Authors: Rebecca Behrens
To Thine Own Self Be True,
June 19, 1902
I have escaped the melodrama surrounding Philips, de Chambrun, and Carpenter, and the repercussions of my little protest on the roof—by escaping to my beloved Chestnut Hill! I was so eager to get away that I packed my steamer trunk days in advance of the trip to Boston. My father teased me by asking if I was adopting President Harrison’s view of the White House as a jail. I countered that actually, a jail hasn’t got the same staggering number of rules. Or watchful eyes. Or snooping maids. I might’ve hurt Father’s feelings.
Now that I am away, I do miss my siblings, and I suppose I miss my father and stepmother too. In some ways, I am able to feel more like a part of my family while I am missing them. It’s normal to feel lonely when you are away from your loved ones, but it’s queer to feel lonely while surrounded by family. That’s often how I feel at home. Here in Boston I am rightfully the center of attention around my friends and my Lee relatives.
One wonderful thing about Chestnut Hill is that neither the press nor the Secret Service men trail me here. Those men have started paying more attention to my whereabouts in Washington—I suspect per Edith’s request. It’s really a bother to have them accompany me when I choose to walk into town to shop or go out for a dinner party. Lord knows I love how the reporters and photographers fawn over me, but there is a real freedom in being able to leave the house in Chestnut Hill without one of them around to extrapolate rumors from my choice of shoes or take a picture of me with mussed hair.
Last week, my friend Lila and I drove to one of the Pops concerts. We didn’t go in my runabout but a larger automobile that Lila’s father owns. How I love driving; I love the dusters one wears, I love the noises autos make, I love the freedom of traveling at the speed of a team of horses. Or more. I have gotten another speeding ticket.
I may have the funds to buy a fancier automobile because Grandpa Lee has agreed to raise my allowance. That’s bully good! I will be able to shop madly and keep up with the likes of Lila here and Maggie back in Washington. You might think that because I am the First Daughter, I must not want for anything. It’s true that I have received all manner of loot as gifts, from foreign dignitaries and my “fans” alike. But despite our pedigree, my family does not have the same wealth as many of my well-heeled friends, and I have spent through my allowance countless times already trying to keep up with them. It’s hard for me, because I have to fill my role as “princess” and look fashionable and live lavishly. I am afraid of what people would say if the newspapers reported that I rewore an old garment. Edith and I have altered old dresses such that not even the sharpest newspaper columnist can keep track of what I’m wearing, which is important. People love thinking of me as some kind of American royalty. If I stopped being glamorous and worthy of breathless newspaper stories, I worry I’d revert to plain, lonely, poor Alice.
To Thine Own Self Be True,
The next weekend, practically the whole school headed off to Ashland to watch the Friends team kick butt at Science Olympiad. Quint was going, which I found out when I ran into him on my way into sixth period that Friday. Running into him in the halls was enough to make my
The second I saw his dark curls from across the hallway, my heart started to do the hootchy-kootchy.
“Hey, Audrey!” he panted. He must’ve run down from his locker to catch me in the hallway. “How was Minnesota?”
“It was awesome to be home.” I smiled. “How was your break? Did you stay here?”
“No, my family always goes up to Vermont. Skiing and stuff.”
“Sounds fun! I love skiing. Well, cross-country at least.” Other students were rushing past us, so I inched a little closer to Quint to stay out of their way. He smiled at me and leaned in.
“Are you going to Ashland this weekend? For the Science Olympiad?” My heart sank.
“No, I can’t. Sadly. Why—are you?”
He nodded. “My buddy is on the team. It sucks that you can’t go. I thought maybe you would because it’s an official school thing or whatever.” He shrugged. “Speaking of which—any word on the class trip? You’re coming, right?”
“I’m…yes. I am totally going,” I lied.
thinking? I don’t have permission yet
“That’s great news!” Quint leaned in and gave me a half-hug. “I have to run to class. See you around?”
you’ll see me other than right here in the hallway, unless you find a way to teleport yourself into 1600
. I lingered in the hallway, thinking about the stalled state of Operation Class Trip. I was out of ideas on how to convince people to give me permission. I felt the bracelet on my wrist and looked down at the letters
. Alice Roosevelt would do whatever it took—even if that meant breaking all the rules. Maybe I would have to do that too.
