“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Thirty-One – Do You Hear What I Hear? – As Read By Art Kilmer Of “A Cozy Christmas Podcast”

“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Thirty-One – Do You Hear What I Hear? – As Read By Art Kilmer Of “A Cozy Christmas Podcast”

Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the thirty-second official installment of “Another Christmas Story“!

In this week’s official episode,  Art Kilmer of “A Cozy Christmas Podcast” will read to all of you Chapter Thirty-One of our tale, entitled “Do You Hear What I Hear?” 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 ears and eyes as possible! And make sure to check your feeds today for last week’s official installment of “Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Thirty, entitled “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, as read by listener Rebecca Boll! (Hopefully you already saw it and listened to that one first, as it precedes this one!)

Coming up on the show this upcoming Monday, Labor Day, September 6th – which just so happens to be Anthony’s wife Sarah’s Birthday, so happy birthday in advance to her! –  we will be dropping our episode in which we discuss the ABC Family original Movie, “Snow“! And this upcoming Tuesday, September 7th, we will be recording our episode on the 1991, British Cartoon, “Father Christmas”, which will drop in your feeds on Monday, September 13th! Before that, however, on Thursday, September 9th, you’ll get to hear Chapter 32 of “Another Christmas Story” entitled “No Place Like Home For The Holidays”, which the author of the story himself will be reading to y’all! So, keep your eyes on your podcast feeds because there’s lots of great stuff coming up!

Enjoy, y’all! 🎅🏻🎄🎁 🦌🦉⛄️🔔 🤶🏻


Chapter Thirty-One: Do You Hear What I Hear?

December 24th – 6:15 p.m. EST

The snow was so bad when Emily Williams and her delegation left their private ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that the normally ten-minute walk down 51st Street toward Seventh Avenue took almost half-an-hour. Luckily for them, the restaurant they were dining at that evening – Le Bernardin, a four-star restaurant that served genuine French cuisine and had a modernist style, which was painted in various shades of blacks, whites, grays and incorporated a plethora of windows, glass, and mirrors into its design – was blissfully warm. It was also, more importantly, private. The White House rented out the full establishment that evening, and the majority of the delegation was seated around tables peppered around the main dining room, laughing, drinking, and enjoying their meals. The exceptions were the three foreign leaders and their spouses, who sat at their own table in a private backroom, while their respective chiefs of staff and press secretaries sat at a second table adjacent to them. Their security detail, meanwhile, was positioned throughout the building, as well as around the outside perimeter; the only two secret service agents allowed inside of the private room, stationed on either side of the entrance, were Clint and Melissa, both of whom Emily trusted enough to be privy to anything that might be discussed that night. Stationed on either side of the entrance outside of the room were Commissioner Burke and Commanding Officer Pendleton, who were being watched closely by the young, rookie secret service agent, David Wells, whom Clint and Melissa had instructed to keep an eye on the N.Y.P.D. officers at the restaurant in order to make him feel important.

The world leaders enjoyed delicious plates of steak, made out of the finest cuts of meat, and seafood, the lobster so buttery that it practically melted in their mouths, while sipping on the most expensive red wines that the restaurant had to offer. Conversation remained fairly light throughout dinner, focusing mainly on their respective families and Christmas traditions. It pained Emily to speak of her children and grandchildren, with whom she normally spent every Christmas Eve, knowing that she’d be lucky if Winter Storm Elsa let up enough to allow Air Force One to take off so that she could see them the following day, and she could see in the eyes of her Canadian and English counterparts that they pined to be with their own families as well. Hopefully, their efforts confronting Ivanov would make missing them worth it in the end.

After a dessert of delicious sorbet, a platter of assorted cheeses, coffee, and tea, Emily leaned back in her chair with a loud groan. “I feel like I’m about to burst.”

“Tell me about it.” Nathan patted his stomach contentedly. “American portion sizes really are enormous, aren’t they?”

“You didn’t have to eat the entire plate,” Miranda pointed out, indicating the plates in front of her, which were far from empty.

