Welcome to the second season, if you will, of White House Rhapsody. When we last blogged about President Mark Jerguessen and his aide World Affairs Consultant, Mark’s nephew, Matt, had just come to live at the White House. Mark and Sharon art still trying to fight their attraction to eaach other. Another aide, Popular Culture Consultant Karen Tanaka is being sued by her controlling ex-husband for custory of their two daughters, Kira and Ally, and Kira is refusing to live with her dad.
The seat belt sign was off and President Mark Jerguessen got up from the desk in his small office on Air Force One and stood in the doorway looking out.
The seating area immediately outside his office was more or less full, but still seemed empty compared to the rows of seats normally found on a jet liner. Terry Barker, his Deputy Chief of Staff sat next to a window, eye shade firmly in place. Barker, with his closely cropped light brown hair and piercing blue eyes, normally carried his significant size with the grace and authority of the former professional football player he was. But he deeply loathed flying. Next to him was speech writer Calvin Whitecross, an average-sized young Black man who was nonetheless dwarfed by Barker.
Out of the corner of his eye, Mark could see White House photographer Emil Salas setting up a shot. It was Salas’ job to document visually almost everything Mark did. Mark, however much he didn’t mind being photographed, found even the portly Salas’ most stealthy movements and the whir of the shutter release insanely distracting and banned the photographer as often as possible.
At a table in front of Whitecross and Barker, Tony Garces and Mark’s nephew Matt Jerguessen were bent over a tablet computer and keyboard, bouncing back and forth between laughing and serious conversation. Both gangling and just starting to grow into their hands and feet, Tony was dark and prone to brooding, while Matt’s lighter brown hair, green eyes and square jaw reminded everyone of his famous uncle. Both boys, just barely 16, had been almost too squirrely to do their official jobs as Mark’s personal assistants, but Mark could hardly blame them. It was their first time on Air Force One.
Across the plane, at one of the two tables there, petite and fluffy Message Director Yesmenia Alvarez talked on her mobile phone while pounding away on her laptop.
At the next table, also deep in conversation on her mobile phone, was the real reason why Mark had left his office. Watching World Affairs Advisor Sharon Wheatly was one of Mark’s guiltiest of guilty pleasures.
Sharon had blond hair, rich brown eyes, and a tallish, slender figure, all of which garnered plenty of attention from others. But while Mark appreciated her more obvious physical attributes, what generally stirred him was her devastating intellect and complete willingness to stand up to him. He wondered what language she was speaking at the moment – odds were against it actually being English. Sharon spoke ten different languages fluently and was conversant in several others.
Glaring, she brought the phone down from her ear and punched it off with her thumb. She glanced up at Mark and he could see she was not happy. She got up and as she approached, Mark waved her into the office.
“Sir?” she asked as he shut the door behind her.
Mark bristled inwardly at the formality, but he knew it was necessary. However deep and powerful the attraction between them – and it was mutual – a relationship could not happen.
“You looked like something’s wrong,” he said.
She shrugged delicately. “It’s nothing we can do anything about, but it looks like Pakistan and India are getting ready to go at it again. Nobody’s talking nukes, but there have been at least a couple border skirmishes over the past few days. Faiza’s contact at the Pakistani ministry insists that the Indians started it. Katie’s contact swears it was the Pakistanis. And my contact says it was probably some of both. The good news is that Leonardo says that things are looking really good in Bogota.”
“Well, that’s nice, at least.” Mark sighed. “Any signs of jealousy from President Mendoza?”
Sharon smiled. Their trip to Mexico earlier that year had almost been a disaster when it appeared that Mark’s popularity would eclipse that of the Mexican president. They were, at that moment, headed to Columbia at the invitation of the newly inaugurated president of the country.
“I doubt it,” Sharon said. “Mendoza seems to still be in his honeymoon phase. He can’t appear too pro-America because he does have to keep the support from that side of the government, but the general feeling Leonardo and I and Daniel have all been getting is that most of the people on the street associate anti-American sentiment with the old regime. And those guys were not that popular before the new party ousted them. Since the elections, it’s all been make friends with the Americans and get their money.”
