Authors: Rebecca Behrens
Audrey Lee Rhodes
Shortly after I got home from school, I had my reply:
I have made the necessary arrangements for Quintus Roberts to visit the White House tomorrow. Your security detail will be informed.
I felt a little bad, taking advantage of the fact that a lower-level person might not know that I couldn’t just write “My mom approved this message.” The process for me having visitors is a lot more complicated than a simple e-mail. I could’ve begged my parents for permission to have Quint as a guest, but I didn’t want them trying to shut our friendship—or whatever it was—down. Plus, that whole being-grounded thing. Anyway, the plan was turning out to be way easier than I anticipated; probably because it rested on tricking the staff and not sneaking boys in wearing drag, Alice-Roosevelt style. Lucky Alice hadn’t had to deal with metal detectors and background checks.
At 1600 that night, I e-mailed Quint and said to meet me at my locker after last period. Then I made a special trip down to the kitchen. Maurice was cleaning up at one of the sinks. He wiped his hands on his chef’s jacket as he walked over to me. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“I was wondering if I could stock up on some cookies.” On Sunday I’d polished off all the ones in my stash.
“Certainly.” Maurice hustled over to the cupboards, returning with a big bag of cookies. “Debra’s special recipe. These should hold you over.”
“Thanks!” I headed upstairs, stopping to grab a few cans of soda. I was all set to entertain.
I kept refreshing the screen of my phone during Health and Wellness, urging the numbers to creep up to 3:15 p.m. I was half thrilled about getting alone time with Quint, half worried about getting caught. I bounced my legs nervously, rattling Naveen in front of me, who actually turned around multiple times to give me dirty looks—a first, considering how smarmy he always was to me. I rolled my eyes, even though he couldn’t see me.
“Audrey? You’re rolling your eyes. Do you disagree about the average length of the menstrual cycle?” Ms. Whidbey, the Health and Wellness teacher, was staring at me. The rest of the class turned around to look at me too. Half the people were smirking.
“Um, no.” I blushed. “There was something in my eye.”
“All right. Well, cycles do vary, anyway, so thank you for providing me with a teachable moment.”
When class ended, I shot out of the room and toward my locker. Once I rounded a corner, I saw Quint standing in front of my locker, drumming away at the adjacent one. He had earbuds in and his eyes were closed as he felt out the rhythm. My heart beat a little faster as I walked up to him and gently pulled one of the buds from his ear. “
,” I whispered.
“Hey!” Quint smiled and dropped his arms to his sides. “Am I dressed okay and everything? For the White…your house?” He was wearing the Friends’ boy uniform: pressed khakis, scuffed loafers, and a white polo with the Friends insignia embroidered on the breast pocket. The polo was snug, perhaps a half-size too small, suggesting that either he’d been growing or his housekeeper had shrunk it in the wash.
“You look fine,” I assured him. “In case you’re wondering, my parents probably won’t be around. They’re so busy.” Quint raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything. I grabbed my jacket and a few books from my locker, then slammed it shut. “Ready?”
Quint nodded and followed me toward the door at which Hendrix was waiting. “Agent Hendrix, you know my friend Quint Roberts. He’s coming over to work on a history project.”
“I thought it was a music project?” She looked stern.
My face flushed. “Uh, yeah…
“Something outstanding from that class you two were in
?” Hendrix pressed.
“Independent study,” I hastily replied.
. But Hendrix didn’t say anything else.
you, Secret Service circle of trust.
The drive back to the White House was almost silent. Not what I expected. Quint didn’t say a word but compulsively tapped out drumbeats on the armrest. I started to wonder if this was all such a great idea. The possibility of running into one of my parents gnawed at me.
hadn’t I planned this for a time when they were both out of the country? Or at least the capital?
But I needed to spend time alone with Quint before Madeline’s weekend party.
We pulled up to a little gate south of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building because I had a visitor. Hendrix showed Quint’s school ID to the guard, and we pulled ahead to a second gate, closer to the White House. Hendrix got out and opened the car door, and Quint and I scrambled out. He showed his ID again and walked through a metal detector. On the other side of it, an aide stood with a badge for Quint. “Here you go,” she said cheerily, placing the lanyard around his head like a lei. “Welcome to the White House.” Hendrix escorted us up to the Residence—thankfully bypassing the West Wing.
“Where will you be working?” Hendrix asked.
“My room.” I quickly added, “Because that’s where the computer is. I might show Quint around a bit first?”
