I did warn him.
“I’ll be taking three questions, and one if they’re dumb. Cal in the back.” Valerie smirked, enjoying the chuckles of the press corps as they shifted positions in their chairs. Most everyone was satisfied with Valerie’s analysis of the day’s news, including her swift retort to Eli & Annabeth’s relationship, and so most everyone was relaxed and didn’t need anything clarified. Cal wanted to probe into a small fire in Oklahoma that threatened to ignite an oil refinery, but the woman shrugged it off. “It’s been put out as of… 45 minutes ago? C’mon, Cal, don’t make it easy for me!”
It had been one of her better briefings, but that was partially due to the fact that there were no huge stories clambering for attention. Casting her gaze over the reporters for another question, a movement to her right caught her attention, and her gaze for a moment slipped into a concerned one. An intern hurried up to her, passed a note, and then left again, leaving the redhead to decide how to act. ‘A ‘Steve’ is asking for you in reception. Security says causing a disturbance.’
And things had been going so well up till then. Pocketing the note, Valerie turned her gaze to the people in front of her before letting out a slightly more harried smile. “One more question, fellas. Any takers?” She asked, before a generally non-commtting response echoed loud and clear. “It’s been great, see ya later.” Stepping off of the stage, the woman grabbed what files she’d brought with her before practically speed-walking to her office, dropping off the papers, and hurrying down to reception.
Her body language was far from the usual happy and light-hearted emotions that Valerie usually portrayed. She looked as professional as always but it was clear that she wasn’t playing games, heels clicking on the marble floor as she rounded the corner to see the commotion. There, a tall, well-built man was beginning to shout at some security officers, his voice all too familiar to the woman. Letting out a sigh before he saw her, Valerie stepped into sight before putting her hand on one of the officer’s back. “I’ve got it, Tim, okay?”
Shrugging at the press secretary, the other men shuffled off, keeping an eye on the pair as Valerie motioned for them to move further away. Narrowing her eyes, Valerie’s arms were folded against her chest, clearly not happy to see him. ”What do you think you’re doing here?” Grinning at her, the other man was not matching her mood at all, just happy to see her. “Vally… you look great.” He began, a trace of his corporate charm still lingering in his fancy suit and smug smile.
“Save it. If you’re here for money turn around - I’m not giving you anything.” Valerie’s expression was stony, her glare hiding how uncomfortable the red-head was to see her ex-husband. There was too much past to reassure Valerie that things would end positively, and she was just bracing herself until the shitstorm began. “Look, I only need a bit…” He began, his plaintive tone edging closer as he did, even daring to put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s not much…”
Valerie wasted no time in slapping the hand off of her, and a trace of fury crossed both of their faces for a moment, their familiar routine resurfacing in a city where much worse had been buried. As fast as she’d slapped him away, Steve’s fingers locked around her wrist, a dangerous glare on his face as well. ”Will. You. Just. Listen. To. Me?”
With his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his tie loosened and the first button of his dress shirt undone, Martin returned to his office looking like he had just gone through a bad day when all he had really done was talk with the President, or Nathan. He really didn’t know who he had talked to, to be honest. Even before the big blow-up of Eli and Annabeth’s kiss, the line between being President Walker’s Chief of Staff and being Nathan’s old friend had begun to blur. Martin simply found it more difficult to give objective counsel without some sort of sympathy pushing through.
As he redid his sleeves, Martin noticed the red blinking from the telephone, meaning he had an awaiting message. Pressing the button, he heard Emma’s familiar voice, notifying him of a disturbance at the reception area caused by someone looking for Valerie. Though the pieces didn’t automatically click, he had a sinking feeling, heightened by the fact that it involved a close colleague, ultimately compelling him to quickly fix up and take a look at the situation himself.
Martin took large strides and quickened his pace, making it down the front in record time (specifically just his). Closing the distance between him and the reception area, he struggled to find Valerie, only to catch her having a heated discussion with an unfamiliar man. As soon as Martin saw the man’s hand menacingly grabbing Valerie’s wrist though, he rushed to the scene and fought to maintain his professionalism, which currently hung by a thread. “Excuse me, I believe that is not how you treat the Press Secretary of the White House, or any woman for that matter,” Martin interjected sternly, trying to release Valerie from the man’s hold.
