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America's Sweethearts

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December 2011

 

            Where is that bitch's phone number, thought T.J. He sat the bottle of vodka down and went into his mother’s office. He found her address book and flipped through the pages until he found it. Kristen Dupree-San Diego, California. The number listed was a cell. He was surprised his mother still had Kristen’s contact information. She hadn't lived in D.C in almost five years, however his parents were still friends with her father and he must have passed it on. It might not even be the right information anymore. He didn't care what time it was in California he was going to give her a piece of his mind. You did this to me. All your fault, thought T.J.

            It took him a few times to dial the number right, it was hard to see the numbers and his hands were shaking. He went back into the dining room for the bottle and took another pull from it. He could hear it ringing on the other end. It took a few moments before the phone picked up.

            “Hello,” she answered and despite not hearing her voice in years he knew it was her. T.J took another swig from the bottle before speaking.

            “Wow you sound really happy. You happy Kristen?” asked T.J..

            “Who is this?” asked Kristen confused.

            “Don't play dumb it doesn't suit you,” said T.J. and he took another drink.

            “T.J...How did you get this number,” hissed Kristen.

            “I wanna know how you did it? Do you get a voodoo doll, pay a Gypsy to curse me...fuck did you pay him to sleep with me?” snapped T.J.. You knew. You knew somehow and I hate you. Damn I hate you.

            “What the hell are you going on about?” asked Kristen.

            “You told me that one day you hoped that I fell in love and that he hurt me the way I hurt you. Well congrats you got your wish. Took five years, but it happened,” sobbed T.J.. Damn it get your shit together. I want someone else to hurt a little and maybe she still does cares. No matter what she said in New York. There was a long silence on the other end before she sighed and he could almost see her rubbing her temples to stay calm.

            “T.J...” it was the hint of pity in her voice that drove him back into the rage. He wanted her to care, but not the pity. God he didn’t want her pity he wanted her to be hurt too. She doesn’t hurt for you anymore because she doesn’t care. You saw to that, said some reasonable part of his brain and T.J tried to shut down with another pull from the bottle.

            “I loved him and he...he doesn't care. Went back to his wife and kids for Christmas. No one wants their fuck buddy for the holiday. I hope you're happy,” spat T.J..

            “I'm not happy that someone hurt you T.J.,” said Kristen calmly.

            “Don't lie it's insulting!” mocked T.J.. It was what she had told him in New York that his lies to her were the biggest insult she had heard in her life and it pushed her back into being mad.

            “What the hell do you want T.J.? Thought I made clear after New York that you and I weren't friends anymore!” T.J. finished the bottle of vodka.

            “Don't worry. You won't be hearing from me after this. Just thought you want to know I got you a Christmas present,” laughed T.J. bitterly. She doesn’t care anymore...no one cares about you. No one really loves you and why should they?

            “What do you mean?” asked Kristen. Shit, thought T.J.. She was always too damn smart for her own good. Why did he even call her to start with? They hadn't spoken since New York. Not since she cut him out her life. You didn't give her a choice. You left first. It just hurt more when she did it back to you.

            “None of your fucking business. Merry Christmas Kristen.” He hung up and headed for the garage.

…........................................................................................................................................................

           

Kristen Dupree looked at her phone and was shaking. God that asshole, thought Kristen. There was a knock at the door and her assistant, Marian poked her head in.      

            “Is everything alright? You were shouting.”

            'I'm fine. Just a really wrong number.” Marian nodded and left her office.

            She had to take several deep breaths before trying to puzzle out what T.J. had been rambling about. Clearly he was wasted, no surprise there. However, it was a huge leap for him to drunk dial her after all this time. I loved him and he didn’t care. God who did he fall in love with? She knew how much that could hurt, could tear you apart from the inside. He did it to you and someone finally gave him a dose of his medicine. She wanted to shut off the part of her that felt for him and found she couldn't. You won't be hearing from me after this. What else could that mean? He was always impulsive and could be stupid. Shit. Kristen fished through her contacts and found Elaine's phone number. She wasn't sure if it was still current, if not she could call her father and let him know about T.J.'s drunken rant.

            “Hello,” said Elaine and Kristen sighed.

            “Hi Elaine. It's Kristen, I'm sorry to be calling so late.”

            “Oh hi Kristen. It's good to hear from you. Are you in town for the holiday?” asked Elaine.

            “Um no. Still in California. Listen is T.J. still living in D.C?” asked Kristen.

            “Yes. If you want to call to him I can give you his number. I'm sure he would love to hear from you,” said Elaine. She sounded so hopeful it made Kristen hurt. We can’t go back to how it was before.

            “No. No....he found my number and called me a little bit ago. Elaine he sounded really, really, really drunk,” said Kristin. Elaine sighed and Kristen could hear the disappointment in her voice.

            “I'm very sorry he called you and for whatever he said,” said Elaine.

            “Listen he said I wouldn't be hearing from him after this and on top of sounding really drunk he scared me a little. Just check up on him please,” said Kristen.

            “I'm on my way home. Thank you Kristen. Have a good Christmas,” said Elaine.

            She hung up and Kristen sighed. Clearly putting three thousand miles between her and T.J. Hammond didn't dull the hurt he could cause her with one phone call after several years. She sighed and picked up her sketch pad. She was on deadline for the next issue of the comic, she was the lead artist for this one and it would look bad if she fell behind. She started rough sketching a background for a destroyed L.A for the issue. She drew for several hours before she had to leave the office and her phone rang. She saw it was a blocked number.

            “Hello,” she said carefully.

            “Kristen,” said Elaine softly.

            “Is everything okay?” asked Kristin.

            “He tried to kill himself. If I hadn't gotten home in time....” choked Elaine and Kristen could hear her crying. There was some static on the line and Bud's voice was on the phone.

            “Thank you for calling us Sugar and letting us know what was going on. You might have just saved his life. I don't know what happened between you and T.J. to cause this little rift. But you've always been a good friend to him even now. Thank you,” said Bud. Kristen hung up and bit back her own tears. God he was such an idiot and she hoped he would be okay. He never cared if we were okay. Nothing but pain and hurt since you were fifteen. When are you going to learn?

….................................................................................................................................................................

 

1997

 

            “Well what color is it?” asked T.J. sitting on the desk in front of Kristen. He had asked about the color of her spring dance dress so he would know what colors to get so they would match. She rolled her brown eyes and went back to typing.

            “I don't know. It's like a bluish purple color,” said Kristen. She quickly read what she typed, looked at the notes on the table and added another paragraph before saving.

            “Bluish purple? You're a girl, aren't you supposed to care about colors and stuff?” asked T.J.. Kristen leaned back in the chair and grinned.

            “Sadly you got the girlfriend who cares if you pass English. She loves you so much that she's here writing your paper that would normally sell for at least 70 dollars. She would like it if you passed at least one of your classes since your tutor is clearly a moron,” said Kristen grinning. She gave him a quick kiss and went back to the notes for the paper.

            “Eric isn't an idiot, I'm just not that bright or focused,” said T.J..

            “ Eric owes me eighty dollars for a history paper. Plus you aren't stupid and when it's something you really like you're super focused. Like piano. You can look at a piece once and play it perfectly,” said Kristen. T.J. moved the notes away from Kristen and she mocked glared.

            “I know something else I could focus on,” said T.J.. He got off the desk, pulled Kristen out of the chair and towards his bed.

            “Your parents?” asked Kristen. The Security Service guys tended to ignore them when they were in the house together so that was a non-issue. Elaine on the other hand would be a huge issue.

            “Some conference...meeting...they'll be gone for hours,” said T.J. pulling her on the bed. He kissed her and got a knee between her legs. “You are so damn pretty.”  Kristen kissed him back just as hard and he felt her hands in his hair.

            “I love you,” muttered Kristen and T.J. kissed again so he didn't have to answer. He wasn't sure what he was going to do. He really did like Kristen, she was smart, they had fun together and well she was really good at what this activity was going to lead to since she was reaching for his pants. However there was Eric and he made T.J. feel something he hadn't felt before. They had only kissed, but it was amazing. At times he wondered what it be like to have Eric in Kristen's place. She was about to go down on him when there was a knock on the door and Douglas walked in.

            “Oh crap...sorry,” laughed Douglas.

            “Generally you wait until someone says come in,” said T.J. redressing. Kristen stood up and her face was turning pink.

            “Well mom wouldn't have knocked and she would like to see you. Dad too. Her office,” said Douglas grinning.

            “Gone for hours you said. Do I need to leave?” asked Kristen.

            “Nah. It shouldn't take too long for them to ground me for bombing math,” said T.J.. He gave Kristen a kiss on forehead and headed to his mom's office. His mom was sitting on her sofa and his dad was pacing.

            “T.J. sweetie sit down please,” said Elaine. Her tone sounded sad and T.J sat down.

            “Is everything okay?” asked T.J.

            “Yes and no,” said Bud. He grabbed a chair and pulled it up to the sofa. “You aren't in any trouble and we want you to know that we love you.”

            “You guys are starting to get weird on me. What's going on?” asked T.J.. Elaine sighed and took one of T,J.'s hands

            “Someone took a picture of you kissing another boy. We have the copies, but not the negatives. Someone is going to run with this and we don't know when,” said Elaine. T.J. felt like he was going to faint and started shaking.

            “It was just a kiss,” said T.J. It was nice and I liked it. It was supposed to be private, thought T.J

            “A lot of people might not see it that way though. Sweetie...are you gay?” asked Elaine. T.J. thought about it. He had felt different when he kissed Eric, lighter and it felt right somehow in the moment. If he were to be really honest he wanted to be with Eric or hell any other guy. He did like Kristen, but if he were to be honest it was hard at times to be with her physically because it didn't feel right.

            “I think I am,” muttered T.J. and he started to cry. Bud put a hand on T.J shoulder and Elaine hugged him.

            “There is nothing to be ashamed of. I just wish you would have told us sooner,” said Bud and T.J. shrugged.

            “Well I thought I liked girls because of Kristen and...” his thoughts all ran together. If they had pictures and someone was going to run a story than everyone would know. He liked Kristen, she was his best friend and this was going to hurt her. You lied to her. You made her think it was real, thought T.J.. It was real in a way, but not the way she thought it was real.

             “I can't tell her. We can't tell people this. I can't have people knowing this!” pleaded T.J. and Elaine took his hands.

            “If we don't tell people someone else is going to tell and you won't have any control. We're trying to figure out the best way to get in front of it right now,” said Elaine.

            “It's not fair! Can't anything be private?” asked T.J. and Bud shook his head. Wasn’t it enough they had to parade Kristen around as his girlfriend and all the attention heaped on them. How people took their pictures and called them ‘America’s Sweethearts.’? Couldn’t he have one private thing in his life?

            “I'm sorry,” said Bud hating the powerless feeling he had and T.J. started sobbing. They were going to make his life hell once this was out and all because he wanted to see what it was like, just once. He should have known that someone would be sneaking around, seeing what he was doing.

            “I'll send Kristen home, but it would be best if she heard this from you first,” said Elaine rubbing his back.

            “She's gonna hate me,” said T.J.. He thought about all the times he heard his parents fight over his dad grabbing some girl's ass or a rumor that he had sex with someone else. He hated how much it hurt his mom and he had done the same thing to Kristen. You are just as bad as he is. T.J. wished they would leave him alone. He was pretty sure he had a joint in his room to take the edge off.

            “She's going to be very hurt, but we're going to be here for you,” said Bud. Elaine got up and was about to leave the room. T.J. decided to get it over with now. If they had the pictures and story  could be going at any moment. It would be better if she heard it from him, he owed her that much. You owe your friend the truth. That she was a lie.

….................................................................................................................................................................

 

            “Really you're writing his papers,” said Douglas sitting down and looking over her shoulder.

            “Well his tutor is clearly a mental midget and I would like it if T.J. wasn't in summer school all summer,” said Kristen saving the last page and hitting print.

            “So how long have you two been...you know?” asked Douglas with a smirk and Kristen gave him a look.

            “It's not all the way sex. It's just blow jobs,” said Kristen.

            “Wow blow jobs and English papers my brother is a lucky guy,” teased Douglas and Kristen  shrugged and Douglas gave her a look. “What's going in there?” Kristen looked up at Douglas and sighed.

            “Have you told Laura that you love her?” asked Kristen.

            “Yeah,” said Douglas without thought.

            “T.J...He’s never said that to me. We've been dating almost a year and he's never said 'I love you'. I'm just at a lost for a reason,” said Kristen and Douglas nudged her.

            “T.J. does love you. You make him laugh and well you've kept his attention for this long which is a record for any girl,” said Douglas and Kristen laughed.

            “So are you ready for me to kick your ass next week in debate?” asked Kristen.

            “Oh you think you're gonna kick my ass?” asked Douglas.

            “Oh I own it already,” said Kristen. Elaine came into the room and she looked grim.

            “Kristen sweetie, we need to have a talk,” said Elaine. Kristen felt something sink in her stomach as she followed Elaine down the hall and into the office. Bud had his hand on T.J's shoulder and he looked like he had been crying. She had never seen T.J. look this upset and she wondered how much they had scolded him over something stupid. Why can’t they ever give him any slack? thought Kristen.

            “We'll give you the room son,” said Bud and he and Elaine left the room. Kristen went over to T.J. and he was wiping his eyes and looking at the carpet.

            “Hey. What's wrong?” asked Kristen and she put a hand on T.J's shoulder.

            “I am really sorry,” said T.J. and he started crying again. Kristen reached out and hugged him.

            “What's going on?”

            “I really like you, but....this isn't ever going to be right for me.” Kristen felt that knot tighten and felt her own tears coming on. He’s breaking up with me and they told him he had too. I’m a distraction and I’m not good enough for him.          

            “Why?” asked Kristen.

            “Because I'm gay,” said T.J.. He said it so plainly she thought he was joking.

            “What?” asked Kristen giving a little nervous laugh.  This was a joke it had to be some sort of horrible joke. T.J. pulled away from her and told her about Eric and the pictures.  It was all a lie. The whole time. Has the whole friendship been a lie? It felt like being sucker punched and she stood up.

            “I...I...I....I can't think right now. I just need to go home,” said Kristen and she turned to leave when T.J. grabbed her arm.

            “Please talk to me,” pleaded T.J. and she rounded on him.

            “What do you want me to say? You asked me out...you...I told you I loved you and you...,” She looked down at the floor. “How long were you going to lead me on?” demanded Kristen trying not to cry. Till the end of high school, college...did you just plan on sticking with me until we were old? She wasn’t mad that he was gay. She was hurt about the lie, that he let her fall in love and was never going to love her back. If you had told me I would have played along because I loved you and you are my best friend. I fell in love and there is a huge difference.

            “I don't know. I did like you, it's just...” started T.J..

            “You like him more,” finished Kristen. You weren’t good enough. He loves someone else. It’s why he never said it to you.

            “I need to go home.” She pulled away from him and left the room. She walked quickly past Bud and Elaine sobbing and they could hear T.J. crying in the office.

….................................................................................................................................................................  

 

December 2011

 

            T.J. looked out the window and he wondered how much hate he could have for one person. He thought he hated Kristen before, but now. Oh if he saw her again he might shove her in front of moving car for calling his mother. I wanted to die and she ruined it...you called her stupid and practically waved a flag in front of her face about what you were going to do. She didn’t have to do anything? Why did she call my mother?

            Because she still cares about you. You selfish bastard, spoke up that silent voice in his head. There was a tapping on his door and there stood Douglas and T.J. felt a wave of remorse and hate at the same time. He hadn’t meant to hurt Dougie. Dougie still cared and now T.J. was being slapped in the face hard with how much his younger brother loved him. On the other hand if Kristen hadn’t called his mother and he had been allowed to die like he wanted too he wouldn’t have to look at the pain in Doug’s eyes. I would shove her in front of the first SVU I could find, thought T.J.

            “So they won’t you let you out for Christmas and I’m not going to let you spend Christmas alone in this shit hole. So I told Annie to fly out without me and I’ll see her family for Easter,” said Doug and a wave of shame covered everything. How could he forget that Doug loved him and was the only person who he could count on when it really matter? Maybe you just haven’t screwed him over enough? said some hateful voice. T.J. shoved it away and gave his brother a tired smile.

            “So I survived suicide to have your future wife kill me. Sounds fair,” said T.J. and Doug closed his eyes tightly.

            “Don’t joke about that alright. I just...why didn’t you call me?” asked Doug. The million dollar question. T.J. looked at the covers and thought.

            “I don’t know. You would have tried to stop me and I didn’t think she figure it out and call mom. I just...I don’t know,” said T.J.. Oh come on now...tell the truth. You wanted to hurt her back for hurting you. For knowing someday you would get hurt that badly.

            “Well dad tried to call her again and Kristen disconnected her phone number and John won’t give them a new number. You two are really done huh?” said Doug and T.J. looked at him.

            “Shouldn’t you not upset the person recovering from an attempted suicide?” asked T.J. and Doug sighed.

            “I just hoped you two would patch up whatever happened in New York someday. She was your best friend T.J. and you need a friend,” said Doug. I don’t need her. I need Sean and I’m not good enough for him. Just an American punchline.

            “Bitches be crazy,” said T.J. and Doug shook his head. “Besides I have you and grandma. Who else do I need?” said T.J..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

            June 2012

 

            T.J. felt the cocaine flowing through his system numbing everything and he still wasn’t numb enough and he snorted another line. None of them care. I really thought this would be good for me and no one cares. He said he love you and then you weren’t good enough.

            “It hurts doesn’t it?” asked a female voice. Jesus not now, thought T.J. and he snorted another line quickly.

            “I don’t think that’s going to make the hurt stop,” said the same voice and T.J. looked up to see Kristen sitting in the chair that Gunther had just left. It wasn’t her though, she was thirty and he had no idea what she looked like now. No. This is how she had looked when they were fifteen. Reddish brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, her brown eyes behind her glasses and in their school uniform-red and black plaid skirt with a button down white shirt and black tie.

            “Oh fuck. Really?” asked T.J. out loud. Clearly he was tripping something bad if he was seeing Kristen, a fifteen year old version of her anyway. He didn’t care though. He take the bad trip if he could be numb for a little bit. He said he loved me. No one loves you. Do another line. T.J. did another line and the bad trip spoke up.

            “I asked you if it hurts?” asked Kristen and T.J. glared at her.

            “Does what hurt?” snapped T.J.

            “The knowing. The knowing that no matter what you do, no matter what was said or promised that you didn’t matter to them in the end. Not for a second. They didn’t think twice before throwing you away to save themselves. It hurts doesn’t it?” asked Kristen. She got up and sat next to him. The shy smile he once couldn’t wait to see crossed her face. “It’s like having your heart ripped out slowly and they won’t even look at you while they do it.”

          “Go the fuck away!” snapped T.J. and he did another line and rubbed his gums.

           “You loved him and no matter how much you loved him it was never enough. He’s selfish...who would have thought you could find a person more selfish than yourself to fall in love with. If it wasn’t so sad I would laugh,” said the Kristen hallucination.

           “I almost forgot what a bitch you could be,” said T.J. and she sighed.

          “You used to like how bitchy I could be when it was needed. At least that’s what you said. Was that a lie too? Everything was a lie wasn’t it?” she asked and she leaned back on the sofa to look at him. He wished she was real so he could really hurt her.

               “Yeah. It was all a big lie Kristen! The whole friendship from grade school till our twenties was a big fat lie,” snapped T.J. and he snorted another line. It wasn’t a lie though. You were my best friend. I told you I was sorry. Why couldn’t you just forgive me? I told you I was sorry and you still left. You left me behind, thought T.J.. He was physically numb and his mind still wouldn’t shut up and it took the form of a person who he once considered his only friend other than Dougie and his Nana. The hallucination of Kristen rolled her eyes.

        “I left you?” she got up and started pacing around the room. “I envy your ability to re-write history to make yourself feel better,” she spat and T.J. felt something getting tight in his chest. It was how he felt when he came out, how he felt when Sean pushed him away. how he felt when his father told him he wasn’t coming tonight. Everyone leaves you behind, thought T.J..

        “I told you I was sorry,” he sounded like a child and she just shook her head.

        “You were always sorry when you figured out how much hurt you caused. It doesn’t change the fact that you hurt someone. I really loved you,” said Kristen and she started to walk away. T.J. got up as the tightness in his chest increased. She’s not really here...I’m so damn lonely though. I’ll take anything I can get.

            “I miss you,” the words were out of his mouth before he could take them back. “I don’t hate you...I miss you. I told you I was sorry. Why wasn’t that enough?” T.J. fell down and he felt the tightness turning into numbness and his heart felt like it was going to pound out his chest. Something was making it hard to breath and he couldn’t speak. Kristen sat down next to him and put a hand over his chest and everything felt hazy.

“You promised you wouldn’t leave me and you did when I needed you the most. Don’t worry. I won’t leave you alone while you die. Not like you me left me to die,” said Kristen and she kissed him on the forehead. T.J. threw up and everything went black. I told you I was sorry...I still am.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………...

 

July 2012

 

              Douglas walked into the lobby of Laili Studios and couldn't help but be impressed. Kristen had helped take what was a bottom tier comic book publisher her father had bought for pennies and had helped turned into a budding indie studio. It had been a pain in the ass to get away from the conference to come here, but he really needed to talk to Kristen. He went up to the receptionist and smiled.  

            “Excuse me. Is Kristen Dupree in?” asked Douglas.

            “Do you have an appointment?” she asked.

            “No, but tell her Douglas Hammond would like to see her.” She nodded and picked up the phone and let her know he was there to see her.

