Counting. It felt like she had been counting for weeks when in fact, it had only been 2 days. Regina didn’t enjoy counting, much less recounting. Not that she wasn’t used to it. It was beginning to leave a bad taste in her mouth. As she sat at her mahogany desk, looking over names, she reminded herself what this was for: the children. A cliche of course, but it was true. She had been integral in the crafting of the education bill, personally involved, one could say. Which explained why she, the Vice President of the United States of America, had been up since 4 a.m. counting votes. The bill was up for a vote in less than four hours and somehow they had lost two votes over the weekend. For this reason, and this reason alone, Regina had done a day’s work before the clock even struck 8 a.m. Granny stuck her head into the office as she often did.
”You’re not gonna change their minds by staring at ‘em.”
“Watch me!” Regina mumbled.
“What was that, Madam Vice President?”
“… I said, tell Jefferson he is to meet with both minority and majority whip asap and get me Kathryn.”
“Sure, we’ll go with that. You haven’t eaten yet, would you like something?”
“I have work to do, I will eat later.”
“Breakfast is the-” she was interrupted.
“Secretary, not health manager, remember, Mrs. Lucas? We have been over this many times.” Regina sighed.
“Fine, but don’t come cryin’ to me when you faint!”
“That sentence is an impossibility.”
But the elderly woman had already left the office to do her actual job, or so Regina hoped. She needed to speak to Kathryn Nolan about getting at least two democratic senators to change their minds. Finding out which ones would be the easiest to target, was a job she delegated to Merlin Geoffrey, the President’s Chief of Staff.
Although the administration was only six months old, the man had quickly learned to take his orders from the Vice President, instead of the President; at least when it came to important matters. It had become evident during the campaign, that Leopold Rex White II was nothing more than a figurehead.
Contrary to what his middle name suggested, he was a pawn in the political game, not a king.
Regina, however, was the queen of political life. She had worked her way up from a small-town mayor, to a Senator, to the first Latina Vice President this nation had ever seen. Her mother should have been proud; she wasn’t, but she should have been. Having directed many of the family’s funds towards the White/Mills campaign and twisted quite a few arms, Cora Mills was still unsatisfied with the result of her intrigues. World domination; and nothing less would be tolerated.
Regina had always assumed that her mother wanted what was best for her, having been denied the opportunity to gain political power herself. Regina had wanted to study medicine and become a Vet. Had she been allowed to pursue her passion, she would not be sitting here counting names. Just as the thought popped into her head, there was a knock at the door.
Kathryn entered, looking stressed, as she should be.
“Regina, I’m sorry, I don’t know who jumped ship!”
“I do not care who it was Kathryn, just get me my votes! We’ve been working on passing this bill for over 3 months. I will not have it fail due to the incompetence of this office. Jefferson is meeting with both whips to find a weak spot on either side and I’m counting on you to delegate. I want calls made to every senator. Secure the votes we have and put the best people on those we don’t,” her tone was low and her voice steady.
“Wait, both sides? The Republicans won’t be budging; we could hardly get the teachers’ unions to back us.”
This time Regina actually rose from her desk, “Kathryn, this is no time for party line nonsense. GO! Get our people on the phone. Get me my majority Kathryn or else …”
Before Regina could snap at her again she was gone. Good, Regina thought. Kathryn knew when to voice her opinion and when to keep her mouth shut and follow directions. For this reason, Regina had chosen her as her Chief of Staff. It was important to have someone competent to delegate the minions.
Of course, Regina had a whole host of other staffers, but she preferred to work with the President’s staff. This had several reasons: many of her staff were passed down to her, mostly inherited campaign staff, widely uninfluential and thus, completely futile when it came down to it. The President’s Staff was full of dedicated, halfway capable people.
It took a village to prop that man up to at least look like a viable candidate. But, Leo being a weak man only played into Regina’s hands. As her favorite VP once said: “There are two kinds of Vice Presidents, the Marionettes and the Matadors.” And Regina was ready to fight her bull.
After a quick phone call with Jefferson, the Communications Director, she jotted down five names that were likely to be swayed into changing their minds on the bill and called a meeting. In the 10 minutes it took everyone to gather, she finished reading the last of her briefings for the morning.
Looking around the room everyone looked nervous. Although she appreciated that they knew what was at stake, she despised signs of weakness. Ruby Lucas, Head Speech Writer, was chewing her nails. Merlin was rocking from left to right. Kathryn was sweating. Jefferson Hutmacher fidgeting. Even Eugena Lucas, Granny, her trusted Secretary had that telling, worried crease on her forehead.
