On the night before the big inauguration, Phoenix was in her room, shouting at her mother.
“No! I don’t want to wear a dress!” she cried out hotly, crossing her arms across her chest. Her mother, the future First Lady, sighed and ran her hand through her long blonde hair. “For the last time, Alexa, you’re only going to wear it once. Just stick with it tomorrow, and you won’t have to see it again!” she pleaded.
“That’s what you said last time!” Phoenix replied back, her face turning almost as red as her auburn hair. “And for the millionth time, my name isn’t Alexa! My name is Phoenix!”
“Phoenix is a silly name!” her mother argued back, now crossing her arms too. They glared at each other in Phoenix’s room, littered with dirty clothes, posters of soccer stars, and glow in the dark stickers in the shape of planets. It was just a little past 9 PM and Mrs. Fox just wanted to get her only daughter to wear a dress and then go to bed. She knew she’d have to wake up before the sunrise just to get ready for her husband’s big day.
“No, it’s not silly! It’s my name and I’m 11 years old now, so I can keep it!” Phoenix replied back, standing her ground.
“Alexa is a perfectly splendid name for a First Daughter. Everyone will be calling you Alexa,” Mrs. Fox reminded her.
“They won’t care about me,” Phoenix replied back, sitting down now on her bed. Her mother didn’t move, and the blue dress with puff sleeves—ugly puff sleeves, Phoenix thought bitterly, but she knew better than to say that to her mom—remained on top of her bedside table.
“All they’ll care about is daddy,” she finished, looking her mom right in the eye. “They’ll care about you too,” Mrs. Fox reminded her. “You’re the President’s daughter. Starting tomorrow, you’re not just Alexa Fox anymore. You’re 11, you’re too old to be having tantrums like this.”
Mrs. Fox sighed and picked up the dress again. She held it out towards Phoenix, but Phoenix looked away with a huff. “Please, sweetie,” Mrs. Fox tried again with a kinder voice this time. “Just for tomorrow, and then you won’t see this again.”
But Phoenix wouldn’t budge. “If you won’t call me Phoenix and let me wear a suit like Daddy, then I won’t wear it,” she said with an important voice. She remembered that her father talked like that when he was making promises to the country’s people, just weeks before that night.
Mrs. Fox sighed and shook her head. “I’ll give you tonight to think about it,” she said, stepping away. She left the room and closed the door behind her.
Phoenix sighed a sigh of relief and fell back on her bed. She stared at the glow in the dark stickers on her ceiling. She lifted a finger and traced her name, P-H-O-E-N-I-X, with her finger in the air, using the star stickers and connecting them. She then sat up, closed her night light, and got under her blanket. She counted the stars on the ceiling until her eyes got heavy and she fell asleep.
“I just don’t understand her,” Mrs. Fox said to her husband that night as they sat up in bed. They both knew they wouldn’t be able to get any sleep tonight.
Mr. Fox put down his book. He was barely reading it anyway, the words not meaning anything in his mind. He looked at his wife.
“She won’t wear a dress again?” he asked. “She wouldn’t even touch it. It was as if I was presenting some dead animal to her,” Mrs. Fox replied, sighing sadly. “Why can’t she just like dresses and be a normal ten year old girl?”
“Alexa never wanted to wear skirts,” Mr. Fox said. “Remember when she was four and cut the skirt you bought her into tiny pieces?”
“And the time she was six and threw out all of the blouses your mother bought her?” Mrs. Fox added. For a second they shared a small laugh, but Mrs. Fox sighed again.
“Why can’t we understand her?” she said. “Do we have to bring her to a doctor?”
“We can’t, not now,” Mr. Fox said. “The media will find out somehow and twist it to mean something bad about Alexa. She’s too young to be used by them,” he said to his wife.
“But if we don’t understand her now, how will we ever understand her?” Mrs. Fox asked her husband.
Mr. Fox was quiet for a moment, but then he smiled and his eyes lit up. “If she won’t let us understand her, maybe she will let a doctor understand her. A fake one,” he said.
“What do you mean?” Mrs. Fox asked.
“Well, you know how Alexa got all this new stationary from Grandma for Christmas?” he began. “Right, because she wanted to have a penpal,” Mrs. Fox finished. They knew each other so well that finishing each other’s thoughts was normal.
“What if we get her to write letters to a doctor, and we can say that this doctor understands her and wants to help her?” Mr. Fox suggested. Mrs. Fox thought for a while. “But we’d essentially be lying to our daughter,” she pointed out, a worried look on her face. “What if she finds out?”
“She won’t find out,” Mr. Fox promised, putting a hand over his wife’s own. “I’ll handle everything, don’t you worry.”
They were quiet for some time, thinking about the plan. After a few minutes, Mrs. Fox nodded. “Let’s try it for a week at least,” she said. “If we can even convince Alexa to do it. She doesn’t even want to be called Alexa,” she added, frowning again.
Mr. Fox, however, smiled. “She still wants to be called Phoenix?” he asked. Mrs. Fox nodded. “Well, this doctor wouldn’t mind calling her Phoenix,” he added.
“I hope you’re right about that,” Mrs. Fox said. “It’ll all be fine, my dear. She isn’t a lost case just yet,” he assured her. He kissed her hand and Mrs. Fox smiled.
“Now go to bed,” Mr. Fox told her. “We have a long day ahead of us.”