Matthew Santos had stormed to an easy re-election, and his inauguration was a deliberately laid-back affair, out of deference to the still-fragile economic recovery, but no-one could hold back the traditional exuberance of the Inaugural Balls.
It was the hottest ticket in town, and everyone inside the Beltway started bargaining, pleading, bribing and threatening their way onto the guest list a few hours after the last ballots were counted. But one man – who in fact pretty much wrote the guest list – had quietly negotiated his way out of most of his ceremonial obligations, asking instead to bring a special guest to the first event of the night and then be excused. His request had been granted in return for a promise to pose for photos and schedule a vacation.
To allow the Presidential party to visit all the venues without having to pull an all-nighter, the first ball got underway early, and so by 8pm the motorcade was ready to carry the First Couple and their entourage on to the second event. But two suit-clad figures said their goodnights and set off on foot, heading home with their ever-present Secret Service shadows following at a discreet distance.
One of them was a familiar sight on the Hill, balding visibly now and only rarely seen out jogging. Constantly in demand, tonight he smiled politely but waved away well-wishers with an apologetic gesture towards his companion.
Walking beside him, eyes sleepy but still peering interestedly at the hubbub around him, a small blonde boy with incontrollable curls and a constellation of light freckles clutched his father’s hand.
Once they had escaped the milling crowd, Josh stopped, and bent down to his son. Gently, he tugged at the toddler’s custom-made bowtie until the expertly tied knot came loose. Smoothing the black silk ends down against the lapels of the tiny dinner jacket, he planted a kiss atop the mop of downy locks.
“This is the best bit.”
He quickly undid the knot at his own throat, and then swung Noah up into his arms.
“Come on. Let’s go and tell Mama about dancing with the First Lady.”
“And tell Evie?”
“We can tell Evie too.”
Privately, Josh hoped that even if the small dude wasn’t tuckered out by the time they got home, at least his tiny little sister would be considerate enough to have gone to sleep. Better still, their Mama would, too, but he’d caught Lou on the phone to her not long before leaving the ballroom, letting the Communications Director off with a gentle scolding as he was pretty sure he know who’d made the call in the first place. For now, he carried the two year old towards Georgetown, laughing softly as chubby little hands scrabbled at his collar, trying to do his bowtie up again.