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    • China offers concessions to avert trade war with US
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    • China Threatens To Bomb North Korea's Nuclear Facilities If It Crosses Beijing's "Bottom Line" | Zero Hedge
      • With everyone putting down new and/or revised "red lines", be it on Syria or North Korea, it was now China's turn to reveal its red or rather "bottom line", and in a harshly worded editorial titled "The United States Must Not Choose a Wrong Direction to Break the DPRK Nuclear Deadlock on Wednesday" Beijing warned it would attack North Korea's facilities producing nuclear bombs, effectively engaging in an act of war, if North Korea crosses China's "bottom line."
      • The editorial in the military-focused Global Times tabloid, owned and operated by the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper, said that North Korea's nuclear activities must not jeopardize northeastern China, and that if the North impacts China with its illicit nuclear tests through either "nuclear leakage or pollution", then China will respond with force.
      • ''China has a bottom line that it will protect at all costs, that is, the security and stability of northeast China... If the bottom line is touched, China will employ all means available including the military means to strike back. By that time, it is not an issue of discussion whether China acquiesces in the US' blows, but the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) will launch attacks to DPRK nuclear facilities on its own."
      • This, as the editorial puts it, is the "bottom line" for China; should it be crossed China will employ all means available including the military means to strike back," warned the editorial.
      • It is worth noting is that shortly after publication, the article seems to have been retracted without explanation, the URL now returning a "404" error. However not before the original article was cached on a webpage owned by China Military, courtesy of google.
      • In the editorial, the author also declared that the "People's Liberation Army (PLA) will launch attacks to DPRK nuclear facilities on its own. A strike to nuclear facilities of the DPRK is the best military means in the opinion of the outside world." The northeastern Chinese provinces of Liaoning and Jilin share borders with North Korea. These two provinces and Heilongjiang are part of the Shenyang Military Region, one of seven military regions of the People's Liberation Army.
      • The editorial also explained the advantages to the world of a Chinese attack on North Korea's nuclear facilities.
      • It noted China and the world know the locations of North Korea's nuclear facilities. Once the PLA attacks these nuclear sites, North Korea will permanently suspend its nuclear weapons programs.
      • North Korea "has limited resources of nuclear materials and is strictly blockaded in the outside world, erasing the possibility for DPRK to get the materials again."
      • China also noted that "nuclear weapons is DPRK's trump card for its defiance of China and the United States. Once this card is lost, it will become obedient immediately."
      • The author then speculated rhetorically that if North Korea's "nuclear facilities are destroyed, they will not even fight back, but probably block the news to fool its domestic people. The DPRK will freak out if its nuclear facilities are destroyed." And yes, a Chinese author said "freak out."
      • The report also said that "the DPRK must not fall into the turmoil to send a large number of refugees, it is not allowed to have a government that is hostile against China on the other side of the Yalu River, and the US military must not push forward its forces to the Yalu River.'' It notes that "this sentence is meant for the United States, because the premise of it is that the US military has launched attacks to the DPRK."
      • But what may be the most notable part of the oped is the mention in the Global Times editorial that North Korea will not be "not allowed to have a government that is hostile against China on the other side of the Yalu River." This implies that if and when the US initiate strikes on NK, the Chinese PLA will likely send out troops "to lay the foundation" for a favorable post-war situation.
      • In other words, China may be just waiting for Trump to "decapitate" the North Korean regime, to pounce and immediately fill the power vacuum.
  • F-Russia
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    • Brexit: foreign states may have interfered in vote, report says | Politics | The Guardian
      • A man with vote leave EU badges. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
      • Foreign governments such as Russia and China may have been involved in the collapse of a voter registration website in the run-up to the EU referendum, a committee of MPs has claimed.
      • A report by the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC) said MPs were deeply concerned about the allegations of foreign interference in last year's Brexit vote.
      • The committee does not identify who may have been responsible, but has noted that both Russia and China use an approach to cyber-attacks based on an understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals.
      • The findings follow repeated claims that Russia has been involved in trying to influence the US and French presidential elections.
      • Ministers were forced to extend the deadline to register to vote in the EU referendum after the collapse of the government's website on 7 June, 100 minutes before the deadline.
      • Screengrab taken from the government website to register to vote in the EU referendum which crashed less than hour before the deadline. Photograph: PAThe collapse resulted in concerns that tens of thousands of people could have been disenfranchised.
      • At the time, the government said it was the result of an unprecedented spike in demand, with more than 500,000 people trying to register on the final day.
      • The report, published on Wednesday, said there were clues that a distributed denial of service attack (DDOS) using botnets '' a network of computers infected with malicious software '' was used to overwhelm the site.
      • ''The crash had indications of being a DDOS 'attack'. We understand that this is very common and easy to do with botnets... The key indicants are timing and relative volume rate,'' the committee's report said.
      • While the incident had no material effect on the outcome of the referendum, the committee said it was crucial that lessons were learned for future votes that must extend beyond purely technical issues.
      • The report noted: ''The US and UK understanding of 'cyber' is predominantly technical and computer network-based.
      • ''For example, Russia and China use a cognitive approach based on understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals.
      • ''The implications of this different understanding of cyber-attack, as purely technical or as reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion, for the interference in elections and referendums are clear.
      • ''PACAC is deeply concerned about these allegations about foreign interference,'' the report concluded.
      • Britain is being hit by dozens of cyber-attacks a month, including attempts by Russian state-sponsored hackers to steal defence and foreign policy secrets, GCHQ's new security chief, Ciaran Martin, said in February.
      • The chancellor, Philip Hammond, said the National Cyber Security Centre, which Martin heads, had blocked 34,550 ''potential attacks'' on government departments and members of the public in the six months to February '' about 200 cases a day.
      • The committee, which is chaired by the senior backbencher Bernard Jenkin, was also highly critical of the way David Cameron held the referendum to ''call the bluff'' of his critics and then resigned when he lost.
      • It said that in future referendums, the prime minister of the day should be prepared to carry on in office and to implement the result, whatever the outcome.
      • ''There was no proper planning for a leave vote so the EU referendum opened up much new controversy and left the prime minister's credibility destroyed,'' it said.
      • ''It should be reasonable to presume that the sitting prime minister and his/her administration will continue in office and take responsibility for the referendum result in either eventuality.''
      • According to the report, there were many occasions in the run up to the vote when it appeared officials were being drawn into ''referendum controversy'', damaging the civil service's reputation for impartiality.
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    • Livejournal's Russian owners announce new anti-LGBT policy, fandom stages mass exodus / Boing Boing
      • Mitch Wagner writes, "LiveJournal is a venerable online community that predates Facebook and even blogging. It got acquired by a Russian company a few years ago, but some of its American and British users hung on, including sf and fantasy writers and fans. Lately, I know one of my friends was scrambling to leave, but I'd been too busy to look into why."
      • "Now I know: LiveJournal changed its terms of service to require obeying Russian law, which requires "protecting" minors from discussing "sexual deviancy" -- LGBTQ issues. This is evil. I agree with many political pundits that it's better to coexist with Russia than to go war, even seek common ground where possible. And I agree that much of the current hostility to Russia in Washington, D.C., is cynical politicking by people who are using Russia panic to gain advantage. But this is evil. "
      • I probably stuck with LJ for too long, because back in the day I paid for a perpetual premium account'--unlimited access and no ads: the urge to get one's money's worth out of something you've paid for is hard to resist. But the rot has finally gone too far. This Tuesday Livejournal pushed out a revision to their terms of service that emphasize the service runs under Russian law, and specifically requires compliance with Russian law on minors'--which makes any discussion of "sexual deviancy" (aka LGBT issues) illegal or at least a violation of the ToS.
      • So I'm currently migrating my entire Livejournal presence to Dreamwidth, a service set up by some of LJ's original founders that focuses on providing a Livejournal-like set of services for creative types (and, significantly, is not subject to Russian law because it's not based in Russia).
      • Random excuses [Charlie Stross/Antipope]
      • Move over, Florida! Oregon may supplant you as America's best source of mesmerizingly bizarre violent confrontations, if voters there overturn a constitutional ban on duels. Should ongoing discussions in Salem materialize, voters would see a question on their general-election ballots asking if a 172-year-old ban on dueling by public officials '-- as in, the old-fashioned ['...]
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    • Putin Meets With Tillerson in Russia After Keeping Him Waiting - The New York Times
      • ''This reminds me very much of the events of 2003, when U.S. representatives in the Security Council showed alleged chemical weapons discovered in Iraq,'' Mr. Putin said, referring to an intelligence failure that Mr. Trump has also cited in recent months. ''The exact same thing is happening now,'' he charged.
      • He quoted two Russian writers, Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov, authors of the 1928 satire ''The 12 Chairs,'' and said, '' 'It's boring, ladies.' We have seen this all before.''
      • But the diplomatic theater playing out in Moscow on a rainy Wednesday morning was far from boring: Mr. Putin, operating on home turf, was looking for any way to shape the narrative of Mr. Tillerson's first trip here as secretary of state.
      • The outcome could well decide whether Mr. Trump's oft-stated desire to remake American relations with Moscow will now disintegrate, just as similar efforts by Barack Obama did early in his presidency.
      • Russia said earlier this week that Mr. Putin would not meet with Mr. Tillerson, but on Wednesday the Russian leader's spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, held out the possibility of a meeting later in the day. Russian leaders have greeted virtually all new secretaries of state since the end of World War II, but Mr. Peskov said any meeting would depend on how Mr. Tillerson's other talks went.
      • The drama appeared to be an effort by Mr. Putin to show that he was in control.
      • Critics of the Trump administration insist that the series of events around the attack in Syria had been meant to distract from the investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
      • Mr. Tillerson, who was recognized with an Order of Friendship medal by the Russian government while he was the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, has insisted on a tough line on Russia, ruling out any early end to sanctions unless the country returns Crimea to Ukraine and ceases meddling elsewhere.
      • On Syria, Mr. Tillerson delivered what sounded much like an ultimatum to the Russians on Tuesday while talking to reporters at a Group of 7 meeting in Italy.
      • ''I think it is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end,'' Mr. Tillerson said, echoing a theme first heard from Mr. Obama in 2011, when the Arab Spring led many to believe the Syrian leader was about to be overthrown.
      • Mr. Tillerson essentially demanded that Russia make a choice, severing ties with Mr. Assad and working with the United States on a variety of initiatives in the Middle East.
      • But Mr. Putin and his acolytes in the Russian government see the situation very differently. They regard their military intervention in Syria, which the Obama administration did not see coming, as a tactical success.
      • They shored up Mr. Assad and made him dependent on Russia's presence. That, in turn, assured Russia's continued access to its naval station in Syria, a move that was critical to the country's efforts to project power in the Middle East.
      • As Mr. Tillerson entered the foreign ministry here to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, an experienced and wily veteran of many of Russia's post-Cold War encounters with Washington, the Russian government released another salvo against American intentions here.
      • DocumentThe White House released a declassified four-page report that details United States intelligence on the chemical weapons attack, asserting that the Syrian and Russian governments have sought to confuse the world community about the assault through disinformation and ''false narratives.''
      • The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria V. Zakharova, said it was ''useless'' for Mr. Tillerson to arrive in Moscow with ''ultimatums'' and suggested that if he wanted any progress, he should start by getting Mr. Trump and his administration on the same page about Syria strategy.
      • ''It is not clear what they will do in Syria and not only there,'' she said on Dozhd, Russia's independent television network. ''Nobody understands what they will do in the Middle East because it is a very complicated region, forgive me for saying such a banal thing. Nobody understands what they will do with Iran, what they will do with Afghanistan.''
      • Then, to suggest this was a symptom of broader disorganization, she added, ''Nobody understands what they will do with North Korea.''
      • Mr. Tillerson had hoped, several weeks ago, to make the battle against the Islamic State a focus of this trip, working with Russia to seal off the last escape routes from Raqqa, in hopes of killing the remainder of the Islamic State force there.
      • Instead, the chemical attack in Syria '-- and the investigations into how and how significantly Mr. Putin interfered in the United States presidential election '-- have overshadowed what Mr. Tillerson has insisted remains the No. 1 priority: defeating the Islamic State.
      • There was some suggestion by the Russians that Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Tillerson would talk about no-fly zones, one way of keeping Mr. Assad's air force grounded. But it is unclear how that would work, and the prospect of confrontation between American and Russian forces would be significant as the no-fly zone was enforced.
      • Meanwhile, Mr. Putin went on Mir TV to suggest two theories about how the sarin gas attack might not have been the responsibility of Mr. Assad. He said that there was evidence, which he did not specify, that the shells hit a bunker of chemical weapons, a view that other Russian officials have expressed previously. The United States rejected this conclusion when it declassified intelligence assessments on Tuesday.
      • The second theory Mr. Putin offered was that ''this was all staged, in other words this was a provocation.'' ''This was deliberately done to create noise and pretext, for additional pressure on the legitimate Syrian government,'' he said. ''That's all. This needs to be checked. Without a check we don't think it is possible to make any steps against the official Syrian government.''
      • Mr. Tillerson has all but called that theory fake news.
      • Continue reading the main story
    • CDC - The Emergency Response Safety and Health Database: Nerve Agent: SARIN (GB) - NIOSH
      • ANTIDOTE: Atropine and pralidoxime chloride (2-PAM Cl) are antidotes for nerve agent toxicity; however, 2-PAM Cl must be administered within minutes to a few hours (depending on the agent) following exposure to be effective. There is also generally no benefit in giving more than three injections of 2-PAM Cl. Atropine should be administered every 5 to 10 minutes until secretions begin to dry up. If the military Mark I kits containing autoinjectors are available, they provide the best way to administer the antidotes to healthy adults. One autoinjector automatically delivers 2 mg atropine and the other automatically delivers 600 mg 2-PAM Cl. If the Mark I kit is unavailable, or the patient/victim is not an otherwise healthy adult, administer antidotes as described below:Infant (0 '' 2 yrs), for mild to moderate physical findings, including localized sweating, muscular twitching (fasciculations), nausea, vomiting, weakness, and shortness of breath (dyspnea); administer Atropine at 0.05 mg/kg IM; 2-PAM Cl at 15 mg/kg IM.
      • Infant (0 '' 2 yrs), for severe physical findings, including unconsciousness, convulsions, cessation of breathing (apnea), and floppy (flaccid) paralysis; administer Atropine at 0.1 mg/kg IM; 2-PAM Cl at 25 mg/kg IM.