• • •
On Saturday afternoon, 1600 was quieter than usual. Both my parents were on a trip to the West Coast, and they’d taken a lot of staffers with them. By midafternoon I was wandering the halls aimlessly, missing Debra. I poked around in the library, trying to find any pictures of Alice stored in there. I didn’t find any originals, but one of the books about the Roosevelts had a picture of her standing next to a weird-looking car, and the caption said it was her “Red Devil.” I smiled; I could picture Alice zipping around like a race-car driver, sort of a proto–Danica Patrick.
I’m still over two and a half years away from a license, even two years from getting my learner’s permit. Not that it matters because if my mother is still president, there’ll be no way on earth I’ll get to start driving. It pissed me off, thinking about how the freedom of the road is another typical teenage freedom I won’t get to taste. Harrison used to take me out in his sports car, and we’d drive down lonely country highways at incredible speeds. He promised to teach me how to drive when I got old enough.
I’m in D.C.? Who knows when I’ll get any closer to driving a car than driving a go-kart?
In fact, I can’t even drive a go-kart anymore; the Secret Service deemed amusement parks high-risk locations for me.
Go-karts…remind me of golf carts.
The White House has a slew of them, for staffers and security to zip around the property. The carts are another part of the green initiative because they’re electric, and they charge with solar power. I took some training and now I’m actually allowed to operate them—with supervision. It’s so random that they let me, considering the eleventy-billion rules and regulations I’m subject to as a Fido. I dropped the picture of Alice I was still holding and bolted out of the library.
Once outside in the court, I darted onto the lawn, which was free of snow thanks to a warm spell. I took a minute to gaze off at the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, way off in the distance. Then I scurried down the path, heading west toward one of the quieter security checkpoints. A guard sat inside, and a golf cart was parked next to the booth’s door. The keys were dangling in the switch.
Seriously? They keep the keys
carts? Although the rate of auto theft on White House grounds must be, uh, pretty low.
I walked up to the door and knocked. The guard jumped a little in his seat, then reached over and pushed the door open for me. “Afternoon, Audrey. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I came out to get some air. I was wondering, could I take the cart for a spin?”
“Hmm, let me see if that’s allowed today,” he said, scratching his head. “Won’t you get cold out there?” he asked as he scanned the daily security bulletin.
“I’m from Minnesota, remember?” I kidded. “This feels balmy to me.”
He laughed. “Let me make a call.” He grabbed his radio and started whispering in it.
“Tink wants to borrow a golf cart for a spin…Okay, away from the South Lawn fence. Not past the beehive. 10-4.”
He turned back to me. “Good news! Shift supervisor said it’s okay, so long as you stay on the South Lawn and don’t go past the beehive.”
“Thank you!” I raced over to the car and slid in through the open side. I hadn’t driven one around the lawn in months, but golf carts are pretty self-explanatory. I paused to check and adjust my mirrors before starting the cart up. Then I turned the switch to ON and pressed the accelerator pedal. We started rolling. Painfully slowly—and backward.
. I pressed the brake and switched the drive switch from REV to FWD. Then I stomped down on the gas, and the cart lurched forward. I swerved immediately to avoid slamming into the side of the booth as I pulled away. “Are you sure you don’t need a refresher?” the guard yelled after me. I pretended not to hear him.
Once I was past the swing set, I turned off the paved path and onto the lawn, heading past the fountain. The car sped up heading down a hill, although it couldn’t go faster than fifteen miles an hour. “Red Devil, you are not,” I laughed. There was enough speed that my hair was whipping around and the wind was freezing me—I was only wearing leggings and a Minnesota Golden Gophers sweatshirt—but I didn’t care. The wind felt like freedom. It was laughing with me. Without planning it, I headed off toward the perimeter. I could see people on the other side of the fence, probably random tourists standing and taking their pictures.
I giggled just thinking about it and pressed harder on the accelerator. Sure, they’d told me to stay behind the beehive, but whatever.
