Read an Excerpt
The Daughters Join the Party
By Philbin, Joanna
PoppyCopyright © 2011 Philbin, Joanna
All right reserved.
Emma Conway stood up, looked carefully around, and stepped away from the clump of bushes in front of Flanner Hall. Nobody had followed them, thank God. The main quad was still, except for the night sounds of crickets and sputtering sprinklers, and the August sky was awash with stars. Emma felt a warm breeze caress her face and let her breath return to normal. In almost twelve months of living and studying at the Rutherford School, she’d never seen it look so beautiful. She wondered why she’d never snuck out of her dorm before.
“Okay, guys, we’re cool,” she said.
Behind her, Tiffany and Rachel stood up slowly from the bushes. Tiffany smoothed her perpetually messy blond ponytail and looked uneasily over her shoulder. “I thought I heard someone,” she said. “You sure no one’s following us?”
“We’re fine, Tiffany,” Emma replied.
There was a hooting sound, and Tiffany quickly squatted back down.
“Oh my God, Tiffany,” Rachel said in her condescending voice. “That was an owl.” She flicked her glossy Brazilian blowout–treated hair out of her eyes and turned to Emma. “So, now what? You promised us a party. Where is it?” Rachel’s attitude could be a little much, even if she was the bravest girl at Rutherford—besides Emma, of course.
“First I have to get inside,” Emma said, gesturing to Flanner Hall.
“Wait. How?” Tiffany asked, wide-eyed.
“I’ve got to climb in,” Emma said.
“You’re going to climb in?” Tiffany asked. “How are you going to get up there?”
Emma eyed Jeremy Dunn’s window. It was the one with the peeling Obama sticker, directly above the front door. She hadn’t remembered it looking that high before. Earlier that day, Flanner Hall had looked almost friendly, with its cheerful red bricks, its white windows, and the antique weather vane that spun in the wind. But now, in the moonlit darkness, the dorm looked as immense and forbidding as a Gothic castle. “It’s not that bad,” she bluffed. “I’ve climbed trees that were higher than that.”
“And then what?” Tiffany said. “What do we do once we get in there? What if someone hears us?”
“Calm down, Tiff. You’re summer students. I’m the one who actually goes to school here. I’m the one who could really get in trouble.” Yeah, right, Emma thought. The most that could possibly happen to her was another detention. And she’d done enough of those already that she didn’t care about another lost hour. “Okay, when I say ‘go,’ we run.”
“Again?” Rachel asked. “I’m wearing platforms.”
Tiffany just sighed heavily and nodded.
Emma crouched down into ready position. “Get ready,” she said. “Get set… Go!”
She took off in a sprint across the quad, her bare feet sinking into the dirt. She could almost see herself as if she were in a movie: her dark brown, shoulder-length hair waving in the wind, her heavy brows knit together, her dark blue eyes ringed, as usual, with a little too much purple eyeliner. Finally, she thought, freedom. For a solid year, she’d lived on the most regimented schedule imaginable. Seven hours of class, two hours of sports, then three hours of study time, then sleep—that was the Rutherford schedule, six days a week. There were fifteen minutes before dinner when people could socialize on the quad—if the weather was nice—and a half hour in between study time and lights-out for visiting people’s dorms, but other than that, students had to be busy and occupied. Sunday was the only free day, but there were usually hours of homework, and nowhere to go except for the sad excuse for a mall in town. She’d thought boarding school would be an escape from rules and chores and parental supervision—not to mention her painfully small and snobby private school in New York City. Instead, Rutherford had been anything but an escape. Except for this moment, right now.
She stopped a few feet from the front of the building and leaned over her bare knees, panting. Her favorite denim cutoffs dug into the tops of her thighs. Sweat trickled down the back of her neck. It had felt so good to run, but now she hoped she didn’t smell. Discreetly she sniffed the armpit of her Cheap Trick T-shirt. No offensive odor. She was ready.
“I think I twisted my ankle,” Tiffany said, hobbling to a stop.
“Oh, please,” Rachel muttered.
“I think I really did,” Tiffany said, limping a little on her Keds.
“I’m sure you’ll be okay,” Emma said. She looked up. Every window in Flanner Hall was dark, including Jeremy’s, which was directly above her. For a moment she wondered if he’d forgotten about their plan.
Suddenly the window jerked open a few inches, then a few more, until a head stuck out in the dark. “You coming up or not?” Jeremy whispered in his sexy, sarcastic voice.
“Be right there,” she whispered back.