      • Child (2 '' 10 yrs), for mild to moderate physical findings, including localized sweating, muscular twitching (fasciculations), nausea, vomiting, weakness, and shortness of breath (dyspnea); administer Atropine at 1 mg/kg IM; 2-PAM Cl at 15 mg/kg IM.
      • Child (2 '' 10 yrs), for severe physical findings, including unconsciousness, convulsions, cessation of breathing (apnea), and floppy (flaccid) paralysis; administer Atropine at 2 mg/kg IM; 2-PAM Cl at 25 mg/kg IM.
      • Adolescent (> 10 yrs), for mild to moderate physical findings, including localized sweating, muscular twitching (fasciculations), nausea, vomiting, weakness, and shortness of breath (dyspnea); administer Atropine at 2 mg/kg IM; 2-PAM Cl at 15 mg/kg IM.
      • Adolescent (> 10 yrs), for severe physical findings, including unconsciousness, convulsions, cessation of breathing (apnea), and floppy (flaccid) paralysis; administer Atropine at 4 mg IM; 2-PAM Cl at 25 mg/kg IM.
      • Adult, for mild to moderate physical findings, including localized sweating, muscular twitching (fasciculations), nausea, vomiting, weakness, and shortness of breath (dyspnea); administer Atropine at 2 to 4 mg IM; 2-PAM Cl at 600 mg IM.
      • Adult, for severe physical findings, including unconsciousness, convulsions, cessation of breathing (apnea), and floppy (flaccid) paralysis; administer Atropine at 6 mg IM; 2-PAM Cl at 1800 mg IM.
      • Elderly, frail for mild to moderate physical findings, including localized sweating, muscular twitching (fasciculations), nausea, vomiting, weakness, and shortness of breath (dyspnea); administer Atropine at 1 mg IM; 2-PAM Cl at 10 mg/kg IM.
      • Elderly, frail for severe physical findings, including unconsciousness, convulsions, cessation of breathing (apnea), and floppy (flaccid) paralysis; administer Atropine at 2 to 4 mg IM; 2-PAM Cl at 25 mg/kg IM.
      • Assisted ventilation should be started after administration of antidotes for severe exposures.
      • Repeat atropine (2 mg IM for adults or 0.05 to 0.1 mg/kg for children) at 5 to 10 minute intervals until secretions have diminished and breathing is comfortable or airway resistance has returned to near normal.
    • Syrian govt has no chemical weapons, 'absolutely no need to use it' '' Russian MoD '-- RT News
      • Published time: 11 Apr, 2017 21:45
      • The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons and has ''no need'' to use any such arms, as it has already been conducting a successful offensive on militant positions, a Russian General Staff official has said.
      • Militants ''are suffering one defeat after another and are leaving the territories they once controlled. Under such circumstances, the government of Bashar Assad has no need to use chemical weapons. Moreover, the Syrian Army does not have any [chemical agents],'' Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, the chief of the Russian General Staff's operations department, told journalists during a news briefing.
      • The top military official went on to say that Russia demands a ''thorough investigation'' of the April 4 incident in the town of Khan Sheikhoun located in Syria's Idlib province. He underlined that US and western claims accusing the Syrian government of being behind the alleged chemical assault are ''highly questionable.''
      • Rudskoy also noted that the ''authenticity'' of information concerning this attack circulating in the media raises ''serious doubts'' not only among the Russian military but also ''among many respected experts and organizations.''
      • The general added that Russia is ready to provide experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) with access to the Syrian Army air base from which the attack was allegedly launched.
      • ''The experts are aware that it is impossible to conceal the traces of the chemical weapons,'' he said. The official said the Syrian government is also ready to grant access to the base for the OPCW experts.
      • The Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said recently that that the country's military had targeted an arms depot in Idlib where chemical weapons could have been stored by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front militants.
      • Rudskoy also drew attention to the fact that the Syrian government has fully complied with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and has destroyed all chemical weapons production and storage facilities on the territory it still controlled in 2013 when this process began.
      • ''Out of 12 facilities used for storing and producing chemical weapons, ten were destroyed as confirmed by the OPCW experts. The Syrian government has no access to the remaining two facilities as they are located on a territory controlled by the so-called opposition,'' Rudskoy said at the briefing, adding that it remains unclear if the chemical weapons stored at these two facilities had been destroyed.
      • He said Syria consecutively destroyed all its chemical weapons and related facilities under OPCW control between 2013 and 2016. All chemical weapons stockpiles were shipped from Syria by a US vessel and subsequently destroyed in the US, the UK, Finland and Germany.
      • Syria also destroyed all missiles and air bombs capable of carrying such weapons. The international experts also conducted additional checks at Syrian government facilities that were not related to the production or storage of chemical weapons.
      • ''No facts confirming production or possession of chemical agents [by the Syrian government] were found,'' Rudskoy told journalists. He added ''that Syria has no chemical weapons'' and this fact was ''documented and confirmed by the OPCW representatives.''
      • Earlier on Tuesday, the Russian President Vladimir Putin called the attack on Khan Sheikhoun a ''false flag'' operation aimed at discrediting the Assad government and warned of a threat of similar incidents in the future, possibly targeting a Damascus suburb.
    • US accuses Russia of cover-up in Syria chemical attack - BBC News
      • Image copyright Getty Images Russia has tried to deflect blame for a deadly chemical attack away from the Syrian government, the US has said.
      • White House officials told reporters that intelligence reports confirmed that Syria was responsible for the attack, which killed 89 people.
      • Syria has denied it and Moscow has instead blamed rebel forces.
      • The US fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase in retaliation, but the global community is divided over how to respond.
      • On Tuesday, senior White House officials discussed a four-page declassified report that says Syria and Russia have used "false narratives" to try to confuse the international community.
      • "Russia's allegations fit with a pattern of deflecting blame from the (Syrian) regime and attempting to undermine the credibility of its opponents," said an official.
      • The government of President Bashar al-Assad carried out the assault on 4 April in Idlib province to hit rebels in the area, the report said.
      • A chemical agent was flown by aircraft that departed from the Shayrat airfield, the document said.
      • "I think it's clear that the Russians are trying to cover up what happened there," one of the officials said.
      • Image copyright Getty Images Image caption US Defense Secretary James Mattis said there was "no doubt" Syria was responsible But they refused to comment on whether Russia colluded with Syria on the attack or knew about it in advance, a point echoed later by the US secretary of defence.
      • James Mattis added: "There is no doubt the Syrian regime is responsible for the decision to attack and for the attack itself."
      • His comments came just after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Russia to challenge the Kremlin over its support for Mr Assad.
      • A two-day summit of G7 ministers in Italy ended in division over Syria, as the UK proposed - without success - sanctions against Syrian and Russian military figures over the chemical attack.
    • Russia Has Intel on Upcoming Chemical Weapons Provocations in Syrian Regions
      • "We have information from various sources that such provocations '-- and I cannot call them anything else '-- are being prepared in other regions of Syria, including in the southern suburbs of Damascus, where they intend to plant some substance and blame the official Syrian authorities for its use," Putin told a briefing.
      • Russian President Putin announced that Russia will officially turn to the UN in the Hague for an investigation of the chemical weapons' use in Idlib.
      • "All incidents reminiscent of the 'chemical attacks' that took place in Idlib must be thoroughly investigated," Putin said.
      • Putin pointed out that the latest US missile strikes in Syria bring to mind the United States' UN Security Council address in 2003 that led to the invasion of Iraq.
      • "We discussed the situation with President [ of Italy Sergio Mattarella] and I told him that these events strongly resemble the events of 2003," Putin said at a briefing, outlining the prelude to the US intervention in Iraq.
      • On Thursday night, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the military airfield in Ash Sha'irat. US President Donald Trump said that the attack was a response to the alleged chemical weapon use in Syria's Idlib province on Tuesday, which resulted in the death of over 80 people.
      • Following Putin's presser, Russian General Staff released a statement announcing that it has information of militants bringing poisonous substances to areas of Khan Shaykhun, West of Aleppo and Eastern Guta in Syria.
      • Chief of the Russian General Staff Main Operational Directorate Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy said that the militants are trying to provoke new accusations targeted at Syrian government for alleged use of chemical weapons. The militants aim to incite the US to conduct new strikes, Rudskoy warned, adding that such measures are impermissible.
    • -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • Brexit
    • Brexit Cyber Attack: Report Points to Foreign Interference |
      • A report by a committee of British members of parliament asserts that foreign states such as Russia and China may have interfered in the country's Brexit vote last summer, which resulted in Britain's decision to leave the European Union.
      • The Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC) report hones in on the collapse of the British government's voter registration website, which crashed on June 7, 100 minutes before the deadline to register to vote in the country's referendum on E.U. membership, the Guardian reports.
      • Although the site's downing did not materially impact the outcome of the referendum, it forced ministers to extend the deadline for voter registration and led to concerns that tens of thousands of people may have been left out of the process.
      • The PACAC's findings indicate that the crash '-- which had earlier been attributed to a late surge in voter registrations '-- was caused by a distributed denial of service attack (DDOS). Although lawmakers did not directly accuse any nation of hacking the government site, the report referenced Russian and Chinese approaches to cyber-attacks.
      • More: 42 Questions About Brexit That Need Answering
      • ''The U.S. and U.K. understanding of 'cyber' is predominantly technical and computer network-based," the report said. ''For example, Russia and China use a cognitive approach based on understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals."
  • Shut Up Slave!
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    • Germany labels Twitch a 'radio service', tells streamers they now require a broadcasting license - Esports News UK
      • German authorities have officially recognised Twitch as a 'radio service offering' and streamers will now require licenses.
      • Popular German YouTube and Twitch channel PietSmiet (pictured) has been told it will need a license to continue to stream.
      • German broadcast authority the Landesmedienanstalt has temporarily ruled that live-streaming requires a broadcasting license, which costs between '‚¬1,000 and '‚¬10,000'‚¬ depending on the number of viewers, according to this Reddit post.
      • Those without a license will technically be classed as a pirate station and could be shut down.
      • Germany is not alone in enforcing this kind of legislation. China also requires certain streamers to hold a license in order to broadcast content.
      • It's not yet clear whether German streamers will have to follow the exact same regulations that TV broadcasters do, but if so, they will have to follow at 10pm watershed.
      • However, the Landesmedienanstalt did say that the guidelines are outdated, so the ruling may change in the near future.
      • The ruling has mainly been made to prevent TV and radio stations from billing themselves as streaming companies in order to avoid paying a broadcasting license.
      • The Commission for Admission and Supervision (ZAK) of media organisations told streaming channel PietSmietTV it must obtain a license by April 30th.
      • Siegfried Schneider, chairman of ZAK, said [translated]: "The [online streaming] network is full of radio-like offerings. For this reason, the legislation should be amended as soon as possible."
      • Will this affect UK streamers?Not at the moment, but it's worth bearing in mind.
      • The UK Gambling Commission recently came down hard on skin/video game betting websites and had an in-depth look into whether some esports tournaments are technically gambling or not.
      • It's probably only a matter of time before streamers and YouTubers come under heavier scrutiny on our shores.
      • British esports journalist and host Richard Lewis took a closer look at what's happening with German streamers in this video:
    • Streaming vs. Broadcasting: Is There a Difference? | John C. Dvorak |
      • German regulators want to treat streaming providers like traditional broadcasters; they see them as little more than tiny TV stations operating without a license. I know what they're up to.
      • A couple of weeks ago, the authority that oversees broadcast licensing in Germany concluded that internet streaming services should be subject to the same licensing imposed on broadcast radio and television.
      • The focus is on which exemplifies this new paradigm; according to a press release, the Germans see streaming platforms as little more than tiny TV stations operating without a license.
      • This will be a test case for the entire world as governments and tax authorities realize they are missing out on license fees and the ability to regulate to these services. In the end, it's a money grab and a potential censorship mechanism. What engrained power structure could resist?
      • In the early 1900s there was a radio craze not unlike the personal computer revolution of the 70s and 80s. Hobbyist magazines quickly evolved into a commercial enterprise. When broadcasters utilizing the few available frequencies began interfering with each other, though, things got a little messy. By 1927, the Radio Act started licensing frequencies and mildly regulating radio broadcasters. In the 1930s, this evolved into the Federal Communications Commission.
      • The idea was to prevent interference between channels, but it also imposed control over content and imposed fees, of course. It's the way any limited resource evolves: It goes from the Wild West to mild control to a full-blown money-making enterprise. Money for the government, that is.
      • Parking is a perfect example of this. When meters first emerged, they charged a penny for the maintenance of the timers (still in use in part of Illinois). But someone got the bright idea of using parking meters as profit centers; in places where parking is in short supply, like San Francisco, meters now take credit cards and mobile payments, and it costs much more than a penny.
      • The same thing happened to broadcasting; what was once free can now cost thousands of dollars for an application fee alone. Streaming is just another way to broadcast, and there is money to be made.
      • The FCC has long been trying to sink its claws into cable TV, which is not subject to the same rules and regulations as broadcast TV. One rationale used to explain the differences between TV and cable is that one is open and free to public viewing and the other is not. There is a cable or sat-TV gatekeeper and a fee to access this content. It's like a private club.
      • But does the same distinction exist for internet broadcasting? At this point, the thinking is the internet is closer to being wide open, at least more so than cable TV. There are some blurred lines, yes, because you also have a gatekeeper and fees. But with a lot of free Wi-Fi and access at many places of business, it is closer to being like broadcasting in its ubiquity.
      • Furthermore, cable gatekeepers also control the content. You pay so much and you get certain channels as part of a package. With the internet, you just pay an access fee and you can access the whole net, where there are free streaming radio and TV programs that look a lot like a broadcast.
      • One could argue that these streaming shows and entire networks of shows are just using the internet to bypass broadcasting regulations and licensing requirements. This is all further compounded by the fact that the net neutrality folks are almost begging the FCC to take control of the internet.
      • It's apparent to me that the German trial balloon will get support, especially from licensed broadcasters that have to jump through hoops and pay plenty of fees already. Then it will not take long to spread. The joke to me is that licensing began as a way to prevent interference within a limited bandwidth. Control was necessary. On the web, there is an infinite playing field and no broadcast-level interference issue beyond network congestion.
      • But let's be quiet about that and start working on the fee schedule and the collection mechanism for the eventual money grab.
      • Back to topPrevious :3 Millennial Tech Myths BustedJohn Dvorak is a columnist for and the host of the weekly TV video podcast CrankyGeeks. His work is licensed around the world. Previously a columnist for Forbes, Forbes Digital, PC World, Barrons, MacUser, PC/Computing, Smart Business and other magazines and newspapers. Former editor and consulting editor for Infoworld. Has appeared in the New York Times, LA Times, Philadelphia Enquirer, SF Examiner, Vancouver Sun. Was on the start-up team for CNet TV as well as ZDTV. At ZDTV (and TechTV) was host of Silicon... More >>
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      • Streaming vs. Broadcasting: Is There a Difference? | John C. Dvorak |
