Boy Meets Girl
The arrival of a string of black SUVs outside of Sally's Place, a Washington, DC homeless shelter in the part of town that sometimes scared people who didn't live work and play in it*, meant one of three things: a politician in need of a photo shoot, a celebrity in need of community service, or some serious shit was about to go down. In this case there was no celebrity or shit**, just the President of the United States, who needed the appearance of empathy, so was appearing at Sally's.
A phalanx of Secret Service agents exited the cars and created a secure path to the front door. President Stockbridge jumped out of his SUV and bee lined for the door, only remembering to wave to the television cameras once he was safely inside, so awkwardly brushed his hair back with his outstretched hand. Meanwhile, the SUV from which the President had just departed began to roll away, stopped, backed up and disgorged the President's son from the back seat. Daniel Webster "Web" Stockbridge sulked his way into Sally's at a pace best described as turgid.
Sally's was a three story townhouse with a common room and kitchen on the first floor. The twenty five or so people staying at Sally's were already forming a line for dinner and the President was being given some basic instructions on how best to convey mashed potatoes from the tray to the plate. Web oozed toward the back of the room and found a seat at the table farthest from the cameras, his father, and the mashed potatoes.
A teenage girl sitting across the table from him asked, "Are you with him?"
Web hoped she was talking to someone else, but since they were the only two people at the table, that seemed like a long shot. He then thought maybe she was one of those homeless people that talked to themselves--he was pretty sure it was homeless people who did that. Finally, he thought he better say something before the girl starting assuming he was the one with issues. And, if you knew Kayla (which you do from the Prologue, hint, hint), you know she was already thinking this kid had issues.
"Um, yeah. He's my dad," Web responded.
"Dragged you along for the photo op, huh?" Kayla observed.
"My dad and I got here two days ago. We were caught in that hurricane and had to hitch a ride up here. Can you believe all that rain and wind. I heard people died," she went on.
Web had a faint sense that there had been some sort of disaster recently, so maybe this was was what she was talking about.
"Yeah," Web said, because saying something seemed to be required.
Kayla studied him now. He didn't look like an idiot. He looked like a pretty normal teenager, skinny, brown hair, messy and in need of a cut, a faint red spot on his forehead that was likely the remnants of a pimple. She decided to give it one more shot--both guns a'blazing.
"What's it feel like living in the White House? How many rooms are there? Have you been in them all? Are there secret passageways? There must be secret passageways."
Web's first reaction was like that of any man who's asked what he's thinking or feeling right now, he panicked, then lied, then actually thought about it, lied again more thoughtfully, then finally realized he did have feelings and failed completely at expressing them. What Kayla heard was, "Uh, a thousand, no, maybe a hundred, but I've been in them all, of course, wait, what, secret passageways, do you want to come over?"
"Definitely," said Kayla.
At that moment, on the other side of the room another woman was equally as exasperated with the rantings of a man. Gale had slid in the door just as the President was dumping the second spoonful of mashed potatoes onto the floor. His overall ratio of potato to plate was horrifying, but somehow it came off as folksy to folks rather than bumbling and obnoxious. Gale was definitely not in the folksy camp.
She spotted the President's son across the room talking to one of the residents, which was strange, because she was not aware the kid had that capability. She wandered over, if for no other reason than to avoid being filmed looking horrified at her boss. Before she had a chance to say a word, Web jumped up in front of her.
"Gale, hi. Can you take us back to the White House?"
God, it irked her that he called her Gale, but repeated dirty looks and repeated "don't call me Gale" seemed to have no effect. However, in this particular she was willing to overlook it, if their agendas aligned.
She glanced towards the President to see him begin to juggle three ladles. As each one dropped onto the floor, a Sally's Place worker grabbed it and ran in the back to wash it thoroughly.
"Where are the ladles?" the President cried, as the food line ground to a halt.
"Let's go," said Gale.
*It also sometimes scared the people who live, work and play there, but they couldn't afford condos in places less scary, so were assumed by those that could to be cool with it all.
**To be fully transparent, the President's son was referred to by some less than discreet senior staff as "that little shit," but never as "some serious shit."