“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Eleven – We Three Kings – As Read By Claude Bélanger

Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the twelfth official installment of “Another Christmas Story“!

This week, listener Claude Bélanger will read to all of you Chapter Eleven of our tale, entitled “We Three Kings”. Within this chapter, we switch back to the perspective of President Emily Williams as she and her entourage arrive in New York City on Christmas Eve to greet her foreign visitors from Canada and England.

We hope you like it! If you do, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many eyes as possible! Make sure to check your podcast feeds for your regular weekly episode on Monday, in which the elves are joined by Sean Sotka of “Christmas Podcasts Podcast to talk “A Flintstones Christmas Carol”, and next Thursday for the twelfth official chapter of this story – “Chapter Twelve: Christmas Wrapping”, which Scarlett of NetfliXmas will be reading to you! In it, Joey and Mary are reunited in the present for the first time since their blowout we witnessed in the prologue, which occurred ten years prior!

Enjoy, y’all!

 

 

Chapter Eleven: We Three Kings

December 24th – 8:00 a.m. EST

Emily Williams sat in an enormous, cushioned, throne-like chair at the head of a long table in the conference room aboard Air Force One. They were about halfway to John F. Kennedy International Airport, and if they managed to actually land on time, they’d have to wait only about twenty-minutes before the diplomatic delegations from Canada and England arrived.

The president hadn’t been able to stomach dinner the night before, and had barely eaten anything that morning; she was far too nervous about the strikes she was going to launch against Russia later that evening, and her mind kept turning over every possible thing that could go wrong as a result of them. Nevertheless, she still had over half a day to go until she enacted her plan, and in the meantime, she had to keep up the appearance of playing the ever-courteous, diplomatic, holiday tour guide to her two foreign contemporaries in the most famous city on earth for the benefit of the public and the press. She was dressed for the part, at any rate, having donned black pants and a white blouse, over which she wore a red blazer to which a golden broach in the shape of holly was pinned. Later, when she got bundled up to disembark the plane, she would be donning a long, black coat and wrapping a green scarf around her neck; she would look as Christmassy as she possibly could, which she hoped would play well for a public that was uncomfortable about the fact that she occasionally said ‘Happy Holidays’.

Emily knew that she wasn’t the only person aboard Air Force One at that moment who was stressing about the day ahead. Her secret service detail was extremely twitchy about the fact that she’d be walking around in the open in one of the busiest cities on the planet, in the middle of a blizzard no less. She knew that the two agents who shadowed her most closely, Clint Keller and Melissa Johnson – who currently stood, alert, on either side of the door leading into the plane’s conference room – were particularly worried about not only her safety, but also the safety of her visiting dignitaries, as they had expressed as much to her the night before in private. Despite her constant reassurances to them, she knew she had not assuaged either of their fears.

Her husband, Bobby, meanwhile, was stressing about having to make small talk the entire day with the spouses of the two prime ministers – Renée Dubois and Jasper Richardson. He was currently sitting to the left of her at the conference room table – to the right of Gary Matthews, who was snoozing loudly as he dozed with his head thrown back and his mouth wide open –  his eyebrows contracted studiously as he stared down at the large blue binder in front of him, memorizing information about his international equals. Emily couldn’t help but smile to herself as she eyed her husband, noticing the way that his tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth the harder he concentrated, his narrowed brown eyes darting back and forth behind his glasses. Like herself, he was in his early seventies, but you’d think he was at least a decade younger; he looked good for his age and was incredibly active for someone that old. Tall and physically fit, with thinning gray hair and an almost line-free face, Emily had met her husband almost forty-years prior and had been in love with him from day one. It still amazed her to think that, all of these years later, they were making history as the first woman president and the first, first gentleman of the United States.

Sitting across from Bobby, directly to the right of the president, was Anna Dreyfus. She was leaning across the table and pointing at certain lines of text in the binder that Bobby was staring at, drawing his attention to particular phrases and expounding upon certain details he was committing to memory. Emily stared at the forty-five-year-old woman, still so young and full of life. Her short red hair was done up in an elegant twist atop her head, and the form fitting red dress she wore accentuated her athletic physique. Her green eyes were open wide and curious as she talked animatedly with her hands, which bore no wedding band, doing her best to ignore the day’s newspapers spread out on the table in front of her.