Mark chuckled. “That’s assuming I can get Congress to cooperate. But that is my job.” He paused. “How have you been doing?”
“Distance.” Mark smiled, trying to cover the sadness he felt.
Sharon sighed. “Well enough, I suppose. It’s been busy enough, so that’s helped. You?”
“Okay. I’d better get back out there. You know how Yesmenia loves to speculate and she’s directly hooked in to Jean, who would love even a hint that we’ve got something going on.”
Mark chuckled. Jean was Jean Bouyer, the Press Secretary, and Jean was intent on bringing Mark and Sharon together, no matter how much they were trying to avoid it.
“Catch you later, then,” he said softly.
Sharon smiled as she left, but inside, her stomach was in knots. For two weeks, she and the president had been able to keep their distance in spite of the fact that she was one of his top aides. The problem was they were fast becoming close friends, which was a good thing except that the last thing Sharon wanted was a relationship with someone whose life was on public display – and Mark’s life certainly was, which meant that hers would be, too, if they got involved with each other.
But there were times when she almost couldn’t help herself. Yes, he was tall and amazingly good-looking, with broad shoulders, those green eyes, light brown hair and square jaw. But while Mark was brilliant in his own way, he was surprisingly humble for someone in his position and while he didn’t often show his vulnerable side, Sharon had seen enough of it to be completely smitten. When she was willing to admit that she was, which wasn’t often. Worse yet, the two seemed to have an awful lot in common, but were just different enough to keep things interesting.
Sharon shoved her feelings back down inside her gut as she went back to her seat on the plane. She settled in and tried to relax. The next few days were going to be anything but restful. Columbia’s recently elected and sworn-in president Carlos Mendoza was bound and determined to turn around any anti-Columbian sentiment that had been fostered by the previous U.S. administration. Hence, there was a full schedule of events and tours planned for the visit, which only began when the plane touched down in Bogota.
President Mendoza arrived just as Air Force One touched down. Tony and Matt, who had previously been bouncing off the walls, suddenly settled down and got their ties tied and suit jackets on. Sharon smiled to herself. They were technically there as the president’s personal assistants. It was a heady job, but Mark had chosen well in spite of their youth, with both boys having just enough youthful joie de vivre to be excited about opening doors for the President but enough gravitas to behave appropriately.
Mark made his way down the airplane’s stairway to the podium and red carpet set up nearby. There was a decent-sized crowd gathered on the airport tarmac, and plenty of press, both American and Columbian. Mark greeted Mendoza, a broad-shouldered man who Sharon thought resembled Omar Sharif more than a little. Mendoza made a little welcome speech in excellent English, then Mark made his way through his speech in Spanish. Mark didn’t speak Spanish very well, but Sharon had coached him extensively, and if she was not thrilled with his accent, at least his Spanish didn’t sound forced.
After the welcome speeches, there was an early evening car tour of the city, then dinner in the presidential palace. That went late. Nonetheless, the U.S. party was up again early for tours and talks and much-needed fence mending with local farmers who had suffered at the hands of American soldiers who had been trying to take down the drug cartels. Mark strongly suspected that more than a few of the government officials and citizens they met were members of said cartels, if not the heads of such groups. Sharon didn’t say for sure, but she hinted.
She spent her day mostly observing. Her staff member who oversaw research on South America, Leonidas Bertonetti, had been in Bogota since late the week before and had made a goodly number of contacts even apart from the ones President Mendoza had set up.
The day was a whirlwind, finishing up with a particularly rowdy party with dancing and a decidedly free-flowing bar. Sharon didn’t think she’d had that much to drink, but she was feeling pretty happy.
The news from home was exceedingly good. First, Karen Tanaka, Sharon’s colleague on the president’s Advisory Panel and Sharon’s good friend, had called. Karen, also known as Tanks, had been recently sued by her ex-husband, George Watanabe, for custody of their two daughters, Kira and Allie.
