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A TEACHER ONCE told my creative-writing class that every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well, duh.
But once I’d made up my mind to write this particular story, I realized that the rule might not be so simple to follow. Naturally, I wanted to tell my story from my point of view, so I couldn’t really start at the beginning, because I wasn’t around when it all began, I wasn’t even born yet. So I decided to kick off my tale at the point when I first realized that my life was interesting enough to make a story. Or maybe just before it got to be interesting, so I could set the stage and create some suspense. (I wasn’t really worried that readers might guess what was about to happen. If you’ve been leading a relatively normal life, if you’ve never been exposed to the darker side of the human spirit or vacationed in the bottomless pits of Hell, this should all be pretty new to you.) So, to begin my story, I chose the morning of the day before my life first started to become story-worthy.
I was sitting on the broad stone steps leading up to the residence hall at six-forty-five on a Saturday morning in late October, a day that happened to be my sixteenth birthday. The car wasn’t supposed to pick me up until seven, but I’d come down from my room early so I could jump right in and take off the second it arrived. There was a very real possibility that the vehicle would be a long black stretch limo, with a uniformed chauffeur and maybe even bodyguards, and I didn’t want them hanging around and waiting in front of the dorm for everyone to see.
I don’t know why I cared—limos had been seen around here before. Woodbridge wasn’t the ritziest girls’ boarding school in Virginia, but it had its fair share of potential kidnap victims. There were at least half a dozen offspring of government big shots, plus the daughter of the ambassador of some fabulously rich oil country. Not to mention the daughter of a movie legend, a Mafia princess, a real princess, the twin daughters of a Greek shipping tycoon, and two sisters who called an aging rock star Daddy. In fact, up until very recently, on the rich-and-famous food chain I was definitely a bottom feeder. So no one at Woodbridge would gape at the sight of a limo, no one would care if it was me getting into it, and besides, at this hour on a Saturday morning, everyone was sleeping.
But no, not everyone. A slender girl wearing shorts and a sweat-stained T-shirt appeared from around the side of the building. She was jogging slowly, clearly at the end of her run, and when she reached the front of the dorm, she stopped. Placing one foot up on the third step, she greeted me as she began stretching.
Kip Simmonds lived on my hall, just a few rooms down from mine. I had no idea what Kip was short for. She shifted legs and noticed my suitcase.
"Home," I replied. "For the weekend." Her eyebrows were still up in questioning mode, and she’d taken the iPod ’phones out of her ears, so I felt obliged to offer more information. "It’s my birthday."
She nodded. "Oh. Happy birthday."
She was okay, Kip. I didn’t know her all that well—actually, I didn’t know anyone at Woodbridge all that well—but she was one of the few I’d had mini-conversations with (mostly along the lines of "How did you do on the algebra quiz?" "I choked." "Yeah, me, too"). She wasn’t a friend, exactly, but she was friendly, and she never made any cracks about my mother. Right now, she seemed to be trying to find something more to say or ask so she wouldn’t be cutting off the conversation too quickly.
"Is it far?"
"Your home. Is it far from here?"
Having never traveled from Woodbridge to this particular "home," I wasn’t sure, but I could hazard a guess. "Less than three hours. Near Leesburg."
"Oh, up north. That will be pretty. The leaves should be turning by now."
I tried to work up some show of enthusiasm. "Yeah, maybe. Hope so." I couldn’t think of anything else to say on the topic of autumn foliage, and she must have decided she’d been sufficiently sociable.
"Well, have a nice weekend. See ya."
"See ya," I echoed as she ran up the stairs. Even though she was a perfectly okay person, I was relieved to see her leave. It wasn’t easy for me to make casual conversation with classmates. Most Woodbridge girls in my year had been together for two full years now. I’d just transferred five weeks ago, and I’d been keeping a low profile, which hadn’t been that difficult. I was a loner by nature, and pretty much content to hang out in my single room with my books and my PC.
I didn’t participate in any activities, either, which was probably why I didn’t recognize the two boys I now observed coming up the circular driveway. They were both looking around in a suspiciously furtive way, and when one of them spotted me, he grabbed the other guy’s arm and nodded in my direction. They stopped, put their heads together, nodded in what looked like agreement, and then continued in the direction of the residence hall.
