Carrie makes a wonderful bedtime story

The next day the president himself came to visit me with his entourage of Secret Service men and a bevy of news cameras. He didn't look anything like the images on the television, I decided. He had a lot more wrinkles around his eyes and his mouth, like he spent the majority of his life smiling rather than staring sternly and unemotionally into the cameras like I was so used to seeing. And his eyes were a much more shocking shade of blue than I could have ever imagined.

"Hello, Miss Porter," he said warmly as he shook my hand. All of the news reporters had crammed themselves into my tiny hospital room and I was uncomfortably aware of their presence the whole time.

"Hello, Mr. President," I said sheepishly. "It's very nice to meet you."

"You as well. I can't tell you how grateful I am to you. On behalf of myself and my entire family, thank you so much."

"It was nothing," I muttered.

"I beg to differ. Very few people would be as brave and as willing as you to throw yourself into oncoming traffic to rescue a little girl." He flashed me another winning smile and I felt a little of my uneasiness melt away.

"Anyway, I would like to cordially invite you to the White House for dinner to properly convey my gratitude."

I was sharply aware of all the cameras flashing and the other reporters furiously scribbling in their little notepads. God, this was so embarrassing.

"Is it okay if my mother comes?"

"Of course," he said graciously. "We'd love to meet your mother as well."

I nodded and tried to ignore the feverish scribbling and camera clicks. "Then I accept. Thank you very much, Mr. President."

"Not at all. We'll schedule it after you've been discharged from the hospital."


He shook my hand again and smiled widely while I tried to return his grin. Right when he was about to leave, though, I called out, "Mr. President? What do I wear?"

He laughed. "Whatever makes you feel comfortable, Miss Porter." And with that, he and his entourage left.

Well that was open-ended. I felt comfortable when I was naked, but I'm pretty sure the president wouldn't have appreciated that.

Mommy seemed to be reading my mind because she grinned at me. "I think a bathing suit is out of the question as well, Meerkat."

I snapped my fingers in mock disappointment. "Rats."

I was discharged from the hospital two weeks after the accident. True to his word, the president and the first lady invited me to dinner at the White House scheduled for Saturday at 6 p.m.

Three hours before the event in question, Drew and Laney were over at my house, helping me put together an outfit. Drew was all for me showing up in sweats, but Laney wouldn't hear of it.

"What about this?" she asked as she emerged from my closet with my favorite green dress and a navy blue sweater.

I pursed my lips as I considered it. "Yeah, but I'd have to shave my legs."

She glanced down and raised her eyebrows. "When was the last time that happened?"

I shrugged. "Two months ago?"

She made a face. "Gross."

Drew seemed to agree. "Even if you don't wear that, I think you need to shave before you go."

"Yeah, and take a shower while you're at it," Laney added. She grimaced at me, like I had forgotten to put deodorant or something.

I frowned and lifted my arms for a quick sniff. "But I took a shower yesterday. I don't smell bad or anything."

Laney rolled her eyes. "Miri, you're going to have dinner at the freaking White House," she said in exasperation. "You can't not shower for the president!"

"You know, some people even shower everyday," Drew said pointedly.

"Yeah, but do you know how much water you waste doing that?" I huffed. "Not to mention you wash away all of your body's natural oils and you weaken your own immune system and get rid of the beneficial bacteria—"

"Yeah, yeah, we get it," Drew said with a wide yawn. "Just shave your legs and wear the green dress. I'm bored of this."

In an extraordinary show of friendship, Laney shaved my legs for me, since I still couldn't bend over without agitating my broken ribs. But she kept muttering under her breath the whole time. I didn't catch all of it, but I did recognize the phrases, "You owe me," and "above and beyond the call of duty." When she was done, she handed me over to Mommy so she could help me take a shower.

After the shower, Mommy and Laney helped me get dressed and Drew tried to fix my hair. But since I hadn't actually brushed my hair since God knows when in addition to the fact that he was a boy, he hadn't been able to do much.

"There!" he said triumphantly. After half an hour he managed to tie my long, tangled mane into a simple, half ponytail. "What do you think?"

"I like it! Thanks!" I beamed at him.

"You're welcome," he answered with his own grin.

When I was finally ready, I stood in the middle of my living room and turned in a very slow circle for the benefit of my friends. "So?" I asked. "Do I look okay to dine at the White House?"

They both nodded. "You look great," Laney assured me.

"Go knock 'em dead," Drew grinned. "Not literally or anything, though. That would be bad."

