That Wednesday, with great fanfare, Rose Clarke Jerguessen Miller arrived at the White House. Mark made a point of doing the photo op with her, but as soon as he’d shown her up to the Lincoln Bedroom, he quietly told her that he had a lot to do and probably would not have a lot of time for her. Rose sniffed at that, but inwardly, she was pleased. More room for her own agenda.
Her first stop was the East Wing offices, where she was quite pleased to meet Major Wills, the chief usher. The smallish Southern gentleman and former Marine was as malleable as clay.
Sharon had no idea of what was coming that Thursday afternoon. The first storm hit with an angry phone call from Solly, the White House Chef.
“That Major Goop, he is on my last nerve again,” Solly complained. “He comes in here, all in my face, telling me there’s a new menu for Saturday night. One the president’s mother came up with. He’s got pate de foie gras on here. You can’t serve that to teenagers.”
“You can’t serve that period,” Sharon said. “The animal rights people will be all over it. What’s on the rest of it?”
“I just emailed it to you. I don’t know where I’m going to get some of these ingredients.”
“It’s here.” Sharon glared at her laptop screen. “Veal marsala? Good lord, I’ve got three vegans coming.”
“He said it came directly from the president’s mother, and you know how he hates it that your office gets last word on things like this.”
“And things like this menu are precisely why my office does.” Sharon closed her eyes and thought. “Look, Solly, hang on. I’m going to check in with Holly and see what we can do about this.”
Holly Damiano was the East Wing Events Coordinator. Her job was to oversee any dinners, receptions, performances, whatever, that happened at the White House. She, too, had occasionally butted heads with Major Wills, but usually deferred to him. As Sharon hung up with the chef, Holly, an average-size brunette with some healthy padding, slid into Sharon’s office.
“What, in Heaven’s name, is going on?” Holly demanded as she flopped into the chair next to Sharon’s desk. “I thought we had Saturday all worked out.”
“We did,” said Sharon. “What’s going on at your end?”
“The president’s mother wants everything re-done. She couldn’t change the guest list, but she re-did the seating arrangements. We’re now having a sit-down dinner instead of a buffet. Major Wills has already signed the Marine orchestra to play.”
“What? We have a contract with Kid Casey for the entertainment.”
“Well, Mrs. Miller has decided that’s too raucous. An orchestra is more appropriate for an ambassador’s reception.”
“That’s exactly what Ambassador Bruchner didn’t want. And we have a signed contract with Kid Casey. You can’t bag on a signed contract.” Sharon put her head in her hands.
“Should we talk to the president?”
“No!” Sharon tried not to sound as desperate as she felt. She had talked with June right after June had left for New York. June had strongly suggested that her brother was probably not feeling any particular warmth for their mother at that time. “All right. Let’s think about this. There has to be a way we can let her think we’re doing things her way, then do an end run that will keep the teens happy. Best of both worlds, right?”
Holly looked a little skeptical but nodded.
And Sharon and Holly did work out a plan. Sharon had to call her brother, Michael, and ask him to help, but since he was friends with Deshawn Colley’s parents, Leon (aka rapper Big Dog) and Shireen, and since they had arranged for Deshawn’s older brother Kid Casey to entertain, it made life easier. Somewhat.
Sharon and Holly did eventually brief the president, who gave them permission to do as they saw fit. Mark, for his part, was impressed by the effort to keep the party on track while keeping his mother happy. He was about to tell Sharon that it didn’t matter when he remembered that Holly was also present and not as intimately familiar with the problems in his family.
The night of the party, Matt got tasked with keeping his grandmother busy until the party started and she couldn’t change anything. She had made one sweep of the State Dining Room before Matt took over. That gave Holly just enough time to re-do the seating arrangements, even though it was still a sit-down dinner. Michael and Inez arrived early. They had dropped Toby off to spend the night with Susan, which Sharon had to assume had more to do with Toby’s recent crush on the president than keeping Susan company. Leon and Shireen Colley showed up with their son Douglas, better known as Kid Casey, shortly after.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Sharon hissed at her brother.