When I got closer, though, I could see that they weren’t tourists. It was a crowd of twenty to thirty people, holding signs and chanting.
“What do we want? Marriage equality! When do we want it? Now!”
The signs were covered with hand-drawn rainbows and statements like,
I screeched to a stop. What was I supposed to say to them?
Sorry, guys, I agree. But your cause isn’t important enough for my mom to pay attention to right now.
I revved the engine to hightail it away from the fence and the protestors.
now, before they see me.
Too late. “Hey!” someone shouted. “Tell your mom that we want our civil rights too!” The other people cheered. My stomach lurched, not just because I was slamming down the accelerator as I made a sweeping turn to head back. I kept stomping on the pedal, desperate to get away before the camera phones started coming out. The cart chugged over a soft hill as I took my hands off the wheel to brush my hair off my face. I glanced down at my wrist to see if I had a hair tie on it, but it was bare except for my
bracelet. When I looked back up, I was headed straight for the Kitchen Garden at top golf-cart speed. I shrieked and frantically grabbed the wheel, starting to swerve. I narrowly missed the eggplant, but in doing so, I charged directly in the path of the papaya tree. I slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. The cart ran right into the tree, passenger-side first. It was barely going ten miles an hour, yet the whole front of the passenger side crunched on impact with the hard side of a plant bed next to the tree, and I slammed into the steering column. The jolt caused me to knock my elbow against the hard dash, and my arm ached immediately. I felt dizzy with panic. I switched to REV and tried to back up, but the cart was caught in the mulch and squashed plantings. I think I ran over a little decorative sign with a Thomas Jefferson quote on it, and it was stuck in one of the wheels. It wasn’t going anywhere.
big, huge, massive trouble.
The wheels spun, and the engine made a scary whining noise. Shivering, I climbed out to abandon the cart and ran up the path toward the residence. I saw a duo of carts rolling toward me, filled with pairs of stern-faced security agents. And Denise Colbert. I groaned and clutched my arm.
isn’t going to be pretty.
And the aftermath of my accident
pretty. First they rushed me to the White House doctor to make sure the crash hadn’t injured me. “Mishap!” I insisted on calling it.
sounded way too melodramatic. My elbow was bruised and sore but otherwise fine, and as soon as I had my clean bill of health, I reported to Denise’s office for a “chat.”
For a few awkward minutes after I got there, I sat on the reddish leather chair in front of her imposing desk and had a staring contest. The pendulum of a large grandfather clock to the right of Denise’s desk clicked back and forth like a metronome. The only photographs on Denise’s desk are ones of her smiling tightly next to politicians. Denise lives and breathes White House politics. I don’t think she has any kids, and I doubt she ever expected her role as Chief of Staff to include tasks like giving me a stern talking-to, so I felt a passing sympathy for her. Denise averted her eyes a few times to glance at some papers on her desk. The metronome clock kept its beat. Finally, she sighed, pushed the papers away, and spread her hands on the desktop. Her French-manicured nails were as meticulous as the rest of her. Denise struggled to maintain a neutral expression; a vein on her forehead was blowing her cover. “Audrey, would you like to explain to me what happened out there?”
Any time I had a confrontation with an authority figure, they started by asking me to “explain” myself. It’s annoying, particularly because the person usually thinks he or she already knows what happened, and has no interest in what I have to say about it. “Sure. I was driving a golf cart and, unfortunately, the papaya tree got in my way as I was headed back to return it.” I shrugged and examined my cuticles intently. I didn’t feel like attempting elbow-in-the-soup treatment with Denise again, and anyway my elbow hurt.
“I see. Weren’t you told to stay away from the perimeter? To not go past the beehive?” Now her teeth were gritted in addition to the vein on her forehead tensing even further.
“I was so excited to be out driving that it slipped my mind.” I fiddled with my
“Audrey, let’s get straight to the point.” Pinch-faced Denise forced a fake smile. “
wouldn’t have let you drive the cart in the first place. But although you had permission, you drove past the point you were told to stay behind. You encountered a protest, which was a
lapse in security. You proceeded to crash into the Kitchen Garden, damaging the cart and risking yourself injury. Now, I see a lot of problems with this.” Speaking her mind seemed to relax Denise, but her tone made me slowly roll up out of my slouch and sit up straight. The cushion of the chair wheezed as I adjusted myself.
