The Unexpected Everything

by Morgan Matson

Chapter ONE

I flexed my feet in my too-tight shoes and made myself stand up straight, trying to ignore the rapid-fire clicking of the cameras going off all around me. It was still really hot out—despite the fact it was getting close to five—but I was wearing a knee-length tweed skirt and a white button-down shirt. My hair had been blown out and curled, and I was wearing pearl earrings and a light application of makeup. It was not the way I would normally have looked on a Wednesday afternoon in early June, but this was anything but an ordinary Wednesday.

“Thank you all so much for coming today,” my father said from behind the podium that was currently in the middle of our front porch. He shuffled his papers for a second before taking a deep breath and going into his prepared speech, the one I now knew by heart, since Peter Wright, his chief of staff and main strategist, had made me listen to it over and over until I could do so with absolutely no change in my expression, like all of this was old news to me by now, and nothing my dad was saying would catch me by surprise.

For a moment, as the now-familiar words started to wash over me, I just blinked at the podium. Where exactly had it come from? Did Peter travel around with spare ones in the back of his SUV?

“. . . regret that the people of Connecticut might have lost any of their trust in me,” my dad said, snapping me back to the present moment. I fixed my eyes on him again, hoping that my face hadn’t betrayed anything other than a supportive daughter standing by her father. If it had, this story, which was already dominating the twenty-four-hour news channels and had spilled onto the networks, would just keep getting bigger.

It wasn’t like I didn’t understand why. A prominent congressman, one of the stars of the party, is suddenly caught up in a scandal that threatens to upend not only his career but the next national election—the headlines practically wrote themselves. If it had been someone else, I would have looked at the round-the-clock coverage and shrugged, figuring it was to be expected. But now that it was happening here—my front yard, my porch, my father—that certainty was totally gone.

My eyes drifted to the wall of reporters and photographers in front of me, the news cameras pointed toward us, the relentless sound of shutters clicking, all of it letting me know every moment was being captured. The press knew when there was blood in the water. It was evident enough by the fact that our front lawn was now packed and news trucks lined the block. They’d been here ever since the story broke, but until a few hours ago, they’d been kept from getting near our house by the guard at the entrance to Stanwich Woods, the planned community we lived in in Stanwich, Connecticut. Since normally this job consisted of waving in residents while reading magazines, I had a feeling whoever was working was not thrilled that they now had to fend off national media teams.

The headlines and news reports had been inescapable, all of them leading with the fact that my father had once been tapped as the vice presidential candidate before withdrawing five years earlier. Everyone brought up that he’d been widely considered to be a strong candidate for the VP spot again in the next national election, or even higher. Reporters commented on the story with barely concealed glee, and the segments and headlines were each worse than the last one. Rising Congressman Falls to Earth. Congressional Corruption Brings Party’s Star Low. Walker Trips Himself Up. I’d been around the press practically my whole life—but it had never felt like this.

My father, Representative Alexander Walker, had been a member of Congress since I was three. He’d been a public defender before that, but I had no recollection of it—of a time when there weren’t voters to court and messages to craft and districts to analyze. Some of my friends’ fathers had jobs that they did and then left the office and forgot about, but that had never been my dad. His work was his life, which meant it was mine, too.

It hadn’t been so bad when I was a kid, but in the last few years things had changed. I’d always been part of the Alex Walker brand—the daughter of a diligent single father who worked hard for the people of Connecticut—but now I was also a potential liability. Countless examples of politicians’ kids who’d tanked, or at least threatened to damage, their parents’ careers were laid out for me as cautionary tales and clear examples of what I was not supposed to do. I would not say anything offensive, or anything that could be interpreted as such, in a public forum or in earshot of the media. I would not be photographed doing or wearing anything even mildly controversial. I had the same social media accounts as everyone else, but mine were regulated by a series of interns and I wasn’t allowed to post to them without permission. I’d had a week of media training when I was thirteen, and after that I’d never strayed too far from the message, from the words that were vetted and scripted and written for me. I didn’t cause my dad, or his team, any trouble if I could help it.

It wasn’t like I never did anything that made waves—I’d once, without thinking, ordered my regular latte on a campaign stop, and his staff had had a two-hour meeting about it. Then they’d had a one-hour meeting with me, complete with an agenda labeled ALEXANDRA, despite the fact that nobody who actually knew me ever called me by my real name. I was Andie, and had been since I was little and couldn’t quite manage the four-syllable name my parents had landed me with. “Andra” was the best I could manage at two, which turned into Andie, and fifteen years later, here I still was. In the end it was decided that when there was press around, I could no longer order five-dollar iced sugar-free vanilla soy lattes—they didn’t want me to seem like a rich kid, throwing her money around while the people of Connecticut struggled to put food on the table. They also didn’t want to offend the dairy lobby.

It didn’t seem possible that after years of being beyond careful, watching all the tiniest details, and trying never to make a mistake, we’d ended up here anyway. But not because of anything I’d done—or even anything my dad had done, according to the version of events Peter had been giving the media ever since this broke. But this was happening because someone in his office had (allegedly) taken charitable contributions that were intended for my dad’s foundation and funneled them into his reelection campaign fund. Apparently, when it was discovered during an audit that my dad’s foundation was nearly bankrupt, people began asking questions. Which had led to this, to today, much more quickly than I could get my head around.