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Wives of Powerful Men

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All it takes is some lie from Bitsy about how she wants to be alone after the funeral and her driver is eating out of the palm of Bitsy's hand. Mellie’s never driven this quickly to the White House and it’s exhilarating. The city lights blur into obscure shapes as they speed down Massachusetts and through Dupont before turning onto 17th and finally Pennsylvania without a care in the world.

Bitsy leaves the car first. She barely waits for one of the secret service men to open it for her before striding out with purpose—as if she’s going to fire some missiles and not light a joint. Mellie pauses for a second to take it all in, how this woman moves and the power and purpose that each step commands, before climbing out after her.

“We’ll be in for the night, boys,” Bitsy calls over her shoulder after they exit the car, no longer wearing the mask of a grieving widow. If anything, she looks younger than she has in years.

Mellie would know; she’s been trying to mimic First Lady Cooper for years. Even when she swore up and down during those early conversations between Fitz and his father. And now she’s going to get high with her. How’s that for an interesting turn of events?

“We have to sneak in the long way,” Mellie confides, as if it’s a big secret. She’s taken a step tonight toward truly honoring Bitsy’s legacy. Not the public one, but the private one, known only by women in their position.

The sisterhood of wives of powerful men.

She thinks it sounds like a lifetime movie. The kind she’d watch when Fitz left her alone with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s because Olivia wanted to meet with him.

After a while I was grateful, it gave me time to actually run the country.

Mellie was more than ready for a few lessons in gratitude.

“I know it well. Let them stew—we’re going to go get stoned.”

She and Bitsy wind down the East Wing through hallways and past rooms without stopping to say hello or acknowledge the condolences from various staff members—as if their I’m sorrys will bring Coop back, will bring Jerry Jr. back. It’s suffocating.

There’s a freedom in their shared experience that makes it bearable. Together, they are a united front against a history that seeks to erase their contributions, file them down into philanthropists for charities neither of them give a damn about. Both of them have simpered and smiled thousands of blank smiles all in the name of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

They make it into the Yellow Oval Room and Bitsy immediately starts barking instructions at her like she is the expert and that she has done this before. If it were anyone else, Mellie would be angry, but with Bitsy it’s different.

Bitsy probably has done this before. It’s one thing to get drunk in the White House, quite another to get high—but Bitsy is so clever, so very smart she’d likely done this regularly for eight years.

So it only makes sense to let Bitsy take the wheel.

“Make sure those idiots downstairs get us some Fritos.”

“Fritos?”

Really? This was happening. Eating fried corn chips, drinking dirty martinis, and smoking marijuana with the former first lady. The woman behind the man who was far less of a puppet than she’d thought.

“Yes. Fritos. And some fried chicken too, while you’re at it.”

“Oh, Bitsy—I don’t want any fried chicken.”

She has had enough fried chicken for a lifetime. Well, two in fact. She had never really liked it, but Jerry, her Jerry, loved it and she thought if she ate enough of it maybe Jerry would come back. She thought a lot of stupid things when she was mourning him.

“Well, it’s not for you, now is it?”

“Okay. Fritos and fried chicken.” Mellie makes a mental note not to get between Bitsy Cooper and fried foods. “I like pizza and cookies when I smoke, myself.”

“Well, then order it.” Bitsy commands and takes the joint out from her purse, dangling it in front of her like a carrot. “This is the good stuff, you’ll want it later.”

Mellie doesn’t say anything else and simply makes the call.

Bitsy nods approvingly and pours them both a drink. They can’t well smoke until the food is here, can they? What neither of them need now are more rumors.

“And now we wait.”

Bitsy hands her a glass of whiskey—Johnny Walker Blue, her personal favorite—and Mellie takes it eagerly. They clink glasses like old friends and share a smile. For the first time in forever she believes she can make a difference. An actual difference, not reading to illiterate little shits who don’t appreciate a good education, but the kind that comes with power.

“And now we wait.”

****

She isn’t exactly sure how they ended up here. Well, no—Mellie is sure how they ended up here—Bitsy had a joint and these things don’t exactly smoke themselves.

But, here. On the Truman Balcony with Bitsy Cooper high like she hasn’t been since they wrapped on West Side Story back at Yale. She has to admit, the South Lawn is a far better view than Whitney Avenue, even if the munchie options can’t touch Wooster Street.

“You know. You really surprised me back there.” Bitsy giggles in a way that is both exactly how she’d expect an Alabama tri-delt in her late seventies to sound and nothing like what she’s expect at the same time. Hmm—that’s rather profound. Or maybe it’s the weed.

It’s probably the weed.

“Really?”

Mellie tries not to sound shocked, but it seeps out anyway. It's just strange, knowing all that she does about Bitsy Cooper, she doesn't seem like she's the type to be surprised by anything.

“Talking about how you were going to give up and roll over like the good, tamed bitch they want you to be.” Bitsy hands her the joint and Mellie inhales—none of that Clinton level shit—you go hard or go home.

“Well, after listening to you, I realized something.”

“What’s that, sweetheart?”

“I don’t give a shit where he puts it in her—“

“Are we talking rooms or holes Mellie? It could be either with men like ours.”

Mellie snorts loudly and Bitsy grins at her. She is enjoying this just as much—which is refreshing. Her kids, the living ones, barely even speak to her. Everyone on staff is loyal to Fitz, but Bitsy wants to be around to laugh and commiserate with her.

It’s nice to be wanted.

“Well, not in our bed. A woman has to draw a line somewhere—“

“I had my own bed.”

“No!”

“Yes I damn well did. I took the Queen’s bedroom and made it my own.”

Mellie giggles in response. She’s always liked that room, given it to some of her favorite guests and wouldn’t let any of the kids have it. But Bitsy Cooper sleeping in that room, with that name, and knowing what she knows now is hilarious.

A room fit for a queen indeed.

“Well, that’s appropriate.”

“How else could I be sure that whatever diseases he was spreading didn’t make their way to me?”

“You make a good point. No more pawing in the middle of the night—“

“Pawing? Please, the worst was always that he was ready to go every morning.”

Every morning? Well, Fitz was certainly going to live in the shadow of that legacy.

“Was I supposed to be impressed? He was hornier than a dog—sometimes I wondered if that mutt got him in the mood.”

Mellie’s voice lowers and she wags her eyebrows, doing, what she thinks, is a good impression of Fitz when he is trying to be charming. “Babe, morning’s my best time.”

“You know, in all my years with Coop, he never was patient enough to go down on me beforehand? It was always take, take, take with him. I hope you have lovers—“

“Of course.”

“Good girl. A woman has to take care of her needs while running the country.”

Running the country. Mellie could get used to that. She doesn’t care about fame, not anymore, but if she is going to die the wife of a man who did something with his life. If that is what history will remember her for no matter what she does, Mellie will take what she can get and leave her mark.

Sure, she won’t get the credit, but she also won’t get the blame. Either way she’ll do what she thinks is right for a nation that has suffered far too much at the expense of her husband’s obsession with Olivia Pope.

It may not be everything she dreamed of, but it’s enough.

“She certainly does.” Mellie agrees before reaching into Bitsy’s half-empty bag of Fritos when they’re offered and popping a couple in her mouth. “She certainly does.”