March 30, 2009

Excerpt from a story-in-progress

This is from a long story I started a few months ago and am struggling to finish. However, I've been feeling inspired lately and I'm going to try to finish it soon.

After the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal, things seemed to cool down substantially during the Bush II years. Whatever indiscretions he might have had were kept tightly under wraps. So too was the Obama administration lacking in stained dresses. Of course, senators and congresspeople and judges were having sex scandals come to life all the time. But senators and congresspeople and judges do not have the celebrity that presidents do, and so memories of those transgressions faded quickly. And while people still occasionally snarked at the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, they generally assumed that such massive scandals were in the past.

Unfortunately, 2018 was the year that would shake the American people from their ridiculous delusions. Halfway through his first (and only) term as President, Anthony Stone was caught with his pants down - literally. However, he was not in the White House at the time. Instead, Stone was found in a corridor of a movie theater, receiving a blow job from a member of the secret service. The people weren't sure if it would have been worse for him to be caught in the White House or not. At least when enjoying a movie, the people knew that Stone was engaging in a scandal during his leisure time. Nor were they sure if receiving a blow job from a member of the secret service was better or worse than receiving one from an intern. But these debates aside, the American people made a point of being outraged.

And nobody used their outrage to their advantage better than Lisa Finn, the candidate who had lost to Stone in 2016. Finn, the first female candidate for president to make it through the primaries, thought she had it in the bag. She didn't have the abrasive, unfeminine qualities that people imagined and disliked in Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, she could hold her own intellectually, read newspapers, and didn't feel the need to wink at the camera, unlike a certain politician who Finn was the reason that a conservative woman couldn't make it past the primaries when Obama ran for re-election. But without an incumbent in 2016, Finn flew threw the primaries and scored the Republican Party nomination without breaking a sweat. Finn and Stone put up a good fight, with polls placing them neck and neck throughout the campagin season. Finn worked hard, and was sure she was going to win. The Republicans did schism during the Obama presidency; the more libertarian-style Republicans kept the name, while the more religious, socially conservative politicians formed the Religious Right Party. But Finn was convinced that she could get the Republican voters, a few of the more liberal members of the Religious Right Party, and a good number of those feminist Democrats who she was convinced were desperate to see a woman as the Commander in Chief. However, her assessment of feminist Democrats had been incorrect. Obama's rousing two-term presidency had left voters yearning for another Democrat in the White House. Democrats turned out in droves to vote for their candidate. Even some of the more liberal Republicans went Democrat again. And Finn couldn't rouse many members of the Religious Right. So while the race seemed fairly close, Stone actually won by a landslide.

But the scandal was the perfect opportunity for Lisa Finn to get revenge. She let go of her more libertarian beliefs and unleashed a new conservative side of her personality and politics. She spearheaded a campaign to bring morality back into politics - as official policy. Finn went beyond America's inherited Puritan obsession with morality. No, she went back farther - from a Protestant tradition to a Catholic one. She went to the legislature and campaigned for a new requirement for the office of the Presidency: celibacy for the duration of his (or her, she was sure to add) presidency. It was not entirely reasonable, of course, to assume that the 35-year-old person who ran for president would not be married at that point, and of course Finn and other conservatives did not want to encourage people delaying marriage in hopes of becoming President. So Finn amended the proposed rule to note that should a president be married, he or she would be required to live apart from his or her spouse for the duration of the presidency.

The voters never thought it would pass. Even those who were furious at President Stone thought it was outlandish to place that much control over another person, no matter how much of a public figure she or he might be. There was a sizeable minority of conservatives who believed that Finn was doing the right thing in setting forth such a proposal, but most people saw the act of revenge as it truly was. However, it seems that politicians are an inbred bunch who had been carefully selected for their inability to reason or think clearly. The Democrats, rightfully paranoid about their political standing, overwhelmingly agreed to the law. The Republicans, wanting party unity, overwhelmingly agreed to the law. And the Religious Right, always interested in controling the population's sexual habits, also overwhelmingly agreed to the law, effective when the next President took office. Because Anthony Stone decided to resign soon after the law passed, Russell Coren was put in the awkward position of trying to decide whether or not to actually take over the presidency, per his job description. His wife Lauren, sick of being overshadowed by his political ambitions, decided to make life easy, and told him that if he decided to take office, she would divorce him. Russell, never one to let his emotions get in the way of his ambitions, took office, and Lauren was off filing the divorce papers during the ceremony.

When Russell Coren moved into the White House on his own, and realized that he didn't even have a wife to support him through phone calls and e-mails, he realized what a mistake he had made. He had given up everything all for the sake of ambition, and for nothing. He was so distraught over the loss of his wife that anyone who might have suspected him of cheating on the new rule would have been mistaken. Nobody could tempt him from the vow of celibacy, for his days and nights were haunted by memories of his marriage. His term was quiet, without mistake, without scandal, and without many attempts at great change. He seemed to be nothing more than a temp, filling in until the real leader could take charge. When the year and a half was up, he did not seek to run for re-election. Instead, he decided to return to his hometown and try to reconcile with Lauren. Lisa Finn won that year by a landslide.