Then Sharon’s sister Susan had called with her news, followed closely by their brother Michael, whose parting advice, while unsolicited (as so much of Michael’s advice was), Sharon had to concede had merit. Which turned out to be fairly convenient, since Mark suggested the two take a light walk around the grounds of the Columbian presidential palace, where the party was taking place.
Sharon was acting as Mark’s “date” that night – a frequent arrangement that made it look like Mark was bowing to the demands created by the social expectations of couplehood. But since Sharon spoke Spanish almost as well as a Mexican native, it also made her readily available as a translator when needed.
Sharon left the party first and found the walkway around the outside of the palace gardens without trouble. She was wearing a long, straight black dress with a sheer beaded overlay. Mark smiled as he saw her standing on a low retaining wall, looking out over the garden with a happy smile on her face. Her hair was pinned up.
“Hey!” she said, turning and seeing him. She lightly hopped down, took a deep breath and spun around once.
“You look exceptionally happy,” Mark said.
“I am,” she replied. “It’s been an unusually fun party and right before we left the hotel, I got some terrific news from home.”
“The Indians and the Pakistanis are making nice?”
She scrunched her face. “I wish. Nope, this was on the more personal front. Has Karen talked to you about the custody suit?”
“Not much,” Mark said. “But she’s been keeping me up to date. Last I heard, her ex got an emergency order to enforce the girls’ visit this summer.”
“Boy, did that backfire on them.” Sharon laughed. “I’m not sure how it worked out in legal terms. But Karen was going to send the girls to their dad’s for the summer and had it set up before the suit was even filed. And since she was able to prove that the emergency order was anything but an emergency, the judge got annoyed. Then Karen’s lawyers petitioned him to stop the visit based on George’s history of abusive behavior and the judge okayed it. Well, at least for the time being. There’s another hearing next week, where George’s lawyers get to respond.”
“That sounds pretty good,” Mark said. “But why stop the visit?”
“Kira’s refusing to go.”
“She’s barely fifteen. How can she refuse?”
Sharon grimaced. “Well, she can’t, technically. But remember when Matt made his unauthorized arrival in DC?”
Matt had, in fact, run away from his very unhappy home, and thanks to the plan he’d put together with Kira, Sharon’s niece Jodi and her friend Tiffany, along with Tony Garces and Rebecca Cooper, the daughter of one of Sharon and Karen’s other colleagues on the Advisory Panel, he’d arrived safely in Washington, DC.
Mark sighed. “Right. They were originally planning Kira’s getaway. They’re not still up to something, are they?”
“I have no idea. I’m trying to play it cool on the off chance someone will confide in me. In any case, with luck, the judge will keep the order in place and Kira and Allie won’t have to go to their dad’s.”
“Or wherever.” Mark smiled. “That is good news, but not normally the sort of thing that has you dancing.”
“That’s the even better news.” Sharon smiled and spun again. “My sister Susan has been commissioned to choreograph a new dance for the Artists with Disabilities Festival at the end of August, and she’s going to use my brother’s music.”
“Susan? Oh, she’s the one in the wheelchair. I mean, uses a wheelchair.”
Sharon chuckled. “Michael and I are thrilled. We didn’t think she’d go for it. It’s been barely two years since the accident and she’s been going through a really bad patch the past few months. The best we can figure is that it’s finally sinking in that her injury is permanent. She’s been pretty angry lately.”
“Wow. Wasn’t she some sort of dancer?” Mark asked.
“Lead ballerina with the Pacific Ballet, although she was getting ready to retire when the accident happened, being over 30 and all. The good news is that she can still choreograph and since the dance will be about her own journey as someone with a disability, it might help her confront some of her own issues.” Sharon smiled. “She’s really excited about it and happier than she’s been since the accident happened.”