It sort of worked; however, this time Martin seemed to be the target of the man’s growing rage. “Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do with my ex, alright? This is none of your business,” the stranger, who Martin deduced was Valerie’s ex-husband, warned. Despite this, Martin stood firm, aware of Valerie’s past with her marriage and how violent the situation might get. “Actually, it becomes my business when a part of my staff is threatened. In fact, Valerie stopped being your business ever since the divorce papers were signed, so kindly escort yourself out before I’m forced to bring in secu —”
Surging pain was the only thing in Martin’s mind, a sharp heat burning on the right side of his face. After the first punch, everything became a blur with security coming in and that son of a bitch being dragged out. Part of him did wish that they hadn’t come so soon; Martin would have been more than accommodating to return the favor (it counted as self-defense, so he was in the clear, too). However, the main goal had been reached, with Valerie safe and in one piece. “You okay?” Martin managed to string together, gingerly rubbing the right portion of his face.
Valerie didn’t immediately come across as the most cuddly person ever, and certainly wasn’t about to coddle the people around her. But at the same time, it was from her best intentions - in her experience, people became better at what they did when they strove to impress. Even if her gentle, comforting side didn’t turn up all that often, it didn’t mean that it was dead - she felt for the young woman sitting in front of her, and hoped that something, anything she was saying was doing some good, even if she didn’t have a clue what to say, as she could not directly relate.
“Lauren, I care. Everyone who knows about you and Eli cares, and Eli cares. I promise.” She tried to offer a reassuring smile, but as Lauren continued on her thinking, Valerie couldn’t help but see Lauren’s point of view. As much as she was upset that Lauren wasn’t getting the recognition she deserved, it was Valerie’s job to know that it would be better for everyone involved to keep Lauren away from the oft-cruel press. Reaching for one of the girl’s hands, if she was allowed she’d hold it, her grasp gentle and comforting. “I’m not going to pretend to know all the answers, or what goes through his mind, but I’ve been working with the first and second families a long time. If Eli didn’t care about you, he wouldn’t have put that much effort into making you think he did.” Valerie said, her tone measured and careful. “Only you can decide if you want to talk to him or not, but it might be good to clear the air, for everyone’s sake.”
She was about to open her mouth again, offering some comfort if she could rustle it up, but rapid knocks from her doorframe interrupted her. “We’re-” The woman tried to cut in, her body startled and rigid with the sudden noise, but the sudden appearance of her boss calmed her alerted state. At the same time, whatever Martin had for her would have to wait - Right now, Valerie was making Lauren a priority.Giving her boss a glare that was more indicative of their close relationship than her true annoyance, her gaze shifted to Lauren’s, trying to point out the sobbing young lady in her office. Her glare quickly turned into a true stinkeye, but neutralized by a twitching at the corners of her lips, the moment before she smiled. Now was not the time to travel back on memory lane, but she’d only made an intern cry once! It was on the campaign trail and she’d caught him just after selling a story four weeks before election day.
“Martin, you know Lauren Gould - she works as in intern in the Communications Department.” Valerie said pointedly, not sure if he fully understood the situation just yet. Looking to her boss, Valerie pointed out the other chair on the other side of the office and shrugged, offering him a seat at the counseling session if he wanted in.
Lauren felt so broken down in this state she was in. She had never felt so vulnerable in her life. Her dad had definitely been correct when he said boys were no good. He had only been trying to save his daughter from heartbreak. She had gone against his word, decided to do something on her own, and she had only seen his advice backed up with real life occurrences. Sniffling, she tucked a strand behind her hair behind her ear and began fiddling with the hem of her dress. She wanted to go home and get in her comfy pants and cry on her mother’s shoulder. They were too far away, though, and all she would be going home to was an annoying roommate and half a tub of ice cream. She shook her head to herself before Val started talking again.
“You’re the only one who knows about me and Eli! He kept me such a secret…and…” she covered her face with her hands and stifled another sob. She was close to calming down because now it was just empty sobs. She had almost cried herself dry. Well, she thought she did. She knew it would get worse again when she got home tonight. “I just…oh! I know he cares. He has to. There…he went far too out of his way to make me happy. A gentleman-hopefully just a simple guy-would never do that to someone. I just..it’s so hard to look at him now Val. I want to, so badly, but I will break down now if I go and see him. I need to get a bit stronger before going to him. Otherwise…this…” she motioned at her face, “won’t do.”
