Authors: Rebecca Behrens
Readjusting to school at Friends after my wonderful winter break wasn’t too bad, although with my new schedule, I didn’t have a single class with Quint and barely saw him. The Washington whirlwind, as usual, swept my parents away as soon as Air Force One touched down in D.C. The real problem, however, was that my White House “Bye” was gone.
“Debra!” I bounded into the kitchen the first night I was home, expecting to see her baking up some goodies. Instead Maurice, one of the other chefs, stood in front of the range, stirring a soup pot. “Oh.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” he teased.
I blushed. “No offense—I was looking forward to seeing her. When is Debra working next?”
Maurice wiped his hands on a towel, frowning. “Probably not for a while. I have bad news—she’s taken a leave of absence.”
“What do you mean, ‘a leave of absence’?”
“Her daughter is very sick. Debra went to Arizona to help take care of her grandkids.” Maurice paused. “I’m not sure when she’ll be coming back.”
“Her daughter’s sick? Like the flu?” I said hopefully.
Maurice shook his head and cleared his throat. “No, dear. She has cancer.”
My hand shot up to cover my gasp.
Poor, poor Debra.
“That’s horrible—I’m so sorry for her. Can I do anything to help?” The full importance of my dad’s work hit me.
hard for families like Debra’s
“You know, I could give you her e-mail address,” Maurice said. “I’m sure she’d love to hear from you.”
Maurice put down his ladle and wiped his hands, then pulled out his phone. He scrolled through for a few seconds. “Kitchen grease really mucks up a touchscreen. Here it is. Ready?”
“Yeah.” I pulled out a pen to write it on my hand.
“It’s Secret-Agent-Chef, one word, at mail dot com.” I smiled, wondering if the address was in response to my CIA confusion when Debra and I first met.
Maurice went back to cooking, and I sat down at the counter in shock. I felt terrible for Debra, and a little guilty—for taking up so much of her time when she could have been with her own daughter, and for selfishly thinking of how much her being gone would affect me. I caught a whiff of butter and lemons from whatever Maurice was making, and I felt a pang for Debra’s soft voice and warm hugs.
Without Debra to confide in anymore, I read more and more of Alice’s diary. Kind of obsessively. My breakthrough came from the entry in which she wrote, “Fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches.”
didn’t wait around for someone else to make her feel better.
I wondered how Alice could rebound from bad things so quickly. In one entry, she was pining after Edward. In the next, she was so over him, making jokes about breaking his and other heartlets. I tend to sink into my loneliness and linger in it like a warm bath.
I took a paint pen and wrote “WWAD” on an old bangle bracelet—
—to remind me to stop waiting to feel better, and fill what was empty. If “To Thine Own Self Be True” was Alice’s motto,
would be mine.
In my mopey state, I’d slacked on finding a way to get what I wanted—freedom to go on the school trip. Now more than ever, I needed to go so I would have time with Quint. I’d sort of exhausted my parents with pleas to attend already, so I decided to go to the only other person who could make New York happen for me, Denise Colbert. It was time to do what Alice would do: give Denise my very best elbow-in-the-soup treatment.
• • •
I caught her in a hallway in the West Wing, just before six. “Hi, Denise,” I said, smiling brightly. She nodded and waved, still hustling down the hallway in her sensible heels. I followed after her.
“Can I help you with anything?”
Denise raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you have homework to do, Audrey? It’s a school night.”
“Finished it.” I smiled again and batted my eyelashes at her.
don’t think I’m doing this right. This feels more like being flirty than persuasive, which is so wrong.
“I thought I could give you a hand. I’m really good at collating.” That was true—in my mom’s early campaign days, I spent hours collating papers for her campaign manager. I am also great at affixing stamps and checking off names on mailing lists.
Denise sighed but stopped moving. She absentmindedly tapped a pen on the file folder she was holding. “I suppose you could help me organize a few things in the file room. Make some copies. But, Audrey—you don’t
to do any work. We have plenty of staff.”
“I’d love to help! I find the work you all do around here fascinating, just truly incredible.” I leaned toward her, my elbow resting on top of the file cabinets lining the hallway. It was a little high, so I had to stand on my tiptoes a bit so my hand could casually cup my forehead. I didn’t exactly have a soup bowl to lean into.
“Okay.” Denise gave me a weird look. “I’m going to pull a few files and ask you to make copies, then.”
“Fantastic! Stunning!” I said, clapping my hands. I felt like an idiot, like I was troweling it on way too thick. Really, showing any enthusiasm for boring office tasks would be exaggerating. I followed Denise down the hall to a room with more file cabinets and a large copier.
Denise started pulling out files and handing pages to me. I stood next to her and held them in a neat stack. “So what are you working on lately?” I asked.
“Clean-energy initiatives, mostly.”
I widened my eyes. “Tell me more!”
I’m convincing her of is that I’m a weirdo.
Denise coughed. “We think that would be a good secondary platform for your dad to pick up. Given his science background.”
interesting.” I nodded and grinned. There was my chance. “I was thinking about a platform for myself, actually.”
“Is that so?” Denise’s eyebrows raised, and she stopped shuffling through the file she was holding. “Like what?”
“The arts, maybe?” Denise nodded, without a lot of enthusiasm. I continued anyway. “So my school has this spring trip to New York. I could go and see some performances, or go to a museum—it could be part of my platform. Getting kids interested in the arts.”
Denise shook her head, her sleek hair swinging back and forth in front of her face. “You could go to a museum in D.C.; the National Gallery, maybe. But New York is out of the question.” Denise straightened her hair and returned to flipping through the folder. “In the first place, I’m not sure how your mother feels about you doing your own public appearances.” The little glimmer of hope I had faded. I felt crushed by her lack of interest, and a little insulted that my mom didn’t think I could do my own appearances.
