Chapter One

If Remi had known that her entire world was about to change, she would have ordered something stronger than beer.

Shrugging off the stress of the last five days, she imagined how good that first sip from her ice-cold Sierra Nevada draft would taste. She took a deep breath and smiled as she settled into the relaxed atmosphere of Oksi’s Irish Pub. It had been a hard week, but a productive one, and she had a great weekend planned up at the lake.

As she raised the frosty glass to her lips, she thought she heard her name spoken from somewhere in the room. She looked around the light crowd—it was the usual mix of after-work professionals, blue-collar locals, and the occasional tourist. No one seemed to be trying to get her attention; she wondered if she had just imagined it. After all, she heard her name a hundred times a day in the classroom—though usually in the form of “Ms. C” rather than Ms. Covington, which was a mouthful even for her.

Remi heard her name again, but this time there was no doubt as to the source. She looked up at the giant flat screen hanging over the corner of the massive, hand-carved mahogany bar and stared in utter disbelief—her own image was staring back at her from the TV. She caught the newscaster, longtime anchor Ted Trimble, mid-sentence: “. . . received confirmation that Remi Covington, a Reno local, is planning to run in the 2016 presidential election. While she is a political unknown, Covington is making waves nationwide as news of her candidacy has gone viral.”

Remi felt like she was trapped in an episode of The Twilight Zone. She sat motionless on the padded barstool, the flip-flop on her right foot dangling inches from the floor. She stared in astonishment at the heavily made up anchorman with his shellacked silver hair. Candidacy? Gone viral? The words reverberated in her head. What the hell?

“Sources are telling us that Remi Covington is a teacher at Reno High School and works exclusively with at-risk students,” Trimble continued, his blue-gray eyes steady, “While Ms. Covington could not be reached for comment, YouTube is reporting over eleven million views of the video announcing her intent to run. Facebook is reporting record posts, and ‘Covington’ is currently the top-trending word on Twitter. This is the first time any presidential candidate has launched their campaign on the Internet. If today is any indication of what is to come, social media could play a major role in this presidential election and could quite possibly be the driving force behind one of the few women in history to make a bid for the highest office in the land.”

Remi blanched, horrified, when she realized that KRNO’s producers had pirated a picture from her classroom Facebook page to air with their top breaking story. And “pirated” really was the most appropriate term, considering that Remi was decked out as Captain Jack Sparrow in the photo—complete with an eye patch, black beaded dreadlocks, and tattered buccaneer garb. She should never have let herself get conned into chaperoning the Halloween Dance, much less allowed her student teaching assistant to update her profile picture with that ridiculous photo. So much for my professional image.

“We will be keeping you updated on this late-breaking story. Now on to national news . . .” As he made his segue into the next headline, Trimble’s voice faded into the background for Remi. Sources, she repeated to herself silently. What sources? Why on earth would anyone think I’m running for president of the United States? She began to feel lightheaded, and realized that she had been holding her breath. She exhaled—and as she did, she noticed that the normal buzz of bar chatter had died away, replaced by an unnatural, hushed silence—an outright violation of Irish pub protocol, though no one seemed to care. Remi’s now-lukewarm beer sat untouched. All the eyes that had been glued to the screen overhead moments ago now shifted to her. All she could do was stare back blankly.

“Remi!” Her friend’s voice shook her out of her stupor. Ivy had left for the ladies’ room just before the story broke. Remi had no idea now long she had sat there, hypnotized, since seeing report. She could still feel everyone’s eyes on her, and she was grateful for her tall, curvaceous friend’s timely return to the stool next to her. Remi often thought that someone with a name like Ivy should be a tiny thing with dark, delicate features—but Ivy was the antithesis of dark and dainty. A second-generation Dutch, she was fair and sturdily built—pushing six feet tall—with hazel green eyes. She was also one of those rare individuals who said what she meant and meant what she said. Not known for her diplomacy, she always spoke her mind, with or without solicitation. For some it wasn’t her most endearing quality, but it was the reason Remi valued her friendship so much.

“What in the hell is going on?” Ivy asked, getting straight to the point. “What was that?”

“I have no idea,” Remi said. She was still trying to absorb what she had just heard, and she didn’t know what to say or where to start. The whole thing was so bizarre she might have convinced herself it hadn’t actually happened if Ivy wasn’t sitting right there asking her about it. This is insanity, she thought, grappling for a logical explanation.

“Wait!” Remi said suddenly with a jolt of relief. “I must be getting Punk’d! My students are laughing their asses off right now, and MTV is somewhere in this room.” She grinned and waited for everyone in the room to burst out laughing—but her revelation was met with silence. No cameraman popped up from behind a pool table, and there was no hot young host emerging from behind the bar with a devious grin and a microphone in hand.