            “She'll see you in a few moments. Please sit. Would you like some coffee or something else to drink?” she asked.

            “I'm fine. Thank you,” said Douglas sitting down in a chair. It was about five minutes before Kristen came out. He hadn't seen her in five years and she had changed a little. She was still short and petite, but she looked healthy. Her red-ish brown hair was more red more and was pulled into a messy bun. Her contacts had been replaced by thin rimmed glasses. She was wearing a pair of dark blue jeans and tee shirt with some sort of robot on it.

            “Hi Dougie,” said Kristen and she hugged him lightly. Douglas hugged her back and smiled at her.

            “Hi Kristen. You look good,” said Douglas.

            “My office?” asked Kristen.

            “Sure,” said Douglas.

            “So how did you shake your detail this time?” asked Kristen.

            “Waiting outside. I had a few minutes to kill before the next conference and since I was in the neighborhood,” teased Douglas. She showed him into the office and it was painted white and had several posters up of the comics, books and movies the studio had done. There was large light table set up in the corner with prints on it. Storyboards were in another section of the office with notes pinned up. The shelves had back issues and awards she had won the last few years. He noted no personal photos anywhere in the office.

            “Have a seat. I heard you finally made an honest woman out of Anne. Congratulations” said Kristen taking a seat behind her desk that was covered in sketches and pencils. Douglas sat down and studied the drawings.

            “Wow these are violent,” said Douglas looking at picture of girl cutting off someone's head.

            “Zombies seem to be really popular,” said Kristen. Douglas shook his head.

            “I was wondering if you could come home for a few days and visit T.J.. It would really help him. He misses you. He won't come right out and say it, but....you were his best friend since before we moved into the White House. Sometimes I think you were his only real friend. You never used him the way other people did. It would just be for a few days and you can show him these god awful drawings,” teased Douglas smiling at her. Kristen sighed and twisted her necklace nervously.

            “Dougie...Dougie I can't. I'm sorry,” said Kristen.

            “Could you at least call him? He reached out to you in December. Damn it that means something,” snapped Douglas.

            “He was drunk and was blaming me for his life being shitty despite not being in the same time zone for years. That is hardly reaching out,” countered Kristen. Douglas just shook his head and glared at her.

            “He almost died last month,” said Douglas and Kristen sighed and went to look out the window. “What the hell happened between you two? One moment you two are partying in New York and the next moment he's back in Illinois and you're gone and you haven't been back to D.C in years. He won't talk about it and your dad won't talk about it. Now I want you to talk about it. What happened?” asked Douglas and Kristen turn back gave him a tight grin.

            “You were always a jackhammer in debate and it's nice to see it hasn't changed. You might be Chief of Staff to the Secretary of State and you might be used to getting to having people give you want when you snap like that so it's going to be a shock that I'm not going to tell you. We grew apart and we needed out of each other lives. It was the best thing for both of us,” said Kristen.

            “It was the best thing for you. He's gone to shit since you left,” said Douglas.

            “That's not fair. We were both fucked up, the only difference is I hid it better than T.J.. I needed to get myself right and I had to do it without T.J.. I can't go back and it's not right that you're asking me to fix him. He has to want it and until he does it's not going to get better,” said Kristen. Douglas glared at her and got up.

            “You know before T.J. came out I thought you were it for him. I never saw him act the way he acted with you. To this day I haven't seen him with anyone the way he was with you. He loved you and when you left it broke it his heart.”

            “Get out. Get out before I have you removed,” whispered Kristen trying to not cry. Douglas slammed out of her office and once again Marian was poking her head into the office asking if she ok since there was shouting.

            “Stupid men have a way of ruining your day. Do I have anything planned for the rest of the day?” asked Kristen.

            “No. The staff meeting is tomorrow morning and Scott and Vic shouldn't be back until tomorrow.” Kristen nodded.

            “I think I'm going to call it day. Have all calls sent to my voice mail. I'll take care of them later.”

            “Of course,” said Marian and she left Kristen’s office. Kristen gathered up her things and headed out. She was shaking with rage when she got to her car. Why don’t you tell him what happened in New York? Why are still lying about it? He left you. You needed him and he left you and he didn’t think twice. Kristen counted to ten before starting her drive home. You know you are going to have to face T.J. someday. You can’t hide forever. It’s just more hurt and why should you let her be hurt by T.J. Hammond and his selfishness?

When she got home she could hear the My Little Pony theme playing through the door. It brought a small grin to her face and she let herself in. Julia her part time nanny was folding clothes and Hannah was sitting on the floor watching the TV and singing along.

            “Hello,” called Kristen sitting her stuff down. Hannah got up and hugged her as hard as a four year could.

            “Hi mom” she said. Julia nodded and sat the clothes aside.

            “Her day report is on the counter and the teacher sent home a new book, but she wanted to do her reading with you. I hope that's alright?” asked Julia.

            “It's fine. Since I'm skipping work you're more than welcome to clock out. I'll see you tomorrow night,” said Kristen.

            “Have a good day than,” said Julia. She hugged Hannah, got her purse and left. Kristen sat down on the sofa and Hannah crawled up next to her.

            “Can we finish the show before reading?” pleaded Hannah and Kristen gave her a smile.

            “I guess,” said Kristen. Hannah put her head in Kristen's lap and she toyed with her dark brown curls. She was the sweetest girl and Kristen was still dumbfounded some days how she was responsible for this tiny person in her lap. Hannah looked up at Kristen and her blue eyes locked with Kristen dark brown ones. It twisted Kristen heart a bit. Of course she would get T.J's eyes.

 

Chapter Text

1997

 

T.J. had come out to the world as gay on the Sunday Morning Show. He had told Kristen on a Friday afternoon and he hadn't heard from her all weekend. Douglas had gone over to her house to talk to her and she refused to see him. Douglas didn't tell T.J. that she had been blaring Alanis Morissette and he could hear it downstairs.

“She just needs to be upset for a bit Dougie. She's a girl and not all girls get broken up with in such a public forum,” said John. Douglas understood, she had every right in the world to be upset. It just hurt to see T.J. so upset too. It wasn't like they broke up because they didn't like each other. Well they just liked each other in different ways, but there was still a lot of 'like' on both sides.

“You know if you wanted to skip today it would be alright,” said Elaine on Monday morning. Douglas's eyes got wide, he never thought his mother would be the one to suggest skipping school.

“I might as well bite this bullet too,” said T.J. poking his waffle that the cook made just for him. Douglas really hadn't seen him eat anything since Friday night.

“If you need anything call us and we'll come get you,” said Bud and T.J. nodded.

“I got to get my stuff,” said T.J. and he left the table. His mother sighed and looked at Douglas.

“Try to meet up with him during passing periods and lunch please.”

“Will do,” said Douglas and he went to get his own stuff.

T.J. went into his room and pulled out a small flask and took a long swig. He had called Eric late on Friday to let him know what was about to happen and Eric had told him off. That he was going to tell his parents he wanted to take a term in Europe and that he didn't want to see him anymore. T.J. spent the weekend in his room sneaking booze and weed to dull the ache. It was almost a cruel joke, the person he thought he was in love with didn’t love him back and he just broke up with the person who was in love with him.

He gathered up his stuff and found the finished paper Kristen had written. He shoved it in his backpack, he almost hoped she wouldn't be at school today. He didn't know if he had the courage to face her.

…..................................................................................................................................................................

 

FUGOT. It was spray painted on his locker and T.J. wondered how early they came in to tag it. Douglas sighed and rolled his eyes.

“$17,000 a year to go here and people can't spell. We'll get someone to clean it off,” said Douglas patting T.J. shoulder. T.J. shrugged.

“Better to be gay than fail a spelling test right?” joked T.J. getting his books. Douglas and T.J. started walking towards T.J. classroom and ignored the giggles and stares of the people walking by. They were almost to T.J.'s classroom when Douglas noticed Kristen was staring blankly at her own locker. FUGOT FUCKER had been tagged on hers and Douglas was stunned. It was beyond mean and cruel. T.J. wanted to keep walking and ignore the train wreck he had caused. I caused all this for someone who didn’t really give a damn about me. I hurt a person who gave all the damns for me. T.J. wanted to cry for her.

“Kristen,” said Douglas stopping. She looked pale, not wearing make up, had dark circles under her eyes, and she had ditched her contacts for her glasses. T.J. couldn't remember the last time he saw her without make up and wearing her glasses. She changed her appearance to what she thought people wanted. I liked her how she was. At least they didn’t suck the personality out of her, thought T.J..

“Hey. We'll get someone to clean it up and it's going to be okay,” said Douglas putting a hand on her shoulder.

“I don't know what's more insulting. The fact that they can't spell or that fact that I haven't fucked anyone to earn this,” snapped Kristen. She quickly got her stuff and slammed the locker shut. She didn't even look at T.J. and Douglas turned to look at his brother. T.J. shook his head.

“You two would have been perfect for each other,” said T.J. and he walked away. She was right. She hadn’t earned this and was now in over her head with him.

 ………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Douglas had a few classes with Kristen since they were both in Honor classes together. She didn't speak to him even though they sat next to each other for most of the day. They had both been the butt of some rather shitty comments and behavior. She didn't say anything though, she just got paler and her face grew harder. T.J. was just as quiet and withdrawn when Douglas was able to meet up with him. T.J. put on a brave face, but he could tell he was ready to snap. Douglas hated not being able to make this go away. The last class of the day though was Debate and he had it with Kristen.

“Listen if you wanna delay this I'll....” started Douglas and Kristen glared at him.

“I swear to god Dougie if you give an inch I will kick you in balls,” she hissed. He had never seen her so mad. She’s not mad at you, she mad at this whole situation, thought Douglas.

“Okay. No gives,” said Douglas. Mr. Skies walked in and called class to order.

“Okay class, we're going to have some visitors today to watch the debates. We're going to head to the little theater for the extra space,” said Mr. Skies. He liked throwing curve balls before a debate and having other people watch them was his favorite.

They grabbed their stuff and headed out. Douglas's heart sank when he saw one of the groups was T.J's class. Kristen was now the color of a bed linen and she had dug her nails into her palms. Mr. Skies asked them to go last and he eyed Kristen.

“Do you want to delay?” asked Mr. Skies looking at her and she shot him a look.

“No. Let's just do this,” said Kristen.

“Alright,” he patted her shoulder and started the debates. It felt like forever before they were called to go. He and Kristen were debating global warming-him for the denying of it and her for how it affected the environment and she was calm and controlled the entire debate and Douglas had to admire that. She had him at every point and Mr. Skies called the debate.

“Does anyone have any questions for Douglas or Kristen?” asked Mr. Skies.

“So since you guys are twins does that make you gay too?” called out one boy.

“Kevin,” called out one teacher in warning.

“Did you catch the gay from swallowing?” asked some girl Douglas didn't know. He turned and saw Kristen grabbing the stand. Her face had gone from deathly white to bright red in less than a second.

“Did you catch the stupid from yours?” shot back Kristen.

“Maybe she was so bad at it he turned gay,” mocked whispered another girl. Kristen looked beyond pissed. She walked off the stage and out of the theater

“I want their names,” snapped Mr. Skies and he turned to Douglas. “Go find her and talk to her please.” Douglas walked off the stage and grabbed Kristen's bag from the chair. He found her outside in the common area and she was sobbing.

“Hey...hey...come on. They're not worth it,” said Douglas.

“It was hard enough dating T.J. when everyone thought he was straight-people taking our picture when we went out, people asking why her when he could have any girl, people thinking they knew us and they didn't. Now I have strangers blaming me for him being gay and wanting to know how I didn't know. I didn't know because I loved him and thought he felt the same. I'm so damn stupid and they don't care how much it hurts knowing the last year was a lie and he didn't feel the same. It's all a joke to them and a punchline,” cried Kristen. Douglas rubbed her back while she cried. T.J. was standing off to the side and listened.

He didn't mean to lie to her, he honestly thought he loved her like that. T.J. knew he never said it out loud, but sometimes he felt so much for her it was unreal. She loved him because he was him. Kristen didn't care that he was the son of the governor of North Carolina and the son of the President. They had meet when they were kids and she was always the one who understood him the best next to Dougie. She made him laugh and seemed to be the only one who he could really be himself with.

He knew being with him was hard and she never once complained that they couldn't do stuff like other couples did. There was always cameras, people and looks when they tried to be normal. She took it in stride and even mocked the people following them. T.J. knew he should go and talk to her, to try and make this better somehow and he couldn't. She would have been better with Dougie, he wouldn't have made her cry.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

November 2012

 

The shrink had suggested writing letters to those he 'had wronged' during his addiction instead of face to face meetings. Well that was a list a mile long and would take T.J decades to do. I need to do this though, thought T.J..

Gunther's letter was sitting off to the side. He had been needlessly mean and shitty to a guy who had been clean for almost two years and had been trying to help him get clean and T.J. goaded him into using again. There was another letter to kid he used to know in college that had been busted with him for blow and both had been kicked out. The last letter was a blank page that refused to be written. It was meant for Kristen and nothing that came to mind sounded right on paper.

Hey...sorry for introducing you to speed when we were teenagers...no...um..sorry for using you as my cover before coming out...no...I'm sorry for New York. Yeah I'm really sorry about New York. That was a cluster fuck of a fuck up and I have no excuse for what happened. Thank you for calling my mom to let her know I was going to be stupid last year. You saved my life.

T.J. wanted to slam his head into the table until something came to mind. Than again you’re gonna have to mail this to her office since you can’t get any personal information from anyone about where she lives. Will she even read it or just throw in the trash. Sorry doesn’t begin to cover what I did. Maybe I should show up her office and hand it to her. Yeah she would love that.

Margaret came in and saw her grandson staring at blank piece of paper like his life depended on it and laughed.

“Stare a little harder it might catch on fire,” teased Margaret and T.J. jumped a bit. “I don't think I've ever seen you focus this hard on something in years. What are you doing sonny?”

“Trying to make something right and it's not coming to me. At all. Sorry just seems a bit underwhelming at best,” said T.J..

“Who's this one for?” asked Margaret touching his shoulder.

“Kristen,” admitted T.J.. Margaret grinned and raised her coffee mug.

“Ah the one who got away. I always thought it was a shame she didn't have a penis. You two would have adopted such cute foreign babies,” teased Margaret.

“Who's adopting foreign babies?” asked Douglas coming in with Anne and T.J. shook his head.

“The one who got away,” said Margaret.

“She didn't get away. I came out and we stayed friends. At least for awhile,” said T.J..

“Who?” asked Anne.

“Before our boy started liking boys there was a girl, Kristen Dupree,” said Margaret.

“Oh right you used to like girls,” said Anne teasing.

“She was my best friend and I sort of screwed her over...a lot. We had a rather bad falling out a few years ago and on the advice of shrink number eight...or is this ten...anyway he suggested amends letter and this one just isn’t happening. Hopefully mom is meeting with John for campaign money and maybe she can get a current phone number. Maybe even an address and I can stop this Chinese Water Torture and speak to her for the first time in six years. Sober,” said T.J..  I can’t even remember half of what I said to her that night I was so loaded. I must of been a huge ass if she disconnected her phone and told her father not to pass her number out anymore, thought T.J..

Douglas shook his head, he hadn't told anyone that he had spoken to Kristen and she refused to speak to T.J. at all. He hoped though that this would help T.J. through his recover. He had never made it to the amendment step in his recovery before and if he felt he had to make an amendment to Kristen then so be it. What in the world happened between you two, thought Douglas.

“That girl was the highest functioning addict I've ever seen since Judy Garland,” said Margaret and T.J. shook his head.

“At least she accomplished things when she was high and while clean. Unlike other people in the room,” said T.J.. She had been the youngest potential editor in chief of one the best fashion magazines in the North America until everything blew up. She always pushed herself so hard and T.J. wondered if she was really was happy helping running an indie studio for graphic novels. She always liked drawing, but when he Googled her name nothing came up under her name novel wise. Kristen seemed to have pulled herself off the grid. No Facebook or Twitter accounts to speak of. She hadn’t attended any company board meetings since leaving the east coast, sending a proxy in her place. Does she really hate me that much? wondered T.J..

“Yeah a business and art degree from Harvard and helping run a comic book studio her father bought. Yeah real achievements,” said Douglas. T.J. went to say something when his mother came in.

“So John's committing between 50 and 70 thousand dollars to get the campaign started and Kristen's personal contact information is clearly locked in Fort Knox. Sorry sweetie,” said Elaine giving him a hug. So that was it then. No one from the old New York crowd seemed to nowhere she had gone other than San Diego. Maybe just dropping into her office is starting to seem like the best option, thought T.J.

“It's alright Mama. I always did like a challenge,” said T.J. with a quick smile. Margaret and Anne went to make dinner while his mother and Dougie went to crunch numbers for the campaign. T.J. went back to staring at the blank sheet in front of him. If I did go to her office I could talk to her face to face. Better than trying to write this letter.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

1997

 

T.J. shoved his hands in his pockets and stood outside of Kristen’s room. He opened the door and she was sitting at her desk drawing and she looked up at him. She looked terrible, the dark circles under her eyes seemed to be almost purple and she looked just exhausted and heartbroken. You did this too her, whispered some voice in his head.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hi,” said Kristen and she sat her drawing pad aside. They hadn't spoken in almost a week and it took everything he had to come over here to talk to her. It had been a long week of taunts, insults, trashed lockers-his, Kristen’s and they added Doug’s locker today for some fun, shoves in the hall and Douglas trying to get him to talk to her. People he had considered friends avoided him or had joined in the insults and taunting. He had bruise on his left shoulder from some jock douche bag shoving him into a locker during passing period the other day. Other than Dougie he didn’t seem to have anyone. Anytime he and Kristen would meet in the halls they ignored each other. Honestly what could be said that wouldn’t leave both of them in tears?

He wanted to talk to her. Needed to talk her, but he couldn't bear the thought of her hating him. He sat down across from her and the silence between them was painful. She should hate you, thought T.J..

Kristen’s torment came in whispers from everyone. How she was either so bad at sex it turned him gay or she hadn’t put out enough so he switched to guys looking for some. How stupid was she that she didn’t know her own boyfriend of a year was gay?That she knew he was gay and this was just an act for pity on her part.

He hadn't pressured Kristen for sex at all, but she wasn’t against it. Making out just happened and well it was pretty good most of the time. She figured out quickly what he liked, but she wasn’t what he really wanted for sex. She’s funny, she’s smart and pretty, but I want something else, thought T.J..

“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry and I know it's not enough to cover the crap I've put you through this week. I never wanted to see you hurt and I really fucked it up,” said T.J and Kristen looked at him.

“Did you even like me that way? Even a little?” asked Kristen and she shook her head. “I'm not mad at you T.J. I wish I could be mad at you because it would be so much easier. I don't care that you're gay. I care that you lied to me. You didn't trust me. You let me fall in love with you and you were never gonna love me back. It wasn't fair,” said Kristen and T.J. snapped.

“I don't know how I'm suppose to feel. I did like you and that's why it was so easy for so long, but I can't...I tried so hard to not feel that way and I just and I couldn't shut it off anymore. I just wanted to know once what it was like. It felt right and I hated it because I knew it was going to hurt you in the end. And you didn't deserve that. I don’t give a shit what my parents think. I don't care what those assholes at school think of me, but what you and Dougie think matters. I really can't lose you as a friend. I know I'm asking so much of you and you're right it's not fair. Please...please don't leave me behind,” said T.J.

Kristen got up and looked out the window. T.J. wished she would yell at him, scream at him. Hell he even let her slap him if that was what it took to get her to talk to him.

“I really need to think things over. Okay. I just need time,” said Kristen softly and T.J. nodded.

“I'll see you later,” said T.J. and he left the room feeling more alone than ever.He was driven home and he went straight to his room, locked the door and proceed to get stoned out of his mind.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

November 2012

 

“So John's in and he's going to start planning the fundraisers,” said Elaine to Bud when he came over after dinner. John Dupree was the founder and CEO of DBN Media. He owned several newspapers in numerous countries, a book and magazine publishing company, a few radio stations, and numerous other media holdings that T.J. couldn't name off the top of his head. He was also Elaine and Bud's oldest friend and one of their largest donors and fundraisers.

“That man always did throw a good party,” said Bud. It was a fundraiser for his father’s presidential run that brought Kristen into his life. They were seven years old and she just seemed to know how much T.J. hated being at the party. If you follow me we can sneak out, was the first thing she ever said to him. She always knew how to sneak out of large party without being seen. Something that served them well in their teen years when they wanted away from the limelight. Not that they got very far, but it was enough.

“Well once it gets out that he's doing the fund raising Collier is going to freak. He won't stand a chance to campaign at that level,” said Douglas.

“Well the Westboro Baptists might throw him some money,” joked T.J. and his grandmother elbowed him while his mother rolled her eyes.

“I just want everyone ready because the ball is going to start in a few months,” said Elaine. T.J. nodded, but could feel a knot in his stomach. It will be the same shit has always. How did these successful people have such a royal fuck up like him?

“Well at least this time the liquor bottle count will be down,” said Margaret. Since T.J. was trying to stay clean, Margaret decided to try her own hand at sobriety. It wasn't a great attempt, but an attempt none the less. T.J. excused himself from the dinner table and headed up to the attic. It was another one of his attempts to stay busy since he wasn't going to the club anymore. Douglas owned his share and it looked like the club was about to go underwater. All them were looking to sell it. T.J. knew it was for the best and it still sucked a lot. The screw up strikes again.

The attic had all sorts of boxes from their various moves and had never really been sorted out. So far his hunts had turned up college pictures of his parents, an old program from when Margaret was a showgirl and numerous school projects that he and Douglas had done.

