I looked in the mirror and swallowed. I watched as my hands pulled my hair up into a high ponytail and secured it with an elastic. I’d become such a robot, doing what was expected of me day in and day out. If it were up to me, I’d be in the White House where I belonged. But of course, nobody could know that.
I was startled by a knock on my door. I stopped looking at myself in the mirror and quickly grabbed my book bag off the hook by the door and opened it, making sure I had everything.
Pens, books, sketchbook, got it all. I shut the flap and opened the door.
Before me stood a medium sized boy, his hand up in the air as I opened the door, preparing to knock again. Long blonde bangs fell in his eyes and he wiped them away with a nonchalant flick of his wrist.
“Hey,” he said, putting his hand down.
“Hey,” I said, still startled. I’d never seen this boy before and I’d been at this school for nearly ten years.
Maybe he’s new. I thought.
He spoke. “You’re Aunt Nellie would like to speak to you in her office.”
I adjusted the bag strap on my shoulder and narrowed my eyes at him. Nobody in this school was supposed to know that my aunt was the headmaster.
“Excuse me?” I asked, grabbing my jacket off the door. “I think you have the wrong room or something.”
I scooted by him and down the hall.
“Wait, Red!” he yelled after me. I quickened my pace but as I rounded the corner, a group of teens, dressed in black, stepped out in front of me, stopping me.
“Look, I don’t have time for this!” I exclaimed, trying to push through them.
“Ma’am,” one boy said, his voice muffled by his mask. “Please don’t struggle.”
At this point, I had no clue what was going on for all I knew, I was being kidnapped. If these people knew Headmaster Brook was my aunt, then they definitely knew my other secrets. Secrets that could get me killed.
I didn’t respond to the young man but rather brought my knee up into his groin. He yelled and tumbled backward. A few grabbed at my arms, but I elbowed them in the stomach, sending them farther back. One girl jumped on my back, her arms around my neck in a chokehold. I rammed myself back up against the stone wall as hard as I could, feeling something in her body crack. I did it again and she screamed while a few grabbed at me from the front. I did it one last time, something inside of me snapping -- my self-control. She went limp and she dropped to the floor. I lost no time in lunging at the others.
I grabbed one’s arm and swiveled it behind his back in a police hold. I jerked up, his shoulder popping out of socket and kicked him forward into the other two that were pointing guns at me and screaming at me to hold still or they’d shoot. They fell back, their guns going off into the ceiling and I jumped onto the one to my right. I slid my hand up my thigh, waiting for the feeling of cold metal. I grabbed the handle of the knife and held it to his throat. He froze, and I pulled him up into a standing position.
“Move and you’re dead,” I growled into his ear. “And I won’t hesitate.”
His body was stiff with fear, but I could feel him shaking.
“Red Riding!” the boy yelled at me from a distance. “Just listen to us.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re the only one that’s going to be doing any talking for a while,” I answered. “But you better talk fast before I get tired of keeping this guy alive.”
I really need to reel myself back in. I chided. I felt the strap of my bag across my shoulders.
If I can just get into it without letting go of this idiot, I can get my gun.
The boy hesitated, sensing my anger.
“Talk now!” I yelled.
“My name is Wade Green, sent by President Riding,” he started, taking one or two steps forward. “Your dad sent me, Red. He’s been shot and is currently on his deathbed, waiting to pass on the role of President to you.”
You may be confused at this point, so I will take a break from the story to explain. I know what you’re thinking. ‘That’s not how being President works. You race against other people for the position! It’s not passed down from generation to generation.’ Wrong! It is. At least in my world. If your dad or mom is a mailman, when they retire, their job will be passed down to you. Does that make sense? Good, let me continue with the story.
“My dad is not President Riding,” I yelled. “His name is John Riverton.”
“Do I need to show you his signet ring for you to believe me?” he asked.
“Look, Wade,” I said, taking the knife into my other hand. As I talked, I reached into my book bag. I knew he’d see me, but he wouldn’t be able to stop me. “I can’t believe you because what you’re proposing is total….” I searched for a word. “Crap. My dad is not the President of the United States, he is the manager at our local Wal-Mart.”
“Red,” A new voice said. It was sharp, and commanding and I knew who it was instantly.
“Aunt Nellie,” I said sweetly, turning around and tucking the knife behind my back. I had to let go of the boy I’d had at knifepoint though.
“What did you do?” she asked, rubbing her forehead.
I looked behind me at the body’s littered on the floor. None of them were severely hurt but a few were knocked out. Others just laid on the floor, chest rising and falling rapidly in panic. A group of teen CIA guards in training probably. There were most likely well-trained guards outside just in case.
They were trained for this. Did they not expect me to be prepared? I thought.
“Oh, this?” I asked innocently. “Just a little mistake, that’s all.”
“Red, I sent this young man to find you. I need to talk to you about some things in my office. Important things,” she said. “Come with me.”
I adjusted my bag, the gun still inside but the idea of brandishing it was irrelevant. She turned around and I glared at Wade once more as I tucked my knife back under my skirt.
He glanced at the holding mechanism wrapped around my thigh, eyes skimming down my leg and then back up.
“Seriously?” I snapped. “I thought you were professional.”
He raised an eyebrow and I turned to follow Aunt Nellie to her office. I heard him bark at the few conscious teens on the floor to get up and follow.
We arrived at Aunt Nellie’s office as the morning bell rang. Breakfast was dismissed and I’d missed it. I reluctantly watched as kids streamed past me to class, several still finish their croissant or fruit.
I slid into a hard leather seat and waited for the others to settle in. Wade sat down next to me, Aunt Nellie behind her desk, and the others by the door and bookcases.
“Are you going to explain any of this to me?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest.
“Yes,” Aunt Nellie nodded. “But you need to listen more and talk less.”
I rolled my eyes. Always the same thing. Shut up and look pretty.
“We don’t have to keep pretending that your dad isn’t the President, Red,” she started.
“He sent Wade and the bodyguards to transport you back to the states to ascend your throne.”
“It’s not my throne,” I argued. “If he isn’t dead yet….” I cringed at how that sounded. “Then I have no right to it.”
Wade glanced at Aunt Nellie and she nodded as he began. “Your Father told us that he
moved you to London to attend your Aunt’s school for Detached Children. He told us that you would most likely put up a fight but you’d listen to your aunt. Your dad was shot a day ago while walking from his car to the White House. He gave us the orders to come and get you and bring you back to the States for your country. The doctors are saying he won’t make it through the weekend.”
I guess I should have been more shocked than I was but what can I say? I had watched everyone else in my family be murdered right before my eyes. Why else do you think I was at Brooklyn School for Detached Children?
“I know it’s a lot to process but we need to get you back to the United States as soon as
we possibly can. Your Father wants to talk to you before he —passes,” he finished, the last word said with some hesitation.
I nodded. “If Aunt Nellie trusts you, so do I.”
Her eyes met mine and she nodded slightly. She pushed up from her chair and walked
around the desk to mine, pulling me into a hug.
“I’ll miss you, Red,” she said, letting go of me.
“I’ll miss you too,” I responded.
“I know,” she smiled. “Now go get your stuff packed. They landed the helicopters on the
“The football field?” I asked, my eyes widening. “How does nobody see that?”
“Oh, they’ve seen it, but we’ve just told them to ignore it and go on as they would,” she said. “Now go.”
I hugged her one last time. She had been my anchor and lighthouse for close to ten years
now and all of it felt off.
“Bye,” I said, stepping back. One of the teens opened the door and I walked back to my room, several people trailing behind me. I wanted to pinch my arm to make sure this wasn’t a dream or something. It was just that it seemed wrong. Not wrong in the sense that they weren’t legit but in the sense that it had happened too fast.
HEY GUYS! I just want to say, thanks for reading. This is my first ever self-standing novel that I've started. I already have the plot down and all I have to do now is go back and outline it and write it. I really hope ya'll enjoyed it and are ready for some more! This story is going to be a journey and one you aren't expecting (or at least I think so. I'm terrible with synopsis') If you'd like to be tagged in the next chapters, let me know! And also let me know what you thought of the story. I welcome negative and positive feedback!! Thanks once more for reading. It means a lot to me. Signing off -Famewriter
I handed my suitcase over to Wade and let him carry it out. A guard walked next to me, holding his shoulder.
“Hey, um, I’m sorry for hurting your shoulder,” I apologized with a sheepish grin on my face.
“Oh, nah, it’s no problem,” he waved it off with his good hand. “Today was kind of a training session. We weren’t expecting you to put up such a good fight.”
“So you’re still in training?” I asked, a little confused. Why would my dad send a bunch of newbies to get me?
“Yes,” he nodded. “But there are more experienced bodyguards outside waiting in case anything goes wrong.” he paused. “Which it kinda did but nothing drastic.”
“Oh, I’m Red by the way,” I held my hand out to him.
“Audie Cole,” he answered, shaking my hand. “Nice to meet you. I’ve heard the way your Father talks about you.”
“All good stuff?” I asked, trying to make conversation. Talking to someone usually took my mind off everything that was going on around me and I hoped it was working.
“Yeah,” he laughed, nodding as he did so. “He has your school picture in his wallet that
he shows to everyone.”
I smiled but I knew it wouldn’t reach my eyes. I’d only seen my dad a couple of times after he sent me to live with my aunt. He came on my birthdays to drop off a gift but sometimes he was so busy, he wasn’t there for long. I never really got to see him.
“Good to know,” I said.
As we neared the helicopters, I noticed several more bodyguards surrounding each one.
Wade handed my luggage off to someone else as we boarded. The door slid shut as I settled into my seat. Wade sat on my right and a blonde-haired girl on my left.
“This is Cassandra,” Wade introduced her. “She’s your personal bodyguard who will be with you twenty-four seven.”
She smiled at me, not saying anything.
“She doesn’t talk a lot,” he continued. “Unless she has too.”
“And who are these other people?” I asked, nodding at the five guards that sat across
from us. Audie sat across from me and smiled when he saw me looking at him.