Jeremy Dunn was the only thing that had made summer session tolerable. She’d noticed him that first day, at lunch, on line in the dining hall. Then again, she’d noticed lots of other guys that day, too—the freakishly tall guy with Taylor Lautner’s eyes in her World History class, and the boy with the floppy strawberry-blond hair who’d quietly sketched X-Men all through Art class. But the moment she’d seen Jeremy, as she walked over to the salad bar, there had been something fascinating about him. Maybe it was what he wore: green camouflage-patterned flip-flops and a T-shirt with a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, designed to look like Starsky and Hutch. Or maybe it was his longish, straight, sandy-colored hair, which he tucked behind his ears. Or the focused way he used the salad tongs to drop falafel onto his plate one by one, as if he were conducting a science experiment.
She made her move at the soup station. “Gross,” she said, looking at the cream of broccoli soup, which had formed a solid, congealed surface of oil and cream. “That’s, like, the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“I’ll eat a bowl if you will,” he dared. He turned to look at her. His eyes twinkled in a way that made her momentarily speechless.
“You’re on,” she said. She reached for the ladle, dumped some in her bowl, and then handed it to him.
“Hey, you didn’t get enough gelatinous surface in yours,” he said, dumping more soup into her bowl. “We have to make this fair, after all.”
They sat down together at an empty table, which was fine with Emma. She didn’t really have a regular group of friends.
“Okay, you ready?” he asked, his spoon poised.
Emma looked at the green lumpy soup. “I think I might throw up.”
“Come on,” he said with mock seriousness. “No pain, no gain.”
Thirty minutes and the most disgusting bowl of soup in her life later, Emma was in love. Jeremy was the guy she had been waiting to meet at Rutherford—funny and reckless and genuinely smart. He lived in Boston and had come to Rutherford to pull up his grades. Like her, he’d been called an “underachiever” by more teachers than he could count. Also like her, he loved Led Zeppelin, thought Twitter was lame, and knew every line from Superbad. Starting that first day, they ate every meal together, hung out on the quad together before dinner, and used enlargers that were right next to each other in Photography 2. And Jeremy seemed to like certain things about her, too. Or at least, he didn’t question them. He never asked her why she wore so much eyeliner, or what she thought of her senator dad, who everyone was already saying should run for president, or why she spent so much time alone, or why she sometimes wore tiny skull earrings instead of the hoops all the other girls wore. And for the half hour every night that the inmates of Rutherford were allowed to visit one another’s dorms, she and Jeremy would curl up on the sofa in their respective common rooms, cracking up over funnyordie.com.
In short, they were practically going out, except for one thing: Jeremy hadn’t kissed her. Yet. And as the last week of summer session began, Emma knew that she needed to help things along.
“So am I coming to you tonight?” she’d asked him earlier that day, as they lay on the quad before dinner. Even though their arms weren’t touching Emma could feel the warmth of his skin, just inches away.
“This dorm-visiting thing is so lame,” Jeremy moaned, picking at a handful of grass. “Nine to nine thirty? Even on Saturday night? I just wish we could do our own thing,” he said, his hand edging closer to hers on the grass. “No signing in, no watching the clock.”
Emma’s heart skipped a beat. Was he saying what she thought he was saying? Did he wish he could be alone with her? “What if I came over tonight?” she heard herself ask. “After lights-out?”
“You mean, what if you snuck out?” he asked, sounding unsure.
“Yeah.” She’d been wondering what his room looked like for weeks. She could just picture his desk spread with books, his clothes hanging out of the dresser drawers, his bedspread and sheets in a ball on his bed…
“Well, you’d have to come in through the window,” he said, sounding more excited about the idea. “Vince’s room is right next to the door.”
Vince Truffardi was the head prefect of Flanner and a notorious discipline freak. The rumor was that he’d deferred college for a year so he could stick around Rutherford and continue busting kids for minor infractions.
Emma turned over onto her stomach. “You’re the Obama sticker, right?” she asked, pretending she didn’t know which window was his.
Jeremy turned over onto his stomach, too. Now their fingers were practically touching. “Yup. Second floor.”
Emma stared at the window, thinking of all the times she’d imagined climbing through it. “No problem. I used to climb trees all the time at our old house upstate.”
“You want to bring friends?” he asked. “And I’ll have some of the guys there?”
Her heart sank a little. A party hadn’t been what she’d had in mind. “Sure,” she said.
“Cool.” He stood up and held out his hand to help her. “Come at eleven,” he said.
“Eleven fifteen,” she said, standing up and wiping the back of her shorts. “And you better be there to let me in.”
“Absolutely,” Jeremy said, grinning.
Emma’s heart skipped again. She’d been right all along: He definitely liked her.
Except now, standing under his window, she wasn’t exactly sure if this was going to work out.