“Now, dear,” Jasper began. “You know Americans, they can’t control their impulses.”

“We’re not American, Jasper,” Renée exasperatedly reminded the man, her facial features twitching in annoyance in response to Miranda’s condescending smirk.

“But you are North American, are you not?” Jasper asked, his voice dripping with condescension.

“There’s no need to be sarcastic, Jasper.” Bobby placed a reassuring hand on Emily’s knee beneath the table in an effort to reassure her.

“None at all,” Emily agreed, pursing her lips. She eyed the prime minister’s husband through narrowed eyes for a moment before clapping her hands together loudly, satisfied to see that both her and his wife jumped in surprise at the sound before tensing up. Smiling, she asked, “Shall we exchange gifts?” She glanced down at her watch. “We need to head over to the Plaza soon. It’s nearly the hour of judgement.”

At the words, a tense silence descended over the table, which was broken immediately when Anna approached with two neatly wrapped gifts that she pulled from her bag and placed them down on the table in front of Emily. “Thank you,” the president said to her chief of staff, as she backed away while Georgina and Michael were still in the process of placing wrapped gifts in front of their own bosses. After the foreign chiefs of staff scurried back to their table, Emily stared between her foreign counterparts and prompted, “Guests first!”

Nathan caught Miranda’s eyes. “After you, please.”

Annoyed, the Prime Minister of England picked up the two gifts that her pretty chief of staff had put in front of her and slammed them down hard in front of the president and Canadian prime minister. “Happy Christmas,” she intimated before reaching into her purse, pulling out her perfume, and spraying a liberal amount on herself yet again. “I hope you like them. If not, blame Georgina.”

As the young British woman flushed with embarrassment back at the table where their staffs sat, Emily and Nathan exchanged an amused glance as they unwrapped their gifts to reveal identical angels, about six-inches high, carved out of coal. Atop the head of each angel was a small loop of golden string, from which they could hang from a hook on a Christmas tree. “Oh, Miranda! It’s beautiful!”

“It truly is,” Nathan agreed. “Fine craftsmanship.”

“The coal was uncovered in my hometown of Newcastle Upon Tyne,” Miranda explained proudly. “Coal used to be the leading industry in the northeast until Margaret Thatcher shut down a majority of the mines. The angels themselves are supposed to be mini versions of the ‘Angel of the North’, which is a steel sculpture that overlooks the town of Gateshead, which is a small town on the border of Newcastle.”

“How thoughtful,” Emily said genuinely, as she turned the ornament over in her hands.

“Great minds think alike.” Nathan winked at Renée before picking up the two wrapped gifts in front of him and placing them down in front of his international counterparts. “My gift is also representative of the city where I grew up – St. John’s, which is in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

“Oh, Newfoundland!” Bobby sighed wistfully, as the two female world leaders began unwrapping their presents. “Such a beautiful province! My mother and I visited my father when he was stationed there during the second world war.”

Emily picked up a heavy stone rock, which was sanded down into the shape of a square. Embedded into a circle carved into one side of it was a sparkling diamond formed into a five-point star; embedded into the other side of the rock was a sparkling diamond that resembled the center of a compass. Like Miranda’s gift, a small, golden string was attached to the top in a loop, though Emily guessed that the ornament would be too heavy to actually hang from the branch of a Christmas tree. Nevertheless, it was so beautiful that it even seemed to take Miranda by surprise. “Oh, Nathan!”

“It’s exquisite!” Emily noted.

Nathan beamed, as Renée proudly squeezed his hand. “The stars represent the Signal Hill star, which is attached to Cabot Tower every holiday season and shines bright over the harbor,” he explained.

Renée nodded before adding, “The five-point one was the old design. But a few years ago, the other star – which looks like a compass – was commissioned to replace it, so that’s the one that currently lights up the sky in St. John’s around Christmas.”

“It’s a design that’s supposed to help you find your way back home,” Nathan elaborated.

“I love it.” Emily smiled wide, as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “It’s seriously beautiful.”

