Authors: Rebecca Behrens
Copyright © 2014 by Rebecca Behrens
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For Jane, who always told me to write,
and Jim, who always told me about TR
It is ridiculously difficult to get a pizza delivered to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
I raced down the hallway connecting the Residence to the East Wing, on my way to make sure that one of the staffers was ready to run out to the Northwest Gate and guide the delivery guy through visitor security, where the pizzas would be inspected and metal-detected. I passed the Family Theater on my way and poked my head inside. “Is the movie set up?”
My Uncle Harrison appeared from the projection booth in back. He’d flown out from the Midwest to help me throw my party. “Yup! We’re just about to test it out.”
“Awesome!” I did a little happy dance and then dashed out of the theater, back to searching for a pizza wrangler.
I don’t exactly order a lot of pizzas around here—why would I, when I can wander down to the kitchen and get basically whatever food my heart desires? A mint-chocolate-chip sundae with a fresh-out-of-the-oven brownie? Sure! Vegetarian sushi rolls? Coming right up! French fries shaped like zoo animals? No problem!
But at every party I’ve attended since I started at Friends Academy, we’ve feasted on delivery pizza. Thanks to security and scheduling, I don’t get to many parties these days. So once I
had a chance to invite people over—the whole eighth-grade class of Friends—I wanted my party to be like all the others I’d missed. Well, as close as a party in the White House can be.
Last week, the studio making the
cyborg-mermaid trilogy into movies sent me an advance copy of the first film. (Getting advance copies of books and movies is one of the perks of being First Kid.) I had an amazing idea:
class, before the movie is even in theaters?
The people in the East Wing office put in a few calls with the studio heads, and they agreed that I could screen the movie on the Tuesday before it opened. I couldn’t send out my invite fast enough. “Movie Screening Party! Come over to my place and watch the
movie—before anyone but the stars themselves!” I wrote. Within an hour, everyone in my class replied yes. People were writing stuff like, “OMG! You’re the best, Audrey” and “Coolest party ever.” Even Madeline Horn was excited, and she has hated me ever since the election, because her grandfather was running for veep—and lost. This screening party wouldn’t make up for the many, many social events I’d missed in the past year, but it would help.
I rounded a corner and almost collided with one of the staffers. My ballet flats squeaked as I skidded to a stop. My heart kept racing. “Do you know if the pizza is here?” My party’s start time ticked closer.
The staffer said, “Not yet. But don’t worry, Audrey—we’re on it.” I don’t know what all
entails in terms of food security. I know if my parents and I go out to eat, we have to bring along our own bottled water and condiments, and someone from the Secret Service monitors our food as it’s being made in the kitchen. An agent also washes our plates and cutlery before the food is put on them and watches the dishes like a hawk as they are brought out to the table. When we are at 1600 (I still can’t call it “my house”), my mom doesn’t have a taster—someone to take a bite of her food before she starts eating to make sure it won’t make her sick. But other food-security specifics are a mystery, even to me. For all I know, pizza that I’m going to eat has to be supervised too. Maybe one of my agents spent the afternoon at Pizzeria Paradiso, wearing a floppy chef’s hat (with the radio earpiece sticking out) and helping spin the pie dough in the air. Maybe I should check their suits for telltale flour smudges.
The staffer smiled and put her hand on my shoulder reassuringly. “Why don’t you head back to the Visitors Foyer and supervise decorations?” I guess she picked up on my nervousness. As excited as I was to see the new movie with all my classmates, I worried about everything going smoothly. When it came to socializing outside school, I was rusty.
I skipped back to the foyer and rearranged the cardboard cutouts of the movie’s stars that the studio had sent along with the film. My guests could pose for pictures with them.
50 percent of my class’s profile pics.
I straightened the napkins on the table and took a few test sips of the special blue
punch the chefs had created for the screening. It tasted like fizzy lemonade, and it was delicious. A row of clamshells made out of oranges decorated the rim of the bowl. I admired the tiny marzipan mermaids on the dessert table. The clock showed it was 6:15 p.m. People would start arriving any minute. I sat down in an armchair and surveyed the room, grinning.
It was one of those moments in which I couldn’t believe that this was my
now, throwing movie-screening parties for my friends in the
Now my racing heart wasn’t from nervousness, but excitement.