Hendrix nodded and listened to her walkie-talkie. “Sure. Your father is at the lab and your mother is in Cabinet meetings.”
Cabinet meetings always take forever. I shifted my bag onto my other shoulder and turned to Quint. “Shall we?”
“Thanks,” he said shyly. I led him down the Center Hall. I wanted to get him upstairs as quickly as possible to avoid any run-ins with people who would know that his unchaperoned visit was fishy. “This is the China Room, that’s the Diplomatic Reception room, the Map Room is over there, and the kitchen’s over that way too. The main kitchen, where the chefs are. There are kitchens upstairs too, for our family. But we don’t bother to use them much. This way, upstairs.”
I led Quint to the staircase. He moved slowly, his head whipping around to take in everything on the ground floor before we headed up. “Come on!” I said, hoping I sounded cheery and not like an impatient tour guide. I wanted to get us upstairs before anyone could question his visit. Especially Denise.
“Isn’t there a bowling alley?” he asked tentatively.
Going down to the basement would take too long. “Yeah, but it’s closed right now,” I lied. Quint looked disappointed. I kept moving toward the stairs to the first floor.
Upstairs, we only paused briefly in the Cross Hall. “This is the ‘State Floor’ because it’s where all the receptions are. For diplomats and stuff. The Green Room, Red Room, and Blue Room are all here. And the East Room and the State Dining Room. Plus, the Family Dining Room, where we sometimes eat as a family. But that is
rare.” I was getting out of breath, racing through my descriptions of all the rooms.
credit. This is hard.
Quint looked longingly toward the closed doors lining the hall. “We can take a quick peek if you want.”
“Yeah!” he said, his face brightening. I felt a pang of guilt for not being able to treat him like a
visitor. But since he’d never been over before, he wouldn’t know better. We dashed from room to room, popping inside so he could look around. Quint was most interested when I showed him the dumbwaiter in the Family Dining Room’s pantry. Then we headed up the stairs again to the second floor, stopping again in the landing.
“This is where the private Residence starts. Although the rest of the White House gets thousands of visitors each day, most don’t come up here. We live on this floor, and upstairs there’s the Solarium and a game room and the greenhouse.” Quint nodded. “There are more bedrooms than any family would ever need, except maybe the Roosevelts. The Lincoln Bedroom’s over here. Come on.” I motioned for him to follow me. “It’s the only super-interesting bedroom.”
We checked it out and then headed over to my room. “My room’s the ‘Yellow Bedroom.’ A lot of First Daughters lived in it, like Caroline Kennedy, Amy Carter, and Chelsea Clinton.” I plopped down on my rug. It felt too weird to sit on the bed with Quint there. “Have a seat!” I said brightly. Quint took off his shoes at the door, then walked over and sat down across from me on the rug, leaning against my bed. He shifted uncomfortably and fiddled with the buttons on his shirt.
“You didn’t have to take off your shoes,” I said.
“Habit, I guess. My mom doesn’t let us wear shoes in the house. Anyway, you have a white rug.” He stretched out his long legs in front of himself. “It’s so weird, being here. Like, surreal.”
“Tell me about it. And I live here.”
“What’s it really like? I wish we could see the bowling alley. What about the movie-screening room? Someone said there was a flower shop? You must never be bored.”
“Kind of the opposite, actually,” I said, fiddling with some strands of the rug. “The novelty wore off fast. Those rooms aren’t as cool as they sound.” I tugged at a loose strand and pulled it free. “Sometimes I want to order a pizza that won’t arrive cold from having to go through security, you know?”
Quint laughed. “That’s too bad.”
“I guess it’s fun if you like to bowl alone,” I joked.
“I thought you said that was closed?”
I blushed. “Right now. Maintenance.”
Quint nodded. “Do you miss Minnesota?” he asked.
“Constantly!” I answered. We fell into an awkward silence, so I saw no reason not to break it by bringing up the awkwardest topic: Madeline. “Um, how’s Madeline?”
Quint blinked at me. “I don’t know. What do you mean?”
I stared at him. “Aren’t you guys a thing now? At least you were at that party?” Quint gave me a blank stare. “After Friends won Science Olympiad?” I added helpfully.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said. “Seriously.”
I frowned. “So you didn’t kiss her.”
“No! Why would you think that?” I had turned away from him, so he crawled down the rug to sit directly in front of me. “Did someone tell you I did?”
