A/N: I'm not sure where this is going. For now it's looking like a short story. Inspiration struck following my completion of Stephen King's "11/22/63," but this story is in no way tied to it. JFK is romanticized for the purposes of this plotline. Doing a little research about him will probably ruin this for you, so if you don't know anything about his history, please wait until AFTER you finish reading this to research! That being said, I hope you enjoy, and if you do, PLEASE leave a review, and don't forget to check out some of my other works!
THE PRESIDENTIAL GHOST
I couldn't stop staring at him. Him, the President of the United States. The one whose assassination I had, by some strange twist, actually managed to prevent. I hadn't been able to save Jackie though. Her death would haunt me for the rest of my life. I knew it would haunt him, too.
Still, there he stood on my doorstep, strangely devoid of his usual flank of Secret Service associates. I didn't doubt they were far away, but he must have demanded privacy with every ounce of power he had. And, coming from this man—a man of the utmost power in every manner of speaking, but so physically unstable and on the precipice of disaster—that said a lot. It was the only explanation. But why was he here? Why now?
It had been months since I'd pushed Oswald from the 6th floor window and saved the President's life. It had been months since I had seen his wife take the fatal shot in his place. Months since I'd seen the most powerful man in the world break into the sort of body-wracking sobs I would hear every day for the rest of my life. Months since he had looked into my eyes and told me he'd wished I'd never come, so that it would be him buried in the cold ground instead of her, the woman he had loved, still loved, and would never stop loving.
I had never expected to see him again, but yet, there he stood.
"Mister President," I said finally, my voice flat and my nod curt. I looked at him, at his stance, at the way his palm pressed against the door frame to support his weight so that his fragile back wouldn't have to do so alone. I took note of how quickly he righted himself at the sound of my greeting, knowing that so swift a motion must have caused him pain, but never did he falter or wince. The Presidency had done at least that much for him.
I wanted to scold him, to slap him across the face and demand to know how, why he would be so stupid as to show up on my tiny door step so utterly unprotected mere months after a lunatic had tried to blow his head off—and nearly succeeded, at that. I wanted to knock his lights out at his brash disregard for what I had done for him, for everything I had gone through and sacrificed to make sure he stayed safe. I wanted to scream at him and throw him off the concrete steps, back to his government-issued Cadillac, in his government-issued suit, to his government-issued oval office. But in the end, I couldn't do it. The way that man was looking at me sent a chill through my body, and I steeled my self control to settle on a simplistic, "How can I help you, Sir?"
He looked startled for a moment, as though he hadn't thought this visit through in its entirety, but it was only just for a moment. He recovered in swift fashion, straightening his feeble back even further and then clasping his hands together behind it. From his greater height, he looked down at me, and in spite of my anger toward him and what he had said to me on November 22nd, I felt myself shrink under his stern gaze.
"May I come in, Miss Morris?"
His eyebrows stayed raised as we studied one another. He could sense my hesitance, I was certain of it, but I didn't hesitate for long. I wanted him off that porch one way or another, and at the moment it seemed that allowing him through the door was the safest option. Kennedy might be frail, but he still knew how to hold his ground. I nodded stiffly without saying anything, and then stepped aside to allow him entrance. Once he was inside, I closed the door behind him and then turned my back to it, folding my arms across my chest in a very un-ladylike fashion, especially in 1964.
"You're either very brave, Mister President, or very foolish."
The tone of my own voice surprised me. This was the President, and I was speaking to him like he was on my level, or even below it! Who did I think I was?
"You're angry with me," he declared, and I felt his eyes scan me up and down as if for verification. Somehow I didn't think he needed it. I nodded at him, dropping my eyes to the tiled floor and finding myself unable to lift them up again. He shouldn't even have been there, and he most definitely shouldn't have been there unprotected. I might be lucky when it came to pushing would-be assassins out of high-rise windows, but there were no high-rises here. Of course I was angry with him. But it didn't matter. I heard him take a step closer to me, but I still couldn't raise my eyes.