By five thirty my friends had left and Mommy and I were on the road, driving toward the White House. This part was a bit problematic because we knew where the White House was, but we didn't know exactly how to get in. It's not like we had ever been invited to the White House before and we knew we could park in the driveway or something.

Mommy finally decided just to chance it with the front gates. We couldn't figure any other way to penetrate the White House's defenses other than parking a few blocks down and jumping the gates which didn't really seem like the best idea anyway.

When we pulled up, the Secret Service agents stationed at the entrance peeked into our window. They glanced at my mother and me and nodded. "Open the gates. Miriam Porter and her mother have arrived," one of the agents said in his fancy, invisible headset.

Seconds later the gates swung open and the agents stepped away from the car. Mommy slowly inched forward and followed the long driveway that circled the north lawn. There was no garage or any sort of parking spot in sight.

"Do we just park it here?" she asked anxiously.

"I have no idea."

We drove as close to the front entrance of the White House as we could. When we reached the area, another Secret Service agent came running out to meet us. Mommy rolled down the window and the agent ducked his head through.

"Hello, Mrs. Porter. If you leave the car here, we will go ahead and park it in the garages."

"Oh!" she said with a short sigh of relief. "Thank you so much."

Another agent came out to join him and they opened our doors for us and helped us out of the car. Then the first agent hopped into the car and drove away while the second escorted us through the entrance.

I had only been to the White House once before in eighth grade on a school field trip and I hadn't paid attention to a single word the tour guide said. Instead I was too busy gossiping with Laney about how cute Tyson Howe looked in his brand new Spiderman hoodie, or slipping candy mints with smiley face stickers on them into the purses of other tourists.

So walking into the White House and seeing it in all its historical-ness was like the first time for me. I ogled at everything, from the walls to the floors to the sparkling chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. It boggled my mind that people actually lived here.

At the end of the long foyer, several more Secret Service agents greeted us. We had to go through a short security screening. The agents went through my mother's purse and they ran a metal detecting wand over our bodies. When they deemed us clean, they nodded and our original agent escorted us to what looked like some sort of sitting room. The first family waited for us there with broad smiles on their friendly faces.

The space itself was spectacular. It wasn't as large as I would have expected, but it was large enough to fit a cushy, black leather sectional and two black leather love seats surrounding a glass-topped coffee table. Round ottomans were scattered around the space and there was already a strong fire burning in the fireplace. Paintings of landscapes and cityscapes hung on the walls and tall lamps in each corner of the room gave the entire space a modern, edgy vibe. I couldn't help but think that Laney would have loved it here.

The president and first lady came forward to welcome us. "Hello, Miss Porter," Mrs. Hammond greeted me warmly. She opened her arms to envelop me in an unexpected, but comfortable embrace. "It's so nice to finally meet you."

I smiled shyly. "If it's not too much trouble you can call me Miriam. I don't mind."

She smiled back. "Of course. Then you must call me Maggie."

I was on a first-name basis with the first lady. Whoa.

"We're so glad we could host you for dinner this evening," the president said as he shook my mother's hand. "We wanted to show our gratitude to this brave young lady and her mother."

Mother smiled back easily and it struck me, not for the first time, just how beautiful she was and how calmly she acted in social situations. "Thank you very much for the invitation, Mr. President."

"Oh, we're all friends here," he said. "I insist you call me John."

Apparently the attention had been off of Alana for too long because she jumped off her seat on one of the couches and launched herself at me. "Miriam! Miriam, remember me?" She wrapped her arms around my knees so tightly that I would have fallen over had I moved a single inch in any direction.

I giggled and wrapped my arms around her as best as I could without agitating my ribs too much. "Of course I remember you, Alana. How could I forget you?"

She turned her face up to me and flashed me the most brilliant smile I'd ever seen in my life. If she wasn't careful, this girl was going to turn into a regular heartbreaker. "Then you have to sit by me!" she announced without any room for negotiation. She then grabbed my hand and dragged me by the arm to sit next to her on the sectional. The other adults laughed at the small girl's antics and my mother took the seat on my other side.

Maggie brought out a tray of fizzy pink drinks and my mother and I took one. It was incredibly sweet, so I had to sip it slowly.

"Alana, sweetie, where's your brother?" Maggie asked when she finally took her seat on one of the loveseats with her husband.

The little girl sitting beside me took a big gulp of her drink and smacked her lips before answering her mother. "I don't know," she said with a frown. She leapt off the seat again and ran out to the hallway. "JOHNNY!" she bellowed. "JOHNNY, OUR COMPANY'S HERE!"

