Hitting Hard: Chapter 110 - Epilogue (part 3)
It was a bright Saturday morning that promised a glorious afternoon of watching soccer, but before that could happen, Jeff Cunningham drove his youngest daughter to the gym for a few hours of gymnastics practice and Louis Anderson came over to the Bethesda house for a few hours of work. "Good soccer weather," Anderson commented as he entered the kitchen and immediately grabbed an apple.
"You coming to the game?" Kim asked.
"Not doing anything else," Anderson said with a shrug. "Signe's at work, Gunnar's at training camp, Kristie's in California, and Davin'll probably sleep until tomorrow. I think he's going through a growth spurt."
"He doesn't have much room for more growth spurts," Kim commented.
"Gunnar's seven foot," Anderson pointed out.
"Speaking of Gunnar, Aya and Justin are going to be in town for a bit in October and the Wizards are going to be playing at least once while they're here. Can you get us some tickets?"
"For my favorite drill instructor and her drill instructor boyfriend? Sure. Courtside or box?"
"Box. She hates courtside. Can't see the whole game from there. Although both she and Justin have great screaming voices now." They both chuckled and nodded at that. "Too bad she won't be your favorite drill instructor too much longer."
"I know," he said in agreement. "Has she figured out what she's going to do on the outside?"
"She's thinking of getting a master's in education and being a teacher," Kim replied. "Justin's thinking of OCS, so he'll be in the Corps for a while, and she's planning on sticking with him for a while. Teaching's pretty portable. But you'll get a kick out of this. She's going to be starring in an independent film in a couple of months."
"Aya?" he said with a laugh.
"I know, right?" she said with a chuckle. Aya had to be the most introverted Tomblin in a long time and never expressed any desire to be in the spotlight. "She was apparently recruited from the beach where some of the DIs hang out."
"It's not a porn, is it?"
"God, no," Kim said quickly. "Although she did ask that. The whole thing seemed super sketchy to her. And to Justin. But it's some action or horror or mystery or something like that. She said she'll be the only one alive at the end."
"Well, that part makes sense at least," Anderson said agreeably. "You never told me what the meeting at the White House was about on Wednesday."
Kim frowned. "You might want to sit down," she said. He shrugged and did just that. "Vice President DiMarco is going to be resigning for health reasons," she began.
"Health reasons?" Anderson asked dubiously. Those words were usually code for 'asked to resign'.
"He has an inoperable brain tumor," she said bluntly. He nodded his understanding.
"And you're at the top of the short list to take over," he observed. She frowned; he said it without irony or sarcasm.
"You don't sound surprised," she said slowly. He shrugged again.
"The pieces fit," he explained. "We're going to be at war with China, maybe in Armstrong's first term, definitely by his second, if he gets a second. If the replacement VP is going to come from a Department, it has to be DoD. The Dems got the closest to putting a woman in the White House, and that makes the GOP look unfriendly to women, so Armstrong needs a woman on the ticket. You're the highest ranked woman in the DoD, and you don't look like a troll, so that's a plus. Aside from that, you agree with Armstrong on probably close to 80% of the issues. That's about the best he can do without hiring a parrot to sit on his shoulder."
"So do you think I should do it?"
He frowned as he thought about that. "I thought we were here to do work," he complained. At her look, he said, "You're good for the GOP. For what I just said and that you're likeable." She snorted. "On paper," he corrected. "Lord knows not in person. You've been happily married over twenty years and neither you or Cunningham has slept around. At least, I assume so."
"Oh?" she asked, now amused.
"You were an investigator, so if he cheated on you, you would have found out and then killed him to make it look like an accident. And he's smart and a bit vindictive, so if you cheated, he would have found out and taken the kids to California."
"Maybe you should have become a federal agent."
"If I left the Corps, I would have gone somewhere that pays a little better," he replied. "Back to your qualifications. You have three very high achieving kids. Not as high achieving as mine, granted—"
"I've produced two Olympians."
"That just meant that you had a billion people watching as your daughter jumped and dove after the ball in the sand wearing a bikini," Kim commented, referring to Kristie's beach volleyball career, which was just taking off. "Besides, it's not like it's hard to produce Olympians when the raw material is a couple with an average height over six and a half feet."
"She's still too young to be an Olympic gymnast," Kim pointed out. "Give it three years. We'll see." She sighed. "Although security concerns would make it difficult for her to compete at the international level if I'm the vice president."
"Which brings us to the overall conclusion," Anderson said. "You're good for the GOP and good for the country, and if it was just the job, I would say that you should go for it."
"But in two and a half years, you'll have to campaign, which means you'll have to smile pretty and be polite around complete idiots."
