Washington, D.C. – June 2038
Dylan sits with his head in his hands in the Oval Office. Under President Graham, the room has undergone a modern, clean look. The matching sofas in the center of the room are white-and-silver-striped suede; the silk accent pillows are black with silver trim; the walls and the oval rug covering the majority of the room, marked with the presidential seal, are a cloud gray; the grand curtains that cover the three picturesque windows behind the Resolute desk are silver silk; the leather chair behind the desk is stark black.
Dylan glances yet again at the vacant office chair. Before the month is over, the Vice President will be sitting at that desk, continuing her father’s ideals to pull America out of a depression unlike any other in history, and to force it closer to the dictatorship it’s slowly becoming. Dylan hates using such a negative word, but even he has to admit it’s an accurate description of the current government. Perhaps it would seem less negative if he inserted beneficial before dictatorship. They might control most things from the White House, but no one can disagree that America is better because of it.
Leaning back against the white suede couch, Dylan laughs at how easy it was for President Graham to take advantage of people’s desperation and fear in order to give himself the power to remain in office, and at how easy that power can be taken away. Through a series of laws aimed at rectifying the country, Rob doubled not only the length of one term, but the amount of terms one president could serve. Dylan knows that if he weren’t currently lying in bed, privately dying of pancreatic cancer, the man would be signing laws to again increase those numbers.
If he could, the man would outlaw cancer. Dylan laughs at the thought. Anything to stay in power.
Dylan can’t feign innocence in Rob’s rise to power, though. It was he who suggested the reformation of the cabinet, granting more power to both the Chief of Staff and Vice President while creating a new title, Secretary of Presidential Affairs. After appointing Carson as Chief of Staff and Dylan as Secretary of Presidential Affairs, Rob slowly increased the powers of those offices; the ultimate goal here was to give the President the ability to appoint a new Vice President at leisure, granted the Chief of Staff and Secretary of Presidential Affairs confirmed the change. Through this method, Ryan became the second-in-line.
As the Secretary of Presidential Affairs, Dylan used his newfound powers to enforce a second prohibition in America. His intentions were noble, he believed. He wanted to prevent all of America’s youth from going down the very path on which he was lost as an adolescent; but he had another, stronger motivation for passing this law: his daughter. When Ryan told him, almost a decade after she was born, that his daughter had died of SIDS just weeks before her first birthday, Dylan gave up on the prohibition. Although he didn’t believe Ryan cared about the idea, she continued it and the laws were in effect by the end of the year.
In the corner of the room, a grandfather clock rings twice. The hideous dark cherry feature has always felt out of place in the room, but Rob had insisted on splurging on it.
The door of the office opens, and Dylan looks over at Ryan as she enters slowly and joins him on the sofa. “What are you doing in here?” she asks.
“I think best here.”
She nods, placing a hand on his leg and leaning into him, resting her head on his chest. “The doctor says Daddy has weeks at best,” she says.
He wraps his arms around her out of politeness. Since her father’s health started to fail, Ryan’s attitude towards her father has shifted. Instead of seeing him as any Vice President would see the president, she’s reverted to calling him daddy, something she claims she’s never done before. Growing up, she and her brothers were forced to call him Sir. The man was able to raise and provide for his children, yet he still kept them at a distance; Dylan has tried not to let this bother him, but the more Ryan refers to him as her father instead of the President, the more he thinks of the daughter he lost years ago.
In his arms, Dylan can feel Ryan sob, and he tightens his grip. “Shh,” he murmurs, despite finding it hard to care. If it were anyone but her father, he would. As morbid as he thinks it is, he tries to remember the sympathy he had for her when her mother died of breast cancer years ago.
He wipes the hair from her face as it begins to stick to the tears, and wishes there were something he could say to dry her eyes. Instead, he just holds her until the clock rings three times, then four. Other than the chimes and Ryan’s crying, the room is silent. When she finally quiets down, Dylan sees that she’s fallen asleep. Sighing, he reaches for a decorative silk pillow and gently replaces his body with it as he lays her flat on the sofa.
