Behind Closed Doors – C3

DISCLAIMER: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.

-BCD-

Chapter 3: The White House Women’s Luncheon

A women’s luncheon? I’m good with women. They are one of my strongest demographics. Why didn’t I get an invite?

Yes, a women’s lunch. Do you know the First Lady?

Ah, there’s my mistake. Am I missing the men’s lunch?

I don’t think there is one.

There should be. Full of cigars, whiskey, and golf.

I’m positive those types of meetings occur daily. You must not know the right people. ; )

Then I have more work to do. Have fun.

Edward and I have been texting and talking over the phone for the past few weeks as we continue to get to know one another. We have a lot in common and find ourselves discussing current events for hours. He’s curious and charming as he quizzes me nightly about many of my favorite things from foods to places. We’ve even shared childhood stories, laughing about some of our most embarrassing moments.

I have to admit I like hearing from him and my comfort level grows with every interaction. But we haven’t had a chance to get together in person since the hockey game, and I’m hoping our schedules will allow for a date in the near future.

“Bella, my dear. How are you?” Dori Volturi leans in to kiss each side of my face in a move they must teach in trophy wife school.

I tuck away my phone, needing to end my conversation with Edward, and focus on those around me. “I’m busy, but great.”

“Wonderful. I was shopping with your mother earlier this week before I went to New York with the girls. She was upset to miss today’s luncheon because she was feeling under the weather.”

I’m positive a more accurate statement would be my mother was feeling the effects of one too many cocktails. I’m always amazed how Dori, the ex-wife, and my mother, the current wife, get along so well. It’s even weirder that they are neighbors, but in Phil and Dori’s divorce, neither wanted to give up their prized mansion. However, in the end, Phil purchased the larger estate across the street and moved in with my mother, while Dori gutted their home with Phil picking up the tab. Not long after their divorce, she married Caius, who moved into her remodeled mansion, but kept his extravagant home here in D.C.

“I’ll need to call her and check in soon.” My mother doesn’t miss me or she would call; however, it’s always a nice sentiment. Eventually, enough time will pass, and she will reach out due to guilt.

“I’m sure she would love to hear from you.”

Right.

I’m ready to change this dead-end subject. “How was New York?”

Dori lights up. “Oh, Bella. It was fantastic. Bree and Vic are both under contract with IMG Models.”

“Wow, that’s exciting. They’re so young.”

“Nineteen and twenty are hardly considered young in modeling. I told them they both need to get to New York immediately, or their best years will pass them by while they sit around Phil’s pool or mine all year. Thankfully, they are no longer wasting away their lives, but it took my high-heeled Manolos in their asses to do the trick. I’m thrilled they both chose to go down a path that was so rewarding for me. I need to find them an apartment, and hopefully, they can keep an eye on one another.”

“Are Victoria and Bree here today?” I look around hoping to avoid the dynamic duo.

“Yes, I think they are talking with Didi’s girls, Chelsea and Corin. You’ve met them, right? Make sure you say hello if you get a chance.”

Didi Volturi is the wife of Marcus Volturi, the senator from New York. In the senate, the Volturi brothers are a force to be reckoned with, as they have considerable power. There isn’t a committee or an issue with which one of the three isn’t involved. However, their wives aren’t far behind. They maneuver the political scene with ease. I’ve always liked Dori, but her daughters, Victoria and Bree, are nightmares I avoid when given the opportunity.

“I will say hello when I get the chance. It was lovely seeing you again, Dori.”

“It’s always a pleasure.” She smiles and begins a new conversation with a nearby guest.

Someone comes up behind me and locks our arms together. I look over, and instantly, I am relieved to find Angela who whispers in my ear. “That wasn’t too bad, was it?”

“No, Dori is always great, but her girls and Didi’s girls get on my last nerve.”

“Well, come on. Let me introduce you to my boss.”

Angela and I make our way over to one of the more intimidating groups of women here. I recognize Sully Volturi, Aro’s wife; the Secretary of Education, Esme Platt; and Carmen Rodríguez, the Vice President’s wife. They are all smiling and laughing at something Justice Kate Denali shares, and I’m hoping we aren’t interrupting at the wrong time.

“Excuse me, Justice Denali, I would like to introduce you to my best friend and roommate, Isabella Swan.”

“Hello, Isabella. Angela tells me the two of you graduated from Harvard, and you are now a reporter for the Post? I’m a Harvard alum myself.”

“Yes. I did an internship with the Boston Globe then took my job with the Post. I’ve been there for two years.”

“Then you must know a dear friend of ours, Carlisle Cullen. He and Garrett, my husband, played rugby together during college, which was quite a sight to see.”

I smile at the thought of Professor Cullen playing rugby.

“Professor Cullen was my advisor during my undergrad, but he continued to mentor me throughout my internship with the Boston Globe and while I’ve been working at the Washington Post.”

“Carlisle must think you’re very special for such a close-working relationship. I’m pleased he took you under his wing. His network of connections is endless.”