“Audrey! Audrey!” My uncle’s voice, tinged with panic, came from the direction of the Family Theater. My first thought was,
. As I started to stand up from my seat, I saw Harrison running down the hall, flanked by my agents, Hendrix and Simpkins. Harrison’s face was white as a sheet, and both agents wore grim frowns. Hendrix swept over and put her arm around my shoulders, pulling me with her as she hustled us out of the foyer and back into the Residence.
“What’s happening? Where are we going?” At that point I felt more confused than scared.
Simpkins piped up from behind me. “Security breach. We’ll explain in a minute, but first we need to get you guys downstairs.”
“But my party! People are going to start showing up any minute!” Simpkins and Hendrix exchanged a look but didn’t say anything. I turned to look at Harrison and tried to hold my ground, but Hendrix kept pulling me forward. Harrison wasn’t any help; he looked like he was going to barf, which in turn made my stomach drop. Harrison’s the opposite of my mom, and whenever possible he refuses to take anything seriously. I’ve never seen him worried, not even the time we set a tablecloth on fire making crème brûlée. To see him rattled was creepy.
“Is this for a fence jumper?” I asked. We get those a lot, actually. The agents on the grounds and the infrared sensors pick them up right away, and the people are usually confused or crazy but harmless. The Secret Service doesn’t bother to bring me and my parents into secure areas when that happens.
All Simpkins said was, “No.” My stomach dropped to the sub-basements.
The ground floor of the Residence bustled with staff on walkie-talkies and guards running around, and suddenly I was terrified. “Where’s my mom? Where’s my dad?”
Hendrix squeezed my shoulder in a running hug. “They’re still on their way home, but they’re fine, sweetie.”
Once we were in the basement, Harrison and I got someone to tell us what was going on: a small plane was in the no-fly zone, and it wasn’t responding to air-traffic control. When the situation unfolded, the Secret Service decided to keep my dad at his lab at Johns Hopkins University, and my mom stayed somewhere secure in the Capitol building. Harrison and I sat in stony silence as I compulsively twirled my hair. I get so worried about something happening to my mom or dad, and I wished they were here with us. My stomach clenched, and I felt like I was going to be sick. I squeezed my eyes shut and pictured my parents safe at home. Our Minnesota home.
We waited in the basement for what felt like
until some military-looking guy declared the situation all clear. Turns out the plane, an itty-bitty Cessna, was being flown by a student pilot. The poor guy got lost, didn’t know about the no-fly zone, and couldn’t figure out how to work the radio to explain what was going on. It had been worrisome enough that the fighter planes went up, but thankfully nobody got hurt. Color returned to Harrison’s face immediately upon hearing all that.
He coughed and smiled sheepishly. “That’ll get your heart rate going. Right, Audi?” The fact that he was back to using his nickname for me meant he’d fully recovered. I still felt like a wrung-out dishrag.
“Sure.” My legs were shaky from the running and the stress, but I stood up anyway. “We need to get back to the party, Harrison.” I wondered which early birds were standing around in the foyer, waiting for their host to show. I stretched and headed for the stairs.
“Audrey,” Simpkins said, stopping me from heading up. “I have bad news. We’re following protocol. The security level has been elevated for the rest of the day. I’m afraid you know what that means.” Simpkins’s face crumpled into a frown. “No nonessential guests. You can’t have the screening anymore.”
“No!” I shouted. A few staffers glanced over at us. “They can’t do that!” I shook my head. “No way.” I could feel hot tears forming, but I fought them back.
can’t do this to me. Not today. Not for my party.
“I’m sorry, Audrey. They have to. No visitors at level red. Your guests were already turned away at the gate.”
I covered my face with my hands. “I’m going to die. I’m going to die of embarrassment. I am letting the entire eighth grade down.” More than that, I’d been trying to have people over for
. I was so disappointed and dejected that I wanted to sink to the bottom of the White House swimming pool and stay there forever.
“There’s no way an exception can be made?” Harrison crossed his arms over his chest. “This party means a great deal to Audrey.” I think he also didn’t want to miss a chance to watch the movie. Harrison loves the trilogy as much as I do—maybe more. He was even wearing a Team Mermaid T-shirt under his pullover.
