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The Queen's Lover

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It was a hell of a time to realize you were in love with your best friend.

To be brutally honest–and Beth prided herself on her brutal honesty–Beth may have had a sneaking suspicion that she was in love with Meg before now. After all, she thought about sex a lot and she might have noticed that her thoughts drifted more towards, say, Debbie Gibson then Rick Hamilton, and maybe sometimes when she was very tired, her brain served up images of Meg instead.

But it was a hell of a good line.

And it didn't matter because she was here and Meg was–Preston had warned her, but–Beth sighed and rolled over for about the fifth time. She'd insisted on staying in the Lincoln Room because "she had made friends the last time and wanted to say hi" and nobody had reacted at all. She should've at least gotten a good eye roll from Steven.

After a few more tosses and turns, Beth reached over to the phone and asked the operator to connect her to the number Preston had slipped her that morning, the one she was sure she wouldn't use because it was Meg and there was nobody on earth she knew better.

Preston answered on the first ring. He'd barely said hello before Beth started talking. "She doesn't want me here."

Preston sighed and Beth remembered he was the one who took Meg's call, that he'd been here with her all this time. "Did she say that?"

"She just wants to be alone."

"And if we let her do that–"

"I know," Beth said. Then after a moment, she closed her eyes because they were on the same side and Meg certainly didn't need her best friends sniping at each other. She slumped in bed, stretching out the cord. "Sorry."

"I heard she had dinner downstairs," Preston said. "That's new."

"Well, you know me," Beth said. "Overachiever extraordinaire."

There was another long silence. Then Preston said, "It's good you're here. Meg doesn't have many people to talk to."

No, she never had. For as long as Beth had known her, Meg had been so aware of the eyes on her. Even when her mother was "only" in congress, everyone knew exactly who she was.

Then again, Meg probably was never going to be the person confiding in strangers at the grocery store.

"I just . . . ," Beth said.

"You love her," Preston said.

In all the ways. She almost said that, then, to Preston, and in the silence that followed, she wondered if he heard the unspoken words.

+

The next morning, Beth woke up determined to be exactly who Meg needed. And . . . it worked, maybe, over the next few days. She pushed Meg in physical therapy and got her out on the balcony. Preston–those calls had become a nightly thing–told her she was doing a great job and should receive a government stipend and she told him she was going to turn him in for the unethical suggestion.

Meg went to bed early every night–she really did sleep an awful lot–but on Beth's last night, she suggested they watch movies. They went to Meg's room and Beth moved a chair next to Meg's bed, but Meg rolled her eyes and patted the bed next to her.

When Beth hesitated, Meg rolled her eyes again. "Come on," she said. "Let's get comfortable."

"Yeah, but–" Beth eyed Meg's leg, propped up on a stack of pillows and her hand, which Meg cradled against her chest.

"It's a big bed."

Beth grinned. "Of course it is, the White House wouldn't stand for anything else."

So, she climbed into bed with Meg. It was big enough that Beth could keep her distance, which was good because the more comfortable Meg grew with her, the more those thoughts kept creeping in. They had, of course, sat in this exact position a million times, watching countless movies and Brady Bunch reruns. In Boston, in both their rooms, in the White House and this exact bed. Often they had sat shoulder to shoulder and–had she felt it before? She thought maybe she had. She might not be a repressed Puritan like Meg, but she hadn't really considered–well, there were some thoughts she hadn't explored.

And there was no way she could explore them now. Or, probably, ever, but it certainly wasn't what Meg needed right now.

Still, they drifted closer to each other throughout the night and at one point, Meg's good hand brushed into Beth's hip and Beth had to suppress a gasp at the jolt of pure sexual awareness that pulsed through her.

It was probably a good thing that they called it quits after that. Meg could barely keep her eyes open and Beth was leaving early the next morning and yeah–it was better that she was leaving.

+

On her first day at Columbia, Beth took a very long walk. She didn't talk about it much with Meg, but . . . she'd never quite escaped being the President's daughter's best friend in Boston. People like Sarah Weinberger didn't feel comfortable around her and others just wanted to ask her questions about Meg and her mother and . . . well, the result was Beth had been a bit lonely.

New York was loud and barely familiar. Boston was a big city, but she'd lived there all her life. Worse, after 13 years of friendship, every block reminded her of Meg. So this was good. Nobody knew her and she had no idea where she was going.

(Despite her best efforts, Beth couldn't stop wondering if Meg had traveled some of these same blocks on her trips to New York.)

It grew dark and Beth felt guilty for a moment before remembering she was in college now, a real adult and she didn't have to call her mother to tell her she'd be late to dinner. Still, she had gone further than she meant and started to make her way back. She couldn't remember all the turns she had taken, but eventually found her way back to Columbia and her dorm. She fished her key out of her pocket and hesitated, looking at the metal and glass door. She remembered her RA telling her there was a trick to unlocking it, but she couldn't remember what the trick was.