Mark smiled. “It sounds great.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” Sharon spun very, very close to him. “Better yet, my brother suggested I get a little of my own happiness, too, and I thought why not?”
She reached up and kissed him full on the mouth. Mark felt himself rejoicing, even as he worried about the two of them being seen.
“I like that kind of happiness,” he whispered as their lips parted.
Sharon’s lips were still slightly open and her breathing was just a touch heavy. “As much as I’d like otherwise, the good news is that this will go absolutely nowhere since we cannot risk being seen and someone is bound to be headed our way soon.”
Mark kissed her again, starting softly, then stronger and stronger as she responded, melting into his arms and holding him tightly against herself. However, it was he who gently pulled them apart.
“What are we going to do, Sharon?” he sighed. “This distance thing is not working. I can’t lose you as an employee. And I don’t want to lose you.”
“I don’t either.” Sharon blushed, then looked at him, her soft brown eyes almost piercing him to his soul. “And you’re not going to. We’re friends, good friends. Your sister and I are just as close. Your nephew is my buddy and he’s best friends with my niece. Our lives are so freaking tied up together that we’re sort of stuck. We just have to try to stay friends and hold out as long as we can.”
The sound of footsteps crunching on the gravel forced Mark to pull away from her. Leonidas appeared on the path with one of President Mendoza’s aides on his arm. Leonidas was young, dark and smooth, although Sharon couldn’t help wonder if he was finally getting played by the lovely young woman with the very shrewd dark eyes.
They didn’t quite notice Mark and Sharon as they slipped into the garden. Mark nodded back at the building and Sharon went ahead of him.
“I’d better stay out here a bit longer,” Mark said somewhat more loudly than he needed to. “I think I see Matt headed this way. I overheard him and Tony talking about practicing their Spanish with some of the younger ladies here.”
“I did, too,” Sharon replied. “Do you want me to take the outer loop of the garden and see if we can flush them out?”
“Sure. Why not?” Mark turned and headed away from the building as Sharon headed around the other way.
If Mark was hoping that he and Sharon would meet on the far side of the garden, it was not to be. Never mind that their “search” was actually intended to throw Leonidas off, Sharon did actually encounter Matt and Tony and three obviously over-age-eighteen young women near the entrance to the palace.
In rapid Spanish, Sharon not so gently convinced the young women that they might be better off inside back at the party.
“Aw, come on, Aunt Sharon,” Tony groaned as the women left. Tony called Sharon “aunt” simply because her niece Jodi and Jodi’s best friend Tiffany did.
“Uh-huh,” said Sharon.
“We weren’t going to do anything,” Matt complained.
“And what were you guys going to say when not doing anything turned into an international incident?” Sharon asked, her grin belying her serious tone.
“Since when does a casual snog in a garden constitute an international incident?” replied Matt, pulling himself up and acting way more confident than he felt.
Sharon laughed. “Let’s see. All three of those girls are over eighteen. You guys are not. One of them is President Mendoza’s daughter and the other two are nieces.”
“And your point is?” Tony said, trying to imitate Matt, which didn’t entirely work since after a poignant pause, he, Matt and Sharon were all doubled up with laughter.
“Seriously, Aunt Sharon,” Matt said finally. “We weren’t going to do anything, well, serious.”
“I’m sure that was your intention,” Sharon replied. “But let’s be real. Those ladies had serious written all over them. And besides, as the nearest available grown up, I have a sworn duty to keep you two from having any real fun.”
“And speaking of fun,” Tony said, “Matt’s uncle left the party right after you did.”
Sharon rolled her eyes. “Nice try. I have no idea where he is or what he’s up to.”
Which, she had to admit, was the truth, even if it was misleading. Still, the boys each took one of her arms and went with her back to the party.
The levity and good feeling lasted through the next morning as the U.S. party loaded themselves into a limo motorcade that was joined by President Mendoza’s own motorcade. Mark later was hard pressed to remember where the group was headed. All he remembered was that as he got out of the limo and bent to help Sharon out, he was flattened and shoved back in by body guards. He never even heard the gun shots.