T.J. grabbed a box at random and starting digging through it. There was a photo album buried at the bottom and he pulled it out and started flipping through it. White House years and these looked to be like some of the official pictures. Yup there was dad and mom at some dinner, him and Douglas in front of the Christmas Tree. Doug with his Spring Dance date-Laura something. An envelope fell out the album and T.J. opened it up and there was a black and white photo of him and Kristen slow dancing in the kitchen of the White House. He was still in his suit from the dance and Kristen was in a pair of sweats and a tee shirt with a fake crown on her head. He was grinning and her eyes were closed and she was smiling. There was note in the envelope from Lola their official photographer during their time. She had always been T.J's favorite among the staff and he wondered where she was now

Elaine,

I was getting ready to leave for the night when I saw this and well I couldn't help but snap a quick pic. It might be a little to personal for the public. Hope you like it though.

XOXO Lola

 

“So did you find the Arc of the Covenant yet?” asked Douglas coming up.

“Not yet,” said T.J.. Douglas came over and saw what he was holding.

“Is that from after Spring Fling?” asked Douglas.

“The week I came out,” said T.J. studying the picture.

“Why is it so important now to talk to her? You guys haven't spoken in years and she hasn't tried to reach out to you in years,” said Douglas.

“Other than the family and Anne who do you have to talk too? And trust? Really truly trust?” asked T.J.. Douglas really couldn't answer without admitting what happened with Susan Berg before the wedding. Guess that’s my version of New York, thought Douglas. T.J. flat out refused to talk about what happened between him and Kristen. T.J. just came back to Illinois and tried to open a club in Chicago before their mom started her first run for the White House. No one seemed know what ended the friendship that had gone on for almost twenty some years.

“I dumped the gas on the bridge and lit the match with Kristen. I just miss having a friend that isn't you or grandma. Other than you I can't think of another person I trust that much,” said T.J.. Well maybe once he would have trusted Sean that much, however that was another bombed out bridge and he didn’t want to fix it. I tried and he didn’t care enough to try.

“Just be careful okay,” said Douglas.

“Aren't I always?” asked T.J.. He wondered if they had any photos of Kristen in her actual dress before the dance. Mean spirited bitches, thought T.J.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

1997

T.J. sat in his room looking at his history assignment and couldn't focus. He thought about taking one of the pills Eric had given him to help focus, but it kept him awake and that was last thing he needed. He never thought he would be home on a Saturday night alone doing homework. Even Dougie had gone out, it was the night of Spring Fling and he had tried to talk T.J into going.

“I bought a couple's ticket. Sort of can't go unless the other half wants to go and she's thinking about stuff,” said T.J.. She’s trying to decide if I’m worth being friends with, thought T.J..

“Maybe I can talk Laura into leaving early and maybe we can all see a movie or something,” said Douglas.

“Do not inflict your sad sack brother on your girlfriend during your date night. Girls really hate that shit,” said T.J.. Douglas laughed and one of the agents went to take Douglas to the dance. T.J. stared aimlessly at the book when his father came in and eyed his son.

“So I take it you're staying in this evening,” said Bud.

“Trying to pass at least one class,” said T.J. and Bud grinned.

“You know girls like your Kristen and your mama are the toughest people you will ever meet. They seem to have iron in their spines. They will always be the people you want in your corner during a fight. They work behind the scenes to support the people they love. But they will always stand there when no one else will,” said Bud.

“I made her cry. I never meant to make her cry,” said T.J.. Honestly that was the thing he hated most, that he made her cry.

“You won't be the first boy to make her cry and you won't be the last. The point is how they pick themselves up and come back better people. Kristen is one of those people you want in your corner,” said Bud.

“She's still picking herself up right now and figuring out if she wants to be there,” said T.J.. Bud nodded and stood up.

“Well I'll let you get back to work and I'll send the girl in the formal dress downstairs home for the night,” said Bud and it took a second for T.J. to understand what Bud was saying.

“She's downstairs?” asked T.J. stunned.

“And all done up for something or another. Wasn't there a dance or something?” asked Bud.

“Yeah,” said T.J. and Bud eyed him.

“Are you going or do I take her out since it would be a shame to waste that dress?” asked Bub. T.J. headed downstairs and there was Kristen wearing a strapless, A-line silk dress that was the blueish purple color and it clung to her very petite frame with her hair pulled up in a braided bun talking with his mother.

“Your mother wore that dress to our inauguration ball,” said Elaine.

“I had them cut it a little shorter and it turned out ok,” said Kristen. She eyed T.J. and grinned. “According to the description in the papers the color is periwinkle.” T.J. just looked at her dumbfounded.

“You think, 'what the hell, life goes on.' Maybe there won't be marriage. Maybe there won't be sex. But by god there will dancing,” said Kristen quoting the movie Julia Roberts was in something about a wedding. It wasn't going to be released for months and his dad had called in some favors so they could have it for Kristen’s birthday a few months ago. It was his gift to her.

“So are we going to stand here all night or do you plan on taking me to the dance?” asked Kristen. T.J. hugged her hard and she could feel his tears on her cheek. “No crying. Or else you'll ruin my make up and my contacts will hurt.”

“I didn't get you any flowers,” said T.J..

“I took care of it and your suit. Go get changed. Sam is taking you,” said Elaine and T.J. dashed upstairs. Elaine looked at Kristen and smiled.

“You are a very good friend to him. I know this hasn't been an easy week for anyone and he really needed someone else in his corner other than us,” said Elaine and Kristen grinned.

“I just can't see my life without him. He's my best friend,” said Kristen.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

They were the last people to arrive at the dance and Douglas broke away from Laura when he saw them. He gave Kristen a hug.

“He was actually doing homework when I left. It wasn't the end of the world, but you could see it,” said Douglas. He pointed out a table that he and Laura had left their stuff and went back to Laura. They took a seat at the table and Kristen looked at Douglas dancing.

“Did you teach him to dance? It's really bad,” said Kristen.

“Oh you should see him at home when he thinks no one is watching,” said T.J.. It got quiet between them, but it wasn't the silence that was painful. They could talk for hours, but they could also just be with each other. She would sit and draw while he played piano and it was sometimes the best part of his day.

“So we you wanna dance or...” started T.J..

“Can we just sit here for a bit?” asked Kristen as a slow number started.

“Sure,” said T.J.. Kristen fiddled with one of the centerpieces and grinned.

“So did that paper work out?” asked Kristen.

“The paper? Oh yeah the paper. I got a B,” said T.J. and Kristen looked insulted.

“That was A- material. I'm half tempted to go and argue for a better grade,” said Kristen and T.J. laughed.

“Wow you are more invested in my grades than anyone else. It's a little scary,” said T.J.. An usher came and dropped some paper on their table.

“Good luck,” they said and walked off. T.J. picked it up and groaned. It was the ballot for the Spring Fling King and Queen and of course their names were on it.

“I forgot about this,” said Kristen.

“Who nominated us?” asked T.J..

“I think you did Mr. Popular. No one votes for the nerd girl unless she is dating the popular one. Or they have a bucket of pig blood up there for me,” said Kristen.

“Does mean you'll finally get those psychic powers?” asked T.J..

“If only,” said Kristen scanning the ballot. “Let's vote for Dougie and Laura. I've had enough attention for this week.”

“Me too,” said T.J quickly filling in the ballot for Douglas. Someone came and collected their slips.

“So do you wanna get dinner after this?” asked T.J..

“Can we get cheeseburgers and milkshakes? I've starved myself to fit into this dress,” said Kristen.

“You look amazing though. If I wasn't gay I would be trying to sneak you out of here and out of that dress,” said T.J. and Kristen shrugged.

“To think you wouldn't of had to have tried that hard,” said Kristen and T.J. gave her a look.

“You naughty girl,” said T.J and he went to say something else when a teacher got up and called their attention.

“Well the votes are in and I have them right here,” he said holding up two sealed envelopes. He opened it up “Our Spring Fling King is Douglas Hammond.” Everyone started clapping and Douglas got on stage and someone put a huge fake crown on his head. Douglas waved at them and did a little dance. T.J. shook his head. God his brother was a dork.

“Our queen for this year is....” the teacher opened the envelope and frowned. “T.J. Hammond.....this is a mistake where is the real results,” he hissed. T.J. felt something tightening around his chest as the giggles and clapping started. Jesus couldn't they give them a night. He went to get up and leave when Kristen grabbed his arm and made him sit.

“Wait here!” hissed Kristen and she marched up to the stage and took the crown. She took the mike and held up a finger for silence. She turned around and look up for a few seconds before turning around.

“I just wanted to make sure that there wasn't a bucket of pig's blood or corn syrup up here since your lack of creativity is clearly showing by this show of petty nonsense. I'll be accepting the crown on T.J's behalf since he is so above your childish bullshit it's unreal. This is so beyond lame it hurts my head in ways I can't understand. I mean really? So on that note, I will be taking my queen and we'll be leaving now since we have no desire to be with you lame, inferior beings. Thank you,” said Kristen. She handed the mike back to the teacher and walked off stage. She was halfway back to him when three kids got in front of her and three got behind her and threw cups of punch at her. The laughing was instant as Kristen stood there stunned.

“Creative enough for you?” someone called out and the laughing got louder. T.J. went to get her when Sam came out of nowhere and was next to Kristen. The laughter stopped when they saw the 6'6 brick house of a Secret Service agent. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around her.

“What the hell is wrong with you kids?” bellowed Sam glaring at them. “Come on sweetheart let's go.” Sam wrapped an arm around her and he went over to the table and got her purse.

“I think it's best if we all leave,” said Sam to T.J. and he nodded. Kristen was quiet as they left and Sam spoke into his cuff. “Lady and the Tramp are leaving, bring the car around. No I think Charming and Snow are good with Nellis. Thank you.” The car came around and Kristen looked down and the dress and her face started to break.

“My dad is going to be so mad at me. This was was mom's dress and I had to beg to have it. This isn't going to come out...this was my mom's dress,” Tears filled her eyes and Sam put a hand on her shoulder.

“I'll take the blame for not taking the punch bomb. It was my duty to make sure you kids got in and out without an issue. Clearly I failed,” said Sam he opened the door and got them in the car. Sam got in the front and the car pulled away. T.J. pulled out a pocket square and gave it to her and she wiped her face. The smell of fruit punch was overwhelming.

“That was a hell of speech,” said T.J.. He took the crown she was holding and put it on his head. “I do make an awesome queen.” Kristen looked at him stunned and started laughing.

“So why are we Lady and the Tramp and Douglas and Laura-Charming and Snow?” asked Kristen.

“I like dogs and pasta in the moonlight,” said T.J. and they both started howling with laughter.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

2012

 

T.J.  woke up the next morning and decided to make breakfast for his grandmother and mom. He turned on the coffee pot and decided he wanted French Toast. He flipped on the morning news and started cooking and was half paying attention to it when he heard. “Founder of DBN....” T.J. turned the news up and was stunned to hear that John Dupree had a heart attack last night and was in critical condition at Washington General. He went to get his mother and felt horrible for Kristen. He knew no matter what feelings she had towards him, she would come home for her father. The only thing that would bring her home is him, thought T.J.

His mother shook her head and went to call his father and Douglas about John. His grandmother pulled him aside.

“You alright? This is upsetting you for a whole different reason,” said Margaret .

“I wanted her to come home, but not like this,” said T.J..

“Well you best get ready for whatever she wants or brings home with her,” said Margaret. It had occurred to T.J. that maybe she had gotten married and didn’t want her new husband to meet her ex gay boyfriend who she used to party with. Maybe she just wouldn’t want to see him again after all these years.

“I have to try. It’s my life and I have to own up to my rotten choices,” said T.J.. Margaret hugged him.

“It’s still a shame that girl wasn’t born with a penis,” said Margaret. Margaret knew their were different types of love and even though T.J. wouldn’t say it out loud, she knew he loved that girl. She knew he wasn't sure how or in what way, but he loved her. It just hurt them both too much to be in love on different levels, thought Margaret.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

Kristen sat next to her father and held his hand. She had been here for about three hours waiting for him to wake up.

“I need you be okay,” said Kristen. She looked over and saw that Hannah was curled up in another chair and was sound asleep. They had taken the red-eye out of California after she had gotten the call from his housekeeper, Nina that her father had been taken to the hospital. Kristen had been holding it together so she wouldn't upset Hannah. She didn’t have a choice and she had to bring Hannah with her to D.C. Everyone she could trust to take care of Hannah back home was leaving town for Thanksgiving.  

No one except her father and Nina knew about Hannah here on the east coast. It had been one of the hardest things in the world to tell her father that she was pregnant and that T.J was the father. Even harder to tell him she intended to keep the baby. He hadn’t been happy at first, but agreed to help her. It was one of the reasons he bought the studio in California.

She had given birth in California and well once she got sober and stopped hanging out with T.J Hammond no one paid her any attention. Boring business person’s daughter goes back to the shadows where she belongs, thought Kristen with a dry amusement. She had a nice life out west. She had friends and people who respected her work and it was because she was her. No one seem to recognize that she was the other half of the ‘American Sweethearts’. No press, no pictures, no reporters trying to question her while she was out. Some of her friends back home knew she had dated T.J and they didn’t care. The stupidity in her teens and twenties didn’t matter to them. Her life was boring and she loved it. She looked over at Hannah and wondered if anyone how gotten a picture of them leaving the airport.

She hoped to keep Hannah out of the limelight here.   I just need to think about how to handle the Hammonds. She’s my daughter and I don’t want that level of crazy in her life. She’s just a baby and it won’t matter to the hounds.

Nina who had looked after Kristen since she was a little girl came in and offered her a cup of coffee.

“Thanks,” said Kristen taking the cup

“Listen why don't I take your little one to your father's house and get her something to eat? We'll come back later on okay,” said Nina.

“That would be great,” said Kristen wiping her eyes. She went over and kissed Hannah on the forehead waking her up.

“Grandpa awake?” asked Hannah.

“No he's still sleeping. Nina is going to take you to his house and get you some donuts. I'll see around lunch time,” said Kristen. Hannah hugged her tightly and Kristen felt herself tear up again.

“Be a good girl for Nina. I love you,” said Kristen giving her a kiss. Hannah gave her a kiss back and left with Nina. Kristen took her seat back next to her father. “Please be okay....please.”

 

Chapter Text

2012

 

T.J sat next to his father in the car and couldn't stop fidgeting. They were on there way to the hospital to see John.

“You gonna be okay over there?” asked Bud.

“This wasn't how I planned on seeing Kristen or John again,” admitted T.J.

“Well I haven't seen her since she was living in New York. She was using again wasn't she. She was too damn skinny,” said Bud.

“She was and I wasn't helping. At least her reasoning was grounded in wanting to do something great. I just wanted to screw around and not feel things,” said T.J. Since his overdose his relationship with Bud was on some sort of mend, well at least T.J was more honest with him about somethings. Bud still seemed at a loss about his son at times, but at least his son was talking to him.

“She always did push herself too damn hard. Remember the time she kicked Dougie's ass in that spelling bee. He was just livid and you two just rode his nerves for a good two weeks afterwards?” asked Bud.

“It was over Christmas vacation when we were about nine. We kept spelling whole conversations and mom got really annoyed,” said T.J grinning.

“It was two months before Virginia passed away. God I don't know how John got on after she died. I would have lost it if your mama had left me with you two at that age,” said Bud. Virginia Dupree had been the Press Secretary during his first term. She had died of a brain aneurysm when Kristen was nine. John had been away on a business trip and Kristen had been the one to find her mother’s dead body. God that must have screwed her up something royal . Why else would she have fallen in love with me? thought T.J

T.J thoughts moved to his father and he wondered how much Bud really did miss being married to his mother. His dad did like sleeping around, but something in his heart wanted to do right by his mother. It was why he agreed to stay out of her way during this run.

“Ginny was the only woman to turn me down,” laughed Bud.

“What?” asked T.J.

“We were working late one night and I made a pass at Ginny. She looked at me calmly and said she would let it pass this one time. She said if I did it again she would rip off my balls and give them to your mama. She loved her husband and her baby and wasn't going to hurt them for me. That woman had a set on her,” said Bud. They pulled up at the hospital and Sam followed them in while another agent parked the car.

John wasn't supposed to have visitors other than family according to doctor's orders and by family request, but Bud was able to charm one of the nurses to telling them what room he was in. T.J was trying to stay calm and felt his palms start to sweat.

It had been almost six years since they had been in a room together, six years since she had told him their friendship was over it and he didn't try to fix it. I told her that I hated her and that if I never saw her again it was fine by me. They went up to the 7thfloor and headed to room 1743. T.J could hear her talking before they got in the room and felt his heartbeat pick up.

“Yeah enjoy all the leftovers Julia. Just make sure to feed the rabbit ok. Oh sweet girl you are an angel. Yeah it's too damn cold here.” She was pacing around the room on her cell phone and T.J just wanted to watch her for a few minutes before speaking, but his father spoke up.

“That warm weather spoiled you sweetheart,” said Bud. Kristen turned around and looked stunned to see Bud and T.J.

“Oh my god...um Julia let me call you back. Alright. I'll call you later.” Kristen hung up the phone and Bud hugged her hard.

“Not how I wanted to see you again Sugar, but you're lookin good. Your daddy on the other hand...well he looked better after a week long frat party.” Kristen hugged him back carefully and she looked ill at ease.

“Hi Bud,” said Kristen and she pulled away. T.J looked at her and gave a small smile which wasn’t returned. She looked so tired and had dark circles under her eyes. Her hair was longer than he remember and was a few shades redder was pulled back into a ponytail. She was also wearing her glasses again. He always thought she looked cuter with her glasses.

“Hi Kristen,” he moved forward and hugged her quickly. She hugged him back, but there was no warmth in it. There used to be a time when she would have returned his hug with all the affection in the world. She didn’t even seem to want to look at him.  

“So what have the doctors told you?” asked Bud and Kristen sat down.

“If I understood everything they did an emergency artery bypass when I was flying in. Nina said he had been feeling kind of run down the last few weeks. The doctors said he was gonna be out for awhile. Maybe a day or two. He's gonna have to stay here for another week and after that I don’t know.  I just want to get through today,” said Kristen softly.

“Well your daddy is a stubborn one and if he doesn't walk out here on his own accord I will be shocked,” said Bud. Kristen gave him a small smile and shook her head.

“When did you eat last sweetheart?” asked Bud and Kristen shrugged.

“I had dinner last night before getting on the plane,” said Kristen.

“Than you need eat something. T.J take her out and get her something to eat,” Kristen started to open her mouth in protest when Bud stopped her.

“You need out of this room, you need to eat something and to get some rest. You won't be any good to your daddy if you run yourself ragged. Go get something to eat and take a walk. I’ll stay here and make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid, ” said Bud. T.J sent his dad a look of thanks for getting Kristen to come somewhere with him.

“There's a cafe down the street from here. Food is pretty good,” said T.J and Kristen sighed.

“Alright,” said Kristen and she picked up her purse. T.J followed her out and for someone with such short legs she had a quick pace. She was waiting for the elevator and T.J came up beside her.

“I didn't want to start a fight with your dad so that's the only reason I'm going anywhere with you right now. We're having lunch. That's it,” said Kristen. T.J sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets. She still wouldn’t look at him and he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He always liked it when her hair was long.

  He wove his fingers through Kristen’s hair and he kissed her hard. She tasted like raspberries and liquor. She smelled like sweat and something sweet. He pushed himself closer to her so she could feel how hard he was. She broke the kiss and looked up at with a shy grin.

We really wanna do this?” asked Kristen slightly out of breath. T.J laughed and started kissing her neck.

Come on. Aren’t you curious about how it would be between us? It might be fun,” said T.J. Kristen gave him that shy smile and stood up on tiptoes to kiss him again.

Let’s have fun than,” said Kristen pulling him close.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… ....

T.J was at lost for what to talk to her about. She looked so different from when they were in New York. She was only 5'4 and when he left New York she was barely100 pounds. He never noticed how horrible she looked when they were both using. She had put the weight back on and she looked healthy. She did look tired now, but it wasn't the exhaustion he saw in New York. During that time T.J would use anything he could get his hands on, however Kristen's drug of choice was speed. She would take it and work fourteen hours a day, five to six days a week. He would then con her to come out with him when when she was beyond exhausted and she would pop another one to keep going. I don’t think she slept more than two hours at time, thought T.J.

It had taken years before he actually allowed himself to feel what missing her was like. He had ridden on being mad at her for cutting him out and using drugs for so long that when he did feel the ache it was overwhelming. He wanted her to talk to him. God they used to talk for hours and now it was like pulling teeth to get her to speak to him. He didn’t see a wedding ring on her finger, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t seeing someone. Who are you now? wondered T.J.

“So how are you really?” asked T.J and Kristen shrugged and poked at her fruit cup.

“My dad could have died last night and I’m back somewhere I really don't wanna be. It really sucks,” admitted Kristen.

“I'm sorry,” said T.J.

“For what? My dad or me being stuck here?” asked Kristen.

“I'm sorry for a lot of stuff,” said T.J and he went to take her hand which she quickly pulled away. A look of annoyance crossed her face. At least she didn’t shove you away like Sean did, thought T.J.

“So what have you been up too? Mom says you work for an animation-comic book studio and it's going really well. I tried to find some of your work and nothing came up with your name,” said T.J.

“I use my mom’s maiden name for my work. It just makes things easier. They buy my work and not my name,” said Kristen. It was all she wanted for years. For people to respect her work because it was good and not because of her father.