Finn's first term went well enough. She was largely popular, especially because she swang back towards her more moderate stance. While she occasionally reminded people that she was the one who brought purity back into the White House, she was otherwise tolerable, if not likeable. She won re-election easily. At the end of Finn's second term, the Democrats still had not been able to get themselves organized enough to overcome the ten-year-old scandal. While their candidate, Zara Phillips, put up a good fight, the public's general opinion was that the democrats were being disingenous, and had somehow, en masse, all decided to run Phillips simply because she was a woman. There were also convinced that the Democrats were simply sexual scandalmakers. First Clinton, then Stone. In the public's eye. the damage was irreparable. The Democrats could not be trusted to protect the country's morals. After all, they thought, all the Democrats did when the scandal broke was sit around and act sorry. A Republican was the one responsible for legislating the problem away. Furthermore, Finn had been a model president, bringing no scandal upon her party. So the Republican candidate, Simon Richter, won by a landslide. Richter's wasn't an earth-shaking presidency. There were no scandals, but there were no major political triumphs, either. Still, he did well enough to earn a second term. By the end of those eight years, the Democrats barely existed; they were basically just another third party. There were still a few Democratic enclaves: Washington state, Oregon, Massachussetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, New York. But the rest of the nation remained decidedly Republican. Even California had fallen under the push for morality. When Richter's second term came to an end, the Democrats hardly put up a fight; very few people remembered the candidate's name after the fact. Lisa Finn's cousin, Lydia Worth, won without even trying. And not only was she the second woman President of the United States, she was also the youngest President ever elected, turning thirty-six just days after her inauguration.

The first year of Lydia Worth's presidency went smoothly. As much as the more liberal-leaning voters disagreed with her (and her party in general), the Democrats had to admit that at least she (and her Republican predecessors) had not ruined the prosperity ushered in by Obama and bolstered by Stone. Then, at the beginning of Worth's second year, her husband filed for divorce. While Lisa Finn's husband and Simon Richter's wife had been perfectly martyred presidential spouses, each staying faithful for eight years, Ryan Levin was sick of sacrificing after just one year. First, Lydia had refused to take his name when they got married - fifteen years later, Ryan still seethed at that insult. Thn came Lydia's ruthless ambition and dedication to her political career. She had even denied Ryan the right to have children when, after five years of marriage, he had been ready to start a family and she had decided that she was too focused on her career at the moment to be sidetracked by a baby. For the next ten years, it was never the right time in her career to pause for a baby. After three of those years, she stopped responding "I want one too, honey, but it's not the right time." She seemed to even cease wanting. And so Ryan Levin watched his friends' children grown up, and saw his nieces and nephews develop from babies to adults, always wondering what had happened to the good conservative he had married, the woman who was supposed to make an ideal political wife. And now, she had put hserlsef in a position that would keep them apart for at least for years. And I know she'll run for a second term, he thought. She's too ambitious not to try for it. After the first year, he was done. He knew he was never going to get his way. He didn't even offer Lydia the option ot resign and return to their marriage. He simply filed for divorce.


The divorce was a minor scandal, but one that Lydia Worth knew she could use to her advantage if she played her cards right. She settled out of court quickly, saying that she did not want to be distracted from her duties to the American people. She gave into all of Ryan's demands (although they were few, as he had kept up his own lucrative career and salary in hopes of supporting children and a housewife, and he was too proud to ask for alimony), and made none of her own. She made herself look like a generous spouse who wanted to resolve the conflict without dragging things out for months or years. The divorce was finalized in six weeks.

In June of Lydia Worth's second year as President, she was faced with a particularly difficult decision: how she could secretly obtain a pregnancy test. What she would do if the test came up positive had not even crossed her mind, as obtaining and taking a test in secrecy was problematic enough. For even a pregnancy test was enough of an admission that she had broken her vow of celibacy. Of course, she could not just walk into a drugstore and purchase one off the counter. Perhaps one of her Secret Service agents could do so, but she wasn't entirely sure that they could be trusted with that information. Furthermore, what were to happen if the cleaning staff found the used test in the trash? If she went to a doctor, the whole world would know sooner or later. Even if she said that she went to the gynecologist for her routine well-woman exam, whose to say that somebody in the office wouldn't betray her? She could probably have a doctor visit the White House, but then again, there was the trust issue. Without knowing what else to do or who she could turn to, she called her childhood best friend.

"Melanie, I need help."

"Surely you don't need this high school teacher to give you advice on educational policy?"

"Mel, this is serious. And I'm afraid to tell you over the phone. I need to see you."