There were no words to how thankful she was towards Val for helping her. The woman was wonderful and knew what to say. Anything would’ve helped her at this point. She couldn’t handle it much longer and now that she was talking to someone it felt so good. She barely noticed the door open before Martin came in. Lauren gasped, aware of the way she looked at tried to blot some of her make up, attempting to look decent. Standing up and flattened her dress behind her and sniffled, trying to smile at the man. She stuck out her hand and nodded at him. “Good..um..good to see you Martin. I..Val wasn’t…make me cry. I…personal issues..” With that she turned back around and went back to Val, needing the woman to comfort her. “Don’t feel sorry for intruding…I just…it’s my fault for breaking down so suddenly. I just…I needed someone to talk to. I can go if you need to speak with Val! I…” She went to grab her purse, thinking it was best if she left the two to actually do business. She didn’t want to be a burden, after all.
All of Martin’s speculations were clarified after Lauren’s attempt of an explanation, him taking her hand even if a handshake wasn’t necessary. The young woman’s current state almost tore the grown man’s heart into pieces; he hated seeing people cry, his exes included (maybe). “That’s completely absurd. There is nothing wrong with breaking down, especially for what you have been through,” he tried to comfort Lauren. Before she could leave though, Martin gently grasped her by the shoulders, guiding her to return to where she sat as he said, “And I’d much rather you stay here and continue what you’re doing. It’s cheaper than going to the therapist.” He couldn’t resist inserting a joke, hoping to see a smile.
Taking up Valerie’s offer, Martin dragged the free chair closer to where the two women sat and took a seat himself, leaning towards Lauren as he reached out to hold one of her hands. “The chances of you being able to talk about this elsewhere is very slim to none, but keeping what you feel pent up inside will only end up destroying you. You came in here with the highest of potentials, and I refuse to stand by to see you waste that,” Martin advised, trying to maintain serious but not overbearing. Given that Lauren had kept her relationship with Eli to herself all this time, he could trust her to remain mum during the media frenzy. It was only unfortunate that she was the one who paid the expense.
Martin took a moment to glance over Valerie, shooting her an apologetic look for taking up her time and possibly thunder. Retreating, Martin proposed, “I don’t want to force myself into this conservation as much as I already have if you’re not comfortable. If you wish to just talk to Valerie about this, then you’re more than free to kick me out; I’ll understand.” He wouldn’t be as pleased, since being hands-on was an instinct of his, but he didn’t want to pressure her enough as it was. “However, I want you to know that you’re handling this with great dignity, and I highly respect you for it,” Martin closed, awaiting Lauren’s decision.
Unsure of how to react to Lauren’s clear breakdown, Valerie pulled up the other chair in her office across from the younger woman and sat down, elbows on her knees as she watched her cry. Reaching out a hand made tentative by how little experience Valerie had in reassuring hysterical women, the redhead slowly patted Lauren’s knee, offering what little comfort she could.
There wasn’t a synapse in her brain that made Valerie think for a moment that Lauren was pathetic. If anything, she admired her for keeping it together this long. It could not have been easy at all; It was awful to find out that your loved one was cheating on you, but to discover the photographic evidence pasted all over for the world to see? Practically crushing, not to mention the fact that Eli and Annabeth’s relationship was now prime gossip.
Valerie had been one of the few people who had known about Eli’s relationship with Lauren, and she was grateful that it was kept on the DL to begin with. It would have been a lot harder to explain to the press that the Second Son was cheating on his girlfriend with The President’s Daughter, but he’d been previously discreet, and even though it was crushing, it definitely made things better in the eyes of the press.
But that wasn’t helping now. Casting her gaze awkwardly around the room as Lauren let it all out, Valerie’s eyes were drawn back to her intern’s as speech began to hiccup from her sobs. “I know. I know, it’s rough. But at the same time it’d be so much worse to have the press on your tail, Lauren. Like everything, this will die down, I promise.” Even as she was speaking, Valerie knew her words were weak and not helpful in the short term, but she was a Press Secretary, and she knew first-hand the devastating effects of hounding press.
“Lauren, listen to me. There is nothing about you that is pathetic. Not now, not ever, alright?” These words were spoken slowly and deeply, with weighted intent that showcased her honesty. “You matter more to him than just a silly penny, trust me. When we were figuring out how to handle it, keeping you out of the press’ blast was his first priority.”