        • German regulators want to treat streaming providers like traditional broadcasters; they see them as little more than tiny TV stations operating without a license. I know what they're up to.
        • A couple of weeks ago, the authority that oversees broadcast licensing in Germany concluded that internet streaming services should be subject to the same licensing imposed on broadcast radio and television.
        • The focus is on which exemplifies this new paradigm; according to a press release, the Germans see streaming platforms as little more than tiny TV stations operating without a license.
        • This will be a test case for the entire world as governments and tax authorities realize they are missing out on license fees and the ability to regulate to these services. In the end, it's a money grab and a potential censorship mechanism. What engrained power structure could resist?
        • In the early 1900s there was a radio craze not unlike the personal computer revolution of the 70s and 80s. Hobbyist magazines quickly evolved into a commercial enterprise. When broadcasters utilizing the few available frequencies began interfering with each other, though, things got a little messy. By 1927, the Radio Act started licensing frequencies and mildly regulating radio broadcasters. In the 1930s, this evolved into the Federal Communications Commission.
        • The idea was to prevent interference between channels, but it also imposed control over content and imposed fees, of course. It's the way any limited resource evolves: It goes from the Wild West to mild control to a full-blown money-making enterprise. Money for the government, that is.
        • Parking is a perfect example of this. When meters first emerged, they charged a penny for the maintenance of the timers (still in use in part of Illinois). But someone got the bright idea of using parking meters as profit centers; in places where parking is in short supply, like San Francisco, meters now take credit cards and mobile payments, and it costs much more than a penny.
        • The same thing happened to broadcasting; what was once free can now cost thousands of dollars for an application fee alone. Streaming is just another way to broadcast, and there is money to be made.
        • The FCC has long been trying to sink its claws into cable TV, which is not subject to the same rules and regulations as broadcast TV. One rationale used to explain the differences between TV and cable is that one is open and free to public viewing and the other is not. There is a cable or sat-TV gatekeeper and a fee to access this content. It's like a private club.
        • But does the same distinction exist for internet broadcasting? At this point, the thinking is the internet is closer to being wide open, at least more so than cable TV. There are some blurred lines, yes, because you also have a gatekeeper and fees. But with a lot of free Wi-Fi and access at many places of business, it is closer to being like broadcasting in its ubiquity.
        • Furthermore, cable gatekeepers also control the content. You pay so much and you get certain channels as part of a package. With the internet, you just pay an access fee and you can access the whole net, where there are free streaming radio and TV programs that look a lot like a broadcast.
        • One could argue that these streaming shows and entire networks of shows are just using the internet to bypass broadcasting regulations and licensing requirements. This is all further compounded by the fact that the net neutrality folks are almost begging the FCC to take control of the internet.
        • It's apparent to me that the German trial balloon will get support, especially from licensed broadcasters that have to jump through hoops and pay plenty of fees already. Then it will not take long to spread. The joke to me is that licensing began as a way to prevent interference within a limited bandwidth. Control was necessary. On the web, there is an infinite playing field and no broadcast-level interference issue beyond network congestion.
        • But let's be quiet about that and start working on the fee schedule and the collection mechanism for the eventual money grab.
        • Back to topPrevious :3 Millennial Tech Myths BustedJohn Dvorak is a columnist for and the host of the weekly TV video podcast CrankyGeeks. His work is licensed around the world. Previously a columnist for Forbes, Forbes Digital, PC World, Barrons, MacUser, PC/Computing, Smart Business and other magazines and newspapers. Former editor and consulting editor for Infoworld. Has appeared in the New York Times, LA Times, Philadelphia Enquirer, SF Examiner, Vancouver Sun. Was on the start-up team for CNet TV as well as ZDTV. At ZDTV (and TechTV) was host of Silicon... More >>
        • Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.
    • -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    • Doctor Dragged From United Plane After Computer "Solves" Overbooking Problem | Zero Hedge
      • A man was violently dragged off of a United Airlines flight Sunday evening after it was apparently overbooked, according to passengers who were on the plane.
      • As The Courier Journal reports, a United spokesperson confirmed in an email Sunday night that a passenger had been taken off a flight in Chicago.
      • "Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked," the spokesperson said. "After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate.
      • "We apologize for the overbook situation. Further details on the removed customer should be directed to authorities."
      • Passengers were told at the gate that the flight was overbooked and United, offering $400 and a hotel stay, was looking for one volunteer to take another flight to Louisville at 3 p.m. Monday. Passengers were allowed to board the flight, Bridges said, and once the flight was filled those on the plane were told that four people needed to give up their seats to stand-by United employees that needed to be in Louisville on Monday for a flight. Passengers were told that the flight would not take off until the United crew had seats, Bridges said, and the offer was increased to $800, but no one volunteered.
      • Then, she said, a manager came aboard the plane and said a computer would select four people to be taken off the flight. One couple was selected first and left the airplane, she said, before the man in the video was confronted.
      • Bridges said the man became "very upset" and said that he was a doctor who needed to see patients at a hospital in the morning. The manager told him that security would be called if he did not leave willingly, Bridges said, and the man said he was calling his lawyer. One security official came and spoke with him, and then another security officer came when he still refused. Then, she said, a third security official came on the plane and threw the passenger against the armrest before dragging him out of the plane.
      • "Everyone was shocked and appalled," Bridges said. "There were several children on the flight as well that were very upset."
    • Twitter allegedly deleting negative tweets criticizing United Airlines
      • In what could only be described as a vile violation of human dignity, United Airlines employees forcibly dragged a passenger off a flight headed from Chicago to Louisville. The incident quickly went viral, causing a storm of anger on Twitter. But it turns out some of the negative tweets are now mysteriously disappearing.
      • Numerous users are reporting their negative tweets criticizing United Airlines' abusive behavior have been vanishing into of thin air '' and nobody seems to know why.
      • ''We're hunting for awesome startups''Run an early-stage company? We're inviting 250 to exhibit at TNW Conference and pitch on stage!
      • Here's some of the chatter from the Twitterverse:
      • What is particularly baffling is that it seems some of the allegedly deleted tweets did not directly mention the incident with the forcibly removed passenger.
      • While Twitter has previously hidden tweets containing offensive messages from showing up in other people's timelines as part of its efforts to curb abuse on its platform, deleting tweets against users' wills goes firmly against the company's rules.
      • This sort of moderation is more commonly known as 'ghost-deleting.' The term is a little misleading since such tweets are technically not deleted, but merely prevented from appearing in users' feeds. This measure, however, is usually reserved strictly for offensive tweets '' and this is hardly the case here.
      • Even more confusing is the fact some of the initial tweets exposing United Airlines' abusive treatment of passengers are still verymuchpresent and actively being reshared on the platform.
      • We have since contacted some of the users who claimed their tweets have been deleted and some of them have confirmed this is indeed the case.
      • ''I can't seem to find [the tweet anymore],'' a user who preferred to remain anonymous told TNW. The individual further remarked that following the unexpected disappearance, they sent ''one or two more'' tweets that, while similar, weren't removed from the platform.
      • Jay Beecher, who also claims had some of his tweets deleted, similarly hasn't been able to recover them. He further told TNW the following:
      • I think that they might have been deleting any [tweets] that had the United Airlines tag on them.
      • I found [the deleting] was pretty much automatic. I would put the tweet up, click refresh or go to another page and then return to mine, and the tweet would have disappeared.
      • On another note, United Airlines was trending and prominently appearing in Moments after the story initially broke yesterday, but it seems it now has been pulled from both.
      • We have reached out to Twitter for further comment and will update this piece accordingly if we hear back.
    • David Dao, passenger removed from United flight, a doctor with troubled past
      • UNITED AIRLINES HAS PASSENGER REMOVED FROM FLIGHT BOUND FOR LOUISVILLE Video shows man getting dragged off overbooked United flight | 0:59 A passenger who refused to give up his seat on an overbooked United Airlines flight this weekend was forcibly removed and dragged off the plane, according to a video taken by another passenger. Time
      • UNITED AIRLINES HAS PASSENGER REMOVED FROM FLIGHT BOUND FOR LOUISVILLE Video shows passenger removed from United flight | 0:38 A video posted on Facebook late Sunday evening shows a passenger on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville being forcibly removed from the plane before takeoff at O'Hare International Airport. Wochit
      • UNITED AIRLINES HAS PASSENGER REMOVED FROM FLIGHT BOUND FOR LOUISVILLE What are your rights on an overbooked flight? | 1:00 Video of an airline passenger being forcibly removed from his seat on an overbooked flight has sparked outrage against United Airlines. Turns out United has the right to remove a flier. Do you know your rights in that situation? USA TODAY
      • UNITED AIRLINES HAS PASSENGER REMOVED FROM FLIGHT BOUND FOR LOUISVILLE Passenger dragged off flight sparks uproar | 0:34 Video of a man being dragged out of his seat on a United Airlines flight has sparked social media uproar. The airline insisted the flight was over-booked and that it had no choice but to contact authorities when the man refused to leave. (April 10) AP
      • Last VideoNext Video Video shows man getting dragged off overbooked United flight
      • Video shows passenger removed from United flight
      • What are your rights on an overbooked flight?
      • Passenger dragged off flight sparks uproar
      • Buy Photo The Elizabethtown home of Dr. David Dao. (Photo: Pat McDonogh/CJ) Buy Photo
      • David Dao, the Elizabethtown doctor who was yanked off an overbooked United Airlines flight Sunday, has had a troubled history in Kentucky.
      • Dao, who went to medical school in Vietnam in the 1970s before moving to the U.S., was working as a pulmonologist in Elizabethtown when he was arrested in 2003 and eventually convicted of drug-related offenses after an undercover investigation, according to documents filed with the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure last June. The documents allege that he was involved in fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances and was sexually involved with a patient who used to work for his practice and assisted police in building a case against him.
      • Dao was convicted of multiple felony counts of obtaining drugs by fraud or deceit in November 2004 and was placed on five years of supervised probation in January 2005. He surrendered his medical license the next month.
      • The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure permitted Dao to resume practicing medicine in 2015 under certain conditions.
      • Dao was removed from United Express Flight 3411, bound for Louisville, on Sunday night at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago in an incident captured on video. United has come under scathing criticism for how it handled the situation, ranging from its insistence that passengers give up seats to the level of violence used by officers who yanked Dao from the aircraft.
      • In the video taken by passengers, Dao refuses to give up his seat. He then screams as three Chicago Aviation officers begin pulling him from his seat. Dao's head can be seen striking an armrest before he is dragged down the aisle by his arms, seemingly unconscious.
      • More Flight 3411 coverage
      • '–ºUnited Airlines video has already become a meme
      • '–ºJeff Ruby offers United passenger free steak
      • '–ºUnited's fiasco prompts apology, suspension
      • '–ºMan forcibly removed from United flight from Chicago to Louisville
      • '–º United Airlines video has already become a meme
      • '–ºSecurity officer placed on leave after United flight incident
      • '–ºUnited CEO says passenger dragged from plane was 'an upsetting event'
      • '–ºSocial media explodes after man dragged from plane
      • '–ºUnited Airlines had a right to remove that flier. But, was there a better way?
      • As he is dragged, some passengers can be heard admonishing the security officers.
      • Dao, his wife and two other passengers were asked to leave the aircraft because the flight was full and four crew members needed their seats. The airline had offered vouchers worth up to $800 for passengers to give up their seats, but no one took the offer. Four passengers, including Dao, were then selected to be bumped.
      • Buy Photo The Elizabethtown, Kentucky, office of Dr. David Dao. (Photo: Pat McDonogh/CJ)
      • A Louisville resident on the flight, Audra Bridges, told the Courier-Journal that Dao said he was a doctor and needed to see patients the next morning. Bridges said passengers were "shocked and appalled" by the incident, and thousands of people on social media have expressed sympathy for Dao and outrage over the way the situation was handled.
      • United has apologized for the incident. At least one of the security officers has been placed on leave, according to authorities. The U.S. Transportation Department also is investigating whether United complied with federal regulations regarding overbooking.
      • This story will be updated.
      • VIDEO: Man dragged off overbooked United flight
      • VIDEO: What we know about a passenger being removed from a United flight
      • PHOTOS: The fleet and hubs of United Airlines
      • Screen shot from a video of a man being dragged off of a United Airlines' plane before it left Chicago and headed to Louisville. (Photo: Video by Audra Bridges)
      • Read or Share this story:
    • United's stock is falling 2.6% and wiping $600 million off the airline's market cap - MarketWatch
      • Shares in United Continental Holdings Inc. were falling 2.6% in morning action on Tuesday, as the airline continued to draw flak for having a passenger forcibly dragged off a plane Sunday.
      • If the carrier's stock is that much lower at the closing bell, United UAL, -2.46% will have about $600 million wiped off its market capitalization. The company's market cap was $22.5 billion as of Monday's close, according to FactSet data.
      • Early Tuesday ahead of the market's open, United shares had been down by as much as 6% in premarket trading.
      • Investors largely shrugged on Monday at the widespread criticism of United, as the airline's stock finished yesterday's session 0.9% higher, adding about $200 million to the company's market cap. But now with Tuesday's drop, the stock is on pace to be down around 1.8% for the week.
      • Meanwhile, the S&P 500 SPX, -0.41% '--the broad U.S. stock benchmark'--has lost 0.3% for the week, as it trades lower Tuesday morning.
      • Read:'Re-accommodate' is United's euphemism for forcibly dragging passenger off an airplane
      • And see:Why you, too, could get dragged off a plane if the airline overbooks your flight
      • Tuesday's selloff suggests many investors think the carrier's business could suffer given the furor over the incident. Videos of the bloodied passenger being dragged off the plane by law enforcement have been widely shared on social media.
      • StockTwits'--a social network for traders'--has offered the following chart showing how sentiment around the stock has been souring:
      • Check out:Here's the time a Nobel-prize-winning economist got ejected from a United flight
      • Opinion:What United should have done in response to that video of a man being violently pulled off a flight
      • United said it had asked Sunday for four volunteers to leave the plane due to overbooking, and one customer refused to give up his seat on the full flight from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to Louisville, Ky.
      • United CEO Oscar Munoz sent an email to employees that described the customer as ''disruptive and belligerent,'' leading the New York Post to say Munoz is ''tone deaf.''
      • Amid the outcry, a Cowen & Co. analyst has raised her price target for United's stock, citing encouraging March traffic, but making no mention of Sunday's incident.
    • United CEO apologizes: 'No one should ever be mistreated this way' | WCHS
      • by DON BABWIN, Associated Press
      • FILE- In this June 2, 2016, file photo, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz delivers remarks in New York, during a presentation of the carrier's new Polaris service. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
      • CHICAGO (AP) '-- The man dragged from a full United Express flight by airport police in Chicago is a Kentucky physician who was convicted more than a decade ago of felony charges involving his prescribing of drugs.

