “It does?”

“No! Mark is completely innocent. That’s the problem. He’s the one who’ll be hurt if this gets out.”

“How?’  Williams asked.

“It’s like this.” June started talking confidently. “When I was fifteen, I was gang raped. Only several years later, when Mark was running for the state senate, one of the guys came out and said he did it and that it was consensual. Nobody believed Mark when he said I hadn’t told him about it. What made it worse is that the guy Mark was running against was campaigning hard on the whole tough on crime thing. So here’s Mark – his own sister is a victim and he couldn’t do anything about it. And he loses the election. The only one Mark’s ever lost.”

“That sounds like a tough one.”

June nodded. “I mean, I don’t blame myself.”

“You don’t?” Williams smiled.

“Okay, maybe not intellectually.” June shivered. “I know up here…” She tapped her forehead. “That what happened was not my fault. I had no control of it. But let’s be real, there’s a big difference between knowing it in your head and really knowing. See what I mean?”

“Yes.”

“This other issue…” June sighed and twisted her fingers back and forth. “I can’t afford to let it get out. It’s too volatile and there are too many people who’d love to use something like this against Mark who could really hurt him.”

“I know. You’re not the first client of mine who’s had to contend with the threat of public scrutiny,” Williams said. “So why do you want to deal with it now?”

June gulped. “That. There’s this guy…”

“Ah.”

“One of the things that drew me and Doug together is that we both had some major issues. You know what I mean?”

“I do.” Dr. Williams nodded.

“Only Doug seems to be working on his.” June smiled. “He’s not there yet and he’s not pushing me. More encouraging me, like. The only problem is that he doesn’t know what my issue is. I’ve had a couple relapses over the past few years. Last fall wasn’t so bad. It was during the election. The stress, you know. But I got myself out of it. Still, Doug’s worried about me.” June paused. “And if I’m really honest, the only thing that’s going to stop my relapses is getting over this thing.”

“I see.” Dr. Williams made a note on her legal pad. “Well, you’re certainly motivated. But I’d better warn you, working on this issue won’t necessarily prevent you from relapsing. It may even trigger one. And even if you get it all worked out, you could still relapse.”

June sniffed. “I don’t think I’m looking for a magic bullet. Maybe I am. It’s just that I have to do something and it has to be discreet.”

“I understand. But I’m afraid having to do as much work as possible in one week is going to make it pretty difficult for you.” Dr. Williams looked down at her notes. “And there is one other part of the therapy that seems to be the key to recovery – talking about it.”

June swallowed. “But Mark…”

“A lot will depend on who you can trust. I don’t think you have to announce it to the world. But you will have to talk about it, certainly with Doug, probably your brother and maybe one or two other supportive friends. Not right away. Let’s get through the basic feelings first. Think you can manage that?”

“Yeah,” said June, not at all certain she could.

“Good. Let’s get to work.”

Email Conversation

From: niecybagdha@indonet.in

To: ChmpionGrl@livewire.net

Dear Sharon;

I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to you about that visit this summer. It’s been very busy around here, what with the elections coming up again.

I see you’ve been getting quite a lot of attention lately. I think maybe you have a point about it causing trouble. Some of the ministers here have been making very unkind comments. The ones who don’t know you yet, I assure you. I can’t wait to see you educate them. They need to get their minds open, anyway. I hope you have a very large and very strong crowbar.

From: ChmpionGrl23@livewire.net

To: Niecybagdha@indonet.in

I not only have a very large crowbar, I have a very nice sledgehammer for you. When do we get to start swinging?

Anne Louise Bannon

Please talk to me. I'd love to hear from you.

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