“It really is,” Miranda added, as though she couldn’t believe it.

Nathan blinked at the woman, unsure of whether or not to be offended by her statement of disbelief. Before he could say anything, however, Emily passed the two wrapped gifts sitting in front of her to the prime ministers. “Merry Christmas,” she said, watching carefully as they opened their gifts, desperate for a glimpse of what Anna had picked out for them. Once she saw them, she smiled wide. “I guess we were all on the same page.” She glanced over her shoulder at her chief of staff, who winked at her.

“Lady Liberty and Lady Justice,” Nathan noted appreciatively, holding up his new Christmas ornament.

“Flanking Boston Harbor,” Miranda pointed out, studying hers.

“Well, Boston – Massachusetts was obviously the state that I represented in the Senate – is really where our country began,” Emily explained. “And the city itself has deep ties to both England and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, as you know. Obviously, we all still have close ties, and we are currently living through a pretty significant moment in history in which the concepts of liberty and justice matter more than ever before.”

“Is this real gold?” Miranda’s mouth dropped open as she studied the Christmas ornament, eliciting a laugh from the President of the United States.

“Well, thank you, Emily.” Nathan flashed the woman a grin. “I love it.”

“As do I,” Miranda begrudgingly admitted.

“You’re welcome,” Emily replied with a nod. “And while we’re on the subject of ‘thanks’, I want to thank the two of you; for flying out here on Christmas Eve to help with this whole Russia situation.”

“Russia affects all of us, Madam President,” Nathan replied, professional all of a sudden. “Helping the United States helps our countries as well.”

When Miranda nodded her agreement, Emily checked her watch and let out a low, drawn-out sigh. “We should probably get going; head over to the Plaza and get a final briefing before our call with Ivanov.”

And with nods and agreeable murmurings around the room, everyone began standing up and putting back on their coats, gloves, and scarves, nervous for what lay ahead of them that evening.

Forty-minutes later, Emily, Nathan, Miranda, and their chiefs of staffs were sitting around a long mahogany table in a cramped conference room on the fourteenth-floor of the Plaza Hotel. A large television had been mounted on the wall, at which everyone gathered around the table was staring, while the windows that overlooked Central Park were so frozen with ice that hardly anything was visible through the glass. Standing in front of the T.V., ranged side-by-side, were: Secretary of State, Martin Hughes; Secretary of Defense, Charles Wilson; Secretary of State for External Affairs of Canada, Liam Bourne; Canadian Minister of National Defense, Alexis Hoffman; Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Callum Jones; and English Minister of Defense, Piers Wilkinson.

“I’ve confirmed with Russia’s Minister of Defense, Ivan Petrov, that the call with Ivanov is still set for ten o’clock tonight, our time,” Secretary Wilson, who was leading the highly confidential briefing, informed them. “The strikes are set to go off just beforehand, at nine-forty-five.”

Emily nodded, listening so intently that she was barely breathing. She nervously fiddled with the watch around her wrist, as beside her, Nathan ran his fingers up and down his Rosary Beads, which he had pulled out of his pocket the moment he sat down on the table. Miranda, meanwhile, drummed her fingers against the conference room table in an agitated manner.

“Gary, and the prime ministers’ press secretaries,” Secretary Hughes began, his eyes flickering between the two foreign leaders. “Have finished writing a joint statement that’s queued up and ready to go out. The moment your conversation with the Russian president ends, we’re going to send them off to the press, our governments, and to our…” He cleared his throat. “Our allies.”

“I would just like to take a moment to remind all of you, again, that the other NATO countries aren’t going to be happy with the three of you going behind their backs in an attempt to provoke the Kremlin,” Minister Hoffman interrupted, her voice loud and firm in an obvious attempt to establish herself amongst her five male colleagues.

“An attempt to bring Russia to heel,” Piers corrected in a steely voice, clearly exasperated, as he turned to face the much younger woman.