An American Secret Service agent, unnamed, was later credited with spotting Pablo Tomenco’s gun and calling it out in time for one of the Columbian agents to knock the gun askew and send the bullets skyward. Somehow, no one was hit in the attempt on both the Columbian and American presidents.
In the U.S. presidential limo, Mark realized that Sharon was underneath him and as he slowly got up, he saw that she was unconscious.
“Are you all right, sir?” asked the ever-present Riff Butler, an imposing African American man with a buzz cut and a perfect Secret Service demeanor.
“I’m fine,” Mark snapped. “Sharon’s out.”
Mark glanced around. Calvin Whitecross was in the facing seat next to Matt. Sharon groaned and tried to pull herself up. Riff reached around the tight space and helped her up as he let out a stream of Spanish, directing Tomas, the Columbian driver, to head to the nearest hospital. Sharon responded, her Spanish far too fast for Mark to follow in spite of her grogginess, but Riff not only glared her down, he repeated the order.
At the hospital, the limo screeched into the emergency bay. Doctors, nurses and orderlies were ready with several gurneys.
“Sir, come with me,” Sharon ordered as she was lifted onto a gurney.
She started in Spanish again and the doctor motioned for Mark to join them as they rushed Sharon into the emergency room, with Riff on their heels. Matt swallowed and looked at Calvin.
“Now what?” Matt asked.
“Get out of the car?” Calvin asked.
Fortunately, an orderly who spoke English appeared in the doorway and took them to a waiting room.
“Your driver, he is parking the car someplace else,” the young Columbian said. He was short and slight, but had a firm demeanor.
Matt swallowed. “I heard shots. Did anyone else get hurt?”
“I don’t think so,” the orderly answered. “The radio for emergency, it does not say anyone is coming. I will come for you if it calls.”
“Thanks,” Matt replied.
“So I guess we wait,” Calvin said as the orderly left.
“Yeah.” Matt sighed. “Hope she’s okay.”
Calvin smiled softly. “In my experience, when they’re yelling like that, they’re okay.”
The waiting room could have been anywhere, with green and blue plastic chairs strung together in tight rows and gray walls with supposedly soothing framed pictures on them. Except that the voice coming from the TV mounted on a wall in the corner was speaking in rapid Spanish. Matt watched the images from the shooting site and tried to deduce what had happened.
Tomas, the short and fat limo driver, waddled into the waiting room. With a worried frown, he approached Matt and spoke rapidly in Spanish. All Matt caught was “La Senorita” over and over again and guessed that the driver was asking about Sharon’s condition. Matt’s mind went blank.
“No es muerto,” he finally said.
“Ay! Pero la senorita?” Tomas asked.
“No es muerto,” Matt said again, trying to remember how to say Sharon was mostly okay, especially since he knew that he knew that much Spanish.
It didn’t help. With a loud cry, Tomas went running off out of the hospital. About 20 minutes later, Matt noticed a head shot of Sharon on the TV screen with the caption “Muerta.” Dead.
An obscenity dropped from his lips. “Calvin, it’s saying Sharon Wheatly is dead.”
“What?” Calvin came over and looked at the screen. “You think?”
“Why wouldn’t they have told us?” Matt cried belligerently. “What the hell happened? Where’s that guy?”
He left the waiting room with Calvin on his heels, looking for someone to who could speak English and who knew how Sharon was doing. The two didn’t find help right away, but they found Mark and Riff waiting in an empty room.
“Oh, no!” Matt sobbed.
“Matt? What’s the matter?” Mark asked.
“Aunt Sharon… The TV said she’s dead,” Matt blinked back tears. “And she’s not here.”
“They’re doing an x-ray on her head,” Mark said. “She has a concussion, probably. They’re checking just to be sure there’s no skull fracture.”
“But the TV,” Matt gasped.
“Are you sure you understood what they were saying?” Mark asked.