She spent a few minutes wrestling with it before she was interrupted by a male voice. "Freshman?" he asked.

"Only for the next year or so," Beth said and turned to face him.

He didn't laugh at her joke, but that was okay–she was used to no one getting her humor–and, oh wow. He was tall and his eyes and hair were the exact same shade of golden brown. Her eyes flickered from his face to his hair trying to detect a difference.

And she was–relieved. She hadn't felt that jolt of sexual awareness meeting someone new since Meg had been taken and she was beginning to think she'd be forever hung up on her best friend. But this was good. She still liked boys–men. She'd be okay.

"You coming?" the guy asked and Beth shook herself, realizing she'd been staring off into space.

He held open the door for her and now she was on the receiving end of an appreciative glance.

"I'm Jimmy," he said.

"Beth."

He asked again if she was a freshman and this time she managed to answer like a normal person.

They'd moved out of the entrance and stood against the wall, Jimmy's hand resting above her head. As they continued talking, it trailed ever closer to her.

"Want to come hang out?"

And Beth was confused for a moment because wasn't that what they were doing, but then his hand finally landed on her hair. He followed it to her cheek and rubbed his thumb very close to her mouth and–

Suddenly it was May and Beth was having her last normal conversation with Meg–maybe their last ever–and telling her that Stuart wanted to get a hotel room for prom. Meg had accused her of wanting to get it over with, but that was a different Meg and a different Beth.

And she did want to get it over with and prove to herself that she could do this. She could move on and be a normal college girl.

Jimmy didn't interrupt her thoughts this time, but he did move his hand back to her hair and Beth closed her eyes. It felt nice, more than nice. She leaned into him.

"Yes?" He asked.

She nodded and he took her hand.

+

"So, want to know about sex?" Beth asked later that night. She wasn't sure if Meg would answer since it was late and Meg went to bed so early, but she'd promised to call her first night and, a million years ago, she'd promised to give her all the details of her first time.

Meg didn't answer right away and Beth cringed. That had been a million years ago. The last time they'd talked about sex was about the guy and she shouldn't say anything–but then Meg said, "On your first night? Beth, you hussy!"

"Hey, we all reinvent ourselves in college and I'm going for maneater."

"You've always been a maneater."

Which was–both true and not true. She knew guys liked to look at her, but she'd never had much interest in any of them. She'd dated a few older guys and–well, Stuart had disappeared when her best friend was kidnapped. So that tells you about her history with men.

"Did you really?" Meg said. She didn't sound judgemental or even curious, really. (Or jealous, which was only the faintest of hopes for Beth.)

"Yeah," Beth said.

"Wow."

"Yeah."

"So . . . how was it?"

Both less painful and less pleasurable than the romance novels said. But it got better, right? Out loud, she said, "I think I taught him a thing or two."

Meg laughed, but then said. "Was it . . . okay?"

"Well, my expectations are, of course, very high–"

"Beth."

Yeah, she didn't really expect Meg to let that pass. So she let herself really think about the last few hours. It was okay. Jimmy had taken it slowly enough that when Beth said the final yes, she was turned on and felt completely ready. And she hadn't really expected fireworks. So. It was okay.

"Yes," she said.

"Good," is all Meg said. "Was it–messy?"

And Beth laughed and gave her all the gory details.

+

It did get better with Jimmy. They had fun together and not just in bed. He was a sophomore and Beth took full advantage of his year in the city, learning all the streets and bars and restaurants in the area and starting to master the subway.

And then her period was late. Beth took to running to the bathroom before and after every class and there was nothing. She hadn't regretted sleeping with Jimmy but damn it. She was 18. She couldn't have a baby! After three days, she knew she had to tell someone. She couldn't tell Jimmy and Meg had enough shit to deal with, but–

She called Meg. She would always call Meg.

"I'm late," Beth said.

And if Beth didn't already love Meg, she would've fallen in love right then for the way that Meg didn't ask her if she was careful or tell her she shouldn't have slept with Jimmy at all. Instead, she took a moment and said, "Okay, we can fix this. If you come up here, we can go to Walter Reed. They won't question it. You'll come along to keep me company. We've got this, Beth."

And–despite it all–Beth smiled. Meg would always have her back. Hell, she could have the baby and Meg would probably insist on babysitting every weekend. They could move in together and become the two weird old maids with a kid and live happily ever after.

Her thoughts might have gotten a bit off track there.

The important thing was Meg had a plan and Beth would be fine.

Beth's period started the next day and she dumped Jimmy. It wasn't like she'd ever thought he was the love of her life, but well–if she had a love of her life, she'd let herself imagine, just for that moment, what it might be like with her and–it was time to let Jimmy go.

