Monday, it was as though everything in the White House stopped and all the staffers held their collective breath. The first full vote on Mark’s education bill was due in the Senate. Even Sharon, who was also working with the State Department and the CIA on who was vandalizing American Embassies on various U.S. holidays, stopped long enough to join the rest of the Advisory Panel in their conference room to watch the vote. The only members absent, were Dr. Hakim Mohammed, the education advisor and Johnny Whitesand, who oversaw social welfare issues. They were with Mark, Chief of Staff Johnetta Washington, and the other White House staffers who had worked directly on the bill, in the Oval Office.
“You’re looking a little wistful,” Karen said to Sharon about mid-way through the voting.
“It’s the boss’s big moment,” Sharon replied, hoping that it did not show how very badly she wished she could be in the Oval Office right then. “You know how hard he’s been working on this thing. Besides, after last week, he could really use a win.”
Karen shrugged. “He needs it all right. But I was thinking how anti-climatic this one is. We’ve had the votes for weeks. That’s why it went through the Senate first. Wait until we get the House vote through. That one is going to be a lot closer.”
There were cheers throughout the West Wing when the final vote came in and the bill officially passed the Senate. Almost immediately, a memo went out from the Oval Office, congratulating the staff who had worked on it and thanking everyone else for their support.
“This is a critical step, no doubt about it,” the memo read. “And we should be proud of what we have achieved so far. However, we still have work to do. Let us give ourselves a quick pat on the back, then finish the job we’ve started.”
Sharon still took a few moments to brief Mark on the vandalism later that afternoon, accompanied by Wanda Dereske, Al’s second in command, and his CIA expert.
“The problem is that we can’t find any intelligence about what is going on,” said Dereske, a short, filled out African American woman. “It’s got to be something being coordinated in a chat room somewhere, but we’ve checked all the terrorist networks. We’ve checked the Dark Web. We have searched and searched. Nothing.”
Mark looked at both Sharon and Dereske. “Is there anything else we can do?”
“Not really,” said Sharon.
“We can keep looking,” Dereske said. “It’s not critical. After all, no one has gotten hurt and the damage hasn’t been too severe. The worrisome part is that it seems to be escalating in scope.”
“Keep an eye on it, and keep me up to date,” said Mark.
He dismissed Dereske, then turned to Sharon, who smiled at him.
“Congratulations,” Sharon said with a warm smile as she came over and hugged him.
“Thanks.” He hugged her back. “I’ll feel a lot better when it gets through the House. We’ve got a lot more opposition there. This will not be a slam-dunk, by any means.”
Sharon shrugged as he released her. “You’ll get it through. You’re good that way.”
“You okay?” Mark watched her.
“Oh, fine.” She smiled at him. “I just wanted to be in here. Share your big moment with you.”
He smiled and sighed. “Yeah. I was missing you, too.”
The two looked at each for a moment, then Sharon got a text on her phone and the moment was gone.
The following Monday, the Speaker of the House called for the vote on the education bill. Again, Sharon was in the conference room, while Mark and the others were in the Oval Office. The opposition had made a push to vote early, in the hopes that others would be swayed by the number of votes against. It took a long while before it looked like anybody had voted for the bill. Sharon was aware that phone calls were being made in the Oval Office but felt strangely divorced from everything.
The votes continued to come in.
“This will be a big one,” Gus Guererro said as one particular congressman came up to vote. Sharon could not tell who it was.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s been on the fence from day one,” Gus said. “If he votes yes, then it’s likely the others on the fence will come down on our side.”
A muted cheer rippled through the West Wing as the vote came up yes. The yes votes were growing. But then there was another rush of representatives into the chamber, many of them voting no. The totals went back and forth for quite some time.
Sharon tried not to think about Mark, watching from the Oval Office, making a call here and there, trying not to let on how nervous he had to be feeling. June slid into the conference room and sat next to Sharon.
“You doing okay?” Sharon asked her.
“Okay enough,” June said. “I mean, I know this one vote is not going to define Mark’s presidency, but it sure feels like it.”
“It’s one of the things he campaigned on,” Sharon said.
The votes remained very close until finally, the gavel came down. The bill had passed by 38 votes. Cheering erupted throughout the West Wing. Sharon and June danced around the conference room. Shortly after, Mark opened up the Blue Room for a party for the entire staff. That went on until late afternoon, when people went back to their desks to attempt to get other work done.