“Pretty sure,” Matt said.
Mark glanced at Calvin, then glared briefly at Riff. He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and dialed out.
“Yesmenia -” he began, but was cut off. “What? No. She’s fine. I mean, she probably has a concussion, but she’s alive and cranking… Seriously? Crap…. Even the U.S. news?…. No, no. Get out the retraction. Now. I’ll call Wheatly’s folks…. Yes, I’ve got her phone…. Just get on it, okay?”
Mark swiped off, then rolled his eyes as he dug through the plastic bag holding Sharon’s belongings. He pulled Sharon’s Blackberry free and started scrolling through her contacts.
“Her mother is Madeleine Fauvrillet,” Calvin said. “Father Robert Wheatly.”
“Here it is.” Mark connected through as Matt elbowed Calvin.
“How’d you know that?” Matt hissed playfully at Calvin, who shrugged.
Mark waited as the phone rang in California.
“Allo?” asked a worn female voice.
“Madeleine Fauvrillet?” Mark asked, stumbling over the last name a little.
“Yes. This is she.” Her voice was firm, but she sounded upset.
“This is Mark Jerguessen. It sounds like you may have heard about your daughter on the news.”
“Yes. It is kind of you to call.”
“Ma’am, it’s a false report. I was just with your daughter, and it’s no more than a concussion, maybe a skull fracture at worst. But she is most definitely alive and likely to stay that way.”
“False? She is alive!” There was a sigh, then the sound of her crying and shouting at someone in French. “Oh, grace a Dieu! Merci. I mean, thank you so much. Thank you for calling. I must call the others. Merci. I mean, thank you!’
She hung up. Mark looked at the phone. A second later, orderlies wheeled Sharon into the room.
“Why do you have my phone?” she asked.
“It’s a long story,” Mark said.
Sharon frowned at Mark as he, Matt and Calvin exchanged guilty looks. Matt suddenly sniffed and soundly hugged Sharon.
“Easy!” she yelped, then hugged him back. “What was that for?”
“I’m sorry,” Matt gasped. “I know you’re hurt, but I’m just so glad you’re alive.”
“Of course-” Sharon suddenly stopped and listened. Rapid Spanish floated over from another television elsewhere in the emergency department. “You have got to be kidding me! Oh, my god, my parents!”
Mark showed her the phone. “I just called them. Sorry to use your phone, but it was the fastest way.”
Sharon eased herself back down onto the pillows. “How the hell did this happen?”
Mark just shrugged.
By Matthew Jerguessen
….We finally did figure out what had happened and I have to cop to the blame. Turns out when Tomas was asking us about Sharon, and I said, “No es muerto,” what it sounded like to Tomas was that Uncle Mark wasn’t dead. I’d made the classic mistake we English-speakers make when speaking Spanish. I’d forgotten that you have to change the endings of words based on whether you’re talking about a male or a female. So what I said was, “He isn’t dead.” And Tomas apparently thought I was trying to point out that at least my uncle wasn’t dead, which meant that Sharon was. Or something like that.
Anyway, Tomas is the one who told the rest of the media that Sharon was dead and they all jumped on it. Sharon was pretty cool about it. I mean, I know more Spanish than that, but Sharon said that it was probably the stress from the whole shooting thing that made it hard for me to think in Spanish. She says that language is one of those things that’s almost hard-wired into our brains and that the two things almost any human being will do in their native language is pray and count. So while I do have to cop the blame for the mix-up, it was also the situation.
In the Orange County, California, home of her parents, Susan Wheatly’s good mood was quickly evaporating. It had been a good couple days. There was the usual rush of anxiety that she got right after accepting a choreography job, as she began to wonder how she was going to create a dance. And while the fear seemed somewhat more intense because she was now in a wheelchair, it felt a lot more normal than anything else in her life. Then there had been the horror of that afternoon, then the enormous relief that the far-away events hadn’t been an issue.
