Sitting in the lobby of Corduroy on K Street with her coat piled in her lap, Meg tugged at her scarf, untying it and then re-tying it so that the knot lay closer to her breast bone. She always ended up feeling like a Cub Scout leader when the knot was too close to the base of her throat.
The rest of her outfit was nothing to write home about -- a black suit from Ann Taylor just like all her black suits from Ann Taylor, a button-down blouse -- but the scarf was aggressively silk-screened in deep blues and grassy greens. She still wasn't sure she had the panache to pull off a scarf, but when one was having lunch with Preston Fielding, one always at least made an effort.
Meg raised her hand to her chest. Just as she was about to untie her scarf again, Preston breezed through the door, cell phone glued to one ear, grinning and waving at Meg with his free hand. "Tell him we'll rub his back on soybean subsidies, but he's got to rub our back on this first," he was saying. He paused, twisting to take his jacket off one-handed. "No, I don't know anything about soybean subsidies either, but we'll figure something out. Listen, I'm here, I gotta go. I'm turning my phone off, so don't burn the place down." He winked at Meg. "Seriously, not even vibrate. Off. O-f-f. I'll talk to you in an hour." He flipped the phone closed.
"Wow," Meg said, standing up, "you must be having lunch with somebody pretty important."
"Just my favorite hot-shot district attorney," he said, pulling her into a very undignified hug. "You seen her anywhere?"
"How's the family?" Preston asked when they sat down.
"Good," Meg said. "I try not to be away from Katie for more than two nights at a time, so this was pushing it. But, hey, how's Caleb?"
Preston shook his head. "I honestly cannot say," he said.
"You broke up with Caleb?" Meg asked. "I liked Caleb!"
Preston shrugged. "Hey, I liked him, too," he said. "I liked Caleb, you liked Caleb, Caleb really, really liked Caleb. In the end, I thought the two of them would be happier together."
Once they ordered, they avoided shop talk, instead discussing the new Woody Allen movie -- Preston was crazy about Scarlet Johansson, Meg eventually conceded that she probably wouldn't ever be happy with anything that wasn't a frame-by-frame remake of Annie Hall -- the Red Sox -- "Steven said he was instituting a ten-year grace period after they won," Meg said. "It lasted about a week." -- and the Project Runway re-run Meg had watched on the shuttle from Boston to DC. Preston's favorite this season was Daniel V., but Meg liked Chloe.
After lunch, they both ordered coffee, and Meg said, "So right before I came down here for the conference, I had a meeting with the state party."
Preston raised his eyebrows, and made a "pray, continue" expression.
Meg twisted her spoon between two fingers. She still liked watching the milk and coffee mix together a little more than she liked drinking it. "They want me to run for Attorney General," she said, her eyes darting up at the last possible second.
"Well, that's great," Preston said, "because you know that if you do run, you'll win."
Meg laughed. "That's very flattering," she said, "but--"
Meg rolled her eyes. "I'm not a kid," she said, "I'm forty-two!"
Preston grinned. "Sorry," he said. "Old habits, you know. Anyway, I don't do flattery, I know politics. You'll win. You'll smoke 'em in the primary and the general will be a cake walk."
"Oh, really?" Meg asked, despite the fact that that was pretty much exactly what had been said in her meeting with the state party last week.
"Well, let's see," Preston said, ticking off reasons on his fingers, "One, you're the extremely well-liked district attorney of the largest county in the state. Two, the last two AGs had your job before they had theirs. Three, you've probably got higher name recognition than the sitting governor." He paused. "Do I need to keep going?"
"I didn't realize you were such a fan of Massachusetts politics," Meg replied.
Preston shrugged. "Everybody needs a hobby," he said. "I've never really followed the Redskins."
"So you think it's a good idea?" Meg asked.
"Meghan, I think it's a great idea."
When Meg was in law school, she'd started demanding that everyone call her "Meghan," claiming that "Meg" sounded like the name of a twelve-year-old who wore her hair in pigtails and liked books about horses. Preston had been the only one to go along with it immediately, and the only one who never backslid once. Which was too bad, because he was one of, like, three people who she would have let get away with it to this day.
