Bicoastal Banterby Elizabeth
Sam popped yet another Tums into his mouth. He hadn't taken so many at once since the Al Keifer lunch. Back then, the heartburn was caused by work stress, this time it was personal. He was beginning to wish he'd taken her to Atlantic City to elope the afternoon they'd become engaged. Their plane was about to land in San Diego.
"Those aren't Tic-Tacs, Sam," she muttered putting a hand on his arm. "Why are you so tense anyway? You met my family in NC and it went fine. Paisley thinks you're a nice guy and you said yourself that you and Greg get along great. My Dad was supportive, my mom thinks you're adorable. You even got Megan's vote 'Sam I Am'. Don't you think I can be just as adorable as you can?"
"Ainsley, I know you're adorable. But, my family isn't like yours! My parents are in the midst of a bitter divorce -- they've declared a temporary cease fire in honor of your visit. My sister, Chardonnay, is a manipulative little monster, my brother Brian is a horny idiot. And be warned -- they used to tease me without mercy. He used to set up the shot and she'd fire at me. Or she'd hold me down while he beat me up. My mother was always on their side. Oh, and they ALL think the only reason any woman would be interested in me is for my trust fund."
"It's not big enough to interest me, Sam." She laughed.
He shot her the look. "Give me a couple minutes alone with you Ainsley -- it'll be plenty big."
"Your trust fund SAM." She smiled and shook her head. "Have you told them anything about me?"
"No, but Dad never misses my TV appearances -- he knows who you are."
"Well, at least he knows I'm not a dumb blonde!" she said trying to be an optimist.
"Just fatally fascist."
"And explain to me how that's worse than lunatic liberal?"
"Honey, as bad you're imagining this is going to be: trust me, it'll be worse."
She rubbed her eyes. "I don't suppose you have some Tylenol in that little pharmacy you call a jacket pocket?" Wordlessly, he tossed her a small tube -- sure enough, it contained Extra Strength Tylenol.
The Seaborn clan had obediently gathered at the family homestead in response to matriarch Madeline's summons. They sat silently in the living room of the beach house. Sam always hated that house it was full of miserable memories of childhood. After stowing her suitcases in the guest house, and his in his old room, he wrapped an arm around her waist to lead her like a lamb to the slaughter. He wasn't sure who was supporting whom as they entered the living room.
His father and brother dutifully stood in deference to the arrival of a lady. Ainsley figured that was a good sign. Sam knew better: it was his brother's way to jockey for position before firing the first shot. After introductions were made Brian headed for the bar. "Sam, beer?"
"Yeah, thanks." Sam didn't see it coming.
"Ainsley what can I get you?"
"Beer sounds good. Thanks."
"Ainsley?!" Chardonnay gasped. "Are you sure that's wise? When exactly are you due anyway?"
She pretended the remark went over her head. "Do? I thought Sam would have told you. I'm an Associate White House Counsel. I spend most of the day doing research to advise the senior staff about constitutional issues, legislative guidelines, committee liaison work."
Austin Seaborn chocked on his scotch.
Sam smiled, his Blonde Republican Sex Kitten couldn't have deflected the shot better. But, he wasn't in the mood to take any crap from his siblings either. "Char, Ainsley isn't pregnant." He couldn't believe she'd asked the question before dinner. Oh, he'd expected them to ask, but for crying out loud why was it the first thing they said to her? It was a cheap shot.
His mother pretended to be pleased. "She's not? Well, Sam, you can't blame Chardonnay for wondering." She turned to Ainsley, "Dear, you can't deny it's been somewhat of a whirl wind courtship?"
"Fitting in a way though. I've always said you're a wind bag, Sammy," Chardonnay muttered.
"Funny, Sis, I always thought you were a sleaze bag."
"Samuel Normal Seaborn you will watch your tongue in my house! Ashley, I'm hoping now that Sam is settled down he'll spend some more time with his family, dear. Perhaps you can convince him to come to California more often. He hasn't been home in over 18 months, dear."
"Mother, you know damn right well her name is AINSLEY and please remember WE serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States. It's not like either one of us can shuffle our schedules and come to California on a whim. Generally speaking, the leader of the free world likes to keep his senior staff in the same time zone he's in."
A servant came in to announce dinner. They managed to chat fairly blandly for a while. Ainsley deflected their attacks admirably. She'd been put through worse by better people. Austin Seaborn had almost nothing to say and kept looking at his watch. Chardonnay and Brian took turns trying to goad her into a family values debate, a gay rights debate, tax reform discussions and medicare issues. Each time she refused to allow them to get under her skin. Being called 'dear' at the end of each of his mother's sentences was getting on her nerves though.
Over dessert Chardonnay fired another volley. "Ainsley, Mother and I hope you'll join us at the club tomorrow. We always play tennis Saturdays while Dad, Brian and Sam play golf."
"Sounds nice, thank you. Now, I wish I'd brought my racket."
"Oh you play, dear?" Sam's mother sounded surprised.
"Not enough since I moved to Washington. There just isn't time." Ainsley took a bite of her cheesecake. The other ladies had declined dessert. She wondered if she could have theirs too.
"Chardonnay is reigning club doubles champion. Sam's former fiancee is her partner." His mother went on. "Oh, I hope you won't feel awkward if we bump into her, dear."
"I never would have thought if it, Mother!" Chardonnay was good at this game. "Ainsley, are you going to be okay -- meeting the one that got away?" His sister's voice dripped with false concern.
"No problem for me at all." Ainsley replied cheerfully. "I'd love to meet Lisa." She and Sam had talked about his broken engagement. She didn't consider the woman a threat in the least. "But, she left your brother during the Bartlett for America campaign, right? I'm a details kind of gal. Let's describe Lisa as the fool that threw him back not the one that got away, okay?"