"I've been over the footage a hundred times, Miss Morris," John Kennedy's voice began, his Boston accent thicker than I'd recalled hearing in the past, and I wondered if it was the adrenaline of the situation that caused it. "I've watched Oswald's body fall a hundred times. I've watched you try to run a hundred times. I've watched..." His voice cracked then, and my eyes snapped up to his face, but now it was his turn to hide his gaze. "I've watched my wife die a hundred times. And still, still no one can make sense of how it happened. How you knew what was going to happen. How you knew the exact location, and time of day. For God's sake, Miss Morris, you even knew the maker of the rifle." Suddenly I found myself locked in the scrutiny of the President's hooded, green-grey eyes. "I need to know how you knew. Please. Tell me how you knew."
Never in a million years had I ever envisioned myself, twenty-four years old, living on my own in another century, standing before a living, breathing, Presidential ghost. I hadn't prepared for this. I hadn't prepared to see the President again after that fateful day. I hadn't even prepared to meet him at all. In fact, had I been able to run, I would have. But something, a higher power, perhaps, had kept me here, just outside of Washington in this tiny, cramped excuse for a house.
Perhaps it was a matter of convenience. Perhaps it was just a continuation of that deep-seated need to see John Kennedy alive, to make sure he stayed alive. Or perhaps it was something else entirely. Something I hadn't anticipated. The same sort of something that kept me frozen in place when the President took yet another step toward me and reached his hands out to grip each one of my upper arms within them.
I sucked in a breath and abruptly I realized just why I was still there, in my shoddy little house on my shoddy little street, so close to Washington and the White House and the broken family that lived within its recently renovated walls. Maybe it was a need to see the Kennedy family go on living. But as his grip on my arms tightened just slightly, I understood that I had stayed there to make sure the President, Mister Kennedy himself, was okay. Because he'd nearly been killed, because his wife had been killed, and because if it weren't for me, she might still be alive. If I'd not screwed up, if I hadn't stumbled, they would both be alive, I wouldn't feel the guilt eating a hole in my gut. He wouldn't feel the survivor's guilt eating a hole in his gut. I was there because I needed to make it up to him. Somehow, someway, I needed to make this better.
"Mister President," I said, quieter this time, shaking my head. He tightened his hold on my arms even more now, and I felt sure I would find bruises there come morning. "I'm sorry, but I can't tell you. And, even if I could, you wouldn't believe me. Better to let sleeping dogs lie, Sir."
He studied me for a moment longer, ducking his head somewhat to catch my eyes again as I tried to lower them. Eventually he seemed to have decided I was steadfast in my decision, because his hands slipped away from me and his shoulders stiffened.
"I see," he said simply, his voice low and having taken on the stern tone with which I was more familiar after hearing his speeches over the radio and television. But the President didn't leave it there. He remained in place, as though his feet and shoes were glued in that spot within arms' length of me. I took half a backward step to move him back into my comfort zone but my spine and shoulder blades were greeted by the door behind me instead. Instinctively I glanced at the painted surface over my shoulder, and I realized then I must look like a trapped animal to the man who stood before me. Like a chained dog when the dog house door was locked. I swallowed. There was nowhere else to look but up at the square face of the President who shouldn't be alive. He frowned at me.
"You said I was either brave or foolish," he began, sounding thoughtful this time, and he ran a calloused hand through the thick forefront of his hair. "I see you look at me now like you're looking at an alien, a foreigner, of some kind. Like you've seen a ghost, but somehow, not quite."
"Does this bother you, Sir?" I asked simply, my voice surprisingly cool and collected given the state of unrest my body and mind were actually in. "That I don't look at you like everyone else does?"
"Because I know it means there's something you're keeping from me. That there's more to your story and that you won't tell me because you're afraid of something bigger."
I considered him for a moment.
"I'm not sure how to respond to that, Mister President."
"Tell me what you're afraid of," John Kennedy pushed, and when he took another step toward me, I realized he was trying to scare it out of me. He knew I was uncomfortable; he knew I was afraid, and he was playing that knowledge like a sage. By now, I felt my anxiety kick into high gear, felt waves of goosebumps rise across my limbs, and felt my breathing hitch. This question, though, I could answer for him. I sucked air in through my teeth.
This seemed to have caught him off guard, because he suddenly looked very perplexed. The eyes that settled on me then were scrutinizing, the best biological lie-detectors of the mid-20thth century, and for one horrifying moment I thought Father Time had decided to throw him a bone.
"Mostly because of what you said to me the day I stopped Oswald," I elaborated, but I looked at the ground. "It's rather disquieting being reproached by the very President himself."
