Chapter 1 – Coming Home
As the plane tilted downwards ready for landing, Jess closed her book and reached for her father’s hand. He smiled at her and gripped her fingers tight. Jess looked out of the window, watching the pattern of fields give way to the tighter criss-crosses of London. She would, as usual, be glad to get home.
Mr Brooks held on gratefully to his daughter. He hated flying. With his eyes squeezed shut he did the breathing exercises recommended by his doctor and wished, not for the first time, that being Prime Minister did not involve so much travelling. He tried not to think about the amazing thing the pilot was about to do, or the wide expanse of hard tarmac below, or the bizarre fact that they hadn’t fallen out of the sky already during the long trip back. He forced himself to think about the hours ahead.
He and Jess would be met at the airport and driven into London. The staff at Downing Street would no doubt have a lot to tell him, and there would be papers to sign and so on. But he would insist on a private meal and a quiet night in front of the TV, if the jetlag didn’t get to him first. It had been a busy week, and tomorrow was Prime Minister’s questions. His breathing suddenly tight and shallow again, Mr Brooks tried not to think about that either, and then opened his eyes in relief as the plane began to level out for touchdown.
Jess eased her crushed fingers from her father’s sweaty fist and began to pack her belongings away. She needed an early night too. The end of year exams were next week. She could have done without this trip on top of everything else, but dad was hopeless on his own. She’d just have to hope that the work she’d done in the hotel room in Sydney was enough.
After the first couple of trips, Jess had stopped taking much notice of where they went or why. She was always treated nicely – there were some perks being the daughter of a VIP – but she didn’t get involved. It was just too tedious and the moment she showed any interest, dad went all soppy about her being “born to politics” and “a natural leader”. This time, it was some environment conference or something, and by the look on dad’s face at the end of the final meeting yesterday, it had probably worked out the way he wanted. She didn’t ask though. She knew better than to let herself in for a minute by minute analysis. She had to put up with enough politics without asking for more detail, thank you very much. She only came on these trips because dad was such a blubbering wreck if she didn’t, and since he agreed to let her tutor come too, she usually coped with the time off school.
Ever since she could remember, Jess had been at her dad’s side. It used to be quite good fun, when she was little. Holding his hand as he opened a new playground; helping him cut the ribbon when the modern sculpture was erected in the town centre; gripping the spade and posing for the photographer when they laid the foundation brick for the leisure centre. But since he’d got the PM job the events had just got more and more boring, so that she refused to go to most of them, always saying she had too much homework, or a letter to write, or wanted to finish reading her book.
No, politics was not for her. Once her friends got over the fact that yes, she actually did live in Downing Street and yes, number 10 is a lot bigger than it looks from the outside, they’d learned not to go on about it. And the letter she’d got dad to write to the Head – “…Jessica is very easily embarrassed…blah, blah, blah…would appreciate it if she could be treated as just another pupil…no special treatment…” – seemed to do the trick with the teachers. So when she was at school she could forget about policies and the House of Commons and what would be in the newspapers about dad the next day.
At home it was different of course. Jess sighed as she got into the back of the standard issue black government car with her dad. The only problem about coming home, she thought, is having to put up with Eddie.