He nods goodnight to the guys with the dark glasses, leaving them to serve as sentries on his front porch.
While stepping across that familiar and long-missed threshold he inhales deeply and slowly sighs it out while he quietly shuts the door. It is 7:30 p.m.
She is already there. Her campaign duties ended with a women’s luncheon somewhere in Ohio at around 1:30 p.m. EST. She and the girls are half-heartedly watching MSNBC while they await his arrival.
“Daddy’s home!” He tries to sound upbeat. He is mentally and physically exhausted.
Sasha, at 11, still hasn’t developed the cool reserve of her older sister. She springs from her seat on the floor and throws herself at her father, arms and legs encircling his slender body.
“Oh, hi Dad.” That from Malia, the tall, elegant teenager who will not reveal her delight at seeing the man the rest of us call POTUS.
The large old Mansion in Chicago’s upscale Hyde Park neighborhood wraps him in a soothing hug. The light, the smell, the feel of the place whispers to his tired ears “you’re home. You are safe here.”
Michelle rises from her seat on the sofa and sends an air kiss in the direction of his left cheek. She knows this man better, sometimes, than he knows himself. He needs to de-compress.
“Do you want to take a hot shower first, or are you ready for supper?”
He glances at her while he hangs his cashmere overcoat in the front hall closet.
“What’re we havin’?”
“Italian Fiesta Pizzeria in Hyde Park has sent over three jumbo pies, of course. It IS a special occasion.”
In one smooth motion he rips off his tie and tosses his suit coat on the back of the club chair near the window.
Once seated around the table, Malia asks if she should call the Secret Service detail in to eat.
He smiles at her and shakes his head.
“Not tonight,Sweetie. Let’s just be a family tonight. We’ll send one of the pies out to them in a few minutes.”
For several minutes there are no more words. Only the sounds of chewing and savoring the special concoctions the local pizzeria created for Mr. President pierce the silence.
Sasha looks at her Daddy. He looks different, a lot different. His hair looks like it had snowed on his head. The areas below his eyes are darkened and puffy. He doesn’t laugh as loudly as he did before they moved to Washington.
“Are you going to win tonight?”
“I don’t know Sasha. We’ll have to wait and see, just like everybody else. Tonight is one night I won’t get an initial briefing from those clowns in the other room.” The staff is having its own meal in a back room of the mansion.
“May I say something?” her voice is tiny and a little frightened.
“Of course you can, baby.” He dabs the pizza grease from his chin with a paper napkin.
“I…kinda hope…well, I wish…I hope you don’t.” She looks down at her hands in her lap. A large, hot tear falls from her round face onto the back of one hand.
Malia, who is seated on the same side of the dining table, slams her fist against the youngster’s thigh, her eyes riveted on her mother’s face.
Michelle rose from her chair and circled the table, putting an arm around the girl’s shoulders.
POTUS stares long and hard at his pizza. Then he lifts his head and speaks to his family.
“ I know how hard this has been on all three of you. Mommy has been gone almost as much as I have, trying to win this election by talking to the people on my behalf. I have missed some of your important events. I haven’t always been “here” even when I’m at home, whether in the White House, Camp David or this old house. I know.”
“If I win – and I hope to God I do – the next four years will be just as tough, but they will be different. Our country is in trouble. Daddy has done a lot of things to try to make that trouble better. Some has worked. Some hasn’t. But, Sasha,sweetie, we can’t afford to turn this country over to people who want to undo all the great things that have been accomplished on behalf of the common man, woman and child in America. We need to hang on and push forward, no matter how difficult it is. And, yes, I’ll be asking an awful lot of you, your sister and your Mom – AGAIN. I must.”
He pauses, again staring at the uneaten slice of pizza on his plate.
“We are behind you, Daddy,” says Malia, with conviction. We understand. It’s just that sometimes…
“Yes, no matter how hard Mommy and I try, you two hear some nasty words spoken about your father. And you want to stand up for me, but you don’t know how. I know. But as long as you know the truth – as long as you know your Daddy, the guy who comes to your basketball games and hollers like an idiot; the guy who used to read to you, even after he became President; the guy who loves your mother more than life itself – as long as YOU know what’s true, you will be strong in the face of criticisms and, yes, even lies.”
Michelle winks at the girls across the table. “They know, don’t you Malia? Don’t you Sasha? “
Rising from the chair, Michelle motions to her family to gather in the living room to watch the election returns. POTUS calls in the staff. The waiting is almost over.