“I heard Stacia and Claire talking about it in class, to Chris. They had a picture of you guys sitting next to each other…”
“People can share a couch and not make out, you know,” Quint said. “And it’s not like Stacia and Claire are the most reliable sources.”
Madeline probably ordered them to fake gossip to make Chris jealous. My face flushed. “I’m an idiot, aren’t I?” I asked sheepishly. “They were probably trying to tweak Chris.”
“Probably.” Quint echoed. “Is this why you’ve been acting so weird around me lately?”
I nodded. “Uh-huh.”
He shook his head. “You should’ve asked me about it. Because I was starting to think that you didn’t want to hang out with me.” Quint sat back, biting his lip.
“No, that’s not how I feel at all. I was upset because—I like you,” I said quickly, knowing the many ways
could be interpreted.
Quint picked one meaning of
and went with it. “You
I blushed and stayed silent, staring at the carpet.
you,” Quint said quietly.
My head snapped up, whipping my ponytail against my cheek. “I guess I
you too, then.” My heart started doing calisthenics in my chest.
Tentatively, I scooted toward Quint until I was inches away from his face. I looked up into his eyes. Their closeness scared me.
I touched the
bracelet on my wrist. Alice would tell me to go for it. I took a deep breath to quell the fluttering in my chest.
“There aren’t security cameras in here or anything, right?” he whispered, leaning toward me. I could feel his words on my lips.
I shook my head slowly. “Nope.”
“I can’t believe I’m in the White House. With the First Daughter. You,” Quint murmured.
“Believe it,” I said, then closed my eyes and leaned in to kiss him. Quint reached up and put his hand on my cheek, and then our lips met.
. My fingertips and toes and everything surged with energy as his mouth pressed mine. I’d written off kissing when my mom got elected. Now it wasn’t just becoming a possibility again,
. In 1600.
Finally, I felt like I was eating up the world.
We’d been sitting on the floor for an indeterminate amount of time,
, when someone knocked on my door. I pushed back from Quint immediately, sending him slamming into the side of my bed. We stared at the still-closed door, frozen like statues.
“Audrey?” My mom.
” I whispered. I clamped my hand over Quint’s mouth to stop him from saying anything. “
” I helped roll him under. To whoever decided to loft my bed:
. I yanked the dust ruffle down around the side. “Coming!” I stood up and checked that no part of Quint stuck out, then walked over and opened the door. I was shaking.
“Hey, Mom. What’s up?” I leaned against the door frame, blocking the entrance. I crossed my fingers behind my back, hoping my mom wouldn’t notice my smeared lip gloss. Or my mussed hair. I thought of Alice writing about girls with messed-up hair being considered scandalous.
Luckily, bed-head isn’t so suspicious now
“Just wanted to check in with you. It’s going to be a long night for me—they scheduled a Homeland Security briefing at six. I have a little break in my schedule right now.” I glanced over at my alarm clock. 5:15 p.m.
forty-five minutes, with my eagle-eyed mom in the room?
“Well, can I come in?” My mom laughed. I realized I was still blocking the doorway.
“Uh, I was kind of in the middle of some homework,” I feebly tried.
Mom glanced at my clean desk and my turned-off laptop. “Really? It doesn’t look like it.”
I figured it would be better to let her in at that point, so I opened the door wide and backed into the room.
My mom strode in, walked right past the bed, and plopped down in my desk chair. I shuffled over to the bed and sat down cautiously.
don’t crush Quint
. My heart was beating so hard I was surprised my mother couldn’t hear it. She picked up a book from my nightstand. I rubbed my sweating palms on my uniform skirt.
“So you’re reading—” Mom was looking straight across the room, at the doorway, when her voice stopped. I followed her gaze to a scuffed-up pair of size-10 men’s loafers sitting to the side of the door.
“Whose shoes are those?” my mom said slowly, before she jumped off the chair and walked over to the door. She reached down and picked up one shoe, shaking it toward me.
“Um,” my mind went blank of any reasonable excuses.
“Is someone else in here?” Mom marched over to the closets, whipping both doors open. Every step she took shook me with dread. Seeing nobody inside, she turned around and walked back to me, now standing directly in front of where Quint was hiding. “These are
shoes—” Without warning, she squatted down and pulled up the dust ruffle. Quint offered my mother a meek half-wave.