I wasn’t alarmed. There were two boys’ schools in the vicinity, Buford and St. Something, and the single-sex schools tried to keep hormones from raging out of control by holding regular joint events—drama clubs, dances, that sort of thing. Rules were posted in student handbooks about visiting outside the scheduled events, but I knew there were girls who sneaked out and boys who sneaked in at other times. In all likelihood, at that very moment there were a couple of girls waiting at a security exit for these two.
Trying not to be obvious, I gave them the once-over as they drew closer. Juniors, maybe seniors, I figured. The skinny dark one had on those oversized jeans hanging from below his hips, and for the zillionth time I wondered how they keep those pants up. The other one wore regular jeans with a sleeveless sweatshirt that exposed nice tanned arms. But it was his face that really drew me—he was boy-band handsome, with I-just-woke-up shaggy blond hair falling into eyes so blue I could identify the color while he was still yards away. Normally, I wasn’t attracted to pretty boys, but I would have made an exception for this one if I ever had the opportunity. Of course, the probability factor of that hovered just around null.
Eye contact was unavoidable, and the skinny one grunted in greeting. Pretty Boy actually spoke.
"Hey," I replied.
They were studying the big glass-enclosed bulletin board on a pedestal by the stairs. Now that we’d all acknowledged each other’s presence, I felt entitled to watch as the blond took a screwdriver out of his backpack and began working on the nails that held the glass to the board. In the process, he glanced at me with raised eyebrows. I nodded to assure him I had no intention of protesting or reporting his clearly unauthorized use of the official-news-only board. Meanwhile, the other one unrolled a poster.
Once the plate of glass was off, the skinny guy covered the school announcements with the poster, and the blond secured it with Scotch tape. I leaned forward to look at the poster and read it silently.
THOU SHALT NOT KILL.
RALLY IN SUPPORT OF ALTON CRENSHAW.
SATURDAY, 2 P.M., GREAT LAWN, ST. ANDREWS.
While the blond replaced the glass, the other one caught my eye.
"You know who Alton Crenshaw is?" he asked.
His skeptical tone annoyed me, so I had to respond with something beyond a simple "yes."
"He’s scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Wednesday for the murder of a family in Richmond fifteen years ago. Some people say he might be retarded."
"Mentally challenged," the blond said, but with a grin that mocked his own effort at political correctness.
I smiled back and continued with my efforts to impress him. "A psychologist for the defense testified that his IQ was way below average, but the prosecution presented tests that said he’s normal."
He nodded with what I hoped was approval. "And it doesn’t matter anyway," he said, "because capital punishment is just plain wrong, even if the killer’s a genius. It’s cruel and unusual punishment."
"Right," I said, with a conviction that belied the gazillions of high-school debates on the subject. "Anyway, the Supreme Court turned down his final appeal yesterday."
"Very good," he said, making his approval clear this time. "So—are you going to tell all your friends and come to the rally?"
At that very moment, a car turned off the main road, and Skinny grabbed Blondie’s arm. "Yo, Sanders, let’s get out of here."
"Don’t be stupid. Security doesn’t drive Lincoln Town Cars."
Apparently, someone on my mother’s staff had taste. The car that pulled up in front of us was clearly expensive, but it wasn’t a limousine, and the man who got out of the driver’s seat wasn’t wearing a gold-braided uniform, just a simple dark suit.
Nodding, I rose, and the driver took my suitcase. I didn’t look at the boys, but I could hear a swift intake of breath coming from one of them. It was getting very hard to maintain a low profile with a name like Hunsucker. As I got into the back seat of the car, I debated turning to offer the cute guy some sort of parting smile, but I knew what I’d see on his face—disbelief, maybe disgust. I’d been seeing a lot of that lately, and I was getting used to it, but to see it on such a gorgeous face—it would be way too depressing.
In any case, the driver had already closed the door, so there was no point in smiling for his benefit—the windows of the car were made of that smoky stuff so people on the outside couldn’t see in. Besides, if I looked at him, I’d have to suffer the memory of his expression, and he wouldn’t even see my apologetic smile. Which was all I had to offer.