“They’re guards in training which means they’ll be tagging along for a little while,” Wade explained.
“I’m sorry for taking ’em out,” I apologized.
Wade laughed. “That only happened because you took them by surprise.”
“A good soldier never gets surprised,” Cassandra said, her voice lower than I expected.
She shut her mouth, jaw clenching as she glared at Audie.
“Yes, ma’am,” they all nodded.
“Take it easy on them, Cassie,” Wade said, rubbing his jaw. “None of us were expecting
it either. Not even you.”
“Wrong,” she snapped. Her cold brown eyes landed on Wade, but he just smiled. They softened slightly. “I stood back and let the noobs get some experience.”
“And they did their best,” he pointed out, raising his eyebrows.
“Their best? If that was their best, I’d hate to see their worst,” she said. The harshness in
her voice was gone.
I looked at her, confused.
“Cassandra isn’t that mean,” Wade said. He leaned past me and punched her in the shoulder. “She’s a giant teddy bear.”
“A teddy bear that can decapitate you in two seconds flat,” she countered.
“Touché,” he replied. Seeing my confusion, he continued. “Cassie and I’ve been friends
for as long as I can remember.”
“Okay,” I said slowly. “I’m confused. One minute you’re snapping at them and the next
you’re laughing. I don’t understand.”
“We don’t have to be professional right now,” Wade answered. “It’s just us. No one powerful— yet.”
He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. “You should try to get some sleep. It’s a bit of a flight. Also, when you get home, you’re going to be busy.”
“Home?” I about asked but stopped myself. That was going to be my new home.
The helicopters landed gently on the lawn of the White House. Audie got out first, followed by the other guards and then Wade got out. I went next, followed by Cassandra. She held her gun ready, the butt up against her shoulder, and finger hovered over the
“You don’t have to be so uptight,” Wade reminded her. “This is the most secure building
in the world.”
“Then tell me how the President managed to get shot,” she snapped. Their eyes met, and
Wade looked away, knowing that Cassandra was in professional mode. I breathed deeply as I walked across the perfectly manicured lawn. With each step, I left an indent in the shape of a foot.
Footprints on the Lawn. I thought to myself, thinking of the poem, ’Footprints on the
Sands’. I smiled. Mom used to read that to me every night before bed. My smile faded away as I remembered the way she died. Shot over the breakfast table.
“Okay,” Wade slowed his pace and fell in step beside me. “Once you get inside, some things may go down. The press is here, documenting your Father’s injuries. He told them he was sending for his daughter so the moment they find out who you are, they’re going to be all over you. Just remember you’re being watched.”
I nodded. “Copy that.”
“Do more than copy it. Do it!” he narrowed his eyes. “And be professional. I have no
doubt you can do that but I have to be sure.”
I nodded again as we stepped through the front doors. A few news anchors were littered around the lobby, talking to cameras.
“We’re going to steer clear of those,” Wade instructed. “Walk straight through. The bodyguards will keep anyone from talking to you, but they will try. Don’t say anything, don’t even acknowledge their presence. Don’t divert from your course either.”
“Yes, sir,” I answered sarcastically.
He went to say something, but he stopped— his face going white. Audie stopped at the elevators and the rest of us stood behind him. Wade turned to Cassandra whose knuckles were turning white from holding her gun so tight.
“Did everyone hear that message?” He asked, looking at the bodyguards. They nodded, their faces the same. They looked scared and frightened but controlled at the same time.
I looked at him. “What’s going on?”
“We need to get to the Presidential Suite as quickly as possible,” he ordered. He pushed past the security guards and pushed the elevator call button as hard as he could for ten seconds straight.
“What happened?” I asked, raising my voice.
Cassandra put a hand on my shoulder. “We need you to stay calm,”
“What happened?!?” I finally yelled, shrugging her hand away. Wade stopped smashing the button and turned to me.
“Your father just died,” he said, his voice calm.
My mind reeled. “What floor is he on?” I asked.
“The third floor. Room 25,” he answered, confusion written all over his face.
I began thinking. I could do this. The only thing that might stop me was Cassandra. She moved in front of me, to look at my face.
“Are you good?” she asked.
I nodded and then turned around. By now a group of reporters were watching the whole ordeal. Wade yelled at the elevator to hurry up. I looked at the stairs and then back at Cassandra.
“Is it important that I be up there?” I asked, hurriedly.
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Okay,” I looked back at the steps. I took off, legs pumping as fast as possible. When I arrived at the stairs, I took them two at a time. I arrived on the second floor and ran down the hall, following the signs for the stairs.
I heard shouts and screams as I careened around corners and up the next flight of steps. I came to a stop at the top of the third flight. The nearest door was marked ‘Room 1’. My heart was beating inside my chest, my lungs were begging for air, but I couldn’t stop. Adrenaline rushed through me as I made a mad dash down the hall.
Room 1, Room 3, Room 5, Room 7, Room 9, Room 11
I mentally kept track of the doors I raced by.
Room 21. I was almost there.
Room 23, Room 25.
I skidded to a stop outside the door. I grabbed the door handle and yanked it down, but it was locked. Keeping the door to the President’s Suite locked is logic but I wasn’t benefitting from it. I pounded on the glass.
Why was I in such a hurry to get here? Just because Wade and Cassandra made it such a big deal. Footfalls pounded down the hall behind me and I looked over my shoulder to see Cassandra running towards me, gun slung over her shoulder and key card in hand.
She swiped the key card as soon as she arrived and the light on the door changed from red to green. I hurried inside but came to a stop. On the far side of the room was a queen bed. The sheets were pulled tight and were crisply folded under the arms of my father.
I stepped closer, but a security guard reached out and grabbed me.
“What are you doing here, Missy?” he asked, eyes boring into me. “How’d you even get in here?”
“She’s Redlynne,” Cassandra said from behind me. “President Riding’s daughter.”
He released my arm and I continued forward. I stopped at the edge of the bed and looked at the man lying in front of me. His face was neutral, no smile and no lines from smiling. His eyes were shut, and his hands were simply folded over his stomach. He had a bit of facial hair running down the side of his face and over his chin.
I looked at him closer. This was the man my dad had become? My dad never had facial hair and he was always smiling.
I began to think back to the last time I’d seen him smile. Dad never smiled. Then why did I remember him smiling? I wracked my brain.
It’s just one of the many fantasies you’ve made up about your family, my brain was telling me. You tried to convince yourself that your dad was a kind man when in reality, he wasn’t. He was cold and cruel, deceitful, scheming, and conniving.
I shook my head. No— he was a good man.
No, he wasn’t. And you know that. Deep down inside, you know what he was really like, my brain argued back.
People poured in behind Cassandra and I turned around. Wade’s eyes found mine, but I
looked away. I didn’t want to see my Father lying on his bed, dead. I wanted to go to my room and try to sort out what I remembered and what I’d made up.
“Do you want to leave?” he asked, hands gripping my shoulders. “This can be kind of tough.”
“No, it’s not that,” I hesitated. “It’s just that I don’t remember anything about him. I don’t know if he was always happy or mad, or if he always had facial hair or not. Everything I thought I knew about him I’m beginning to question.”
“Let’s get you out of here,” Wade said. He walked me towards the door, but someone tapped me on the shoulder.
I turned around to see the same guard who’d stopped me earlier.
“Miss Redlynne, this is for you,” he handed me an envelope. “You’re Dad wrote it a few days before he was shot. He said you’d have some questions and just in case something happened between the time he sent for you and the time he got shot, he wanted you to have answers.”
I took the envelope, fingering the edges. “Thanks.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he walked away. Wade took my hand and led me out of the room and to the elevator.
“Cassie will take you to your room,” he said. Cassandra trailed behind us, gun hanging at her side. “If you need anything, just let her know, okay?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
Why am I getting so torn up over this? I never really knew the man!
The elevator doors opened and we stepped inside. They slid shut, blocking Wade from sight and we began our descent. The rest of the way to my room was in silence. I slid my fingers up and down the edges of the envelopes, one question bugging me.
I was about to propose my question to Cassandra when she motioned at a door on our right.
“This is your bedroom,” she stated. “I’ll be right here if you need anything.”
Good to know I’ll have some privacy. I thought.
I nodded as she dug into her back pocket.
“Here’s your key card. It gives you access to any room in the building,” she told me.
I swiped it and the door unlocked. I shut the door behind me without saying anything more. My room was a decent size. Up against one wall was my bed, a lampstand, and a small dresser. A rocky chair stood in the corner and a bureau by the window. Two doors hid the closet from view.
I walked to my bed and dropped my bag onto it. I fingered the envelope one last time before ripping it open. I tossed the torn envelope onto the bed and unfolded the piece of paper.
If you’re reading this, that means that something has happened to me and I cannot tell you in person. I pray I have not died. If I have died, please don’t let it be a big funeral.
There are a few things you need to know that I wish I could tell you in person, but I guess that’ll never happen. Anyway, the first and most important thing you need to always remember is that people are always watching you. They’re writing down and recording every move you make, just waiting for you to mess up. Don’t mess up, Red.
The second thing is that people are always going to try an undermined you. Don’t let them. You’re the boss of everyone in this country. You make the rules, you sign the laws, you proclaim the laws. You are the face of the nation. Your cabinet is going to try and convince you that their way is better and maybe it is but if you feel like what you’re doing it right, run with it. Don’t let anyone change your mind unless it’s for the better.
Thirdly, what happened to your siblings and mother. Your Aunt Nellie has probably told you the story already, but I feel like you should hear it from me also. Your Mom was assassinated by a server over breakfast. Your older brother, Blue, was poisoned at his eleventh birthday party, and your sister, Scarlett, was stabbed by one of our own bodyguards. You need to be careful, Red. Very careful. People want you dead.
Next, I want you to know I love you. I always have and hopefully always will. When I sent you into hiding to protect you, it tore me apart. The White House was so silent. No cheerful laughter when I walked into your room. No pretty pink curtains or blankets, just emptiness. It was almost as if your ghost would haunt this place. You may not have been dead, but it seemed like your happiness stayed behind. Your Aunt Nellie told me that when you arrived, you were very quiet and sad. She said you refused to talk with the other kids but instead delved into the world of self-defense and protection. You made yourself into a weapon.