Denise continued, her voice rising, “This comes on the heels of your disrupting a State Dinner with an inappropriate dress. I understand you had a conversation with your parents about that. We all assumed that afterward, you understood the importance of your comportment. Although your temper tantrum at the school opening suggested otherwise.”
comportment. What was it with people like Denise and their insistence on using SAT vocabulary?
I hate that.
“I made a mistake, but I wasn’t in any danger, and I turned around right away. It’s not my fault that people were out there protesting.” I leaned toward Denise and narrowed my eyes. “Plus, I agree with them.”
Denise stiffened. “That’s where this becomes difficult, Audrey. I was once a teenager too.”
way! You mean you didn’t come out of the womb at forty, wearing a skirt suit like that?
I kept the sarcasm in my head and nodded again. “I understand how this situation may be difficult for you, in terms of your personal freedoms. And your opinions.” Denise paused, choosing her words carefully. “But you need to keep them to yourself. Particularly in public.” My eyes widened.
that? Tell me what I can and can’t say? Or think?
“I’ve spoken to your mother and she agrees.”
That was a blow.
shouldn’t have my own opinions? That’s—she’s being a hypocrite!
I didn’t say anything.
“Audrey? Do you understand what we need you to do?”
“Sure.” I refused to look her in the eye. “Can I go now?”
“Yes. And, Audrey—I
we won’t have need for a conversation like this again.” Her tone made it clear that was an order
“Likewise.” Because I didn’t plan to take any more orders from Denise.
• • •
My bruised elbow turned a rainbow of colors overnight, so after my mom and dad returned I wore long sleeves at all times, even though the heat in 1600 had been cranked up to equatorial. I wasn’t sure if Denise had said anything to them, but I definitely hadn’t. My ever-distracted parents didn’t find it weird that I was running around the Residence in thick Henleys paired with the shorts I usually wore over leotards. In their defense, they probably thought it was some silly new fashion trend, like wearing fuzzy winter boots with miniskirts or scarves with tank tops. At school I had no problem hiding my gross bruise, because the historic buildings on the Friends campus have crappy insulation and are perpetually chilly. Also, I think the uniforms were designed by the Pilgrims.
It got a little more difficult to hide Rainbow Bruise when my mom came up to my room Wednesday afternoon.
“What’ve you got planned for tonight?” she asked, still standing in the doorway. She was dressed up in her presidential best, so I could guess that my plans couldn’t include her.
“Nothing,” I said, sitting up and hiding my elbow behind my favorite lemon-patterned pillow. “Why?”
She grinned again, a smile like she was struggling to hide a very good secret. “Put on some clothes! Maybe your dance clothes.”
I gave her a weird look, but got up and changed into some dance pants and a tank top while she waited outside. At the last second, I remembered to throw a hoodie on to hide my bruise. Mom waited patiently while I washed my face and brushed my teeth.
“Okay, I’m all dressed. Do I have somewhere to go? This is a school night, you know.”
She smiled, sphinxlike. “Follow me,” she said. “And grab a coat.”
Mom refused to tell me where we were going in the car, and neither Hendrix nor Simpkins would give me any hints. But I figured it out as soon as we headed toward the Potomac and the lavender-lit Kennedy Center came into view.
“Seriously, Mom? Am I going to the Kennedy Center for something?”
She turned to me, grinning like a crazy person. “For a dance lesson!” She actually clapped with delight. “Your father and I wanted to surprise you with a fun perk, to make up for how busy we’ve been lately.”
I squealed. “This is awesome!” I almost felt guilty about how angry I’d been at her lately, for not being around and for not letting me go on the New York trip.
“You’ll get to watch the dress rehearsal of a performance, and then the dancers will give you a private lesson. Cool, huh? And if you like it, maybe we can arrange for more.”
How many kids get to have private dance lessons at iconic performance spaces? “This is the coolest! And Denise doesn’t care? There’s going to be a lot of ‘gyrating.’ Her words, not mine.”
