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Page 5


"The news is a lot to take in, I'm sure," Ella says, her voice gentle. She places her hand on my father's arm. "I'm sure the two of you probably want some time without the parental units around."

Caulter laughs, the sound bitter. "Yeah, right," he says. "I've had plenty of time with Little Miss Perfect here." He edges between my father and Ella, and they let him pass through the doorway, but Ella's eyes are wide.

"Caulter!" she says. "Don't be rude."

"Rude?" He's walking away, his back toward us. "That's fucking rich from two people who just sprung a whole marriage on their daughter, don't you think?"

Did he just say that they sprung a whole marriage on me? Like he knew about it before now?

The crease in my father's forehead deepens. "I won't tolerate -- "

Oh shit. I don't think my father fully appreciates what he's gotten himself into with Caulter. He thinks any issue can be cured with a good dose of discipline and some military-style physical training. If this conversation were happening with a five-years-younger Caulter, my father would have him outside running sprints and doing pushups until he couldn't hold himself up anymore. As it is, Caulter is an adult. I don't know if my father has a plan here.

Caulter stops. "Tolerate? Let's get something straight here. If you want to parade your own kid around in front of the cameras like she's some kind of trophy Stepford child, that's between you and her. But me? You don't get to walk into my life and expect me to pretend we're all some big happy family."

I hold my breath, waiting for my father's reaction. His temper rarely flares, but when it does, it's nuclear. Despite my complete and utter distaste for who Caulter is, I can't help but feel a twinge of smug satisfaction, hearing him talk to my father like that. No one talks to my father like that. Definitely not me. It almost feels like Caulter is taking up for me, even though I know he's not.

"Caulter Sterling," Ella says, her voice shaky. "We need to talk about this. I know you're upset, but -- "

Caulter interrupts. "Oh, and Senator?" he asks. "I'm sure you think that this is some kind of true love thing, but my mother doesn't exactly have a reputation for keeping men in her life. You might want to think about that." He doesn't look back, just walks down the hallway and I hear the front door slam.

Ella looks at me, and then at my father. She blinks slowly, once, twice, three times, and I immediately feel badly for her. She looks like she's trying desperately not to cry, and it's suddenly awkward, as I rack my brain to come up with something to say to make the situation less uncomfortable. As if that were fucking possible.

I clear my throat. "I'm sure -- I mean -- he's upset. I'm sure it'll be fine." My voice sounds strained. Why am I trying to console two people who just dropped a bombshell like this on their kids, expecting them to fall in line? I hate to admit it, but Caulter has a point. "Um. I'm going to just go upstairs." I squeeze past the two of them, heading up the stairs to my bedroom without waiting for a response.

Inside, I close the door behind me and sit on the bed, the bedspread a simple white color that accents the dark wood bedframe and desk. Everything in here is antique, matching the rest of the house, the photos on the walls carefully selected to display only the most shining moments of my life, all of the awards and things my father considers important.

This isn't my dorm room at Brighton, with its brightly colored bedding and collages with pictures of me and my friends plastered on the walls, the paintings I've done and the sketches of places that mean that most to me. I have a car full of stuff sitting outside in the driveway, the remnants of my high school life.

My best friend Sara is backpacking across Europe this summer with her boyfriend Dan. Come with us, she begged. It's your chance to go crazy before college starts in the fall. It's like a rite of passage. We'll get drunk and watch the sun come up in Rome.

I couldn't even consider the possibility of disappointing my father. I'm the always-dutiful daughter, the one who does what's expected of her. I know I live a charmed life -- the Senator father, private school education, headed to one of the best colleges in the country. But still, I can't help but feel a tiny bit sorry for myself, even if I know I'm having a pity party.

The walls already feel like they're closing in on me. I won't be at the DC home for long; I'll be back at the summer home in New Hampshire before the week is out, I'm sure. But that will be a prison all its own, working on the re-election campaign and being trotted out for photo opportunities with my father and his new wife.

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