Royally Crushed ROYALLY JACKED
For Lynda Sandoval,
the kind of friend who can peer-pressure
me into jumping off a bridge.
Thanks, because it was totally fun.
EXACTLY TWO WEEKS, ONE DAY, AND TEN HOURS AGO, my mother completely ruined my life. She announced over her usual dinner of Kraft macaroni and cheese (with tomatoes and broccoli bits mixed in—her attempt at being healthy), that she no longer wished to remain married to my dad.

She planned to move in with her new girlfriend, Gabrielle.

Yep. Girlfriend.

She went on and on about how it had nothing to do with me, and nothing to do with Dad, so we shouldn’t feel the least bit bad about it. She’d simply come to realize that she wasn’t the same person on the inside she’d been showing everyone on the outside. Yeah, right.

Needless to say, I have not yet told my girlfriends, with whom I have a totally different relationship than my mother has with her girlfriend. Or partner. Whatever. I’m not exactly focused on how politically correct I am in describing my mom’s bizarro crush. Especially since I can’t describe Gabrielle to anyone yet. I can’t even deal with telling them about the divorce, which—if I actually let myself think about it for more than ten seconds—is crushing in and of itself. I mean, I had no clue. None. Totally oblivious.

And what’s worse, my friends will freak.

Then they’ll treat me all nicey-nice, giving me those sad eyes that say, We’re soooo sorry, when really they’re thrilled to have something scandalous to gossip about while they’re ignoring Mr. Davis’s weekly lecture about how we’re not keeping the lab area clean enough in Honors Chemistry. Or they’ll be so horrified by my mother’s newly found “lifestyle” that they’ll slowly start ignoring me. In tenth grade—at least in Vienna, Virginia—this is the kiss of death. Even worse than not being one of the cool crowd. Which is the type of person I currently am. Not quite cool, that is.

So tonight I’m eating dinner at the table by myself, watching while my mom and dad stand in the kitchen and debate who’s going to get the mahogany Henredon sleigh bed and who’s getting the twenty-year-old brass bed I refused to have in my room (and that’s going to need duct tape to hold it together if anyone decides to get a little action on it).

“Hey, Mom,” I finally interrupt. “I know you want the Henredon, but when Gabrielle was here last week, she told me she thought the brass bed was wicked cool.”

My mother shoots me the look of death. “Nice try, Valerie, but I don’t believe Gabrielle’s used the phrase ‘wicked cool’ in her life.”

I deliberately roll my eyes. “She didn’t say that exactly. Geez, Mom. I think she said it was . . .” I pretend to struggle for the right phrase, something that will convince her. Given Mom’s behavior lately, I’m betting she’ll do anything to make Gabrielle happy. “Shabby chic? Whatever that means. But it was obvious she really liked it.”

I shrug, then look back down at the Thai stir-fry my father made for me before my mom showed up at the door with her SUV full of empty boxes and a list of the furniture she wanted to take to her and Gabrielle’s new place.

If I’d had to bet which of my parents had coming-out-of-the-closet potential, I’d have put my money—not that I have much—on Dad. Let me state up front that he’s no wuss. He drinks beer and watches shoot ’em up movies like a real guy. He goes to the gym every morning before work and has a smokin’ set of biceps and pecs. And according to my friends, he’s kind of hot. For a dad, at least.

It’s just that for one thing, his name is Martin, which sounds pretty gay. There’s a guy at school named Martin who’s a total flamer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—I have no problem with people being gay. Really I don’t. I’m a live-and-let-live type. But Martin’s a friend, he’s not my parent. That’s where I have the problem.

Aside from the name thing pegging Dad as potential gay material, he’s the chief of protocol at the White House, which means he reminds the president and his staff of things like, “Don’t invite the Indian ambassador to a hamburger cookout.” Dad can also describe the proper depth to bow to the Japanese prime minister and the trick to eating spaghetti or the oversized hunks of lettuce they always serve at state dinners without making a mess of yourself. He knows how to tie a bow tie without a mirror and can tell you what kind of jacket is appropriate for a morning wedding.

Believe it or not, these are marketable skills.

Oh, and my dad is an awesome cook. Unlike Mom. I’m guessing Gabrielle’s going to be cooking for them.

Playing casual, I flick my gaze toward my mom. “I’m just saying that if Gabrielle really likes the brass bed, maybe you could surprise her with it. That’s all.”

Getting that crap bed would serve them right for what they did to me and Dad. Especially if it fell apart under them.

Ick. I do not want to think about this.

My mother leans against the granite-topped island in our kitchen—designed entirely by Dad, appliances, cabinets, and all—and crosses her arms over her chest. She gives him the same cold stare I got when I was busted smoking a cigarette behind the high school last year. “I suppose, if the Henredon really means that much to you, I could take the brass bed.”

My dad’s mouth curls up on one side. “Sacrificing yourself for Gabrielle, Barbara?”

That’s about as nasty as my dad ever gets. My mom just huffs out of the kitchen, yelling over her shoulder, “I’m taking the brass bed. And the Waterford table lamp.”

“That was my mother’s! Take the mandarin lamps from our room instead. You get two that way. Fair enough?”

She’s already halfway upstairs. “Fine!”

“And don’t forget to take all your self-help books. There are two boxes of them next to the bed.”

My dad turns to me, his expression half sad, half angry with my mom. I think he wants to deck her. I guess she’s butch enough to take it now.

I know, I know. So not politically correct. But she’s the one who hacked off her long, wavy hair. Not that short hair’s bad—it can be sexy. It’s just that there’s flirty, feminine short, and there’s what-were-you-thinking short. No forty-five-year-old with a nice, conservative name like Barbara should wear her hair in a buzz cut. Especially when, at least until a couple weeks ago, she used to love going to the salon with me for a girls’ afternoon out so we could get our hair and nails done and be pampered like movie stars.

It suddenly hits me that she probably isn’t interested in doing those afternoons anymore. Now I’m getting depressed. And this isn’t something mom’s self-help books address. Not that I’d read them, even if they did. I have no desire to live my life according to Dr. Phil.

“I’m really sorry about all this, Valerie.”

I shrug. I’m good at shrugging just right, so my parents think I really don’t give a rip about anything. “It’s not like it’s your fault, Dad.”

At least, I didn’t think so. I mean, was Dad not giving Mom enough attention during their marriage? He was always surprising her with romantic gifts and flowers—and he’s even taken her to the White House a few times for dinner—but was he being as protocol-minded with her in private as he was out in public?

I’m guessing not, since that’s no excuse for getting an ugly haircut and moving in with a woman named Gabrielle who’s ten years younger than you are. But I try not to think about my parents’ sex life. Either them together or, as the circumstances are now, them individually. Eee-yuck.

“I don’t think it’s either of our faults. These things happen.” He lowers his voice and adds, “But if you can save the Mottahedeh china from your mother like you did the sleigh bed, I’ll make you whatever you want for dinner tomorrow night.”

Whoa. I’m not really sure which china is the Mottahedeh, and I’m wondering why Dad thinks he’s going to need any china—it’s not like he’s going to be throwing dinner parties like he and Mom used to anytime soon—as if! This whole begging-me-to-help-him thing is so not my father. Mom really must be knocking him for a loop.

“Even if I want Peking duck?” I ask.

Dad frowns. “You wouldn’t like Peking duck.”

“But it’s hard to make, right?”

“No. Just time consuming.” He squints at me for a moment. I think he’s trying to ignore the sound of my mother going through the upstairs closets, rooting around for anything Gabrielle might like. I still say he should get a lawyer. Mom’s going to run all over him. But he doesn’t want a scandal. Wouldn’t be proper, and Martin Winslow is all about proper.

Finally he says, “What if I take you out to dinner? Anywhere you choose.”

Ni-i-i-ce. “How ’bout the Caucus Room?”

If you’re not familiar with D.C., let me tell you that the Caucus Room is not cheap. It’s the kind of place all the rich kids from school go with their parents so they can accidentally and on purpose bump into senators, Supreme Court justices, and the like, then brag about it the next day as if these people were their closest family friends and all hot to write them college recommendation letters. I have no idea if the food’s any good—it might totally suck—but I’ve always wanted to find out. Just because.

“Haven’t been there in a while,” Dad says, tapping his fingers against the gray-and-silver-flecked granite. I can tell he thinks it’s funny this is where I want to go. “But if that’s where you’d like to dine, then why not? I’m certain I could get a reservation.”

I am not believing my luck. I’d still take having my real mom back—the way she was before making her announcement, doctored Kraft dinners and all—over a dinner at the Caucus Room. But if my parents are going to get a divorce no matter what, as Mom informed me in no uncertain terms two weeks, one day, and ten and a half hours ago, and she’s determined to spend the rest of her life shacked up with some peppy spandex-wearing blonde eating soy-burgers and seaweed, I guess it’s as good a consolation as any.

My dad picks up the phone and dials without having to look up the number. While he’s waiting for the restaurant to answer, he asks, “You do know which is the Mottahedeh?”

“The flowery blue-and-silver stuff?” I guess.

“That’s the Wedgwood. She can have that. The Mottahedeh has the tobacco leaf pattern in it. Lots of reds, blues, and greens.”

I’m still not sure what he’s talking about, but I tell him I’ll encourage her to take the Wedgwood, if she wants china at all. Honestly, I think she’s more focused on the bed thing.

He makes a reservation for Winslow, then grins at me as he hangs up the phone. The kind of odd grin that gives a girl a real scary feeling, like things are going to get even worse.

“This will work out well,” Dad says as he helps himself to a plate of stir-fry. “A few things have come up I haven’t told you about and we have a few decisions to make. Dinner out is as good a time to discuss them as any.”

At the uncomfortable smile on his face, I’m wondering, what could possibly come up besides my dinner?

*   *   *

“They’re going to make you choose,” Jules tells me, in a been-there, done-that tone of voice. She’s got her hands under her pits to keep warm, since we’re huddled behind the Dumpster at Wendy’s, where Jules works part-time. It’s the only place we can safely sneak a cigarette without getting caught. Not that I’m a real smoker—it’s an emergency-situation-only thing. I can’t stand for my clothes and hair to reek. But I decided that telling my two closest friends, Julia Jackson, a.k.a. Jules, and Christie Toleski, that my parents have announced plans to divorce constitutes an emergency.

Of course, I left out the Gabrielle part. I’ll figure out a way to explain her later. And just so they wouldn’t think I was totally pathetic, I slipped in the fact Dad is taking me to the Caucus Room. It took me around two seconds to realize telling them about the dinner was a mistake, or at least, mentioning the part about Dad telling me we had some decisions to make.

Christie takes a long drag on her cigarette, which is only, like, the second or third she’s ever smoked in her life. She’s five-foot-nine and blond with decent-size boobs, plus she’s totally smart and athletic, so she doesn’t have many emergency situations. She’d be completely popular if she didn’t hang out with me, Jules, and the rest of our gang. I’m sure she realizes it, since the snob kids invite her to their parties every so often, but we’ve been buds since before kindergarten, and I think she worries about being backstabbed by the cool crowd. We’d never do that to her.

“I don’t know, Jules,” Christie frowns. “Wouldn’t both her parents sit her down to discuss it? You know, do the family meeting thing?”

