Chapter Two

April 1984

"Will," Elizabeth shouted. "Don't let them do this! Will!"

But Will stood in silence, his gaze buried in the dusty earth that surrounded the porch. He scuffed his shoes against the wooden boards. His mess of blonde hair had fallen across his face, but beneath his cheeks tinged pink. Ashamed. Ashamed of what she had become.

"Don't let them do this," Elizabeth shouted as her aunt and uncle bundled her into the backseat of the car. She struggled against them, but her limbs were weightless, and they moved like feathers governed by the breeze. "Will." She pressed her hands against the cool glass, and it fogged beneath her touch. "Will." But he wouldn't even meet her gaze, the monster she had become. "Will, I hate you!" Bitter tears stung her eyes and rendered the last image of her brother a blur.

"There's no need for that," her aunt said, and she gave a tut. The car rolled away down the drive, and the gravel rasped beneath the tyres. "This is for your own good, Elizabeth. These people can help you."

"I don't need help," Elizabeth said. Why couldn't they see that? "I need to be in school."

"Just look at yourself." Her aunt snapped, and she twisted around in her seat. She eyed her slowly, gaze dripping with disdain. "School can wait." She tutted to herself and turned back to face the front. "What's six months compared to the rest of your life?"

Present Day

Will. He was the only one who knew. But he hadn't breathed a word about it since the day Elizabeth was released. Shame. Elizabeth's cheeks burned even now to think about the way he had looked at her with such pity, such shame. But even he wouldn't be dumb enough to tell anyone, right? He hadn't referred to it even once, not as what it was, not even as London. But somehow, someone had found out, and as she had said to Emilie, that meant it was only a matter of time.

Elizabeth pushed herself away from the door, strode across the office and snatched the phone from her desk. She wedged it against her shoulder as she punched in Will's number. Then she turned around and leant back against the edge. Her fingers drummed against the wooden top.

Ring-ring, ring-ring, ring-ring. "Hello?"

"Hey, it's me," she said. "Do you have a minute?"

"For you I have two." Will's smug smile dripped through his voice.

Had dread not strung her stomach in its noose, she might have rolled her eyes. "I need to know…" She twisted the telephone cord around her finger. "Have any reporters contacted you…about me?"

"The world doesn't revolve around you, Lizzie."

Her hand stilled, and the cord recoiled. "Just answer the question, dumb-ass."

"No," Will said, "but if they do, I'll be sure to tell them how well-mannered you are."

The noose slackened—Thank God it hadn't come from Will— but only for a moment before the stranglehold returned, twice as tight. If not him, then who?

The levity of his tone evaporated. "Is something wrong?"

She shook her head. Her voice hitched. "Nothing's wrong."

"You're using your stressed voice."

She levelled her tone. "No, I'm not." But her lower eyelid juddered.

"I can hear your eye twitching."

A flush of heat surged up her neck. "That's not even possible."

"Look, Lizzie, if something's happened—"

"Goodbye, Will." And she slammed the phone down. She stared over at the stack of papers that fanned across the couch. The highlighted line stared back at her: The summer of 1984.

"Hey, Blake." Elizabeth stepped out of her office.

Blake pivoted towards her in his chair, the phone clutched to his ear. He clunked it back into the cradle and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say anything, she cut in.

"I need you to look into something for me. There's a hospital in Virginia—"

Blake grabbed his notepad and plucked a pen from the pot at the edge of the desk.

"The Lowfield. I want you to contact them, see if there've been any data breaches; records stolen, files hacked, thefts…anything that could have led to information getting out."

Blake jotted it down. "Of course, ma'am." If the request surprised him, he didn't show it. "Was there anything else?"

"That's all." Elizabeth retreated a step towards her office, but Blake called her back.

"Um…ma'am." He pointed to the phone. "That was the White House. The president has asked to see you…something about the Italian minister refusing to sign—"

"Until he's stared down my blouse?" Elizabeth flashed Blake a taut smile.