“Just climb that,” Rachel said, gesturing to the drainpipe that shot up the wall toward the roof, through a patch of ivy. It ran alongside Jeremy’s window. “And pull yourself up with those.” She pointed to a metal hook that curved around the pipe, bolting it to the building. There seemed to be a hook every three feet.
“And we’re supposed to do that, too?” Tiffany asked.
Emma ignored her. “Okay, I’m going,” she whispered, grabbing hold of the first-floor windowsill. She climbed onto it, saying a prayer that this wasn’t Vince’s room.
“Shhh!” Tiffany hissed.
Standing on the windowsill, Emma reached for the metal hook. Then she swung herself over the pipe and hugged it with her legs. She pulled one foot up the wall and then the other, so that she was in rock-climbing position. The metal piece groaned under her weight. With one tentative arm she reached up for the next hook and grabbed it.
“Good job,” she heard Jeremy whisper in the dark, just as she felt the hook come loose in her hand. With a creak, one end of the drainpipe swung away from the wall.
Tiffany screamed. Emma realized that she was falling.
Pain shot up her spine as she landed on her butt. The ground beneath her felt wet. “Ow!” she exclaimed, a little too loudly.
Lights blinked on in some of the windows. Including Vince Truffardi’s. Emma heard Vince scramble to his feet out of bed. Tiffany and Rachel turned and ran, just as the door to Flanner flew open. “Who’s out here?” Vince’s voice was loud and strident.
She stood up and brushed herself off. “Over here,” she said. There was no use trying to hide.
The beam of Vince’s flashlight hit her square in the face. “Hi, Vince,” she said cheerfully. “What’s up?”
His flashlight traveled up and down her body. “Whose room were you trying to climb into?”
The flashlight shone straight into her face again, making her squint. “Nobody’s?”
“I have a problem with sleepwalking.”
He clicked off the flashlight. In the moonlight, Emma could just make him out. Vince was short, with chicken legs and overdeveloped arms, and his hair was already thinning. It was no surprise that he seemed irritated all the time.
“You’re in violation of code five-two-four,” he barked. “Trying to gain unauthorized access to another student’s room.”
“Vince, do you really think I can climb a building?”
“At this point, Emma, I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “Let’s go. Time to see Dean Ward.”
“Awesome,” Emma said. “I can’t wait.”
He grabbed her arm and with a sharp yank pulled her across the wet grass. Emma thought about Jeremy at his window, watching all of this. She knew what he was probably thinking: Yeah, that’s Emma. Not afraid of anything. Getting busted and keeping her cool.
But just before they turned left on the path, Emma glanced back over her shoulder. To her surprise, Jeremy wasn’t in the window. It was dark. And someone had even drawn the curtain.
“I’m going to ask you one more time,” said Mr. Moyers, tapping his meaty fingers on his desk blotter. With his pale face, hangdog eyes, and rainbow-striped necktie, the headmaster of Rutherford looked like a very sad clown. “Who were you trying to see in Flanner Hall last night? And be honest, Emma. For both our sakes.”
Emma shifted in the leather wing chair across from his desk. She could easily just tell him. Jeremy Dunn hadn’t shown up for breakfast, and when she’d passed by him on the quad on the way to first period, he’d actually looked right past her. But she wasn’t a tattletale. “Nobody. I was having trouble sleeping, so I just felt like taking a walk.”
“A walk,” Mr. Moyers repeated doubtfully. The afternoon sun poured in through the tall window behind him. Through it Emma could see two girls walking to the Art Building past the massive elm trees. She wished she were with them.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Emma said. “Doesn’t that ever happen to you?”
“Emma, do you like being in this office?” Mr. Moyers asked, leaning forward. “At this point, I feel I have to ask.”
She took in the framed degrees in education from Yale and Columbia, and the cheesy poster of a rainbow with a quote that read: There is nothing impossible to him who will try.—Alexander the Great. And of course the electric guitar leaning against the wall, which Mr. Moyers supposedly used for “jam sessions” with some of the faculty members. Just thinking about that made her cringe. “I guess it’s kind of cozy,” she said. “Though you might want to think about redecorating soon.”
“Emma.” Mr. Moyers sighed. “We’re going to have to discuss your future here at Rutherford.”
“My future?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said soberly. “Your future.”
Those ominous words still hung in the air when a brisk knock on the door made her jump. “Yes?” Mr. Moyers called out.
His assistant, Kathy, stuck her gray, permed head into the room. Emma always got the impression that Kathy was secretly listening on speaker to everything that went on in Mr. Moyers’s office. “Senator Conway is here,” she announced. “And his wife.”
“My parents?” Emma exclaimed, sitting straight up in her chair. “But they’re on vacation. At Lake George. Nuclear fallout wouldn’t get them to leave.”