“Uh, I don’t think so,” Ivy said, glancing around the room.

“Well, that explanation makes a hell of a lot more sense than the alternatives.”

“And what alternatives might those be?” Ivy asked.

“I . . . don’t know,” Remi replied, unable to say more.

“Well,” Ivy said, grinning widely, “it would seem you are running for president! Don’t you think you should have mentioned it?”

“Ha . . . ha,” Remi said. She was still too shocked to appreciate the humor of her situation. “Obviously I am not running for president!”

“Well, KNRO and Ted Trimble seem to think so,” Ivy said, clearly finding the whole thing rather amusing. “It’s on the Internet and the news—therefore it must be so.”

“Seriously, Ivy. I . . . AM . . . NOT RUNNING . . . FOR . . . PRESIDENT!”

The pronouncement came out several decibels louder than Remi intended. If anyone in the bar had gone back to their own conversation, Remi had succeeded in getting their attention anew. Heads swiveled back in her direction.

“Mind your own business!” Ivy shouted across the room. “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of a meeting with our Commander-in-Chief?”

Laughter erupted from the crowd, but Remi was not amused. She was grateful, however, that no one had yet been bold enough to interrupt their conversation outright. Not that everyone within earshot wasn’t attempting to eavesdrop.

“I know you’re enjoying yourself, but this is so not cool,” Remi said. “And whatever it is, it’s obviously some monumental practical joke. God knows the mainstream media isn’t exactly known for its reliable reporting.” Even as she spoke the words, the wheels in her brain began to turn, triggering a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Pieces of the puzzle were clicking into place, though she couldn’t quite see the whole picture just yet.

“Whether you like it or not Sweetie, something is happening,” Ivy said. “You don’t wind up on the evening news, much less on the ballot for president, by accident.”

“Um, I think that may not be entirely true,” Remi muttered. The events of the last few months were flashing before her eyes in disjointed fragments. The picture was coming into focus.

“Are you saying you know how this happened?”

“Maybe,” Remi said, waving to get the bartender’s attention. Her beer was now officially warm—and she was in need of something far stronger at the moment.

Ryan nearly sprinted down to the end of the bar when she caught his eye. “So lass, what should we call you? Miss President or Ms. President?” His blue-green eyes were full of amusement.

“Oh, knock it off with whole Irish brogue, Ryan. Everyone here knows you were born in Reno.” Remi wasn’t in the mood for his antics tonight. “Give me a Bushmill’s, neat,” she said. It came out more harshly than she intended—but why did everyone think this was so damned funny? From where she was sitting, it was no laughing matter. She needed to find a way to fix this—and fast.

“Little miss president wants whiskey straight, does she?” Ryan said in mock irritation. Remi visualized herself leaping over the bar and clobbering him—and realized she was completely overreacting. It wasn’t like her to take any situation so seriously.

“Dude, shut up and get my drink . . . please,” she said forcing a smile and managing to inflect a hint of humor, despite her present mood.

“Okay, okay already. I was just messing with you.” Ryan poured the Bushmills, gave her a wink, and sauntered away.

“Okay, Remi,” Ivy said as soon as they were alone again. “What the hell’s going on?”

Remi picked up the short, heavy glass before her and took a long, deliberate swallow of its amber-colored contents as she considered her words. How could she explain to Ivy her suspicion that this was someone’s idea of a joke? Her thoughts had been on her students for a few minutes now, replaying all the ways in which this whole scheme might have gotten underway. She worked exclusively with high-risk, low-performing students. All of her peers considered her to be the most progressive teacher in the district, although not all of them agreed with her methods. She’d had to fight the Board of Trustees and the more conventional teachers to begin using Facebook as a teaching tool a few years back. In the end, she’d prevailed—they hadn’t been able to argue with the data and her extraordinary success rate. But now it looked like her students had taken social media to a whole new level.

“I’m still not entirely sure,” she finally said. “But I think . . . I hope . . . that this is just some joke that has spiraled out of control.” She took a deep breath and another sip of her drink. “Remember when I told you about running into that journalist at Starbuck’s downtown last summer?”

“No, not really,” Ivy said, draining the last of her Stella.

“She was from The Reno Gazette—she approached me just before school started, remember? She was trying to find people to interview for that ‘Voices on the Street’ section they do.”

“Sounds vaguely familiar.” Ivy looked like she no had idea what Remi was talking about.

“She was asking about negative political ads. I told her what I think of them.”

“Which is?”

“I hate them. I think they corrupt the political and electoral process. They prey on the uneducated and uninformed. I mean, where is the integrity? Where are the politicians who are there to serve the people and not themselves? Where—”

“I get it, I get it!” Ivy exclaimed, smiling.