Blake floundered. "I think the phrase they used was 'Sweeten the deal'," he said, and he almost winced as the words fell from his mouth, "but yes, ma'am."

Elizabeth groaned. She ducked into her office and grabbed her coat, and then she strode towards the elevators.

Blake called after her, "I'll have the cars brought round."

Elizabeth stepped out of the Oval Office and refastened the second button of her blouse. Russell followed a pace behind, his nose buried in his phone. "I'm sorry about that." He rubbed his forehead. "The guy's a lech, but—"

"We need the deal." Elizabeth nodded. The sacrifices she made for politics. Though what about that other sacrifice: the country, her family, Henry—her heart tweaked—finding out about summer 1984? People will judge you for this, Elizabeth, they'll think you're weak. It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, but you can flatten it in an instant.

"Do you have a minute?" Russell asked, and he motioned towards his office.

"Sure." Elizabeth stepped inside.

Stevie was perched on the chair behind her desk, but she jumped up as Russell and Elizabeth entered. "Mr Jackson, Mom—" Stevie blushed and lowered her gaze. "—I mean Madam Secretary." Her face flushed more crimson with each word. So she wasn't the only McCord who found it difficult to compartmentalise.

"Hey, baby." Elizabeth gave her a warm smile.

Stevie hurried after them as Russell nabbed a doughnut from the tray on Adele's desk and led the way into the office proper. She hovered in the doorway, and the way she shifted her weight from foot to foot reminded Elizabeth of when her daughter was just three and she had found her trying on a pair of her heels—a foal testing its legs for the first time. "Can I get you anything?"

"Coffee," Russell barked. He placed the doughnut down his desk, and then shot Stevie a look over his shoulder. "And none of that low fat milk crap. It tastes like sewage water."

Stevie turned her wide eyes to Elizabeth. Half plea for help, half asking for her order. Elizabeth shook her head, her voice soft. "No thanks, I'm fine."

Stevie nodded and shut the door behind her as she left.

"So." Russell stretched out the word. He leant back against the edge of his desk and eyed Elizabeth—It was like a mongoose sizing up a cobra. "How did the meeting go with Emilie?"

Elizabeth settled into the blue leather armchair beneath the grandfather clock and swung one leg over the other. The clock tocked out her pause. Tock, tock, tock. "Fine."

"Just fine?" Russell's tone sharpened. He shook his head to himself, and his hands found his hips. "Elizabeth—"

Her neck jarred at the way his voice grated over her name.

"—if you're going to do this interview, you need to be prepared. This isn't some policy deal that you can just wing—"

Elizabeth shot him a sharp look. Because that was what she did: wing her way through everything.

Russell glanced towards the closed door and lowered his voice. "If you're going to run for president, the public need to get to know you, and not just the off-the-cuff you, but the neat, polished, presidential version of you."

Elizabeth sank back against the cushion. "I really don't see why the public need to know about my private life." She tossed one hand up. "I mean, who cares what my first dog was called?"

"The public cares," Russell said. His tone shot up, utter exasperation, as if she were failing to comprehend even the most basic of sums when he was trying to teach her calculus. "The vast majority of the electorate couldn't give a crap about your policies, but tell them a fluffy story about you and your arm-candy husband on your first date and they'll lap it up. You're not just selling them leadership; you're selling them a lifestyle, something they can believe in, something they can aspire to, something that makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside." His voice cracked. "What part of this whole politics game don't you get?"

Tock, tock, tock, tock, tock. Outside, a telephone trilled and echoed into the silence of the office. Elizabeth raised her eyebrows at him. "Are you done?"

"Look." Russell massaged his brow. His tone had calmed. "You are how we secure Dalton's legacy, you are how we continue to make a real difference to this country, to the world. All I'm asking is that you do the interview, play nice, tell them what they want to hear." He shook his head and let out a kind of strangled laugh. "Is that really too much to ask?"