"Wow," Mommy said in awe. "She's got quite a set of lungs on her."

Maggie let forth a long-suffering sigh. "Indeed. It's been useful since we moved here because the grounds are so extensive, but it can be troublesome more often than not."

A few minutes later Johnny entered the room in an immaculately white polo and crisp pair of khaki pants. I couldn't help but admire the way he pulled off a seemingly simple ensemble; the white of his polo contrasted beautifully with his taut, tan skin and made his sapphire blue eyes sparkle even more. If only Laney were here with me; he would have stunned her speechless.

"Sorry I'm late," he announced with the most charming smile. "That interview ran a little long."

"With who, darling?" Maggie asked. He came to her first and planted a kiss on her cheek.

"The admissions officers at Cambridge," he answered, taking the spot next to me that Alana had abandoned. "He Skyped in."

"How did it go?" John asked.

"Well enough," Johnny answered as he took a sip of the fizzy pink lemonade. "I'm not too worried about it, though." He set his drink down and turned to face my mother and me. "And how are the two of you?"

"We're great, thanks," my mother answered. "Cambridge, huh? That must be exciting."

He shrugged. "Yeah, I suppose. I haven't been accepted yet, so there's no use counting my chickens."

Alana came back into the room to find her brother had stolen her spot. "Johnny!" she protested. "I was sitting there first!"

He fixed her with a steely glare that I immediately knew was a farce. "Oh yeah? What are you going to do about it?"

She didn't answer. Instead a manic smile spread across her face as she rushed at him and pushed him deeper into the cushions. He caught her easily and lifted her onto his lap. "Compromise. We'll share, okay?"

But he had lost his sister's attention for she had already turned to me. "Miriam, how old are you?"

"I'm seventeen," I answered.

"So you're Johnny's age?"

"Yes, I suppose I am."

She squinted in my direction, then turned her gaze up to her brother. "You don't look like you're the same age," she said skeptically. "Are you sure you're seventeen?"

I grinned. "I was the last time I checked."

"What school do you go to, Miriam?" Maggie asked.

"I go to Xavier's," I told them.

"Oh, that's the fine arts school, isn't it? How do you like it?"

"I love it," I answered sincerely.

"What do you do there?" John asked.

"Painting and drawing, mostly. Recently I've taken up pottery and sculpture and I'm dabbling a little in photography."

"She actually showed at a youth gallery at the Smithsonian last month," Mommy said with a hint of pride in her tone. "And George Washington University commissioned her for a portrait of their new dean."

"Wow, that's very impressive," Maggie said with a twinkle in her eye. "I'd love to see your work some time."

"Thank you," I said as graciously as I could. "Actually the Smithsonian is planning another youth gallery in February and I'm working on a few pieces for it. If you'd like I can give you your own tour."

"I would very much. Maybe I could even commission you for a family portrait?"

John chuckled. "If you could get Alana to sit still for one, that would be a miracle."

The girl in question was squirming impatiently in her brother's arm, trying to bring the attention back to her. "Miriam, what's your favorite color?"

Asking an artist her favorite color is like asking a mother who her favorite child is. So I dodged the question by repeating it back to her. "What's yours?"

"Purple," she answered promptly.

I gasped. "Mine too!"

"Really?" she squealed. "We painted my room purple this summer! Do you want to see?"

"Maybe later, sweetheart," I chuckled as I patted her softly on the head. "You can show me after dinner."

"Speaking of which, I think it's ready now," Maggie commented when one of the maids came into the room, looking like she was about to make the same announcement. She and John both nodded and stood from their seats. "Well, shall we?"

I nodded and my mother stood before helping me gingerly to my feet. The first family noticed my wince and registered their concern.

"Are you all right, Miriam?" John asked.

"Oh, I'm fine," I answered with a tight smile. "I just have to be careful with the ribs is all."

For the first time that evening, the president and his wife looked truly contrite. "I'm so sorry, Miriam," Maggie said. "I don't think I have yet expressed my immense gratitude for saving my daughter."

I smiled. "It's all right, Maggie. I'm just glad that Alana got away without a scratch."

The little girl grabbed onto my arm and fixed me with a concerned stare. "Miriam, are you still hurt?"

"Just a little, Alana. It's not so bad."

But she didn't like this answer. "Johnny, you have to help her," she demanded her brother imperiously. "You have to walk her to the dining room and pull out her chair for her. That's what a gentleman does."