Hoffman rolled her eyes. “However, you want to phrase it, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re going to be pissed off. Germany in particular – Chancellor Schulz is practically the head of NATO. She provides you with stiff competition for the title of ‘leader of the free world’. No offense, ma’am.” She threw President Williams an apologetic glance, as Emily raised an eyebrow. “My point is, she’s going to be offended that she wasn’t invited to partake in this powwow, and–”

“Minister Hoffman,” Nathan interrupted, raising his voice ever-so-slightly while managing to maintain a politely bemused expression on his face. “Perhaps we could move past this? President Williams, Prime Minister Richardson, and myself have already debated for months, with everybody in this room, about whether or not to include other members of NATO in our negotiations.”

Miranda nodded her agreement as she straightened in her seat. “Besides, there’s nothing to be done about Chancellor Schulz. When isn’t she in a bad mood?”

“Even if we were to change our minds and decide to include the chancellor, it’s far too late to do anything about it now,” Emily added. “In any case, NATO’s inevitable reaction is just something that we’ll have to deal with when the time comes, just like we’ll have to deal with the reactions from our own governments and citizens.” She glanced at Anna who nodded somberly at the words. “Let’s just move forward under the assumption that no one will be too upset at us if things go well tonight, shall we?”

“That would be a Christmas miracle if I ever saw one,” Minister Jones noted in his blustery voice.

“And if things don’t go well?” Minister Bourne asked.

An uncomfortable silence fell over the room as various worst-case scenarios ran through each of the minds of everyone present. When it was clear that their foreign policy experts needed prompting before addressing the rhetorical query, Emily pointed out, “It’s a fair question.” She stared expectantly at her Secretaries of Defense and State, who exchanged a look.

“It is a fair question, Madam President,” Secretary Hughes conceded. “And one with potentially dire answers, as I’ve tried to stress upon you many times during the planning of these strikes.”

“You have,” Emily confirmed with a nod of her head. “But this briefing is to go over all of the odds and ends one final time, is it not?” She stared around the room. “So I, and I’m sure my counterparts would concur, would like to know what’s being done to keep our shores safe from immediate retaliation.”

“Our missile defense systems are deployed,” Secretary Wilson explained. “And we have our respective navies, air forces, and national guards on standby, waiting to go. And NATO forces, as you know, are always on standby to defend Europe God forbid Ivanov try to retaliate against the continent.”

“Our warships that are stationed around the globe are also on high alert, and our long-range missiles are being prepped to launch at a second’s notice,” Minister Wilkinson added.

“Of course,” Secretary Hughes began hesitantly. “There’s never a one-hundred-percent guarantee that we’ll be able to stave off any attack on our allies or ourselves.”

“But we can minimize the risk,” Secretary Wilson insisted. “These strikes will disarm Ivanov, Madam President. He won’t see them coming, and he’ll be taken aback by the aggressive show of force that the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada took against him without full NATO approval. Were he to retaliate, he’d be dragging the other countries in the agreement into it–”

“The rest of NATO is already involved whether they like it or not,” Emily interrupted. “His escalating tactics of intimidation are aimed at all of us, not just the United States. Article Five clearly states that an attack on one is an attack on all.”

“Exactly!” Wilson smiled. “He’d be a fool to take action against us – at least without months of planning first.”

“I think we’d be the fools if we truly believed that Ivanov doesn’t have contingency plans to attack us in his back pocket at all times,” Miranda pointed out.

“Ivanov’s a bully,” Wilson snapped, clearly annoyed now. “The best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them and refuse to give an inch; explain that we have far more firepower than what we’re going to demonstrate with our strikes tonight rearing to go if he doesn’t agree to call back his warships from international waters, and smack him with all of the sanctions that you three can think of as punishment for going as far as he has already. Don’t promise him anything in return – don’t even guarantee you won’t strike him again; he’d see that as a sign of weakness. We’ll be in the room with you, so–”

“No,” Emily interrupted softly.

“I beg your pardon?” Wilson asked, taken aback.