Mr. Moyers coolly flapped his rainbow necktie. “They didn’t seem to have a problem coming in. Especially when I told them the gravity of the situation.”
A shiver ran through her as she gripped the chair’s armrests. She wasn’t going to just be getting detention. That much was clear. “Can I speak to them first?” she asked, getting to her feet.
Mr. Moyers blinked, surprised.
“They’re my parents. Isn’t that my constitutional right?”
“Go ahead,” he said with a resigned shrug.
She opened the door. Her dad was talking to Kathy. He held a miniature bronzed football that he’d picked up from her desk, and his large green eyes were lit up, the way they always were when he talked to a voter. “You said your husband’s a Giants fan?” he asked her, a faint New York accent curling around his words. “Well, you tell him from me that I think they’re going to have a terrific season. And if they don’t, I will personally—”
“Dad?” she interrupted.
His expression went from folksy to furious. “Hello, Emma,” he said soberly. He put down the football and crossed his arms over his barrel chest. Adam Conway was just over six feet, but he could suddenly appear several inches taller if he wanted to, especially if he was annoyed. “I take it you’re here to plead your case?” he asked.
Kathy stood up from her chair. “I’ll just leave you two alone,” she said, and ducked out the door.
“Where’s Mom?” Emma asked, looking around. Mr. Moyers’s waiting room was permanently dim, even in the middle of the day.
“She’s in the ladies room,” her father said. He cocked his head to the side. His thick, wavy brown hair had yet to go gray, but it seemed to be getting lighter at the temples. And it was always strange to see him out of a suit, and in a blue polo and khakis.
“First of all, this has gotten way blown out of proportion,” she said. “It was barely anything. I didn’t even make it into the dorm. Nothing happened.”
“Whatever happened, it was bad enough to get your mother and me in a car at eight thirty this morning.”
“I’m just asking you to have an open mind. The way you would if Remington got into trouble.”
Her dad gave her a searing look. “Your brother doesn’t get into trouble,” he said, just as the door to the office opened and Emma’s mother entered.
“Hello, honey,” she said, reaching out her slender arms. Even in a crisis, Carolyn Conway could be counted on to look good—no, impeccable. She wore a yellow silk top and navy blue capris with gold ballet slippers, and she’d pulled her thick black hair back into a casual but chic ponytail. She didn’t wear makeup, and she was too practical to indulge in jewelry. But she did like handbags. Today she carried a bright pink Kelly bag in the crook of her arm, and it banged against Emma as she gave her mom a hug.
“Hi, Mom,” Emma muttered, getting a noseful of citrus-gardenia perfume. “Sorry about this.”
Carolyn pulled out of the hug and frowned at Emma. “So. You snuck into a boys’ dorm.”
“I tried to sneak in,” Emma said. “Huge difference.”
Her mom seemed about to say something when she noticed Emma’s T-shirt, silk-screened with Edie Sedgwick’s face, and her black skinny jeans.
“Sorry I’m not decked out in J. Crew,” Emma said.
“Nice earrings,” Carolyn said. “Skulls really send a great message.”
“Okay, let’s get this over with,” said her dad, heading toward Mr. Moyers’s office. Her mom followed.
Emma trailed behind them with a sinking feeling in her chest. She had a strong hunch that this wasn’t going to go very well.
When they walked inside, Mr. Moyers almost leaped out of his chair. “Senator, Mrs. Conway! It’s so nice to see you again,” he said, approaching them with his hand extended.
“Same here,” said Senator Conway, shaking Mr. Moyers’s hand. “And please, call me Adam.”
“Then call me Jim,” Mr. Moyers said, so excited that his eyes seemed about to bulge out of his face. “Mrs. Conway,” he said, turning to Emma’s mom.
Carolyn shook his hand. “Hello, Mr. Moyers,” she said in her brisk lawyer’s voice. Unlike her husband, she had little talent—or use—for chitchat. She sat down next to Adam on the couch.
“Emma?” Mr. Moyers said. “Do you want to join your parents?”
Emma realized that she was still standing by the door. She perched herself on the arm of the sofa and winced. Her butt still hurt from last night’s fall.
“So, uh, Jim,” her father said. He leaned forward so that his elbows rested on his knees. She’d seen him sit this way in some of the photos on his Senate Web site. SENATOR ADAM CONWAY CARES ABOUT NEW YORKERS, read the banner at the top of the page. “What can we do to help?”
“Well, I believe you know what happened here last night,” Mr. Moyers said, settling into his chair. “Leaving one’s room after lights-out, and then trying to enter another dormitory, is a serious violation of the Rutherford student code.”
