The following week, Sharon felt as though all was back to normal, at least until Friday’s Advisory Board meeting. During a discussion over some mild unpleasantness in a small African country, Al made a joke about how the U.S. should just bomb them and be done with it. The room fell silent for a few minutes. Al, realizing he had gone too far, apologized and reiterated that he had been making a joke.
“The problem is,” Karen told Sharon at lunch later that day, “I don’t think anyone actually believed he was joking.”
“Al has always had a very dry sense of humor,” Sharon pointed out. “But, no, he may not have been. I guess we’re still dealing with the anger.”
“It’s not going to blow over quickly.” Karen made a face at her salad. “I’m done with this. By the way, been hearing some exciting stuff about your sister.”
“Besides the awesome reviews for her dance?” Sharon asked, with a grin.
“Yeah, like piles of job offers.”
Sharon nodded. “She’s gotten some incredible ones. Last I heard, though, she wants to stay here in D.C. She says she has a place to live here.”
“Good for her.”
“I’d agree, but she’s acting really cagey for some reason.” Sharon shook her head. “She doesn’t sound unhappy, but there’s something she’s not telling me and I can’t figure out what.”
“Well, at least with her in town you’ll be able to see each other more often.”
“Maybe. She gets plenty busy on her own.”
Karen got up. “See you tomorrow?”
Sharon grabbed her phone and scrolled to her calendar. “Why? It’s Saturday, right?”
“Come on, Sharon, you promised.”
“I did not. I said I’d think about it.”
“You said you’d do it.” Karen grinned. “Seriously. It’ll get the guys off your back.”
“And who’s paying for the damage to any vehicles?”
“There’s not going to be any damage.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”
“Sharon, that’s exactly why you need to do this. You can’t spend your life living in fear.”
“I’m not living in fear. I’m just… Cursed. That’s all.”
“No, you’re not. So, we’ll see you tomorrow.”
Sharon sighed as Karen left. Karen was, in fact, right. But the last thing Sharon wanted to do was drive. It didn’t matter. The next day, accompanied by Karen, Kira and June, Sharon found herself behind the wheel of Karen’s Toyota Camry, practicing in a mostly empty Metro parking lot at the end of one of the lines.
The reality was, Sharon could drive, as in she knew how. But she had little confidence and tended to react to everything going on around her as if it was all going to blow up at any second. Which, as far as Sharon was concerned, it would.
June wouldn’t buy it and soon Sharon was on the quiet suburban streets, heading out along a two-lane country highway.
“So where are we going?” Sharon asked.
“You need motivation,” June said. “We’re going to Loudoun County and the wineries there. Get us there safely and we’ll buy the wine and Kira can drive back.”
Which Sharon did. The drive was pleasant and only took a little over an hour. Pastures and lush, green hills slid by. June directed Sharon to the parking lot of a medium-sized winery once they reached the Hillsboro area. Following Karen’s instructions, Sharon even managed to parallel park under a tree on the edge of the parking lot.
The four women had just left the car and headed toward the tasting room when they heard a very loud crack and whoosh. They turned just in time to see the tree crash onto Karen’s car, splattering glass and branches all over and breaking the windows of the cars on either side of Karen’s.
“Okay,” said Karen softly. “I’ll buy it. You’re cursed.”
“She did get us here safely,” June said.
“I’ll buy the wine,” said Sharon, pulling out her Blackberry. “And call the car service.”
June looked at the small troop of black-suited Secret Service agents running up.
“You won’t need to do that,” June sighed. “But I could use some wine.”
“So could I,” said Kira, with a grin.
“Nice try,” Karen said, glaring at and nudging her daughter. “How do you explain this to your insurance? I was teaching my friend how to drive and it turns out she’s cursed?”
Others from inside the tasting room were wandering out to the parking lot, including the owners of the cars that had also been damaged and the winery owner. One of the car owners, a tall, beefy man with a red face and balding head began screaming at the winery owner while pointing at the car in front of Karen’s.
“He ought to be thankful that’s not his car in the middle,” someone said.
“Is that Secret Service?” someone else asked.