Quietly, he leaves the office and makes his way through the many halls and corridors of the White House to the family kitchen on the second floor of the main residence. While he walks, he sets the coffee machine to pour a cup of hot water via an app on his phone.
He knows it’s unfair, but he can’t help but feel as though she has no right to mourn for her father. Half of him still blames her for never having the chance to be there for his daughter before she passed; the other half of him is thankful to not have been there to find Maria unresponsive in her crib. Still, some part of him can’t help but wonder whether it would have all turned out differently had he not abandoned his daughter and Anna-Marie.
In the recently-renovated kitchen, he grabs the mug from the stainless steel machine and a packet of licorice and peppermint tea from the cupboard and places it in the cup, dunking and lifting it several times to ensure maximum flavor. After adding a small amount of milk and half a spoonful of sugar, he brings the tea to the office and sets it on the dark cherry table in front of the sofa Ryan still sleeps on. He’s about to take his spot beside her when his phone vibrates in his pocket.
Sitting on the identical sofa across from Ryan, he pulls out the mobile device and checks the message. Dylan’s brows furrow when he sees it’s from Ryan’s power-hungry brother Blake of all people. How is she doing?
Shaking his head, he sets his phone beside him without replying. Blake cares little about both Ryan and their father; he made this quite clear after Ryan was sworn in as Vice President. After Rob began passing the laws that finally shed some light on depressed America, Blake had expressed his concern and disapproval, but it was Ryan’s swearing-in almost seven years ago that pushed him away from the family. So why the sudden interest now? Curious, Dylan picks up the phone and replies. Your father is dying. What do you think? Again, he shakes his head as he looks over at Ryan. She’s watching him.
“Have a nice nap?” he asks quietly.
Sitting up, she notices the mug sitting in front of her on the coffee table, and smiles. “You’re a doll,” she says before sipping it. “My favorite.”
As his phone vibrates again, Dylan takes a seat beside her and kisses the side of her head. He thinks of Ryan’s mother as he feigns sympathy. “I thought it might help.” At least, he hoped it would. He thinks the cry and nap might have helped more than anything. “Your brother was checking in on you.”
“Carson? I’m surprised he left Daddy’s side,” she says between sips.
He inhales sharply at daddy, but shrugs it off quickly. “Not Carson,” he says, shaking his head. He hesitates before adding, “Your youngest brother.”
Ryan looks up at him. “Did he message you?” Dylan nods, and she looks down. “Since when does he care?”
He shrugs, pulling out his phone. “I couldn’t figure that out, either,” he says as he reads the message.
Forgive me for asking.
Dylan rolls his eyes, but doesn’t reply. As he sets his phone down, he receives another. Carson invited me for dinner. I’ll be there at six.a
Groaning, Dylan thinks of the best way to tell Ryan. Looking at her sideways, he knows there is no best way. Ryan’s made it very clear over the years that she wants Blake nowhere near the White House.
“What’s the matter?” she asks, grabbing his hand and setting it in her lap. Her fingers intertwine with his.
He mulls over different ways to tell her. “How about Blake comes over for dinner?” he asks cautiously.
Her grip tightens. “How about not?” She shakes her head. “In what world would I agree to that?”
Dylan smiles and looks her in the eyes. “Ask your favorite brother. He already invited Blake.”
Ripping her hand from his, she immediately stands and nearly spills her tea. “Carson?” she asks, but turns to leave before he can respond. She is out the door in seconds, and Dylan almost fears for the man’s safety. Ryan’s been known to swing a punch when pushed far enough. Slowly, Dylan stands and follows after her. He finds them on the second floor, between the central hall and landing.
“Why the fuck would you do that?” she demands, her arms raised in anger.