"I was wrong to say that to you," the tall man admitted. "But, I suppose, under grief, the human mind works...differently." He took a step back, and I put space between myself and the door.
Nodding, I told him, "I understood why you said it. And I don't blame you for saying it. It was an awful thing that happened to Jackie, and even more awful is that you had to watch it take place."
"As it was for you, too, Miss Morris. I saw you stop when that woman screamed that my wife had been shot. I saw the way you turned back to the motorcade. You had a chance to run, Miss Morris, but you didn't. Why didn't you run?"
I was silent for a moment, contemplating my next words carefully.
"Because I knew I had to do whatever I could. That what I had already done hadn't been enough. But I hadn't been prepared to save her, because she wasn't supposed to die."
His hands went back to my arms instantaneously, that same crushing grip reattaching and then I was forced back against the door. For a feeble, sickly man, he was surprisingly strong. Of course, his weight alone could have held me there. I was eight inches shorter than him and half his size.
"What the hell do you mean she wasn't supposed to die?" he bellowed, shaking me as he did so. "Who the hell are you? How did you know this was going to happen? Tell me, or I'll have you put away for conspiracy to kill the President. For treason!"
I shrank away from him as best I could, but I didn't fight him. I couldn't. Not the President. Even in this situation. Women were still walking the thin line between property and free spirits in that day and age, and I didn't dare fight back against the President. He shook me again, and my head connected painfully with the hard wood of the door.
"How did you know?!"
"You won't believe me!" I screamed back finally, tears beginning to prickle at the corners of my eyes, more from grief than fright, but I wouldn't let them fall. I couldn't let him see me cry. "You'll call me crazy and lock me up and you still won't have your answer because you won't believe me!" At this point I attempted to rip my arms from his grip but he was too far gone, too high on adrenaline to let me break the concrete strength of his hands. The shaking had stopped, but he was still frozen before me, clutching desperately and staring hard into my eyes. His square jaw was set in such a way that I knew had it not been it would have quivered, and it was then that I realized that President Kennedy himself had begun to cry.
"Let go of me, Mister President," I said softly, and he did. Swiftly and erratically, he released me. When I subconsciously rubbed the back of my head where it had struck the door, his demeanor changed altogether, taking me by surprise.
"Are you hurt?" he asked me, stepping away from me while wiping the wet trails that had escaped onto his cheeks with the back of one hand. "Did I hurt you, Miss Morris?"
I forced a smile that must have looked more of a grimace, and then shook my head.
"Nothing I can't handle, Sir."
He folded his hands behind his back and lowered his eyes to my kitchen floor. He looked like he was about to say something then, but I spoke before he could.
"I'm very sorry I couldn't save her, Mister President. I can only tell you that I was meant to save you, because you were the only one at risk. Your wife...she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I'm sorry I couldn't save her, too."
I half expected this would set off another tirade of emotion and anger from Kennedy, but it did not. He turned away from me, beginning to pace back and forth in the tiny kitchen, still wiping at his eyes. I wished I could explain it all to him, to have him see the world as I had seen it, to have him know exactly what I had been through and what I had given up to save him and change history. But the President, always a skeptical man, would not take so kindly to the assertion that I was from the future. And he certainly wouldn't take kindly to the knowledge that, in another life, his wife had lived and he had been the one to take the bullets.
In my head I saw the dreadful footage of the original assassination, the one I'd come back to stop. I saw him in the convertible, Jackie leaning over him and clutching at his chest after the first shot, and then I saw his head snap to the side and his body slump at the sound of the second. I saw Jackie trying to scramble from the car as the Secret Service man jumped onto the back and the driver hit the gas. And then I heard the Catholic Priest's voice, when asked if the President was dead. "He's dead alright."
But John Kennedy wasn't dead, at least, not anymore. Instead he stood in my kitchen, pacing and worrying and still stricken by grief, even after several months. Then again, I supposed he hadn't had much time to actually grieve, given his Presidential duties and re-election campaign. Part of me wondered if he'd had any chance to do so yet at all. He stopped at the edge of the counter and pressed his palms to the surface, leaning heavily against it, his head sagging below his collar. I saw only the rise and fall of his shoulders as he breathed deeply, seeming to try to calm himself.