"So, do you need a consultant?"
Meg laughed. "I don't think I can afford you," she said. This was only partially true, as Preston was a self-proclaimed lobbyist with a heart of gold, representing the interests of gay groups, HIV/AIDS service organizations and other traditionally under-funded causes, including several breast cancer research foundations.
"I'm always looking for special projects," Preston said.
Meg pointed at her scarf. "How do you feel about special consultant in charge of style?" she said.
When Meg was a kid, she always wondered why her mother had meetings with her campaign staff at the kitchen table instead of at her office, with its big mahogany meeting table and the chairs that weren't covered with embroidered seat covers. Eventually she learned about campaign finance law, and realized that her mother wasn't allowed to meet with campaign staff on the taxpayer dollar.
And then Meg grew up, and got her own house, with her own kitchen and her own kitchen table, and now two young guys from the MDP were sitting at it. What was strange was how different they didn't look from the state party operatives who had sat at her parents' kitchen table and kept her from sneaking into the pantry for a second handful of Oreos.
"Before we submit the petition," Nate said with the face of someone who had drawn the short straw, "I think we should discuss the name issue."
"The name issue?" Meg asked.
Brian cleared his throat. Meg wondered if they were going to try for a good cop/bad cop thing.
"What he means to say," Brian started, "is that we should discuss what name you'll be campaigning under."
"My own?" Meg said slowly, no idea where this was going.
"We were wondering if you would consider changing it?" Nate said, gulping.
Meg frowned. "What, so they can all call me Mrs. Feldman? That's a little Daughters of the American Revolution, don't you think?" Despite a lifelong propensity toward slouching when she wasn't in public, Meg squared her shoulders a bit. One of the ways people probably didn't even realize she was taking after her mother. Her mother had always been big on squaring her shoulders when she was displeased.
"Oh, no, that's not what we meant," Brian said. "We were wondering if you'd be willing to drop your husband's name and just go by Meghan Powers."
"Name recognition's like free advertising," Nate added. "And that name in this state, well, you know."
"Too bad I didn't marry a Kennedy, huh?" Meg said, eyebrows arching. "They probably wouldn't have even bothered to have the election."
Both Brian and Nate looked a little too excited at the prospect of Meghan Powers-Kennedy, czarina of Massachusetts.
Meg relaxed back into her seat again. "Josh always said he should have just taken my name," she said. Brian's eyes lit up alarmingly. "But," she added, "Meghan Powers-Feldman was good enough when I ran for DA, and I'm kind of attached to it, so." She trailed off there, hoping they would get the message that the matter was closed for discussion.
They both smiled, but their lips were tight and their nods were quick and razor sharp. Meg sighed, and spread her hands on the table. Nothing like thinking she'd be elected on her own merits or anything.
Once that was settled, Brian and Nate seemed eager to wrap things up for the evening, and Meg was happy to go along with that. Josh wandered downstairs just as she was closing the front door behind them.
"You guys done already?" Josh asked.
Meg nodded, pulling her earrings out with one hand. She slipped them into her pants pocket, where she would undoubtedly forget about them and lose them forever. "Katie have her bath?" she asked.
"Yeah," Josh said. "She wants you to tuck her in, I said I'd see if you were still working."
"I would have stopped what I was doing," Meg said automatically. She was exhausted, suddenly, and was trying to decide if she needed her cane to tackle the stairs.
"Hey, hey," Josh said, putting his hands up, palms out, "I know you would have. Did that," he gestured in the direction of the kitchen, "go okay?"
Meg frowned. "It was productive," she said.
Josh smirked. "That bad, huh?"
"Pretty much," Meg said. She cocked her head toward the stairs. "I should go say goodnight," she said. "then I can tell you every action-packed detail." As she moved slowly toward the stairs, having decided she could probably make it without the cane -- she'd left it in the kitchen anyway -- Josh reached out to hook one arm around her waist. "Hey," he said, kissing her on the forehead, "have I mentioned recently that you're going to be the most beautiful Attorney General Massachusetts ever had?"
Upstairs, Katie was waiting to be tucked in, looking particularly angelic after her bath and not at all like the five-year-old terror who refused to get dressed for school that morning unless she could wear her purple dress, completely unwilling to take "you wore the purple dress yesterday" as an acceptable answer.