"Yeah. And with a teenager still in the house."
"That's okay. Pup already ignores me more often than not."
"Which I'm sure you never did to your mother."
"What does Pup say about all of this?"
Kim sighed. "We haven't told them yet," she admitted. "The plan is to take them home after the game, sit them down, discuss the pros and cons and all that crap."
"What does Cunningham say?"
"You know Jeff," Kim said dismissively. "Completely supportive of whatever I decide to do. I just wish I knew what that was," she sighed. "I will tell you this, Anderson: if I go, you're going with me. I'm going to need a chief of staff."
"You not taking Kaytlin?"
She rolled her eyes. "Kaytlin Schwartz has a BA in public policy from University of Puget Sound. You have two master's degrees, and one's even from a real school. What do you think?"
"I'd have to retire from the Corps."
"You've been in for over thirty years. You should have retired a decade ago."
"Okay. If you do this, I'll follow you. You clearly can't function without me."
"Eight years working in your office doesn't lie." He glanced at his watch. "We need to get to work if we're going to get anything done before it's time to leave for Annapolis."
The three Cunninghams not currently enrolled at the United States Naval Academy arrived to the soccer field with Col Anderson in time to watch the men's soccer team walk in to take their seats in the stands for the women's game, having played their own game the evening before. "Sam! Jack!" Pup called out, standing and waving. Sam Byrd, Sydney's boyfriend, gave her a wide grin and waved back; Jack Cunningham gave his younger sister a quick wave, embarrassment plain on his pink face and already being teased by his teammates.
"Pup, you're going to make him have to do extra pushups," Jeff told his daughter.
"I know," she said cheerfully.
"You're such a brat," Kim said.
The women showed up to the field to cheers from the home crowd, and nobody had to look hard to find Sydney Cunningham, several inches shorter than any of her teammates, her dark red hair hanging down in two tight French braids. Kim couldn't help but smile on the intense look on her oldest daughter's face; she looked like Jeff and acted like Jeff, even had a career in the medical corps planned out, but when it came to soccer, it was obvious she was Kim's daughter. She was ruthless and completely unapologetic about it.
The whistle blew to start the game, and Sydney was off after the ball, weaving through the taller girls on both teams until her feet connected with the ball. "C'mon, Squid," Kim murmured under her breath, groaning as another girl tackled the ball from her and sent it in the opposite direction. It took another twenty minutes, but she got the ball back just long enough to send it flying into the goal.
"Goal by number 4, Sydney Cunningham, junior from Bethesda, Maryland. Assist was by number 17, Kyla Dombroski, junior from Chevy Chase, Maryland. Midshipmen lead 1-0," the announcer called out in the stadium.
"That's my girl," Kim said proudly.
The game continued for the full ninety minutes before ending with Navy winning 2-1 over Bucknell. After the handshake round, the men's team made it out to the field to congratulate the women, Sam lifting Sydney off her feet to kiss her dramatically. "Those two are going to get in so much trouble," Jeff commented with a sigh.
"Eh, she didn't exactly have the best role models in that department," Kim said dismissively. Even after he made captain, they took the 'don't show affection in uniform' more as a guideline than a rule. "Do you want to head over to Ram's Head for an early dinner, or just head home?"
"My vote's for Ram's Head, but I think it's up to Squid," he replied.
"We don't need to give her a choice," Pup said quickly. "We can just go to Ram's Head."
Unfortunately for Jeff and Pup, Sydney had been craving her favorite Italian restaurant in Bethesda, so after she showered and changed, the family plus Anderson and Sam piled into the car and headed back the way they came, Sydney already excitedly recounting the game they just watched, much to Jack and Pup's annoyance. The conversation switched to the men's game from the day before over dinner, and then Sam asked about Pup's upcoming gymnastics meet and they talked about that for a few minutes.
As soon as they returned to the Cunningham house, Kim sat her children—and Sam—down in the living room. Before she said anything, she took a deep breath, looking over to Jeff to see him smiling supportively over at her.
She had known since her conversation that morning with Anderson what she was going to say. It wasn't going to be easy, none of it, but he was right; it would be good for the country. And as she learned as a young second lieutenant heading off to Iraq for the first time, sometimes you have to do something that isn't easy and isn't remotely desirable to do what the country needed.
"Vice President DiMarco is stepping down," she began, getting confused looks from all except Jeff. "President Armstrong has asked me to consider taking his place. And I'm going to accept."
A/N: Yay! After writing this pretty much forever, it's done! I know, I know, what a place to leave you, but it had to end somewhere. Maybe someday I'll fill in the gaps, but in the meantime, it's time to give the NCIS story over on FFN the attention it deserves.