Images of Anna were staring up at the woman herself from the covers of most of them, the headlines questioning the new chief of staff’s performance at her first press briefing the day before, at which she seemed to give away more about the New York trip than the administration wanted. Emily was aware that her newest employee was bothered by the coverage and wished that the press had gone easier on her. At the same time, however, she knew what the press was like; it was probably better for Anna to get accustomed to the negative coverage sooner rather than later.

The president was still staring at her chief of staff when Anna noticed her gaze out of the corner of her eye. “Is everything okay, Madam President?” she asked, turning to face her boss.

“Couldn’t be better.” Emily smiled. “I’m just listening.” Then, turning to her husband, she stated, “Don’t stress too much. It’s not like it’s your first time meeting them.”

“I know, I know,” Bobby insisted wearily. “I’m just brushing up on the tiny details, that’s all.” He held out his hand for his wife to take, which Emily did with a reassuring squeeze. The gesture allowed the dim light from above to catch the gold chain that was wrapped around the president’s wrist, causing it to sparkle brightly and catch Anna’s attention for the first time.

“That’s a nice watch,” the chief of staff noted.

“Huh?” Emily glanced down at the timepiece around her wrist before smiling wide. “Oh! Thank you!”

“I’ve never seen you wearing that before.”

“I’m sure pictures exist of me wearing it,” Emily replied.

“There have to be at least four out there,” Bobby chimed in. “The day you announced your candidacy; the day you accepted the Democratic nomination; election night; and inauguration day.”

“Oh, more than that!” Emily laughed as she waved her hand through the air nonchalantly. “I’ll have worn this every time I’ve lobbied for a specific piece of legislation, signed a new law, or was meeting with the leader of another country.”

“So it’s a special occasion watch?” Anna asked.

“Let’s just say I wear it for good luck,” Emily explained, staring down at the small watch face kept firmly in place by the simple, yet elegant, golden chain.

Anna smirked. “I never took you to be superstitious, Madam President.”

“Normally I’m not,” Emily admitted, playfully hitting her husband as he laughed. “But this watch? It means a lot to me,” she explained. “This was my aunt’s – my mom’s sister’s – favorite possession. She herself got it as a young woman in Germany when she was touring Europe. When she was in Rome, she was lucky enough to attend a mass at the Vatican given by Pope Benedict XV and was even luckier to have him bless it for her afterward. She gave it to me when I was accepted into college; I was the first woman in my family ever to get accepted, or to go, you see. Ever since it was bestowed upon me, I’ve worn it every time I needed luck and guidance. So I figured if there was ever a day I needed luck, it’s today – what with us possibly being on the verge of World War III and all.” Her face fell for a moment before she added with a smirk, “The only bad thing about it is I can’t wear my Fitbit with it, so I won’t be able to track my steps.”

“Well you couldn’t have picked a worse day not to wear that! Think of how much walking we’ll be doing today!” Anna winked.

Emily let out a laugh. “Does it even count if I’m not tracking my steps?”

Before Anna could come up with a joking reply there was a knock on the conference room door and a young, baby-faced secret service agent with bright blonde hair poked his head inside. “M-madam President? Hello.” He raised a hand in acknowledgement as the president, the first gentleman, and the chief of staff all turned as one to face him. Clearing his throat, he continued, “The pilot wanted me to let you know that we’re going to be touching down in about ten-minutes, and that you should start preparing for landing.”

Emily nodded. “Thank you, Agent…?”

“Wells, ma’am.” The young man puffed his chest out proudly. “Agent David Wells.”

“You must be new,” the president noted.

The young secret service agent nodded. “I just—”

“—was leaving.” Clint Keller, the enormous, good-looking, African American secret service agent who personally shadowed Emily everywhere she went growled, as he stepped into the room.

At the sound of the voice, Wells tensed up and swallowed hard, as beads of sweat began to sprout upon his forehead. Behind them, Agent Melissa Johnson turned from where she stood guard on the left of the conference room door to peer into the room curiously. “S-sorry, ma’am.” Wells choked before spinning on his heel and hurrying so fast from the room, he was practically running.

“I’m sorry about that, Madam President,” Clint intoned to the woman he protected. “The boy is new. He only joined the team a few weeks ago.”