Lauren tried to calm herself, taking a couple of deep breaths and wiping underneath her eyes. She needed to stop this nonsense but it felt so good to finally let it out that she couldn’t really not stop. So tears fell more silently now but she had to sniffle every now and then. She still hurt, a throb-or ache-pounding in her chest. Eli had started to become someone important to her. She never had someone like him in her life. She had not been ready to give him up yet; never in her dreams did she think she’d lose him like that.
But she had. Now she was to attempt to pretend things were fine when in the public eye and act like she didn’t see them in the tabloids with a new story every single day or that she didn’t hear about them all throughout the White House. It was like her own, personalized, torture chamber. She wasn’t even sure Eli knew she was in this much pain. Her heart never held such a faint thump in her life. She had believed in so much. So much.
Val was actually more understanding than she had expected, too. Lauren-no offense-had always seen Val as the stay-out-of-my-way boss and don’t-knock-on-my-door type of person. Lauren was thoroughly surprised that Val had come to her. It was such a nice action from her and Lauren knew she had clearly misjudged her. She probably loved her boss much more than she had thought. Her words, though, surprised her. Even if it almost hurt to hear.
“I never want the press to actually follow me…I love having my personal life. No one knew about me. Not that I’m complaining about that. This….being out of it is better. But now it’s just all about Eli and Annabeth and no one could care less that there was a third party who feels like she’s dying inside.” She had just admitted that and it never felt so good. No one knew she felt like a wreck. No one. Except Val, now.
Val’s words were comforting. She was helping her with her words more than Lauren had expected. Then Eli’s name was mentioned and her heart dropped. Eli had…wait..he did that? He was the one who had kept the press away from her? “I just…I feel like all I am now is the girl that he has to keep out of the picture! I don’t think he really knows how I feel anymore. I had…I started to like him so much, Val. So much. Now all I’m thinking is that he wanted Annabeth from the very start, that he never really wanted me that way. And I don’t want to talk to him-or I think I don’t-but every now and then I keep contemplating calling him just to hear his voice because I’m not over him and pretending like none of this happened is so tempting. I don’t think I should talk to him but some part of me keeps saying to. And it’s so conflicting and it hurts and I just-and I can’t…” she shook her head, not being able to finish her thought because she wasn’t entirely sure where to go from there. Her head and her heart hurt and it wouldn’t stop.
Who would have known that one of Martin’s problems wouldn’t technically involve the staff he was meant to supervise? Though he knew very well that Marcus had the capability to handle many situations, this one involved young relationships, meaning raging hormones would just be around the corner, therefore making this no ordinary situation that could be simply “handled”. Just when Martin thought his problems with teenage dilemmas had ended with his youngest daughter, the Eli and Annabeth bombshell entered his life via his daily morning paper. As much as he could let the communications department settle it, Martin couldn’t turn a blind eye, not as a friend to the children’s fathers and not as a father himself.
When he learned of the strategy that was utilized to downplay the public display of affection, Martin immediately set off to the Communications Department. Admittedly, it was a brilliant plan to support the kiss with a relationship, thus making the whole thing seem natural. But reducing Eli and Annabeth and a Lauren Gould as mere chess pieces when they shouldn’t even be part of the game? Martin certainly had his qualms about that. A few levels short of storming his way through the offices of the Communications Department, Martin didn’t give any interns kissing up to him the time of day, for he was focused on talking to one person and one person only - Valerie Tipton.
Holding the file he just read not a few moments ago, Martin spared a few seconds to knock on the door of Valerie’s office with his free hand. However, he was never a patient man when driven, thus he never waited for a reply and simply entered. “Valerie, I have a few questions and comments regarding your report,” Martin started, stopping short when he heard light sobbing. Apparently, Valerie was not alone, for she was with a young blond, sobbing. “Valerie, what have I told you about making your interns cry? I’m already having my ass grilled by huma —” Before he could finish, Martin saw Valerie give a face, leading him to take a more proper look at the situation.
Noticing of the two ladies’ leveled position and a comforting hand on the younger woman’s knee, Martin took a closer look at the blonde’s face, only to realize late that she was the Lauren Gould who he had only seen as a passing face and on a photograph. Quickly softening his demeanor, he apologized, “Oh, I didn’t realize…I’m deeply sorry for intruding.” Despite this, Martin couldn’t bring himself to go back through the door and leave the two women be, the sight of Ms. Gould reminding him of his own daughter. This was the very consequences he was afraid of.
19 is legal. Just sayin’.
19 is almost like too far from my age, if she was like 23 I would maybe go out with her.
If she’s Asian, chances are she’s older than 19.