“WHO IS THAT?” she yelled. “Come out! Immediately!” She turned so she could see both the tall teenage boy army-crawling out from under the bed and me hyperventilating on her other side. “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do, Audrey. Start
by telling me
this is. Hiding under the bed.” She raised her arms up to her head and threw them back down to her sides. “In my daughter’s bedroom!”
I wedged myself between Quint and my mom before I tried to spin the situation. “Mom—this is my friend Quint. He came over after school to work on some stuff. I cleared it with the Secret Service and the Visitor’s Office and everything, I swear. I just didn’t have a chance to tell you.”
“Right. And he’s hiding under your bed so I wouldn’t see him because…?”
“Because I realized that I forgot to tell you! I thought you’d be mad!”
“You’re darn-well right I’m mad. You
you are not allowed to have boys over unsupervised. Even if you tell us first!” She huffed and stuck her hands on her hips. “I might be busy, Audrey, but I’m not senile. I know sneakiness when I see it. This whole situation reeks of you taking advantage of your father’s and my schedules to break the rules. And on top of everything else lately…” She shook her head. “Wait a minute. You’re supposed to be grounded too!”
Quint was quivering next to me. “Mrs.—Madam President, can I say how sorry I am?” he piped up. His eyes were bugging out of his head, and a bead of sweat rolled down his temple. “I had no idea you had rules about visitors. I thought you knew I was coming over. I absolutely meant no disrespect.”
My mom’s voice softened. “Apology accepted. I’m not angry at you, Quint.” She only has to hear someone’s name once before she starts using it every time possible in conversation—politician’s trick. “It’s unfortunate to meet under these circumstances. I hope you’ll forgive my outburst, Quint, and not take it personally.” She turned back to me and glared. “I’m going to call up the Secret Service now so we can arrange for Quint to get home.” She walked over to the house phone and dialed. I took the opportunity to whisper to him.
“I’m so sorry. I had no idea something like this would happen.”
“Really? Because it sounds like you knew I wasn’t allowed here,” he hissed back. “And now the
is kicking me out!”
“I didn’t think—”
“About anyone but yourself. Thanks.” Quint refused to look at me. “I bet the bowling alley isn’t even closed.” I didn’t have to nod for him to know he was right. This visit had been all about me. Superselfish. I felt lower than whale crap at the bottom of the sea.
My mother hung up the phone. “Audrey, stay in this room. Quint, please gather your things and I will escort you downstairs.” He nodded, shoved his feet in those tattletale shoes, and grabbed his bag. Neither of them said good-bye to me as they left the room, and the door slammed behind them.
As soon as I heard them walking down the hall, I ran into my bathroom and turned on the shower. I figured the longer I stayed in there with the door locked, the longer I could avoid the inevitable fight with my parents.
When I finally emerged, pink and sweaty from the steam, they were waiting in my room with somber faces. I walked into the room without saying a word. I fiddled with the drawstring on my sweats while I waited for them to start yelling.
“This pattern of acting-out has got to stop, Audrey,” my mom said, stone-faced. “Why are you doing this?”
“If I’m so difficult, why don’t you send me away to Harrison’s again?”
“That’s ridiculous. We’re a family,” my dad said.
don’t act like it, lately.
I stood silently in front of them, staring at my feet. The worst part was—I didn’t want to be sent away. I wanted to help my parents, like Alice sometimes did. But I didn’t want to feel trapped anymore. I wanted a life of my own. One with school trips and boyfriends.
My mom sighed. “What you did—sneaking in your friend—was
acceptable. We can’t have any more mischief, especially not in the press.” She paused. “We’re taking away your phone and disabling your wireless Internet access, until next Monday. Your right to have visitors is suspended indefinitely—and everyone at the Visitors Office and the Secret Service knows it too. Memos have been sent.”
I couldn’t believe it.
I shook with anger. “This is cruel and unusual punishment. You already
took me away from everyone I love
Now I can’t even e-mail my best friend? Or Debra? You can’t do this!” I pleaded, tears streaming down my face.
My mom clutched her head with her hands, shaking it back and forth. “How else are we supposed to get through to you? Whatever this was a cry for, it wasn’t okay. Actions need consequences.”
Dad added, “I’m sorry, Audrey, but you’ve pushed us to the limit.”
“This is already a prison. Now it’s like solitary confinement,” I moaned. “Excuse me for thinking I might be allowed to be normal and have a friend over.” But nothing would change their minds.