“So what’s the punishment?” asked her mom. “This can’t be the first time someone has done this.”
“It’s the first time someone has violated as many codes as your daughter has,” Mr. Moyers said.
“How many are we talking about?” Emma’s father asked, casting an alarmed glance in her direction.
“Well, let’s see here…” Mr. Moyers picked up the file on his desk. “January tenth, Emma showed up in homeroom with purple hair.”
“What?” her mother exploded. “She dyed her hair?”
“Burgundy,” Emma cut in.
Mr. Moyers gave her an annoyed glance. “February fourteenth and twenty-first, she cut first and second period to sleep in.”
“I was sick,” she argued.
“When the RA went to her room,” Mr. Moyers said, “she found Emma watching a movie on her laptop.”
“Which was for class,” Emma said.
“Emma,” her father warned.
“March fifth,” he went on, “Emma was caught in the pool, with a boy, after hours.”
Emma let that one pass. Her dad sighed deeply and looked at the carpet.
“April seventeenth,” said Mr. Moyers, “Emma started a food fight in the dining hall.”
“I flung a piece of bread at someone,” she said.
“Which hit Miss Wilkie, the math teacher,” Mr. Moyers added. “May tenth—”
“Okay, we get the picture,” Adam interrupted, holding up his hand. “And then last night—”
“Our head prefect heard Emma first try to scale the boys’ dorm, and then fall on the ground.” Mr. Moyers closed the file. “Which leads me to conclude that this might not be the best place for your daughter.” He cleared his throat and swallowed. “We think it best she explore new possibilities for the coming school year.”
Her parents looked dumbfounded. “Are you saying you don’t want her to continue here?” her mom asked.
“I don’t believe Emma wants to be here, Mrs. Conway. And I think she’s doing everything she can to let us know that.”
“You know she’s dyslexic,” her mom pointed out, in a way that made Emma cringe.
“We have plenty of other students with learning disabilities who don’t have the… behavioral issues that Emma has.” Mr. Moyers swallowed again. He seemed uncomfortable. “Emma’s bright. She has the capacity to be an excellent student, despite her learning disability. But she doesn’t take school seriously. In fact, she doesn’t seem to take anything seriously.”
“That’s not fair,” Emma argued. “What about my A in Swimming? And Photography? And the social service I did at the animal shelter?”
“Emma,” Adam said sternly.
Carolyn reached over and put her hand on Emma’s arm.
“I’m sorry,” said Mr. Moyers. “But we think it’s best that you find Emma another school.”
Emma fumed silently. Come on, Dad, she thought, staring at the carpet. If he could get the Republicans and Democrats to agree on a health-care bill, he could get Mr. Moyers to keep her here. But instead of saying something persuasive and charming, her dad simply looked at her mom and held up his hands.
“All right, then,” Carolyn said, reading his signals. “We’ll take her home.”
Emma got to her feet. “It was Jeremy Dunn,” she confessed. “That’s who I was trying to see last night. He’s on the second floor of Flanner. Summer student, from Boston. Just ask him—”
“Thank you, Emma,” Mr. Moyers said, scribbling something on a pad. “And good luck.”
“That’s it?” she asked. “I just gave you a name.”
Mr. Moyers sighed. “Good-bye, Emma.”
She went straight to the door, not even waiting for her parents. This was a joke. If this school wasn’t going to give her a second chance, if it was going to kick her out for attempting to sneak into someone’s room, and if it wasn’t even going to give her a break for naming names, then she didn’t want to be here anyway.
She hurried past Kathy, who she knew had probably heard every word, and threw open the door to the hall. All she wanted to do was run back to her room, slam the door, and try to think. She just needed to be alone. Even though she knew that would be impossible. Behind her she heard her parents walk into the hall.
“Well, I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised,” Emma heard her dad say. “It was a matter of time.”
“You’re the one who thought she was ready for boarding school,” her mom replied.
“I just said we should try it,” he said. “I didn’t say it was going to be the perfect solution.”
Emma whirled around. “Can you stop talking about me like I’m not here?”
“What would you like us to do?” her father asked. “You’re walking ten paces ahead of us.”
“You didn’t even try to talk him out of it!” she said. “You didn’t even defend me.”
“Defend you?” Her mother’s voice was uncharacteristically loud. “For dyeing your hair purple? Causing food fights?”
“Of course you’d believe all that,” Emma muttered.
“Are you aware of what’s going on with your father these days?”
“No, I have no idea,” Emma said sarcastically.