"Mommy," Katie asked as Meg was tucking the covers under her chin.
"Why don't the men come see you at your office?"
A picture of Meg and Josh at the state dinner for the prime minister of Israel had been rather prominently featured in the People 1986 Year in Review issue. In the photo, Meg had been reaching up to fix her hair, and wearing a blue dress. Just the memory of the dress never failed to make Meg cringe. In retrospect, the late eighties had not been kind. Josh had been looking at Meg and grinning. Everyone remembered that picture, and assumed that Meg had married her high school boyfriend. Which was sort of true, in a sense.
In the end, everything had happened pretty much the exact same way it would have if she hadn't been kidnapped, except that Josh had gone off to Stanford in the fall and Meg hadn't left for Williams until the spring.
The story Meg told to co-workers and at cocktail parties:
They'd broken up during their senior year, stayed friends while they were in college, but had lost touch after her mother's second term ended and Meg had stopped returning to DC for the holidays. Many years later, they'd reconnected while they were both living in Boston, and at that point in the story, Meg usually waved her hand vaguely and said, "And, well, you know the rest," and that was enough. And that was sort of true, in a sense.
Things that got left out of the official version:
Every time they saw each other had been either awkward or depressing, except for the one time they'd slept together, which had been both awkward and depressing. It'd been the summer between sophomore and junior year, and the rest of Meg's family had been at Camp David. She'd come back early because she was still taking summer school classes at GW to make up for lost credits. When Josh had come over, she'd told him that she just wanted to be normal already, but that she was scared to do it with someone she didn't 100% trust. When it had been over, she'd been pretty sure he'd never forgive her.
Josh had sent a card to her parents' address in Massachusetts after her mother died, with a Chicago return address and his new number in case she just needed to talk. Meg had kept the card, but she'd never written, and she'd never called.
They'd run into each other on the train, of all places. On the Green Line, Meg coming back from a deposition in Jamaica Plain and Josh on his way home from Berklee, where he'd just started as an assistant professor of composition. Meg had overdone it on her physical therapy the day before and was using the cane.
She'd been standing near the door on the crowded train, and someone had touched her wrist and said, "Ma'am, would you like to sit down?" and she'd turned around and it had been Josh. And then Josh had said, "Oh my God," and then, "hey, your knee, it's still more comfortable if you're standing up, right?" and Meg had realized that Josh was one of the only people in the whole world who wasn't her family and wasn't going to always ask her to explain why she was the way she was, and even if she hadn't been pretty much completely still in love with him, that might have been enough.
Meg looked at her computer and frowned. Steven was coming into town for a conference in the middle of July and had sent her an e-mail demanding that they go to a baseball game. He lived in California, but made due with some kind of expensive satellite package that let him watch Sox games. He even taped them religiously so he could watch them even when he was on call at the hospital.
Meg was of the opinion that, if you thought about it, it was really pretty funny: she was a candidate for public office, Steven was an emergency room doctor, and Neal was a trauma psychologist. Obviously being the President's children hadn't affected or screwed them up at all.
She didn't have any idea how to get tickets, knowing that the entire season was sold out, and had a minute where she felt incredibly old, because she could remember skipping school to go to games with her father when they were young, and how they'd been able to get tickets at the box office five minutes before the game started. She knew the state party had several sets of season tickets that were used to butter up donors, but having been made to read Plunkitt of Tammany Hall repeatedly when she was in undergrad, she had a life-long fear of graft.
Feeling extremely unhip, she called through her office door to her assistant, David, who occasionally asked her if she'd seen the game last night when he delivered her morning briefs.
"David, you go to Sox games, right?"
"Sure," David said.
"How do you get tickets?" she asked.
"Um, usually Craigslist," he said, rocking back and forth on his heels.
"They have them there?"
"Yeah, you buy them from people directly and you meet up with them and stuff."
"Okay," she said, trying to nod in a manner that looked knowing, "thanks a lot, that's really helpful."
Five minutes later, she called him back into her office.