“Listen. Can we talk. Really talk about everything? After New York...” started T.J and Kristen gave him a look.

“I did some rehab and moved out West. I do some good work and fly under the radar. It's amazing how little attention people pay to me now that I'm doing okay,” said Kristen.

“Isn't that the way things go. I really missed you,” said T.J before he could stop himself and Kristen started to get up. T.J grabbed her arm. “Please just hear me out.”

“I nearly lost my father last night. I don't have the physical or emotional energy to deal with you. God I wish I did. Please if you really care about me, even a little bit you will leave me alone while I'm here trying deal with everything,” said Kristen.

“I really need you to give me a chance. I missed you. It’s lonely and nothing has been decent for me since you left,” said T.J and Kristen rolled her eyes. Please don’t shove me away the way Sean did. Give me a chance, thought T.J.

“It's been really decent for me since we've been done.  I trusted you. You left me behind and just because you're lonely now I'm supposed to let you back in?” asked Kristen.

“You have every right to be angry with me and to never want to see me again. But I need you to know that I am so sorry about what happened in New York. If I could take anything back it would be what happened...I wouldn’t have left you,” said T.J and Kristen’s eyes got watery and she wiped her eyes quickly.

“ Whatever. It doesn't matter, it happened and I'm over it. I have to get back,” said Kristen and she left the cafe. T.J threw down money for the tab and went after her. He caught up with her and grabbed her arms.

“I know I really screwed you over and I wish I could take it back. Of all my fuck ups that is the one I hate the most. I’m sorry. I am so sorry,” said T.J. Kristen’s face got hard and he didn’t recognize her at all.

“Clearly this is a recent development since almost a year ago you were blaming me for your life being shitty and scaring the crap out of everyone,” hissed Kristen.

“I was angry alright and it was stupid to do that. I didn’t mean it. I swear,” said T.J.

“It doesn’t change how much you hurt me. You were right when you called last year. I'm happy.  I get to work with people who like me for my work, not because of who my dad is. They were never going to respect in New York no matter how good I was and after what happened they were going to ruin me there. I needed out, I got out and I can't go back. Don’t ask to me go back” said Kristen.

“Something good had to come out of us knowing each other,” said T.J and he hated the look in her eyes. It was all the hurt she had in her eyes when they parted in New York. He had been too selfish and angry to understand or really see it than. How could I not see how much I hurt you? Why did it take so long to miss you? I really can’t have you back?

“No. I went to rehab and I haven't looked back,” said Kristen. God he hated himself and wanted nothing more than to lock himself in a room and get totally shit faced. He wanted to feel numb instead of this aching guilt. You deserve this. You should have to feel this.

“I'll walk you back,” said T.J and they walked side by side and it felt like miles apart. They got back upstairs and Bud was still there along with Nina the housekeeper T.J recognized from his youth and a little girl sat next to Bud and was talking a mile a minute. Kristen looked at Nina terrified and Nina gave her a very apologetic look. What’s going on? wondered T.J

“So than we got bunnies, but mom makes me clean up after them. Do you like bunnies?” asked the girl and Bud grinned at her.

“I've never had pet rabbits, but it sounds like your mom is a smart lady making you take care of your own pets. My boys were always bad at it and their mama was always cleaning up after them,” said Bud. He looked up at T.J and he could tell his father was torn between being upset and stunned.

“I was starting to wonder where you two had disappeared too. Luckily this lovely little thing showed up and she is just a treasure. T.J this is Hannah. Hannah this is my very messy son T.J,” said Bud.

The girl turned to face him and T.J lost his breath. She had dark brown hair pulled back in a braid and it was curly at the end. She was a splitting image of Kristen except for the eyes. She had bright blue eyes that grinned up at him.

“Hi. Mommy we brought you some lunch,” said Hannah and T.J couldn't find words looking at her and his father grabbed his arm hard. Mommy? She had a kid and holy crap. Is that...how old is she?

“I think we've imposed on Kristen enough. Let's get home now,” said Bud.

“How old is she?” asked T.J softly and Kristen glared at him.

“None of your business,” said Kristen. We didn’t use a condom and her pill clearly failed. She told me she hadn’t slept with anyone in months. Did she sleep with someone after she left New York? No. If it was someone else’s kid she might have let him know. She hadn’t brought up a kid at all. She has my eyes. Holy shit. It was surreal to see a tiny version of Kristen with his eyes and coloring sitting there looking at them.

“She told me she just turned five and like I said we've imposed enough for today. I'll let Elaine know you're holding up. Take care Sugar. It was very nice to meet you Hannah.”

“Bye,” said Hannah and Kristen was trying to hold herself in check has Bud almost dragged T.J out of the room. T.J went to pull away and was going to drag Kristen outside and demand she tell him the truth.

“Don't say anything now. Do not cause a scene with that little girl present,” said Bud softly and Sam called the car up. Bud was starting to get a bit red in the face and T.J could feel him shaking. They got in the car and Bud shook his head.

“You know someone said the perk of having a gay son is that I would have never have to worry about you knocking up some poor girl. Clearly I was misinformed,” said Bud.

“She never told me. I swear I didn't know,” said T.J feeling his own shock starting to wear off. She had a baby and she would have gladly gone to her grave before telling him he had gotten her pregnant. I have a daughter. We had a baby together.

…..................................................................................................................................................................

“I'm really sorry. No one was in room and I thought you had gone for some coffee and Bud came out of the bathroom,” explained Nina and Kristen shook her head.

“It's alright Nina. I'm not mad at you. I know a nurse who's going to be chewed out if I find her for ignoring what the doctor and myself said about visitors,” said Kristen. They know. He knows. T.J took one look at her and knew she was his. Everyone is going to know sooner or later now, thought Kristen trying to stay calm.

“Are you ok mom?” asked Hannah looking up from her coloring book.

“I'm fine, just tired and wasn't expecting visitors for grandpa so soon,” said Kristen and she sat back in her chair.

“That guy talked funny,” said Hannah and Kristen had to fight a laugh.

“It's an accent sweetie. He lived down south and they talk different. We probably sound funny to him,” said Kristen.

“He was really nice and said my name was pretty,” said Hannah. Kristen felt her heart give a small lurch. Bud had looked happy to see Hannah. She had moments when she wanted to tell T.J and his family, but there was so much insanity around them. She wasn’t sure how they would react. What if they told her they didn’t want Hannah? On the other hand what would happen if they wanted Hannah? Hannah wouldn’t be her baby anymore. Hannah would be the Hammond bastard-the joke and the punchline before she hit kindergarten.

“I knew it was going to happen someday Nina. I just thought I would have more control over things,” said Kristen. Nina hugged her and Kristen hugged her back hard.

“It's going to be ok. You're a much stronger person than you were before,” said Nina kissing her forehead like she was ten years old, not thirty.

“I don't know if I can let them in...my heart feels closed up when it comes to them,” admitted Kristen. Well it was just one of them really she had to close herself off too.   I don’t know if I want to trust T.J again. I don’t want him to hurt her too, thought Kristen. She sat next to Hannah and started coloring with her. She was going to have to talk with all of the Hammond family and explain things. Well explain some of what happened between her and T.J.

…..................................................................................................................................................................

 

2006

 

“So what did you do to put Jimmy in such a mood? He glared at me all through the meeting on Friday and wouldn't talk to me afterward,” said Kristen. T.J pulled her hair back and started braiding it.

“I might have told him you gave me better head at fifteen than he is giving me at twenty four,” said T.J and Kristen nearly whipped her head around if not for the hold T.J had on her hair.

“I asked you not to sleep with my co workers and what do you do? You've gone through three fashion assistants, one beauty editor and now one of the best photographers on staff. Can you please pick one and stop screwing me over by proxy?” asked Kristen. I really can’t take you anywhere, thought Kirsten  T.J laughed and started the French braid.

“Well it's not my fault he has a terrible  gag reflex. Seriously what gay man in New York can't give a blow job?” asked T.J.

“He's from North Dakota and he needs to learn. Be a good teacher to the poor boy,” said Kristen.

“I have no patience for that. You teach him,” said T.J finishing the braid. Kristen turned and gave him a look.

“I'm sure that would be fun to explain to HR. 'My gay ex boyfriend asked me to teach his new boyfriend and my co worker how to suck a dick without gagging.' That would be a new one for the sexual harassment class,” said Kristen.

“Well Jimmy isn't too happy with me either. So it's cool if I crash here for a few days while he works through his heartbreak? I don’t want to be there when he’s crying on my doorstep,” said T.J. with a grin. Kristen stood up and hugged him.

“Oh we'll be the real life version of Jack and Karen. I think I have the best of Tom Jones around here somewhere,” said Kristen.

“You are the best,” said T.J giving her a peck on the check.

“Seriously though stop sleeping with my co-workers. It's making my already shitty job-shittier,” said Kristen

“Stop having hot co-workers,” said T.J.  Kristen sighed and went to grab her dress.

“Do I really have to go to this party?” asked Kristen. I hate these things so much, thought Kristen.

“It's for the magazine you work for and you are an editor,” pointed out T.J.

He's going to be there with her. And that huge ass ring he got her. You know he wouldn't even know her if it wasn't for me and...” T.J cut her off.

“He couldn't handle your awesomeness.” She was talking about her banker ex boyfriend Chris. T.J had never liked him, he always felt he wasn't good enough for her. He proved T.J right by cheating on Kristen with an up and coming designer she had brought in for magazine. They had been broken up for six months and he had already asked the designer to marry him despite being with Kristen for over a year and not even a hint of marriage.  

“Besides at the rate he's going that marriage will last a year and he'll cheat on her with a yoga instructor. Meanwhile you will have become the youngest Editor in Chief of LBD once that hag leaves,” said T.J.

“Melissa is barely thirty five and hardly a hag. However she is looking for a different post so if all goes well I might be the next EIC in five years. That also hinges on you not banging anymore co workers,” said Kristen with a grin. T.J put his hand over his heart.

“I promise to not screw anyone who you might have to work with. No matter how hot or gay they might be.”

“Thank you.” She went to get dressed and looked at him. “You know one of these days Thomas James someone is going to go through you and I pity the mess that leaves behind.” T.J rolled his eyes.

“That would mean falling in love and I don't do that.”

…..................................................................................................................................................................

The party was at the office of Little Black Dress or LBD for short and T.J was able to keep track of Kristen for about an hour before she slipped away. She always hated forced social functions and would stay for an hour before going into hiding. She had been the same way when they were kids: Party at her dad's house-she could be found in her mother's study drawing. Party at the White House-She would sneak out to the Rose Garden or to the kitchens. Yep she always was a good one at hide and seek. Douglas could never find her, but T.J always seemed to know. He was trying to puzzle out where she could be hiding when Jimmy and one of the fashion assistant Oh shit what was his name...it was a few months ago.... came over.

“I see you're not with our fearless leader,” said Jimmy and T.J shrugged.

“She's a big girl and it's sort of her party she can do whatever she wants,” said T.J. The other assistant a blond guy that T.J was sure he had a tattoo on his inner thigh laughed.

“Oh please you two are joined at the hip during these things. We're shocked you didn't invite her to join us considering your history. I would have been fine with her. Can't say the same for Jimmy. He doesn't like to share.” It was a dragon...unicorn...fuck what is his name? Thigh guy...yeah we'll stick with thigh guy.

“History?” asked T.J. He was about sick of this party too. He did have some party favors in his pocket, but he was pretty sure even coke wouldn't improve this party.

“She was your last girl before coming out. We all carry a soft spot for the girl who showed us the light. I mean you two we're clearly each others first and well...sometimes going back to the well happens. It's like putting on an old jacket no one knows about,” said Jimmy.

“You think I...”T.J started laughing out loud and drawing stares from a few models and their dates.

“Oh please you fuck anything that moves. You clearly fucked her at fifteen before jumping ship,” hissed Thigh Guy and T.J nearly choked on his drink.

“I can assure both of you she left our relationship with her virtue. I actually liked her. You two on the other hand well....it wasn't all bad,” said T.J. Thigh guy threw his drink on T.J before huffing off and Jimmy followed. The models started whispering and T.J gave them a little wave. He knew where Kristen would be hiding and went to find her. We just need to get out of here.

…..................................................................................................................................................................

2012

 

T.J sat there listening as his mom, dad, Douglas and his grandmother lobbied around what do with the fact that he had managed to knock up his former girlfriend and she had manage to hide a kid for sometime now. Thankfully Anne was working late so he was spared having another person knowing about his latest screw up just yet.

“Are you sure it's T.J's?” asked Elaine rubbing her forehead signs of a mounting headache.

“This little girl had T.J's eyes and she goes on a mile a minute the way he did. Not to mention the fact John never said anything about her having a baby and it explains why she left New York and went into exile. If John wasn't in that hospital bed I would kick his ass from here to Mexico,” said Bud. T.J looked out the window and thought about how they left things in New York and wanted to crawl out of his skin. He told her he hated her when she said their friendship was done and she must have found out a few weeks after that she was pregnant. Why did she keep it? Hell if he had gotten pregnant from someone who did what he had done he would have found the nearest clinic and ended it. Clean slate no reminders of the past. She kept it thought. It...Jesus she's five years old and has a name. Hannah. Her name is Hannah

“Maybe he gave Kristen a donation and she kept it on ice,” said Margaret trying to make a joke.

“No we had sex. Old fashioned, no protection sex,” said T.J and his mother rounded on him.

“Is this why she stopped talking to you after New York? Did she tell you and you didn't want it?” asked Elaine and T.J had to hold himself back.

“No she didn't tell me and even if she had told I don't know what I would have done,” said T.J. Would he have wanted it? He never saw himself with kids. He figured that was off the table when he came out as gay. He knew Sean had kids and he had wanted to meet them, he loved Sean and he knew they were part of the deal. He was scared of the thought of being a stepparent however Sean clearly felt T.J wasn't good enough for any part of his life. On the other hand he really hadn't given Kristen any choices.

He was constantly fucked up he and he knew she couldn't let him near a baby in good faith.  T.J. remembered how his own grandmother told him what an alcoholic, drug addict his grandfather had been and she made the only choice she could-she took her baby and got gone. No, he would have ran screaming if she had told him six years ago she was knocked up. He would have demanded that she end it and walked away again after she did.

“When I went to see her in July I thought it was weird she didn’t have any personal photo is her office. She wouldn't have hid pictures of the kid unless it was T.J's,” said Douglas.

“You saw her in July?” asked T.J.

“I thought talking to her would be good for you. She refused to do it,” said Douglas. She really didn’t want anyone to know about this kid, thought T.J.

“We could always do a DNA test,” said Elaine.

“And that will stay hidden for a day,” said Douglas. Elaine sighed and Bud was pacing.

“Well I'll be damned if I am denied one more second with my granddaughter. I don't care if I have to drag her court,” said Bud. It hadn’t been so subtle the pressure people had been putting on Doug and Anne to start having kids even though they had only been married five months.

“And drag us all through scandal right before the announcement,” said Douglas. Of course. The fuck up ruins it again, thought T.J.

“Not to mention the little girl involved hasn't done anything wrong,” said Margaret. “Did any of you think maybe Kristen looked at this mess and said ‘I’m not bringing a kid up in this madhouse.’ I’m not saying she went about things in the right way, but if she’s been clean and not chaining her kid to wall during the day then maybe she made the right choice.”

“What do you think T.J?” asked Douglas and T.J started pacing.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m supposed to think about this. It was only one time and we were messed up…” started T.J.

“Of course you two were fucked up. It’s the only way I figured you would be with a woman,” said Bud. Douglas thought about what T.J had told him about how he sometimes liked to sleep with women just to make sure he was gay. Maybe he and Kristen just needed to get something out of their system. He really loved her. Maybe if she had told him she was pregnant he would have gotten his act together, thought Douglas.

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m an addict and a screw up,” snapped T.J. “I honestly had no idea she was pregnant. I mean. I have rights don’t I? If this is my kid and I wanna see her, Kristen has to let me right?” asked T.J. Elaine sat down and looked at her son who suddenly wasn’t thirty in her eyes, but a little boy who just wanted her to tell him everything was okay. Oh sweetie I wish I could, thought Elaine.

“If Kristen has any sort of heart she will let you see her and be in this child’s life. However, she’s not legally obligated to let you have anything. If she says no you could take her to family court and fight her on it. Considering Kristen has done everything alone for the past six years and…” Bud cut her off.

“She wouldn’t of had too if she or John has just said something,” said Bud.

“Bud, I was running for president two years ago. We couldn’t have handled a three year on top of the campaign,” said Elaine. She went over to T.J and put her hands on his shoulders and looked him in the eyes.

“Sweetie you have to be sure you really want this. We aren’t a hundred percent on this is yours and I would hate to see you get your hopes up only to find out this isn’t your child. On the other hand if this is yours...it’s forever. It doesn’t stop when she turns eighteen, it doesn’t stop when she goes to college, it doesn’t stop when she gets married and has her own family. She’s yours forever and she will need you no matter how much she tells you she doesn’t. It’s forever,” said Elaine suddenly near tears. You never told her you were sorry about what you said that night of the club opening. That I would never thank her for saving my life. I should tell her I’m sorry and thank her.

It was a terrifying thought though. Forever. He was barely getting by on a day to day basis and Kristen clearly had her shit together. There was no judge in their right mind who would make Kristen share custody with him. It would fall on Kristen showing him pity and letting him back in her life. I just want to do the right thing just once. If this is my kid I want to do this right.

Before T.J could say anything, Agent Clark walked in.

“I’m sorry to bother you Madam Secretary, but there is a young woman asking if she could speak with you. She says her name is Kristen Dupree. Should we let her in?” asked Clark and T.J felt his heart lurch.

“Please send her in,” said Elaine wiping her eyes and composing herself. Clark went to fetch her and T.J had to stop himself from pacing.

“Well that girl must have a set on her to face us all head on,” said Margaret. A few moments later Kristen came in and T.J could see how nervous she was. She kept twisting a bracelet on her wrist and her posture was stiff. She still couldn’t face him so she turned to Elaine.

“I’m not really sure where to start,” said Kristen.

“You could start by telling us if T.J is really the father and what happened six years ago,” said Elaine. Kristen sat down and gathered herself.

“We were really stupid one night and someone clearly fell asleep at the quality control on my birth control. We had a fight about how out of control things were getting and I told T.J we had a problem and that I was going to rehab. Some really nasty things were said and I went to rehab and T.J went back to Chicago. I found out eight weeks later that I was pregnant and T.J was the only person I had been with,” Kristen sighed before going on. “I told my dad and well he wasn’t happy to say the least, but he agreed that keeping it quiet was best for everyone. It was actually why he bought the studio. It was the cover reason for me leaving New York. The studio was still really small and people were happy just to still be employed so no one sold out my pregnancy to TMZ. I had Hannah and that’s it,” said Kristen.

T.J was stunned, she was still covering up what really happened in New York. How low he sank. That still wasn’t enough to get you to admit you had a problem, thought T.J. Maybe if he had she would have given him a chance.

“And it never occurred to let us in on this?” snapped Doug.

“Do you think it was an easy choice? It wasn’t easy, but it was the right one and would do it again in a second,” said Kristen standing up as Doug came over to her.

“You cheated all us out of having her in this family from the start when you found out. We could have come up with this something to explain it…” Kristen cut him off.

“Do you know how many times I’ve had to worry about photographers sneaking around and taking pictures of her when she playing in the yard? None. If she wants to go to sleepover do I have a security detail hanging around? No. Can she have friends over without a metal detector and a pat down?Yes. She’s normal. She has a normal life. That is something she would never have if people knew who her father really was,” said Kristen.

“We could have found a work around if you had just told us. You didn’t even give us a chance,” said Doug grabbing her arm and squeezing it.

“Can we have a moment?” asked T.J. standing up and putting his hand on Doug’s arm

“T.J,” started Doug.

“It’s between us. Please,” said T.J. Doug let go of Kristen’s arm and stepped away shaking.

“We’ll give you the room,” said Elaine and they all left the room slowly. Kristen finally looked at him and she looked torn between relief and pissed off.

“We’re you ever going to tell me?” asked T.J. He sounded so upset it actually hurt her a little bit.

“I don’t know. There were times I wanted too. I actually tried to call you when I had her and when you picked up you were clearly wasted so I just hung up the phone. I couldn’t risk her life with you,” said Kristen and T.J. nodded.

“Worried I would have dropped her huh?” asked T.J. and Kristen shook her head.

“I love her. I love her more than anything and even then there were times those first couple months when I was exhausted and sore and she just wouldn’t stop crying no matter what I did...there was one night that it was just nerve wracking and I just wanted her to stop crying. I had to make myself leave the room and the shut the door before I did something horrible that I couldn’t take back. You weren’t ready for that level of commitment and I still don’t think you are,” said Kristen. T.J took a step towards hers and she took a step back. She was trying not to cry and he needed her to understand he wasn’t going to screw up again. I wish I didn’t have to beg, but clearly begging is going to have to happen now, thought T.J.

“I need you to give me a chance. Just one. Let me try to make things right,” said T.J.and Kristen sighed.

“I don’t know if I can,” said Kristen and T.J. grabbed her arm.

“I know I screwed up and I didn’t leave you a lot of choices,” said T.J. and he took her other arm. “I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for you doing this alone and you don’t have to anymore. We can do this together,” said T.J. He wanted so badly for her to trust him. To have something that was good in his life. Something he hadn’t screwed up yet and mattered.

“You have no idea what you are getting into. Have you been around kids for more than five minutes at a time for something other than a photo opt? I’m a big girl and know how to be hurt. She doesn’t. I know someday that someone is going to hurt to her and I might not be able to stop it. I know you don’t want to screw up and that you want to try...but if you slip and screw up again you will hurt her and it will be all my fault for letting you back in my life,” said Kristen and she went to pull away and he wouldn’t let go.