Mom laughed. “Honey, Denise isn’t the president.
• • •
June 22, 1902
Well, I know not whether he is fit to handle my predilection for fine clothes and chocolates (and fine automobiles), but I have met the man of my dreams: Arthur Iselin.
Allow me to describe my love: he is tall and broad-shouldered and has a very dashing figure. His features are classic—a strong jaw and nose, and such full lips (
lopsided, either). Arthur’s eyes are dark and brooding, and he has lovely, chestnut-colored hair. As soon as I saw him at a dance a few weeks ago—the first time I had seen him in years—I was in love. Lila kidded that she would go and fetch her smelling salts for me, if need be.
You might think that this infatuation is silly, considering that I’ve been in his company only a few short weeks and rarely get a moment alone with him, away from all of our friends and the requisite chaperones. It’s not, though, thanks to our intelligent and stimulating correspondence. By pen he is the most charming man I’ve met; in person he is infinitely more so. His mind matches mine; it might even match my father’s. Arthur laughs at all of my silly jokes and outbursts, and he told me that my “beautiful” eyes are worthy of the thousands of dresses fashioned in their color.
Diary, I swear by all I believe in that if I receive a third proposal, from Arthur Iselin, I would accept!
To Thine Own Self Be True,
July 2, 1902
I am too angry for a long entry today. Four of my girlfriends cornered me after dinner tonight and tried to persuade me that I like Arthur too much. They had the audacity to say that they were simply “trying to open my eyes to his character.” Well, I know Arthur’s character, and I love it. They might think that he is a flirt, but they are wrong. They said that Arthur only wants to get into the right political circles, but they are jealous. I know Arthur loves me. He
love me. I can tell by how his dark eyes search out mine in every ballroom, dining room, or regatta we find ourselves both at. I simply won’t listen to my friends—they must be envious of my good fortune in love.
Lila was not one of those traitorous girlfriends, but she and I are in hot water of another sort. You see, one of the papers reported that after attending a fancy dinner party, I was witnessed dancing with another young lady on the roof. Wearing
our undergarments. You can imagine how apoplectic Edith is—actually, I have to imagine it too, as I was informed of her displeasure through telegrams and a sternly worded letter. I’ve denied that said rendition of the hootchy-kootchy ever occurred, and I’m smart enough not to admit to it in these pages. Should I have danced in my underwear with Lila on the roof after a dinner party, well, I expect that we would have loved the rush from dancing unencumbered at a great height. We also would have loved the good spirits and cheers it would’ve evoked from our fellow partygoers down below us. I would also point out that, really, the types of undergarments good little Knickerbocker girls like us wear (the knickers we Knickerbockers wear! Ha!) are so binding and modest that we may as well have been wearing nuns’ habits, and any ensuing controversy would be silly. If I were foolish enough to admit to doing that, anyway.
Another thing annoying me at present is that one of my Lee uncles is intent on breaking me of my “scandalous” and “unladylike” smoking habit. I have the distinction of being the first woman in Washington to smoke in public. Not that many people could’ve seen me with a cigarette in hand, so I’m not sure how word has gotten around. Perhaps people know because I sometimes “accidentally” spill the contents of my purse at dinners, showing all the attendees the four things I always carry in it to parties: a strange, foreign fertility icon given to me in jest by a friend; a pocket copy of the Constitution; sweet Emily Spinach; and my taboo cigarettes. (No girl should be without those four items.) I don’t know whether it’s the garter snake or the cigarettes that shocks people more.
My point being—my uncle decided the best way to return me to Washington free of tobacco would be to sit me down and force me to smoke two big black cigars in a row. I suppose he thought my eyes would water, throat would burn, and it’d turn me off the stuff for life. Wrong! Although a cigar is a nasty thing to endure, I smoked both with feigned great enjoyment right in front of him, grinning broader as his face screwed up in frustration. When I finished, I licked my lips with gusto and asked him for a third. He snapped the box shut and stormed out of the room. (Thank heavens—I don’t think I could have stood it!)
To Thine Own Self Be True,