“You scared the poor thing!” Emily pointed out, concerned. “He—”

“—needs to learn proper protocol before he gets too comfortable in the role,” Clint interrupted in a voice that was gentle yet firm. Before the president could argue, he repeated, “Ten-minutes until landing,” and swept from the room in the blink of an eye, closing the door quietly behind him.

With a weary sigh, Emily pushed herself to her feet and paced over to one of the windows to stare down at the island of Manhattan. No matter how many times she visited New York City, she never tired of looking down at it from above; it was an architectural marvel. When she noticed all of the snow flying through the air, she smirked to herself and turned back to face Anna and Bobby. “Looks like New York is definitely in for a white Christmas.”

Bobby craned his neck to glance out of the window behind him. “I doubt we’re going to get out of here tonight.”

“Well, luckily we have a hotel booked.” Emily glanced at Anna. “Can you get in touch with the National Weather Service and get the latest on the storm?”

“Of course, Madam President.” Anna nodded, taking out her phone and scrolling through her contacts to find the number in question.

“I am sorry, by the way,” Emily continued, causing her chief of staff to look up curiously. “For whatever Christmas plans you had to cancel by taking this job so close to the holiday,” she added, taking Anna by surprise. “Normally I’m a big proponent of letting my staff go home to their families on the twenty-fifth, but with the pushback we’re going to get in the coming days in response to tonight’s strikes—”

“It’s fine, Madam President,” Anna interrupted with a laugh. “I was just going to go home to Connecticut and spend the day at my parents’ house. I don’t mind missing it though. My family’s not big on Christmas, and I’m not the biggest fan of this entire time of year, anyway.”

“Oh, no?” Emily raised an eyebrow before shrugging as she turned to her husband. “Well, we have at least three more Christmases together to change that.” Bobby laughed, as Anna blinked, taken aback by the statement.

 

Fifteen-minutes later, Emily Williamson was in the presidential suite at the front of Air Force One, shrugging on her long, black coat when there was a loud knock on her door. “Come in!” she called, as she began to do up the buttons.

The door swung inward to reveal Anna, who had donned a winter coat of her own. “I just got off the phone with the National Weather Service. Chances are good that Elsa is going to be stranding us here tonight.”

“I figured.” Emily sighed as she motioned out of the plane’s window. “It’s really starting to come down out there. Have you talked to—”

“I already talked to FEMA and Homeland Security,” Anna interrupted. “They’re on standby to aid the northeast, as needed. I also spoke with Agent Rickles – head of the secret service?” Emily politely smiled as she nodded, aware of who he was. “He’s concerned about the safety of you and your guests, seeing as how Elsa is going to have us in her crosshairs.”

“He worries too much.” Emily pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “So do you,” she added, noticing Anna’s unsure expression. “We’ll be fine. I promise you, today will go smoothly.” She held up her wrist. “I’m wearing my lucky watch, remember?”

Anna laughed despite herself as Gary, having finally woken up, poked his head into the room. “Madam President? The press has disembarked the plane. They’re setting up their cameras in front of the podium the secret service has set up for you at the foot of the stairs on the tarmac, from which you and your guests can say a few words.”

“I can hardly wait,” Emily sarcastically noted.

“Remember,” Anna began gently. “The world will be watching your remarks. Try to be as enthusiastic, passionate, and fun-loving as you were as a senator and on the campaign trail.”

“In other words, be myself. I think I can handle that.” Emily winked. “I just hope the press can.”

“Also,” Gary continued, as though he hadn’t been interrupted. “Mayor De Bellis and Commissioner Burke, along with a few of the N.Y.P.D. precinct commanding officers, are waiting on the tarmac to greet you as well.” He took a step into the room, as he stroked his handlebar mustache. “And I just received word that Prime Minister Dubois landed about twenty-minutes ago, and Prime Minister Richardson’s plane just touched down.”

“They’re early!” Emily glanced at her watch, surprised.

“I guess they left earlier than scheduled so they could make it in before the snow got bad.” Gary shrugged. “A shuttle is bringing them over now.”

“Well, this should be fun!” Emily clapped her hands and rubbed them together excitedly. “Shall we get going then?” And without another word, she pushed past her underlings as they exchanged a look and walked out of the suite toward the president’s entrance to the plane where her husband was waiting by the open door. Before stepping into the open doorway and peering outside, however, Emily came to a stop and turned to face her chief of staff and press secretary once more. “Have either of you heard from Hughes or Wilson?”