+

She hung around with other guys and, no, she didn't really see any of them sticking, but she had fun–mostly–and she did like sex. She stumbled across a bookstore and read Dykes to Watch Out For sitting on the floor because even if she was mostly anonymous in New York, there was just a chance that someone back in the dorms would notice the President's daughter's best friend was reading it and–well, it wasn't worth risking.

It's not like she hadn't ever known anyone was maybe–well, who was a lesbian, Beth said furiously to herself. She wasn't the repressed Puritan. And she was in college and it was New York City.

She let herself look at the occasional women and think about it and–well, maybe someday, right?

+

Meg went off to Williams and–it was good, right? Beth was happy for her. Beth was 100% genuinely happy Meg went away to college and at least 90% happy she was making friends and about 80% happy when Meg told her about Jack.

Still, after hanging up with Meg one Friday night, she heard someone in her hallway mention something and found herself at a Gay People at Columbia meeting. She wasn't a joiner, but the group did give her maybe a new name for herself. She wasn't ready to swear off men, so bisexual? Could that be her?

Even better, she found out about their monthly dances. She'd made fun of the dances in high school, but–this was different. New Beth, right? So she showed up at the next dance at Earl Hall.

The auditorium was pretty packed and Beth saw people of all ages. Men were dancing with men and women were dancing with women and Beth leaned against the wall and tried to look cool. (Did look cool, she told herself. Didn't she always?)

She received a few appreciative glances from other women and–huh, it did feel different from the looks she'd received from men since she was twelve. It felt . . . more comfortable. So when a tall redhead let her gaze linger, Beth locked eyes with her and–waited.

The woman sauntered over and held out a hand. "Polly."

"Beth," Beth said, and put her hand in Polly's. Polly held it for a moment before letting it slowly slide out.

"So," Polly said. "You here to look or to dance?"

And Beth grinned and grabbed Polly's hand again. "Dance."

Polly was a junior and seemed to know everyone and Beth ran into several people from her dorm and–it was nice. Here was a group of people who just were who they were, which is what Beth had always striven to be. She walked back to her dorm with Emily, another freshman on the floor beneath her. Beth walked her to her door and they both hesitated because yeah–this was the moment, right?

So Beth took a step closer to her and Emily let out a giggle. She was exactly Beth's height and their eyes met. Emily bit her lip and looked away for a second before looking back. And–okay–so it was Beth's move to make.

So she put her forehead against Emily's and then–slowly, slowly–let her lips meet Emily's. It was a short kiss, but–this, too was nice. Beth could feel that warm flush building in her and yeah–she felt it.

She walked back to her room and called Meg. Not to tell her or anything, but just to hear her voice.

+

Emily ignored her in the halls the next day, which sucked, but whatever. Plenty of fish in the sea. Beth went to the next dance and she got to ignore Emily, which felt better than it should.

She danced with Polly again that night and at the next dance and then–

It was meeting up in the dining hall and skipping class for coffee. It was Polly blowing her off and Beth having no one to call and complain to.

It was not being able to share every single part of herself with her best friend.

It was the end of her freshman year.

+

Beth wasn't expecting anything, but she just–it felt like she was hiding a part of herself from Meg and they didn't do that. She wasn't worried about losing her–hell, if they managed to stay friends through presidential runs and kidnappings and–their friendship had been tested–but still. Meg would want time and space to think about it all. And she was leaving the next day for her world hunger work–so.

They were on the roof patio by the Solarium and had fallen into silence when Beth said, "Hey."

Meg looked over at her and raised her eyebrows. "Hey."

Okay, yeah, that had been maybe a little weird. So Beth sat up and crossed her legs and put her hat back on.

"So you know how you say I have a man of the month club?" Beth took a deep breath. She was tough. Remember that. "Sometimes it's a woman of the month club."

Meg didn't hesitate. "You are a hussy."

Which was the perfect thing to say only–"You're not going to ask the obvious question?"

"You mean the cliche question?"

Beth grinned. No, we must never be cliche. Still, they had always, always been honest with each other. So she said, looking Meg in her eyes, "Yeah, I do."

Meg didn't say anything, but she didn't look away either, and this tiny tense part of Beth that maybe did worry she'd found something their friendship couldn't survive relaxed.

So she went on. "You have Jack and it's not like–can you imagine the press?"

It was maybe the one thing the tabloids hadn't speculated about, though Beth figured they'd get there someday.

"Anyway," Beth said. "You're my best friend and–we don't have secrets."

"No secrets," Meg repeated and–the things they knew each other. Years of friendships and trauma and–here they still were.

"Have I shocked your Puritan sensibilities?"

"I know you keep trying," Meg said. "But you're just never going to get rid of me."