“He truly is an invaluable resource. We are sorry to interrupt; please don’t let us keep you. It was lovely finally getting the chance to meet. Angela holds you in the utmost regard.”

“Angela speaks highly of you as well, and I was adamant she would introduce us when the next opportunity presented itself.”

“Enjoy your lunch, Justice Denali.”

“Thank you. Please do the same, and don’t be a stranger. If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. I’m always willing to help a rising talent.”

“Thank you.”

With Angela busy talking to a very pregnant Emily Young-Uley, Sam’s wife, I decide to grab something to drink. Sam is another transplant from back home, who was appointed by the President. He stepped into the role of Deputy Secretary of State and spends a lot of time traveling the world.

As I step up near the bar, I notice one of my not-so favorite people, Leah Clearwater, waiting as well. She isn’t my biggest fan, since I’m good friends with her husband, Jacob. Their marriage was arranged by their fathers, and not a day goes by when Leah doesn’t remind everyone of her unhappiness.

“What do you mean you aren’t serving liquor? Not even a mimosa?”

“I’m sorry. We are only serving non-alcoholic beverages today, Mrs. Black.”

“Don’t call me that. It’s Clearwater, and fine, I’ll take a Diet Coke.” She looks around to see who is nearby, witnessing her tantrum, then acknowledges my presence. “Oh, hello, Bella. I didn’t see you standing there.”

“Hi, Leah. How are you?”

“I’ve been better.” She rolls her eyes as the server hands her the Diet Coke she’s requested.

“Are you adjusting to life in the White House?”

“No. I hate it. There’s someone constantly following me around. We had much more freedom when my father was governor in Washington.”

“I can’t imagine what that’s like, but your father has new enemies. You should be protected at all times. Jacob doesn’t seem to mind, does he?”

“No. Jacob is the picture-perfect son-in-law who can do no wrong, according to Mom and Dad.”

I look around hoping to find Sue before our meal starts and spot her across the room.

“It was good to see you again, Leah. I’m going to say hello to your mother real quick.”

“Sure. See you later, Bella.”

As I’m walking around the room, I see another familiar face and stop to hug Rachel, Jacob’s sister, who is now married to Paul Lahote. President Clearwater appointed Paul as Deputy Secretary of Interior, which keeps him extremely busy, as he handles Native American affairs. The President is determined to right many wrongs for Native Americans, and has brought a new focus to their most prominent issues.

Sue has her arms stretched out, ready for a hug, before I take the final steps in her direction.

“Bella, I’m so glad you could make it. Let me introduce you to our Special Events Coordinator here at the White House, Alice Brandon. Oh wait, is it Whitlock now, Alice, or are you keeping your maiden name?”

“Alice Whitlock is fine, but most people know me by Brandon. Regardless, it’s wonderful to meet you finally, Bella. Sue speaks highly of you.”

“I hope all good.”

“Oh, trust me. It is. We are almost ready to start serving lunch. So, I’m going to sneak back into the kitchen and let the chef know we are about ready.”

“Nice to meet you, Alice.”

“You too. Maybe we can grab a coffee or have lunch together one day.”

“Sounds good. I would like that.”

We watch as Alice disappears into the crowd, then Sue easily picks back up our conversation.

“You’ll love Alice. She reminds me so much of you, and she has been a wonderful asset for us as we transition to life here. Bella, it’s so different from Washington. I miss those times when we were having a fish fry in the backyard or walking along First Beach.”

“I agree. Life on the East Coast is very different from back home. I find myself missing the bonfires on the beach most.”

“I’ve got an idea. We should have you and your dad over for dinner one night upstairs in the private residence. I can ask Billy and Jacob. Who knows where Seth is? I think he’s giving security a constant migraine. It may be their new code word for him.”

I laugh. “Seth is a handful.”

“Bella, he’s my son, but dear Lord, the trouble he can find himself in so fast boggles my mind.”

“Just let us know. I’m sure Dad won’t want to miss an opportunity for all of us to hang out like old times.”

“I can cook. I doubt the chef here would understand our concept of a fish fry, and I know Harry will want to plan a night when there’s a game to watch as well. I wonder if I can have some of that beer Charlie loves shipped from back home.”

“Rainier beer. He does love his ‘Vitamin R’.” I chuckle. “Sue, I’m going to run to the restroom before we get started.”

“All right, Bella. Thank you for coming today, and I’ll let you know when we have time for a La Push-Forks-style dinner.”

“I’ll talk with you later, Sue.” After one last hug, Sue is the perfect hostess who moves to welcome another guest, making everyone feel at ease and comfortable in one of the Nation’s most prestigious homes.

When I push open the heavy bathroom door, I find a few women gathered in front of the mirrors, touching up their makeup. I recognize two of them as Justice Denali’s sisters, Tanya and Irina. If there’s a party invitation they want, the two of them can seek it out better than any bloodhound. I don’t know anyone whose faces are plastered across the society pages more than the Denali sisters; though, the extremely private Justice Denali seems to be the exception. An older woman I don’t recognize is in a deep discussion with Tanya, but the other woman, whose reflected smile matches my own, I would know a mile away.