There was no way she couldn’t know. For the past six months, whenever she walked by the huge flat-screen TV in the student lounge, he was all over the news. If Conway runs for president… Senator Conway put in another appearance today… The crowds showing up for Conway today were in the thousands… Sources close to the Senator say he is definitely eyeing a run… She’d see a snippet of her dad making a speech in front of a crowd, or being applauded as he walked from his town car into a building, and it would all feel like she was watching someone else. It was too surreal. But ever since he’d won the Democratic New York seat for the second time, he’d practically become a celebrity.
First there’d been the health-care bill that he’d shepherded through the Senate, the one that nobody thought would get passed. Then there’d been his book, Bridging the Divide, about his plans for a “united United States of America,” which had hit the New York Times bestseller list the day it was released and hadn’t dropped off since. Then there’d been the interview on 60 Minutes, where, when Morley Safer asked him about his plans for a campaign, he said, “I definitely haven’t ruled it out,” which only got every on-camera pundit and political blogger more obsessed over whether he might run. She would’ve had to have been trapped under a rock not to know what was going on with her dad. “Of course I know,” she said.
“Well, there’s more,” her mother said. “When we get home—”
“I’m not going to live at home.”
“Emma, your mother is trying to tell you something,” her dad said somberly.
“And I am not going to Chadwick,” Emma added. “You are not going to make me go to Remington’s school. I refuse.”
She turned and headed for the door that led out onto the quad. She needed to get some air. Expelled, she thought. It was such an ugly word.
She pushed through the doors and there, on the veranda of the administrative building, stood a man talking on a cell phone. “Yeah, we had a quick change of plans this morning,” he said in a raspy voice. “Now we’re at their daughter’s school.” His slicked-back, dark hair was beginning to thin on top, and he wore an expensive-looking black suit. He looked up and saw her. “Lemme get back to you.” He clicked off the phone. “You must be Emma,” he said, holding out his hand. “I’m Tom. Tom Beckett.”
Emma shook his hand. There had always been people hovering around her family—mostly anxious men in their twenties, who were always waiting to ferry her dad to appearances or to hand him a speech. But none of them had ever seemed this confident or well-dressed, and none had ever come with her parents to her school. “Hi,” she said uncertainly.
Just then her parents came through the doors. “Who is this?” she asked them, turning around.
“This is Tom, my chief strategist,” said her father.
“Chief strategist for what?” she asked. “You just got reelected last year.”
Her dad paused for a moment. “I’m running again, honey.”
Emma blinked. “You’re running again? For what?”
For a moment the words didn’t compute. She watched as he put his hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Tom here is the best,” her dad went on. “Came highly recommended to me by Shanks. Where is he, by the way?”
“Out by the car, on the phone,” said Tom. “He’s lining up that Parks Department event for you tonight.”
Emma tried to think of something to say. Anything.
“It all just happened,” her mother put in. “Tom came up to the house yesterday for a meeting with a few people from his team. We were going to tell you when you came home next week.”
“Come on,” her father said. “Let’s go pack up your things.”
Emma began to follow them across the quad. She was supposed to be leading them, but she was too distracted to do anything but put one foot in front of the other.
Tom Beckett slipped on a pair of black wraparound sunglasses that made him look like a cross between an alien predator and Tom Cruise. “Everything okay?” he asked her parents.
“Not exactly,” her father said, giving Emma a disapproving glance. “But then again we’re all a little used to that by now.”
As they walked the curving path to her dorm, certain images kept popping into her mind: Cameras. Crowds waving. Halls packed with people and decorated with red, white, and blue bunting. Burly Secret Service men following her every move, for the rest of her life… Okay, calm down, Emma thought. First you just have to get through this day. Then you can freak out about the rest of your life.
At her dorm she swiped her key through the slot and pulled open the door. She led the way up the staircase and unlocked the door to her single room. She tried to step in front of the terrarium on the floor and kick it under the bed, but she was too late.
“A snake?” her mom said. “You have a snake in your room?”
“That’s Archie. I found him outside the dorm,” Emma said, sliding the top door aside to pet the green garter snake.
“He’s staying here,” her mom said firmly.
“But who’s gonna take care of him?”
“It’s a snake, Emma,” her father said curtly. “It can take care of itself.”
“I’m bringing him,” she insisted. “There’s no need for him to be traumatized, too.” That’s when she noticed Tom Beckett staring at her and trying not to laugh. She glared at him.
“I’ll go bring the car around the back,” he said, excusing himself.
Adam bent over the mattress and began to pull it off the frame.
“Dad,” Emma said, “the mattress stays here. I just need the sheets.”
“Oh,” he said.