Red, I’m proud of you. Do an excellent job ruling and don’t fall in love too soon, okay?
I held the letter in my hand for a few moments before tossing it onto the bed. I looked at it, lying on the crisp white covers and thought.
How did he know something was going to happen to him? He planned on telling me in person but it’s like he knew something was being planned — that he was going to die.
"Footprints on the Sands" is a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. You can read it here:http://www.hwlongfellow.org/bin/Features?fn=166&fmt=list&n=1&supst=TeacherResources&mr=all
THANKS FOR READING!!
I sat on my bed, letter in hand. I read it once more and rubbed my eyes. My head hurt from looking at the pages for so long. The blank ink on the silken white pages was giving me a migraine. I forced myself to reread the letter again, trying to push every feeling of the pain to the back of my head. It just made it worse.
I heard a knock at the door, startled. The last time someone had knocked on my door, it had completely turned my world upside down and I still don’t know if it was in a good way. I heard the door beep, allowing access and Cassandra stepped inside, closing the door behind her.
“Here, I brought you stuff,” she said, nodding at the suitcase in her hand
“Thanks,” I said, looking back down at the letter. Even though my brain did hurt, it was like it was telling me to push on through the pain.
“What’s wrong,” Cassandra asked, leaving my suitcase by the door and walking over to me.
“Nothing,” I said, waving it off. I stood up, dropping the letter on the bed. “Just a little tired.”
“I know what tired looks like, and that is not it,” she said. She reached past me and snagged the letter off my bed.
“Hey,” I protested, taking it back. “That’s mine. You have no right to read it.”
“Actually, I do. As your personal bodyguard, I have every right to know everything about you. It aids me in your protection,” she countered.
I glared at her before handing the letter back over. She quickly read it and then looked up at me.
“What’s bothering you? There’s nothing in this letter that makes me feel weird,” she said.
“I didn’t say the letter made me feel weird.”
“You didn’t say anything about the letter. It’s my job to pick out the fishy things in life,” she explained.
“Then you’re not doing a good job of it,” i snapped. I took the letter back and pointed out the first line. She read it again and then looked up at me, confusion written across her face.
“I get it now,” she said, realization kicking in. “President Riding never did anything just in case. He always left that up to the security team.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “That’s what’s bothering me. It’s like he almost knew he was gonna die.”
“Maybe he did,” Cassandra shrugged. “Or maybe he just got that itchy feeling on the back of his neck and thought, ‘Oh, I’m a gonna die’.”
“You’re being sarcastic, aren’t you,” I crossed my arms over my chest and rocked back on my heels. “You’re supposed to be a bodyguard. Stay silent by the door and let me mentally torture myself.”
“You asked,” she defended.
“Did not!” I yelled.
“It doesn’t matter. It defines who I am,” she joked, a smile playing on her lips.
I glared at her.
“If looks could kill, I’d be six feet under,” she muttered as she turned and returned to her spot by the door.
“What I don’t understand is why I can’t remember anything,” I continued to think out loud.
“You told me to be silent,” she reminded me from her post.
I ignored her and continued.
“I seem to have conflicting memories about him. Every time he came to see me at school it seemed that he was always too busy to be bothered and never wanted to stay. He never even brought up bringing me home. Not even once,” I stopped. “But that’s not the point. The point is that I can’t pull distinct memories to mind. It’s all a hazy blur. A mix of two President Ridings and I can’t figure out which one is really my dad.”
“Sounds complicated,” she said from across the room. I continued to ignore her.
“I remember him being a happy man but then every time I’ve seen him since I left, he was always so—distant, ya know?” I ran a hand through my hair.
“No, actually, I don’t know, but in the letter, he said he missed you. I think and this is just me, that when a man loses everyone he loves in a few short months, it changes him,” Cassandra told me. “Maybe you like to remember the man he was before tragedy struck because that’s the child part of you. That part of you wants to cling onto your family. Or at least what’s left of it.”
“I hate the man—hated,” I said. I rubbed the back of my neck. “I overheard conversations he had with Aunt Nellie about things he had to pull over to keep his throne a little longer. I witnessed several of his plans in action.”
“I thought—you know what? Don’t listen to anything I tell you because it is all wrong when it comes to you, Red Riding. You have a twisted mind,” she said, her eyebrows raised. Something told me she wasn’t joking.
“Sheesh! Thanks!” I threw my hands up in the air. “Thought you were supposed to be helpful.”
She shrugged. “I’ll be outside the door if you need anything.”
I nodded and dropped back onto my bed, letter held up so I could read it again. How many times had I read this thing? I didn’t want to know. I rolled over onto my side and stared at the suitcase Cassandra left by the door.
Standing up, I walked over to it and hoisted it up onto my bed. I unzipped it and started to unpack. I didn’t have a lot of clothes, just a few school uniforms, undergarments, and a giant t-shirt I wore to bed. I slammed the dresser drawer and shut my suitcase. I slid it under my giant bed and collapsed onto the floor.
My head was spinning. None of this made any sense. I wanted to be back at Aunt Nellie’s school, slaving away at my homework, not sitting here waiting for—I didn’t know what. My stomach rumbled and I pulled my phone out of my bag to look at the time. It was well past my dinner time and I was getting hungry.
How long had I been reading that letter for? I thought before pushing the idea out of my head. I didn’t want to think about the letter anymore. I just wanted the whole ordeal to be over. I put my phone away and slipped my bag over my shoulder.
“Where’s the kitchen?” I asked Cassandra, stepping outside my room.
“I’ll show you,” she said.
“You have to go with me anyway,” I reminded her.
“True,” she nodded. She walked down the hall to the elevator, and I followed her.
“You’re supposed to be eating with a few of the staff so they can get to know you,” she told me.
I bit my lip before I spoke. “I don’t want to eat with them.”
She looked at me out of the corner of her eye.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” I quickly said. I could feel a headache coming on. This was strange. Normally I did my best under stress, but I guess that wasn’t going to be the deal.
“I’m tired. It’s been a long day. I just want to eat and go to bed.”
She nodded. “I’ll tell ’em you weren’t feeling good.”
“Thanks,” I answered.
She smiled a small smile and pushed open the swinging doors to the kitchen and I followed her in. A handful of plates sat on a cart by the door and I snagged a plate. Cassandra stood by the door, arms folded in front of her as I began to eat.
A server came and pushed the cart out through the double doors to the dining area and Cassandra followed it.
I heard her say something followed by a few ‘okays’ and mumbles of agreement. She came back in a few seconds later and returned to her post quietly.
I cut the chicken on my plate and quickly ate it. It was probably the best chicken I’ve ever had but that’s not saying a lot because I never got to eat chicken. It was always something simpler at Aunt Nellie’s school. Spaghetti and potato soup were a usual.
The green beans were good. I could taste the garlic and onion, adding a bit of a flare to the beans. I cleaned every last one of my plate before moving onto the scalloped potatoes and hesitantly tasted it.
“Never had those before?”
I looked up, a little surprised. Audie stood beside me, empty plate in his hand.
“Yeah, I’ve never had them,” I answered.
“They’re good,” he nodded. His eyes narrowed at me and his voice took on a joking sound. “I thought you weren’t feeling well.”
“I’m not,” I answered. For a few moments I had forgotten about the pounding at the back of my brain and now at the mention of it, it came back. “I’ve got a terrible headache.”
“Sorry to hear that,” he said, looking at me compassionate eyes.
I took another bite of the potatoes and he went on his way. He came back a few seconds later, two plates of cake in his hand. He sat one down in front of me and settled into the seat next to me.
I wanted to tell him I wanted to be alone right now, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
What’s gotten into you Red? You’re worried about someone’s feelings! Just a few days ago you would have flat out told him you wanted to be alone.
I finished my potatoes, keeping the thoughts inside my head. When I had finished what was on my plate, I pushed it aside and set to work on the cake.
It was okay. Cake is cake and I know that some of you are going to debate that and maybe it would have tasted better if I didn’t feel like I was about to throw up. I finished my cake and stood up.
“It was nice seeing you,” I said to him before swinging my bag over my shoulder. “See ya around.”
He nodded. “You too.”
I motioned for Cassandra to walk next to me and she did. As we waited for the elevator to arrive, she looked at me.
“He’s cute,” she said suddenly.
“Who?” I asked, confused.
“Audi,” she clarified. “He’s sweet and has a big heart. Plus the good looks.”
I laughed even though it made my head hurt more. I got an idea and decided to test it.
“And then there’s Wade who is like a solid ten.”
I watched her out of the corner of my eye. Her face remained the same.
That didn’t work.
“Yeah, he is cute,” she said. The edges of her smile turned farther up. Inwardly, I pumped my fist in the air. I’d found a match.
“What do you think about him?” I pressed. And then to not be suspicious, I added.
“You’ve known him for a long time so maybe you could tell me a few things?”
She eyed me. I must have done a terrible job covering up. “Maybe.”
I went to press for more, but I heard someone call our names just as the elevator doors opened.
I looked over to see Wade jogging over to us.
"Speaking of the devil," I said, raising an eyebrow at her.
We stepped inside the elevator, but Cassandra put her hand against the door to keep it from shutting.
“What?” I asked as he came to a stop before us.
“Just came to tell you that your dad’s funeral is going to be the day after tomorrow,” he said.
“That’s kind of soon,” I pointed out. “When he was shot and the doctors said he wouldn’t make the weekend, we—the cabinet decided on a date which is the day after tomorrow,” he explained.
I nodded. “Okay, thanks.”
Cassandra took her hand away and the door slid shut.
“Oh, wait,” Wade pushed it back. “I heard you weren’t feeling good. Are you okay?”
I looked at him and then over at Cassandra. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. Just tired.”
“Okay,” he stepped back. “Goodnight Cassie, Red.”
“Goodnight,” I echoed.
Cassandra nodded at him as the doors slid shut.