And that was–yeah, they were solid and it wasn't that Beth would take what she would get, it was that this, too, was enough.

+

About halfway through the summer, Beth answered the phone and heard, "You're a real jerk, you know that?"

"I do know that," Beth said, because Meg had said that to her a thousand times before.

"I like men!" Meg said. "And the tabloids have enough interest in me as it is."

"Hey," Beth said. "I wasn't trying to–I don't know, turn you gay."

"You've always pushed me," Meg said. "When you came to Williams in the spring–no one else could've made me realize what you did."

Beth didn't really know what to say to that, so she didn't say anything.

After a moment, Meg started talking again. "Jack and I have talked a few times, but it's not–" she sighed. "It's not the same as in person. We run out of things to say to each other and with you–"

"We've had more practice," Beth said.

"And I never really thought about women, but you've got me looking."

"You don't have to," Beth said.

"I think I do," Meg said.

"So, um," Beth said, feeling a little awkward. "Does that mean you want me to tell you about the hot babe I made out with last night?"

Meg didn't say anything, which Beth took as encouragement. She exaggerated only a few of the details and it was–nice–to share more of her life with her best friend.

+

"Look," Beth said on the phone a few weeks later. "I know you probably don't want me to send you any, like, books. But I could read some to you?"

"As long as they're dirty," Meg said, and then laughed awkwardly. "I'm not sure I know how to talk about this."

"You're doing just fine," Beth said. She had a stack of gay literature on her bookstand, still hidden in brown paper covers, just in case, though it occurred to her that maybe that was more suspicious. Anyway, some of them were dirty, but she opted for a sweet one instead.

She flipped to the first kiss and Meg was silent the whole time. When she finished, Beth asked Meg about her work with the world hunger charity and Meg asked Beth about her summer job. Neither said anything more about–well, anything else.

+

The thing about being the President's daughter's best friend is that no matter how close you were, no matter how much you talked, the tabloids sometimes knew things before you did. And Beth knew not to believe them–hell, she'd fed the tabloids a story or two in her time–but according to the newsstand headlines she passed, there was trouble between said President's daughter and her Republican playboy boyfriend.

Beth very pointedly did not buy any of them or even browse them, but she spent a long time walking that day and turned down invitations from both men and women.

And that night, Meg asked, "Read me a dirty one?"

"You sure?"

"I'm sure," Meg said, in that voice she had that made her sound just like her mother in all her speeches, ready to lead the nation and so damn sure about everything. You could really hate people like that.

Beth only stumbled over the words a little and she could never admit it to anyone, but she blushed through the whole thing. It wasn't even the first time she'd read a sex scene out loud to Meg, but, well, it was the first time it could've been them.

"Jack and I broke up," Meg said.

"Way to kill the mood," Beth said.

Meg sighed and Beth immediately said, "I didn't mean–are you okay?"

"Yeah," Meg said. "He wasn't a jerk, not really, but he wasn't . . . anyway, that was really hot."

Beth touched her cheeks. "I have more."

"I–I might not be ready for them quite yet," Meg said.

+

So the summer continued and, hell, Beth didn't know what was happening. But she found even more books and Meg didn't even have to ask her to read them anymore. The tabloids had Meg dating various men, but it was a different one each week and Beth never went out with anyone anymore and–she wasn't stupid, okay?

Meg came from her world hunger tour and Beth soaked up every minute of coverage. Meg looked good. She wasn't back to her normal weight, but she looked healthy and she moved better and–she was good at this and what right did Beth have to ask Meg to risk her future career over, well, her?

But Meg was still her best friend and, well, when the President's daughter summoned you, you had to go right? So in August, Beth found herself back at the White House. She was greeted by Preston, who high fived her and threatened to steal her hat. (In return, Beth could only comment sadly at his dull West Wing attire.)

And then–up to the residence and taking Steven and Neal down a peg or two and Meg. Meg, who looked at Beth like Beth looked at Meg.

"Hi," Meg said, in a breathless kind of voice.

"Hi," Beth said.

After a moment or two of silent communication, Beth followed Meg to her bedroom. Meg closed the door and–they were alone for the first time.

Meg looked over Beth's shoulder. "Look, I'm the repressed Puritan here. Can you just–do something?"

"I'm afraid my singing voice hasn't gotten any better," Beth said, "but I have learned all the words to "Sweet Caroline." I could–"

"Beth," Meg said, and looked up at her with those pleading eyes and–to hell with it.

Beth kissed her. She wasn't expecting–she had no expectations, okay?–but she could feel Meg kissing her back, and then there was some fumbling with Meg's cane, but they were on the bed and–well, some pleasurable minutes passed.

After a while, they stopped for breath and Meg took Beth's hand.

"Hey," Meg said. "You know that thing you told me at the beginning of summer?"

"Yeah."

"Me too."