Simpkins shook his head. “I’m sorry, but no.” I ran up the stairs, those tears now streaming down my face.
An hour later, Harrison and I sat in the front row of the Family Theater, watching the movie before anyone else in the country. Just the two of us. On a table next to Harrison was a carafe of beautiful blue punch and a plate of those marzipan mermaids, and next to still-sniffling me was a box of tissues. Oh, and a dozen pizza boxes were stacked at our feet. At least the pizza guy made it before the lockdown.
Every weekday afternoon, at 3:55 p.m. on the dot, Simpkins leads me to the idling car, waits for the signal from Hendrix at the wheel, and ushers me inside. He does a visual check of the surroundings before opening the passenger door and taking his place next to Hendrix. They lock the doors, then Simpkins grunts into his walkie-talkie, “Tink on board. All clear?” He waits for a staticky message from somewhere inside 1600, then nods to Hendrix. “We’re ready to roll.” The routine is like something my dance teacher back in St. Paul could’ve choreographed.
The day after my ill-fated party, I stretched out onto the cool leather seat and stared out the window. My classmates milled around outside school. No yellow buses waited to pick them up—it’s not that kind of school—but instead a crowd of fancy black SUVs and luxury sedans, all with tinted windows. Before heading off to Mandarin lessons or field-hockey practice, everyone else gets to spend a little more time hanging out, doing normal after-school stuff. I watch them from behind mirrored, bulletproof glass.
Our car pulled away and sped down the long, tree-lined driveway. I shifted in my seat, craning my neck to watch Friends Academy disappear from view. “Friends Academy, my butt,” I muttered.
When my parents and I moved to Washington last December, we spent lots of time visiting classrooms and lunching with boring, crusty trustees to choose my new school. Eventually, we picked Friends Academy because when I visited, I saw smiling kids running around the leafy campus, smiling kids hanging out in the science labs, and smiling kids tuning instruments in their fancy concert hall. A lot of those smiling kids had important parents too—journos and diplomats and senators—so it couldn’t be that hard to blend in, right? It
like everyone was friendly at Friends.
Well, looks can be deceiving. Friends Academy: not so friendly.
I stretched out my arm and pressed my fingertips against the cold window glass, thinking about something I’d overheard in French class.
, said Madeline, talking about the consolation-prize outing to
Aquatica. Well, everyone except
. Then she rolled her eyes. I’d never heard the term
before, but I didn’t need a degree in linguistics to figure out to what, or whom, it probably referred. Was that why Alexander Wade had
ed at me in the hall the other day?
I planned to get out of Friends as fast as possible after last period, but my one actual friend, Quint, stood slumped up against my locker when I ran up to it.
“Bummer about the party, Audrey. But I know it’s not your fault they canceled it,” he said as I sprinted up and started spinning the combination lock.
I offered him a half-smile. “I’m going to beg for homeschooling. It’s been that kind of a day.” I pulled my books out and shoved them in my bag.
“People are superhard on you with stuff like that.” Quint shook his head, causing his brown curls to wave around his face. “It’s not cool.”
I bit my lip, wondering if I should ask him. “Quint—what’s
He paused. “A clichéd name for a dog,” he finally replied, refusing to look me in the eye.
“It’s me, right? Madeline has people referring to me like I’m a dog now? Is that it?” I felt more hot tears forming in my eyes, which I willed to stop.
“No, no, it’s not like that. It’s an acronym; like,
, as in F-D-O-T-U-S. First Daughter of the United States. Nobody’s calling you a dog, Audrey. I swear.” Quint reached out as though he was going to hug me, but then glanced over at my beefy, six-foot, dark-sunglasses-wearing Secret Service agents. (Well, it’s mean to call Hendrix beefy—but she
ripped, and tall, and with those shades on she sure looks tough.)
Quint dropped his arm to his side. “I promise you it’s a friendly nickname.”
“It still sucks. Nicknames are one thing; secret nicknames are another. Especially if they sound like dog names,” I glowered. “You have to admit that’s jerky.”
Quint shook his head. “I think it’s meant like a code name. You know, like whatever those guys”—he motioned to Hendrix—“use for you.”
is what they use for me. I picked it from the list of names they gave our family, all starting with the letter
. Hendrix told me it was a good choice because I look like the Disney version of Tinkerbell: short, with bangs and blond hair that I wear in a lazy ballerina bun all the time. Plus, Hendrix said, “You’re a little…spirited, just like Tinkerbell.” I think that might be a nice way of saying that I’m hyper and/or moody.