Jules shakes her head. Her parents got divorced when we were in third grade, her mom remarried the next year, and then divorced the guy the summer before we started sixth grade. Her parents then remarried—each other, of all people—when we were in eighth grade. So Jules is kind of an expert on the marriage/divorce thing. “Not to be rude about it, Val, but what other decisions could your dad possibly mean? My guess is that he wants you to live with him, so he’s going to take you out, tell you that you have a choice, then give you that look that says he really wants you to choose him.”

As the last word leaves her mouth, her eyes suddenly bug out, and she starts to bounce, which makes me nervous. I hate when Jules gets bouncy. “Oooh, unless he’s seeing someone! Do you think he’s seeing someone? Maybe he’s trying to hide it by saying you can live where you want, but he’ll kinda pressure you to stay with your mom. Just so he can have time alone with his new girlfriend.”

I roll my eyes at her. “There’s no new girlfriend, Jules.” Not in Dad’s case at least. But Jules sounds excited about this possibility, which pisses me off.

She’d better not tell anyone about the divorce. I consider this A-list-only information right now, and Jules and Christie are the only friends on my A list besides Natalie Monschroeder. Natalie got grounded yesterday for dropping out of Girl Scouts without telling her parents, which is why she couldn’t make it to Wendy’s. But since we all quit Scouts after fifth grade and her parents wouldn’t let her, I figure she’s dealing with her own problems right now and doesn’t need to hear about my cruddy life.

Jules blows out a puff of smoke and gives me this poor-ignorant-you scowl. “There’s almost always a girlfriend involved, Valerie. Otherwise why would they get divorced out of the blue like that?”

I try not to look right at her. If only she knew.

As a car engine revs nearby, Jules glances around the Dumpster to see if anyone is watching us as she talks. You can never be too careful, and none of us wants to get busted with cigarettes again. Our parents would assume we were secret chain smokers and would ground us for the rest of sophomore year.

“I can’t see your mom having an affair,” Christie says, which makes me cringe inside. “She’s the total soccer mom. But you have to admit, your dad’s always going to those upscale parties, and he gets to meet tons of famous people at the White House. Maybe one of them hit on him, and your mom thought—”

“Let’s just say there’s no girlfriend. Okay?”

“Fine,” Jules says, but it’s obvious she doesn’t believe me. I don’t want to clarify by pointing out that my mom is the one asking for the divorce, not my dad.

“So who are you going to choose?” Christie asks. “If that’s what dinner is really about.”

“I don’t know.” I hadn’t thought about choosing. I know that sounds stupid beyond belief, given that my parents are now going to be living in two different houses, but it just didn’t occur to me. I guess, in my gut, I kind of believed my mom would get over it and move back home. Decide it was a mistake and announce that she’s not gay after all.

I’m getting way depressed now. Maybe I should have just told Christie and not Jules. Or kept my stupid mouth shut entirely.

“Your mom’s going to get the house, right?” Jules asks. “The wife always gets the house. It’s kind of a rule.”

“Actually, she’s getting an apartment and my dad’s going to stay in the house.” I really don’t want to get into the details with Jules, so I grind what’s left of my cigarette against the side of the Dumpster and I lie. “I think she wants to feel independent or something.”

“Damn.” Jules looks at her watch. “Gotta go. If I’m late coming off break, I’m gonna get fired.”

She got in trouble Monday for not cleaning the Frosty machine the right way, so she promised the manager she’d redo it today. She’s dying to get moved up to cash register so she doesn’t smell like french fry grease at the end of every day.

“Listen, Val,” she sniffs, “I’d normally tell you to stay with your mom, but if you’re going to lose your bedroom and have to move into some tiny apartment—”

“But how could you not live with your mom?” Christie says in shock. Christie’s been coming over to my house since preschool, so she knows my mom pretty well. At least, the way my mom used to be.

“I don’t know,” I admit. And it’s true. I can’t imagine not living with Mom. But I feel the same way about Dad. I don’t want to not live with either of them.

Jules drops the butt of her cigarette into the snow, then pops two cinnamon Altoids into her mouth and passes the box to me before Christie steals one. “I gotta go. Call me tonight and tell me what happens. ’Kay, Val?”

“It’s probably going to be late.”

“First thing tomorrow then,” she says, tucking the Altoids box back into the pocket of her black polyester Wendy’s pants. “But call by nine. It’s Saturday, so I’m on the lunch shift.”

Once she’s crossed the parking lot and ducked into the back door, Christie lets out a painful-sounding sigh. “Don’t listen to her, Val. You know how she is.”

“Yeah.” I give her my whatever shrug.

“It’ll be okay. And you know I’m here for you if you need me. Anytime, day or night. Just call me,” she says, adjusting her hood so her hair is tucked inside.

It kills me how pretty Christie is without even trying. She had one zit—one—a couple months ago, and it was very nearly a cigarette-smoking emergency situation, she was so certain her boyfriend would dump her. As if. Over a zit? I wanted to smack her back to reality. First, over her lack of zittiness (is that a word?), and second over her boyfriend insecurity. He’s totally into her. Still, she could do a lot better than Jeremy Astin, if you ask me. But Christie’s way nice, and pretty much my best friend, so I don’t want to hurt her feelings by telling her this. She loves Jeremy, even if he is a little too much into cross-country and runs in public wearing those icky nylon shorts, even when it’s ice-cold outside.

I’m just about to say good-bye and walk back to school to get my junk out of my locker when I see a familiar green Toyota SUV in the drive-thru. It’s my mom and, to my horror, Gabrielle is with her. Why I have no clue, since Gabrielle is a crusader-type vegetarian.

Before I can say something to Christie to keep her from seeing them, she grabs the sleeve of my coat. “I almost forgot to tell you, with Jules here and you telling us about the divorce and all, but Jeremy said that he and David were talking in the library yesterday and your name came up.”

Since I have had a crush on David Anderson since, like, kindergarten, I actually look away from my mom and Gabrielle and pull Christie another step behind the Dumpster.

“Are you serious?” I ask, trying not to sound too excited, even though Christie knows I would just die to go out with him. “Who brought me up, David or Jeremy?”

“David did. He asked Jeremy if you were with anybody.”

My heart does an instant flip-flop in my chest. You have to see David to know why. He’s a total, one hundred percent hottie. Surfer-blond, with these fantabulous green eyes I can’t even look into, they’re so freakin’ gorgeous. He could bump the sexiest man alive right off the cover of People and females everywhere would rejoice, I kid you not. And even though he’s never asked me out, I think we’d be great together. I mean, we share a group of friends, we both have parents in politics, and we’re hyper about our grades. “What did Jeremy say?”

“He played it cool. Said he didn’t think so, but he knew a couple of other guys liked you.”

“Wow. Good one.” Jeremy just scored major points with this, as long as David didn’t catch on to the bluff. Maybe Jeremy does deserve Christie after all. “Then what happened?”

“That was it. But Jeremy definitely got the impression he’s interested. Like maybe we could all four go out sometime.”

I think I am going to collapse. Right behind the Wendy’s Dumpster, snow and old french fry muck and all.

Christie is grinning now, and I know she’s excited she distracted me from the whacked situation with my parents. “Jeremy told me about it before saying anything to David because he wasn’t sure how you felt. If you want, I bet he could hook you up. Seriously. Would that not be the best?”

“Well, yeah!” I force myself to chill, though. “But don’t make me sound desperate or anything. And don’t tell Jeremy that I’m too into David, if you haven’t already. That’d kill it right off.”

“Okay. I didn’t say anything to Jeremy, I swear. I wanted to tell you first. “

This is why Christie is number one on my A-list, even if she is Miss Perfect. I guess I’m lucky she’s going out with Jeremy, or David would be all over her. They could be Mr. and Miss Perfect.

Oh, damn. What if David’s only interested in me because I’m Christie’s friend? It wouldn’t be the first time a guy asked me out because he thought it’d get Christie to notice him.

Of course, at exactly the moment this occurs to me, a familiar car horn blasts not twenty feet away, practically rendering me deaf.

“Val-er-ieee! Oh, Val-er-ieee!” My mother is pulling into the parking spot nearest to the Dumpster and has her window down. I see Gabrielle in the passenger seat popping the top off a salad and picking out the croutons. Guess they’re not whole wheat or something.

I brace myself for Christie to ask who’s in the car. Why, why, why me? I hate lying to my friends, and Christie, of all people, would be most likely to understand.

But I am not ready to deal with this. Not yet, not even with Christie. Maybe I can say Gabrielle’s a neighbor. No, wait, Christie knows all my neighbors. Maybe someone from the Boosters? Or Mom’s book club?

Geez, I despise lying. I don’t think I can do it.

My mom sticks her head out the window and asks if we want a ride. Thank goodness, Christie says no, we’re heading back to school. My mom waves and takes off, but I can tell she’s curious. And so’s Christie. Her mouth is hanging open, and she’s watching the back of the SUV as it rolls out of the lot.

Book club. I’m going to say Gabrielle’s from book club.

“Ohmigod.” Christie looks like she’s just swallowed her Altoids mint the wrong way. “What did your mom do to her hair?”

I should never have asked him to bring me here. For one, I can’t read half the menu. For two, he still hasn’t said what decisions we need to make.

And for three, I’m still thinking about David Anderson. And the fact that it’s Friday night, which means Jeremy probably won’t see him again until Monday at school, since cross-country season is now over and Christmas break is only a week away. No more Saturday meets or practices where they can get together to discuss moi.

“It means that it was baked in a mold,” Dad explains, and I can tell he’s thrilled by his own knowledge of this useless information. I guess it is his job. “In most cases, the dish is cream based.”

In other words, seafood timbale is probably going to be disgusting. “Oh,” I say. “I’m not a fan of creamy.”

Or molds. Only Jell-O should go in molds, and even that’s iffy. But I don’t want to upset Dad, since I did ask to come here and he’s shelling out the big bucks.

“Me, either,” he says. “But you might like the crab cakes.”

I’m not a big seafood person, but since the rest of the menu’s steak (I definitely don’t like big hunks of meat), I decide to go with Dad and order the crab cakes to start and the poached snapper. It comes with mushrooms, which I do like.

Honestly, though, I could care less about the food. I want to know what this dinner is all about. It’s not just a reward for saving the Mottahedeh from Mom, and we both know it. As soon as the waiter’s gone, I look at Dad. I’m just too scared to ask. Thankfully, he brings it up first.

“Valerie, I told you last night we had some decisions to make.”

He looks nervous and Martin Winslow rarely gets nervous about speaking. I mean, he’s on the speed dial of not only the current president of the United States, but several former presidents, which means he’s used to talking to anyone, anytime, about all kinds of strange topics. So I’m tempted to tell him to do whatever, that I don’t want to be involved. Especially since my opinions don’t seem to carry much weight. I mean, I thought I was being brilliant by suggesting my mom and dad have a cooling-off period before rushing into a divorce. The only way I know my mom even heard my opinion was that she later informed me she’d been “cooling off” for a decade.

“Well, now that your mother and I aren’t living together any longer, we need to decide where you should live.”

Before he’s even finished speaking, I can feel tears coming up in my eyes. I try to play it off by taking a long sip of my Diet Coke. I hate that Jules was right about this.

At least she had the Dad-has-a-girlfriend thing wrong.

“Well, I’m not sure Mom wants me with her,” I tell Dad. “Not living with her anyway.” It’s the first time I’ve said it aloud, but ever since she made her announcement, it’s what I’ve been thinking.

Dad shakes his head, and I start feeling bad for him, too, since Mom definitely doesn’t want to live with him. “No,” he says, “she does want you to live with her. And so does Gabrielle.”

I can tell he hardly wants to let Gabrielle’s name pass his lips, but he’s making an effort to be polite about it all. He takes a sip of his wine and adds, “I guess she and Gabrielle have a two-bedroom apartment, and you’d have your own bathroom. So it’s something to consider.”

“But Gabrielle’s going to try to tell me what to do, right?” I remember when Jules’s stepfather—the guy her mom married in between being married to Jules’s dad and remarrying Jules’s dad—used to boss her around. One minute he acted like he was her new best buddy, but the next minute—as soon as Jules’s mom wasn’t around—he’d walk all over her. I remember thinking how glad I was I’d never have to deal with that. But now I guess Gabrielle’s going to be my stepmom. Or something.

“I don’t know Gabrielle well enough to speak for her,” Dad says, his tone making it clear he has no interest in knowing Gabrielle. “But I know your mom will do her best to make you happy, no matter what problems she and I might have. She loves you as much as she ever has.”

I think about this for a minute while I fish a roll out of the bread basket. “Do you want me to live with Mom?”

“I want you to do whatever you want. But your mother and I have talked about it, and whatever you decide now, we want you to know you can change your mind. We’re not going to fight about custody. We agree that you’ll be fine with either of us for the next two and a half years, before you go to college, and that you’re mature enough to make your own decision.”

Wow. I just stare at Dad. I totally expected him to ask my opinion, just to make me feel like I had a say, then do whatever the hell he and Mom wanted to do.

My dad gives me a look, though, that clues me in to the fact things aren’t so simple.

“What’s the catch?”

“Well, if you move in with your mother, you’ll switch schools. Her apartment’s closer to Lake Braddock. I’m sure you could finish out the year here, but then—”

“Forget it. I hate Lake Braddock.” No way do I want to graduate from there. And how could I leave Christie, Jules, and Natalie? Let alone David. Not that I have David to leave—yet. But I never will if I transfer. “Besides, if I stay with you, I can see Mom whenever. I mean, she’ll only be a few miles away.”

I think this will be okay. I’ll have my friends. I won’t have to let anyone know what’s up with Mom, at least not right away, since I know I’m going to cave and cry if I tell them now. I have to get a grip on this whole thing first.