He pushed the mattress back onto the frame, and Emma and her mom pulled off the hot pink and white batik sheets. It didn’t take long to pack up the rest of her stuff: her posters of PJ Harvey and Lou Reed, her clothes, her Doc Martens, her favorite rainbowcolored hook rug, her purple beanbag chair. She dumped all of her Clairefontaine journals into a shopping bag and held on to it, in case it wound up in her dad’s hands and, God forbid, one of the journals fell out and he glimpsed a page. Her mom zipped up her bulging suitcase and then picked up a framed photo of her parents and Remington, taken at Lake George several years earlier. “You don’t want to forget this,” she said, and put it in her purse.
When everything was finally packed, Emma picked up Archie’s terrarium and closed the door behind her. So long, Rutherford, she thought. It’s been real. On her way past Tiffany and Rachel’s room she thought about scribbling a sarcastic message on their Dry Erase board—something like “Bye, guys! Vince Truffardi should be calling u later!”—but then thought better of it. The two of them weren’t worth it.
She walked across the parking lot behind the dorm toward a black SUV in the guest spot. She supposed the SUV was Tom’s—it looked like the kind of car he would drive. Emma opened the backseat door, slid Archie’s tank onto the floor in front of the seat, and then swung herself up and into the car, next to her mom and dad. Tom Beckett sat behind the wheel and beside him in the shotgun seat was another man, older than Tom and much heavier, with a mop of gray hair and a large mustache. All of his attention was focused on a small laptop resting on his knees.
“Emma, this is Michael Shanks,” her father said. “He’s my chief of staff at the Senate.”
Shanks turned around and offered Emma his hand. “Hi there,” he said in a gravelly voice. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“I haven’t heard a thing about you,” she replied with a smile, and felt her mom elbow her softly.
A few moments later they were headed south on the highway, whizzing past green trees and the occasional roadside Denny’s. It was annoying to have these two strangers in the car. She wished she could at least have half an hour alone with her mom and dad. “So, why now?” she finally asked.
“Your father set up an exploratory committee,” her mom said. “It’s a group of people in charge of finding out if it’s a good time for a candidate to run. They call people and do polling, and in the case of your dad, the response was enormous. A lot of people thought he should run for president.”
“And then there’s been the response to the book,” her father added.
“And the health-care bill,” Tom added.
“It just seemed like the right time,” her mom said.
Emma didn’t say anything. It seemed ludicrous to think that her dad should have consulted her about this first, but she almost wanted to ask him why he hadn’t.
“So, as we were saying,” Tom said, looking at Adam in the rearview mirror, “the first thing you’ll want to do is get to the steak fry in Iowa next month.”
“Already?” her mom asked. “The caucus isn’t for almost a year and a half.”
“You can’t start courting Iowa too early,” Tom said. His blue eyes were harsh and glittery in the rearview. “Most of the other candidates have already made inroads there.”
“Wait. A steak fry is important when you’re running for president?” Emma asked.
“He’s not going there for the steak; he’s going there to speak,” Tom said condescendingly. “It’s an enormous Democratic event.”
“Emma,” her mother said, taking her hand. “You can’t tell anyone about this. Not a soul. Your dad won’t be announcing this until January, at the earliest. So we have to keep this in the family.”
“Fine,” Emma said. “Does Remington know?”
“We called him yesterday,” her mom said. “He should be home by the time we get there. His plane lands at three.”
Of course he’d gotten a phone call, she thought. Her brother would always beat her in everything—grades, popularity, and parental attention, even when he was overseas. “How’d he like Cambridge?” she asked.
“You know Remington,” her dad said. “Sounds like he loved it.”
“He took post–World War Two European History and English,” said her mom. “With that and his AP classes he’s almost got the first year of college covered. Isn’t that amazing?”
Emma fought the urge to roll her eyes. Only her brother would already be started on his college courses while he was still in high school.
“We should invite some press to this event tonight,” Shanks piped up from the front seat.
“Let’s ask Bernard Summers at the Times,” Adam said. “We went to college together.”
“Don’t you know his daughter?” Carolyn asked, turning to Emma. “What’s her name? Lucy?”
“Lizzie,” Emma said. Lizzie Summers wasn’t her closest friend in the world, but they’d attended each other’s family Thanksgivings and Christmas parties. Lizzie was one of the nicer girls Emma had known when she lived in New York.
“Right. She goes to Chadwick, doesn’t she?”
Emma gripped the armrest of her seat. Don’t say anything, she thought. “Yes,” she managed to say.
“Well, then at least you’ll know someone there,” her mom said, taking out her BlackBerry.
“Wait. I have to go to this tonight?” Emma asked.
“Well, since both you and Remington will be home, yes,” she said. “And maybe you and Lizzie can talk about Chadwick.”
Emma squeezed the armrest harder. “I told you I don’t want to go to Remington’s school. Can we not talk about this like it’s a done deal?”