"Well, lucky for you I'm not teaching summer school this year. I'll be on a train tomorrow morning. Should I leave Mike with the impression that everything's okay?"

"That's probably for the best. I mean, I trust him to keep a secret, but there's no reason he should be forced to keep that secret. What are you going to tell the kids?"

"Oh, Julia left for her ballet camp last week. Now that Craig has his driver's license and a full-time summer job, he's not around too much, so I doubt he'll miss me. He might not even notice I'm gone."

"Thank you, Mel. You have no idea how much I appreciate this."

"No thanks needed. I need the vacation and I need to see you, no matter what you're going through."

"Let me know when your train will arrive; I'll arrange for a car to pick you up."

"Thanks. See you tomorrow."

"Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

Melanie Stewart arrived in Washington, D.C. just in time for lunch. She was driven to the White House, where she was then escorted to the dining room. Melanie and Lydia hugged for a long time before sitting down to eat.

"Would you mind giving us some privacy over lunch?" Lydia asked the Secret Service agents.

"But Madame President -"

"I have known Ms. Stewart since I was ten years old. I want to have a completely private conversation with her. She can be trusted." The guards left, under protest.

When they were finally alone, Lydia looked at her friend. "Mel, I think I'm ruined."

"What's wrong?"

"I think I need a pregnancy test."

Melanie dropped her fork. "A what?"

"You heard me. Please don't make me say it again; I'm terrified of who might overhear it."

Melanie nodded. "So what are you going to do?"

"I don't know. I mean, I can't go out and buy a test in public. I thought about sending someone, but I can't risk the betrayal. I can't risk the betrayal of a doctor, either. There's nobody that I trust."

"So you want me to buy it for you."

"Would you?"

"Of course. Now, how are we going to arrange it. I should probably take a car myself, without any agents or anything. I should just look like a normal member of the populace."

"They'll probably search you when you come back."

"I can't get a better security clearance?"

"I think it's just paranoia."

"Do you think I could get away with just keeping it in my purse? I'll buy something else so there will be something in the drugstore bag."

Lydia started to panic. "This is not going to work. This is not going to work. Somebody is going to see it. Somebody is going to figure it out."

"Relax. Okay, I won't do it that way. Just take me out for dinner tonight, okay? We'll go from there."

On the way to dinner, Lydia whispered "Should I order wine?"

"Well, you don't even know yet. Maybe it's nothing. Maybe it's the delayed stress of the divorce. Maybe it's an iron deficiency."

"Maybe."

"Would you even want to keep it, if the test was positive?"

"I don't know. I can't even think that far. I can only focus on getting the test."

"Does Ryan know?"

"Why would Ryan need to know?"

"Because - I mean - He is the hypothetical father, right?"

"No, he's not."

"Oh. Okay. Does the hypothetical father know?"

"No, and I don't think there's any reason to say anything right now."

"That's for the best."

At dinner, Lydia did have a glass of wine. They chatted about Melanie's children, her plans for the next school year, her summer off. Melanie did her best to distract Lydia from the situation before her. For the most part, it worked. Lydia more or less forgot that not only was she in a tough situaiton right now, there was at least a 50% chance that it was going to get worse.

On the way home, however, Lydia became anxious again.

"Don't worry," Melanie said, spotting a CVS a few blocks ahead.

"Excuse me, would you mind stopping in that CVS?" she called to the driver. "I need to pick something up."

A Secret Service agent tried to escort Melanie into the store. "Can I have my privacy, please?"

"Let her go," Lydia said.

When Melanie returned a few minutes later, she had a box of tampons in her bag. The test was concealed in an inner pocket of her purse, just in case. She ended up not having needed to take the precaution, but she and Lydia both felt safer knowing she had taken extra care to keep the secret safe.

Upon arriving back at the White House, they rushed up to Lydia's bedroom like scared high school girls trying to keep a secret from Lydia's parents. Melanie pulled the box out of her purse and handed it to Lydia.

"I can't do this."

"You have to."

Lydia reluctantly walked into the bathroom, and emerged a minute later.

"How much time do I have to wait?"

Melanie checked the box. "Three minutes."

"That's three minutes too long."

"I think every woman says that."

Neither knew what to say in those three minutes. Lydia didn't know what she wanted, and Melanie didn't know how to comfort her. They both flopped back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling until Melanie's watch beeped that the test was done.

Lydia jumped off the bed and ran to the bathroom. The silence spanned twenty seconds before Melanie decided to follow her.

"Two pink lines." Lydia's voice had gone weak.

Melanie hugged her friend. "It's going to be okay."

"I don't know what to do."

"You don't have to know that right now. It's okay. You have a few days to think it over."

"Do I have to tell him?"

"Do you want to tell him?"

"No."

"Then don't say anything until you know what you want."

"What am I going to do?"

"You're going to go to bed early. You're going to carry on tomorrow as if nothing is wrong. You're going to think about what you want. And you'll figure it out."

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