It had taken twenty-four years to get to New Jersey, twenty-eight if you started counting from when Daniel was killed. Which would only have been right, for that was when it had all begun...all of the planning and scheming and orchestrating that had landed Liz Adams-Barton here today, standing at a podium, acknowledging enthusiastic applause.
"Thank you," she said into the microphone at the Sheraton or Hyatt or Marriott, wherever she was. It was not her job to remember. Logistics was what her brother Roger was for: Liz merely had to show up and give a short, impassioned speech that would deliver the votes to her husband. Her husband, Michael Barton, who--not Daniel--was running for president of the United States.
This afternoon, her passion had been directed toward the Northeast Coalition for Handicapped Americans. For an hour now in the red-white-and-blue-decorated banquet room, the audience of eight hundred had been enrapt by her words and now cheered enthusiastically from their wheelchairs and walkers and crutches. They seemed especially delighted that Liz had brought Danny along, Danny, her twenty-two-year-old son--one of them--who sat next to the podium in his own chair with wheels. She glanced down at him. He responded with a hearty wink.
Liz smiled back at the crowd. They were not exactly exploiting Danny. He wanted to be there to help put his father--and all of them--into the White House and into the history books.
All of them included Liz and Michael and the three children: seventeen-year-old Greg, the politician-in-waiting; twenty-year-old Margaret--Mags--the spirited free-thinker; and of course Danny.
All of them also included Will Adams, Liz's father, who stood on the other side of the podium. At seventy-eight, he was nonetheless nodding at the crowd, his faded blue eyes twinkling, the tired lines at the corners of his pale mouth turned up with the pride of accomplishment and the anticipation of a journey nearly won. He was entitled to be proud. Through every stage of the planning and the scheming and the orchestrating, Will Adams had propelled them here to New Jersey where the party's convention would convene tomorrow, where Michael Barton was expected to win the nomination for the highest office in the land.
And where Liz would take her own final lap toward becoming the nation's next First Lady.
The applause continued; the smile muscles ached in Liz's cheeks. She reached down and took Danny's hand. As she gently squeezed his strong fingers, she wondered what her brother Daniel would have had to say if he only could have seen them now.
"You were brilliant, Mom," Danny said as Liz slid into the backseat of the handicapped-equipped van next to her son. Further back was Clay, Danny's ever-present don't-worry-be-happy Jamaican nurse; up front were Keith and Joe, the Secret Service bodyguards assigned to Liz and Danny, their faithful companions, like it or not.
Liz sighed. "I wasn't brilliant," she said to her son, "but thanks for the kudos." During one of Michael's three terms as governor of Massachusetts, she had learned that politics was more about presence than it was about perfection. She pushed a shock of highlighted-blond hair from her forehead. In spite of the fact that the media proclaimed her "stunningly youthful," right now, Liz felt every day, month, and year of her forty-four years, presence or not. It had been a long campaign, and the real pressure wouldn't begin until the convention opened tomorrow.
"You're much better at this than you think," Danny continued. "You'd be perfectly capable of running for president yourself, you know."
She laughed. "And do what? Run against your father?" She did not mention that she could never run, not because the country wasn't "ready" for a female president, but because she had not been groomed to be anything but the physical, emotional, and spiritual support--the wife--of Michael Barton. He was the man with the schooling, the experience, and the backing of her father and his essential connections. Surprisingly, Will Adams had not foreseen that a female president would be possible, not in his lifetime or in Liz's either. It had been one of his few mistakes.
"Besides," she added, "why would anyone want to be president? With all those speeches and the long hours and lousy pay? And the way they scrutinize your personal life!" She let out a strained laugh and Danny joined in. Neither of them had the strength to rehash last winter's "scrutiny," an absurd tabloid scandal that had suggested Michael was gay because there was no evidence that he had ever had an affair or even considered it. The journalistic sensation had finally died down, deemed "unfounded" by the mainstream media and "simply stupid" by Roger, Liz's brother and Michael's campaign manager.
And Roger might have been the one to know. He had "come out" to the family two years ago when Michael was still governor and had asked Roger to be his presidential campaign manager. Roger had said he didn't want anything to hurt Michael's chances at the White House. His wife--who claimed she'd "suspected all along"--agreed to stand by Roger for the sake of the election.
And so, Roger's secret was harbored within the walls of the Adams/Barton family, where it was protected, and where it belonged. Their royal blue Yankee blood may have been curdling inside, but, by God, the world would not know it.
When the tabloid story on Michael broke, Will Adams himself went forth with a press release blasting the media for using the gay issue as the "last frontier" to discredit a candidate. The accusation was untrue, but even if it wasn't, he said, the issue of sexual preference should not be fodder for the media. His announcement was powerful, but still, the family had held their breaths for Roger's sake. And for all their sakes, because heaven only knew what the media might dream up next.
Thankfully, the attack had been dropped. Liz suspected untraceable money had changed hands or that Father had called in favors, but, as usual, she had not asked.
She shook her head now and patted Danny's arm. "How about you, honey? How are you feeling?" As with her father, the stress was beginning to become apparent on her son.
He ran his hand over what would have been dark hair if he had not had it shaved to a trendy quarter inch. Liz liked the look. It enhanced her son's great bone structure and gorgeous brown eyes. "I'll be glad when we get to the hotel," he said. "I need a nap."
"Me, too." Liz gazed out the window at the Atlantic City boardwalk, at the beaches that crawled past in summer-heat slowness. For a moment, she envied the carefree, sun-hat-clad, ice-chest-toting people who strolled toward the gray sand. She wondered how many of them worried about elections or secrets or handicapped sons. "I wish your grandfather had come back with us. He looked as if he should rest, too." She had tried to talk Will out of going across town to meet Michael at a union rally, then from there to the convention center to schmooze for last-minute delegate votes. Not surprisingly, she had failed.
"Gramps loves the action, Mom. Hey--this is his dream, isn't it?"
Excerpted from The Summer House by Jean Stone. Copyright © 2000 by Jean Stone. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.