“What do I have to do to get you to trust me again? I’ll do anything you want,” pleaded T.J.

“I don’t know. I need to think about this. I have to do what’s best for her and I need you to respect that,” said Kristen and his grip got so tight she winced a little.

“She’s my daughter too,” said T.J. “Don’t keep her away from me anymore.”

“She doesn’t know that. She doesn’t know about how we used to be and this isn’t something you just throw at a five year old,” hissed Kristen.

“Have you told her anything about me?” asked T.J feeling his temper rise. Why couldn’t she just give him a chance. Because you’ll screw it up and she knows that, thought the hateful voice.

“She asked last year if she had a dad. I told her she did and that he wasn’t ready to be dad and that was the end of it. I’ve never said anything bad about you to her and when she got older I was going to tell her the truth...well most of it. I think I might spare her the part where we were doing coke. Somethings are best not said,” said Kristen finally pulling away.

“I’ve been clean for five months and this is it. I don’t want to go back to how I was before. My life sucks and a lot of is my own fault. I know that and I accept that I screwed up. I’ve hurt so many people and I can’t take it all back. You’ve been on and off the wagon too and you got it together. What do I have to do to get you to see I’ve changed?” asked T.J. Kristen sighed and closed her eyes.

“I need you to give me time to think. I need you to see this isn’t about what you want. It’s about what is best for her. You...you hated growing up in the spotlight and if we tell people she’s your daughter...she won’t have a normal life anymore. We both really need to think this through,” said Kristen and T.J. just wanted to cry. She was right and he hated how right she was. He had never had a normal life and Kristen had given their kid a normal life. No fishbowl, no exceptions, and a parent who clearly went above and beyond making sure she was happy. T.J. knew his parents loved him, but they would have never given up everything the way Kristen had.

“Just...just promise me that you’ll give me a chance someday. If not now then someday,” said T.J. Kristen nodded and she left. T.J. sat down and put his head in his hands. Douglas came back into the room.

“I don’t care if it causes a scandal T.J. You have a right to know your kid and be in her life. We’ll get a lawyer and…” T.J. cut him off.

“I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want hurt Kristen anymore and I don’t wanna start any relationship with Hannah on a bad note,” said T.J. Doug sat down and sighed.

“Well for what’s it worth, I think you might be a good dad and congratulations,” said Doug.  

“She looks like Kristen, but she has my eyes,” said T.J. and Doug hugged him. T.J. hugged him back and fought the urge to cry.

“I just want to do the right thing. Just once,” said T.J. Maybe the right thing is just leaving them alone.

 

 

Chapter Text

2006

 

            T.J. found Kristen hiding in her office sitting on the floor with a notebook. T.J just shook his head and came into the office.

            “You are still very good at hide and seek,” said T.J and he sat down on the floor with her. Kristen had done a drawing of the models with vulture bodies circling around a stick figure of herself.

            “”Wow you really captured the soul sucking joy of your job,” said T.J and Kristen shook her head.

            “He said he didn’t want kids and it turns out she’s pregnant,” said Kristen and she started tearing up and T.J pulled her off the floor.

“Come on let’s get out of here. We’ll go have fun where everyone isn’t an asshole,” said T.J. Kristen gave him a look.

“Can I just curl up in a corner and cry for five minutes?” asked Kristen. T.J took her face in his hands.

“I refuse to let you sit in a corner and cry over an asshole that cheated on you and refused to see that you are an amazing, talented and sexy woman. Come on.  Let’s get out of here,” said T.J.

“You have a very one sided opinion of me,” said Kristen.

“I don’t consider it an opinion when you are amazing, talented and very sexy. When a gay man says a woman is sexy it’s a fact,” said T.J and Kristen let out a small laugh.

“It’s the boobs isn’t it?” asked Kristen.

“Your natural C cup boobs are amazing to look at,” said T.J and they both started laughing.

“Alright. Save me from the hell hole,” said Kristen. T.J reached into his pocket and pulled out a vial.

“Let’s restart this horrible evening,” said T.J. Kristen eyed the vial. She wasn’t against pills, weed and booze during her downtime, however hadn’t done coke yet. She hated this job and only took it to make her dad happy. He promised it was only for a year and then he would move her somewhere else. It had been almost two years of hell. They didn’t like her no matter how many hours she put in, no matter how good her work was they would never like her.

“It will be fun,” said T.J. with a smile.

“Screw it. I’m tired of being responsible,” said Kristen taking the vial

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

           

            2012

 

            “Is grandpa gonna die?” asked Hannah and Kristen had to make herself not react badly to the question. Kristen sat her fork down and looked her daughter in the eyes. Kristen didn’t talk down to Hannah, but she was still five and there was only so much she could understand. You knew she was gonna ask sooner or later, thought Kristen.

            “I don’t know sweetie. He’s sick and the doctors are trying to help him. We just have to wait,” said Kristen.

            “Mrs. Harper had a heart attack and she died,” said Hannah. Mrs. Harper had been a teacher at the preschool Hannah went to and she had passed away last year. Her passing had been what caused Hannah to ask about T.J. She had had taken Hannah to the funeral and on the way home Hannah sprung the question.-Is my daddy dead? Is that why we don’t see him? The kid had a knack for asking the most uncomfortable questions when Kristen was driving. Her favorites so far had been-Is daddy dead? Why do boys pee standing up? And her all-time favorite-Mommy do you have sex?

            “Well Mrs. Harper was older than grandpa and she didn’t get help right away the way Nina helped grandpa,” said Kristen. Hannah went back to dinner and gave Kristen a few minutes to regroup before the next round of questions started.

            “Are you gonna have a heart attack too?” asked Hannah.

            “I hope not,” said Kristen.

            “Did your mommy have a heart attack too?” asked Hannah.  

            “No. My mommy had a problem with her brain and it stopped working,” said Kristen. Hannah just looked at her food and Kristen got up and sat Hannah in her lap.

            “You wanna talk sweetie?” asked Kristen.

            “If grandpa dies you won’t have parents anymore and it makes me sad,” said Hannah softly.

            “I’ll be alright. I got you and we’re Team Us,” said Kristen holding up her hand for a high five. Hannah gave her a high five and Kristen kissed her on the head.

            “You want the rest of your grilled cheese?” asked Kristen and Hannah shook her head no. “I have to stay here with grandpa. So Nina is going to take you back to the house and you can sleep in my old bedroom. I think my old teddy bear-Mr. Fluffy is still there and you can sleep with him,” said Kristen.

            “Alright,” said Hannah. Kristen picked up their trays and tossed the leftovers in the trash. She bent down and picked Hannah up. She was getting too big to do this and it actually hurt Kristen’s back a little to do this. She used to be able to fit in a shoebox, thought Kirsten as they got on the elevator. Douglas accusation of how Kristen had cheated them out of having Hannah in their lives rang in her head. It made her heart hurt a little. It hadn’t be an easy option to cut them all out of her life, but with the Hammond family need to be in the political spotlight she made the best choice on hand.

            “Be good for Nina and get some sleep,” said Kristen handing her off to Nina.

            “Night Mommy,” said Hannah and she gave Kristen a kiss on the cheek.

            “See you in the morning,” said Nina giving her hug.

            “Good night,” said Kristen settling in a chair with her drawing pad and started drawing a comic for her Up All Night web series. You won’t have parents anymore and it makes me sad. She wondered what her mother would have said when she came home pregnant. Would she have agreed to keep Kristen’s secret or would she have told Elaine? Would she be proud of the type of parent I am?  She liked to think Hannah was a kind, smart and free thinking kid. She loved rabbits and Disney movies. She liked watching Animal Planet and wanted to be an animal doctor. All her stuffed animals are covered in bandages and she made me bury the bird that flew into the window. God I love her. She is everything to me, thought Kristen. She looked at her father and wondered what she was supposed to do next.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

1991

 

            Elaine couldn’t find T.J and John couldn’t find Kristen.

            “I should have kept a better eye on her. I sent Nina home and now I don’t know where she is,” whispered John. It was Virginia’s wake and the house was crowded and Elaine knew the young girl who just lost her mother wouldn’t want to be around all these people.

            “I’ll find her John. I just have to find T.J,” said Elaine. She knew they wouldn’t be on the first floor with the rest of the funeral guests. That left the second floor, the attic and the basement. Elaine started on the second floor and she heard whispering coming out of closet in Virginia's office.

“It’s not your fault. She told you to wake her up for dinner. You didn’t know she was going to...you know,” said T.J.

“Die. My mom died,” said Kristen and she sounded so much older than nine years old it hurt Elaine a little bit.

“Still not your fault,” said T.J. Kristen sniffled and a few seconds later she was sobbing.

“It’s okay...it’s okay,” said T.J.

“She was all alone and she died. I don’t want to die alone,” cried Kristen.

“I promise you won’t die alone. I’m your best friend. I won’t let you die alone,” said T.J and Elaine’s heart hurt even more for the little girl, but somewhere deep down she felt an odd sort of pride in her son. He didn’t have a lot of friends, but he was loyal and kind to those he was friends with. If arranged marriages were still a thing we would have them engaged by now. They might actually even love each other, thought Elaine. She knocked on the door before opening it. Kristen had her head on T.J’s shoulder and her face was pale and tear stained. T.J. had his head resting on Kristen’s head and he was holding her hand.

“Krissy sweetie. Your dad is looking for you,” said Elaine and Kristen sighed.

“Please don’t make me go back down there,” said Kristen.

“I’ll tell your father you’re up here,” said Elaine kissing Kristen on her forehead. “I’ll come get you in an hour,” said Elaine giving T.J a kiss on the forehead. She shut the closet door and headed back downstairs. Elaine told John where Kristen was and he let out a sigh of relief.

“T.J found her and he’s sitting with her,” said John.

“Most of kids are treating her weird so it’s nice to see one kid is treating her normally,” said John. “It’s almost a shame we can’t arrange a marriage between them.”

“They are rather adorable together,” said Elaine with a small smile.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

2012

 

Elaine put out her first cigarette and started on her second as Bud sat down next to her.

            “I’m not ready to be called grandma. I’m not ready to hear someone call my son ‘daddy’ and I’m not sure if I was ever going to be ready to have it be T.J,” said Elaine.

“I’m not sure how I’m supposed to be in the same room with John after this. Anytime I asked about Krissy he said she was fine. Not once did he say she was single parenting our granddaughter,” said Bud lighting a cigar.

“While I don’t agree with the methods involved I can understand why John did it. He need to put Kristen’s well-being first. Can you imagine the crap she would have gone through if anyone here had found out she was unmarried and pregnant? Despite the fact that it’s 2012 some people still have rather backwards attitudes towards single parenting. And I can understand why she did what she did-she put the well-being of her child first,” said Elaine.

“She denied us a chance Sugar,” said Bud.

“Bud, we barely had time for our own children when they were growing up. We wouldn’t have time to help Kristen or T.J with this on the level they would have needed six years ago when I was governor and then when I started running for president. I’m not going to have the time to devote to a child on the level she deserves with this new run coming up. It’s not fair to her and I can understand why Kristen didn’t want us to know,” said Elaine.

“Well I’m not a part of this run and I would like to be in her life. You know I regret that we never had a little girl,” said Bud and Elaine shook her head.

“Did you miss the part when I told you we barely had time for two boys? Can you imagine what having a girl would have been like? You would of had Sam sitting there cleaning his guns if she brought home any boy,” said Elaine.

“I have my own collection I would have brought out for cleaning,” said Bud.

“Do you really think she’ll give T.J a chance?” asked Elaine. She could see it in T.J’s eyes, how much he wanted to be a part of this child’s life. He was a good person deep down and he just didn’t know how to let people see it

“Krissy still loves him even though he has broken her heart more often than not. She reminds me a little of you Sugar. All that heart that no one really sees. She’ll do the right thing in the end,” said Bud.

“So she had T.J’s eyes?” asked Elaine.

“And she is not shy at all,” said Bud recalling how friendly T.J had been when he was younger.  

“We’re grandparents now,” said Elaine taking a very long pull on her cigarette.

“You are the sexiest grandma I ever laid eyes on,” said Bud and they both started laughing.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

2006

 

            “He thought we had sex?” asked Kristen laughing while sipping her drink and T.J snorted another line of coke. He handed the straw to Kristen and she did a line and rubbed her nose.

            “Wow that stings a little bit,” said Kristen and she started laughing again.  

            “Is it really that funny?” asked T.J.

            “Yes. I mean people fall into two camps-either I wouldn’t sleep with you or I was so bad at sex you went gay. They don’t take in consideration that I tried getting you to sleep with me and you wouldn’t do it,” said Kristen.

            “You little slut,” teased T.J. and they both started laughing. They had their own back room in his club and were enjoying their time together. God she looked so relaxed and happy right now. She tried so hard and no one ever saw how good her work was. They just saw her name and wrote her off. It was the same for him sometimes. They just saw his name and assumed he was just going to coast by. He worked hard and just once it would be nice to have someone see that. Someone other than Kristen, thought T.J.

            “I will have you know I worked very hard to keep you happy in that area of our relationship when we dated. I trained my gag reflex for you. Nina couldn’t understand why I went through six boxes of popsicles in three days,” said Kristen and T.J started laughing.

            “You’re shitting me,” said T.J and Kristen finished her drink with a grin. “Wow that is love.”  T.J looked at her and grinned. God she was beautiful and he didn’t understand why Chris or most guys couldn’t see that. She had taken her hair down and it hung down to her shoulders. The low cut and curve hugging dress left very little to the imagination and what he could see was amazing and sexy. She’s too damn smart and driven for some asshole’s liking, thought T.J.

            “You really would have let me be your first?” asked T.J. Kristen looked at him surprised.

            “Yeah. You were my boyfriend and I loved you in that way so I figured why not,” said Kristen. So few people really did love him. He couldn’t trust people-once again his name made it impossible for people to see him as a person. He always found himself second guessing people in his life. Did they care about him or what he might be able to do for him? Not her though, she’s never asked me for anything.  She did another line and she shuddered a little.  

            “So you slept with….” T.J cut her off by kissing her hard on the mouth. Why? Why did it take him so long to come to this? She loved him. No one else loved him the way she did. He wanted her so badly all of a sudden and he didn’t know why.  She was stunned for second before she started kissing him back just has hard. One of his hands fisted in hair and the other went to breast and squeezed it. Kristen’s hands fisted in his hair and she started trying to crawl in his lap.

            “Let’s get out of here,” said T.J. He didn’t want to risk someone with a camera coming in and taking their picture.

            “Damn you are a tease,” muttered Kristen. She got off him and he got them out through a side door. They got in a taxi and T.J kept his hand on her thigh and he leaned over.

            “You have no idea what I’m going to do you when I get you in the apartment,” whispered T.J. He threw the driver a fifty and pushed Kristen out of the cab and she nearly ran upstairs. She was trying to find her keys when T.J pushed her against the door.

            He wove his fingers through Kristen’s hair and he kissed her hard. She tasted like raspberries and liquor. She smelled like sweat and something sweet. He pushed himself closer to her so she could feel how hard he was. She broke the kiss and looked up at with a shy grin.

            “We really wanna do this?” asked Kristen slightly out of breath. T.J laughed and started kissing her neck.

            “Come on. Aren’t you curious about how it would be between us? It might be fun,” said T.J. Kristen gave him that shy smile and stood up on tiptoes to kiss him again.

            “Let’s have fun than,” said Kristen pulling him close. She turned back to the door and managed to get it open and get them inside. She had barely shut it when T.J was on her again. God she felt so good under his hands and she was grinding on him. He was so hard right now it almost hurt.  He pushed her dress up and slide a hand between her legs.

            “So wet already,” muttered T.J sliding a finger into her and Kristen moaned. “You really want me don’t you?” asked T.J sliding another finger in her.

            “I say you want me too,” said Kristen palming the front of his pants and rubbing him. She undid his pants and started stroking his cock. T.J groaned and had to pull her hand off him.

            “You are going to finish me before we even start,” muttered T.J. He removed his fingers and she whined a little from the loss of contact.

            “You are a god damn tease Thomas James,” muttered Kristen before she started kissing him. Pulling his suit jacket off and kicking off her heels. His hands found the hook and the zipper in the back of her dress and undid them so she was just in her strapless bra and underwear. They barely made it to the sofa and she was fighting with the buttons on his shirt as he tried kicking off his shoes and pants.

            “You are so sexy,” said T.J unhooking her bra. She pulled him to the sofa with her and kissed him hard.

            “Now,” demanded Kristen.

            “So impatient,” said T.J sliding his hands over her body and taking one of her breasts into his mouth. The moan she let out excited him and he pulled off her underwear and slid two fingers back inside her.

            “Damn it,” muttered Kristen and her hips bucked against him. T.J kissed her and looked into her eyes.

            “I want it to last it a little bit. Just a little bit,” said T.J and he started thrusting his fingers in and out of her. He started rubbing her clit with his thumb while kissing any inch of skin his mouth could  find. She moved against him without any thought and he could feel her getting wetter and hotter by the second. She was clenching around his fingers and he smirked. Making his partners be in male or female climax was its own little high and he enjoyed it like a drug.

            “I never made you cum before did I?” asked T.J thrusting his fingers into her hard. He never really touched her when they were teenagers. She always got him off and he never went below her waist when they made out.

            “No,” whined Kristen and he kissed her again.

            “Well I should make up for that,” said T.J pressing down on her clit and taking her a little harder. She tightened around his fingers and he felt her whole body coming apart under him. He kissed her and she moaned into his mouth as she finished. He withdrew his fingers and started taking her with his cock.

“Oh you are so fucking amazing right now,” said T.J. He felt her wrap her legs around his waist and she looked up him with the shy little smile.

“You aren’t too bad either,” said Kristen. He dug his nails into her hips and took her hard. She simply went with him and her second orgasm almost finished him.

“Just a little more. Let me have a little more,” begged T.J and he pulled her closer to him.

“Do whatever you want,” said Kristen kissing him. He pounded into her and could barely stay inside her since she was so wet. He came hard and almost screamed her name. She held him close and kissed him softly.

“That was crazy,” laughed Kristen and he kissed her back and just held her.

“God I love you,” whispered T.J.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

            2012

 

            “You know if Kristen looks like one of those moms who won’t let people smoke around her kid,” said Margaret sitting down next to T.J who was smoking a cigarette. He let out a sad little laugh and put the cigarette out.

            “Might as well start trying to quit this too,” said T.J and Margaret took his hand.

            “What’s really going on up there sonny?” asked Margaret.

            “I’m gay and yet in that moment six years ago I was so in love with her it was unreal. She never wanted anything from me. She never asked me for anything and I knew I could trust her with everything. She never sold me out. Not once. She was in our lives longer than anyone and she’s never done an interview or cashed in on knowing the Hammond family the way everyone else has,” said T.J looking at his grandmother. Margaret sighed and took a cigarette from him.

            “Because she loved you too. That girl was starving for love. Don’t get me wrong I think her father does love her, but after her mother died you could just see it in her eyes. That need for someone to love her back. John was there for her, but not a way that counted or she really needed at that time. You were there and I don’t think she ever forgot that,” said Margaret. T.J teared up and Margaret hugged him.

            “What really happened in New York T.J? Everyone else bought that bullshit story, but I know better. I won’t tell anyone, but someone should know the truth,” said Margaret.

            “You’ll hate me,” said T.J.

            “Sweetheart I might be mad at you for a bit. I might give you a good slap after you tell me. I won’t hate you...I know you’ve screwed up T.J, but how bad was this one?” asked Margaret.

            “Bad,” said T.J simply. He took another cigarette and lit it. Might as well spit it out now, thought T.J.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

            2006

            Somehow they managed to get to sleep together on the sofa that night and somehow ended up having sex again when they woke up in the morning.

            “I’m starting to think you might have forgotten you’re gay,” said Kristen kissing him deeply when they were finished.

            “I’m willing to bend my rules on certain occasions. Besides you have amazing boobs. Most  girls would pay to have your boobs,” said T.J and Kristen started laughing.

            “I need a shower,” said Kristen pushing him off her.

            “Can I watch?” asked T.J with a smirk.

            “Sometimes a girl just wants to wash her hair alone,” said Kristen and she headed to the bathroom. T.J had a pounding headache when he stood up and he pulled on his pants before going into the kitchen to make them Bloody Marys. Kristen came out wrapped in a bathrobe and took the drink from him.

“Good my head was killing me. Still plenty of hot water if you want a shower,” said Kristen. T.J took a shower and got dressed in jeans and a black tee shirt he had brought over. Kristen had managed to pull herself together had done her make-up and found a spare pair of glasses and had gotten dressed in black jeans and a green sweater.

“So what do we do now?” asked Kristen. She suddenly looked very nervous and unsure. Well how does one process the fact they just had sex with their gay ex-boyfriend, thought T.J.

“Well it’s Sunday and I’m taking you out to brunch and we’ll just act like two best friends who had really good sex,” teased T.J and Kristen rolled eyes and relaxed.

“Ah so I’m now a best friend with benefits. Good I worried things would get weird,” said Kristen.

“I like you too much for something stupid like sex to ruin it. Come on I’m starving,” said T.J. He took Kristen’s hand unaware that this was the last day normal day they would have together. The went to brunch and to an early play before heading to Central Park and were trying to act like normal people before they spotted the little cluster of people trying to take their picture.

“Do you want to go back to my place?” asked Kristen seeing how annoyed T,J looked.