"Oh, that won't be necessary," I protested.

But Johnny shook his head. "No, she's right. That is what a gentleman does." Then he flashed me another one of those smiles that rendered me entirely speechless. Against such a weapon, I was powerless.

So with that, he led me into the dining room with my hand on his outstretched arm and pink coloring my cheeks. Mommy noticed my embarrassed expression and tried to keep her giggles to herself.

As Alana had dictated, Johnny pulled my chair out for me and helped me sit down. Then he did the same for my mother beside me before taking his seat on the other side of the table with Alana. The president sat at the head while his wife sat at the opposite end.

"Your mother informed us that you are a vegetarian, so we requested our chef prepare a vegetarian menu for this evening," Maggie informed me when everyone was seated. "I hope you enjoy it."

"Oh, I'm sure I will. I'm not picky."

Dinner was served in different courses. The first course was a golden, butternut squash soup puree. The second course was the main course, with stuffed peppers on a bed of wild rice and a side of green beans and carrots.

As expected, everything was absolutely delicious and cooked to perfection. But I saved the carrots for last, as was my habit for a very specific reason.

Alana had been watching me during the meal and she giggled as I ate my carrots. "Miriam, why are you making such a funny face?"

I hadn't realized I was and I immediately stopped, instead adopting a sheepish expression. "I didn't know I was. I'm sorry."

"Is the food not to your liking?" Maggie asked with concern.

"No!" I exclaimed quickly. "No, everything's delicious. I was just…eating the carrots."

"Do you not like carrots?" John asked.

"I don't like carrots either," Alana announced as she made a face at her plate and pushed it away from her. "They're icky."

I shook my head. "No, I like carrots. It's just…" This part was always hard to explain. "After eating a carrot, do you ever get the feeling like it's stuck in your inner ear?" I moved my hand in a slicing motion from just outside my ear toward my throat, as if to illustrate my point.

The president and his wife both adopted blank expressions while Johnny looked entirely bewildered. "I beg your pardon?" he asked.

"Kind of like, 'Crap, my ear just ate a carrot. I forgot that that ear's not supposed to eat carrots.'"

Mommy shook her head. "Don't worry. No one knows what she's talking about."

I sighed. Apparently I was the only one in the whole world this happened to because everyone I had ever asked looked at me just as the president and his wife had. But to my surprise, Johnny laughed.

"I've never heard of that before," he chuckled. "But that's interesting."

"Yeah, everyone thinks I'm crazy every time I bring it up," I said ruefully as I bit into another carrot. "But I'm sure there's someone out there who knows what I'm talking about. I can't be the only one."

Johnny smiled at me and I blushed again. "I'm sure there is," he assured me.

A cheese and fruit plate was served after the main course and a dessert of raspberry cheesecake was served last. The dessert was so rich that I ate it as slowly as I could, to savor every delicious bite.

When the last of the plates were cleared away, I collapsed against my chair and let out a sigh of deep contentment. "That was the most fabulous dinner I've ever had," I told them. "Seriously, your chef is amazing."

"He'll be glad to hear that," Maggie smiled. A minute later she stood from her seat and invited us back to the living room so the adults could share a brandy. But Alana wasn't interested in that.

"Mommy, can I show Miriam my room now?" she asked.

"All right, sweetie, but afterwards have Marianela put you to bed."

Alana let forth a ridiculous pout as she folded her arms over her chest crossly. "I don't wanna," she whined.

"Alana, it's already past your bed time."

"But I don't wanna!" she wailed. "I don't wanna, I don't wanna, I don't wanna!" She made sure to stomp her foot hard against the floor for added emphasis.

Hoping to diffuse the situation before it got worse, I bent forward a little, ignoring the protest of my sore ribs. "Tell you what, Alana. How about you show me your room and I'll help you get ready for bed instead. Would you like that?"

Her face cleared up immediately and she shot me another one of her beatific smiles. "Yes, I'd like that very much."

"Oh, Miriam, you don't have to do that," John protested, but I shook my head.

"No, it's all right. I don't mind, I promise."

"Well if you're sure…" he said, though he looked anything but.

"I'll come with you," Johnny volunteered. Alana squealed her excitement at the prospect of her brother and me putting her to bed and before the adults could register any more protests, she grabbed my hand and Johnny's and dragged us up the stairs with her.

After three flights of stairs and several more dizzying twists and turns, Alana led me to her room at the far end of one of the millions of hallways. There was a sign nailed to a cream colored door that said ALANA in flowing script, hanging off a nail with a gauzy purple ribbon. With a dramatic flourish, the girl opened the door to her room and led me inside.