“He likes you,” I said. I held my hands behind my back as I rocked back and forth on my heels.
“No, we’re friends,” she corrected. “And I thought you liked him.”
“You thought wrong,” I said, smiling.
“You literally said,” I cut her off.
“There’s a difference between liking someone and thinking they’re cute,” I pointed out.
She shrugged as the doors opened. We walked down the hall in silence.
“See ya in the morning,” she said when we arrived at my door.
“Okay, goodnight,” I said, slipping inside.
I shut the door firmly behind me and turned to my room. The first thing I saw was the letter still on the bed, face up. It still bothered me, so I folded it up and tucked it into the drawer in my nightstand. I walked to the bureau and sat my bag on the chair. I unbuttoned my white shirt and gently folded it. I unzipped my skirt and folded it also before placing both articles of clothing into the dresser drawer. I pulled out the large t-shirt which came down to my knees.
I combed through my hair a few times before pulling the covers back on the ginormous bed. I snuggled under them, the feeling of a new bed strange on my skin. It smelled like a summer day and it bugged me. In London, it was never a breezy summer day. It was always cold and rainy. I looked out the window.
“I miss the rain,” I whispered to myself. I tucked the sheets under my chin and closed my eyes. There was going to be a lot more to miss.
I woke up the next morning to the sun shining through the window straight into my eyes. What a wonderful way to start the morning by being blinded. I rubbed my eyes sleepily and squirmed down deeper into the covers. The sun was no longer shining in my eyes but I wasn’t comfortable. I arched my back as I pushed myself back up, turning myself sideways in the bed. I yawned.
Why did this have to be the first thought in my head? I wanted to facepalm myself but decided against it. Instead, I laid there, trying to ignore the urging feeling to get up and read it for the millionth time.
“No,” I said, my voice firm. My brain didn’t stop telling me to get up.
Fine. I’d consented. I stood up and stretched before walking to the window. I looked down on the gorgeous green lawn and sighed.
Turning back around, I grabbed the letter and read it as fast as I could to get over and done with. My brain yelled at me to slow down and focus but I put the letter down before I was even done.
“I just have to get my mind of the letter,” I muttered. I walked to the bureau and quickly changed into a fresh uniform. I grabbed my bag and swung it over my shoulder out of habit. I walked to the door, my hand on the knob, but stopped.
I sighed and walked over to the nightstand. I grabbed it and folded it up before tucking it into my bag. I opened the door, walked past Cassandra and continued down the hallway. I decide to take the stairs and headed past the elevators. I jogged down them and jumped over the last two. I glanced behind me for a split second to see Cassandra descending the
At least she was giving me my space.
I wind my way through the lobby, following the path Cassandra and I took yesterday to get to the kitchen. Something in my bag vibrates and I pull my phone out. The screen reads, “Annie.”
The inner debate began. I only had a handful of rings to decide if I wanted to answer or not. I’d been trying to get a hold of Annie for a few days because I’d been bored and wanted to talk to somebody. Now I wasn’t so sure about talking to her. I didn’t know what I was allowed to say and what I couldn’t.
I decided to answer it.
“Hey,” I said, putting the phone to my ear.
“Hey, Red!” she about screamed in my ear. I pulled the phone away for a second, my ear ringing. “Guess what?”
“What?” I asked. I spotted Cassandra out of the corner of my eye and quickened my pace.
She was catching up to me and for now, I just wanted to be alone.
“You’re supposed to guess,” she instructed.
“Um… your dad bought you a car,” I randomly guessed.
“That would be great but no, that’s not it,” she said. I could hear the smile in her voice. “Guess again!”
“Look, Annie, I’m sorry but,” I went to say but was cut off.
“I’m going on a tour of the White House!” she squealed into my ear.
“Oh, wow. The White House? That’s—big,” I swallowed. “When’s your tour?”
“Oh, I’m on it right now,” she answered excitedly.
“I thought phone’s weren’t allowed in there,” I said. I looked back and saw Cassandra had fallen behind again. I scanned the area ahead of me, trying to keep out of the way or tour groups.
“Only in the West Wing. We aren’t allowed in there,” she explained.
“Hey, Annie, I have to go,” I said quickly. I was just a few hundred yards away from the West Wing and then I’d be safe.
“Oh, okay. Um… call me later, ’kay?”
“Yeah. Bye,” I hung up and tucked my phone back into my bag. A large tour group was getting closer to me and my heart started to race.
It’s not Annie’s group, just calm down. I told myself.
I walked past them, keeping my head down. A flash of red hair caught my eye and I couldn’t stop myself from looking.
My heart pounded in my ear. Annie looked over and our eyes met. Her face clouded with confusion and she began to push through the group to get to me. I quickened my pace once again but I heard her running after me.
“Red,” she grabbed my arm, stopping me. “What are you doing here?”
I looked at her, trying my best to look confused. “I think you’ve got the wrong person.”
I yanked my arm free and continued to walk but she fell into step beside me.
“Redlynne Riding,” she said, her voice low. “I know it’s you.”
“Duh, it’s me!” I snapped. If there was one thing I couldn’t take it was people being annoying. “Do you think there’s just some random clone of me walking around the White House in my school uniform?”
She was taken back, shocked. “Why are you here?”
“I don’t know what I can tell you, I muttered.
“You can trust me,” she said, her eyes seeking mine.
I grabbed her arm and pulled her into the closest room which happened to be the bathroom. An older women was drying her hands when we entered. Her eyes widened with concern when she saw me dragging Annie behind me.
“Hey, how are you?” I asked, trying to be casual.
“I’m fine,” she said as she edged around us and left. I released Annie and she started talking nonstop.
“Why are you here? Why can’t you tell me? You can trust me, I promise,” she would have gone on but I put a hand over her mouth to stop her.
She got the message and shut up so I removed my hand. I pushed on each stall door, making sure no one was in them before turning to her.
“My dad died and I have to take his spot,” I summarized.
“Your dad is the manager of Walmart. Why are you in the White House?” she pushed. “Instead of in school in London.”
“My dad was President Riding,” I said. She stared at me, her eyes wide.
“You lied to me,” she whispered.
“I lied to a lot of people,” I growled. “Too many people.”
She stared at me, her eyes filling up with tears. “You lied too..”
“Just stop,” I yelled. Her mouth quivered. “I don’t have time to explain it all to you because I don’t even know but when I do—I promise, you’ll be the first I tell.”
“Call me tonight,” I instructed her. I slipped out of the bathroom and came face to face with Cassandra and a group of bodyguards., guns leveled at me.
“What did you tell her?” One growled. Cassandra’s arms were folded over her chest.
“Nothing,” I said, pushing through the group.
Cassandra made a hand signal and the group disbanded, disappearing back into the crowd as she fell into step beside me.
“I thought she’d threatened you or something,” she explained.
“I can take care of myself,” I sneered.
“And I don’t doubt that but it’s my job to make sure the danger never gets close to you,” she explained.
“I don’t need a million guards trailing me everywhere I go,” I said.
“Who was that?” she asked, hooking her thumb over her shoulder at the bathroom. I glanced back to see Annie slip out of the bathroom and hurry back to her group.
“An old friend,” I said vaguely.
“Can she be trusted?”
“I don’t know. You tell me,” I snapped.
She sighed, frustrated. “I need more details than that.”
“Her name is Annie Fitz. She used to be next door to me at school and then her parents moved here for a better job or whatever,” I told her.
“We’ll look into it more,” Cassandra said.
I rolled my eyes. Everything seemed to be a little over the top.
The smell of bacon washed over me the second I stepped inside the kitchen. I sniffed again and smelled sausage.
“Brunch?” I asked, snagging a frying piece of bacon as we walked through.
She nodded. “Yeah. We also have a special brunch guest.”
“Special brunch guest, huh?” I stopped walking and looked at her. “He must be like really trustworthy for you to be letting him eat with us.”
She gave me the look.
I shrugged. “Just saying.”
I walked out into the eating area to see a long table that sat maybe fifty stretch down the middle of the room. A white tablecloth with gold embroidery covered the table and shiny silverware was set at each spot.
“Please tell me there’s not going to be this many people,” I said, turning to Cassandra.
“No, just you, Wade, and the guest,” she answered. “I’ll be in the background, making sure you’re safe at all times.”
“Speaking of Wade, where is he?” I asked, finishing my bacon.
“Waiting for you up in the Oval Office,” she answered.
I about choked on my bacon. “The Oval Office?”
“Yeah,” she nodded slowly. “You know what that is, right?”
“It’s the pool right?” I said sarcastically. “Yeah, I know what it is!”
“Just checking,” she raised an eyebrow at me.
“You little….” I muttered under my breathe but decide against finishing the sentence.
I followed her out of the kitchen, snagging another piece of bacon. We wound through the hallways, peopling passing us. Not tour groups like our in the lobby but guards and Senators. Important people. A few people looked our way but other that, nobody paid us much mind.
“Why is he in the Oval Office?” I asked almost in a whisper.
“He’s getting everything set up for after your coronation,” she answered. She showed her card to the guards at the door and I copied her. They granted us access and we stepped inside the Office.
Wade looked up to see us and his eyes instantly lit up.
“Hey, Cassie,” he smiled as he walked over. He gave her a brief hug—kinda unprofessional in my opinion, but whatever. He shook my hand and stepped back.
“No hug for me?” I joked.
He went to give me one but I stopped him.
“I was joking,” I clarified. I was actually relieved he didn’t give me a hug. I wasn’t —am still not— good with personal contact unless it’s someone I’ve known my whole life like Aunt Nellie. Physical contact has always been weird for me. A handshake? Fine. A hug? Absolutely not. That’s just how I am. But keep in mind I don’t care about physical contact when it comes to kicking someone’s butt.
“What can I help you with?” He asked.
“Um…” I didn’t know how to say it. “How much am I allowed to tell people that I trust.”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “What have you told and who?”
“No one and nothing!” I threw my hands up. “Sheesh, you people are too up tight.”
He raised an eyebrow and gave me a, Don’t mess with me, look.