“I don’t want anyone else in the room with us when we’re on the call.” Emily turned to Nathan and Miranda, both of whom looked as shocked as all of their respective chiefs of staffs and foreign policy advisors.

“But Madam President–”

“Charles,” Emily interrupted wearily, as she closed her eyes and began to massage her temples in a vain attempt to soothe a pounding headache that had overcome her all of a sudden. “Ivanov will take me – take us,” she motioned blindly in the vague direction of her foreign counterparts. “Much more seriously if we can deal with him alone without all of you breathing down our necks.”

“Yes, but–”

“—I’ve made my decision, and it’s final.” Emily’s eyes snapped open again, and she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose using her whole hand.

And uncomfortable silence fell over the room once again as the president and her Secretary of Defense stared at one another, as though daring the other to blink first. Minister Jones, however, looked beseechingly at his boss. “Madam Prime Minister,” he began. “And Mr. Prime Minister,” he glanced at Nathan. “Both of you have a say in this as well. If you want us to stay in the room–”

“I think the president has made her position very clear,” Miranda interrupted coldly.

Emily blinked, surprised that it was Miranda of all people who came to her defense. As she shot the prime minister of England a grateful look, Nathan spoke up. “It’s unanimous,” he informed their advisors. “The three of us will speak with the Kremlin alone.”

Furious, Charles went red in the face. When he opened his mouth to argue, Emily cut across him swiftly before a word could escape his lips. “It’s decided, Secretary Wilson.” She flashed him a small smile. “Is there anything else we should be aware of?”

In an attempt to ease the building tension in the room, Secretary Hughes cleared his throat pointedly and stepped forward, pointing a long finger at the black polycom situated on the center of the table. “Just don’t forget to mute yourselves if you need to confer privately, lest he hear you. Also, I’d advise turning your backs on the television’s camera in such a situation; as a former member of the KGB, Ivanov has been trained to read lips.”

Emily nodded, appreciative of the advice. Her heart was thumping rapidly in her chest as her mind raced quickly and she became more uncertain about what they were about to do with each passing second. Finally, she pushed herself to her feet in one sudden movement, which seemed to take the room by surprise. “Is everything okay, Madam President?” Nathan asked, concerned.

“Fine, Nathan.” The president forced a smile onto her face, as she fiddled nervously with her watch. “I just need a quick moment with my chief of staff. Anna?” She addressed the young woman, who appeared taken aback. “Could you step into the hall with me for a minute?”

“O-of course,” the woman replied, standing up.

“We’ll be back in a few minutes,” Emily informed the room before stepping out of it and into the hallway. The moment that Anna joined her, shutting the door behind her, she asked, “Is everything okay, Madam President?”

“No.” Emily shook her head, dropping her voice to a whisper so that only Anna, along with Clint and Melissa, who were standing on either side of the closed conference room door, could hear her. “No. It’s just – I need to talk to you and Bobby. Gary too.”

“Okay.” Anna nodded uncertainly. “I’ll go find Gary, and we’ll meet you and the first gentleman in your suite.”

“Thank you.” The president watched her chief of staff walk away down the hall before turning to walk away herself. Then, thinking better of it, she rounded on the two secret service agents that she was the closest to. “Could you two join us too, please? I’d like your input as well.”

The two agents exchanged a surprised glance. “Anything you want, Madam President.”

“Thank you.” Emily nodded her head. “I’ll meet you in my suite in five-minutes.” And without another word, she turned on her heel and marched quickly down the hallway. When she entered the presidential suite, in which Bobby, wearing a silky bathrobe over his pajamas, was sitting alone on a couch on the first floor of the enormous duplex watching television.

“Emily?” he asked, surprised to see her. “What are you doing here?”

Emily glanced at the television. “Is that A Christmas Story?”

“Huh?” Bobby glanced quickly at the television, confused. “Oh, yeah. What could be more American than watching a child nearly shooting his eye out with a Red Ryder BB gun on Christmas?”

Emily laughed despite herself. “Well, I think that the warning that department store Santa Claus gives little Ralphie could just as easily apply to me tonight.”