One thing was for sure; if she hadn't already told me that her favorite color was purple, there would be no doubt in my mind after seeing her room.

The entire space was covered ceiling to floor in the color. The walls were painted with a pale shade of lavender. The windows were draped with heavy, dark violet curtains and her bed spread and canopy were another dark shade of royal purple.

"Wow, you weren't kidding when you said your favorite color was purple."

Johnny grinned at me. "Mom tried to convince her that having so much purple in one room was tacky, but Alana didn't care."

"I can imagine," I murmured wryly as I watched the girl bounce around her room, picking up various dolls and stuffed animals.

She came back to me with a purple stuffed unicorn and a porcelain doll in her arms. "This is Glitter, my pony. And this is the doll my daddy gave me for my birthday last year. Her name is Amanda."

"She's very pretty," I said sincerely.

"Thank you," she said. Then she carefully put Amanda in the chair beside the door and she ran back to her bed to nestle Glitter in her pillows.

"All right, kiddo. It's time for bed," Johnny reminded her.

She made a face at her older brother, but sighed. "Will you tell me a story?"

"After you get ready for bed."

Alana led me to the bathroom across the hall and I helped her with her pre-bedtime routines. She changed into her favorite purple pajamas with little rainbows on them and washed her face. Then she brushed her teeth and padded back across the hall where Johnny waited for her.

"What story do you want me to read to you tonight?" Johnny asked her as she climbed into the bed. I had pulled back the covers and she snuggled in tightly with Glitter in one arm and a bunny rabbit in the other.

"I don't want you to read me a story," she scowled. "I want you to tell me a story. Tell me a story."

Johnny frowned. "But I don't know any stories."

"Yes you do!" she protested. "Tell me a story."

He sighed and settled down into the rocking chair placed beside her bed. "Well, okay. Once upon a time there was an ugly duckling. He was an orphan because he hatched out of his egg, but there weren't any adult ducks to take care of him."

"You're telling it wrong," I teased. "The ugly duckling wasn't a boy!"

"Yeah!" Alana giggled. "The ugly duckling was a girl!"

Johnny shot me a fake look of annoyance. "Oh really? Then why don't you tell the story, if you're such a storytelling expert."

"Fine." I gingerly took a seat at the edge of Alana's bed and began. "Once upon a time there was an ugly duckling. She was an orphan because when she hatched she didn't have any parents to take care of her. The only beings she had were the other ducklings in the nest with her. But they all hated her because she was so ugly. They called her mean things like "scar face" and "fathead" because she wasn't as graceful as they were."

"That's so mean," Alana said sadly. She had her bunny and Glitter squeezed tightly to her chest and her gigantic blue eyes — so much like her brothers — were wide and slightly watered, like she was about to cry for the poor little duckling.

"Yeah. But as much as their teasing hurt, deep down she knew she was different."

"Why?" Alana asked.

"The ugly duckling was different because she had a superpower."

"What?" Johnny exclaimed indignantly. "No she didn't!"

"Yes she did!" I shouted and Alana giggled. "The ugly duckling had a superpower that none of the other ducklings knew about, one that she kept to herself. She had the power to shoot lasers out of her eyeballs!"

"That's not how it goes!" Johnny insisted.

"Yes it is!" I argued. I grinned when I noticed the sparkle in his sapphire eyes.

"No it's not. Here, I'll tell the rest." He leaned forward in his rocking chair and Alana turned her attention back to her brother with renewed interest. "Fine, the ugly duckling had superpowers, all right, but it wasn't shooting lasers out of her eyes. Instead, she could move things with her mind."

Alana's eyes widened. "Whoa."

"Whoa is right. She discovered this power when she was a wee little duckling. One of the other ducklings had shoved her under the surface of the water and held her there for a long time until the ugly duckling couldn't breathe anymore. And finally, when she was about to choke and die, she threw the other duckling off of her with her mind powers launched her bully straight across the lake and slammed him into a tree."

"Was the other duckling all right?" she asked in alarm.

"He was alive, but he was shaken," Johnny said solemnly. "After that incident all the ducklings teased her even more."


"Because she was different," I told her. "They didn't like her because she was different. And they were scared of her."

"What happened after that, Johnny?" she asked.

"Well a couple of years later, one of the most popular boy ducklings in the whole pond asked her to the prom. The ugly duckling was completely shocked because she was the least popular duckling and no one liked her. In fact, she didn't think she was even going to get asked to the prom at all."