“They’re at the Plaza with their foreign equals,” Anna assured her. “I talked to them briefly before we left Washington. The secret service has acquired floors thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen for your convenience. Security will be on thirteen and fifteen, while you, the prime ministers, and core members of your staff will be on fourteen. Secretary Wilson said they’ve already secured a connection for you to use when you call Russia later.”

“Excellent,” Emily replied with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Then, after taking a deep breath, she stepped into the open doorway of the plane and waved at the three cameras – and the crowd of N.Y.P.D. officers and secret service agents – gathered below, a wide smile plastered on her face. As she descended the stairs that had been rolled up to the plane, Emily narrowed her eyes against the falling snow to peer down at the mayor and the police commissioner of New York City, where they waited for her at the foot of the steps, bordered on either side by Clint and Melissa.

Stepping off of the final step and onto the tarmac, Emily faced the tall, tanned mayor, taking note of his square jawline and cropped gray hair. “Mayor De Bellis!” She stuck out her hand for the man to grip firmly. “How wonderful to see you again!”

“We’re honored to have you visiting, Madam President,” the mayor replied in his deep voice, as he relinquished his grip on the woman’s fingers. “Though as I’ve stressed repeatedly to your staff over the phone the past few days, I wish you had chosen a better time to visit. With winter storm Elsa bearing down on us, we—”

“—will get to experience a true, New York, white Christmas!” Emily interrupted pointedly, the smile on her face becoming more strained. “I’m looking forward to it!”

Though the mayor looked like he wanted to argue with the woman, he clearly knew better than to attempt to. Instead, he cleared his throat and indicated the six-and-a-half-feet tall, extremely muscular, balding with a mustache, fifty-year-old police commissioner beside him. “This is New York City’s Police Commissioner, Thomas Burke.”

“Madam President.” The huge man nodded in acknowledgement of her. “It’s a pleasure.”

“The pleasure’s all mine,” Emily insisted, grasping one of his enormous hands. “And thank you, and your officers, for working with the secret service to coordinate security details today to ensure my safety.” She glanced at the lineup of precinct commanders standing off to the side, watching as she spoke to their commissioner. “I know a lot of people had to cancel their holiday plans at the last minute in order to accommodate my visit, and I just want you to know how much I appreciate it.”

“It’s all part of the job,” Burke replied politely, before indicating the precinct commanders. “Allow me to introduce you to a few of the men and women who have worked tirelessly the past few days to help plan your visit.”

“That would be delightful!” Emily exclaimed, allowing Commissioner Burke to guide her along the lineup of commanding officers in charge of the various Manhattan precincts, introducing each of them individually at which point Emily politely thanked them for their service. They all blended together until the president came to the end of the line, and Thomas Burke introduced her to a pretty, middle-aged, red-headed woman.

“This is Commanding Officer Lindsey Pendleton,” Burke explained. “She’s in charge of the Midtown North precinct, which is the area you’ll be spending most of your day in, so she’ll be accompanying me as part of your personal detail.”

“It’s an honor, Madam President,” Pendleton shook her hand vigorously, looking star struck.

“The honor’s all mine,” Emily replied kindly.

“I was so thrilled when you won,” Pendleton continued. “I enthusiastically voted for you, and—”

“I’m glad to hear it!” Emily interrupted politely, forcing another strained smile onto her face; she always got uncomfortable whenever somebody chose to lavish her with praise. “And trust me, I appreciate it. Just as much as I appreciate you taking time out of your busy holiday schedule to protect me today.” Then, sensing her chance to get out of the conversation, the president took a few large steps backward to address the lineup as a whole, in addition to the many lower-level N.Y.P.D. officers she hadn’t met personally that stood ranged behind them. “I appreciate all of you for the sacrifices you make for the people of your city, and this country, on a daily basis. Words cannot express how thankful I truly am.” Then, turning to face the commissioner, she said kindly, “If you’ll excuse me for a few moments, I want to go say a few words to the travelling press before the foreigners join us.”