“Got it wired, sis.” Michael said, as he squired Douglas to the backstage area of the East Room.
Shireen Colley, a generously-proportioned woman with a gap in her front teeth, patted Sharon’s arm.
“It is so wired,” Shireen said. “You don’t have a thing to worry about.”
Five minutes later, the president and his mother came down to the Blue Room, where the guests would be received and hors d’oeuvres passed.
Most of the hors d’oeuvres were based on Rose’s menu. But Solly had snuck in a couple more teen-friendly items, such as fried mac and cheese balls and miniature cheeseburgers. If the president’s mother noticed, Sharon couldn’t tell. Holly slid into the Blue Room and nodded at Sharon. The seating plan had been re-arranged.
Sharon held her breath as the party filtered into the State Dining Room. Karsa had originally been seated with the president and Ambassador Bruchner, a small but stout man with dark blond hair. She had hung close to her father during the hors d’oeuvres, even as Matt and Jodi had tried to engage the girl, who had a rounded figure, long blonde hair and horned-rim glasses. Jodi had some success because she did speak some German. In the dining room, Karsa found herself seated with Matt, Jodi, and the rest of their friends. The adults, including the president and his mother, Ambassador Bruchner, Sharon, Michael and Inez, and Leon and Shireen Colley, along with Karen Tanaka and Hideo Matsumoto, and the Coopers, were at another table altogether. What Sharon hoped Mrs. Jergeussen didn’t notice was that their table was getting mostly her menu, while the teens were offered the original menu.
The other teens, mostly kids from several local schools, didn’t really seem to notice Karsa or even Matt and his crew. They chatted in nervous knots as classical music, from the Marine Corps orchestra, was piped in. Sharon was gratified to notice that the table where Karsa, Matt, Jodi and Tiffany, and the others were was the most animated in the room. Better yet, Karsa seemed to be smiling and enjoying herself.
As dinner ended, the group was shuffled to the East Room, where chairs and a stage had been set up with the Marine Corps Orchestra sitting on it. Most of the teens saw it and groaned audibly. But as soon as they got settled, the conductor came on and the music he started was to a very modern, pulsing beat. Michael winked at Sharon. A second later, Kid Casey came on, rapping and even singing along with the orchestra. The teens were on their feet, especially Karsa. Matt, Tony Garces and Paul Marley were all nudging and otherwise teasing Deshawn Colley.
The concert lasted just long enough. Most of the teens filtered out, but Karsa and Matt and their friends lingered. Senator Marley, who had shown up just in time for the finale, was smiling as her son Paul hunkered down with the other youngsters.
“He’s having the time of his life,” Janet said, grinning.
“Ja,” said Ambassador Bruchner. “So is Karsa.”
Karsa and Jodi came running up, both babbling in German. Ambassador Bruchner responded and the two went running back to the others waiting.
“They want to go to the American History Museum tomorrow,” he announced, happily.
“They do?” asked Michael. “How do we make that happen?”
Sharon laughed. “Don’t stress, big brother. They probably have it all worked out. In fact, I think the expedition was already in the works before tonight.”
“They’re pretty independent,” Mark interjected. “I’ll double check later, but I’m pretty sure they’ve worked all the details out.”
Michael glared at his sister. “Sharon, were you aware this sort of thing was going on?”
“Yes,” said Sharon. “And I’m insanely proud of Jodi. She’s managing beautifully. They’re good, responsible kids. And come on, Michel. How many teens do you know want to hang out at the American History Museum?”
Michael glanced over at the group, which while tightly grouped together, still had fallen into smaller sub-groups which were all animatedly discussing something or other.
Rose wandered up, followed by Karen and Hideo.
“Ah, Mrs. Jerguessen!,” said Ambassador Bruchner, stepping forward and bowing. “This has been the most delightful evening. Having an orchestra with the young rapper. What a wonderful idea.”
Sharon smiled. “We couldn’t have done it without Mrs. Jerguessen’s help. She was quite an inspiration.”