Sam smiled at her over his coffee. He hadn't had this much fun at a family dinner in years. No, EVER. After dinner she was ready for some alone time with him. "I've never seen the Pacific from here. Are the waves really as big as I've heard?"
"Why don't you see for yourself? Excuse us everyone." He took her hand and headed for the sand. "You were great in there."
"Thank you. I have a couple questions for you though." She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him first. "Your dad looks like he's waiting to say something. Does the old dog bite?"
"We could ask his mistress?"
"Let's let that sleeping dog lie for now okay?"
They walked along the beach a little further. "Is Chardonnay a nick name?"
"No, she was born in Napa. My mother thought it was . . . unique."
"Based on how much she drank tonight I'd say it was prophetic."
"You really are a stickler for details aren't ya?"
Ainsley smiled. "Why does Brian hate you so much?"
"I got out."
"Why doesn't he?"
Sam shrugged. They walked a little further and kissed a while longer before turning back. A large wave crashed in suddenly getting her white slacks soaked. The pant leg clung like a second skin. She'd have to change before rejoining the others. When she came back into the living room, she found Sam in a roaring argument with his father. "Because I said, it's not necessary!"
"Son, I went to the trouble of having this drawn up, the least you two can do is look at it?"
"I said it's not necessary!"
His mother stepped in. "No one is saying our little Southern Belle isn't perfectly charming Samuel. I bet the little dear is just fetching in a bikini . . ."
"Sam likes me in a thong best." Ainsley smiled from the doorway. Brian raised his drink in a mock salute to Sam after leaning around to get a better look at his future sister in law's butt. Never one to spend hours primping, she had changed very quickly. Sam went white -- he could tell she'd overheard. As for the thong, he really did hope she'd packed it, she was right, he loved it. But now wasn't the time to ponder her ass: damn, his family was bound and determined to talk about her assets.
She was using her best lawyer voice. His family was in trouble. Big Trouble. "I take it you mean a standard prenuptial agreement, Austin. I'd be happy to look at it for you. I've never practiced family law but." Her deflection didn't work this time unfortunately.
"Ainsley dear, my husband just wants to make sure Sam is protected in case things don't ugh, work out as joyfully as you'd expect them to. I'm sure protecting Sam is important to you too, isn't it dear?"
"Since I'm the only person in this room who's ever done anything, or demonstrated any genuine interest in protecting Sam, yes, I'd be delighted to look at that agreement. If it's satisfactory and even marginally fair, I may sign it without any discussion or modification. But before I do, we're going to get a few things straight around here while I, as we say in Washington, hold the floor." She paused for her only breath. "Chardonnay, Brian, picking on your baby brother seems to be your favorite pass time. Well, get over it. It's time you either got jobs or a new hobby because as long as I'm around, it's not going to happen anymore. Your brother happens to be one of the most influential people in this country -- he has the ear of the President of the United States. He may be a bleeding heart liberal but in spite of that, he's a decent, kind, loving man -- if you stopped trying to one up him all the time you might see that. If you don't -- well it's your loss."
She turned to his dad, "Austin, obviously you've been distracted by the mess you recently made of your own personal life or you'd have had an investigator check me out. For the record, my family made most of its money at the turn of the last century building railroads -- the Grand Trunk to be specific. My great-
grandfather, Melville Hayes died on the Titanic. My grandfather survived the depression because he also liked gold and diamond mines not just choo-choo trains. I would bet my trust fund is 15 times larger than Sam's but, we haven't bothered exchanging financial statements or tax returns. My father's law degree, like my own, is from Harvard. He is a federal judge in North Carolina with more than 15 years' service on the bench. Before that he was managing partner of the most prestigious law firm in the Carolinas. My mother graduated sum cum laud from Radcliffe and is a state chairperson of the American Red Cross. She serves on the Board of Directors for the fund-raising arm of the American Cancer Society and has accomplished all that with the great burden of speaking with a Southern accent. Sam and I recently attended their fortieth wedding anniversary party. My twin sister," she turned to Brian and added, "and no we don't do group scenes, has been married, to the same man, for eight years. They met at college so I think they've been together almost ten. Her husband is an architect and real estate developer, they have a three-year-old daughter."
"And finally, Madeline, a deer is a four-legged animal with a short fluffy tail. I have two legs and we'll let Sam extol the virtues of my tail at a later date. Please do not call me that again unless it is a genuine term of endearment because right now, it sounds very condescending." She sashayed across the room and grabbed a pen from a desk set. Ainsley grabbed the document from her startled future father in law's hand, read it thoroughly, and signed it.
She passed it to Sam who just grinned and affixed his own 'S. Seaborn' with equal flourish. "I think I can trust a White House Counsel."
Then, as if nothing out of the ordinary had transpired in the last fifteen minutes she yawned and said, "I'm afraid I'm still in the eastern time zone and, since it's three a.m. for me, I think I'd better call it a night, everyone. Sleep well."
"Goodnight" Sam nodded to his family and followed her to the beach house. "Ainsley, please, promise me they didn't scare you off tonight?"
"Sam, if being the only Republican in the White House doesn't scare me what makes you think that little scene would? It's not like you didn't try to warn me. Now, I love you Samuel Norman Seaborn and I'm dying to go to bed."
"Me too," he whispered huskily pulling her tightly against him. He knew they'd be together soon but the wait was killing him. He settled for a deep kiss. Her knees almost gave out. She almost gave in but as he caressed her face she could tell he wasn't asking her to.
"I love you, too, Ainsley Hayes. Um, that Deer stuff gave me an idea, can I call you Bambi?"
"Only if you're planning to die a sudden violent death shortly thereafter."
"All righty then. Good night Ainsley." Sam walked back to his old room figuring it could have gone worse. Much worse.