"These tickets are really expensive," she said, pointing at her computer screen, which showed a window of an ad selling two lower box tickets for $400. "Is this really how much they are?"
"Well," David said, "you know, people are selling them for more than face value."
"Isn't that illegal?" Meg asked.
"Uh, sort of?" David said, sounding nervous.
"Great," Meg said, frowning. "I can't buy these, I'll totally get caught. That'd look great," she said, adopting the mocking tone of a television broadcaster, "District Attorney and Attorney General candidate Meghan Powers-Feldman spotted in Kenmore buying scalped Red Sox tickets, in violation of Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 140, Section 185a."
"So, you don't want to buy them, then," David said, looking confused. Nothing like having an assistant who laughed at her jokes. Her last assistant, Thomas, he'd always laughed at her jokes. She missed Thomas.
"No, I don't think that's a good idea," Meg said, chewing her lip. "What if I give you the money and you buy them for me, do you think that would work?"
"So I can break the law instead?" David asked.
Meg waved her hand dismissively. "I'm tight with the DA," she said. "If you get arrested, I'll have it taken care of."
"These are great seats," Steven said. "How'd you get them on such short notice?"
"Stick with me, kid," Meg said, settling into her seat. "I've got connections."
Steven nodded knowingly. "Accepting bribes again?" he said.
Meg shrugged, gesturing at the view. "Only the good ones, right?" she said.
They were playing the Royals, who were generally abysmal. However, Steven spent a lot of time explaining to Meg that they were actually rooting for a relatively close game, because he wanted to guarantee a save opportunity, which would necessitate the use of the team's rookie closer, who was apparently a cross between Roger Clemens (pre-sellout version), Jesus and a cobra snake. Mostly, Meg nodded in what she hoped were the right places. Her appreciation of the Red Sox had always been somewhat conceptual.
Eventually, Steven paused, halfway through a rant about Terry Francona, and said, "So, you gonna win this thing, or what?"
Meg shrugged. "Sounds like I have a better chance than them," she said, cocking her head in the direction of the field.
Steven shook his head. "Sacrilege," he said. "You've got no faith."
"You just told me that Terry Francona couldn't win with a reanimated Ted Williams," Meg pointed out. "Anyway, any time the gubernatorial candidate is extremely popular, there's always a surge further down the ticket. Honestly, I wish we could have the election tomorrow or something. Campaigning on top of a full-time job is pretty exhausting. Mom was smart to go into congressional politics, they build a campaign break into their schedule."
"Careful," Steven said. "People might think you actually want to win or something."
"You're unopposed in the primary, aren't you?"
"Well, yeah, but--"
Steven laughed. "I rest my case," he said.
"Oh, God," Meg said, "Still, you have no idea. I mean, I always liked practicing law, but I mostly ran for DA because I knew the department would fall apart if someone didn't step in. This is different, I guess. I know this is corny, but things really changed after Katie was born. It was like, okay, I've brought this person into the world, and now it doesn't just affect me if the world is screwed up, and I have to do everything in my power to make things safe for her, you know?"
"Wow," Steven said.
"What?" Meg asked.
"Nothing," Steven said. "You just sound a lot like Mom."
Meg looked out on the field for a long moment. Somehow the Sox had gotten themselves into a bases-loaded, one out jam and she hadn't even noticed.
"I guess," Meg said. "Sometimes I think I get her more now than I did when I was younger. Like, when I was seven and she didn't show up for my school play, it never occurred to me that she was overwhelmed trying to make sure I didn't live in a nuclear wasteland by the time I was thirty-seven, you know?"
"Makes you wish you could talk to her?" Steven said, looking with equally inscrutable concentration at a point out in left field.
"Yes," Meg said. "Very much."
"I get that," Steven said. "That, I definitely get."
Meg agreed to be interviewed by one of the local free weeklies for their election issue. The reporter met her at the campaign office, and the first thing she said once they've sat down was, "Okay, I know this is completely unprofessional of me, but wow. I totally remember exactly where I was when you were found."
Meg fought the urge to groan. She knew this was a bad idea; she was going to kill Hazel. She tilted her head, pausing. She was still never quite sure what to say to this, even though it happened, on average, about twice a week. The knee-jerk response was to point out that she hadn't been found, exactly, but that just made everyone uncomfortable. The obvious response was to say, "Where were you?" the polite thing was usually to just say, "Thank you."