"Would you like some music, Miss Hunsucker?" the chauffeur asked.
"Uh, no thanks," I said. Then, to make it clear that I didn’t consider myself to be so much more important than he was, I added, "But if you want music, it’s fine with me."
"No, thank you, ma’am."
Ma’am. I was barely sixteen years old, for crying out loud. I wasn’t entitled to that kind of respect.
I leaned back in the very comfortable seat and tried not to think about the boys—the boy—I’d just left behind. Sanders—that was what the other guy had called him. First or last name? I’d noticed that some guys called one another by their last names, but a lot of high-class kids around here had first names that sounded like last names. Of course, the really significant name was mine—and, given Sanders’s mission to protest capital punishment, he must have had a pretty negative reaction to it. But why did this bother me so much? I didn’t even know him.
Dumb question. I was bothered because he was so cute, so hot; I was attracted to him on a totally shallow and superficial level. Which was okay, because I was sixteen, and if I didn’t deserve respect I was entitled to be at least occasionally shallow.
On the other hand, I doubted that the attraction would have been mutual, no matter what my last name was. I wasn’t his type. Guys like that went with girls who equaled or surpassed them in the looks department. He was out of my league.
I wasn’t ugly. There just wasn’t anything particularly outstanding about the way I looked. I could have been the poster child for "ordinary teenage girl"—average height, average weight. Braces on my teeth. Glasses, under which one could barely make out plain brown eyes. Brown hair—straight and falling just below my shoulders in no style whatsoever. Ears, nose, mouth—yes, I had them all, and there was nothing remarkable about any of them. Nobody would look at me on the street and think "ugly"—no one would even look.
Which was really okay by me. At this point in my life, I didn’t crave attention. But I knew it was going to get harder and harder to avoid.
From my shoulder bag, I pulled out the magazine I’d bought yesterday. I had gone into town to get it, even though I could have bought it right here on campus, in the school store. It just wasn’t something I wanted to be seen buying or carrying.
I had no difficulty identifying the woman on the cover as my mother. The likeness was good enough, and the photographer had captured Margaret Hunsucker in a pose familiar to anyone who’d seen her before, even if it was just on TV. There was the usual direct gaze of the pale-blue eyes, the thin lips that suggested just the faintest hint of a smile, the slight thrust of the chin. I thought there might have been a little airbrushing—her complexion looked awfully smooth, with a delicate peachy-pink flush on the cheeks, and her dark-blond hair was immaculately coiffed. But even with the touch-ups, she was immediately recognizable, so much so that the magazine’s editor hadn’t bothered to put a name with the face. The only words on the cover formed a question: "Is this the face of the first female president of the United States?"
I opened the magazine to the cover story and started to read.
More rumors than pigeons were flying over Capitol Hill last week. Could it be true? Can a third-party candidate present a real challenge to the Democratic and Republican nominees? And is America ready for a woman as president?
The question appears to have become rhetorical, since the answer is clearly a resounding yes. Senator Hunsucker’s popularity within her own up-and-coming party, and her appeal, which has begun to cross party lines, have pushed her into real contention to be leader of the free world.
But although she has been in the public eye for almost twenty years, there are still voters who are now wondering, just who is Margaret Hunsucker?
Good question, I thought, and I was glad no one was asking me. I didn’t expect the article to provide any real insight, and as I read it, my expectations were met. Maybe I didn’t know my mother well, but there wasn’t much here that I didn’t already know.
Born Margaret Tribble in 1967 in a rural Southern commune to a couple of young high-school dropouts. Raised in an "alternative" life style, which apparently didn’t suit her, since much of her political philosophy rested on concepts of traditional family standards and values. Left school and home at the age of sixteen, moved to the capital of a certain state in the Southeastern region of the United States. Picked up secretarial skills, found a civil-service job typing. Got noticed by the seventy-three-year-old lieutenant governor of the state, Harley Hunsucker, and married him when she was twenty-one.
Excerpted from Demon Chick by Marilyn Kaye.
Copyright © 2009 by Marilyn Kaye.
Published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.