“Sure,” said T.J and his good mood was sort of ruined as they started walking back and he could hear people yelling questions. Well at we had a few normal hours together, thought T,J. Kristen took his hand.

“It’s a little like being fifteen all over again. Only Sam isn’t following ten feet behind us and that jogger might actually be a jogger,” said Kristen getting a small smile out of him.

“That person in the bushes might actually really be homeless,” said T.J and Kristen put her head on his arm.

“So I have job where no one respects me and you have a private life that no one respects. We’re the perfect team,” said Kristen and T.J actually laughed. They went back to Kristen’s apartment and he honestly couldn’t remember why he started doing the coke. He figured since he couldn’t go out he might has well enjoy his time inside. Kristen hadn’t wanted to do any at first. She told him she was tired and wanted to lay down for a little bit, but he started teasing her about being an old lady and no fun.

“Didn’t we have enough fun last night,” teased Kristen sitting down as he cut up lines.

“Well that was last night. This is this afternoon,” said T.J and he snorted a line before handing Kristen the straw. She sighed and did a line with him. She did two more before her face started turning red and she started shaking.

“T.J...something is wrong,” said Kristen and she couldn’t stop shaking.

“Just relax and take a deep breath and...Kristen. Oh shit!” cried T.J. She had simply fallen out the chair and her whole body was stiff and shaking. “Krissy! Krissy!” T.J went to pick her up and it felt like her heart was going to pound out of her chest. Oh god...oh god...thought T.J. He picked up the phone and dialed 9-1-1. He quickly gave them Kristen’s address and tried to not panic.

“I think she’s having a heart attack and oh god!!” cried T.J. She had stopped shaking, her whole body had gone limp and she wasn’t breathing anymore. He dropped the phone and tried shaking her. He didn’t know CPR and he couldn’t find a heartbeat. Oh shit...oh shit.

“Krissy...come on! KRISSY!” She wasn’t moving and he just held her. Get out! Get out now before they find you! hissed a voice in his head. If they caught him here with her and the drugs he  would go to jail and it would be the end for him. He quickly got up, knocked what was left of the coke off the table and left her apartment. He had just turned the corner when the ambulance pulled up to her apartment. He watched from a distance as they wheeled Kristen into the ambulance and pulled away with the sirens going. It meant she was still alive...they wouldn’t waste the lights for a dead person. T.J walked home and was there for thirteen hours before John called. T.J didn’t pick up the first call or the second. By the third he realized that the phone was going to keep ringing until he picked up.

“Hello,” croaked T.J and there was a long silence before T.J spoke up again. “Is she alright?”

“She’s alive. I’ve taken care of the police report and the hospital records. Thankfully there was some explosion in Texas and some actress announced she was popping out another kid to bury Kristen’s mishap behind. You were with her?” asked John.

“I screwed up and…” John cut him off.

“She’s awake and she wants to see you. St. Luke’s. Room 1308. I suggest you get your ass here before she checks out,” said John. He hung up before T.J could speak up. She’s alright...everything is going to be alright, thought T.J.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

T.J stopped by a florist and picked up some lilies for her before going up to her room. She was sitting up in the hospital bed and staring blankly at the T.V. He knocked on the door and she eyed him wearily.

“Dad’s at my apartment packing for me. I’m going to rehab...again. Shut the door please,” said Kristen. She had gone right before college to get her pill issue under control. It had worked for a while until her two years ago she started up again. She had just gotten better at hiding it from everyone, but not him. He came into the room and she just looked at him blankly. He held up the flowers and gave her a small smile which wasn’t returned. It was just that blank look in her eyes. T.J sat down and gathered his thoughts.

“I...I um...I’m really sorry Kristen. I…” she cut him off.

“How could I have been so stupid for so long?” asked Kristen and she looked up at the ceiling to keep herself from crying. “I used to feel so much looking at you and now I don’t feel anything. I wish I could be mad at you right now. If I was mad I could understand that, but I don’t feel anything for you. I think it’s because you don’t feel anything for me at all do you? Did you ever feel anything for me?” asked Kristen looking at him. Her eyes were just so blank and doll like it sent a cold feeling to the pit of his stomach.

“I’m sorry! I just...I panicked. I didn’t know how to help you and I thought you…” She cut him off again.

“They said I was almost dead. Another two minutes and I would have been. You left me,” said Kristen and her voice broke and she started sobbing. T.J put a hand on her back and she pulled away from him. “You promised me...you said you wouldn’t leave me,” snapped Kristen.

“We were nine,” countered T.J and Kristen’s eyes got wide and her face got hard. She quickly wiped her eyes and she looked at him calmly.

“I don’t want to see anymore. I don’t want to see you ever again. Everything you have ever said to me has been a lie and it’s the most insulting thing in my life. I fell for all the lies. That I mattered to you, that you needed me, that I was your best friend...it was all lies and I believed them. I am so stupid when it comes to you,” said Kristen and T.J felt his own temper start to rise. What the hell did she think he was going to do? He could be sitting in a jail right now if they had caught him. Hell she could go to jail too if anyone thought to check her carpet for the drugs.

“I’m sorry and don’t know what else you want from me? I screwed up,” said T.J.

“That is a remarkable impression of your father,” said Kristen and he slapped her without thinking.

“Don’t you ever compare me to him!” snapped T.J and he saw the handprint on her pale face. “I’m sorry. Oh god I’m sorry and…” she just shook her head and looked away from him.

“I hope someday you find someone that you trust and love with all your heart and I hope they hurt you just as badly as you’ve hurt me. We’re done. My dad isn’t going to tell your parents what happened, but we’re not friends anymore,” said Kristen and T.J just felt a rage in his chest. Oh she doesn’t want to be friends anymore. Screw this and screw her, thought T.J.

“That’s fine by me. I don’t need you anyway. You know I always felt sorry for you. Poor little rich girl that no one ever liked because she was such a pain in the ass. I could of had any girl I wanted before I came out and I picked you because you were the most pathetic person I knew and I wouldn’t break up with me. I did you a favor when we became friends. I really hated you sometimes. I held myself back for you and you want to end our friendship when I’m the only friend you have. Fine. Fine. Have a wonderful life Kristen,” said T.J sarcastically and he left the room. I don’t need her. I never needed her anyway.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

2012

 

            After he finished and his grandmother sat there silent T.J felt the shame rise. I told her that I hated her and she almost died because of me. Did I really think sorry was going to fix that? thought T.J.

            “Well when you aim to burn a bridge you don’t half ass it do you,” said Margaret and T.J started smoking another cigarette.

“I just so mad and I didn’t think at all. I just wanted to hurt her back and I didn’t have reason too so I made reasons,” said T.J.

“I told you it was going to be hard honey and you have two choices. You can fight for Kristen or you can let her go. You’ve never really had to fight for her so it’s going to be even harder,” said Margaret and T.J. nodded. She was right, he never really tried for her. Yes he had apologized to her when they had broken up, but the damage he had caused was lasting. Oh she had boyfriends after him, but none of them had ever really treated like she should have been treated. Then again he really hadn’t treated her right either. She had lost the few friends she did after he had come out and she went back into her into herself after that and very few people were allowed in. She had you. At least she thought she did, thought T.J..

“Just think it over sweetheart,” said Margaret and she hugged him tightly.

“Thank you Nana,” said T.J. He got up and went to his room and Margaret decided to go for a drive.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

            2007

 

            Kristen sat up in her bed and adjusted the small bundle in her arms. She kissed the baby on her forehead and smiled to herself. Three weeks early and nearly seventeen hours of labor later she now had the result of that in her arms. A little over six pounds and sixteen inches was half awake in her arms and Kristen was still a little dazed, every inch of her body hurt and yet she was so happy it scared her a little bit.

“You have no idea how much I love you,” whispered Kristen and she kissed the baby on her forehead and brushed back a stray strand of dark hair. She had named her Hannah and currently Hannah was sort of awake in her arms. Her eyes were closed, but she yawned and Kristen could feel her stirring a little in her arms.

“You hungry. You wanna try the boob feeding again?” asked Kristen. She adjusted Hannah in her arms and unbuttoned her top. “Come on we can do this,” Kristen had tried this earlier and hadn’t been able to do it. She got Hannah to latch and while it hurt like hell at least the kid was feeding. I can do this. I got this and I don’t need him, thought Kristen as she rubbed Hannah’s back.

Since she had moved to California she hadn’t spoken to T.J. or anyone else from the Hammond family. She had been so lonely when she had first moved out here. She hated to admit how right he had been about her not having any friends. No one from New York had called to see how she was doing after her sudden exit from the magazine and while she hated most of the staff there she had thought a few of them might have actually liked her back and she was so wrong it hurt it a little.

Here in California she had real friends for the first time in her life. She had met other mothers through an online group who were sort of in her shoes, they were all single and recovering from addiction. She had friends from work and she had made some other friends through some of the blogging she had done. She was really happy for the first time in a long time and yet there was some small and nagging voice in the back of her head. This is his child and you should tell him.

She tried adjusting herself in the bed and found no relief. They had given her a little something to dull the pain during labor, but she refused to take anything else after. Just tough it out, thought Kristen.

“I feel like I owe you an apology. Someday you’re gonna ask where you came from, who your dad is, why we aren’t together and all the answers are really terrible. I screwed up, but that doesn’t change how much I love you. You are the best thing to come out of that whole mess and I’m going to try so hard to make up for he can’t give you,” said Kristen. He said he loved you that night. All the time you were in his life and he only said it that one time. It was a lie too and I should accept that. He won’t love her, thought Kristen and it was why she hadn’t picked up the phone to call him. T.J. would love her as long as it was convenient for him and when it bored him he would move on. No this was her baby and she didn’t need him in their lives.

“We’re going to be Team Us and we’re going to be awesome together,” said Kristen kissing the baby on her forehead again.

She weakened right before she was due to go home and had called T.J.’s cell phone number that she still hadn’t removed from her phone. It was evening in Chicago and so it rang a few times before it was picked up.

“Hello,” slurred T.J. and Kristen hung up and deleted the number from her phone. He was wasted and she didn’t need that mess in her life anymore. She was clean, she had a good job, and she was going home with her daughter. I don’t need T.J. Hammond in my life anymore.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

            2012

 

            Kristen felt someone shake her shoulder lightly and she woke up to see Margaret standing there looking at her.

            “Oh they sent in the big guns,” said Kristen and she forced herself to sit up and took a sip of very cold and slightly burnt coffee as Margaret took a seat.

            “I’m not armed. All I want to do is talk. I understand why you did what you did,’ said Margaret and Kristen looked stunned. “I don’t agree with it a hundred percent seeing how much this hurting T.J., but I understand. T.J.’s biological grandfather liked his booze and heroin and I couldn’t bring up a baby with him. He saw Elaine a handful of times before I remarried and then he was gone and it was the best thing for her. T.J. told me what really happened in the New York and I can’t blame you that much without turning around and blaming him too,” said Margaret and Kristen was even more stunned.

            “All of it?” asked Kristen and Margaret nodded.

            “Little shit would panic and leave someone overdosing on the floor,” said Margaret and Kristen had to quickly wipe her eyes.

            “I was so scared,” said Kristen. Sometimes she still had nightmares that she was on that floor and everyone was looking at her and no one would help her.

            “Well you could have died that’s enough to scare anyone. You must of gotten the most stubborn sperm and egg to have a conceived during that,” said Margaret and Kristen almost started laughing.

            “Eight weeks later when I was holding the test I thought it was defective. She was a little early though and small. We had to stay in the hospital for about a week to make sure she was alright. Longest week of my whole life,” said Kristen.

            “Do you have any pictures?” asked Margaret and Kristen pulled out her phone and pulled up a picture of Hannah. She handed the phone to Margaret and she just shook her head.

            “You two somehow managed to make a beautiful little girl. I know the family is crazy and it’s not going to be easy to give up the nice peaceful life you’ve managed to dig out for yourself .He needs a chance though...can you give him one?” asked Margaret and Kristen bit her lip hard.

            “I don’t know if I can trust him again,” said Kristen.

            “He’s changed and some of it’s for the better...he does care about you,” said Margaret and Kristen just stared at her. “There are different kinds of love sweetheart and while he wasn’t in love with you he did love you...even if he never said it out loud,” said Margaret. She got up and hugged Kristen.

“You make him work for your trust though, just don’t hand it back over. A little hard work might do him some good,” said Margaret.

 

Chapter Text

“So here we are a day later and I still haven’t heard from her,” said T, J to his therapist. Dr. Sam Muller was a decent guy and the least annoying therapist that T.J. had been made to go and talk too. He was about his grandmother’s age so maybe that was why he was easy to talk to for T.J. The guy had lived his life unlike the younger therapist he had seen in the past. Muller took some notes and looked at T.J.

            “I know this has to be hard for you, but do you understand why this might be a hard decision for her?” asked Muller and T.J. got up to pace.

            “I screwed her over and she could have died because I’m an irresponsible asshole. I don’t want to be the guy anymore though and I don’t know how to make Kristen see that,” said T.J. and Muller nodded.

“So far giving her the space she asked for is a step in the right direction. Showing her respect after she makes her decision would be another way. Even if she decides that Hannah is not ready to have you in her life,” said Muller and T.J.’s pacing increased. “Can I ask why this is so very important to you? You’ve never expressed any interest in children before now,” said Muller.

“Well I didn’t know I had any before two days ago. I’m sort gay doc...kids are normally a really planned out activity for us. You don’t get to drunkenly adopt them,” said T.J and Muller gave him a look and T.J. sat back down. “She might be the only decent thing I’ve ever done. I’m thirty and I have nothing to show for it. I technically don’t have job. I’m still living with my mother, I’m single and I’m on year fifteen of trying to stay sober. It’s selfish, but I just want one thing in my life that’s good. Just one,” said T.J. and he started pacing again.

“I know your heart is in the right place T.J., but this is going to take a lot of time and a lot of patience. Have you considered what happens once her father is better and she wants to go home? Back to California,” said Muller and T.J. stopped pacing. He hadn’t even considered that yet. Kristen had a life away from D.C. and once John was up and functioning she would leave again and not look back. T.J. really had no attachment to D.C. He had moved around so much when he was younger home was just wherever his parents were in office. New York had started to feel a little like home before Kristen left.

“I don’t know. I would go with her if she wanted me too...probably be better for my mother’s run if I got out of the way,” said T.J. “I miss Kristen too and being her friend. I wasn’t a very good friend too her. I know that, but I miss her and I want to be a part of my kid’s life.”

“Do you know what you’ll say to Hannah when the time comes to explain that you are her father? “asked Muller and T.J. blew out a breath.

“No. Not really...it sort sounds shitty to say ‘Your mom thought I wasn’t good enough to be a parent and she was right. I’m sort of an asshole and I’m sorry for the rotten genes that are going to come your way.’” said T.J. and Muller nodded.

I’m going to suggest that you and Kristen see a family counselor together. Someone to help you come together as co parents and to work through your history together. In the meantime I suggest you looking into some parenting books and maybe some online classes. Try talking to Kristen and seeing how she handles Hannah. Talk to her about Hannah-what she likes, doesn’t like, if she has hobbies, things that will help you get closer to her. If Kristen does let you into Hannah’s life you are going to have to follow her lead in parenting. I think your heart is in the right place T.J. but this is going to take a lot of small steps and patience,” said Muller.

“Ah patience. The virtue I seem to lack the most,” said T.J. and Muller gave him a look.

“It’s improving. Hopefully when I see you next week you’ll have good news for me,” said Muller. T.J. nodded and headed out of the office. Agent Clark was waiting for him and T.J. fought the urge to sigh. His own family still had a hard time trusting him since they still had Clark taking him to and from his appointments. Clark opened the door and T.J. got in the car. Yeah you really should be trusted with the well-being of a kid when you can’t even be trusted to attend your own therapy sessions, thought T.J.

“Do you have kids?” asked T.J. and Clark shook his head before starting the car.

“Never found the time or the person to have them with. Got a mess of nieces and nephews though,” said Clark. T.J. thought about what Kristen has said about him and kids. He hadn’t really spent any time with any kids when there wasn’t a camera in his face. He didn’t know anything about kids in general and he had the balls to ask someone to be a parent.

“What do you your nieces like? I mean like in general?” asked T.J. and Clark thought.

“Well my older niece is sort of a geek and she like Star Wars and Hungry Games. The two younger ones are very different. One is really into the Disney Princess stuff and wants everything to be pink and there is never enough glitter. The other one is a few months older and she likes to take everything apart and try putting it back together. You can’t buy that girl enough Legos or building sets. It’s really sort of fun to watch them together during the holidays,” said Clark. T.J. nodded and looked out the window. He wondered what sort of girl Hannah was and remembered hearing her say something about a pet rabbit. It’s a small step; just make a small step, thought T.J.

“Do you think we could make a stop really quick?” asked T.J.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

            “Krissy,” croaked John and Kristen nearly dropped the report she was reading. He had been showing some signs of waking up and the doctors were hopeful that he was out the woods.

            “Hi dad,” said Kristen and she leaned over and kissed his forehead. She quickly wiped her eyes and he looked around puzzled.

            “Hospital?” asked John and Kristen nodded.

            “I need to have them page your doctor. You had a heart attack,” said Kristen and her father closed his eyes and looked annoyed.

            “Just in time for the shareholder meeting,” he grumbled has Kristen hit the call light. A few moments later a nurse came in and gave them a small smile.

            “Welcome back,” she said and started taking his vitals. “Everything seems to be on the mend. I’ll page Dr. Lown and he’ll see you when he comes back on shift. For right now just take it easy,” said the nurse. She gave Kristen a pat on the shoulder before leaving the room. Kristen took her father’s hand and squeezed it hard.

            “You scared me good old man,” said Kristen.

            “Gave me a scare too. How long have I been out?” asked John.

            “Almost three days. I had Michael push the shareholder meeting back until next month and I was brushing up on some of the numbers in case I needed to go in your place. Everything is going to be fine. No is going to vote you out over one little heart attack,” said Kristen and John shook his head.

            “You have your own business to worry about and you need to get home to Hannah. I’ll be fine with Nina. I’ll even let you pick out a nurse for me,” said John and Kristen started twisting her bracelet, a gift John had gotten her after she had Hannah. Here we go, thought Kristen.

            “Don’t get mad, but Hannah’s at the house with Nina. Everyone I knew back home was leaving for Thanksgiving so there wasn’t anyone to look after her,” explained Kristen and she saw he looked annoyed and she plowed on. “Daddy they know about Hannah and they want to be in her life,” said Kristen and John closed his eyes and sighed deeply.

            “Do they know what he did to you in New York?” asked John.

            “He told Margaret what happened and I think its best we leave it at that,” said Kristen. John looked at her and just shook his head.

            “Don’t ruin all your hard work for T.J. Hammond sweetheart,” said John. He looked so tired, worried and old all of a sudden it tore at her.

            “Dad,” started Kristen and he went on.

“The last few years have been very good for you. You’ve settled in your life and you have a lot to show for it. I know you want to expand the studio, break away from my company and go on your own. You’re a wonderful mother and it shows in Hannah. You wanted to get better...baby he hasn’t done a damn thing to better himself in years. Not once has he looked back to you unless it was to blame you for his own screw ups. I should have sent you away for school when he started going down, but you had such a big heart and you pleaded with me that he needed you. What happened when I sent you to the same school in Boston...after he ruined your reputation at the school here?” asked John. Kristen sighed and gathered her thoughts.

After the dance mishap, someone ratted her out for writing T.J’s papers. The school kicked them both out, well they said T.J. wasn’t welcome back at all, but she could have come back her senior year if she wanted. She gave it some thought, but after all the shit the kids had put her through she wanted a fresh start. Their parents sent them to a prep school in Boston and Kristen had tried making friends on her own and had managed to make a few when she went out with T.J. one night and they both got busted for drinking. T.J was kicked out since he had been caught before and she had been put on a warning until she finished school. After that the few friends she had made didn’t want to hang out with her that much anymore. She was trouble and no one wanted that on their college application.

“I was stupid too and I knew better,” said Kristen. John seemed to getting sleepy again and he tried sitting up. “Don’t hurt yourself,” said Kristen making him lie back down.

“You care far too much for him and he doesn’t care about you. I love Elaine and Bud, but they raised a selfish child and he won’t change for you or for Hannah. Think about Hannah. She’s better off having no father than the mess that is T.J. Hammond. Please...I’m begging you. Don’t hurt yourself again for him,” said John. Kristen could feel the tears burning as John seemed to drift back off. The last two days had been nothing but a debate in her head and in her heart. The head pulled out all the ways he had hurt her and could hurt her and Hannah. Her heart though wanted so badly for him to have something good in his life. A reason for him to get better and to really try this time. Her heart still could find a speck of good in T.J.. Plus didn’t Hannah have the right to know her family and where she came from? What did it say about her as a mother if she blocked her daughter from having more people in her life that would love her? Kristen knew T.J. didn’t love her, but maybe he could love Hannah. A chance. He gets one chance. No do overs. He hurts her one time and I’ll ruin him, thought Kristen. Oh her father was going to tear her a new one once he could get out this bed, but she had already made her mind.

“I know you want what’s best for me, but I have to do this for Hannah,” said Kristen and she gave her father another kiss on the forehead. Please don’t let this be a mistake, thought Kristen.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

T.J. was pretty sure Kristen would kill him if he got Hannah a real rabbit, plus if she already had rabbits at home the last thing he needed to do was get her another pet. He had debated buying the very large stuffed rabbit, but there was the issue of how Kristen would get it home and since it was almost five feet tall. In the end he settled for a small stuffed rabbit and a book-The Velveteen Rabbit. If she was anything like her mother she liked books too.