Today, Meg eyed the reporter, with her very trendy, jet black choppy haircut, and said, "You were in, what, first grade?"
The reporter laughed. "Close," she said. "Third. They announced it over the loudspeaker like a fire drill."
"Wow," Meg said. She heard some variation on "in school, over the loudspeaker," about once a month, and it never stopped sounding like somebody's story about where they were when they found out John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Strange to think that she was her own generation's Kennedy assassinated. Terrifying, really.
"Sorry," the reporter said, and Meg realized the silence had stretched from long to awkward. "You must get that a lot."
Meg forced a smile. "It's okay," she said. "My brother Steven always says it could be worse. I could be Bill Buckner, right?"
The reporter laughed, and Meg briefly thanked God for the universal change of subject that was the Red Sox.
"So," the reporter said, "if elected, you would be the first female Attorney General of Massachusetts. Is it safe to say that trailblazing woman politicians run in your family?"
"Well, my daughter was elected first female line-leader of the Cambridge Day School kindergarten last week," she said, amused. "My husband and I are very proud."
The reporter stared at her for a second and said, "Hey, that's great, she must--"
"I'm kidding," Meg interrupted. Great, good to make it completely obvious just how impenetrable her sense of humor was right at the start of the interview.
"Oh," the reporter said, embarrassed. "Um, obviously. Seriously, though, do you think the perception that you're following in your mother's footsteps helps or hurts your campaign?"
"You know, one time," Meg said, "I read this interview with Jakob Dylan once, where he said that if people could pick between a plumber whose father had been a plumber and a plumber who was the first plumber in his family, they'd pick the plumber whose father had been a plumber."
"So you're a big fan of the Wallflowers?"
"Well," Meg said. "I like a little bit of everything."
Katie had been two and a half when Meg had run for her second term as District Attorney. Meg had decided at that time that she wasn't going to allow herself to be scheduled for any campaign commitments after noon on Sundays, every Sunday, no matter what. Her campaign manager at the time had hated it, but the press secretary had thought it was fantastic.
He'd made sure it was leaked to the papers and Meg had ended up doing an incredibly uncomfortable interview with the Globe about the pressure of being a second-generation mother/candidate. The article had been published with side-by-side photos of Meg balancing an eighteen-month-old Katie on her hip at a party fundraiser and Meg at age five, standing with her mother on the steps of Boston City Hall. Pretty unsubtle, Meg had thought.
So after all that, Meg tried to keep her Sunday afternoons completely free. "Family-friendly candidate caught breaking pledge for Mommy and Me Sundays," her internal muckraker said every time she so much as looked at a donor call sheet at 4:00pm on a Sunday.
Today she was cheating, but only slightly. They were going to have dinner at her father's house, and Josh was driving while Meg read over some notes David had put together for her on a case. As the DA, she didn't actually go to court that often anymore, but the City of Somerville was being sued over what was a probably bogus but still potentially messy discrimination case, and the mayor had asked Meg to be there personally to make sure everything went smoothly.
Katie was sitting in the back seat, talking non-stop about soccer, and how her friend Patty's older brother was teaching them how to play, and how she'd been the goalie but she hadn't been scared, even when the ball came right at her, and how Patty had said there was a team for girls, and could Katie be on the team, because Patty was going to be on the team, and --
"Isn't she a little young for team sports?" Meg muttered to Josh.
Josh frowned, and said, "I guess not? I think I played T-ball when I was her age. When did you start--" he then stopped himself abruptly.
"Playing tennis?" Meg asked. Even though it was probably just out of habit at this point, Josh went to extreme lengths to avoid ever mentioning tennis, or skiing, or anything strenuous enough to involve more mobility than walking with a slight limp and occasionally relying on a cane. She'd even caught him changing the channel away from Wimbledon when she'd walked into the TV room one time.
"Um, yeah," Josh said.
"I don't think I started playing tennis until I was seven or eight," Meg said, trying to convey that she wasn't going to have a breakdown or anything just because the topic of tennis had come up. "But I guess I remember Steven playing T-ball in kindergarten, too."