More annoying was the event she was getting ready for. It was a fundraising dinner celebrating a major addition to a local hospital. Susan’s brown hair and eyes reminded everyone of their mother, even though Susan had her father’s slimmer build. And some seriously developed arms, Susan noted with some disgust. She shifted her chair around and headed for the lift downstairs.
She was only going to the event as a favor to her friend Mira, and wouldn’t have been doing that much if it hadn’t been for her niece Jodi and her best friend Tiffany. The two girls had asked Susan to shelter their friends Kira and Allie Watanabe if they ran away to avoid staying with their father.
“Harboring runaways? I don’t think so,” Susan had told Jodi and Tiffany the week before. “That’s insanely illegal, and you have no idea how much trouble Sarah got our parents into when she tried hiding a friend at their place.”
“But, Aunt Susan, we’ve gotta do something,” Jodi pleaded.
Susan had said she’d think about it, and then Mira called, also pleading and begging for Susan to show.
“It’s turning into the fundraiser from hell,” Mira had complained. “Just today, George Watanabe, head of emergency medicine at County/USC? He not only decides to get involved, he makes this mondo donation and wants his name in the program and they’re already printed! I hear he only made the donation because he needs to look good because he’s suing his ex for custody.”
Susan pondered the odds that there were multiple Watanabe’s suing their exes for custody in Southern California and decided it was worth the risk and agreed to Mira’s request.
Susan checked her mobile phone for the time. The car service was due at any second. She hoped she could check Watanabe out (assuming he was Kira and Allie’s father) and leave the dinner before the evening got too drawn out.
It was a standard hotel fundraiser. Although Susan did note there were several others in wheelchairs there, including one guy from her rehab facility who looked like he was still trying to score with her. Susan made a point of avoiding him.
She found Dr. Watanabe almost by accident when he backed into her to avoid a waiter rushing dirty dishes back to the kitchen. He was of medium height, built solidly with a square face and coal black hair. Susan introduced herself and he smiled with interest. It wasn’t a leer, but darned close.
“Watanabe,” Susan said slowly. “You wouldn’t happen to be related to Kira and Allie Watanabe, would you?”
“My daughters,” he grunted, the interest evaporating immediately. “Why?”
“My niece Jodi is friends with them. I understand they’re coming out this summer.”
“At some point, yes.”
Susan smiled. “It’d be great if we could set up some time for the kids to get together. Maybe do a sleep over or something.”
“It would, but I don’t know when they’re going to be here. My ex is being a bitch about it.”
“Well, I could email you.”
“I don’t have time for that.” Watanabe glared for a second, then dug out his prescription pad from his suit and a pen. “Tell you what. I’ll write up the permission now and you let my secretary know when you want the girls.”
He leaned over her to write on a nearby table, whipped the paper off the pad, and handed it to her, his eyes already sweeping the room and lighting on a tall blonde near the podium.
“My number’s on the pad,” he said and stalked off.
Susan looked down at the paper. Sure enough, he had granted her permission to take the girls and had not specified when or for how long. Susan wasn’t sure if she was elated or appalled. But she carefully put the paper in her purse, went to find Mira, and left the party the very second she could.
Jodi was thrilled to get the text. Susan still winced. How could anyone be so casual about where their kids went while spending huge amounts of money to get custody of them? Jodi had said the custody suit was more about Watanabe being angry at his ex. Susan shook her head. It certainly seemed that way.
Text session –
— Kira – we got news, but have to keep it on text.
— What up? Were you scared about your aunt?
— Totally. But our news – you don’t have to go to your dad’s.
— I know. They reversed the custody order. We did that chat.
— If it gets reversed back – you’re safe. Aunt Susan got your dad to okay taking you.
— It’s a secret, tho, so don’t tell anyone.
— How’d she do that?
— They met @ some fundraiser. He gave her a blank permission slip.
— You there?
— Yeah. That’s good news.
— But don’t tell anyone. We don’t want your dad fixing it.
— I won’t.