“Sorry,” Remi said. “You know how I love getting up on that soapbox. The point is, the experience got me all riled up about negative campaigning, and I ended up changing my lesson plans for my government classes because of it.”

“There’s gotta be more to the story than that, though,” Ivy prompted.

“There is.” Remi looked at her friend, not quite ready to admit that she may have created a monster by mistake. It wouldn’t be the first time, but this one looked like it was going to be a doozy. She decided to buy herself some time. “It’s getting pretty loud in here,” she said, gesturing to the growing crowd around them. The after-work crew was quickly being replaced by the Friday night party crowd, and the noise level inside the room was increasing by the minute. “Let’s finish this conversation elsewhere!”

Ivy nodded and stood, relinquishing her stool to a younger patron. Remi finished her last sip of Bushmills and headed toward the patio, leaving her glass next to Ivy’s empty beer bottle. She was ready to leave the noise and smoke behind. As they stepped outside, she inhaled appreciatively. The day had been unseasonably warm for early November, but now the evening coolness that settles in the base of the Sierras in the fall had taken over. The bistro tables in front of the pub were empty, except for a young group of college-aged, quasi-hippie-looking kids in the corner, most likely UNR undergrads. White lights twinkled in the nearly bare branches of the trees lining both sides of the street on Victorian Square. It felt good to escape the crowded room, the booming music, and the barrage of questions from anyone and everyone who’d happened to catch the nightly news.

She reached in her bag and pulled out her phone as she and Ivy made their way to the car. Her screen lit up: twenty-seven text messages and a full voicemail box. Suddenly, an image flashed in her mind: her students pulling out their Droids and iPhones during class to record lectures and discussions. She encouraged her students to utilize whatever learning methods and tools were most effective for them; as long as they weren’t texting or surfing in class, she allowed them access to their phones so they could video and voice record, take notes, look up information, and do anything else that kept them engaged. Crap.

Her phone vibrated in her hand and Ivy shot her a quizzical look. “Antonio,” Remi explained. “He’s been blowing up my phone for the past hour—he’s probably totally freaked out.” The man who had recently turned Remi’s world upside down—or more accurately, set it right on its axis—was generally unflappable. In fact, Antonio de la Cruz was absolutely the most laid-back guy Remi had ever known, which was one of the reasons she liked him so much. That and his deep chocolate brown eyes and his devious, lady-killing grin. But this bit of news was bound to unsettle even him.

Remi hated it when someone she was with spent their time texting other people, but these were special circumstances. “Let me text him really quick,” she said apologetically. She quickly typed out a brief text: Sorry I missed your calls/texts. Mad chaos. Not running for president. Will call you in a bit. XOXO.

Remi realized how ridiculous that must sound.

Antonio’s reply was immediate: OK. Let me know what’s up when you can. Talk soon.

All Remi wanted to do was go home, crawl under her soft sheets and down comforter, and forget about the day. Ivy seemed to read her mind: “Come on chicky, it’s getting late,” she said, giving Remi’s arm a quick squeeze. “How about I get you home and you tell me what happened after your run-in with the journalist on the way. The Gazette did end up printing your statement, right? I remember now.”

“Yes,” Remi said, grateful Ivy had picked her up at her house on the way to the bar earlier that evening. Usually they just met at Oski’s. “And I ended up planning a big part of the year around present-day politics and the upcoming presidential election because of that chance interview.”

“And?” Ivy asked.

“To make a very long story short, the kids and I got into some animated discussions about the process and the candidates. I was trying to explain to them that anyone, and I mean anyone, that meets US constitutional guidelines can run for president. That you don’t have to be a career politician with deep pockets and an Ivy League education to run for office.” Remi sighed. “I have a feeling they’re putting my lesson to the test.”

“So this is a practical joke?” Ivy probed as they entered the parking lot.

“It seems so,” Remi admitted. “Or at least I think it is.” She certainly wouldn’t put it past them. “I mean, they tease me about how worked up I get. And I’m sure there is some kind of video of me talking about all of this somewhere. I let the kids record class with their phones if they want to.”

“Well sure . . . anything, no matter how lame, can be posted on the Internet—it’s a no-brainer that something like this would show up online. But the nightly news? Doesn’t that seem like quite a stretch to you?”

“This whole damn thing seems like a stretch to me!”

“Hell, since you’re getting all this good press and all, why not go ahead and run for president?” Ivy smirked. “I mean, you couldn’t do worse than any of the rest of them!”

Remi knew she was kidding, but couldn’t help but answer in earnest. “Absolutely not. No way in hell.”

 

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