“It still means that people are talking about me when I’m not there,” I whined.
Quint snorted. “Come on, Audrey. Did you really ever think they weren’t?”
I grudgingly nodded, knowing it was true. Lesson #1 about being First Kid: Someone is always talking about you or your mom
It’s been that way ever since she first announced her campaign.
Traffic wasn’t bad, at least for the Beltway, and soon I was back to 1600. I ran upstairs, and I flung myself facedown on my bedspread, dropping my messenger bag with a thud on the floor. I inhaled the familiar fabric-softener smell and ran my fingers across the nubby fabric, pretending for a minute that I was back home in Minnesota. I hadn’t brought any of my furniture with me to Washington, but I brought all of my stuff, including my bedspread, billion yellow pillows, faded plush rug, and all of my framed pictures. Now when I go back to St. Paul I’m shocked at the bare walls and stripped-down bed. The house I’d lived in all my life isn’t really my home anymore.
It hadn’t been a
for a while—while my mom was on the campaign trail, my dad won that huge grant and had to come out to Johns Hopkins to set up his fancy new lab. He flew home most weekends, but then we usually spent them campaigning with my mom. I wound up staying in Wisconsin with Uncle Harrison and his partner, Max, for a few months before the election. It’d been a while since I felt like I had a place of my own, where I was free to do whatever I wanted. I missed that.
I rolled over and stared at the ceiling. The cracks in the paint looked like the veins on leaves. That’s another surprising thing about 1600—the White House isn’t all that lavish, at least in the Residence. It’s a fancy building but a super-old one, and in places it looks its age. Something about being a historic site and belonging to the federal government makes renovations tricky. Though my room, the “Yellow Bedroom,” isn’t bad. It has buttery yellow walls—yellow’s my favorite color—and a nice view. Chelsea Clinton, another White House only child, lived in it.
I turned onto my side to look at my alarm clock. It read 5:00 p.m., so Kim would probably be home from running club. I grabbed the phone and dialed out. The phone rang four times before someone in the Mehrotra residence picked up.
“Hello?” It was Kim, slightly breathless.
“First Friend! How was practice?” I decided after the election that Kim needed a title too—she’s been my best friend since kindergarten, after all. I even made her a “First Friend” T-shirt with the White House seal on it for her birthday last year.
“It kicked my butt. Big time. Can you hear me wheezing?”
“Whatevs, you know you’re going to run in the Olympics someday. What’s up?”
“Omigod, so much. Did I tell you about the dance last weekend?”
“Kim, I do still have Facebook, you know. I might not be at Hamilton but I’m online. All the time, actually.” That’s true; I’ve considered making a “First Friend” decal for my laptop too.
“Doy. I meant, did I tell you about all the
“No, but I want to hear all about it.” I paused. “Did Paul go?” I crossed my fingers.
Kim paused before answering. “He did. With Tessa.”
I sucked in a deep breath, and I swear I could feel my heart aching as my chest expanded with air. Paul had been
crush, for years. And Tessa had been my friend. “That’s cool.” My voice only cracked a little. “I don’t really have a crush on him anymore, anyway.” Not exactly true. I was trying to sound very mature and Zen about it—the opposite of how I felt. I felt like punching a hole through one of my historic walls.
“Oh, good.” Kim sounded relieved. “Enough about boring old Hamilton. How’re you?”
“Meh. Yesterday was supposed to be my movie screening party. But the Secret Service canceled it after a security breach.” I heard Kim gasp, so before she could freak out, I added, “It was a false alarm, but you know they take those way seriously.”
“Thank goodness. But boo to canceling your party.”
“Harrison and I still watched it, with way more punch and pizza than two people need. Everybody else decided to see the movie tonight, without me. Madeline arranged it.”
“Rude!” I’d complained to Kim about Madeline’s unwavering iciness many times.
“I also I found out my darling classmates refer to me as ‘Fido.’ You know, like a
.” I shuddered. “Except they think it’s some kind of clever shorthand for
Quint clued me in.”