I moved toward him, my steps cautious but purposeful. He didn't seem to notice me as I came to stand behind him and slightly to one side. I reached out, hesitating for just a moment, and then set my hand gently on his shoulder.
Evidently startled, the man stood upright and turned, looked at me, and then he stiffened.
At first I wasn't sure if his reaction was because he was the President and I was just a person, a woman with no political affiliations and no special purpose or reason for being allowed in his presence. Then I thought it was more likely he hadn't been comforted by a woman since Jackie had been alive. At this consideration I withdrew from the contact and stepped back, clearing my throat and preparing to apologize for stepping over the line. He was the President, after all. I was a nobody. At least, I had been, until I'd saved his life, but even now I wasn't so sure that gave me permission to touch him.
For a long moment John Kennedy's green-grey eyes stayed fixed on me and it was uncomfortable for both of us. He looked out the window thereafter and I followed his gaze, taking note of a pair of headlights that had appeared outside. I looked back to him and was caught in his gaze for what seemed the hundredth time that evening.
"Your ride's here," I commented and then turned my back on him to busy myself with loading my few dishes into the dishwasher. Though I couldn't see him, a part of me sensed the puzzled expression he must have been wearing. It was his silence, and the fact that I didn't hear him move.
"Miss Morris," he called after a beat, and I rotated again, leaning the small of my back against the edge of the counter. My eyebrows were raised in anticipation of his next words. When he approached me, I quickly slipped out of the line of fire but stayed facing him. I wanted no repeats of his earlier physical violence. I saw him frown, but this was the extent of his visible reaction. But his next words left me astounded.
"I'd like to take you into protective custody," John Kennedy told me, folding his hands behind his back and straightening, his voice having taken on that Presidential tone yet again. "My administration has expressed concern about your continued and exposed presence here in Washington."
In spite of my shock, I never missed a beat.
"I'd hardly consider myself exposed, Mister President. I presume your administration is already aware of my use of an alternate identity in those television interviews."
"And you cut your hair," he observed, gesturing to my short, curled-under bob.
"Indeed. And I am no longer in Dallas."
That frown of his deepened, and he moved his arms to cross them in front of his chest.
"You believe you've successfully disappeared, then, is that what you're saying, Miss Morris?"
"From the general public, Sir, yes. I do believe so."
"We disagree." Momentarily he shuffled through a pocket I hadn't noticed he possessed, and he withdrew a small number of what appeared to be polaroid photos clutched in his hand. He spread them on the counter top so I could see them. I studied him for a pause, my eyes darting between his, and then stepped forward to view the photos as he moved to the side. My lips parted briefly and my hand shot to cover my mouth in quiet shock.
Predictably, the photos were of me, located at various points around my house and the village. There was nothing improper or overly concerning, but they were photos nonetheless. My hands fell back to my sides and clenched into fists, and my jaw did much the same. Kennedy moved again, the left side of his chest situating eight or so inches behind my right shoulder. Only my head turned when he spoke to me then.
"What do you think about those, Miss Morris? Still think you've managed to disappear?"
"Who took them?" I asked, my voice quiet and smaller than I'd heard it in some time.
"Nothing's yet been confirmed," the man replied, his own voice mirroring mine, and I couldn't tell whether it was intentional or not. "But we believe they were taken by a man named George de Mohrenschildt."
I shivered and looked back at the photos.
"I know of him."
"Then you should understand why my administration is pressing me to move you elsewhere."
I rotated now, seeing as I did so that he was a lot closer than I had realized. He was very much in my personal space again, although this time he made no move to snatch or shake me in his fury. My neck had to crane back so that I could actually see his face as something other than a blur.
"How did he find me?" I made a valiant effort to restrain the concern in my tone, but by Kennedy's ever-deepening frown and the furrowing of his brows, I knew I wasn't doing a very good job at it.
"Mister de Mohrenschildt is rather adept at finding people, Miss Morris, and you presented yourself very publicly following the attack. Unfortunately, changing your name and appearance is not enough when he who hunts you is one so well-endowed and resourceful. That you've survived this long without our aid is admittedly impressive, but my feelings are in line with those of my administration. You need protection, Miss Morris, for you have made yourself a ready target for retribution from the dearest friend and co-conspirator to Mister Oswald."
"And your administration wishes to help me disappear, is that correct Mister President?" I swallowed—gulped, really—and felt my face heating up in response to the President's chilling words and his close proximity alike.