“I ran into an old, trustworthy friend a few minutes ago. She wanted to know what I was doing in the White House and not in London where I’m supposed to be,” I began. “I told her my dad had died and I had to take his place. But she got suspicious.”
“Why’d she get suspicious?” he asked.
“Because my ‘dad’ is the manager of Walmart in Austin, Texas, that’s why. Washington D.C. and Texas are nowhere close.”
“Okay,” Wade held a hand up to stop me. “You need to stop being so sarcastic.”
“And you need to stop being so—,” I searched for a word. “Over the top.”
He looked at me as if to say, “I’m sorry, what?”.
“Just hear me out,” I said, glaring at him.
“Okay,” he threw his hands up in the air and took a step back— a sign of defeat.
“She and I used to go to the same school before her parents moved the whole family to Maryland a few months back. She called me this morning to tell me about the tour of the White House she was on. I tried to evade her as best as I wanted too but… I guess— it didn’t work,” I paused to catch my breath. “She wanted to know why I was here and I just told her my dad was President Riding.”
He folded his arms over his chest and stared at me.
“What?” I asked, fear bubbling up inside my chest.
“Do you have any clue what you may have just done?” He asked, his voice hard. “Do you have any idea?”
I shook my head. “No.”
“Neither do I,” he said. He turned around and walked back to the desk. “Come here.”
I followed him behind the desk and he motioned for me to sit in the chair. I gladly obliged.
He titled the computer monitor so I had a better view and took control of the keyboard.
“What’s your friends name?” he asked, clicking on the search bar.
“Annie Fitz,” I answered. He quickly typed it in and hit ‘enter’. In a split second, a ton of
information on a ton of Annie Fitz’s popped up. Next to each name was a picture.
“Which one’s her?” he asked.
I commandeered the mouse and clicked on the fifth one down. She was one of the only five that had red hair and I’d recognize that smile anywhere.
“Ah, she’s an interesting person,” he said, thinking out loud. “She was born in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was sent to boarding school at the age of ten. She got all good grades. If you want her current address, there it is.” he tapped the screen. “And her phone number.” he tapped in a different location. “And every file on every single last one of her friends, including you.”
“Do you have a list of all her boyfriends and their numbers?” I asked, leaning forward in my seat.
“Why?” he questioned, eyeing me.
“Well, some of them were cute,” I said, wiggling my eyebrows.
He snorted. “Red, you have terrible tastes.”
I watched as he scanned through the files on her friends, looking at the pictures.
“In my defense, the last time I met any of her boyfriends, I was twelve. My tastes have
upgraded a lot since then.”
“Mhmm,” he nodded. “Sure.”
“So what can I tell her?” I asked. “I told her to call me tonight.”
“You can tell her whatever you feel like she should know. That’s your call to make. No
pun intended,” he said. “But let me see your phone.”
“Why?” I asked as I dug it out of my bag. I missed the familiar bulge in the fabric of where my gun had been concealed. When I had gone through security the first day, they took it away. I handed it over to him and he popped the case off. He pried the back off and then took the battery out.
“What are you doing to my phone?” I asked, a little worried that it would never work
“For your security, we need to be able to hear every call you get or make,” he explained.
“This device-” he held up a chip smaller than his pinky nail. “Will record everything you say and whatever the other person says.”
“But what if I’m having a personal conversation with my boyfriend?” I asked.
“You don’t have a boyfriend,” he said, looking at me out of the corner of his eye.
“How would you know?” I asked, annoyed.
“Because if you did, we’d be the first to know. Maybe even before you. Trust me,”
He popped the battery back in place, put the back onto the phone, and put the case on. He handed it back to me and I dropped it into my bag.
“Oh, it also records texts messages, search history, and any chats you have on different apps or websites,” he added.
I glared at him. “I hate you.”
“Just a warning,” he shrugged. “So you’re not too taken aback when we call you up about your search history.”
“Ha-ha funny,” I said sarcastically.
“Yeah, I thought it was,” Wade shrugged. He changed the subject. “Have you ever heard of Holland Kyle?”
“Holland Kyle?” I rolled the name over a few times in my head, trying to put a face to it. It sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it. “It sounds familiar.”
“Okay,” Wade said. He exited the program on the computer and stood up.
Wade motioned for me to follow him as he made his way for the door, with Cassandra close behind. We wound our way through the West Wing where people moved aside for us. They obviously knew Wade. I still didn’t know what purpose he served. When we got to the lobby, news reporters were lined by the door, cameras flashing as security guards held everyone in check. The crowd parted as we made our way closer to the front steps. I stood between Wade and Cassandra, several guards surrounding behind us and two in front. A boy walked closer to us, surrounded by six bodyguards.
He shook Wade’s hand and then held his hand out to me. I looked at him for a split second before shaking his hand. He had loose brown hair with a strand that had fallen into his face. His chocolate brown eyes seemed to stare into my soul.
“I’m Holland Kyle, and you are Redlynne Riding, right?” he asked in a heavy British accent.
I nodded. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to see you again, Cassandra,” he said, shaking her hand.
I leaned over to Wade. “Who is he?”
“He’s Prime Minister Kyle’s second oldest son,” he answered. “An old friend of the Riding family.”
“It’s been a long time since I last saw you, Red,” Holland turned back to me. “We have a lot of catching up to do.”
“Hmm, funny thing, I don’t know who you are,” I said, voice hard.
“Well, it has been ten years,” he smiled despite how rude I had been.
I turned away and started making my way back through the crowd. Wade caught up with me and fell into step beside me.
“Where are you going?” he asked. “That’s not how you’re supposed to treat your guest.”
“I’m hungry,” I snapped. “And I don’t want to talk to any ‘old friends of the family’.”
“Why not? You guys used to be the best of friends,” he said.
I stopped and looked at him. “He’ll just go on and on about how great my Dad was and
what a wonderful man he was.”
“I don’t understand how that’s a bad thing,” Wade countered.
“My dad was not a good man,” I said. “He was a terrible man who put on a show and pretended he was great.”
He looked at me wide-eyed. “You can’t say that.”
“I just did,” I smirked. “Get used to it. I’ma speak my mind.”
I nervously wiped my hands on skirt, waiting for Wade to bring up the fact that I’d been rude to Holland. I quickly glanced at them but none of them seemed like they were about to say anything. I bit my lower lip and reached for my bag. If they weren’t going to be social, neither was I.
I pulled my sketchbook out and grabbed a pencil with it. I flipped the book open to the middle and started to draw. I’m not an expert artist, just little doodles that look like nothing. I tried to get the two circles for the eyes the same size, but it seemed like a lost cause.
It adds character. I inwardly shrugged.
I continued to sketch, oblivious to the fact that Wade and Holland were now talking. Their voices turned into background noise as I submerged myself in my drawer.
“Red,” the voice snapped me out of it.
I looked up at the two boys, confused.
“What?” I asked, my voice not being as harsh as I wanted it to be.
Holland raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to talk?”
“No,” I said. I tried to go back to my drawing but couldn’t. I slammed the book shut and dropped it into my bag along with the pencil. As I dropped the flap, I caught a glimpse of the letter.
“Why?” He asked. He leaned forward on the table, hands under his chin.
“Because I don’t want to,” I stared him down, hoping he would get the idea. He just stared back, brown eyes never blinking.
A server came out of the kitchen. “What do you want to drink?”
“A cup of coffee,” Wade answered.
“Tea,” I said, finally looking away from Holland.
“Tea, huh?” Holland asked, still looking at me. “I like it. I’ll have some tea too, thanks.”
The server nodded and ducked back into the kitchen.
“So why do you like tea?” he asked. When I just looked at him and didn’t answer, he continued. “I’m just trying to make conversation here.”
“You tell me why I like tea then,” I challenged.
He nodded. “Okay, let me think.” he rubbed his chin, thinking. “You live in London and Great Britain is known for its love for tea. You’ve been at your aunt’s school for ten years. You practically grew up in London. That’s why you have a slight accent. The love for tea has been infused into your blood.”
I looked at him and then at Wade. “Why does everyone know so much about me?”
“The Kyle’s are old friends of the family,” Wade explained.
The door to the kitchen swung open and a few servers came out, carrying plates. They set them out on the table and my stomach rumbled. Bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes, syrup, strawberries, butter, and everything else that goes with it.
I immediately began dishing food onto my plate.
“I’m sorry about your dad by the way,” Holland said, dropping a pancake onto his plate.
I dropped my fork and leaned back in my chair. They both looked at me, eyes filled with confusion and shock.
“What?” Holland asked first. What a brave little soul.
“I’m sick of hearing how everyone’s sorry for my dad. No one should be sorry for my dad. We should be throwing a party instead of having a funeral,” I stopped myself, remembering what Wade had said earlier. People here respected my dad and it was basically treason for me to go around saying these kind of things.
Wade clenched his jaw.
“I totally agree,” he said.
I looked at him, disgusted and confused.
“Your dad may have been a good man at one time, but all the power and control went to his head. He wanted more and more for longer and longer,” he explained.
“Why do you think that?” I asked, leaning forward in my seat. Finally, someone else who agreed with me!
“Our families are very close. I’ve heard conversations between your father and my father that I wish I hadn’t heard,” he said. “I also hung around here a lot and spent some time with your dad. I knew what that man was capable of.”
“Okay,” I drew the word out. “So who would want to kill him, like totally take him out?”
“A lot of people,” he answered, cutting his pancake into perfect squares. “Your dad wasn’t loved by a lot of other politicians. Anyone of those people could have hired someone to knock him off. They’d know the layout of the White House and your dad’s schedule if they were close enough. They’d be able to slip a guy through security without so much as raising one red flag.”
I looked at him. “You’ve obviously thought about this.”
“I thought about this all the way back at the age of ten when my parents actually told me what happened to your family,” he answered. “It’s not impossible that someone with power did it.”
I looked down at my plate and we relapsed into silence. The rest of the meal, I spent in thought. I put myself on autopilot while my brain worked overtime. I thought. A lot. Holland had a good point. I was about to say so to him when Wade spoke up.