“Bella! Long time, no see. How are you?”

“Jessica, I’m surprised you’re here.”

“Well, don’t tell anyone, but I wasn’t technically invited. I ran into Alice the other day, and she was sweet enough to extend me an invitation. Do you know her? She’s a doll. Anyway, she didn’t know I was in D.C. this week, but Michael is here visiting with some colleagues on the Hill and left me to my own devices. The damage I did to his credit cards yesterday will teach him to leave me alone again.”

Picturing the Former Governor of Florida, Reverend Michael Newton, upset about the spending habits of his third wife, Jessica, isn’t new. During their time in the Florida Governor’s Mansion, the press was constantly after her for her extravagant tastes. However, with people like my stepfather, Phil, or the Volturis in attendance, expectations are high with contributions reaching unthinkable levels.

With the twenty-year age difference between Jessica and her husband, she’s been labeled a gold digger and called every name in the book. However, that’s never dampened my fondness for her or her sense of adventure.

“Who are you kidding? You have the Reverend wrapped around your finger, and he doesn’t stand a chance at being upset.”

“Oh, Bella, I always enjoy your company. Do you know where you are sitting? Maybe we can get a couple of seats together.”

“I’m not sure. I didn’t check the seating chart yet, but I need to do so before lunch begins. Give me a minute, and I’ll be right out.”

Jessica is thrilled to have found a friend, and agrees to go check the assignments ahead of me and see if Alice can shift her into a seat at my table.

When I finish, I move to the mirror and reapply my lipstick. I find the older woman from earlier still there while the others left, leaving us alone.

“Hello.” I give her a polite smile and watch her pack up her bag.

“You’re Bella Swan.”

It isn’t a question, but I don’t want to be rude. “Yes, and you are—”

“Shelly Cope. I’m an agent based here in D.C.”

“Oh, nice to meet you.” Her interest in continuing this conversation seems odd, but I try to play along. “I’m a reporter with no interest in representation.”

She ignores my statement and continues with her own agenda. “I understand we have a mutual acquaintance.”

I’m not following her, so I can’t imagine to whom she’s referring, but she waits for any recognition by me. When I don’t come up with the answer, she fills in the blank.

“Edward Masen. He’s one of my clients with a very promising career.”

“Oh, yes. I’ve met Edward.” I try to downplay my knowledge of him, but she seems to be a bulldog with her own information.

“I know. Actually, I understand it’s more than that.”

How would she know that? I wonder if Edward’s said something to her about me, or she’s overheard him talking to me on the phone.

“I’m not sure I’m following you.”

“Let me be clear, Ms. Swan. I know who you are—not everyone has had the opportunities that have been laid at your feet. It must be nice having your daddy pulling strings for you to land a cushy job at the Post and access to the President whenever your heart desires. Even I could be a successful reporter with those perks.

“Did the State of Washington pay for your Harvard education, or did the President’s contributors help you out? After all, a cop’s salary only goes so far. Although, you do have access to money from both sides of the aisle with your rich stepfather in Florida. Isn’t that right?”

She clearly has the wrong idea about me, as I’ve worked my butt off to get here without any extra favors from anyone. I came to the East Coast on my own to attend Harvard, based on my scholarships, which all happened long before Harry Clearwater ran for President or even Governor.

“You don’t know what you’re—”

She cuts me off before I have a chance to defend myself. “Save it. I’m invested in Edward, not you. He’s going to be big. I’m grooming him for greatness. He doesn’t need a clinger when he has the potential to be so much more beyond a Sunday morning talk show. I’ve done my research, and you aren’t exactly ‘power couple’ material.

“Don’t be the reason he doesn’t make it, Ms. Swan. People love him, and his numbers are climbing each week. He doesn’t need your baggage casting him in a negative light. I understand he’s easily distracted, and you’re the flavor of the month. He is a man, but it’s my job to keep everything on track. He has aspirations, and I’m going to be the one to help him achieve them.

“Let’s hope we don’t need to have this conversation again,” Shelly warns, then heads toward the door. She turns back and a devious smile crosses her face. “Enjoy your lunch, Ms. Swan. I know I will because being in the White House is a privilege not many get to experience.”

I’m not sure how long I stand there, stunned speechless, but the vibrating of my phone pulls me back to the present. When I check it, I see I have a text from Edward.

I can’t wait to hear about your day. Call me tonight.

I don’t respond and put my phone back in my bag. In light of my conversation with Shelly, I’m already second-guessing our intent with this fledgling relationship and wonder if it’s doomed before we get started.

A/N: Huge thank yous Hadley Hemingway and purpleC305 for pre-reading and Midnight Cougar for beta-ing. xx

After this chapter, you have a greater insight into who else is a factor in Edward & Bella’s relationship. This was never revealed in the one shot because it was EPOV and he doesn’t know about Shelly’s conversation with Bella at the White House, which means Bella kept it… a secret.