It’s her fault, for never giving me a chance to prove myself.
“Okay, I think that’s enough for you to copy for now,” Denise said. I had a fat stack of pages in my arms. “Give them to my assistant whenever you’re done. Thanks for the help.” With that, she spun on her heel and was out the door. I was left with a lot of photocopying to do and the sense that the elbow-in-the-soup treatment had failed me.
• • •
May 29, 1902
I am going to have to ensure that no one ever finds this diary because if some person does read this, and tells my stepmother that I have been proposed to, it will be “Off with her head!” for poor Alice. Yes, I am the recipient of a marriage proposal. Actually, I received two. It is quite a long story.
Two days ago, Edward Carpenter, formerly known as my beau, currently known as a fool, arrived at the White House. Sadly for Carpenter but (given the tumultuous nature of our courtship) probably best for both of us, Charles de Chambrun and a Knickerbocker gent in my circle, J. Van Ness Philips, have already swept in and swiped my interest from Edward. All four of us attended a dinner, during which those three relatively handsome young men all vied for my attention. (A scene straight out of one of my wildest dreams.) We were seated far down the table from my parents, so fortunately they didn’t overhear when Van Ness, after a bit too much of the whiskey I had smuggled to the dinner inside my long gloves, loudly turned to me and proposed marriage. I hadn’t imbibed the whiskey myself, but still I could not control my laughter. Poor Carpenter appeared stricken, slowly turning as red as the wheels of a steam fire engine as it dawned on him that he had real competitors.
The next day Carpenter and I went for a long walk in the gardens. He stammered and stuttered, and it took him over two and a half
to explain to me how he felt about me. Poor Carpenter, I did love him once upon a time, but now I can only see how twitchy he gets when nervous, how his nose is actually slightly crooked to the left (in addition to his woefully lopsided smile), and how his Adam’s apple pops out of his neck in a most distracting and unappealing way. Recall that letter he slipped me at dinner in Cuba? I no longer think his admission that he “has nothing to say” is part of a clever pun. It’s close to an unfortunate truth. Yet here are the points that he managed to sputter out:
–That he wishes to call me “Alice” when we are alone together (not “Miss Roosevelt”)
–That he is madly in love with me
–That he would like to marry me (Personally, I feel that this was brought on more by the spirit of competition more than anything else. I saw how he used to look at Janet.)
I told him positively no. I told him that we were behaving like two idiots and that he could not possibly ask me to marry him. He tried to interrupt me and make his case again, but I wouldn’t hear it. I bid him
and wished him well, but sternly. If he hadn’t acted so idiotically, I might have felt remorse. But I didn’t then, even if I feel a smidgen now.
I received notes this morning from both Carpenter and Van Ness. It’s all very foolish of them.
at my age I am not in a position to accept their proposals, much as I might welcome the attention of a White House wedding and a husband to help me escape out into the world. Further, our society set has
about these sorts of situations. Once a lady refuses a proposal of marriage, the man must accept it at once and refrain from asking again or otherwise pursuing her. To continue writing her, practically begging—it’s simply not done. Those boys know that. For that reason, I really can’t pity either of them.
Who would have thought earlier this spring, when my stepmother read that newspaper article about dueling suitors and got so angry at me, that the article was prescient? Certainly I didn’t. I will do my very best to make sure that Edith never finds out about this little incident, and God forbid my father does. If they were upset about fictive multiple suitors, I imagine if I had to admit that two men really did propose to me within twenty-four hours, my parents would never, ever let me see the world outside my room again!
To Thine Own Self Be True,
June 7, 1902
Alice is in big trouble, Diary dear. Thankfully, however, it’s not because my stepmother found out about the proposals. Trouble started last week when Maggie and her Murad cigarettes came over. The scent of the “Turkish delights” must’ve wafted out of my room and across the hall to Edith’s sitting room. All of a sudden my door burst open and Edith stormed inside, shrieking something about “being unladylike” and “filthy cigarettes.” She snatched them right out of my hands and threw open the window. Then she called my father in from his office. Similarly displeased, he gave me a very blustery impromptu speech about how “no daughter of his would be smoking under
roof.” I snidely pointed out that it wasn’t actually
roof—it belonged to the government and the American people and he and I were temporary tenants—but that only made him turn a redder shade and sputter. Finally, I adopted a chastened expression and professed that I would never smoke
under his roof
Maggie was set to return home, but I gleefully said, “Wait, Mags my dear—I am only allowed not to smoke for one particular preposition regarding the roof of the White House:
Should I be smoking
around, through, on top of, adjacent to,
etcetera, I see no reason why that’s breaking the statute.” Maggie’s red-painted mouth curled into a grin. “How do you suppose we get on top of it, then?”
All us kids like to climb out our windows down to the grounds below, so I figured that from the attic level it would be easy to climb out and go up. We hurried up into the attic and opened the first window we came across. I went first, being more limber than Maggie. I swung myself out, grabbed the edge of an eave, and had Maggie lean out and push as I pulled myself up. Once I was entirely on the roof, I pulled her arms as her legs kicked up the wall toward the roof. The roof of the White House is flat, much like an unfinished terrace, so there was little danger of us slipping and sliding off into the shrubbery below.
We settled near to the edge and happily struck a match against some brick. However, one of the Secret Service men on the grounds happened to hear us laughing and looked up. Eventually my father and stepmother were called outside and stood, hands on hips, ordering us to come down immediately. (Well, Edith was wringing her hands.) Needless to say, another talking-to followed. It won’t stop me from doing as I please, though. My parents ought not to be so controlling of me and so concerned with my “public image.” Someone must teach them a lesson about letting a girl live her life!