• • •
My parents had a State visit to Mexico scheduled for that Friday. They debated canceling because of me, but ended up asking Harrison to fly out to stay while they were gone. How deliciously ironic is it that during my exile they called in one of my favorite people in the world to monitor me? Nothing can feel like punishment when Harrison’s around.
However, he’d barely set down his luggage when he launched into an uncharacteristically parental discussion with me. “Obviously your mom told me why she needed me to come out and stay with you.” He held me at arm’s length and frowned. “What’s going on? This isn’t the Audi I know! She wouldn’t be driving her parents crazy like you’ve been.”
“I’m not trying to drive them crazy,” I insisted. “I’m trying to stop myself from
crazy. Let’s review: I’m trapped in the White House except for when I’m at Friends. In public I’m expected to be seen and not heard, or I’m getting attention for things I don’t
to be getting attention for.” I paused, biting my lip. “I know I seriously pissed them off, but I didn’t mean to. I was trying to fix my life.”
“Fix it?” Harrison gave me an
look. “How is wearing a flapper dress to a State Dinner going to fix your problems?”
“Maybe that was flawed logic.”
“Or crashing a golf cart?”
“It was an accident.”
, what about getting caught with cigarettes?”
“I wasn’t even going to smoke them!”
I’d been holding on to antique cigarettes to commune with a long-dead First Daughter isn’t exactly going to buy me any credibility
“Sure, sure. Now explain to me how sneaking a boy into the White House improves your life.” Harrison smirked.
“It would’ve improved it, if I hadn’t gotten caught.”
Harrison rolled his eyes. “I’m being serious.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Have you ever done something impulsive, Harrison?”
“Don’t try to change the subject, Audi,” he chided.
“I’m not changing the subject. Have you ever done something crazy—like, to feel
?” I paused, wrinkling my forehead to think better. “To feel like you were in charge of your own life?”
Harrison’s face softened, and he put his hand on my shoulder. “Sweetie, rarely does doing something crazy give you more control in life.”
I frowned. “Maybe, but I don’t get to decide anything anymore. I was only trying to feel less like that.”
“I get that.” Harrison nodded sympathetically. “There are things in
life that I wish I could control, but I can’t.” He paused for a few seconds, gazing into space. He cleared his throat and said, “For example, there’s nothing I want to do
in life than marry Max. But that’s not up to me.” He shrugged his shoulders, like he was shaking off his emotion.
“But you could in some places—you guys could move to Minnesota, or you could come here! Gay marriage is legal in D.C.!” I said excitedly, imagining Harrison moving in down the street. Max could come along and be the Cowles to Harrison’s Bye. I could escape to their house and hold parties—what was Alice’s word,
—for my friends there.
would make my life a little better.
Harrison smiled sadly. “We’ve thought about it. But Max doesn’t want to leave his job. And I certainly couldn’t replicate mine here.” Harrison was the director of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
“Oh.” I frowned. “Yeah, I guess if you want to stay in Madison, you’re kind of screwed.”
Harrison laughed. “Our life is pretty okay. Do you see what I’m saying, though? Sometimes we have to make the best of our circumstances. Or we have to make sacrifices for the people we love.” He hesitated for a minute, before adding, “Look, I know you didn’t ask your mother to run for president. It drastically changed your life, not always for the better. I get why you resent the situation at times.” He smiled sympathetically at me. “It’s healthiest, though, to try to keep things in perspective. Which is asking a lot, and maybe asking you to grow up maybe sooner than you would’ve had to otherwise. But that’s life, kid.”
“I guess.” I sighed.
He leaned over to give me a hug. “That’s my girl. Now we’re far from done talking about this or anything else, but do you want to help me drag this stuff up to my
and then at least find a couple of chairs, preferably not too overstuffed?”
I laughed. “Sure.” I grabbed his carry-on bag and led him up the stairs. His flight had been delayed coming in, so it was late by the time I helped him dump his stuff in the Lincoln Bedroom. He always wants to stay in there because of the ghost rumors. I said good night and headed up to my room. No phone, no TV, no Internet—but plenty of books. I picked up one of the new titles some publisher had sent for me earlier in the week, but couldn’t focus on the stories. All week, Quint’s last words on Tuesday had haunted me: thinking
. Was he right? I understood, now, what a horribly awkward position I’d put him in. I hadn’t meant to hurt him or my parents while I tried to help myself.
If only they all understood what life was like for me now. Nobody did, except one person. I picked up Alice’s diary, and decided it was time to finish it.