"Mommy," Katie called from the back seat, "what's tennis?"
"It's a game, like soccer," Meg said. "But instead of kicking the ball back and forth with a net on each side, you hit the ball back and forth over one net with rackets."
They were almost there. Her father still lived in the same house Meg where Meg had grown up, but now he lived there alone.
"Do you play tennis?"
"I did," Meg said. They saw her father often, living just across the city, especially now that they had Katie. But there was something in him that had gotten old when her mother had died, and even now, every time she saw him, Meg felt as though she had to be careful with him, like he might break. Maybe that was just what happened when your parents got old, but with Meg's father, it felt like it had happened overnight.
"Were you good?" Katie asked.
"She was really good," Josh said. "She was the best tennis player I'd ever seen in my whole life." He turned his head slightly to smile at her, and she reached over so she could squeeze his right hand with her good one.
"But it's okay if I play soccer?" Katie said.
Meg twisted in her seat to look back at her daughter. She said, "That sounds great."
Every morning, Meg took with a full glass of water one red and white gel capsule and a pink pill that looks like a conversation heart. She took another pink pill at night.
The red and white capsule was Dyazide, the pink conversation heart was Zebeta. One was a hydrochloro-something-something, the other one was a beta blocker. As pill regimens went, it wasn't that bad.
Even after she'd been weaned off the clockwork doses of pain pills, there'd still been the antibiotics, and a couple different medications for the peripheral nerve damage (which hadn't worked at all, she'd still had tingling in her good hand until her last year in undergrad), and iron pills for the lingering anemia until she was twenty-five.
And that wasn't even to mention that she'd had two nose jobs, could barely manage to grip her pill bottles with her left hand, and she still used the cane to get around sometimes if she was over-tired. But she tried not to think about those things more than absolutely necessary, which sometimes meant five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night, when she took medication to treat high blood pressure.
High blood pressure was usually attributed to weight, poor diet and lack of exercise, but there was some research that suggested that, in the absence of traditional risk factors, it could also be a long-term side effect of a period of prolonged starvation. Apparently there'd be studies, on soldiers in POW camps, and people who'd survived the siege of Leningrad.
Former President Clinton swung through to campaign for Democratic candidates on a Thursday in October, and the MDP arranged for a mega-fundraiser, one last big push for cash before the election.
As the party nominee for Attorney General, Meg got five minutes to do a truncated version of her stump speech, which was three minutes more than the virtually unopposed candidate for Secretary of State and one minute more than the guy running for lieutenant governor. This was not lost on her, and she imagined that an Attorney General candidate without "Powers" somewhere in their name wouldn't have gotten any time on the podium at all.
She knew that she was supposed to use those extra minutes to draw some kind of parallel between her mother, Clinton and the aspiring governor, but she wasn't even sure that her mother had ever met Clinton, and the most politically obvious thing she could think about the two of them was that if a Democratic woman past president had been around to throw her support behind a notoriously womanizing Democratic president, Clinton might have had an easier time of it.
But, she thought as she stood backstage at the fundraiser, she imagined nobody wanted to bring that up.
"Meghan," someone said behind her, "I was hoping I'd get to see you before we did our thing out there."
The thick Arkansas accent was unmistakable, and Meg turned around to see Clinton himself, a cloud of aides and Secret Service behind him. They didn't exactly wear name tags, but Meg could tell exactly which dark suits were staffers and which dark suits were carrying weapons.
"Thank you, Mr. President," she said awkwardly. "Me, too."
"Ah, shit," Clinton scoffed. "Call me Bill. We're practically family, right?"
Which was a funny thing to say, but kind of true. Strange to think that he'd lived at the residence with his family, eaten in the cyclorama wallpapered dining room and watched television in the solarium.
"Thank you so much for coming," Meg said. "I think everyone's really excited."
"It's my pleasure," Clinton said, "but between you and me, I don't really think you need the help."
Meg blushed. "Thank you," she said.
"I only met your mother once," Clinton continued, "at the convention in '80, I think it was. I was still pretty wet behind the ears then, but she was very kind to me, she was a great lady."