There was a part of T.J. that wanted to go over and give it Hannah right now, but he wasn’t sure if she was with Nina or with Kristen at the hospital. However he knew that it would piss Kristen off if he went behind her back and saw Hannah without her approval. T.J. paced the floor of his room before going downstairs and sitting at the piano. He settled his hands on the keys and started playing a piece by Craig Armstrong. He and Kristen had gone to see Love Actually together and she had loved this piece from the movie, the Glasgow Love theme. It was really the only thing he had liked about the movie, but he suffered through it for her. He was sort of surprised he still remembered how to play it. Guess I didn’t fry my brain enough, thought T.J.. He finished the piece and was trying to figure out what he wanted to play next when she spoke up.

“I’m glad you didn’t quit playing,” said Kristen. T.J. turned and Kristen stood there looking so nervous it put a knot in his stomach. “I never understood why you didn’t apply to music school. You’re still really good. Your grandma let me in,” said Kristen and she sat down.

“I just choked at the thought of auditioning,” admitted T,J. staying where he was at the bench. Kristen started twisting her bracelet and trying to get her thoughts in order. “Is your dad alright?” asked T,J. and Kristen nodded.

“He finally woke up and the doctor talked to me a little bit before I left. He’s going to need bed rest and no stress for a couple of weeks. I’m going to be in town for a while until he’s alright to handle things on his own. Actually if he knew I was here he would get out his bed and kick my ass,” said Kristen.

“Still hates me?” asked T.J. and Kristen nodded.

“This is isn’t easy. I’ve gone over and over all the pros and cons and thought and thought until my head hurt,” said Kristen. T.J. got up and sat next to her. There would have been a time when it was easy for them and he put an arm around her. For a second he thought she was going to push him away. “I think my biggest fear is that you aren’t going to love her,” said Kristen and T.J. felt like she had slapped him.

“She’s mine...ours...why wouldn’t I love her?” asked T.J. and Kristen looked at him.

“I know you T.J. and you don’t like being bored. Guess what sometimes she’s going to be boring and you have to put with that. That she’s going to talk your ear off about something she’s seen on Animal Planet and she’s going to talk about it for days until she finds something new to talk about for days. She likes dogs and her rabbits and watching the same five movies over and over again. She’s...she’s sweet and sensitive and cries when she sees a dead animal in the road. I had to find a shoe box and bury a bird two weeks ago. She brings it flowers and made a little rock for it in school. That’s who she is,” said Kristen and T.J. felt his heart sink. Kristen was going to tell him no and not let him anywhere near Hannah. Why do you even bother trying to do the right thing anymore? thought T.J..

“I’m going to give you a chance T.J.. You only get one chance with her,” said Kristen and it took T.J. a second to understand what she was saying.

“I can see her?” asked T.J. letting out a breath he wasn’t really aware he was holding in.

“I’m not ready to tell her who you are, but you should get to know her and be in her life. I would be a really shitty parent if I didn’t let people try to love her. Especially her own father,” said Kristen. T.J. hugged her and try to ignore the stab in his chest when she didn’t hug him back. Give her time. Give her time to see you aren’t going to screw up again, thought T.J..

“I know I can promise you until I’m dead and you won’t believe me but, I’m going to do the right thing this time. I’ll do anything you want. This is all you,” said T.J. and Kristen nodded before standing up.

“I have to go back to the hospital around six to make sure he’s alright and to talk with Michael about some company stuff. If you want you can come see her now,” said Kristen. T.J. had to fight to urge to hug her again.

“Yeah. I would love to see her now. Let me just talk to the warren,” said T.J. and Kristen nodded.

“I’ll be outside,” said Kristen. T.J. found Margaret watching a talk show in her room.

“Nana I’m gonna go with Kristen for a few hours. Tell mom not to worry,” said T.J. giving her a quick kiss.

“She’ll worry anyway. Don’t screw this up you little shit or so help me,” said Margaret letting the threat hang in the air.

“I won’t,” said T.J. and he went to his room to collect the small gift he had gotten for his daughter. Kristen eyed the small bag has he got in the car and he wondered if he had screwed up by getting the kid anything at all.

“I heard her telling my dad she liked rabbits so I..um...I got her a stuffed one. And a book. The  Velveteen Rabbit. I should have asked first,” said T.J. feeling so damn nervous he wanted to scream. Kristen’s grip eased on the steering wheel and she looked surprised.

“No, it’s fine. We read all the time together. I actually got her that book for Christmas. I’ll send it back though. I didn’t have a lot of time when we got the call so I just threw some clothes in bag before going to the airport. She’s been playing with a lot of my old toys and books that my dad had stored away. She’ll like it. Thanks,” said Kristen. They were silent for a while before T.J. spoke up again.

“I talked to my doctor about this and he suggested we should go to counseling together. Help us work through all the stuff between us.” said T.J..

“We do have a lot of stuff between us and we should try to work on it if we’re going to be civil for Hannah’s sake,” said Kristen. She parked in front of the house and looked at him.

“I still don’t know if we can be friends again. I’m willing to give you one chance with my daughter, but us...we can work on being civil and maybe working towards co-parenting and letting you be alone with her, but us. I don’t know if we can us again,” said Kristen. It hurt a little less than Sean telling him he didn’t love him. At least this was sort of earned and maybe could still be fixed if he proved he was good enough for her.

“It sounds fair,” said T.J. even though it hurt and he wanted to beg for a chance with her. Kristen took a deep breath before getting out of the car. T.J. followed and Kristen grabbed his arm.

“She doesn’t know yet and until she does you’re just an old friend from school. We’ll ease her into this. I say when it’s time to tell her. Deal,” said Kristen and her eyes got so hard it almost scared him a little.

“I understand. This is all you. I just want a chance,” said T.J.. Kristen took a second to get herself calmed down before letting them into the house.

“I’m back,” called Kristen and a second later T.J. heard was sounded like a small pony running down the stairs and towards the hall. Hannah was wearing blue jeans and a grey sweater with pink lines on it. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and god that kid had a mess of dark curls. She simply threw herself at Kristen and nearly knocked her back a good three inches.

“I found your dolls. Is grandpa awake yet?” asked Hannah. Kristen bent down and T.J. saw her wince a little as she picked the girl up.

“Grandpa is awake, but he still needs a lot of rest. I’ll take you tomorrow morning to see him. I have to go back later on and talk with grandpa and Michael about work stuff okay,” said Kristen. Hannah nodded, far too seriously for T,J’s liking. God she is her mother’s child, thought T.J.. Kristen took a deep breath before looking at him.

“Do you remember the other day when Grandpa had visitors?” asked Kristen and Hannah nodded again. “Well this was one of them. This is T.J. and he and I used to go to school together and his mom and dad are very good friends with Grandpa,” said Kristen. She sat Hannah down and she looked up at T.J. with a small smile.

“Your daddy said you were messy,” said Hannah and T.J. rolled his eyes.

“Well I learned it from him. Um...I heard that you like rabbits,” said T.J. and he quickly handed her the small bag. Hannah opened the bag and her eyes got wide.

“Mommy he almost looks like Mimsy,” said Hannah studying the stuffed animal.

“Mimsy is a toy she has a home,” explained Kristen as Hannah took out the book.

“Thank you,” said Hannah looking up at T.J. and hugging the book close.

“You’re welcome,” said T.J. and he was suddenly so lost he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do now.

“Maybe you can ask T.J. to read the book to you,” said Kristen to Hannah. Hannah grinned and she tugged on T.J.’s hand.

“Can you read this?” asked Hannah holding the book up to him. Get it together, T.J. mentally ordered himself.

“Sure,” said T.J. and Hannah took his hand and pulled him upstairs and into Kristen’s old room. It looked mostly the same to T.J. expect for a small pile of Barbie’s and small Ziploc bag of clothes.  Hannah pulled herself on the bed and looked at him.

“Nina found those in the basement and we had to wash them since they were old and dirty. The clothes look funny,” said Hannah and T.J. laughed a little.

“Yeah clothes were kind of funny looking when we were kids,” said T.J. looking around the room.

“Are you gonna read now?” asked Hannah and her tone was just a little impatient. Maybe she has a little of me in her, thought T.J. as he sat down and opened the book.

“There was once a velveteen rabbit and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers and his ears were lined with pink sateen,” read T.J. Kristen watched from the doorway has T.J. read to her. Hannah was fully taken in by the story and was scooting closer to him. Nina came up and put a hand on her shoulder.

“This is the right thing. Don’t ever doubt that,” said Nina and she kissed Kristen on her cheek. Kristen simply stood there and watched as T.J. started toying with Hannah’s curls and reading about how a stuffed rabbit became real.

Chapter Text

After he finished reading to her, Hannah had him sit on the floor with her and dress the Barbie dolls and she talked and sweet Jesus did the kid talk. He wondered if this is what he had been like when he was kid. He kept telling himself to pay attention to what she was saying, but he hated to admit he really didn’t understand some of things she was going on about. Something her friends having Brat dolls and how others had American Girl dolls and all the stuff that came with them. How Kristen had gotten her Disney dolls for her birthday and what they were doing.

“So I have the Cinderella and Mulan dolls and I made um little mice and a cricket so they could all be together,” said Hannah looking at a purple dress before putting it aside for a swimsuit.

“That sounds fun,” said T.J. as he put the purple dress on the doll Hannah had given him.

“Mulan is teaching Cinderella how to fight and Cinderella is teaching how to dance so she can go to a ball,” said Hannah and Kirsten let out a small laugh from the doorway.

“What are the mice teaching the cricket?” asked Kirsten.

“Cricket is teaching the mice how to be good luck and the mice are teaching cricket how to sew dresses,” said Hannah and Kristen came and sat down on the floor. She picked up a doll and a small brush.

“I used to make all my dolls be in high school because I liked a show called Saved by Bell and all the cool kids were in high school,” said Kristen and T.J. had to let out a small laugh.

“I don’t see any guy dolls here to be Zach or A.C.,” said T.J.

“Because they kept fighting and being stupid. So it was just Kelly, Jessie and Lisa. Lisa had Kelly model her cool clothes and Jessie made sure everyone got a fair share in the company,” said Kristen handing the doll to Hannah since she had all the clothes.

“Wow even when you were a kid you were kind of a dork,” said T.J. and Kristen rolled her eyes before tapping Hannah on the shoulder.

“Hey I have to go check on Grandpa and do some work with him. T.J. has to go home too, but Nina is going to make you her super awesome beef and noodles. I will try to be back before bedtime. If I’m not you be good for Nina. Promise?” asked Kristen.

“Promise,” said Hannah and Kristen gave her a kiss on the head. Kristen was telling him the visit was over and he wondered if had made any ground with her. Hannah seemed to like him though and well that was a first for him.

“Can T.J. come back tomorrow?” asked Hannah.

“We’ll see. You wanted to see grandpa tomorrow and tomorrow is Thanksgiving and…” T.J. cut her off.

“You should come have dinner with us...I mean...I think my mom and Dougie would really like to see you two,” said T.J. and Kristen’s face paled a little bit as Hannah looked disappointed.

“We’re not going to Casey’s,” said Hannah and T.J. could see Kristen was mentally kicking herself and was trying to regroup.

“We need to stay here because grandpa’s sick. I already called and Aunt Melissa and Uncle Rico and they know we’re not coming this year. Next year we’ll go just like normal,” said Kristen and he could sort of see that Hannah was still disappointed, but was trying to understand her mother.

“Can we still have burgers tomorrow?” asked Hannah and Kristen’s mouth twitched in a smile and T.J. was confused. Who does burgers on Thanksgiving?

“I will make you a juicy Lucy special. Now be good for Nina,” said Kristen giving Hannah another kiss on the head.

“Bye T.J.,” said Hannah as T.J. started to pick himself up from the floor.

“See you later,” said T.J. He followed Kristen out and got in the car with her.

“You were really good with her,” said Kristen putting the car into drive and pulling into traffic. T.J. felt a small knot undo in his chest and he let out a nervous sort of laugh.

“Well I really didn’t say much so there really wasn’t a chance for me to screw up. So burgers on Thanksgiving?” asked T.J. and Kristen smiled.

“I have some friends in L.A. and we all get together for Thanksgiving and have a huge dinner. They have turkey and stuff for the adults, but they make a special kids menu-burgers, mac and cheese, fries...no sense trying to make them eat things they don’t want to eat,” said Kristen.

“Who are Melissa, Rico and Casey?” asked T.J.

“Melissa and Rico and I used to work together. Melissa is a writer and Rico did voice over stuff. Casey is their daughter. They moved to L.A. for better work, but we still do some projects together so the kids can play,” said Kristen.

“Um...I know it’s asking a lot, but would you consider stopping by tomorrow? It doesn’t even have to be for dinner. Does she like pie?” asked T.J.

“I don’t think your family really likes me right now. Well your grandmother is willing to give me a chance, but I’m pretty sure Dougie and your dad want my head on stick. I think your mom would contract a hit out to the Chinese. Keep her hands sort of clean,” said Kristen.

“The Chinese do owe her after the sub thing this summer,” said T.J. with a small smile. “I’ll talk to them. We’re working things out and considering you’re willing to give me a chance they should give you one,” said T.J. Kristen started biting the inside of her cheek, it was an old habit he knew meant she was really trying to work out the best solution.

“I can’t make any promises, but we’ll try to stop by in the afternoon. I think the hospital might have some sort of dinner thing. Not that he can really have anything and that’s going to be fun to explain. Thankfully the doctor is going to do a lot it for me,” said Kristen. “Maybe I can get him to explain to Hannah we’re going to be out here for least three months,” said Kristen sounding so tired it worried T.J..

“Company stuff?” asked T.J. and for a second she wanted to tell him everything. How she was planning to break from her father’s company and have the studio running solo. That she had plans to branch out to online shows and content with Melissa. That she wasn’t sure how long they could keep up the physical newspapers they owned since they were slowly becoming a drain. That she had no desire to take over her father’s position and that she might have to until he was better or they found someone to run things until she could get back to her own life.

“It’s just a lot stuff really. Uprooting Hannah for the next couple of months is not something I’m not looking forward too,” said Kristen.

“Yeah moving sucks,” said T.J. and Kristen felt a tug somewhere for him. He hated moving up to D.C. and it had been hard for him bouncing between boarding schools. She had been born her and even when she had gone away for school she could always come back here. After Bud had left office they settled in Chicago until T.J. headed out east for school. He’s really had nowhere to call home for long, thought Kristen. They were quiet until they pulled up to the house.

“So I guess we should swap numbers so we can set things up,” said Kristen.

“Oh yeah we should,” said T.J. and he handed Kristen his phone so she could put her number in. T.J. did the same on her phone.

“We’ll try to come over for pie at least,” said Kristen and T.J. gave her a small smile and she felt that tug again.

“I promise no one is going to put your head on a stick or call the Chinese to break your kneecaps,” said T.J. and Kristen gave a small laugh.

“Thanks,” said Kristen.

“See you tomorrow,” said T.J. and he headed into the house.

Elaine was in her office and she was reading some rather thick file. She did look up when he came in and sighed.

“Do you think I could expense someone to read these reports to me?” asked Elaine.

“I’m pretty sure you expense a full theatrical production of any report you want,” said T.J. and he actually got her to laugh. She sat the report down and looked at him.

“I take it things went good with Kristen and Hannah this afternoon,” said Elaine and T.J. sat down in a chair across from her since they needed to talk anyway.

“It went okay. That kid will talk your ear off, but she’s really sweet. I uh...we read and she made me play with Kristen’s old dolls. We’re going to take things slow. Break it to the kid slowly that we’re related. Kristen agreed to go to therapy with me...so we could work out some co-parenting stuff. She um...she’s going to be staying out here for a while John gets better. So I’ll get to spend some time with her and Hannah. I asked her to bring Hannah over tomorrow for dessert,” said T.J. and Elaine’s eyes got a bit wide.

“Is she?” asked Elaine and she T.J. shrugged.

“She said she would try. She’s worried that you, dad and Dougie are going to string her up,” said T.J. and Elaine sighed and took off her glasses.

“I’m not happy with what Kristen did because she hurt you. On the other hand, we couldn’t have helped her or you at the time....I know that’s selfish,” said Elaine.

“You’re not selfish mom,” said T.J. and Elaine shook her head.

“Your father and I spent your whole lives trying to better our careers at your and Douglas’s expense. I don’t like how Kristen hurt you, but she did what she felt was best for your child,” said Elaine. T.J. felt a sort of lump in his throat and he swallowed it hard. She gets it at last, thought T.J.. There had been times when he had felt pushed aside by his parents, that they would be happier without him to mess things up. That Kristen had done everything to make Hannah feel wanted spoke volumes to him. T.J. nodded before he got up and hugged his mother. He loved his mother though, she tried her best and T.J. hoped to be half the parent she was.

“Mom...what I said last summer...the night of nightclub opening...I didn’t mean it,” said T.J. Elaine hugged him back hard.

“I know. I know sweetheart,” said Elaine. She looked at him and kissed him on the forehead. “I’ll talk to your father so he doesn’t blurt out something horrible when Kirsten is here,” said Elaine.

“Thanks,” T.J. turned to head to the kitchen when Elaine called out to him.

“You’ll have to talk to your brother though. He’ll listen to you,” said Elaine.

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            “So we’re pushing the meeting back to February, but the numbers look decent so I don’t see any issues. Well the numbers for our newspaper division are a bit down, but we do have some sales lined up to even that out,” said Michael and Kristen looked over the numbers and frowned a bit.

            “We’re selling the Washington Globe,” said Kristen. They had owned the Globe since she had been a kid. It had been a sort a bit of annoyance between her father and T.J.’s parents due to Susan Berg and her columns on Elaine.

            “It’s an option, but it’s a last resort. Well cut some of the other papers first before the Globe,” said John rubbing his forehead.

            “We can take a break,” said Kristen sitting the folder aside.

            “Let’s just finish this,” said John. Kristen looked at Michael and he nodded.

            “Well we have some really good book releases coming out from our publishing house. We’re seeing some good revenue from our new Internet radio line-LiFo,” said Michael and John grinned.

            “That was all her, She’s really good at figuring out this Internet thing. I should have listened to her about Google,” said John and Kristen shrugged.

            “Live and learn,” said Kristen.

            “So before we finalize the meeting talking points do we want to bring up the sale of the studio to Kristen. How she intends to not take over once you step down,” said Michael and Kristen shook her head.

            “I don’t see any reason to get the board in panic right now. We can hold off the announcement for now,” said Kristen.

            “I don’t want them trying to pick at our choices right now. We’ll wait,” said John. Michael had John sign off on what to present to the board and Kristen seconded it.

“Well get better. I’m not ready to start working for another cranky old man yet,” said Michael packing up his stuff.

“Have a good Thanksgiving. Give Stephanie my best,” said John.

“I’ll walk you out,” said Kristen. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Behave,” said Kristen looking at her father. She walked out of the room with Michael and they went down a few floor before Michael pulled her into an empty room and Kristen eyed him.

“Don’t you have a plane to catch?” asked Kristen and Michael grinned.

“I have six hours to kill,” said Michael and he kissed her and Kristen gave in and kissed him back for a minute before she pulled away.

“So how is Stephanie?” asked Kristen and Michael shrugged.

“She’s going to be out of town next week. Dane is going with her so there’s that. Why don’t we go out to dinner next week? We could say it’s for work and I’ll have you home before midnight,” said Michael and Kristen sighed.

“Let me think about it. It’s weird being out here you know,” said Kristen and Michael put his hands on her hips and kissed her forehead.

“I know and I know we have rules, but we could break a few while you’re out here,” said Michael.

“We have rules for a reason and we need to tread carefully. I mean do we really want to explain to my dad and your boss that your wife is totally cool with us having sex since she herself is banging her assistant at her law firm. That would go over like a ton of bricks,” said Kristen. Michael eyed her and Kristen kissed him. “It would be your place right?” asked Kristen.

“I don’t think Steph would mind if we used a guest room,” said Michael and Kristen hugged him. God she really wanted a hug right now and Michael hugged her back.

“Come on I’ll walk you out,” said Kristen. Kristen watched Michael get in his car and Kristen headed back up to her father’s room and sighed. She and Michael had started sort of seeing each other when Hannah was about three. He would come out to California once every quarter to get a report from her and what she wanted the board to know. At first she and Michael had a rather icy relationship. She considered him a pain in her ass and he confessed later on he considered her a spoiled child that needed babysitting. It became a personal mission for each of them to gain the other’s respect. Kristen wasn’t exactly sure when they had gained each other respect, but it was easy between them once they started getting along. They had dinner when he was in California and they went back to his hotel room. She never stayed the night though since she had to get home to Hannah and he respected her for that. She liked the fact he didn’t want anything else from her than causal business dinners and sex. She liked Michael, but the word Love had never been said between them. Plus he was married and a divorce would ruin his life and his wife. They were a D.C. power team after all and it worked out for her too. She didn’t want a relationship with anyone. They never seemed to work for her long term. She had her work and Hannah, which was enough for her. By the time she got back to her father he was already asleep. Kristen took the file from him, kissed his forehead and headed home.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

            “So she really agreed to let you have visits?” asked Douglas sounding a little stunned,

            “We agreed to work through stuff. She’s right you know...it’s not like she can just blurt out to the kid ‘Hey this is your dad who was addicted to blow and couldn’t be trusted for the first few years of life’ and I want Kristen to see I can be trusted again. She said she didn’t know if we could be friends again, but I really want to try,” said T.J. as they were waiting for dinner to be served. Douglas looked at him and took a sip of his water.

