Stevie's face appeared in the FaceTime camera. "Hi M--oh my gosh, are you crying??"
"No!” Elizabeth replied, trying—and failing—to subtly blink back tears.
Stevie gave her a pointed look.
"Ok, just a little! It's a big day!"
Hearing Stevie voice, Henry entered the room, coming to stand behind Elizabeth.
"Hi honey!" he said brightly.
"Hi Dad! You ready?"
Henry grinned. "Babe, flip the camera so she can see my outfit"
Elizabeth rolled her eyes but obliged, taking a few steps back so that more of Henry was visible in the frame. Stevie laughed out loud when she took in her father's completely nerdy attire. "This FGOTUS <3s Science!" his t shirt proclaimed.
"Are you really going to wear that, babe?"
"Like you're one to talk, " Henry retorted. Stevie agreed. "Mom. You're the one who got us the Quaran-team McCord shirts."
"And look how often you wear them!"
Stevie didn't have a counterpoint to that. It just so happened that they spotted Dmitri in the background wearing the shirt.
"I think we can all agree that those shirts are widely appreciated."
She rolled her eyes. "I just want to remind you that Dmitri moved his appointments to late afternoon tomorrow. He will be over in the morning to check in and he'll stay if you need him."
Elizabeth and Henry exchanged a look. "We love our son but we don't need him to babysit us," Henry replied.
"We've been over this. The side effects can be really hard on some people and if you're both struggling I just want you to have extra support."
“Ali agrees with me,” Stevie said triumphantly, knowing that mentioning her sister would win her the argument. Technically, Ali had agreed. She told Stevie that she needed to be the siblings’ eyes and ears as the only McCord still in D.C. And while Elizabeth had mailed Ali and Zach “Quaran-team McCord” shirts to their New York City apartment, they were not in the pod. Neither was Jason, who was mostly off the grid with his girlfriend, Zoe, in a cabin in Vermont. The family hadn’t been able to wrap their minds around his sudden interest in the New England scenery until a spotty Skype session with Jason and his Zoe. A Vermont Native, Zoe was a diehard Bernie supporter whose quick wit complemented Jason’s own sense of humor. She swore like a sailor and wasn’t shy about criticizing Elizabeth’s policies, but she did so with respect and was as smitten with Jason as he was with her. The honorary “Quraan-team” McCords and the actual McCord pod had come to the difficult decision not to see one another in person until they were all vaccinated. At the time, they understood this could be quite some time. And while it still would be awhile until Ali, Zach, Jason, and Zoe were eligible, the day was finally here for Elizabeth and Henry to get their first dose. When Stevie mentioned Ali, Elizabeth felt fresh tears pool. She missed her daughter profoundly. And now, there was hope on the horizon.
While Elizabeth had faced enormous challenges during her tenure at the Company and at State, as well as in current role, nothing had prepared her to tackle a global pandemic. And though she had made quite a few mistakes along the way, she was ultimately proud of how the McCord Administration had handled this unprecedented situation. She could not have done it without their hard work and commitment to serving the American people. Jay had been her rock, as had her entire cabinet. Secretary Thompson held a special place in her heart. But it was Carlos who surprised her the most. He had absolutely risen to the occasion beyond what she could have imagined. He set a strong, clear expectation that the pandemic would never become a partisan issue, and the majority of his friends in Congress followed suit. Elizabeth never envisioned spending time arguing with grown adults over surgical masks, but she was grateful Carlos was right there with her. He tried, however, to draw the line at matching cloth masks. Elizabeth told Ali to make them anyway. CNN said she and Carlos "broke the internet" with their POTUS/VEEP masks. Were their entire families embarrassed? Yes. Was it fodder for SNL? Also yes...but the combination of an equestrian and spy background had set Elizabeth up as fodder for sketch comedians years ago. And in these times, Elizabeth welcomed laughter wherever it could be found.
During the most brutal press briefings, Elizabeth fiercely missed Daisy, who, along with Waffles and Joanna, had joined Matt on the West Coast. Elizabeth and Nadine had come to the conclusion that it made sense those two found their way back to one another, for real this time. The old seventh floor team tried to do virtual happy hours when they could, though the time difference could be brutal after a long day in D.C. Russell would make an appearance on these calls, itching to give his opinion about anything under the sun. He was the poster child for cabin fever, but it was also clear how much this time with Carol had healed their marriage.
On an evening news program, the anchors speculated about whether Elizabeth would be known as the “pandemic president.” Like clockwork, Stevie called her. “Like you haven’t already shattered the glass ceiling, not to mention helped pass sweeping economic reform, brokered a deal with South Korea, and—“
“Baby, take a breath.”
“How can you be so okay with the idea of being defined by this?” Stevie demanded.
Elizabeth sighed. “Of course I want people to remember those things. And they will. Especially young women and their daughters. But Stevie, this is public service. I ran on the idea that we should be lifting people up. And people are not wrong to point out this is a defining moment for that.”
“I don’t know how you do it, Mom. This has been so scary.”
“It has been scary," Elizabeth agreed. "And I’m thankful that I haven’t had to go through this or make any decisions alone. I have the best team. And the best family. I love you so much. Do you know how thankful I am for you?"
“I love you too, Mom. You inspire us every day."
For the past several months, Elizabeth and Henry had carved time in their schedules to sit down for video calls with frontline workers and with families who had lost a loved one. Jay had noted that to do so as frequently as the two of them had been was unprecedented. Henry countered that this was an unprecedented time. These calls were never easy. Elizabeth found grief to be like muscle memory. Sometimes she was fifteen again, listening to Will pace back and forth in his room when they shared a wall. But she also found these conversations to be unexpectedly healing. To offer people an opportunity to truly be seen, without someone correcting or jumping to fix their pain. This was what it was all about. She wished more than anything the reason they were having these conversations never happened. But if this had to be their reality—and it did—she would do anything to counter the profound isolation sweeping her country.