June, who was wearing a baseball cap over her hair, slid on the pair of sunglasses she’d just taken off before the tree fell over. She nodded and the plain clothes detail slipped around the little group and spirited them away, leaving their suited fellows to deal with Karen’s car and the winery.
The good news was that the incident somehow escaped the notice of the media. The winery’s insurance took care of the damage to the cars, even if Sharon tried to insist that she was technically liable. But even Karen wouldn’t accept that and took the whole episode philosophically.
By the end of Monday, an announcement out of Minneapolis sent the White House staff scurrying. June first heard about it when Major Wills appeared in her East Wing office that afternoon.
“I want to confirm any special requests or orders regarding your mother’s visit this week,” said the Chief Usher.
He was a smallish man, with gray hair and the ramrod erect posture of the former Marine he was.
“My mother?’ June asked, her stomach clenching.
“Yes. She announced that she would be coming in on Wednesday,” Major Wills said, with an injured sniff.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” June said. She clenched her teeth against the gagging feeling in her throat. “Does the president know?”
“I’d assumed you’d invited her,” Major Wills said.
“If we had, we would have told you about it,” June said, trying not to sound snippy. Clearly, the problematic relationship with their mother was something the Major could not grasp. “I’ll talk to the president. In the meantime, please prepare a guest room for her. She can have the Lincoln bedroom, if you feel that’s appropriate.”
“Very well, Miss Jerguessen.” The major nodded and left.
June picked up her mobile only to find that her brother had texted her. She hurried over to the West Wing. Kent Jeffries, the president’s secretary, announced her, then reminded the president that he had a briefing with Sharon Wheatly in a few minutes.
“Hey,” said Mark, looking up from a tablet as she entered.
“Major Wills just gave me the news,” June said.
“That’s why I called you in here. How do you want to spin it?”
June took a deep breath. “I don’t care. I’m not going to be here.”
“Okay, but…” Mark looked at her more carefully. “June, what’s going on?”
June swallowed. “I’m not going to be here. I’ve just decided I can’t be around her right now.”
Mark got up and came around the desk. “Why not? I mean, I get why not, but you’ve always managed before. What’s different now?”
“Oh, dear,” June’s voice wavered as she tried not to break down in sobs. “Mark, you are going to be so mad at me.” She took a deep breath. “I just can’t deal with what she let happen. When we were kids. I mean, I’m finally trying to deal with it and I just can’t deal with it and her.”
“Is there something else..?” Mark asked. “You know, besides…”
June nodded. “Harold. He molested me. Full on sex. Night after night. It started when I was five.” She slid onto a couch, the tears finally flowing. “I couldn’t tell you, I was so afraid of what he’d do to you. Then, after Dad got us out of there, I blocked it out. I couldn’t talk about it to anyone. It’s just that I’d relapsed during the campaign and then Doug and I were thinking about getting together. So I was trying to get up the nerve to tell you, then that other relapse. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell you what happened ever since. You have to believe me.”
Mark sat down next her and pulled her close. “I believe you.”
How he kept himself together, he had no idea. He only knew he had to for June’s sake. June cried only for a few minutes longer, then sat up and wiped her eyes.
“I really was trying to tell you,” she said.
“I know,” he said.
“Are you mad?”
“Not at you,” Mark said. “Well, not much. I get it – you couldn’t. But I do wish you’d found a way.”
“I didn’t want to hurt you, Mark.”
“I know. We’ll get past this. It’s more important that you’re dealing with it and talking about it.”
“Mr. President,” Kent’s voice broke into the room. “Ms. Wheatly is here.”
Mark swore softly. “Listen, before you head out to wherever, can we talk tonight?”
“Good.” Mark raised his voice. “Please send her in, Kent.”
June stood as Sharon walked into the Oval Office. Sharon noticed immediately that something had happened.
“I told him,” June said to Sharon as she left.
The door shut behind her, Sharon looked over at Mark, still sitting on the couch, and realized what had happened.
Mark looked up at her. “You knew. About June.”
“Uh, yeah. It kind of slipped out about a month ago.”
“Am I the last to know?” Mark snarled.
“I doubt it. As far as I know, I’m the only person she’s talked to about it. And that was an accident. She was looking for a way to tell you.”