“What’s going on? Are you alright?”

“No. I’m not sure that I am.” Emily bit down on her lower lip, as her husband rushed forward to engulf her in a reassuring hug. With her head in his shoulder, she admitted her worst fear aloud to her spouse for the very first time. “What if I wasn’t cut out for this job? What if I got myself in over my head?”

“Don’t you ever say that,” Bobby reprimanded her, his voice stern despite the consoling way in which he rubbed her back. “You’re the strongest person that I know. If anyone can handle the responsibilities of the Oval Office, it’s you.”

“Are you just saying that because you’re my husband?”

“I’m saying it not only as your husband, but as a patriotic American citizen who would never lie to his commander in chief.” Bobby held Emily at arm’s length, surprised to see that her eyes were brimming with tears. “That’s the truth.”

“Thank you,” Emily said quietly.

Returning the woman’s weak smile, Bobby leaned in to kiss her gently. They broke apart at the sound of knocking on the door, which the man went to answer in order to allow Emily a few seconds to wipe her eyes and square her shoulders again. When Anna, Gary, Clint, and Melissa entered the room, the president forced a grateful smile onto her face. “Thank you all for coming.”

“What’s going on?” Anna asked, jumping straight to the point. “What’s wrong?”

“You win,” the president admitted with a feeble laugh before taking a deep, shuddering breath and repeating, “You win. I think striking Russia tonight is a terrible idea.”

Gary’s mouth dropped open, aghast. “You can’t be serious, ma’am!”

“Oh, but I am.” Emily’s eyes flickered toward her husband to see that he looked just as surprised as her most loyal staff members, out of whom, Anna recovered first.

“Well…I’m glad you came around to seeing my point of view, Madam President. I truly am. But don’t you think that it’s a little too late to change course now?”

“That’s why I asked you all here. I wanted to hear your opinions about whether or not we still have time to amend our plans.”

Anna and Gary exchanged an uncertain look before the latter, stroking his walrus mustache, replied, “It’s not really for us to decide, ma’am.”

The chief of staff, however, offered a different answer. “I don’t think it’s ever too late to change your mind.” She hesitated for a moment before continuing. “But I’m not sure of what other course of action you could take besides calling off the strikes completely. And if you did that, well…” She shrugged, allowing a humorless laugh to escape her lips. “I don’t think either prime minister would be pleased they’re stuck in Manhattan on Christmas Eve for no reason.”

Emily glanced down at the carpeted floor, biting down on her lower lip uncertainly as she straightened her glasses. “I actually think there is a middle option,” she admitted before proceeding to explain to her closest advisors the seeds of a plan that had taken root in her mind backstage at Radio City Music Hall and percolated all throughout their mini-service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and dinner afterward, before shaping themselves into something more concrete a few minutes earlier during their final briefing about the strikes. When she finished speaking, all five of her companions stared at her, wide-eyed, at a loss for words.

“Emily…” It was her husband who was the first to break the silence. “You’d be taking a massive risk if you–”

“I’m taking a massive risk regardless of what I end up doing,” Emily interrupted Bobby pointedly.

“Madam President.” Clint cleared his throat as he stepped forward to speak for the first time since entering the room, and Emily was struck by just how enormous the man’s presence was. “Far be it from me to offer my advice–”

“I want it,” Emily reassured him. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have asked you to join us.”

Clint nodded before continuing as though the leader of the free world had not interrupted him. “But the success of this new plan depends entirely upon the assumption that deep down Ivanov is actually a good person.”

“There is an innate goodness in everyone, Clint,” Emily informed him. “I truly believe that. Even if you have to dig deep, deep, deep down to find it, everyone has a spark of it.”

“No offense, ma’am,” Melissa spoke up, moving forward to stand beside her partner. “But I haven’t found that to be true in my life.” The secret service agent subconsciously gripped at her left side, where Emily knew she had been shot while serving in the Middle East. “What if you’re wrong and Ivanov isn’t?”