"Did she wear a pretty dress?" Alana asked.

"Yeah, she wore a pretty dress made out of petals from one of the flowers that grew on the riverbanks. And when she and her date arrived to the prom, for once, she didn't feel ugly. She felt like the prettiest duckling at the prom.

"All of the other girl ducklings saw her walk in with the handsome, popular duckling and they were jealous. She's the ugliest of all of us, they thought. She doesn't deserve to be with him. So the mean girl ducklings came up with a plan."

"What was the plan?"

"They would vote her as prom queen."

I tried hard not to laugh at Alana's confused expression. "Huh?"

"They finally realized that after all the years of mean names and teasing that it was time to bury the hatchet. So everyone voted the ugly duckling as the prom queen."

Alana's face cleared up and she smiled. "Then did she and the other handsome duckling live happily ever after?"

"No," I answered. Alana turned her attention back to me with her eyes open and her mouth gaping. "No, the handsome duckling and the ugly duckling did not live happily ever after."

"Why not?" she demanded.

"Because, that wasn't the end of the plan."

Alana gulped.

"No, that wasn't all. The ugly duckling and her handsome date were announced as prom king and queen. She was shocked again. She didn't think that anyone would want her to win, but she was excited anyway. And just when she stepped onto the stage to receive her crown and flowers—"

"They dumped a bucket of worms on her!" Johnny exclaimed.

Alana shrieked. "Gross!"

"The ugly duckling stood completely still as the worms wriggled all over her and ruined her pretty petal dress. And everyone who saw her pointed and laughed. Even her date, the handsome duckling who acted so nice to her giggled at the mean prank."

Johnny and I exchanged smirks and he finished the rest of the story. "That's when she snapped."

I didn't think it was possible, but Alana's eyes grew even wider. "What do you mean, Johnny?"

"After all the years of teasing and name calling, she had finally had enough. She got so angry that she completely lost control of her temper and she let go of her terrifying powers."

At this point Johnny and I had leaned so far toward Alana that she had pressed herself deeper into her pillows to get away from our crazed expressions. "What happened?" she squeaked.

"Things started flying everywhere. Worms, weeds, bits of bark, sharp objects…she made everything at the prom fly. Everyone started freaking out and they ran. But she didn't let them get away."

I picked up the thread. "She used her powers to bring them back and she took sharp pieces of bark from the very bottom of the lake and she stabbed every one with them — even her handsome date. She killed everyone."

"Everyone?" Alana whispered.

"Everyone," Johnny nodded. "Not one single duckling survived the prom, except for the ugly duckling. When all the other mommy ducks and daddy ducks had realized what happened, the ugly duckling had already disappeared, never to be heard from again."

"Sometimes you can still hear their distressed quacks in the middle of the night when you stand in the middle of an abandoned lake," I told her, making my voice extra eerie. "If you stay quiet and listen hard enough, you can even hear her handsome date begging her to spare his life. The ghostly howls of the dead ducklings remind all the other ducklings to never tease an ugly duckling ever again, lest they end up like the poor duckling prom victims."

"So," Johnny said, his voice returning to normal. "What's the moral of the story?"

"Don't tease ugly people," Alana said with a shaky voice. "Because they'll come back to kill you."

"Very good," Johnny grinned.

After Alana had fallen asleep, Johnny and I quietly crept out of her room. When the door was securely shut behind us, we let go of the raucous laughter we had been struggling to contain.

"In hindsight, I don't think it was the best idea to tell her that story," he managed to gasp in between his giggles. "She might have nightmares tonight."

"It's your fault!" I laughed. "You were the one who turned The Ugly Duckling into Carrie."

"Only because you added the whole superpower thing!"

We came back to the sitting room still chuckling over the ridiculous bedtime story we told Alana. The adults heard our entrance and looked up to see us shaking from our laughter.

"What's so funny?" Mommy asked with a wide grin, like she was in on the joke.

"We just told Alana a bedtime story," I informed her. Johnny burst out laughing again.

Half an hour later, Mommy and I said our goodbyes to the first family. The same secret service agent who escorted us into the house escorted us back out, where our car waited for us on the front steps.

"That was a very pleasant evening," Mommy commented.

"Yep, it sure was."

"And that Johnny sure seemed cute, didn't he?" she hinted a little slyly.

I rolled my eyes. "I think he's a bit young for you, Mommy."

She laughed, but didn't say anything further.