And Dad won’t be so lonely if I’m home. Mom has Gabrielle, but he doesn’t have anyone. Well, except me. “I’m staying with you, Dad, definitely.” This wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought it’d be. “If that’s all right, I mean. I kind of like my room, so keeping it would be a plus. And this way I can stay at Vienna West.”

Dad twists in his chair, and that’s when I notice he hasn’t even touched his roll. “That’s the other part of the catch, Valerie. But in a way, I think it’s good news.”

I flip my hand in the air over the table in a get-on-with-it way.

He leans forward and keeps his voice so quiet I can hardly hear him. “I’m about to be transferred.”

“Transferred? To where?” As far as I know, there’s only one White House, and that’s his thing. He’s been there since I was five, which means he’s on his third president.

“Well, you know President Carew is quite conservative.”

“Oh, yeah.” He’s, like, the hero of the right-wing Republicans. Conservative think tanks pretty much got him elected. The guy’s very pro-gun lobby, anti-abortion, and totally against legislation that allows gays to marry or to adopt kids.

My dad is a registered Democrat, on the other hand. He’s voted that way every election since he was eligible. Even though he’s occasionally called on to help fix whatever media-catastrophe-of-the-moment there is at the White House, I’ve never once heard him utter a single word criticizing Republican presidents for their mistakes. Or cheering on the Democrats, come to think of it.

The way I figure, who cares who’s in the Oval Office or what they do in their personal lives if the economy is good, health care is improving, and everyone’s employed?

But Dad never talks about his political beliefs to anyone. I only know where he stands because I pestered him about it once for a solid week and he finally told me. He also told me it was his job not to have a political opinion, or even a personal opinion of the men he’s worked for—some of whom I think drove him insane—so I need to keep the information to myself. Especially the fact he’s never voted for a Republican in his life—including the Republicans who’ve employed him.

“Well, President Carew is up for reelection next year, and his staff will come under a great deal of scrutiny. With your mother and I divorcing, and given the unusual circumstances—”

“You’re getting fired because Mom’s a lesbian?” I try hard to keep my voice down, but a man at the next table glances our way. I can’t help it though. This is just so wrong.

“No, Valerie.” He reaches across the table and puts his hand over mine, probably as much to shut me up as to comfort me. “No. I felt, with the election coming, that I needed to tell President Carew what was happening. We both decided it would be best for the administration if I took a job elsewhere. I don’t want this to become a political issue any more than he does. Could you imagine if the host threw it out for discussion on Meet the Press?”

I start feeling sick to my stomach, because I know stuff like that happens all the time.

I hate how D.C. works sometimes.

“The president was very understanding, and he found me another position. A great opportunity, actually.” He lets go of my hand, and I can see he’s actually excited he’s getting canned. “Do you know where Schwerinborg is?”

I do, but only because we did Europe in World History and Geography last year. We had a quiz where we had to fill in all the names of the countries on a map of Europe, and I aced it. Schwerinborg was one of those dinky countries like Andorra, Lichtenstein, and San Marino, where you couldn’t write the country name on the actual country. You had to fill it in on a line that pointed to the country.

Most of the class missed it. They either had no clue, or they wrote in “Smorgasbord.” We all laughed about that forever, because it totally pissed off the teacher. She thought they were being smart-asses.

“It’s very small, and it’s in the Alps, between Germany and Switzerland,” Dad explains, trying to get me jazzed about this. “They have a lot of skiing, and it’s quite beautiful. I’ll be chief of protocol to the royal family. I’ve been offered a two-bedroom apartment in the palace. The palace itself looks a lot like the Louvre—remember when we went there a couple of years ago on vacation?”

I remember the Louvre. I adore art, so spending the afternoon there was the highlight of the trip for me. Warning: The Mona Lisa is underwhelming, but if you ignore that, there’s a lot of other good stuff in there. And the building itself is really pretty.

The waiter brings our crab cakes, and they’re surprisingly good. “So, let me get this straight,” I say between bites. “You’re not even going to live in Virginia anymore? You’re moving to Schwerinborg? And you’ll be living in the palace?”

“Yes. Of course, I plan to come back after the next election. Either this president will be out of the White House and a Democrat will be in, so the circumstances of the divorce won’t be an issue, or President Carew will bring me back. I have his word, and he isn’t a man to go back on his promises.” My dad gets a self-satisfied smile on his face. “I’m very good at what I do. Whoever’s in the White House will want me there.”

“I know.”

“But in the meantime, I’d love to have you with me in Schwerinborg. I think it would be a real adventure to get to see more of Europe before you go to college.”

“Not that I’m saying yes, because I’m not . . . but where would I go to school? What’s involved here?” I mean, is there a Schwerinborg High? Do I have to learn German? That I cannot do. French is my thing. I’ve had straight As in it since seventh grade. I think I might even get the French award this year, and that would rock on my college applications since those awards usually go to seniors and the occasional junior, and I’m only a sophomore.

“There’s a private American high school near the palace. Prince Manfred and Princess Claudia send their son there to help improve his English. Most of the foreign diplomats’ kids attend, as well. The program is impressive. The teachers are primarily Americans, and classes are conducted in English.”

My crab cake isn’t tasting so good anymore. Going to school at Lake Braddock versus attending some high school with a bunch of foreigners who’ll be able to talk about me in German behind my back?

“I’m not getting much of a choice here,” I point out, as if this isn’t obvious to him. “Either way, I don’t get to stay at my school. That’s totally unfair.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s the best I can do. If you decide on Lake Braddock, you’ll still see your friends after school.”

“No, I won’t. None of us have cars.” Driver’s ed isn’t until next semester, and I’m one of the last of my friends to turn sixteen.

“I think your mother will make the effort.”

Now I really think I’m going to cry. There’s no way I can avoid telling everyone about Mom if I live with her. I mean, what do I say about Gabrielle if she comes to pick me up at school? I lucked out that Christie didn’t catch on this afternoon. Jules and Natalie would have immediately, and I can’t handle their oh-poor-you-but-I’m-so-glad-it’s-not-me sympathy right now.

As much as I love Mom, I really, really don’t want to live with Gabrielle. I just know she’s going to boss me around and make me eat organic greens and quinoa all the time. Besides, it would just feel weird. How would I handle being around Mom with anyone besides Dad, let alone a new girlfriend? I’m as laid back as the next person, but I get uncomfortable around Christie and Jeremy when they start playing tonsil hockey near me.

Then it occurs to me that David Anderson’s dad is a big deal conservative lobbyist. David idolizes the man, partially because he was a big college track star, partially because he’s always on the Today show or Good Morning America yammering away about family values. If the president is willing to ship Dad off to Schwerinborg over all this, what’s David going to think about me when he hears?

I bet kids who go to high school in Nebraska or California or Minnesota and other normal places don’t have to deal with this kind of political stuff messing up their relationships.

I swipe a tear off my cheek, because I do not want my dad to see me cry. I am not one of those wussy girly-girls who cries to get things my way. Girls like that piss me off.

“Hey, it’s going to be okay.” I can hear the guilt in Dad’s voice, which makes me feel even worse. “I’ll come visit you as often as I can. And if you want, you can come to Schwerinborg during spring break. I have more than enough frequent flyer miles to cover the ticket. We’ll go skiing together. Maybe we can go to Interlaken—”

“No, Dad,” I interrupt. I’m finally realizing that I’m never, ever going to date David. Because as ticked as I am at my mother right now for ruining my life, I love her, and I can’t be someone I’m not just to go out with David Anderson. If he’s even interested in me. I mean, come on. One conversation with Jeremy about who I might be dating could mean anything. Right?

“No, what?” A serious pair of wrinkles forms in the space between his eyes as he looks at me. “You wouldn’t even visit?”

“No, as in I’m coming with you. I’ll move to Schwerinborg. Why the hell not?”

“Don’t say hell, Valerie,” comes his automatic response. Then he tilts his head at me, and I can tell he’s trying very hard not to smile. “Really, though? That’s what you want?”

“Yep.” I grin, even though I don’t really feel like smiling. “That’s what I want.”

Maybe I’ll get lucky and someone there will be as godlike as David. And they won’t care how my mom lives her life.

“I don’t get it. Why not just suck it up and go to Lake Braddock?” Natalie hisses on Monday morning as our history teacher, Mrs. Bennett, turns her back to start a video on the battles of Gettysburg and Manassas. We’ve been doing the Civil War in United States and Virginia History for the last three weeks, and frankly, I’m sick of all the blood and gore. At least it’ll be over after tomorrow.

On the downside, this Friday is the end of our second quarter, a.k.a. major exam time, and the next day I’m off to Schwerinborg. Just like that. Dad says it’ll be easiest for me to switch schools between quarters, even though I thought I’d have a little more time. Like at least until after Christmas.

This is the one thing I hate about going to Vienna West. We finish each quarter before every other school in the district because our school’s used for summer camps and they need us to be out of here earlier in the spring. If we were a normal school, we’d finish second quarter in January and I’d have another month to figure things out. But I don’t. Which is what has Natalie so ticked off today.

Ticked off at me, that is. Not the Civil War or our exam schedule.

I ignore Natalie’s question, but as soon as the video starts and the room gets dead quiet, a wadded piece of paper comes flying from my right and goes skittering over my desk. I catch it as it goes off the other side, barely keeping it from landing by David Anderson’s feet, since he sits in the row next to mine, one seat back. Natalie is a terrible note passer.

I glance at Mrs. Bennett to see if she’s noticed, since of course everyone else in the room has, and a few people start snickering. Luckily Mrs. Bennett is focused on grading our quizzes from Friday, and is looking down at her desk, punching numbers on her calculator. Good thing, because if Natalie gets caught with a note in class, especially when she’s already grounded, her parents are going to hit the roof.

I frown at Natalie, since I’ve warned her to lay off the note passing unless it’s urgent, then slowly open up the paper, trying to keep the crinkling to a minimum.

Did you at least argue? Ask your mom to maybe get an apartment here in Vienna instead?

Lake Braddock might suck, but it’s got to be better than Smorgasbord. I would NEVER move there, just because my parents said so!

ESPECIALLY if David Anderson liked me. What kind of crack are you SMOKING?!?!

I fold up the note and stuff it in my pocket, fast. Natalie glares at me, but no way do I want to get caught with this. Not with David right across the aisle from me. With my luck Mrs. Bennett will catch us and read it out loud to the class. She’s done it before.

I take a new sheet of paper from my notebook, uncap a pen, and scribble.

Like you would NEVER stay in Girl Scouts, just because your parents said so?

I know this is a low blow, so below that I add,

(You know what I mean.) I tried, no luck. It won’t be so bad, except for missing you guys like crazy. I get to live in a palace and go skiing. And Dad says it won’t be long. I’ll probably be back for the second half of junior year. That’s only a year away.

I know a year is a wicked long time. But since that’s two months after elections, and Dad said he’d be able to come back to the White House by then, I figure this is a safe bet. I fold the note—a lot more carefully than Natalie did—and when I’m sure Mrs. Bennett isn’t looking, I slide it across the aisle with my foot.

A few minutes later, right when a Confederate cannon goes kerblam and half the class jolts awake, the paper comes flying back onto my desk, hitting me in the hand while I’m taking notes. I almost scream. I’m going to have to talk to Natalie about throwing notes across the aisle during the scary parts.

But what about HIM?!

Him meaning David Anderson, and not Dad, I assume. I look over at Natalie and mouth, “Later!”

She flattens her hands against her cheeks and makes an Edvard Munch–like scream face at me, but I glare at her until she turns back to the video and starts taking notes, since all this stuff will be on the exam and we only have a few days to go.

I start writing too, but I cannot wrap my brain around the logistics of Pickett’s Charge or remember whether General Longstreet was on the Union or Confederate side. Not with Natalie, Jules, and especially Christie so upset. They all cried when I finally told them last night, over Spicy Chicken Fillet Sandwiches and Frostys from the freshly cleaned machine at Wendy’s—once Natalie’s parents finally agreed she could come out for an hour.

It’s nice to know that my buds will miss me, but I feel guilty, too. They think I’m rejecting them, and just don’t get why I’d move to Schwerinborg, even if staying means I have to go to Lake Braddock and I’d hardly ever see them.

And of course, I can’t tell them the whole truth. They don’t buy my story about Dad being lonely and me wanting to keep him company either. I think it’s because they all secretly believe Jules’s girlfriend theory. Like a girlfriend would follow him to Schwerinborg. I wouldn’t go if the situation here was even remotely tolerable, and I’m his daughter.

I can tell that in their minds I’m going to be gone forever, even though I told them over and over that I am not going to live in freakin’ Schwerinborg the rest of my life. I’d much rather be in Virginia with all my friends, chilling out in Christie’s basement watching movies or making fun of the idiots who go on reality TV shows.

I let out a little sigh, then realize it was loud enough for Mrs. Bennett to hear. She’s glaring at me, so I yank myself into something resembling good posture and begin watching the video for real.

They keep showing maps of the battlefield and reenactments of young soldiers running across fields and up hills, fighting for their lives. There’s a voiceover, reading letters sent back home by the soldiers. Apparently, as the men were listening to the cannons and guns firing around them and to the agonized cries of their dying friends (which sound totally fake on the video), they weren’t thinking about politics or slavery or any of that stuff. They were thinking of home and the mothers and wives and girlfriends they left behind.

I wonder if David will think of me when I’m gone.

I glance over my shoulder. David’s totally focused on the video, which doesn’t surprise me, because he’s got the highest grade in the whole class. Well, except for me, though if I keep allowing the whole Schwerinborg situation to distract me, he may beat me on the exam.

But even just sitting there, staring at the video with the overhead lights off, the guy is totally hot. He’s got one elbow on the desk, his fingers forked through his hair, propping up his head. He’s taking notes with his other hand, and for a moment, I wonder what it’d be like to sit in the dark and have his fingers interlaced with mine. He has such long, strong fingers.

Is it possible for a guy to have sexy hands?