Mark turned on her. “You couldn’t have said something to me?”
Sharon stepped back, startled by his vehemence.
“Seriously,” Mark bounced up and began pacing furiously. “Why couldn’t she had said something to me? Why do I have to stay in the dark? Only the worst thing in the world happens to my baby sister and I get to be the last to find out. How could you have kept this from me? Huh? How?”
“She said she was going to tell you and I agreed that it would be better coming from her.” Sharon took a deep breath and tried not to get angry, as it was obvious that Mark was not actually angry with her. “I’m sure it hurts to find out this way and this late, but June has been having a very difficult time dealing with it.”
“I know,” said Mark, his knuckles white in his fists. “I know and I can’t be pissed at her because of that.”
“Then why not be pissed at the person who deserves it?” Sharon said softly.
“I am!” Mark roared, then stopped at looked at her guiltily. “And that’s not you. I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me.”
“Your sister just told you that she’d been molested by your older brother for years.”
“It’s not like I didn’t suspect.” Mark went back to pacing. “How could I not? We even asked her about it, but she acted like it had never happened and I never talked to her about it again. I tried so hard to protect her, damn it.”
“The way June tells it, you did a darned good job, when you were being just as abused as she was.”
“Not that way. I didn’t get that. I took plenty of other shit, but not that.” Mark pressed his lips together as a tear rolled down his cheek. “That poor kid. She’s gotten the worst of everything and she still comes back fighting. She’s still kind and loving. Hell, she was more worried about me when she told me. How…?”
“She had you and you both had a loving father and grandmother and other kind people who reached out to you. At least, I’m guessing that’s what happened. That’s how kids in your position generally get past that kind of damage.”
Mark snorted. “You know, I’m really glad we’ve never had to fly the survivor flag. It’s nothing to be proud of, trust me. You survive because you have no other option. And you’re right. I did have my dad, who made it very clear to me that I had two ways to deal with things. I could let it turn me into a bitter, angry person, or I could find a way to forgive and rise above it. But there are times when I just want to be bitter and angry and nuke the piss out of my mother and brother. Oh, crap. That’s what started this. My mother’s coming to visit.”
“It was kind of you to invite her.”
“I didn’t.” Mark took a deep breath. “That’s why the announcement came out of Minnesota. She knows that I can’t say she isn’t without looking really bad.” He took a deep breath. “And there really isn’t much either of us can do about it. So. You have a briefing for me?”
“Yes. Just a quick update on Saturday’s party for Karsa Bruchner.”
“The German ambassador’s kid. And we’re doing this because..?”
“He did not want a reception for himself. He’s already had his meeting with you. But the German government was acting a little miffed, as if we were blowing them off.”
“So we offered him a birthday party for his daughter, who is having a little trouble adjusting and making friends.” Mark flopped onto the couch and waved. “I remember now.”
“All right. So we have our RSVPs. Kid Casey, the entertainment, has been passed by security. Dan Friedman loves the compromise and both his sources and mine agree that the Germans are pleased as punch with it, too. We’ve got some hints of terrorist activity in France and Russia, but nothing much to go on. You might want to ask the Warmonger about it, though.”
Mark leaned back and closed his eyes. Sharon paused, and then went on with her briefing.
Mark later found June in the private quarters dining room and was relieved to see that she was eating a salad.
“First course,” she said, pushing the bowl at him. “Hope you don’t mind that I started ahead of you. Didn’t know when you were coming up.”
“No, it’s fine.” He sat down, put his napkin on his lap and looked at the bowl. “I’m sorry I got upset.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” she said. “Of course, it’s only been a few months since I started admitting it to myself.”
“Like you haven’t been through enough.”
June shrugged. “Well, it’s like Dad always says, it’s not the hand you’re dealt, it’s how you choose to play it. Look, I can’t promise it’s all going to be happily ever after. But I really think I’m through the worst of it and I’m… all right.”
“You know, you are probably one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life. I mean, I don’t want this going public for the same reasons you don’t. At the same time, I would not mind being able to tell the world just how incredible you are.”
“At least, I get to tell everybody just how awesome you are,” June replied with a grin.