“What if I’m wrong and Ivanov isn’t shaken or deterred by our strikes?” Emily countered with a raised eyebrow. “I’m risking everything either way.” Rounding on her press secretary and chief of staff, she asked, “What do you two think?”

“We’ll have to write a new statement,” Gary informed her solemnly, seemingly daunted by such a prospect.

It took all of Emily’s patience not to roll her eyes when she responded. “That’s the least of my worries right now.” She then met Anna’s eyes, who stared into hers unflinchingly.

“Congress won’t be thrilled that you didn’t seek their approval first,” the young woman pointed out, pushing a stray strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “But then again, they won’t be thrilled you didn’t seek their approval first about the strikes. Both plans are risky, but if there’s even the slightest chance that this new one could work…I think you should take it.” Anna’s approval washed over Emily, who felt as though a giant weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Elated, she listened as her chief of staff continued. “Besides, it’s not as though you can’t initiate the strikes if this new course of action fails.”

“Exactly.” Emily nodded her head enthusiastically, doing her best to ignore the looks of uncertainty that her husband, press secretary, and bodyguards were throwing her.

“It’s settled then?” Anna asked. After her boss nodded, she clapped her hands together. “Alright. Let’s go inform the others–”

“No,” Emily cut across her swiftly.

“No?” Anna repeated, confused.

“No,” the president repeated. “Wilson and Hughes won’t go for it, and I know Dubois and Richardson will have their doubts. Miranda in particular is too cynical to ever thing that something like this could work.”

“Madam President,” Anna began with an incredulous laugh. “They’re risking everything tonight to support your plan of action! You can’t just spring a massive change on them live while on the phone with Russia!”

“Anna’s right,” Gary said, his voice emphatic. “They’ll see it as a serious breach of trust, in terms of both your working and personal relationships!”

Emily considered this serious concern for a moment. “I’m willing to risk it,” she said softly. “Gary, please write a new press release – alone. If my new plan works, we’ll get Canada and England to sign off on it after the call so we can send it out.”

“O-okay,” Gary stuttered before hurrying from the room to get to work.

“Anna.” Emily turned to her chief of staff. “Can you get our strike teams on the line for me? I want to speak with them myself to call off the strikes so that Wilson and Hughes aren’t aware that we’re changing course until it’s too late for them to stop me.”

Anna hesitated for the briefest of moments before nodding curtly. “Yes, ma’am.” She hurried for the door of the room before pausing and glancing over her shoulder at her boss. “I’m glad that you changed your mind.”

“Me too,” Emily admitted. “Hopefully this new plan works.”

Anna nodded her agreement before leaving the room. Turning to face the two secret service agents, Emily smiled. “I appreciate your input, and understand your concerns,” she informed them. “I respect your opinions as much as anyone else around me, and I count myself so lucky every day that you two are on my personal security detail.”

Clint and Melissa both blinked in surprise, touched by the president’s words. After thanking the woman, they left the room, leaving Emily alone with her husband, who still had a look of concern on his face. “You’re risking a lot doing this, Emily,” he said softly. “More than you were if you went through with the strikes.”

Emily raised an eyebrow. “More?”

“Well, okay.” Bobby shrugged. “The same. But you’re risking alienating America’s two closest allies – your two closest partners.”

“If this works, they’ll be fine with the change of plan,” Emily replied. “And innocent blood may not have to be spilled at all.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Well…” Emily hesitated. “We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.” She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and stared into her husband’s eyes. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Bobby replied. “And I support you.”

“But you think I’m making the wrong decision.” It was a statement of fact, not a question. Thrown off by the woman’s bluntness, it took Bobby a moment to formulate his answer. “If anybody can pull this off, it’s you.”

Emily smiled wide before taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders. Jerking her head at the door, she said, “I better get going.” Glancing down at her watch, she added, “Not long now until we face off with the Russians.”

“I’ll be here.” Bobby winked. The moment his wife left the room, he let out a long breath and mumbled the rest of his thought to himself. “Praying for a Christmas miracle.”



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