The Unexpected Everything(5)

By: Morgan Matson

“Are you all set with everything?” my dad asked, and I wondered if this sounded as strange to him as it did to me, like he was reading badly written lines he hadn’t fully memorized. “I mean . . . do you need a ride?”

“I’m fine,” I said quickly. The last thing I needed was to have my dad drive me onto campus trailed by a CNN news truck. “Palmer’s driving me. It’s all arranged.” Palmer Alden—one of my three best friends—loved any opportunity for a road trip, and when she’d seen me looking into buses and car services, she’d jumped into action and started planning our route, complete with mixes and snack stops. Her boyfriend, Tom, was coming as well, mostly because he insisted, since there was a rumor that Hairspray was going to be our school musical next year, and he wanted to do some “method research.”

“Oh, good,” my dad said. Peter must have finished answering a question, because suddenly the shouts of the press outside got louder. I winced slightly and took a step away from the door.

“Well,” I said, tipping my head toward the kitchen. My phone was in there, I was pretty sure. Not that I even really needed to check it, but I wanted this to be over. The whole day had been strange enough, and we didn’t need to keep adding to it by trying to have the world’s most awkward conversation. “I’m going to . . .”

“Right,” my dad said, his hand reaching toward his suit jacket again, out of habit, before he caught himself halfway and dropped it. “And I should . . .” The sentence trailed off, and my dad glanced around the entryway, looking lost. I felt a sudden flash of sympathy for him. After all, my dad always had something to do. He was beyond busy, his day scheduled to the minute sometimes, always in the center of a group of staff and handlers and interns and assistants. He ran his team; he was respected and powerful and in control. And now he was standing in our foyer without his BlackBerry, while the press tore him apart just a few feet away.

But even as I felt bad for him, I knew there wasn’t anything I could do or say. My dad and I fixed our own problems—we took care of them ourselves, didn’t share them with each other, and that was just the way it went. I gave him a quick smile, then started toward the kitchen.

“Andie,” my dad said when I was nearly to the kitchen door. “I . . .” He looked at me for a moment before putting his hands in his pockets and dropping his gaze to the wooden floors, which seemed impervious to scratching, looking as brand-new as the day I’d first seen this house, like nobody actually lived here at all. “Thank you for standing up there with me. I know it was hard. And I promise I won’t ask you to do that again.”

A memory flashed before me, fast, just a collection of images and feelings. Another press conference five years earlier, my mother, her hands on my shoulders, squeezing them tight as I tried not to flinch while the flashes went off in my eyes. The way she’d leaned down to whisper to me right before, when we were standing behind the doors of my dad’s congressional offices, the synthetic hair of her wig tickling my cheek, so unlike the soft curls I used to wind around my finger whenever she would let me. “Remember,” she’d said, her voice low and meant only for me, “if things get too dramatic, what are you going to do?”

“Mom,” I’d said, trying not to smile, but fighting it with every millimeter. “I’m not.”

“You are,” she said, straightening my dress, then my headband. She tugged on the end of her hair and arched an eyebrow at me. “If things are going badly and we need a distraction, just reach up and yank it off. They’ll forget all about what they were asking your dad.”

“Stop,” I said, but I was smiling then; I couldn’t help it. She leaned down closer to me, and I felt my smile falter as I could see just how thin she was, her skin yellowing underneath the makeup she’d carefully applied. How I could see the veins in her face, the ones that we must all have—but on the rest of us they were hidden, not exposed where they shouldn’t be.

How the press conference had gone on longer than they’d expected, how my mother had left me to go stand with my dad when he started talking about her. It had all been about her, after all—the reason he was pulling his name from consideration for vice president, despite the fact that it was going to be him, everyone knew that. It was supposed to be him. How hard I’d fought not to cry, standing alone, knowing even then that if I did, that would be the story, the picture on the front page. And when it was over, how my dad had given me a hug and promised me that was that, and I’d never have to go through another one of those again.

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