Meg nodded vaguely. Clinton put his hand on her shoulder then, and she fleetingly thought that she was a little old to pass for an intern.
"She'd be so proud of you," Clinton said. "I'm sure you know that."
As someone who'd admitted he only met her mother once, Meg wasn't sure how he'd know, but he was one of her mother's only five living colleagues, so she fiddled with her note cards and tried to smile.
Her mother had been diagnosed in late September, but she'd waited until the middle of November to make the announcement and begin treatment, because she hadn't wanted to do anything to hurt Kruger's chances. But Kruger had lost anyway, and then Kemp was the one sitting next to Crandall at the funeral.
But that had been later. Everyone forgot now, but she'd had a successful first round of treatment and her doctor had cautiously declared her in remission a few months into President Kemp's term. Meg had started law school at Harvard by then, and she'd spent almost as much time at her parents' house in Chestnut Hill as she did at her apartment in Cambridge. Her mother had been terrible at retirement, and had immediately thrown herself into starting a foundation for breast cancer advocacy. The foundation, named for her mother, was eventually started through a bequest in her mother's estate, and now it awarded research grants and did policy work. Meg was on the Board of Directors, in an honorary sort of way.
But that, too, had been later, and for a while, things had been pretty great. Her mother had still traveled for fundraisers and things, but she had been around the house all the time, frequently even when Steven and Neal came home from school. Meg had been pretty conflicted about the whole thing, feeling happy that her brothers had been getting a couple years of relative normality, and then jealous, and then like a jerk for feeling jealous. But before she'd arrived on any concrete feelings, her mother had gotten sick again.
And it had been awful, and for three months Meg's stomach had been clenched up like it hadn't been since she'd been starving to death for a week at the bottom of a mine shaft. Trudy had been there, but that had almost made it worse, because by then, Meg had come to associate a long visit from Trudy with something bad having happened. Her mother had seemed to know right away that she wasn't going to get better, and she'd made terribly morbid jokes about how Kemp would get re-elected over her dead body, and then it hadn't mattered because she'd been gone before Kemp had lost to Clinton, and somewhere a poli sci student was probably writing his thesis on whether or not the death of former President Powers had created a sympathy surge that led to President Clinton's first term.
And it had been profoundly fucking awful when her mother had died, and there'd been a big stupid state funeral, and Ford, Carter, Crandall and Kemp had all sat together in a row, with no space between Crandall and Kemp for where her mother should have been sitting, and all Meg had been able to think was, well, at least her mother had outlived Nixon, even if she'd been too sick to go to his funeral. And lots of people had made speeches about how her mother had been brave, and brilliant, and a pioneer, but nobody had talked about how she would re-read Pride and Prejudice once every year, and how she had loved avocados and would eat them straight from the rind with a spoon, and how she'd been good at almost everything but had a surprisingly terrible singing voice, so much so that she had gone to great lengths not to have to sing "Happy Birthday" in public.
But the whole time, there'd been a little voice in the back of Meg's head, reminding her that she'd always known she'd lose her mother somehow and, well, at least the worst had finally happened. She'd been afraid of losing her mother for as long as she could remember, long before she'd been shot, before she'd even thought about running for President, and now she had lost her, and no matter what else happened to her for the rest of her life, it would never happen twice.
Meg's mother had told her once, in the hospital after she'd been shot, that there'd been a part of her that had been holding her breath until Meg had been older than she had been when her own mother had died. Meg hadn't really understood what her mother meant at the time, but after Katie had been born, she'd figured it out. There was a part of Meg that would be holding her breath until Katie was twenty-five, but the worst thing that Meg had always imagined would ever happen to her had already happened, and it was over.
And then Meg won the primary, which she supposed sounded impressive unless you knew she had been running unopposed. What changed was that now she was actually obligated to pay attention to the Republican candidate, Larry Frisoli, a flashy trial lawyer from Belmont who had screen caps of himself appearing on Fox News on his campaign website. Josh was of the opinion that he looked like a used car salesman.
There was one debate scheduled for the first week of October, at the U Mass campus in Amherst. In preparation, Meg had called Preston and asked him if he thought she should wear a scarf.