“Why don’t you two catch up a little after we’re done here?” he proposed.
Holland and I exchanged glances. I didn’t really want to ‘get to know this guy’. I wanted to be alone to think about what Holland had said but then again, I wouldn’t mind finding out more. He was obviously close to my Dad so maybe I could find out more.
“I’m down,” he said.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “I’m good with it.”
Wade smiled at me as if to say, “Thank you.”
I gave him a weak smile back and quickly finished eating. I pushed my chair back and stood up, swinging my bag over my shoulder. Holland stood up as well and politely pushed his chair back in. I rolled my eyes and made my way to the door.
“Is Holland allowed in the Oval Office?” I asked Cassandra who was standing by the door, gun by her side.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “If you’re okay with it.”
I nodded and turned to Holland who was standing a few yards back, hand in his pockets.
“We’re gonna go to the Oval Office. That way we can talk in private, dig a little deeper, you get the idea,” I stated.
He nodded. “Sounds good to me.”
Cassandra, Audie, and two other bodyguards followed us out of the dining room and down the hall to the Oval Office.
We walked in silence but then a question popped into my mind.
“Why isn’t your family here?” I asked. “Wade keeps saying they’re close friends.”
“They’ll be coming in tomorrow for the funeral,” he answered. “And then they’re leaving as soon as it’s over.”
“That’s kinda rude,” I remarked. “Not that I care. I’m just stating the obvious.”
“I agree,” he nodded. “They are rude. Just being around them for that little time is going to be terrible.”
I raised my eyebrows. “What do you mean? They’re your family.”
“They’re power hungry, they’re cruel, and they’re losers,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t throw a big fit when they sent me here for schooling.”
“Why’d they send you here?” I asked, pushing open the doors to the Oval Office. The guards stayed outside, leaving us alone in the room. Cassandra gave her normal, “if you need me I’ll be outside,” talk and we got to work.
“Foreign education looks better on anything,” he said in a high-pitched voice, pinching his nose shut.
“I’m assuming you’re imitating your parents,” I said, sitting down in the chair behind the desk. He sat on the edge of the desk, picking at his nails.
“Yeah,” he said. He was silent for a moment, a far-away look in his eyes. “I hate my family.”
“Why?” I asked. I loved my mom, sister, and brother; so it was kind of hard to imagine hating every single one of them—it was just my Dad that I had problems with. Who knows, maybe I loved him before everyone else died.
“I’m the second oldest son. I mean nothing to the family right now,” he began. “And I won’t until Dad dies. See the way it works is that when Dad ‘retires’, two-thirds of the job is passed down to the oldest brother. When Dad dies, I get his third and then when my younger brother comes of age, my older brother will give him a third.
“I’m not going to come into play for another fifteen or twenty years. Right now, I’m disposable, not of much use,” he gave a weak smile. “I like it that way. They don’t ever bother me or visit me, and it makes me feel better about myself to know that I’m not becoming like them.”
“How long have you lived in the States?” I asked, beginning to spin in the chair.
“Six years,” he estimated. “I don’t really know. It’s been a while.”
“Tell me more about yourself,” I prodded. I promise you I wasn’t interested. Okay so
maybe I was.
He glanced at me. “Well, you know the basics. I was sent off to school around the age of ten and have lived here ever since. I hang out here on the weekends, just wandering around aimlessly for twenty-four hours.” he laughed. “I live with a nanny and about twenty guards just a few blocks away.” He fingered the two dog tags around his neck and continued. “I hang out with my friends a lot, just being me.”
“Who’s dog tags?” I asked. I stopped spinning the chair and leaned back as my vision balanced out.
“A friend’s dad gave ’em to me,” he said. The edges of his mouth turned up as he continued. “He’s been in the war way back. When his son and I became best friends, he kind of took me in as an adopted son. He made a copy of his dog tags and gave the originals to his son and these—” he held up the dog tags. “—he gave to me.”
“That’s nice,” I said.
He nodded. “I think of them as my family more than I think of my real family.”
The distant look returned to his eyes and I let him sit in silence for a moment before talking.
“Okay, Holland—,” he cut me off.
“Dutch. You can call me Dutch,” he said.
“Dutch? Where’d that come from?” I asked.
“It’s my nickname. Dutch and Holland, all that,” he laughed. “Saying that out loud sounds really weird.”
“Dutch it is,” I said. I didn’t want to make him feel bad.
There ya go again, Red. Trying to protect people’s feelings. What’s getting into you? I mentally yelled at myself.
Maybe I’m trying to be nicer. I argued back.
Before I got into a deep argument with myself, I turned my attention to Holland.
“Okay, Dutchy, where do we start?”
“The person that pops to mind first is your older cousin, Lady Riley,” Holland said. He pushed my chair over to the side and knelt down in front of the desk. He typed the name into the computer and waited for it to pull up the results. “She’s very power hungry and has never kept it a secret. She’s always talked about her plans for the future after your father dies so that alone puts her at the top of the list.”
The results pop up and Holland selects the right person. “You uncle, Riley’s father, disappeared one night along with his wife, Riley’s mom. They were missing for about two weeks, but they were found in the Miami Canal. Their car was riddled with bullet holes.”’
“How did Riley take the news?” I asked, running a hand through my hair. I would have leaned forward to get a better look at her profile, but Holland was in the way and I was already too close to him.
“She was a little shocked at the beginning, but she handled it like a true politician. She waved it off so to say. She began to talk about her plans for the future now that her dad had passed down his role as governor to her.” he explained.
“How long ago was this?” I asked. So many questions were flooding my mind.
“A year and a half?” he guessed. “She was eighteen when it happened, so she didn’t have to have a guardian or handler. She started making her own decisions from that day on.”
“What state is she the governor of?” I asked.
“Florida,” he answered. “She’ll be here tomorrow for the funeral. She most likely won’t enjoy seeing you.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“You’re the only thing standing in her way. If you hadn’t come out of hiding, she would be inaugurated instead of you,” he answered. “So you can see why she wouldn’t be too happy with you.”
I nodded. “Makes sense.”
“The next person in Missy Weeks,” he typed the name in. “She’s a Senator from New York and has always had major beef with your father. They’ve never gotten along,” he answered. “She would also have the resources to pull it all off. She knows the layout of the White House and could easily get someone through security.”
“Okay,” I drew the word out. “How do we know if she could possibly be guilty?”
He held a finger up, signaling for me to wait. “Hold on.” he scrolled down a little. “She has an alibi. She was actually at a formal meeting with the governor of Michigan.”
I sat back in my seat. “Crud.”
He nodded. “Let me go back and look at Riley’s. See if she has any alibi’s for that day.”
For a few moments, all that could be heard was the fast typing on the keyboard and the clicking of the mouse. I rocked my chair back and forth, trying to soothe my nerves.
“She doesn’t have an alibi,” he said. He stood up and stretched his legs out. “I have a list of suspects I could look up but none of them have such strong reasons for committing murder.
“How old is Riley?” I asked. I motioned him to the side and scooted up to the computer.
“Nineteen,” he answered. “And very manipulative.”
“Do you know her?” I asked, scrolling past all her educational awards and political good deeds.
“Yes,” he nodded. “She’d butter up to your father all the time.”
“So, she’s a brown-noser,” I said.
“Yep,” he smiled. “She’s a brown-noser.”
“You said she’s gonna be here tomorrow, right?” I double checked. I spun away from the desk and looked out the window behind me.
“I’ll have a word with her then,” I stated. “If I don’t get any information I’ll call her in later to talk to her in private.”
He nodded again. “I’d be careful though. She will use your words against you.”
I smiled at him. “I can play at that game also.”
“I have no doubt about that,” he said. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Hey, let me sit
for a moment.”
I stood up and let him sit. As he scooted up to the computer, I edged closer. I rested one hand on the desk and the other on the back of the chair. I watched as he opened a different file.
“I have an idea,” he started. “The security has probably already slaved away over the security footage of your dad’s assassination, but it couldn’t hurt to try.”
“Let me look,” I ordered. He slid out of the seat and let me sit down. “What time?”
“A little after one,” he answered. I clicked on the timestamp at the beginning of the camera footage and typed in twelve o’clock.
The footage fast forwarded to noon and I watched closely as it played. It was the front view of the White House. Nothing was really happening, so I sped the feed up, hoping to catch a glimpse of anything suspicious. The President’s car pulled up and several security guards got out, followed by my Dad. I paused the footage.
“How do I switch to a roof cam?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Cassandra!” I yelled, my eyes never leaving the screen. The door opened almost immediately, and Cassandra appeared, gun trained at us.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, I just need your help over here,” I said. She walked over, lowering her gun, and bent down next to me.
“What are you doing?” she asked. “We’ve already been over these.”
“I need you to switch the view to roof cam. I need it to be at the exact same second though,” I commanded. She swung her gun over her shoulder so her hands were free and started to type. She commandeered the mouse and set to work, clicking away. The feed changed, showing an upper view of the White House.
“I can also switch it to satellite if you need it,” she said, stepping back.
I shook my head. “Hopefully this will be enough.”
“We’ve already been all over this footage. If we didn’t see anything, I doubt you will.”
“Love the faith,” I muttered.
She sighed and headed for the door. “Let me know if you need anything.”
I played the footage and leaned forward in my seat even more. The time stamp read one o’clock. My heart started racing. Dad got out of the car and fixed his suit coat before he turned and looked up at the camera. For a second, he looked straight into it before looking over to the right. My heart rate picked up.
“Cassandra, wait,” I ordered. She stopped, her hand on the doorknob. She turned and walked back as I paused the feed, going back just a few seconds.
“Are these three-sixty cameras?” I asked, looking up at her. I could feel Holland hovering over me, arms braced on the top of my chair.
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Show me,” I said. Once again, she bent down and rotated the feed to the right and back to the left, giving me a three-sixty view. I pushed the play button. The front of the White House was no longer in my sites but rather the area to my right where my Dad had looked.
We watched and nothing happened. We watched for a few more moments before Cassandra paused it.