I’m guessing he’s heard my Schwerinborg news. He must have. Christie would have called Jeremy on her cell after we left Wendy’s last night, since she was upset and she always cries to Jeremy when she’s upset, and Jules told me that David and Jeremy sit together in English during first period.

I start to turn back around so I can figure out the whys and wherefores of Pickett’s Charge, but then my eyes catch David’s, and I realize he’s been watching me stare at him.

Oh, crap.

I shift in my chair as subtly as possible, making like I was looking out the window at the quad, where the band geeks are all lined up to practice marching, but we both know I wasn’t.

Then he gives me this long, slow wink.

Oh. My. God.

Oh. My. God. Ohmigod. I am so busted. What the hell did that wink mean?

That I’m a total idiot and he knows it?

Or that he’s interested?

No. No way, no how, no matter what Christie says. I haven’t had a boyfriend since seventh grade, when Jason Barrows kissed me on a dare and everyone went around afterward saying we were boyfriend and girlfriend, which doesn’t really count as having a boyfriend, since he wasn’t. My boyfriend, that is. Even though everyone told me he had a thing for me because I’m a redhead. I mean, ick.

The bell rings, and Mrs. Bennett gets up to stop the video while everyone rushes to grab their stuff and get out of class before she can give us a new assignment. It’s not as if we don’t have enough to worry about with exams starting Wednesday. When I lean over to grab my backpack, I see that David is still looking at me.

Natalie grabs my arm. “We have got to talk. Now.”

But as Natalie yanks me out the door, David shoots me this wicked grin that says, I know exactly who you’re going to talk about, too.

I bet he saw the note Natalie passed me. Bet he read it over my shoulder. Even if Gabrielle’s presence wasn’t forcing me to already, now I have to go to Schwerinborg.

“Wait a minute,” I tell Natalie as soon as we’re out in the hall. “I think I left my notebook.”

I elbow my way back inside as the last few people rush out the door, only to see that Mrs. Bennett has my notebook in her hand. Great.

“Forget this?”

I nod and take it, and she makes some comment about how I can’t afford to lose it seeing as I need to ace the next exam if I want to turn my A into an A+ for the term. Then she blows by me on her way to the teachers’ lounge, since this is her break period.

She must’ve seen Natalie pass that note, or at least she suspects. Otherwise she’d never be on my back about my grade. I mean, really. I bet she didn’t have as high a grade when she was a sophomore. Sometimes you just know you’ve got more book smarts than one of your teachers.

I drop my backpack on top of the nearest desk and unzip it to shove my notebook inside while I try to figure out what to say to Natalie. I don’t want to argue about this with her anymore, but I just know she’s going to be all over me about moving once I go back into the hall.

“Hey, Val.”

I look up, and there’s David. Like, right there. Either he never left the room, or he followed me back in. How could I not have seen him? Usually I can tell whenever he’s within a hundred-yard radius. After all these years of having an insane crush on him, I’ve developed a finely tuned David radar.

“Um, hey.” This is about all I can manage, which makes me sound like a total dork. I mean, we’ve known each other forever, and we’re kind of friends, so what’s my problem? “What’s up?”

He sits on top of the desk next to my backpack. I think I’m going to keel over, right here in room 104. David’s butt is actually touching my backpack. Since I’m busy trying to unstick the zipper, I can’t help but see the fabulous way his Levi’s curve around his rear. And if I pull the backpack zipper all the way around, I could touch him. If I wanted.

Once last month I saw Christie and Jeremy waiting for a ride after Christie finished volleyball practice, and she had her arms around his waist with her index fingers hooked in the back pockets of his jeans while he kissed her. At the time I thought it was kind of weird, but now I’m thinking I’d like to have my fingers hooked in David’s pockets. Oh, yeah. I can definitely see how that would be fun.

He scoots on the desk, and I realize I’m staring at him. Again. I make myself focus on his eyes and try not to turn red. Of course, since I’m about as fair skinned as a human being can be, that’s pretty much impossible.

And did I mention that his eyes are phenomenal?

“I, uh, I heard you’re moving to, um . . .”

“To Schwerinborg.”

He smiles, but only on one side of his mouth. Could he be any more delicious? “Yeah. Of all places. Can’t believe you’re going to Smorgasbord. Who’da thought?”

I need a ventilator. Not only has David heard my news, he wants to talk about it?

“I’ll miss you, Winslow. I know we don’t hang out as much as when we were kids or anything, but I’ve always thought you’re one of the few truly cool people in this place. Plus, you’re the only person who can outscore me in history. What’ll I do without you here to challenge me?”

My mouth can’t form a reply, since I’m thinking, Me, cool? Me, with my whacked red hair and freak show green eyes, when he is a complete and total sex god who can go out with anyone in the entire universe? Or at least with anyone in the entire school—which is still a hell of a lot of people, seeing as there are twenty-five hundred students at West Vienna High.

He stands up, and his gorgeous butt is no longer in contact with my backpack. “Will you have e-mail there?”

“I think so.”

He fishes a piece of paper out of his notebook and scribbles down his e-mail address. “In case I forget later, with exams and all. Let me know what’s up with you over there, okay?”

“Yeah, I will.”

As I slide the piece of paper into my jeans pocket, he says, “I’d really like to keep in touch. I’ve been thinking lately that we should hang out more. It’d still be cool to chat, even if it’s long distance now.”

“That’d be cool.” Cool. Understatement of the year.

He smiles back, then he leans over and gives me a lightning-quick kiss on the cheek before walking out the door.

I cannot move.

A few seconds later Natalie comes back in, but I don’t even see her. I hear her first.

“Come on, Valerie. What is with you?”

David. David is what’s with me.

*   *   *

Given the way this afternoon deteriorated on its way to evening, I should be really, really fried right now.

It’s seven p.m., and my dad just got home from work, which means I had to settle for chewy reheated pizza, even though he promised me yesterday he’d get home in time to make his divinely inspired chicken marsala. Why scientists can’t come up with microwave technology that makes a zapped pizza taste as good as one right out of the oven is beyond me, but that’s actually not the main reason I should be upset right now.

I glance across the kitchen toward Dad, who’s tuned in to CNN and shaking his head at some berserker pundit who’s ranting about the Democrats (of course) and how if they’d just been a little nicer to the Republicans, and supported them and their last proposed tax cut and a million other issues, maybe people would have voted differently in the last election and President Carew wouldn’t be in the White House. According to this jerk, Democrats like my mom (and secretly, my dad) aren’t nice people, and that’s why they aren’t in the White House.

I hate listening to this stuff, because a) I really don’t care about politics unless they directly affect me, which is practically never; and b) I know it’s upsetting to Dad, who tries so hard to like everybody and be tolerant and play fair. That’s how he manages to keep his job no matter who’s in office.

And the icing on tonight’s cake? My mother—the main reason Dad has to leave the job he loves—is on her way over. She’s going to be taking care of the house while we’re in Schwerinborg, and Dad has a few things he wants to go over with her. I just know they’re going to get into it. Okay, not flinging dishes or anything, like divorcing couples always seem to on those Lifetime made-for-television movies, but still.

I’m not really upset by any of this, though. Pizza, loudmouthed politicians, even Mom can’t faze me tonight.

I mean, David Anderson kissed me.

Not a genuine, pressed-up-against-my-locker-between-classes-clawing-each-other’s-clothes kiss, the way I’ve always dreamed he’d kiss me. But it was definitely premeditated—I mean, he was waiting for me to come get my notebook, or at least watching for an opportunity to get me alone—which makes me think maybe Christie was right. Maybe he really does like me.

After all these years of secret lust, scribbling Valerie Anderson and Valerie Winslow Anderson and the totally old-school Mrs. David Anderson in the blank pages of my diary (because who has time to actually write real stuff in a diary?) before shredding the pages into the trash, mortified with my juvenile behavior—is it possible he feels the same way?

The sound of my dad snorting at the television brings me back to the real world. This man is taking me to Schwerinborg in five days. If I go, I might never find out what David’s really thinking. What am I going to DO?!?

Dad did say I could change my mind. So maybe I should. Or not. Oh, damn, damn, and triple damn.

I mean, it isn’t like David hasn’t had years and years to kiss me before now. Or at least give me his e-mail address, if he wanted to talk or get to know me as a better-than-casual friend.

But does any of that matter if he’s interested now?

Then I realize why Dad is being so uncharacteristically vocal with the television. David’s father is on and he’s spewing his lobbyist crap.

What an unfortunate little coincidence.

I scoot to the edge of my chair for a better look. Mr. Anderson’s head is neatly framed in a little box that says Washington under it. There’s also a sharply dressed man in a box marked Boston and a prudish woman with square glasses above San Francisco. And they’re all saying that Carew was elected because people believe in his values, and that he has an excellent chance of being reelected. David’s dad loudest of all. Okay. Now I’m upset.

I let my head thunk against the table. This is too much for one day. Why, why, why does David have to think every word out of his dad’s mouth is gospel? And why do I have to hear all about Carew’s value system via CNN, when those values are now ruining my entire freakin’ life?

“Valerie?” Dad clicks off the set. “You all right?”

I lift my head off the table. “Oh, peachy.”

Dad raises an eyebrow. “Is it CNN, or the fact your mother’s on her way over?”

I try not to laugh. How many problems can I accumulate in one day? On top of the fact that I have a ton of geometry formulas to memorize before this week’s exam. Geometry is—thankfully and surprisingly—much easier for me than algebra was last year (algebra was created by Satan, I’m convinced), but it’s still no cakewalk. I’d rather take ten Friday quizzes from Mrs. Bennett than one end-of-quarter geometry exam.

And we won’t even discuss the paper I have due in English on Billy Budd. My theory is that if Herman Melville wanted anyone to actually read it, he’d have called it Killing a Sailor or Hang the Dude or something equally attention grabbing.

“Look,” Dad says, “your mother and I have our problems, but we’re working them out. We don’t hate each other, and we’re not going to fight over furniture or place settings tonight.”

Good, I’m thinking, because what’s the point in having all the nice furniture if we’re going to Schwerinborg, anyway?

“How about we ask her to stay for a movie?” Dad crosses the kitchen and rubs my shoulder. “I’ll let you choose. What’s that movie you wanted to see with the medieval knight?”

“A Knight’s Tale?”

“Sure. It sounded interesting.”

“Mom won’t like it.” She’s into the indie film scene—the stuff that plays at Sundance and maybe a couple of art-fart theaters around your major metropolitan areas, if the producers are lucky. Not anything with drool-licious men like Heath Ledger wearing chain mail, may he rest in peace.

“What we watch isn’t the issue,” Dad says just as the doorbell rings. “Your mom wants to spend as much time as possible with you before we leave, and watching a movie together would make for a nice evening.”

“What about you, though?” I drop my voice to a whisper and follow him to the door. “I mean, if it bugs you being around Mom, I can go watch a movie at her place.” Even if it has one of those go-nowhere plots I don’t quite get.

“Look, Valerie,” Dad doesn’t even bother to lower his voice, and I know for a fact you can hear what’s said in the front hall from the front porch even when the door is closed. “Go wherever you’re most comfortable. I’ve known your mother for nearly twenty years. I’m not happy about the divorce, but she’s still the best friend I’ve ever had. We can handle seeing a movie together.”

If it was me whose wife was leaving me for another woman, I’d sure feel uncomfortable having her over for movies and popcorn. Too much like a date, even if your daughter is there and everything is ostensibly for the sake of the kid. But I guess Dad’s a better person than I am.

“Okay.” I shrug as he flips the deadbolt on the front door. “Just checking.”

This could be fun. I mean, if the two of them are nicey-nice, it might feel like it used to, before Mom upended everything. I could use a dose of that kind of normalcy, even if it’s only for tonight and I know it’s not for real.

I smile at Mom, but I can tell from her face—as she and Dad walk through the house and discuss which plants need watering, how the alarm system works, and who to call when the sprinkler system needs to be turned on in the spring, since these are always tasks that fell to Dad—that she’s still surprised I decided to go to Schwerinborg with Dad instead of staying with her. She keeps glancing at me to see if I’m cool.

When we go into the family room for the movie, I work up the guts to ask Mom where Gabrielle is. If that blond mom stealer is going to show up and plop on the sofa next to me while Heath Ledger is midtournament, I need advance notice.

Mom says Gabrielle’s out for the evening though. Get this: at a Weight Watchers meeting.

Shock must be as apparent on my face as it is on Dad’s, because my mother instantly looks from me, to my dad, and back to me before saying, “And what’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing wrong with it. Just . . . interesting.” Dad hustles to start the movie simply to escape the issue, I’m sure, so Mom turns to me.


I can’t help but snort out loud. I’m not as polite as Dad. “Interesting ’cause she’s built like a runway model. Total rail. She lives on vegetables and soy and stuff, right?”

“She used to be eighty pounds heavier,” Mom explains, using her I-wish-you-would-give-Gabrielle-a-break voice. “She was quite unhealthy. Borderline diabetic even. Her doctor sent her to Weight Watchers, and that prompted her to look into yoga and healthy living, and that’s how she became a vegan. Now that she’s lost the weight, she’s a lifetime member. Going to meetings every so often keeps her focused on living a clean, healthy life. I really admire her for it.”

This from the woman who believes chicken nuggets and SpaghettiOs to be food groups in their own right? What she has with Gabrielle must be love.

I don’t say anything, so Mom shoots a pointed look toward the kitchen, where the empty pizza box is sitting on the counter. “You could probably learn from her, Valerie. How many times have you eaten fast food in the last week?”

Oh, please. I hold up the popcorn I made for the movie. “Microwave light. Can’t be that bad.”

She ignores me and looks at Dad, who’s now sitting in the chair as far from her as possible, remote in hand. “You’re going to watch what she eats while you’re over there in Europe, aren’t you, Martin?”