“Emma, it’s August fifteenth,” her mom said, fixing her with a glare. “School starts in three weeks. Where on earth do you think I can get you in by then?” Her mom pressed a button and put the phone to her ear.
Emma wanted to grab the phone, or at least yell and plead her case. But then she remembered Shanks and Tom in the front seat. She couldn’t say anything—not with them there. How convenient, she thought. Her parents had probably brought them on purpose.
With a sigh, she grabbed her iPod out of her backpack. When they got home, and they were finally alone, she would try to get her mom to listen to her. If they were finally alone. She was starting to think that the little privacy they’d had as a family was now going to disappear.
It was late afternoon when they crossed the Henry Hudson Bridge into Manhattan. As they drove down the West Side Highway, the Hudson River looked as smooth as glass. Beside it a steady stream of bicyclists and Rollerbladers rode up and down the path, luxuriating in the beautiful summer day. Emma remembered her dad teaching her how to ride a bike on this path. Remington had tried to teach her how to Rollerblade, too, but it had been a disaster. She’d refused to wear kneepads and skinned both her knees pretty badly. But for the few moments before she’d fallen, she’d loved the feeling of skating near the water, and being a part of the city. She’d never loved New York the way her brother did, but now, as they drove, it felt good to be home.
Home, specifically, was a bright, sprawling apartment on Eighty-ninth between Lexington and Third, not too far from where her dad had grown up, in an even more sprawling apartment on Park Avenue. Adam Conway came from money—lots of it. His father was Remington Conway, a brilliant lawyer who founded one of the first literary agencies in the country. Along with his two older brothers, Adam attended Andover, summered in Southampton, and made annual trips to Italy and the South of France to brush up on his language skills. It was expected that he’d go to work for his dad, or at least become a lawyer. But when he decided to run for president of his class at Harvard Law School, and won, everything changed. He decided to go into politics.
At first his parents were aghast. But Adam Conway’s career took off right away. At twenty-six he won a spot on the New York City Council. At thirty, he was elected to the New York State Senate. Despite his upper-class background, he quickly earned a reputation for being hardworking, committed, charismatic, and brilliant. The newspapers called him the “Camelot Kid,” comparing him to another politician who also had looks, ambition, and loads of charm. It was only a matter of time until he ran for the United States Senate. But there was still something of the black sheep about her father, despite his success. His wife—whom he’d met at Harvard Law—was the one who became a lawyer at a fancy midtown firm.
When they reached their apartment building, Tom double-parked and stayed behind the wheel. Her mom dialed someone on her BlackBerry. “Remington? Could you come down here? We just pulled up. Emma has a lot of things she needs to bring in.” She paused. “Yes, Emma’s home. It’s a long story.” She hung up.
Great, Emma thought. Of course she would have to get expelled on the same day Remington came home from Cambridge. She leaned down and grabbed Archie’s tank. Suddenly all of her limbs felt weary. None of this was going to be easy.
Outside on the street, Emma helped Tom and her dad pull her belongings out of the back of the car and onto the curb. It was a messy pile of stuff, and Emma caught her dad eyeing the snake tank in her arms with irritation.
“You guys need a hand?” asked Shanks as he got out of the car. Emma finally got a good look at him. He had a mustache and a potbelly and a permanently distracted air, as if he were late for three things at once.
“No, we’re good,” Tom said, hefting her suitcase down onto the sidewalk. He seemed to be eager to impress her dad. Just as the suitcase touched down the zipper opened slightly, showing the lace-edged back of one of Emma’s bras.
“I got it!” she yelled, frantically stepping in front of the suitcase. Why were there always so many people around? Why couldn’t they just be alone once in a while?
Remington walked out of the building and stopped short at the sight of Emma, stuffing her bra back into her suitcase with her foot. “You okay, Em?” he asked. “Need some help?” Her brother was extremely, ridiculously handsome, with light blue-green eyes, wavy chestnut hair, and a cleft chin.
“Nah, I’m good,” she said, finally managing to get the bra out of sight. “Hi,” she said, giving him a quick hug.
“How are you, sweetie?” Carolyn asked her son as she hugged him. “How was your flight?”
“It was okay,” he said. “Not too bad. Here, Em. Let me take that.”
As he picked up her suitcase, Emma noticed that he’d lost weight over the summer. His favorite Harvard crew shirt seemed a bit big on him, and his legs looked thin under his khaki shorts. Whenever he stopped his swim team training, he always got skinnier.
Excerpted from The Daughters Join the Party by Philbin, Joanna Copyright © 2011 by Philbin, Joanna. Excerpted by permission.
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