Carson has his hands up in defense. “Ryan, please calm—”
“No, Car,” she cuts him off, stepping closer. “I will not fucking calm down. You invited that piece of shit into this house. Why—”
“He would like to make peace with you and Dad, Ryan!” Carson holds her gaze for a moment. “No one wants to believe that time is running down, but it is. He and Dad need to reconcile their differences, before it’s too late. As do you.”
“I’m not speaking to that power-hungry bastard,” she yells.
“Dad has agreed to it,” Carson says, his voice still at a reasonable volume.
Ryan glares at her brother for a moment, but when she speaks, her voice has gone down a level. “If Dad wants to, that’s his prerogative.” When Carson stands silently, arms crossed, Ryan turns away. Her fists are still clenched as she pushes past Dylan. “Whatever.”
“That went better than I thought,” he says to Carson when Ryan is out of sight.
Carson nods. “I anticipated her getting physical.”
“You and me both,” Dylan says before turning away. Instead of following Ryan, he decides to let her cool off on her own and heads to the television room in the southeast corner of the third floor.
He enters the room, decorated in purples and blues upon Ryan’s request, and takes a seat on the oversized suede couch. He pulls out his phone and searches for something to watch on television. Rather than watch the football game he settles on, he’s on his phone, flicking through political news.
The public has yet to learn of Rob’s illness or of his eminent death. Instead, they focus on a new bill he passed for expanding healthcare. Few people oppose it, but Dylan knows better than to believe these reviews are accurate; few people openly oppose anything the government does, and for good reason, given the power it has in controlling the flow of money throughout the entire country.
Dylan barely realizes two hours have gone by until Ryan enters the den and sits beside him. “Blake is here,” she sighs heavily. “And dinner will be served in five.”
Dylan nods, shutting off the television. He studies her for a moment. She hasn’t seen her youngest brother in almost five years, not since their mother passed. “Breathe,” he whispers in her hear as they both stand. She nods and follows him as he heads down to the first floor.
Carson stands in the entrance hall with Blake, who looks exactly as he did the last time Dylan saw him. A much younger female, with caramel-colored hair and lightly tanned skin, stands beside him. Something about her wide-eyed, curious expression and insecure demeanor seems familiar.
Together, Ryan and Dylan descend the grand staircase, lined with red and gold carpet. Ryan watches her youngest brother, just as he watches her. When Ryan finally takes notice of the girl on Blake’s arm, she freezes.
“Blake… What have you done,” she mutters, her eyes wide and face pale. She grabs Dylan’s hand and he turns towards her.
“What’s wrong?” he whispers, but she doesn’t acknowledge him. Her focus doesn’t shift from the girl. Dylan glances down at the pair; Blake has a smug expression on his face, while confusion is plain across the girl’s face. “Who is she?” Dylan asks under his breath.
Slowly turning her head towards him, something in her expression changes, almost as if she’s relieved. “I don’t know. I just…” She pauses for a moment, and then shakes her head. “I can’t believe he’d bring a date to a dinner meant to reconcile our differences,” she finishes quickly before continuing down the stairs. She slightly nods at her younger brothers before heading into the formal family dining room past the main elevator.
Dylan doesn’t believe her, but for now, he lets it go. As he walks past Blake and the girl, he hesitates, getting a closer look at her. Her eyes are an enchanting shade of green, a color that makes him nostalgic. He has to look away before his mind is brought back to a past he has worked hard to forget. As he forces himself to take a deep breath, he notices that Blake’s smile has widened. Dylan has never been fond of the man, but his distrust for him seems to grow with each visit.
Shortly after everyone is seated at a rich mahogany table beneath a crystal chandelier and the first course is served, Carson finally breaks the silence by introducing the girl, Maria, as Blake’s girlfriend.
Ryan’s head snaps up at the girl’s name, and her glare nearly pierces through her youngest brother. “Charming,” she spits, her voice more poisonous than her stare. She avoids eye contact with Maria, though. Dylan wonders if Ryan knows her. In the almost eighteen years he’s known her, though, she’s never once mentioned anyone by that name, though.
“Tell me, Blake. Why are you here?” she asks between bites of salad.