“He was just shot,” she answered. “At one-o-three.”
Holland stood straight. He bit his bottom lip before speaking. “Play it again.”
Cassandra obeyed, rewinding the footage. We watched again in silence until Holland said to pause. She did, pausing right at 1:02.
“It’s on a loop,” he said. “Or the footage was hacked.”
“What?” I asked. Cassandra’s eyes widened in fear.
“Look," he pointed at the edge of the screen where part of the front steps was visible.
“There’s a person right there.” his finger hovered over the screen, pointing out a little sliver of a black suit coat. “But you can only see half of it.”
“Could just be a glitch in the feed,” Cassandra said.
“Replay it,” I said. “And focus on that area there.”
She did as I said and we watched it, all eyes trained on that one spot. We watched as the man, who was half cut off by the loop in the camera, ran towards my Dad who had fallen to the ground.
I paused it and stood up. Cassandra backed away, giving my space.
“This man wasn’t just in your building, Cassandra, he was in your systems and for all you know, he’s still inside this building, about to finish the job off,” I said, my voice cold.
She clamped her mouth shut, jaw flexing as she kept from speaking back.
“I want you to get a crew in here to figure out who this guy is. I want to see his face by the end of the day,” I ordered. I stepped around her and headed for the door. Holland reached out and grabbed my arm as I walked by him. His grasp seemed to burn my skin.
“What?” I asked.
“They missed this the first time,” he said, lowering his voice. “What makes you so sure they aren’t going to miss it a second time?”
I thought about what he said.
“Cassandra, I need a tablet or laptop that has access to those feeds. I want to go back to my room and look over it all a little more,” I said.
She nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
Cassandra played the feed and fast forwarded it a few moments. “Red, get over here.”
I walked back over to the computer.
“Look,” she pointed at a group of tourists, racing for the side entrance. Security was hurrying them along. “There’s a straggler. He isn’t trying to get out of there, in fact, he’s walking closer to the action.”
“But this is too soon after Dad’s death…”
“No, it’s actually two minutes after. We had to follow protocol and get all tourists and civilians out of the building before we just start shooting away,” she began. “But it doesn’t make any sense. He’s not going towards the exit. I mean, he’s going towards an exit but not the one everyone’s being led towards.”
“Zoom in,” I said. She zoomed in. “He’s carrying a bag.”
A black bag was swung over his shoulder as he nonchalantly walked away.
“Should we look into this guy?” she asked.
I nodded. “Get a shot and then send it in for facial recognition. I want to know where this man has been for the past three months. I want to know everyone he talked to in the last week. I want to know the last place he was seen, the last hotel room that he booked, I want to know everything. If this man killed my father, then maybe he’s the same one that killed my family. May heaven have mercy on him because I won’t.”
Cassandra tapped her earpiece and started talking. “Wade, we need you to get Jared in Oval Office ASAP. We have a suspect. I repeat, we have a suspect.”
I sat in the seat, spinning it in circles. My mind was reeling, my heart beating wildly. I wanted answers and I wanted them immediately.
The door swung open and Wade walked in with a dark-haired boy. Tiny freckles were splattered beneath his eyes which were lit up with excitement.
“Ma’am,” he nodded at me and I nodded back. He handed me a tablet. “Look at this. The man you saw was Jason Macks; a retired secret service agent. He left just a few months ago and hasn’t been seen around a lot since then. What I don’t understand is.…”
Jared stopped talking and looked at Cassandra and Wade.
“Your father was very close to this man,” Wade finished for him. “It doesn’t make any sense why he would assassinate him.”
Holland, standing off to the side, spoke up. “Is there any motive for revenge?”
Everyone looked at him. He was leaning casually against the wall, chewing on a fingernail.
Cassandra shook her head. “They had their disagreements but other than that, no.”
I stood up and started pacing. They watched me for a few seconds. I ran my hand through my hair before turning to Holland.
“Holland, you were close to my Dad, what do you know about this man?” I asked.
He looked up at me, eyes slightly narrowed. He spoke, his arm dropping to his side as he pushed off the wall. “They were close. Jason’s brother was a close friend of your fathers. When he went missing in action, Jason and President Riding became rather close. That was years ago, though.”
I sigh. “When was the last time he was seen?”
“Two days ago in the SCI Forest State Penitentiary,” Jared answered, handing me back the tablet. “He visited a man named Ryan Matts, his brother-in-law. We weren’t able to get audio for this clip though.”
“And since he’s related to the man, it makes it easier for him to get in,” Cassandra added.
Holland glanced at me, his brown eyes searching my face. “Is there any possible way we can see this man?” he pointed at Ryan Matts.
Jared nodded. “Red is technically the President and you are all with the government so it shouldn’t be a problem. If need be, I can call ahead to let them know you’re coming.”
“That’d be great,” I piped up. I stood up and walked for the door. “Can we go now?”
Wade stepped towards me. “Are you sure? Maybe you should wait until after your inauguration. I don’t think it’s a good idea to dig into your father’s death when his funeral is tomorrow.”
I looked him in the eye, cocking my head to the side. “What do you want to keep hidden, Wade?”
“I have nothing to hide,” he said.
“Then why do you care?” I snapped. “I need to know what’s going here. I’m not going to wait to do so either.” I leaned in and whispered. “And you and I both know that after the inauguration, I’m not going to have time to look into this.”
He nodded. “I do know that but maybe leaving this buried is for the best.”
“Why?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest.
Holland stepped forward and set a hand on my shoulder. The feeling of his hand on my shoulder seemed to burn me. I shrugged it off quickly, feeling as if my skin was on fire.
“Wade has a point,” he stated. “If you do find something, what if it gets out?”
“Then it just doesn’t get out,” I said. “It’s kinda obvious.”
He put a hand on each of my shoulders and turned me to look directly at him. I tried to ignore the burning on each arm as I looked him in the eyes.
“This isn’t a little gang, Red Lynne, this is the government, the White House. Whatever you do find, it’s going to be bad,” he said, his voice low and serious. “Trust me.”
I nodded. “Okay.”
His arms dropped away.
“But I still want to talk to Matts,” I said. Wade sighed, his shoulders sagging.
“Unfortunately, that’s actually not possible,” Jared said, looking up from the tablet. “He’s in a prison in Pennsylvania and it’d take you several hours to get there. Tomorrow is your dad’s funeral, so you need to be well rested.”
I sighed. “I want some background information on this man. I want to know as much as possible.”
He nodded. “I’ll get to it immediately.”
“Thanks,” I said. I turned to Wade. “Let me know if he finds anything.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he nodded.
“I’ma go to my room,” I said. I walked out of the Oval Office and back to my room, my mind reeling the whole time.
If Jason was close to Dad, why would he try to hurt him, let alone assassinate him? It doesn’t make any sense.
I knew that Cassandra, Audie, and Holland were trailing me along with several other body guards. It was their job to make sure I was safe.
Holland began to out-pace the others and soon was walking in step with me.
“Are you okay?” he asked, hands in the pockets of his black jeans.
I looked over at him. “I’m fine. Just a little confused.”
“I am too,” he said. He stopped walking and I turned to look at him.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, worried.
He looked up at me. “I’ll be back later. If you need to talk to anyone, just send Cassandra to get me.”
“Get some rest before dinner and think a little,” he turned and disappeared back into the crowd. His dark-haired head bobbed above the others and I caught a glance of his white shirt and black jeans.
I turned and headed in the opposite direction of my room—towards the Oval Office. By that time, the others had caught up with me, surrounding my from the pressing crowd.
“Where are you going?” Cassandra asked.
“I’ve got an idea,” I started to explain. As my excitement rose, my pace quickened. “If Jason was there at my Dad’s death, maybe he was there at other murders.”
“So you think that he might have been involved in your sisters murder?” Audie asked, falling in step beside me.
“Exactly,” I nodded. “Give this man a raise. First off, if he was close to my father before he was on staff, then maybe, just maybe, he would have known enough about our family and our routine to be able to get to one of us, if not all.”
“If that’s so, then why did he retire just months before you showed up?” Audie asked.
“Take his raise away,” I said, smiling. “The thing is, maybe he didn’t know I was in hiding and just thought that someone had murdered a five-year-old.”
“No, that’s not it,” Cassandra shook her head. “He was close to your Dad. He was probably one of the few people who did know you were still alive.”
“Did you guys know?” I asked, my smile fading.
Cassandra nodded. “Of course. Your father made plans in advance for you to be brought back to the States.”
“Um, my raise?” Audie asked cautiously.
“You can have it back,” I said, waving it off. “Now it’s not adding up.”
We lapsed into silence as we entered the Oval Office.
“Cassandra, I want you to pull up the footage of my sister’s death,” I said, walking over to the computer.
“But that was so long ago,” she said. “It’s probably stored away in the archives.”
“Just pull it up,” I ordered. Audie stood by the door, a blue-haired boy standing next to him.
“Who is this?” I asked Audie, nodding at the younger boy next to him. He carried a resemblance to Audie, same nose and soft brown eyes.
“This is my younger brother, Titan,” he answered.
I looked the boy up and down before speaking. “How old are you?”
“I’m sixteen,” he answered. “I’ve already been trained in undercover forces for a year.”
I smiled. “Why’s your hair blue?”
“Um,” he exchanged glances with Audie. “It was for an undercover assignment. I thought it would come out when I washed it, but I guess I bought the wrong kind.”
“Just like you,” Audie muttered. Titan elbowed him.
“It suits you,” I said. A small smile slipped over his face.
“Thank you,” he smiled even wider.
“Red,” Cassandra called me over to the desk and gave the boys the “one seconds” sign.
“What?” I asked, sliding into the seat next to her.
“I found the footage and watched through the time frame of your brother’s murder. I
know you asked to look at your sister’s murder, but I figured we’d start at the first murder just to see what we can find. Look at this,” she pressed the play button and I watched as the scene unfolded before me.
People milled around in the fast room, champagne glasses in hand. Men were dressed in fancy tuxedos and women were in formal dresses.