“Mom!” I mean, it’s not like she’s a vegan or a size four. And if she gets on Dad’s case again, I’ll remind her of her own little trip to Wendy’s last week. Gabrielle might’ve had a salad, but I saw that Biggie Value Meal bag in Mom’s lap.

Thankfully the movie starts, allowing me to enjoy a little eye candy in the form of Heath Ledger. I think I’ll pretend he’s David. A nonpolitical, totally-into-me David.

“I think David Anderson looks a lot like Heath Ledger. Remember him from when we watched The Dark Knight at Natalie’s?”

It’s ten thirty and I should be asleep, since tomorrow’s a school day, but I can’t settle. I have David on the brain. And Jules keeps her cell phone, with the ringer turned on low, on her nightstand, so we can chat in the middle of the night without her parents realizing she’s awake either.

“Well, the hair, for sure,” Jules says. “But not his eyes. David’s are much nicer. More open, and green instead of brown. Heath’s were brown, right? And David has a slimmer nose.” She giggles, which is disturbing because Jules hardly ever giggles. “I can’t believe he kissed you—or that you waited until lunch to tell me about it. I told Natalie that now you can’t go to Schwerinborg. You can’t know how totally stoked I am over this.”

“On the cheek,” I remind her. “And I’m going. I have to.”

Jules gets really quiet, I guess because I told her the other night at Wendy’s that I didn’t have to go, that my parents were totally cool and gave me a choice. So I say, “Come on. Between this thing with David and you guys ragging on me, you’re making me feel like shit on a sidewalk. This isn’t an easy decision for me.” They don’t have half a clue how hard it really is.

“But you’ve loved David forever. And you’re leaving us,” Jules whines. “What the hell is going on with you? Something you’re not telling me.”

I roll over in bed so I’m facing my wall. I photocopied David’s yearbook picture last spring and stuck it to a tiny spot near my head where I can hide it with my bed pillows, so Mom and Dad won’t know how totally obsessed I am. And so David’s the last guy I see before I go to bed at night. Pathetic. I know.

I use my fingernail to lift the tape at the edge of the photo, and pull it off the wall so David’s stamp-sized face is flirting with me from my fingertip. “You’ve seen A Knight’s Tale, right, Jules?”


“Well, at the end of the movie, who’s Heath with? The snotty princess. I didn’t like her at all. She was totally manipulative and he didn’t even see it. He should have gone for the girl who made his armor instead. I mean, she saved his life with that armor, she was able to hang with his friends without dissing them like the princess did, and she was kind of cute. But he hardly even noticed her.”

“And this has to do with Schwerinborg how?”

Jules can be annoying when she wants to be. I squash up the photocopied picture and toss it into the trash. “Duh. I’m the Armor Girl.”

Jules groans, even though it sounds muffled by her sheets. “Get over it, Winslow. You’re so not an Armor Girl.”

“Yes, I am. Think. In the movie, Heath doesn’t really know the Armor Girl—not the way she is on the inside. He likes having her around, she pushes him to be a better person, but he doesn’t really care about knowing her. He’s all caught up in the Shallow Princess because she’s gorgissimo, despite the fact that her incredibly stupid, completely selfish prove-your-love-to-me-by-losing-the-tournament demands nearly get him killed.”

I flip onto my back and stare at the ceiling. “This is what all hot guys do, Jules. They take practical Armor Girls for granted, and to the world at large, this is okay. Everyone cheers when hot guy runs off with idiot Shallow Princess at the end, and the movie does a hundred million at the box office. Armor Girl gets a kiss on the cheek and a scribbled e-mail address.”

“That’s bull. Besides, how do you know you’re not David’s princess?”

Hello? How long has Jules known me? I’m not bad-looking, but certainly no princess. I’m a passable Armor Girl. And David knows me about as well as Heath knew the Armor Girl.

And even if David did get to know me, he’d always be able to ditch me for some princess. A Republican princess with a nice C cup, hair blonder than his, and a perfect smile. Certainly someone whose mother didn’t have a midlife crisis involving a trip out of the proverbial closet.

“Well, let’s see. I’m not a cheerleader, and I mock those who are. I don’t have naturally bouncy hair and don’t buy every single article of clothing from the designer of the month. And I would never tell a guy to lose a game to prove he’s in love with me.”

“But that doesn’t mean—”

“Look, Jules, I’m dying that he kissed me. But I have to be honest with myself here. He’s had his chances. And he’s dated Shallow Princesses for as long as I can remember.”

“Well, I think it’s wrong that you’re not giving him another chance. You’re as bad as the Shallow Princess in the movie, you just can’t see it. You’re moving to Schwerinborg to test his love.”

“Yeah, sure. And my parents agreed to get divorced just so I could test my theory.”

She’s quiet. I can tell she’s mad, but I can’t figure out why. I mean, it’s not her who’s the loser Armor Girl in this scenario. And I feel like I’m having a moment of great personal growth here—being able to have David kiss me and still walk away, knowing it’s the best thing. Maybe this means there’s someone better out there for me. Maybe even in Schwerinborg.

Someone who’d consider me a not-shallow princess.

You’d think Jules would see that.

“Look,” Jules finally says. “I don’t think you should make major life decisions based on Heath Ledger movies.”

“The decision’s already made. I was just using the movie to illustrate the point so you, Christie, and Natalie would understand.”

“Well, if you want to analyze your life in terms of a Heath Ledger movie, try The Four Feathers. Especially the beginning.”

I hear my dad coming down the hall, so I tell her I’ll check it out, since I haven’t seen that one yet, and that I’ll see her tomorrow, but not to be mad.

After my dad sticks his head in my door to make sure I’m asleep, and I’m alone again in the dark and quiet, I decide I should be thankful Jules didn’t nail me with 10 Things I Hate About You. Then the movie trailer for The Four Feathers comes back to me. Duh. Thanks, Jules.

The Four Feathers is the one where all Heath’s friends accuse him of betrayal for not sticking with the group when things get rough, and not even bothering to give them a good explanation.

Which, in a way, is even worse than 10 Things I Hate About You. It’s group hate.
I THOUGHT, FOR A BRIEF THREE WEEKS, THAT MY mother ruined my life. I was sadly, sadly mistaken. I have done it quite by myself.

Northern Virginia is sunny and filled with places to hang out. Parks. Malls. Even fast-food joints like Jules’s Wendy’s, though clearly that’s just where losers like me tend to congregate.

Schwerinborg, on the other hand, is prison gray. Every-where. The sky, the apartment buildings and cathedrals, even the mountains are gray. Okay, I assume that it’s mostly gray because it’s December and foggy. But still. I’m not seeing teenagers. Anywhere.

“Valerie,” my dad whispers. He doesn’t have to elaborate. His warning tone, combined with a disturbing divot forming between his eyes, is enough.

I yank my fingers out of my mouth, but reluctantly. I can’t help it—whatever that bizarre party mix was they gave us on the Lufthansa flight from Munich to Freital, the capital (and frankly, I think the only real city) of Schwerinborg, is now permanently lodged between my gum and molar, and it hurts. But I suppose trying to pick it out while seated next to my dad, in a limo, no less, is a major faux pas.

Wonder what the German term is for faux pas?

Folkschen paschken?

This whole German thing has me in knots. In the Munich airport, where we switched planes, all the signs were in English, French, and German.

Here, it’s all German, all the time. I can’t figure out a thing, although ausfahrt is apparently the word for “exit,” since I see it on every ramp.

I probably shouldn’t think too hard about that one, or I’ll be grossed out. Don’t want to spew chunks in the back of the limo, which was pretty nifty of Prince Manfred, my dad’s new boss and the ruler of this dinky little country, to send to the airport for us. Definitely a step above working for President Carew. When he sent a car for my dad, it was only a Buick.

Though I’m still wondering if, while this is great for Dad, I’ve screwed myself royally by coming here. At least they speak English at Lake Braddock. Plus Jules and Natalie stopped speaking to me—in any language—from Tuesday to Friday, though they did show up at the house on Saturday, a couple hours before Dad and I left for the airport, so they could say good-bye.

They didn’t apologize for ignoring me all week though. Even if they are pissed off, that’s no excuse. I mean, we’ve been friends for years. You’d think they’d want to spend as much time as possible together during my last few days, but no.

Christie was better, but not much. She kept talking to me all week at least, but never in front of Jules or Natalie, and she kept giving me these weepy looks that made me want to smack her beautiful, unblemished face. I understood though. Jules and Natalie were going hard core on her, trying to get her to pressure me into staying. I’d probably have caved to the Jules-Natalie assault machine if I’d been in Christie’s shoes.

I almost caved myself, right before Dad and I left for the airport, when it was just me and Christie alone in my room for the last time. We were talking about all the stuff I’m going to miss next semester—like track season, driver’s ed, and the art class trip up to New York to tour the museums—and I started to get emotional. Then Christie asked me where Mom was, and how come she wasn’t there to say good-bye.

I used the book club excuse I’d concocted at Wendy’s, but I came just-this-close to telling Christie everything. Only the thought that Christie would probably tell Jeremy (and therefore, through the grapevine, David, Jules, and Natalie) the real scoop about my parents’ divorce forced me to zip my lip.

The limo takes a sharp turn, past one of the signs saying ausfahrt, of course. At the top of the ramp, we turn twice more, then head into a downtown area. The streets are much, much narrower than in D.C., and most of them are made of cobblestone, which is pretty neat. We pass through a congested square with a statue in the center, and I’m trying to figure out who’s riding the sculpted horse (I’m guessing it’s not Napoleon), when atop a slight hill, I see a true edifice. I love that word but never get to use it. This place justifies it.

I grab my dad’s arm and ask if it’s the palace. I get to see a lot of awesome buildings, living near D.C., but this rocks them all.

“It is.” Dad’s happy I’m excited about something for the first time in at least a week. “Think you can stand living there?”

I squint up as the limo driver pulls onto a side road and noses the car uphill, toward the building. Now that we’re closer, I can see that it’s definitely Louvre-like. It’s constructed of gray stone, and looks a bit like D.C.’s nicer office buildings, but with columns and detailed trim under the eaves. The windows are all beyond tall, and hung with what I’m guessing are very expensive curtains. There are carvings of goddesses on the exterior, in between each of the windows.

No kidding. Goddesses.

I cannot imagine living in a place like this.

“If the inside’s as pretty as the outside, I think I’ll make do,” I tell Dad. As long as I don’t drop a Diet Coke on a fancy silk chair or one of the antique rugs or anything. And so much for eating sushi, if they even have it in Schwerinborg. I tend to spray soy sauce everywhere when I eat. You’d think Dad would be able to teach me the trick to that though.

I’m just about to ask him, but thank God, we pass a McDonald’s, and it’s walking distance from the palace! Happy, happy, joy, joy. At least if I need a fry fix, I’m covered.

Four hours later, after getting a tour of the palace, filling out paperwork, and making a two-minute exploration of our apartment—and two minutes is all it needs, since apparently a palace “apartment” is pretty much like a hotel suite, meaning a couple of rooms off a second-floor hallway—Dad is kind enough to give me the McChicken I’ve been craving. Between sips of Diet Coke—excuse me, Coke Light—I gently point out that, contrary to exterior appearances, our new place isn’t exactly the Ritz.

The furnishings in our apartment are somewhat . . . spare. Not spare in a Calvin Klein, black-and-gray, ultramodern way, but spare as in basic. In sharp contrast to the heavy tapestries and floor-to-ceiling mirrors that are in the main hallways and public areas of the palace, our apartment boasts two sofas worthy of a dilapidated motel. Across from the sofas, there’s a TV—with cable, thankfully—set on top of a rickety black melamine stand.

Dad’s room has a double bed, a dresser, and a small bathroom. My bedroom, on the opposite side of what I’ll call the living room, is painted an uninspired brown. I have to wonder who decorated the place. I mean, who sleeps in a brown room? It has a twin bed, an armoire that my dad calls a schrunk, and a minuscule bathroom. The shower is beyond small, so I have no clue how I’m going to shave my legs. And there’s not even a countertop where I can put my stuff. Just a pedestal sink.

I do not want to keep my face wash on the back of the toilet. I mean, really. I tell Dad that schrunk should be the German word for “bathroom,” not for “armoire,” because honestly, the armoire thingie is about the same size as the bathroom.

What’s worse, the electrical outlets are all weird, and Dad says I’m going to have to buy a new hair dryer, since mine won’t work here. I forgot about that from our trip to France last year. I hadn’t bothered to do my hair then, since I knew I wouldn’t meet any cute French guys with my parents two inches off my elbow the entire time.

Unfortunately we can’t go shopping for a couple days, because Dad says he has to acquaint himself with his new job and his new boss. Bummer, because that means I won’t be able to commence my David Anderson look-alike hunt anytime soon. It’s pretty much the only thing I have to do in this country until school starts, so I figure I should take the time to make sure my hair isn’t completely ugly.

And that’s the whole apartment, other than the eatin kitchen—complete with a Formica-topped table and four terribly tacky chairs—where I’m rapidly discovering that Schwerinborg’s version of a McChicken comes with a sauce that smells vaguely of onions.

At least the fries are good. Dad scored some ketchup to go with them, which is a relief. We had trouble with that in France. They eat ’em with mayo, for some bizarre reason. But the French can be excused their quirks because they speak such a kickin’ language.

“Valerie? Thanks.” Dad sets down his Big Mac and gives me a smile like I haven’t seen on him in a long, long time.

“For what?”

“For coming. I know this isn’t like home, and the adjustment isn’t going to be easy, but having you here with me means more than you’ll ever know.”

I take another bite of my McChicken. I’m actually having fun sitting here with Dad, just the two of us, but I don’t want to talk about it. I get uncomfortable when Dad gets all mushy on me, because he never used to. It’s like an alien infiltrated his brain the day Mom decided to go gay. Or, I should say, the day she made her emotional breakthrough and realized her true self.

Someday I really will be able to think about my mom in politically correct terms. And when I do, I’ll mean it. Just not today.

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