In her opening statement, she talked about the violence prevention pilot project they'd implemented in Middlesex County, and how, if elected, she'd work to adapt the project statewide. Meg was a big fan of violence prevention, it was a topic she could speak about both knowledgably and passionately, and it was all youth partnerships and other Hallmark sorts of anecdotes, so she felt good about the statement she'd prepared.
When her time was up, she turned to look at Frisoli, who was smiling like Meg was the one trying to sell a used car.
"While I appreciate my opponent's commitment to violence prevention," Frisoli said, "I must ask what she would do about the violence that isn't prevented. Victims of violent crime want to see their attackers brought to justice, they aren't going to find much comfort in the prevention programs that failed to protect them." He segued at that point to talking about his own platform, which involved expedited prosecution of gang members. Nothing like two completely different ways of looking at the issue, Meg thought wryly, but mostly she was trying to keep her jaw from dropping, because he seemed to have not quite realized what he'd said.
When Frisoli finished, Meg turned to face the audience again. Josh was sitting in the second row, and she thought he might have just winked at her. She smiled calmly, and squared her shoulders back. "I'm sure my opponent didn't mean to imply that I don't sympathize with the anguish that victims of violent crime experience," she said, pausing for just a moment to let her point sink in. Then she went on to answer the question, which had been about her plan for an independent investigation of the Big Dig. But she knew she'd made her point, and Frisoli was rattled for the rest of the debate. That was when she really got the idea that she was going to win this thing.
"So I heard you were quite sassy at your debate last night."
Meg laughed, wedging the phone in her ear. "They televise Massachusetts election coverage in France now?" she said. Beth, in a turn of events that would never stop being both amusing and also entirely predictable, had fucked off to Europe after she finished undergrad, planned to stay for six months, met a much older French guy, married him and stayed forever. She and Meg had racked up quite a transcontinental phone bill over the years.
"I get a satellite feed," Beth said airily. "Well, that, and post-debate phone calls from your husband."
"I've told you," Meg said, "that you need to do a better job covering up your affair with him. I'm going to figure it out any day now, you know." She was sitting in the parking lot of the campaign office in Kendall Square. She'd been about to turn on her car, but with only one good hand, she couldn't really drive and hold her cell phone at the same time.
"I don't know about that," Beth said. "You've always been a bit dense. I used to say, there goes that Powers girl, she's got a head like a nice big brick."
"Hopefully it'll be good enough for government work," Meg said. "Last night, I don't know, I kind of felt like it was my blazer incident."
"She'd be damn proud of you. I don't need to tell you that, you know that."
"Oh, I don't know, statewide office? I don't think she'd really be all that impressed until I was appointed UN ambassador or something."
"Well," Beth said, sighing dramatically, "I'm sure she'd appreciate the effort."
Meg looked across the parking lot, and saw some interns leaving the office. She hoped they wouldn't see her sitting like an idiot alone in her car in the near dark. "I wonder what she'd think about how people are only going to vote for me because I'm her daughter," she said.
"You don't really mean that," Beth said quickly.
"Come on. It's not exactly untrue," Meg said. She was sort of surprised she'd blurted that one out.
"So, whatever, maybe it's true," Beth said. "Who cares?"
"What do you mean?" Meg said, twisting her car keys in her lap.
"If you get elected, will you do a good job?"
It was a simple question, but Meg thought about it for a minute anyway. She thought about implementing a comprehensive statewide campaign to address drunken driving, and appointing an Inspector General to investigate the clusterfuck that was the Big Dig, and reforming sex offender notification laws, and possibility of being able to work with a Democratic governor after sixteen years of Republicans in the corner office. "Yes," Meg said finally. "At least, I think I will."
"Then it doesn't matter why they vote for you," Beth said. "You're going to do good things. She would have said that was enough."
"You're probably right," Meg said. She ran one finger around the circle of the steering wheel. It was almost completely dark now.
"Of course I am," Beth said cheerfully. "Attorney General Powers-Feldman has a really nice ring to it."
"Are you kidding?" Meg said. "It sounds like a bag of marbles."
"Maybe," Beth said. "But I think you'll make it work."