“This was my brother’s highschool award ceremony, right?” I asked.
Cassandra nodded. “They tend to dress everything up.”
I kept on watching as she zoomed in on a boy. He looked to be around fifteen with the same shade of hair as mine. He looked a lot like my Dad.
“That’s Blue, right?” I asked.
“Yes. He’s fifteen right here,” she answered.
“His last day alive,” I muttered.
We watched as a server walked up to him carrying a tray. He was handed a glass of water and the server walked away. Blue took a sip of the water and then set it down on a table next to him. For the next few seconds, he continued as if nothing was wrong and then suddenly, his eyes rolled back and he collapsed onto the floor, dead.
“I’ve watched the footage over and over again and I haven’t seen Macks,” Cassandra started. “At this time, he wasn’t on staff but would still have been there because he was a close friend of your Dads.”
“Did you keep an eye on the server? Did you see where he came from, what his last stop was?” I asked.
“I’ve already got a team on it,” she answered.
I stood up and started to pace, my mind working overtime. “If Jason Macks was there, we need to know. Get another team or the same team to track him down also. If they find him, I want them to keep eyes on him as well.”
“Yes, ma’am,” she nodded. “Holland would like permission to enter the Oval Office.”
“Yeah, of course,” I nodded. I looked over at the doors, Titan’s blue hair catching my attention. He caught my eye and gave me an encouraging smile. I smiled back just seconds before Holland entered.
His eyes were glassy as if he wasn’t feeling well. His face was pale also.
“What’s wrong?” Cassandra asked before I got the chance.
“Ms. Riding, can I show you something?” he asked. Even his tone had changed. It wasn’t light-hearted anymore but rather serious.
“Sure,” I said.
He turned to leave, and I followed him out. We walked in silence down the long hallway, Titan and Audie trailing behind us at a decent distance.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. I could feel the worry radiating off him, putting a damper on the bright hallway.
“I remembered something and got permission from Wade to check it out,” he answered.
“I was with your Dad a lot of the time and normally just hung on in the Presidential Suite, messing around on my phone. He’d sit at his desk in there and work on reports and files and such but there was one file he never opened in front of me. It always remained on the bottom of the stack.”
We arrived at the door and he motioned at the lock. “You’re keycard.”
I swiped it and the door unlocked, allowing us entrance. The room was alight with gold and white. The bedspread was a mix of golden strands woven into the white background, making a golden swan surrounded by falling leaves. The carpet was a pure white making me wonder if anyone actually ever stepped foot on the carpet. Sheer white curtains hung by the windows, giving it a cheery, light-hearted air.
“Here,” Holland said, handing me a file.
I looked at it, reading the bold writing that was across the front. Confidential.
My heart started beating faster as if the file held something important. So important it could tear up everything I’d ever known, proving it to be wrong.
The sun went behind a cluster of clouds, dimming the room and taking away the cheerfulness it had possessed just seconds ago. The wind outside picked up and thunder rolled in the distance—a foreshadowing of things to come.
I looked at Holland and then down at the file. The flap on the side had only four words. Mission: Big Bad Wolf.
I swallowed. Something about the name of the mission set me on edge. I opened the file and looked at the first paper—a newspaper clipping about my brother’s death.
Terror Strikes the White House.
I flipped to the next page.
Scarlett Riding Murdered in Riot.
I shut the folder and handed it to Holland.
“He just wanted revenge on whoever did it,” I said, not wanting to look any further into the situation. I wanted to stop the investigation, afraid of what I’d find.
“May I look?” he asked.
He opened it and skipped the first two pages, the ones I’d already seen. He looks down at the file, a frown distorting his face.
“Look at this, he looks familiar,” he said, showing me a picture.
My eyes widened. “That’s Jason Macks. The one we suspect killed President Riding. But why would there be a picture of him in here?”
“Maybe he was a murder suspect?” he suggested.
“No, that’s not possible,” I shook my head. “When my family was killed ten years ago, he wasn’t on staff. He’s only been on staff for a few years. If he was a murder suspect, he never would have gotten the position. Besides, he was best friends with Dad. What motive would he have for doing this?”
“Didn’t his brother go missing in action?” Holland asked. I nodded. “Maybe he’s mad about that and is taking revenge.”
“Then I’d be long gone,” I countered. “Cassandra said that he knew I was in hiding. If he wanted to kill me then why didn’t he do it then?”
“Maybe he didn’t want to incriminate himself. If he was one of the few people that knew you were in hiding, then, if you did turn up dead, there’d be a limited number of suspects,” he pointed out.
I sighed just as someone knocked on the door, causing us both to jump. The door opened and Wade entered.
“We need you in the Oval Office,” he said. “We found something on Jason Macks.”
I stepped closer to him. “What?”
“He was spotted at Louisville International Airport in Kentucky early this morning,” he started. “We lost him in a crowd and couldn’t find him after that, but Cassandra had teams reviewing footage of the murders and Jason Macks was spotted.”
“In which murder?” I asked, my heart once more picking up its pace.
“Your sister,” he answered.
I leaned back on my heels. “That doesn’t add up.”
Holland raised an eyebrow at me, asking me to explain.
“My sister was killed during a riot in front of the White House,” I said. I’d heard the story so many times from Aunt Nellie, I could practically recite it word for word. “One of the bodyguard’s pulled a gun on her and shot her ten times. Why would Macks be there?”
Wade shrugged. “I have no clue, but it just puts him higher on the list of suspects.”
I looked down at the folder. Dad thought he was suspect, yet he still got the position.
“I need to think,” I said, my voice hollow. “I’m going back to my room.”
Pushing past Wade and the security guards, I quickly walk to my room. I knew Audie and Titan were behind me along with several other bodyguards, but I didn’t care. I just needed to make it to the security and privacy of my room before I blew up.
I slammed my bedroom door shut as the guards took their positions on each side of the door and hallway. I tossed the folder onto the nightstand by the bed and jumped stomach down onto the bed. I laid there for several minutes, the gears of my mind spinning.
“None of this is adding up,” I muttered to myself. “Is Jason the murder or not? If he is, why would Dad not have done something to keep him from getting the position?”
“Maybe someone else paid Jason and diverted all the attention so he wouldn’t be suspected and could get closer to the President,” I said a few moments later.
“No, that’s not it,” I said, climbing off the bed.
“But what if that is it?” I asked myself. “What if we just have to dig a little deeper to find this person?”
None of this is adding up. Is Jason the murderer or not? If he is, why would Dad not have done something to keep him from getting the position? Maybe someone else paid Jason and diverted all the attention so he wouldn’t be suspected and could get closer to the President.
The first name that popped to mind was Riley Riding, my cousin. She would have been the next President if I hadn’t shown up. That was motive enough to hire someone. Her parents had also been killed, clearing anyone that could take the position before she did.
I yelled in frustration. Someone knocked on the door.
“It’s okay, I’m not getting murdered in here!” I yelled, annoyed.
“It’s me, Holland. May I come in?” he asked.
Jumping from the bed, I went to the door and opened it. He entered briskly, and quickly, stepping to the side as I shut the door, leaning up against it, and watched his matter-of-fact movements as he went over to the nightstand and picked up the folder.
“Have you looked through it anymore?” he asked, nodding towards the file.
I shook my head. “No. A part of me doesn’t want to and it’s outweighing the part of me that does want to look through it.”
He opened it and took out the first couple of pages. “These are articles about your family and their murder.” he set them down on the bed and continued to scan through the rest of the file. “These are papers on Jason Macks.” he set them down on the bed also in their own stack. “These are files on you.”
Instead of putting them on the bed, he handed them to me.
“You need to look through these,” he ordered.
I took them and leafed through them. One was a newspaper article about how I’d gone missing at the age of five. Towards the end of the article, one sentence was highlighted in yellow. Some people believe that President Riding has sent his daughter away so as to keep her safe, but he refuses to say anything on the matter.
I dropped the article onto the bed and sat down next to it. I scanned the other articles, each one saying the same thing. I disappeared at the age of five, just a few weeks after my sister was killed. I sorted them out according to date and topic seeing as some weren’t just focused on me but the entire Riding family. When I was done, I was left holding an envelope.
“Hey, look at this,” I said, holding it up so Holland could see.
“Are you going to open it?” he asked.
I nodded and tore it open. It was a letter, written in the same loopy handwriting as the letter given to me after Dad died. I began to read.
If you’ve found this letter that means you’ve been in the Presidential Suite and probably with Holland Kyle. He’s a good kid but he’s too curious. It may get him killed one day.
Now, I can only guess the questions that are running through your head right now, but I’ll try my best to answer them. You probably think that this file is about getting revenge. It’s not. Jason Macks, who you are probably suspicious of, is an old friend of mine. We have been for over twenty years. The thing is, I can’t say much in this letter seeing as you may use it against me, so I’ll just say what I have to say.
I’m not dead, Red. I’m not dead.
The letter ended there, and I handed it to Holland who read through it and then looked at me.
“What?” he asked, eyes wide with confusion and surprise.
“I literally saw him dead, on his bed,” I argued, my voice taking on a desperate tone. “It’s not possible. He wasn’t breathing, moving….”
“Calm down,” he put a hand on my shoulder and pushed me down onto the bed. He stepped back, letter in hand. He ran a hand through his hair as he turned around in a slow circle.
“Why?” he muttered under his breath. “Why would someone fake their own death? For what reason?”
I looked at him blankly. “I have no idea.”
“Look, it’s late. You missed lunch and dinner and you should be asleep right now. Your dad’s funeral is tomorrow and the day after that is your inauguration,” he said, sitting down on the bed next to me. “You can’t tell anybody about this until after your inauguration, okay?”
Tiredness suddenly seemed to grab at my bones. My whole body deflated as I yawned. I nodded. “But why?”
“It could mess things up,” he answered. “You should get some rest. You have some big days ahead of you.”
“Good night, Red Lynne,” he said, walking for the door.
“Good night, Dutch,” I answered, my eyes barely staying open. As he shut the door behind him, I dropped over on the bed, asleep.