,” Kim teased. “But I’m sure they don’t use it in a mean way. Remind me, who’s Quint? Is
why you don’t have a crush on Paul anymore?”
“Just a guy from my music class.” Picturing Quint, especially his bright, brown eyes and toothy grin, made me smile. “He’s cool.”
“That’s great!” Kim said, a little too cheerily. “Listen, I hate to do this, but I gotta go. If I finish my science homework, my mom is taking me and Tessa to Mickey’s Diner. Carbo-loading before the 5K, you know.” I closed my eyes and pictured the familiar, red vinyl counter stools that my friends and I loved to spin around on while we watched the cooks fry up our food. I could almost taste the pancakes. I felt an unwelcome pang of homesickness for St. Paul.
“Okay, I’ll let you go. I got a package of books again, anyway. Advance copies of the new trilogy by the
lady about ninja centaurs. Well, the first book.”
“You have to send one to me when you’re done! See? There are perks to your new house.”
Kim was right. We hung up, and I leaned back into my bed, letting the receiver progress from silence to dial tone to screeching. I couldn’t get rid of the image of all my old friends hanging out without me. It felt like being excluded on the playground, except I couldn’t fault any of them for it. I might have stayed on my bed indefinitely, but the door to my room whipped open.
“Oh! Miss Audrey, I didn’t think you were in here.” It was one of the housekeeping staff, Janet, come to collect my school uniform. Dirty clothes usually last about five minutes in 1600 before someone whisks them away—it sometimes feels like the employees simply hang around waiting for me, my mom, or dad to put down a coffee cup or shed a cardigan. It drives me insane because I feel like someone’s always watching me.
“I haven’t changed yet. If you just give me a sec—” I started to shrug out of my navy blazer.
“No, no, no! I’ll be back when you’re at dinner. Don’t trouble yourself, dear.” With that, Janet ducked out and shut the door.
get a minute to myself in this place?” I sputtered as I rolled off my lofted bed.
. I ripped off my uniform clothes and threw on some sweats. Clean, fresh, fabric softener–scented sweats that someone had washed in the past forty-eight hours. I wished that I could smell three-days-old pajama pants or slept-in sheets for a change, like a normal person.
• • •
“Debra! You are not going to believe the day I had,” I exclaimed as I bounded into the kitchen. My favorite place in 1600 is nothing like our kitchen at home—a spacious, sunny room with vintage red-and-white floral wallpaper, scuffed white cupboards and cabinets, and a cork floor. The White House kitchen is cramped and industrial, with pots and pans and high-tech light fixtures hanging over long stainless-steel tables. I think you’d need an advanced engineering degree just to turn on some of the fancy-shmancy ovens. Probably because the kitchen’s so dinky, there’s a separate sub-room just for refrigeration and a chocolate shop across the hall, where all the pastries and desserts for big State Dinners are made. I love the chocolate shop, which smells like an Easter basket year-round. Especially wonderful is the “cookie jar,” which is actually a big, rolling container with twenty types of cookies inside. Debra, one of the chefs, showed me where they keep the keys for it. When she’s on duty, though, she insists on making me ones from scratch. One of my first evenings in the White House, I had wandered downstairs and asked for a snack. Debra had pulled out a bag of chocolate chips and some flour before I finished my request.
“You don’t need to make anything—an Oreo would be fine,” I’d said. I didn’t want to trouble her.
She’d shaken her head. “Nuh-uh. Baking cookies is still my favorite culinary activity, despite studying at the CIA. Although, I can whip up a killer soufflé.”
“The CIA? Like, in Langley?”
soufflés to kill people? Shouldn’t that be secret?
“Oh, no,” Debra had laughed. “The chef CIA, not the spy one. Culinary Institute of America in New York. That’s where I learned to be a pastry chef.”
“Ha. That makes a little more sense.” I had smiled, imagining Debra as a cookie-baking spy. The superfast oven already had filled the room with the scent of butter and chocolate chips. It’d reminded me of home, and I had savored that familiar, happy twinge. Debra, and her cookies, quickly became my favorite thing about life at 1600.
The night after my nonparty, she had enough pots and pans going that I knew she was making food for more than one. “Am I not eating alone tonight?” Many nights, I did—either in the kitchen while chatting with Debra, or up in my room while watching TV.