“Because, Ryan,” he starts, seemingly unaffected by his sister as he glances between her and Dylan. “I want to fix the past and ensure a better future for this country.”
Ryan crosses her hands on the table in front of her after setting her fork down. “This is between you and me. Why don’t we talk in private?”
Shaking his head, Blake chews and swallows the bite in his mouth. “On the contrary, I think it involves everyone here.” He looks Ryan straight in the eyes. “But if you want to speak alone, why don’t we go now? Take our plates to one of your other ten dining rooms. We could let Maria, Dylan, and Carson get to know each other better.”
After a quick glance at Maria then Dylan, Ryan shakes her head briskly. “No, no, I think I’m good here. No need to disrupt a dinner already in progress.” Her words are light-hearted, but her voice is bittersweet.
“She has a valid point,” Carson says, avoiding eye contact with both Blake and Ryan. Never has Dylan seen the middle child take on such a literal role, playing peacekeeper between his siblings. Though he will always support Ryan, he pities Carson and his desire to bring his family back together. He believes the rift between the two is too deep for reparations.
Ryan eyes Blake and her eyes narrow. “What do you want?”
He smiles. “I think you know what I want, Vice President.”
Dylan is certain everyone seated at the table, even newcomer Maria, knows what Blake wants: to become Vice President. Unless Ryan steps down or dies, Dylan knows Rob would never nominate his youngest son for the position. Even if he did, it would require the signatures of both Carson and Dylan. Carson might sign, but Dylan doesn’t know if he would; he wouldn’t want to go against the Rob’s wishes, but he knows how passionate Ryan is about the role. She would never back down willingly.
He looks to Ryan to gauge her reaction; her eyes are wide with fear. Blake has something on Ryan, but try as he might, Dylan can think of nothing that could be used as leverage.
Carson lowers his head; he must realize this confrontation is his fault.
“Blake, be very careful what you do,” Ryan warns. She takes a deep breath, glancing at Dylan out of the corner of her eye. “Do not test me, little brother.”
He sits up in his seat, his brows arched. After a moment, he smirks. “I really don’t think you’re in any place to be making threats, Ryan. Think about the current situation.”
Carson raises his head to speak, but Ryan slams her fists on the table, sitting forward in her seat. “Watch what you say, Blake! You are right in saying that it’s no longer between you and me. Take others into consideration before you act or speak.” Her voice rises with each word, and she’s bordering on hysteria.
“Just as you did?” he quickly replies. “You made your bed. Now lie in it.”
“Blake!” Ryan cries as she stands and steps away from the table. Dylan quickly follows, grabbing her shoulders in an attempt to calm her. She tries to push him away, but when he pulls her closer, she wraps her arms around him. Her shoulder rise and fall with each sob. Crying in private is one thing, but for Ryan to cry in front of someone she just met is completely different. What could Blake have over her to elicit this sort of reaction?
“Whatever you two are arguing about, you choose now to bring it up?” Carson asks, his voice low.
Blake stands before answering. “Now is the only time. She brought this upon herself, Car.” There’s gentleness to his voice when speaking to Carson, evidence of either admiration or appreciation. Why he couldn’t speak that way towards Ryan, Dylan doesn’t understand. “I think my work here is done,” Blake says after Maria stands.
Wiping the tears from her eyes and leaning into Dylan, Ryan glares at Blake as Carson leads them out of the dining room. Over her shoulder, Maria studies Dylan and Ryan. She seems as confused about the situation as he is. When they are out of sight, he places a hand on either side of Ryan’s face and returns her focus back to him. “What was that about?” he demands gently.
Ryan shakes her head, resting her cheek against his left hand. She turns her head to kiss his palm. “Don’t worry about it. Please,” she whispers before reaching to kiss him. Dylan returns the embrace despite her tenderness worrying him. He’s never seen Ryan so fragile; he prays she’ll return to normal after Rob passes. Looking over her shoulder in the direction Blake left, he worries that she may break before her father dies.
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