She strode confidently over to where the three reporters that had been allowed to accompany her on the day’s trip were standing, microphones in hand, beside their cameramen who were pointing their cameras at her. Smiling confidently, Emily did her best not to narrow her eyes as she surveyed the reporters in question through the falling snow. Immediately, she recognized CNN anchor, Leo Alvarez, standing beside Susan Montrose from the CBC. Standing to their right was an extremely overweight, balding gentleman with huge bags beneath his eyes – the BBC’s Graham Potter. Behind them, the presidential limousine – the Beast – was idling, along with the rest of the presidential motorcade that consisted of a fleet of black SUVs and N.Y.P.D. patrol cars, among which secret service agents and members of the city’s police force were standing at attention, their eyes darting back and forth as they tried to spot any potential trouble. Shivering as she joined them, Emily remarked to the reporters, “It’s freezing!”

“It’s only supposed to get colder as the day goes on, Madam President.” Leo laughed as Emily shook his hand.

“Well, I hope you’re prepared for it.” Emily smiled, as she moved to shake Susan’s hand. “Because we’re going to be outside most of the day.” She moved to shake Graham’s hand. “But the cold never bothered anyone anyway, did it?” She laughed at the clever joke she managed to come up with on the spot.

“No ma’am,” the British reporter replied in his thick, London accent, the Frozen joke going completely over his head.

Raising a hand in acknowledgement of the cameras of the three world news networks, Emily informed the journalists, “I’m just waiting for Prime Minister Dubois and Prime Minister Richardson to get shuttled over, and then I’ll speak briefly before we get on our way. Sound good?”

“I actually think this is them now, Madam President.” Anna, who was standing about ten-feet behind Emily, nodded her head at the two large shuttles that were slowly driving toward them.

“Excellent! If you’ll excuse me.” Emily winked at the three news reporters and strode purposefully across the tarmac with Anna, Gary, and Bobby, as a handful of secret service members hurried to keep up with them. Sparing a glance over her shoulder, she was inwardly delighted to see the cameramen and reporters struggling to move as fast as they could to spin their equipment around in time to capture the moment that she greeted the foreign delegations. “God, I hate the press,” she intimated to her chief of staff without moving her lips.

“Who doesn’t?” Anna replied, as beside her, Gary nodded. “They’re an essential component of our democracy though.”

The two airport shuttles came to a stop in front of Emily and her staff, allowing Canada’s prime minister, Nathan Dubois, to disembark one, along with his wife, Renée, and his staff, and England’s prime minister, Miranda Richardson, to step off of the other, trailed by her husband, Jasper, and her staff. Aware that she was being broadcast live across the globe, Emily stepped forward to greet the leader of America’s neighbor to the north first. “Prime Minister Dubois! It’s so great to see you!”

“Nathan, please, Madam President!” The good-looking, extremely young and fit Canadian leader took Emily’s hand in both of his own before leaning in and giving her a kiss on each cheek, which set her heart aflutter. Out of the corner of her eye, Emily noticed her chief of staff’s own eyes light up with hunger as she drank in the attractive man’s appearance, darting between his hazel eyes and his full head of flyaway black hair.

“Please, call me Emily.” The president smiled before turning to the man’s attractive wife. “How are you, Renée?”

“I’m fine, Madam – Emily.” Renée smiled, brushing snow from her dirty-blonde hair before gesturing around the airport. “Excited to get a glimpse of New York at Christmastime!”

“It’s just like the movies,” Emily assured her, as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose before greeting Nathan’s chief of staff, Michael, and press secretary, Elaine, and waving in acknowledgement at the horde of Canadian Security Intelligence Agents that were continuing to stream off of the shuttle behind them. Then, leaving the Canadian delegation to exchange pleasantries with her husband and her own staff, Emily turned her attention to the delegation from the United Kingdom emerging from the second shuttle. “Ah, Prime Minister Richardson!” Emily shook the woman’s hand firmly. “So glad that you could make it!”

“Thank you for inviting me, Madam President.” The woman smiled, making her lined face appear even more wrinkled, as she stared down her long, pointed noise at the president through narrowed brown eyes. Her short, gray hair contrasted marvelously with her green blazer and matching skirt. “It was a long journey, but how on earth could I pass up the opportunity to experience Christmas within the borders of our greatest ally?”

“Yes, well…” Emily, trying to maintain her strained smile, quickly diverted her gaze to the woman’s husband. “How are you this morning, Jasper?” she asked kindly.

“Tired,” the old, stooped man replied gruffly, as he blinked rapidly. “I can’t sleep when flying.”