Regina’s only saving grace was Mal, Mallory von Dragon: White House Press Secretary. She stood there, cool as a cucumber in her perfectly tailored three-piece Armani suit, not a blond hair out of place in her tight bun, a smirk on her red painted lips. Regina envied the way her face never betrayed emotion unless she wanted it to. Regina had sturdy emotional walls, no doubt, but they were mere sticks in the sand compared to Mal. This, among other things, made her the perfect Press Secretary.
Regina smoothed down her dark blue satin dress, took a deep breath and began to speak:
“Alright everyone, we are out 4 hours. Jefferson gave me 5 names: 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans. I’ve sent their names to each of you, I want every one of our staffers calling every one of their staffers. No exceptions. Just remember what this means everybody: better school funding, teacher support and a comprehensive reform. Now, on a less pressing matter, Jefferson and Merlin will be flying out in Air Force One to China with the President at noon. I know it’s a time crunch but I want this done and taken care of. Mal, you’ve received the briefings on the One-China policy statement and I’m having Ms. Lucas draft two statements for either a pass or fail on the education bill.” she looked over to Mal for confirmation.
“Yes, Madam Vice President. Ruby is working with the State Department and the Joint Chiefs on some wording, and I have the itinerary to give to the hatchlings.” she gave Regina a reassuring look.
Jefferson interrupted, “Why do you always call the press that?”
“Because they snap at anything shiny I wave in front of them.” Mal said as if it were self-explanatory.
Regina massaged her temples, “Okay. Alright, so that’s it right now. I want 20 minute updates from everybody, you’re dismissed.”
As the majority exited Mal and Granny stayed behind.
Granny looked less worried now, “The President wants to see you in 10 minutes. And you still haven’t eaten.”
“What the hell for?” Regina had few nerves left to spare today and that man was sure to get on every last one.
“Calm down Princess, it’s probably just about the girl. Have a snack” Mal laughed.
The total lack of formality was nothing new to Regina. They had known each other since Regina’s first year of college. In fact, to this day she was sure Mal had something to do with her being on Leo’s ticket in the first place.
Even though Regina was respected, or at least feared on both sides of the political aisle, Mal had always found superiority in the fact that she was older, in the game longer and feared beyond the political landscape. She only referred to Regina as ‘Princess’ in absence of subordinates, excluding Granny, the woman had been a family friend for longer than Regina was alive.
“I am calm. What girl?” she snapped.
“The President would like you to hire Mary Margaret Blanchard.” Granny informed her.
“That little nitwit who helped on the campaign? The one who couldn’t keep her voting dates straight?” Regina was more than a little confused.
“I thought she worked on the hill for congressman Midas, Kathryn’s Father?”
“She did but, well, you remember she ain't the sharpest tool in the shack.”
“So why can’t he hire her?” Regina was growing tired of his incipit requests.
“He doesn’t want to seem partial. Her father was a big contributor, they’re friends.You’re such a competent leader, I’m sure she’ll bloom under your supervision, Princess.” A tone-deaf robot could have sensed the sarcasm in Mal’s voice.
“Oh yes, he would much rather I seem partial. When do I have a time slot, Mrs. Lucas?” she asked annoyed.
“Now you’re comin’ around! Between 10:30 and 10:36.”
“Much too long to waste on her but fine, schedule the nitwit at 10:30.”
“Also, Killian Jones is waiting for you when you come back from the Oval office.” Granny said, as Regina was preparing to leave. Mal knew she’d enjoy this one.
“Mrs. Lucas! What were my clear instructions pertaining to the Chairman of Ways and Means?” she nearly barked.
Mal chimed in: “If I recall, you said that meetings with that incompetent man should be few, far between and shorter than the last breath he will certainly draw if he ever stares at your posterior again.”
“Thank you, Mallory, I only wish Mrs. Lucas could provide the service of your eidetic memory.”
“Maybe she could, if not so many of your requests were made in such a colorful manner.” Mal provided.
“Let the church say, Amen! He’s a creep, we get it.” Granny snorted. Regina gave her a look and she adjusted her tone only slightly and continued.
“He would like to discuss the bill and his possibility of support.”
Regina was just about to mumble, Over his dead body, an awful habit her mother would have punished her for, when Merlin barged back in and turned the TV in her office on: “You need to see this! We’re fucked.”