Fortunately, Mark was standing behind his mother. Sharon could see the puzzled frown on his face.
“Miss Wheatly gives me far too much credit,” Rose said, smiling also. But Sharon was pretty sure she saw some significant frost in her eyes.
The next day, Mark extended an invitation to his mother to attend church services together, which she accepted. Matt had chosen to sleep in and then go straight to meet his friends at the American History Museum. Rose maintained a frosty silence when they were in the car.
However, on the way back to the White House after services, Rose shifted.
“If I were to report some insubordination on the part of your staff, I don’t suppose you’d do anything about it,” she sniffed suddenly.
Mark paused. “What happened?”
“I was humiliated,” Rose said. “Here I was, trying to help facilitate a proper ambassadorial reception, and your staff completely changed my menu behind my back, re-arranged the seats. And that ridiculous concert. What an affront to our German friends.”
Mark briefly debated telling her that his staff had bent over backwards not to humiliate her, not to mention that one of them even complimented her, never mind that the last minute changes had made life difficult for everyone. It would do no good and he was past fighting with her. Or so he liked to think.
“I’ll look into it,” he said. “And the appropriate staffers will be disciplined.”
“Hmph.” Rose was clearly not satisfied. “You might want to start with that little Wheatly bitch.”
Mark smiled, trying to cover the ice in his gut. He suddenly knew what his mother was really fishing for. He didn’t dare protest too much or too little.
“I said I’ll look into it,” he answered and glared out the window.
Fortunately, they pulled up to the White House. Rose went to her room. Mark went to his study, paced for a few moments, then made a phone call.
“Good afternoon, sir,” Sharon’s voice answered. “How can I help you?”
Mark took a deep breath. “I just thought I’d better warn you, my mother was not happy about last night.”
“Well, we didn’t think she’d be entirely,” Sharon said.
“Except that she just strongly hinted that I fire you. Not that I’m going to.”
“That’s good to know.”
“Perhaps. I did say that it wasn’t worth trying to work around her.”
“I know. But not trying wasn’t going to make things any better. And I feel better that we at least tried.”
“We’ll go with that, then.” Mark sighed. “And, uh, don’t stress if she happens to say anything to you about the event.”
“Thanks for reassuring me.” Sharon paused. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No. Thanks.” He hung up.
Sharon looked at the phone, feeling vaguely disgusted with herself. Mark had sounded so down that she’d wanted to chat a little longer in the hopes of cheering him up. It was not to be.
The next day, Sharon was solidly concentrating on the next looming issue when Julie announced that Mrs. Jerguessen wanted to see her. Sharon stood as Rose entered her office.
“How can I help you today?” Sharon asked.
Rose looked around at the walls, then pursed her lips.
“Perhaps I can help you,” Rose said finally. “That was quite the coup you pulled the other night.”
“I’m sorry if it wasn’t quite what you’d requested,” Sharon replied. “We assumed you were not aware that the ambassador did not want a traditional reception.”
“Indeed.” Rose looked Sharon in the eye. “It would seem that you and I have a great deal in common. Both wanting to see the right thing done. Willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that happens. Which is why you should be careful, my dear. I will protect my son.”
Sharon smiled softly. “Please do.”
“Is that a challenge?” Rose smiled.
“Not really.” Sharon took a deep breath. “I don’t expect you to understand this, but as nice a person as your son is, I have absolutely no interest in being First Girlfriend. Or First Lady, for that matter.”
“You’re right. I don’t understand.”
“I don’t want to live my life in a fishbowl.” Sharon shrugged. “So any attempts on your part to protect your son from me will be pretty much pointless since I have no interest in him in the first place. However, do what you feel is necessary.”
Rose paused. “I will. And be warned. I am not someone you want as an enemy.”
“I understand, Mrs. Jerguessen.”
Rose left and Sharon took a deep breath. However, she did not see Rose talking to Dianne Bowen and Dianne escorted the president’s mother out to her waiting car.