“Well, I’m sure that you’ll sleep well tonight then.” Emily turned her attention to Miranda once more. “Chances are Elsa is going to keep us grounded overnight.”

Miranda let out a weary sigh, as Jasper groaned in annoyance. “Wonderful.”

Still attempting with all of her might to keep her smile from fading, Emily turned to greet Miranda’s chief of staff, Georgina, and press secretary, Donovan, before waving a hand at the M15 agents still pouring from the shuttle behind them. She then took a step backward to watch as her own delegation greeted the visitors from Great Britain before Dubois and Richardson greeted one another. As the Canadian and English visitors exchanged pleasantries, Emily sidled up beside Anna, who was still lustfully eyeing the Canadian leader, and asked out of the corner of her mouth, “Did you manage to pick up Christmas gifts for me to give them?”

Anna nodded before replying, her lips barely moving. “I figured that the three of you can exchange them later tonight at dinner.”

“Excellent.”

“Madam President?” Gary began, as he joined the two women. When Emily turned to face her press secretary, he jerked his head behind him at the cameras still set up in front of the podium at the foot of Air Force One. “Perhaps you and the prime ministers should say a few words before we get going?” He looked skyward at the falling snow, which seemed to be getting heavier by the minute, and pulled his jacket closed tighter around him, shivering. “The press is starting to get antsy.”

Glancing down at her watch, Emily nodded. “I suppose we should.” Then, calling over to her Canadian and British counterparts, she asked, “Shall we?” She motioned an arm toward Air Force One and, without waiting for a response, turned her back on them and strode purposefully toward the plane, smiling to herself at the hurried footsteps following closely behind her. Glancing up at the terminal windows of the airport above, she saw faces pressed against the glass, staring down at her – eager onlookers interspersed between stern looking secret service agents – and she raised a hand in acknowledgement of them all. She took her place behind the podium and waited behind it for Dubois and Richardson to take their places on either side of her, which they did after greeting the mayor and police commissioner, who also took their places on either side of the president – the former beside Prime Minister Dubois on the left, and the latter beside Prime Minister Richardson on the right.

Emily stared out at the three members of the press assembled before her, and the crowd that had assembled around and behind them – security details from all three of their countries, N.Y.P.D. officers, and other members of their three staffs. The president immediately found Anna, who was standing beside the young Agent Wells. The woman mimed smiling at her boss the moment their eyes met and, doing just that, Emily took a deep breath, looked directly into the three cameras, and began to speak.

“Good morning. On behalf of all Americans, I want to take this moment to welcome Prime Minister Dubois and Prime Minister Richardson to the United States. The special relationships that endure between our three countries are as strong as ever, and I am honored that they’ve chosen to spend this most holy of days in the greatest city on Earth. I am very much looking forward to showing them how Americans, in particular, New Yorkers, celebrate Christmas. I would also like to take a moment to thank Mayor De Bellis, Commissioner Burke, and the entire N.Y.P.D. for being so accommodating to us today, and to the N.Y.P.D. in particular for putting their lives at risk every single day to keep this magnificent city safe.”

Emily paused once again, this time to push her glasses up the bridge of her nose before continuing. “New Yorkers have always shown an incredible and persistent spirit through the good times and the bad, and the close-knit community feeling that this city of millions exhibits on a daily basis to the rest of the world continuously impresses both our allies and our enemies. I have no doubt that they will once again be impressed by the way that Manhattan comes through winter storm Elsa, which is bearing down upon it today. I am incredibly proud to be here weathering the weather with the resilient people of this island, and I know that my international counterparts are as well.” More scattered applause. “This incredible city is an extension of the larger than life personalities that inhabit it, and this larger than life persona is reflected in the way in which Manhattan prepares to celebrate the day that Christ was born. No amount of snow could ever, or will ever, prevent that. If anything, this beautiful natural occurrence will only add to the magic that is so palpable throughout this most wonderful time of the year.”

As more applause broke out, Emily shivered as she stared around at the noticeably heavier snowfall. Sensing that the reporters gathered in front of her were chomping at the bit to ask her questions, she decided to address the elephant in the room. “I do, once again, want to stress that this is merely a social visit. It’s a chance for me to show Prime Ministers Dubois and Richardson the best of the American, Christmas spirit. We will not be discussing any foreign relation issues.” As the three reporters in front of her began to shout incomprehensible questions, Emily raised her voice authoritatively. “I know that there are a lot of people watching at home who are worried about the state of Russian relations, and I’d like to take this moment to address you directly and reassure you that everything is under control. So please relax, and don’t worry – let me do the worrying for you. Enjoy your holidays with your families.” Glancing over her shoulders at Dubois and Richardson, she asked, “Is there anything that you two want to add?”