"I'm just not comfortable with some of those questions," Elizabeth said. Well, one of those questions. Anything relating to the summer of 1984.

"Then get comfortable. Unless…" Russell's eyes narrowed on her. "Have you got something to hide?" With each tock of the clock, Russell's eyes widened. He raised one finger. "Because if you do—"

Elizabeth clutched the armrests, her fingernails digging into the leather. "I've got nothing to hide." Though perhaps something she'd rather remained buried, deep, deep down: a part of herself lost to the darkness of the soils and withered by the passage of time.

Tock, tock, tock. "Good." Russell gave a curt nod. He opened his arms: a questioning gesture. "Then what's your problem?"

Knock, knock.

Russell eased away from the edge of the desk. "You're doing the interview, Bess. You've got six days to prepare." He wrenched open the door.

"One coffee, full fat milk," Stevie said. She stepped inside and set the cup and saucer down on the long table in the middle of the room. She turned and glanced to Elizabeth. "Um…Blake's looking for you." She tilted her head to the door. "He's just outside."

Elizabeth nodded. "Thanks, sweetheart." She stood up and strode towards the door, but Russell caught hold of her arm.

He dipped in close, his voice a harsh whisper. "Remember, the media make a frenzy of piranha look like guppies on parade. If they get one whiff of weakness…" His gaze lowered as he shook his head to himself. "I know you don't exactly have fond memories of Iran—"

No, really? Elizabeth tugged her arm free. "Russell, you don't need to worry about Iran."

"Six days, Bess," Russell called after her. "Be prepared."

"Ma'am, I've just spoken to the hospital," Blake said. He hurried along at Elizabeth's side as she strode through the corridors of the White House. "It took a while, but I managed to get through to an administrator on…" He glanced at the slip of paper in his hand. "…Lady Margaret Ward."

Elizabeth's stomach dropped. She pulled Blake to one side. White House staffers sailed past, greeting her with warm smiles. She forced a smile in return, though it could be nothing better than grim. When the chatter and the thud of footsteps had gone, she turned back to Blake. "And?"

"They said there was a recent data breach when they were digitising old records."

Elizabeth pulled at her blouse, creating pockets of air as a clammy sweat spread across her skin. "Do they know what type of information was leaked? Was it just admission records or—"

Blake shook his head. "It was all of it: notes on admissions, treatments, ward observations, anything they had recorded."

Elizabeth's heart felt like it had stopped.

Blake's brow pinched, and his gaze lowered to the ground. "The lady said that it was the psychiatric ward that was mainly affected." He met Elizabeth's gaze, and then his eyes widened—pure horror. "God, imagine if the notes from my childhood therapist were leaked. I'd never be able to leave my apartment again." His gaze sharpened on Elizabeth, a flash of concern. "Ma'am, are you okay? You've gone awfully pale."

Elizabeth swallowed. She rested one hand against the wall as the world around her swam as though she were on a waltzer, being hurled through a haze of giddy laughs studded with pinpricks of light. "I'm fine." She grimaced. "Probably just my blood sugar crashing."

Blake looked uncertain, but only for the flicker of a second. Then he pulled up one of the blue cushioned chairs from the edge of the corridor and encouraged her to sit down. "This is why I tell you to have protein with your carbs. You need to balance—"

"Just grab me a doughnut from Russell's office, and I'll be fine." When he hesitated, she waved him away. She raked one hand through her hair and then leant back, and with her head resting against the wall, she closed her eyes.

Lowfield Hospital, Lady Margaret Ward, April-October 1984.

So the notes were really out there—all of them, all of those memories she had long since forgotten, that had faded like the remnants of a dream into the background of her mind—and one journalist had already found them. It was only a matter of time. Six days to get comfortable with the world knowing. Six days to tell her family. Six days until their perception of her changed. It's naive to think that people won't judge you for this. They'll think you weak. Please, Elizabeth, don't let this define you. You'll say you spent the summer with me in London. London, summer 1984.