And there it was. There it was. The last thing that could have made this day worse. The minority leader holding an impromptu press conference, on a street corner, with the leaders of the second largest teachers’ union on his right side, like a stuffed parrot on a pirate’s shoulder. He spoke about the Education Bill, which Ruby had so thoughtfully named the Future Bill, as if it were a kill order for teachers and their students alike. This was all kinds of awful. Even if the Union leader had just fallen from the sky by a decree from above, it could not have sent a clearer sign to the entire congress: “Teachers don’t want this!”
The teacher’s union had a bunch of leverage in several states that would be up for reelection in less than 2 years; Making every Senator with a T.V., suddenly reconsider their Yay for the Future Bill. Regina was livid. That slimy little… no time for accurate descriptions.
“Not a word. Nobody utter a word right now. We still have the NEA(National Education Association). I have a meeting with the President, and if I see anyone not making calls, unemployment is going to be a utopian dream for them.” Regina sneered and left her office.
“Well if that ain’t the cherry on the shit sundae this day already is.” said Merlin in a resigned voice.
“You heard the Vice President, get your people on the phone now.” Mal said in a voice that was so quiet and soft, it was more effective than any scream could ever be. She went in search for Ruby, they needed to spin this, and quick!
Walking to the Oval Office, Regina tried to clear her mind, in order to efficiently deal with whatever little booboo the leader of the free world was experiencing now.
“Bad day, boss?” her security detail probed. She knew exactly what kind of day it was. Although often silent and seemingly uninvolved, Emma Swan was very observant.
“Ms. Swan so help me…” Regina really did not have the energy today. Good thing she didn’t need it because the short walk to the Oval was already over. The President’s Secretary let her in and she noted David Nolan, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Kathryn’s soon to be ex-husband, and the Head of the State Department Dr. Victor Whale were already seated. So not about Mary Margaret “Nitwit” Blanchard.
“Ahh, my trusted Vice President! Come in, Regina.” the President practically squealed.
“Sir.” Regina gave him a curt nod that was slightly more than David or Victor received. She liked neither of them. David was, at least her first choice of the Joint Chiefs. He was, however, more muscle than brain. Now that he had betrayed her friend, she wished she hadn’t chosen him. Victor, on the other hand, had wormed his way into Leo’s head and heart, without Regina’s consent.
“We were just discussing the China trip.” David said. Regina let a little breath escape, at least he wasn’t bothering her about the bill.
“I was just discussing with these two, how I think you should come with us! The Chinese love you and you’re so good at getting them to do what we want!”
She couldn’t believe it. She was about to either pass or fail the biggest accomplishment in his Presidency so far. Something that could help millions of children and shape the future, and he wanted her to go on a 14-hour flight to shake hands. No, to stand behind him while HE shook hands.
“Mr. President, I’m sure you’re right, but we aren’t trying to get them to do anything this time. Just a diplomatic trip and I’m sure Merlin and Jefferson will be a worthy replacement.”
“They don’t look half as good in a ball gown!” he exclaimed. At least someone was apparently having a good day.
“I would hope not,” she deadpanned.
“Excuse me, Mr. President, I really must go to my next meeting. Best of luck in Beijing.” She exited into the Secretary's room to find Mal waiting for her.
“You knew what that was about, didn’t you?!” she accused her.
“I might have guessed. He tried to talk me into going too. What? You’re not up for a cup of tea with the communists?” She laughed.
“Ha! Everyone gather around, Mal made a little joke!” Regina said dryly.
“Come on. Come watch me do the briefing and then you can rip Ways and Means a new one. I know how you like that.”
There was a sly smile on her lips as if implying that Regina enjoyed both of those things greatly, and it was true. Regina loathed Killian Jones and every chance to let her anger out on him was greatly appreciated, but what she needed now was a press briefing. It was her guilty pleasure. As they approached the briefing room, Mal slipped even more into her Press Secretary persona and Regina’s shoulders automatically released some of the tension. Seeing her so in control made Regina instantly calm.
Just before they split ways, so Regina could watch through the glass behind the cameras and Mal could stand in front of her podium, Mal turned to her and whispered:
“Watch and enjoy Princess. This one’s for you.”
It made her shiver and she instantly developed goosebumps. As Regina tried to steady herself, she slipped into the back. Next to her were Ruby and to Regina’s displeasure, the Nitwit. Mary Margaret leaned over to Ruby just as Mal approached the podium.
“Why do they call her the Dragon?” Regina tried to tune her out; this was her treat of the day.
Ruby snickered: “You’re about to find out.”