But later that evening, there was another party in the Protocol Free Zone, which was actually Sharon’s basement. She’d set it up as a bar earlier that year so that Mark could go out for a drink with the Advisory Board and others. Johnnie Washington, the chief of staff, and her husband were there. June had come and dragged Matt and his several friends along. It was only fair. After all, the crew of teens, which was comprised of Tony Garces, Paul Marley, DeShawn Colley, Jodi Wheatly, Tiffany Sheppledorf, Karsa Bruchner, Rebecca Cooper, and Kira Watanabe, all took turns working for Mark as his personal assistants in the afternoons and evenings.
It was getting close to ten thirty, and several of the board members and some of the teens had already left. Rebecca Cooper strode up to June.
“Where’s your brother?” Rebecca asked June.
June looked around. “He’s not here. He must have gone back to the White House. Tomorrow is still a work day.”
“But he didn’t say good night,” Rebecca said.
“I’m sure he did,” June said. “In fact, I saw him talking with Sharon a little bit ago. He usually talks to her last before leaving. To say thank you and all that.”
“Hmm.” Rebecca frowned. “Are you sure there isn’t something up?”
“Say, your brother and Paul’s mom.” Rebecca grinned. “They seem to really like each other.”
Paul’s mother was a senator from the opposition party.
June laughed. “I suppose it’s possible, but it doesn’t seem likely.”
“She did talk all those other senators into voting for the education bill.”
“She liked the legislation,” June said. “She’s talked other senators into voting against something Mark’s wanted any number of times.”
Rebecca’s mother, Cordelia, called her and Rebecca flounced off. June made her way over to where Sharon was behind the bar.
“When did my brother leave?” June asked.
“He did?” Sharon looked around, then laughed. “Oh, yeah. He did. A while ago. I didn’t see what time it was.”
Eddie Cooper, Cordelia, and Rebecca all came up at that moment to say good night. June decided to say good night, as well, for which Sharon was grateful. She wondered if she could get Gus Guerrero and his husband to stop talking with Gwen McKelvey and Eli Weatherall. She tried to hide a yawn behind her hand. Fortunately, Emilio, Gus’s husband, saw it and got Gus to call it a night.
The basement emptied soon after. Sharon brought a second pile of dishes up to the kitchen, where Mark had washed the first pile she’d brought up.
“Gus, Emilio, Mackie, and Eli were picking apart some TV show,” Sharon grumbled.
Mark chuckled as he scraped the plates and put them in the dishwasher. “They do like getting into it.”
“I thought they’d never leave,” Sharon said. “But the door is locked, so you can come down with me, if you want.”
“Sure. With both of us working, we can get to bed sooner.”
Sharon felt herself melting at his lascivious grin.
Some hours later, she awoke. Mark was partially dressed and gazing blankly out her window.
“Are you okay?” she asked with a yawn.
He started. “Oh. Fine. Pretty darned good, actually.”
“You’re not beating yourself up over what you should have done better, are you?”
Mark chuckled and shook his head. “Not this time. I was trying to figure something out.” He turned from the window, looked at her and sighed softly. “I missed having you with me today.”
“Are you thinking you want to go public?” Sharon’s gut suddenly tightened.
“I don’t know.” Mark shrugged and picked up his shirt and tie from the floor. “I don’t think I’m ready to.”
“I know I’m not,” Sharon said, the relief flooding through her.
Mark finished getting his shirt buttoned, then pulled his tie around his shoulders.
“There are times, like today, when all I want is to be with you,” he said, sitting next to her on the bed. He bent and slid on his socks and shoes. “But there are so many good reasons to keep things as they are.”
Sharon nodded. “I know. I don’t think either of us thought this would be all sunshine and lollipops. But keeping things quiet is not nearly as easy as I thought it would be.”
“No, it’s not.” Mark reached over and kissed her. “Anyway, I’ve got to go. Today is a work day.”
“Today? Oh. Yeah. It is that late.” Sharon watched as Mark left the room, then flopped back onto the bed.
Mark shut the bedroom door, thumbing a text message before going downstairs to the basement. Riff was just coming in through the outside door as Mark walked up to it. They got in the car silently.
“Riff,” Mark asked. “Would it be easier or harder on you and your guys if Sharon and I went public?”
“Sir, it does not matter to us.”
Mark looked at him and Riff shrugged.
“It would be a little bit of both,” Riff said after a pause. “It really doesn’t matter. Our job is to protect you and that’s what we’ll do.”
Mark nodded. He hadn’t expected anything else from Riff but it would have been nice.