Miranda shook her head, her lips pursed, as Nathan quickly leaned forward to speak into the microphone. “I would just like to quickly say that I’m looking forward to partaking in this city’s customary Christmas traditions. I’m particularly interested in seeing what the Rockettes have to offer, though don’t tell my wife.” He laughed as he found Renée in the crowd gathered before them and winked at the embarrassed woman. The moment the prime minister backed away again, Emily tapped the podium pointedly. “I think that’s everything then. There will be plenty of time to take questions throughout the day,” she added, raising her voice pointedly as Leo, Susan, and Graham began to shout over one another again in an effort to question her. “Thanks, everybody! I hope everybody watching has a very Merry Christmas, and to those who don’t celebrate, a happy holiday season! Let’s make the coming year a prosperous one, not only for all of America, but for the entire world as well.” The president turned away from the podium to face Nathan and Miranda. “Ready?”

“Always ready.” Nathan smiled wide as the three of them led their delegations to the waiting motorcade, after bidding Mayor De Bellis – who wouldn’t be accompanying them around the city – farewell.

“Inspiring words, as always, Emily,” Miranda noted, sounding more annoyed than impressed.

Emily allowed Nathan, Miranda, and their chiefs of staff to slide into the presidential limousine before climbing in herself after Anna, slamming the door shut behind her. She found herself sitting directly opposite Nathan, who was seated beside Miranda, flanked on her other side by Georgina. Meanwhile, Anna was sitting immediately beside Emily, squeezed between the president and Nathan’s chief of staff, Michael. Locking eyes with Emily, Miranda asked, “Are you sure that tonight’s preemptive strike is the right move to make?”

Without hesitation, Emily replied curtly. “Yes.”

Nathan, who had been staring at her with bated breath, gave a tiny nod in response. “Well, that’s good enough for me, Miranda.”

“Not for me.” Miranda opened up her purse, which she had slung over her shoulder, and looked down to dig around inside of it as she continued. “You two might have your political bases locked down, but I don’t. If this goes south—”

“—we’ll all have bigger things to worry about than getting reelected,” Emily interrupted coldly.

Miranda glanced up to lock eyes with the president again, her hands still in her purse, as an ominous silence settled over the interior of the Beast and everyone else did their best to avoid one another’s eyes. Finally, the English woman clicked her tongue in frustration as she looked down to begin digging in her purse again. “Where is it?” she mumbled to herself before demanding loudly, of nobody in particular, “Why aren’t we moving?”

“I assume that everybody else is still getting settled into their cars,” Emily answered calmly. “You know, Miranda – patience is a virtue.”

Miranda snorted in derision. “Give me a break.” She scowled as she finally pulled a bottle of perfume from within her purse. “Ah, here it is!” Uncapping it, she doused a liberal amount of the fragrance on herself, causing Emily and Anna to exchange a wary look. The president knew that her chief of staff was thinking the same thing that she was – the prime minister of England was not only insufferable, but apparently vain as well. As Nathan, Georgina, and Michael did their best to cover up the sounds of their choking, Miranda – unfazed – held the bottle out for Emily to take. “Would you like a spray?”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Are you sure? No woman should walk around without perfume.”

Taking the not-so-veiled insult in stride, Emily smiled as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “I’m fine,” she repeated, her voice firmer this time. “Thank you.”

“Suit yourself.” Miranda shrugged as she dropped the perfume back into her purse at the exact moment a police siren gave a loud wail from somewhere outside of the Beast, and the motorcade began to crawl forward slowly. “Finally!”

Silently agreeing with the prime minister’s sentiments, Emily turned to Anna. “What’s first on the agenda?”

“Visiting the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree,” Anna answered.

“Wonderful.” Miranda rolled her eyes. “It’s not like we have trees in England.”

Nathan and Emily exchanged a glance across the limo, and the president knew that the Canadian prime minister was thinking the same thing that she was: it was going to be a long day.

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