"And if I refuse?"
"Then you are either very brave, Miss Morris, or very foolish." The recurrence of my own words coming from his lips unsettled me even more, but I kept my jaw steady and held high.
"I have no place in this country, Mister President," I replied, and I meant it. My country was in 2016, some 52 years in the future. But I could never go back. I had renounced my life there to save the man who stood just inches away from me. John Kennedy, too, seemed to sense that I meant what I said, because I saw his head tilt just so in the briefest illustration of confusion. He didn't understand why, but he knew my declaration was genuine. "To tax the system and its resources for someone like me would be in poor taste. I did what I thought was right, but I was only half successful in doing so."
"And in doing so, you saved the President of the United States and became a national heroine."
"That...was not in my calculations, Sir," I responded, finally breaking and looking at the floor as the blush in my cheeks grew hotter. "I don't want fame or fortune, if that's what you're getting at. I just want to live out my days in peace."
"Why did you come to D.C.?" he asked me suddenly, and my mouth fell open, ready to blurt out a lie which he apparently had anticipated. His index finger fell against my lips to stop me. "The truth, Miss Morris. You owe me that much."
He was right, and so, I conceded.
"I thought you might be a target for future attacks," I said finally, and although it wasn't a lie, it was not the only reason I was there. This time, the blush that came to my face was the result of embarrassment, for the President had begun to laugh at me.
"And you thought that you stood a better chance of preventing those attacks than my entire team of trained professionals? Is that right, Miss Morris?"
I ground my teeth and lifted my chin again.
"It has come to pass once already, Mister President."
His perfect white teeth disappeared beneath yet another frown as my words sank in.
"Why are you really here?"
"Because I gave up my life for you, Sir, and I'll be damned if I'm going to watch you take another bullet after everything I put myself through to stop the last one."
"I'll always be a target, Miss Morris. I'm the President."
"Tell me, Mister President," I began again, my arms crossing over my chest, "How are you coping with the loss of your wife? Because I'm quite certain your administration hasn't been much help in that regard." It was a low blow, one I hadn't wanted to take, but it needed to be said.
He lowered his face and slipped his index finger under my chin, lifting it up roughly and glaring into my eyes as he said, in an only vaguely threatening pitch, "Watch your tone with me, Miss Morris."
No longer caring that I was dealing with the most powerful man in the country, I took the liberty of pushing his hand away from my face. It fell back to his side without further consequence.
"Has your administration even acknowledged Jackie's passing? Because it seems to me they've only forced you to soldier on, unaffected, and it's that inability to properly grieve that's brought you here tonight. Am I right, Mister President?" My voice dared him to say otherwise.
Here, Kennedy hesitated, and then all at once he acknowledged defeat. A great sigh heaved from his chest and his shoulders, previously rigid and set, sagged downward. Those grey-green eyes were upon mine then, and something within them had changed. The shadows that had run behind them seemed fainter now, the dark circles beneath them somehow less prominent, the hoods over top less pronounced and concealing. In that moment, I knew John Kennedy understood me, that he understood why I was there in Washington D.C. In that moment, I knew he was looking at me not as a woman who wouldn't tell him the truth, or as a woman who needed protection, but as a woman who was his equal in every possible meaning of the word. And, in that moment, the most powerful man in the world reached his hand forward and trailed the side of his index finger along my jawline, and I felt my breath hitch in my chest at the raw emotion behind the gesture.
"Miss Morris," he said softly, and for the first time I heard the way in which he must have spoken to his wife and children. "No one in this country wants to see you get killed by the same man whose plot you helped to unravel. What I said to you that day was wrong—words spoken by a man sick with despair and unable to bear it. Because you came, my children still have a father. Had you not, they may have had neither a father or a mother. Until we apprehend de Mohrenschildt...please...allow your country to keep you safe. Your country owes you a debt of gratitude and I...I owe you my life."
He had reached out to grasp my upper arm again, but this time the desperate hold was not angry or violent. This time it was that of a man who had no interest in letting go. Heaving a sigh of my own, I dropped my eyes and nodded.
"Very well, Sir. But where will they take me?"
Then I saw the President smile, the same wide and charming smile so often seen in public. But this one was real, it was honest, and I was certain of it.
"To the White House, Miss Morris."