            “I’m still really mad at her. She lied and she ran away instead of dealing with the consequences,” said Douglas.

            “I think single parenting was a huge consequence,” said T.J. and Douglas rolled his eyes.

            “We could have worked something out. I’m sure we could have gotten you and Nana off the campaign to help Kristen out. Hell I’m sure Anne would have loved a break from the circus and would have spent time with a toddler,” said Douglas. Anne came over and looked at Douglas.

“I heard toddlers are a lot like little drunks and I dealt with my fair share during college,” said Anne. “Honestly though she did what she felt was best and now she’s trying to do what she feels is best now. Besides now I get to be a cool aunt and you to get a run at how kids work,” said Anne with a grin.

“Thank you,” said T.J. Elaine and Bud walked in and Bud looked at T.J. and shook his head.

“I will try my best to not tell Kristen she is a cheat who owes me time with my granddaughter and that when her father gets out of that bed I’m going to kick his ass for also being a cheat and a liar for not telling us what was going on,” said Bud and T.J. fought the urge to pour a huge shot of whiskey.

“Thank you,” said T.J.

“I did speak to a lawyer and he said he could get you shared custody if…” started Bud and T,J, looked at his father.

“I’m begging you to not start shit with her since I’m trying to fix it,” said T.J.. Margaret spoke up.

“This is between him and her and they’ll either fix it on their own or blow it up on their own so knock it off,” said Margaret.

“If you can’t be civil to Kristen for her sake or for T.J.’s sake, than do it for their daughter,” said Elaine and Bud sighed.

“For the kid I will be on my best behavior,” said Bud and Douglas sighed.

“If it really means that much to you,” said Douglas.

“It does,” said T.J.. You have no idea how much, thought T.J..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

            “Daddy they already know and it’s just for pie,” said Kristen and she could see him fighting the urge to roll his eyes. They had come for lunch and Kristen had sent Hannah to the hall so she could talk to him about what was happening with her and T.J..

            “You always did have a soft spot for him and I did too for a while. After New York though...honey he broke your heart and you had pick up the pieces. It hurt to watch you go through that. I don’t want to see you hurt again and I know you don’t want to see Hannah hurt that way. Just be careful, don’t fall for the act again,” said John and Kristen nodded. God she hoped this wasn’t act from him. She knew T.J. though and had seen how charming he could be when he wanted to be. It clearly was a trait since Bud had charmed the American people into voting for him repeatedly.

            “I’ll be careful now you get some rest,” said Kristen and she made he was comfortable before he finally kicked her out of his room. Hannah was humming and looking up at the ceiling when she came out.

            “Do you want pie?” asked Kristen and she took Hannah’s hand.

            “Is the pie at grandpa’s house?” asked Hannah.

            “No. It’s at T.J,’s house. Remember he asked us to come over for pie,” said Kristen. She sent T.J. a text and got in the elevator.

            “Oh yeah. I forgot,” said Hannah and Kristen shook her head.

            “You are silly,” said Kristen. Kristen got Hannah in her booster seat and they drove off. Kristen could feel her palms sweating and she looked in the back seat at Hannah. She was wearing a black sweater with blue jeans and her black sneakers. She hadn’t really brought anything dressy since she really hadn’t planned on going anywhere. T.J. didn’t say who all was going to be there. Please don’t let there be any government people. I couldn’t deal with that. Geez everything in that house is breakable. Hannah’s a good kid, but shit happens and…

“Mommy are you okay?” asked Hannah and Kristen sighed.

“She’s just thinking about boring stuff. We’re almost there and I really need you to be extra good alright,” said Kristen.

“Alright,” said Hannah and before she was really ready for it she was parking the car outside the brownstone. She got Hannah out and they went up to the house.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” said the guard she met the other day.

“Thanks,” said Kristen and he let them in. Hannah looked at her puzzled.

“Why is he outside?” asked Hannah.

“He keeps the house safe,” said Kristen and Hannah was about to ask another when T.J. came up to them and he looked so happy to see them.

“I’m glad you came,” said T.J. and before Kristen could say anything Hannah was tugging on her shirt.

“Can I go pet the dogs? Please?” asked Hannah. Kristen spotted the Golden Retriever, the Pug and some mixed breed dog in next room and grinned.

“Play nice,” said Kristen and Hannah took off running. “No running,” called Kristen wincing at the thought of Hannah crashing into something.

“You are such a mom,” said T.J. and Kristen shrugged.

“It’s what I am,” said Kristen.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

            Well Kristen did say she liked animals, thought T.J. as Hannah sat on the floor with Jack the Golden Retriever. Jack flopped down belly up the second Hannah started petting him. Bobby and Teddy wandered off leaving Jack to get all her attention. Hannah seemed delighted by Jack and T.J. got down on the floor so he could pet the dog with her.

            “So you like dogs huh?” asked T.J. and Hannah smiled.

            “Yeah,” said Hannah and she rubbed Jack’s head. “He’s a nice dog.”

            “He’s pretty good,” said T.J. and he gave the old dog a scratch behind the ears. Elaine came in and he could sense Kristen tensing up.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” said Elaine and Kristen gave her a small smile.

“Happy Thanksgiving. Um...Hannah, I want you to meet someone,” said Kristen and T.J. could see the look of annoyance in Hannah’s face that she had to stop to playing with Jack.  “Hannah this is T.J.’s mom Elaine.” Elaine bent down and held out her hand to Hannah.

“It’s very nice to meet you Hannah,” said Elaine and Hannah took his mother and they shook hands. “So it seems Jack really likes you,” said Elaine and Hannah grinned.

“He’s a nice dog. Do you take him swimming? They’re supposed to be good at swimming since they need to catch the ducks,” said Hannah and Elaine looked at Kristen who shrugged.

“Animal Planet is on a loop in my house,” said Kristen.

“He hasn’t gone swimming in a long time since he’s a bit older,” said Elaine.

“If you got a bigger dog than you wouldn’t need the guy outside to keep the house safe,” said Hannah and T.J. saw Kristen shake her head and he tried to not laugh.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Elaine. “So do you like apple pie or pecan pie?” asked Elaine.

“Apple,” said Hannah.

“Well let’s get you some apple pie,” said Elaine and she took Hannah towards the kitchen and Jack followed his new best friend. T.J. watched Kristen take a deep breath and he grinned.

“You weren’t kidding when you said she was into animals,” said T.J..

“You ask her anything animal related and you’ll get a forty minute talking to. I’m going to have to drag her out of her now,” said Kristen.  

“I’m really glad you came,” said T.J.. He had been on pins and needles wondering if she would show up.

“Just tell me there aren’t any foreign diplomats in the dining room. The last thing I need is Hannah telling the French diplomat about how horrible poodles are,” said Kristen.

“No it’s just family so she can tell them how horrible poodles are,” said T.J.. They headed into the dining room and T.J. felt Kristen tense up at seeing his father and Douglas at the table. Hannah was sitting next to his grandmother and was eating her pie. Kristen took a seat across from Hannah and T.J. sat down next to her.

“Well sugar you’re looking a little better now. How’s your daddy?” asked Bud.

“He’s awake and wanting out. They might release him next week,” said Kristen. Anne handed Kristen a cup of coffee and smiled at her.

“We really didn’t get meet before. I think we just kept hearing about each other in passing. I’m Anne.”  She was right. Kristen and Anne technically  had never met, but T.J. had talked about Anne to Kristen and Dougie must have done the same. Kristen shook her hand.

“It’s nice to finally put a face to name,” said Kristen. “Congrats by the way.”

“Thanks...you know you look a little familiar. Have we met before?” asked Anne sitting back down next to Douglas.

“I don’t think so. Well I did try to get your firm to redo my office, but the timing was off so I went with someone else,” said Kristen.

“You would have met sooner if Kristen had come to the first Christmas I brought you home. You were invited after all,” said Dougie and T.J. saw Kristen’s hand grip tightly on the mug.

“I was busy,” said Kristen shortly.  She had Hannah and god she would have only been an infant, thought T.J.

“Up all night,” said Anne suddenly and Kristen looked at her puzzled.

“You read my comic?” asked Kristen and Anne grinned.

“My mom is huge fan and we went to one of your readings. I had to stand in line with her while you signed books. I think she might have your signed copy shrink wrapped on a bookshelf. I started reading myself after that,” said Anne and T.J. could see Kristen relax a bit.

“Thanks,” said Kristen.

“What’s it about?” asked T.J. and Kristen turned a little pink.

“It’s sort of mish mash of what I’ve gone through raising Hannah and what some of my other mom friends have gone through raising their kids. It started just as an online series, but we got so many requests to publish that we’ve done about three collections so far,” said Kristen.

“Wow. I’ll have to give it read than,” said T.J. and Douglas rolled his eyes.

“So is it the whole story or an edited version,” said Douglas and T.J. gave him a look. Shut the hell up, thought T.J. and Kristen gave him a look.

“It’s a mix of both. It’s not the only thing I work on, it just happens to be the best project right now. It speaks to people and I’m not going to apologize for it,” said Kristen.

“You’re really good at not apologizing,” said Douglas.

“Knock it off,” hissed T.J.. He noticed that Hannah had stopped eating her pie and was watching Kristen who seemed to be getting redder in the face.

“Hannah. Go wait by the front door please,” said Kristen and Hannah frowned.

“But…” started Hannah and Kristen simply gave her a look and Hannah left the table. Kristen waited a minute before turning her attention to Douglas.

“I’ll apologize when I feel I’ve done something to apologize for. I’m sorry I hurt T.J., but you weren’t in my place so don’t you dare try to act like I screwed you over,” said Kristen.

“You sort of did screw us over by not telling us anything,” said Douglas. “You were my friend too and you should have told us!” snapped Douglas and Kristen let out a bitter laugh.

“You never asked,” said Kristen and she looked at Elaine, than Bud and back to Douglas. “If I mattered so damn much to you then why didn’t you come see how I was sooner? I’ve had the same address and I’ve work in the same place for five years and you didn’t show up until you thought T.J. needed me. I was so damn lonely those first few months and I kept thinking one of you would show up and the cat would be out of the bag for better or for worse. That maybe you did care what happened to me. None of showed up. None you seem to think it was strange that I would stop talking to T.J. after all those years we were together and everything we had gone through together. It was a hard lesson to learn that I didn’t matter to any of you,” said Kristen and she got from the table and looked at T.J.

“We’ll talk later,” said Kristen and she quickly left the dining room and there was muttering in the entryway before the front door closed.  T.J. rounded on Douglas the moment the door shut.

“Damn it! Why? Just why? I told you this mattered to me and you lost your shit the second she sat down. I know I’ve screwed shit up for you and I’m sorry I did, but...I’m not getting that many chances with Kristen and I don’t need you burning my bridges with her,” said T.J..

“I’m sorry, but I can’t sit here and act like what she did was right. She lied and cheated you out of five years of knowing your own kid. Then she writes about what raising your kid is like when we didn’t get a chance to know,” said Douglas.

“She was right though,” said Elaine softly and Douglas looked at her.  “We can point fingers at her all we want, but we never did check on her all this time. I would ask John how she was doing, but I never reached out to her. None of us did and we can blame our careers or her, but when it comes down it we didn’t try. Can you really blame her for not wanting that level of selfishness in her life anymore?” asked Elaine. She left the table, grabbed her own cigarettes and went outside. T.J. stood up and looked at Douglas.

“I left her first...it’s a long story, but the short version is I finally hurt her to the point where she didn’t want to see me anymore. I didn’t see that way when it first happened, but that’s what happened. I’m going to go talk to her,” said T.J. and he missed the stunned looked on Douglas’s face.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

            Knocking on that door took everything T.J. had. God I want a drink...a little coke to take this edge off, thought T.J. as he waited for someone to come to the door. Kristen answered it and looked stunned to see him.

            “Can I come in please?” asked T.J. and Kristen let him in. “I’m so sorry and…”

            “I’m not mad at you. I just needed to get out there before I really lost it,” said Kristen and T.J. let out a sigh of relief.

            “I thought what happened back there was going to put us back a zero and I don’t want us to go back. I really want us to work through all our crap and it’s not their business how we handle this. We both screwed up back then and we’re not the same people. Well you’re you and I’m trying to remember who I was. I haven’t been me in a really long time,” admitted T.J. and before he knew it Kristen hugged him hard.

            “I know it’s hard and it has to be extra hard on you. I always hated how much pressure they put on you. You were a really good guy and you still can be. We have a lot of crap to figure out together huh,” said Kristen and T.J. hugged her back.

            “I really did miss you. I didn’t know how much until I really got clean this time,” said T.J.. He looked down at her and she was quickly wiping her eyes.

            “Mom! The burgers are gonna burn!” cried Hannah and Kristen let out a small laugh.

            “Foreman grill burgers. You want one?” asked Kristen..

            “I would love one,” said T.J. and he followed Kristen back to the kitchen and enjoyed slightly overdone cheeseburgers while Hannah told him everything she knew about Golden Retrievers. We can do this. We can do this together and I want to do this, thought T.J.

Chapter Text

It was a bit surreal to be sitting here watching Kristen try to comb out Hannah’s hair. T.J. watched as she sprayed a detangler in the damp curls and started from the top and tried to not pull her hair.

He had dinner with them-slightly overdone burgers with curly fries. Kristen had never been much of cook when they had lived in New York, but she had clearly been trying to learn the last few years. She wouldn’t want to feed her kid junk food all the time, thought T.J. taking a bite of his burger. He listened as Hannah talked about going to preschool and different types of rabbits. She was her mother in a lot ways and well he could see some of himself in her which was a lot to process.

She had his eyes, her hair curled the way his did when he let go and she couldn’t seem to stop talking for a second. She seemed to be the happiest kid he had ever laid eyes on. Nana said I was always happy when I was kid, thought T.J.. He heard Kristen when Hannah talked though, they were both so damn smart it turned his head.

Kristen told him he could stick around after dinner, but she had to give Hannah a bath. T.J. walked around the house while Kristen took care of Hannah. He used to love being in this house when he was kid. It felt like a place that people lived in, unlike the White House where it felt like you really couldn’t touch anything. He never felt like he belong there and he always jumped at a chance to visit Kristen here.

He walked around the living room and he was stunned that John still had pictures of him and Kristen together. Grade school pictures of them together when his dad was sworn in. Pictures of them together at his prom since he wasn’t allowed to bring a same sex date. Pictures of him and Kristen after she graduated college. He didn’t see any of Kristen and Hannah together here and he wondered if John had any pictures of them here. Every family has their secrets and they were determined to keep this one, thought T.J.. Hell his own mother had spilled State secrets to keep him safe from the limelight. Kristen and Hannah came back down and they sat down on the sofa.

“Can T.J. watch movies with us?” asked Hannah and Kristen looked at him and grinned.

“You did stay,” said Kristen and she patted a spot on the sofa. T.J. sat down and watched Kristen try to comb out the mess of curls. Hannah winced when Kristen hit a tangle and Kristen frowned.

“Sorry,” muttered Kristen and T.J. shook his head.

“Here. Let me show a little trick I know,” said T.J.. He took the comb from Kristen and motioned for Hannah to come over. “It goes a little better if you start from the bottom. The spray in works, but you might want to try more conditioner,” said T.J. and he carefully combed out Hannah’s hair and he ran a hand through her damp hair,

“There. All done,” said T.J. with a small grin when Hannah turned around with a huge grin of her own.

“How did you get so good at that?” asked Hannah slightly stunned. You impressed a five year with hair combing skills. At least it’s something, thought T.J..

“I help my mom and nana with their hair and I used to help your mom with her hair all the time,” said T.J.. Kristen pulled Hannah up in her lap and kissed her head.

“T.J. used to help me with all those fancy braids,” said Kristen. Kristen gave him a small smile. “Maybe he can teach me while we’re here. I tend to let it run wild or pull it back into ponytails,” said Kristen running her fingers through the curls.

“I’ll see what I can do,” said T.J.. Hannah curled up on Kristen’s lap and turned on Cinderella. T.J. just watched them out of the corner of his eye. Kristen kept running a hand through hair, Hannah’s eyes got heavy and she was out about twenty minutes into the movie. Kristen gave him a small smile.

“Give me a minute to put her bed,” said Kristen. She adjusted Hannah in her arms and got off the sofa. She winced and headed up the stairs. She came down a few minutes later and rubbed her lower back.

“She weighs a ton even though she doesn't look it. Do you want some tea or do you have to go?” asked Kristen.

“I can have some tea,” said T.J.. and he followed her to the kitchen. She put the kettle on and got some cups down. He handed her a box of tea and she dropped two bags into the mugs before easing onto a stool.

“So you really found out you were pregnant when you were in rehab?” asked T.J.. and Kristen nodded.

“About eight weeks into the program and I couldn’t figure out why I kept throwing up and  feeling like crap. More so than normal. A pee test and blood test later I got the news,” said Kristen. “They had someone come in and give me a rather long talking too about what damage I may have done to the baby and what the baby could be like if I didn’t stick with the sobriety. What could happen if I fell off after I had the baby. Losing custody, going to jail, foster homes...they really chewed my ass out, but honestly it was what I really needed to hear to pull it together,” said Kristen.

“Did you thinking about, you know, ending it?” asked T.J. and Kristen sipped her tea before she answered.

“The counselor on staff asked if I wanted an abortion and I really thought about it. It was too early to tell if she was going to be alright or if I had screwed it up. I really wasn’t in the best shape to have a baby physically and well...everything else to consider,” said Kristen giving him a rather dry smile. “I did have one appointment with the doctor who would have done it and I just couldn’t do it. It felt like cheating somehow. I mean she’s not a punishment, but it would have made everything I went through seem pointless. Like I skipped a step to get better and well there was a good deal of pride I guess. She was mine and I was going to do it no matter how hard it was. Plus...something good had to come from us,” said Kristen.

She looked at him and T.J. fiddled with his mug while looking at the countertop. He had never done well under pressure and she always seemed to thrive under it. He looked up and she was waiting for him to make the next move.

“You were sort of right I guess to not tell me. I couldn’t of handled the not knowing if she was going to be alright. Well I don’t think I could have handled any of it a few years ago. It wouldn’t have been fair to ask you to help me while you were trying to help yourself. I had a good run last year...six months and...I couldn’t do it. My dad called it a stunt...I don’t think he really meant it. I just...I didn’t know how to make things right anymore,” said T.J. softly and he looked back down at the countertop.

Kristen had wanted so badly to keep things between them only about Hannah. She wanted to be civil with him for their daughter’s sake. Being his friend again and letting their lives tangle up again was another story. Don’t be stupid, hissed a voice that sounded a lot like her father’s voice. He had walked away from her and now here they were sitting together in her father’s kitchen like they were teenagers again. Him confessing to her how terrified he was about his life and how he had no say in anything. Everyone sees this super confident guy without a care in the world, they never see how terrified he is to be himself, thought Kristen.

He wasn’t walking away this time and she hoped it was for the right reasons. Do this for yourself, not because of me, thought Kristen. She got up and sat in the chair next to T.J..  He looked so damn tired and beat down. Everything in her brain told her this was a mistake. That he was just going to screw her over if she opened herself up to him, but something in her heart pulled at her. She leaned over and hugged him.

It froze T.J. for a moment to have her hug him this way. She had hugged him when he came in the house and there was some affection in it. This is what he had really missed though. This is how it used to be between them, it was easy and he never felt pressure to be something he wasn’t. No one outside the family hugged him this way. Sean did, whispered a voice in his head. He pushed the thought away and hugged her back just as hard.

“I’m sorry,” whispered T.J.. “I’m really sorry.” T.J. hoped she understood how sorry he was. Hurting her had been one of the lowest points of his life and he could see that now. He wished it hadn’t taken him so long to see it.

“I know,” said Kristen and she could almost feel how sorry he was. His grip on her was almost painful, like he was scared to let her go for a second. She carefully eased out of the hug and she could see it in his eyes. That he was really sorry for what had happened. He ran his hands down her arms and gave her a small smile.

“We should still see that shrink though. We got a lot of stuff to figure out...maybe we could have dinner again. Tomorrow night. I could cook over here and we could talk some more,” said T.J. and Kristen nodded.

“I have to tell Hannah we’re moving here and since dad is getting out the hospital next week. I wouldn’t mind having the moral support. Do you want to try for six?” asked Kristen.

“Six is fine with me,” said T.J. feeling a weight lift off his chest. They were talking and it was about the hard stuff. No more running away, thought T.J.. He was going to make this right even if it killed him.

“No beans. It’s the one food I can’t get her to eat,” said Kristen and T.J. laughed a little.

“I hate beans too. Wow she is my kid,” said T.J. and Kristen let out a small nervous laugh.

“It still breaks my brain at times too,” said Kristen and T.J. hugged her again.

“I’ll see you tomorrow night,” said T.J. and he headed out. Kristen leaned against the counter and shook her head. It was going to be a long couple of months and maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Douglas was still at the house when he came back and T.J. fought to urge to sigh. He loved his brother, but at times he wondered what it would have been like had they been only children. Would Dougie have tried so hard to be perfect without him always being around to be a screw up? Would he have actually tried to fit into a mold without Douglas around?

“Where’s everybody else?” asked T.J. and Douglas put the laptop aside.

“Well mom is working on second resignation letter. Dad and Anne left a little bit after you did and Nana is upstairs watching a movie. I take it you went to talk with Kristen?” Asked Douglas and T.J. nodded.

“I know this matters to you. I just...I would have helped her if she asked. I know I should have seen how she was doing sooner. I just got wrapped up in everything else and I just figured if it was really bad she would have said something to someone. I never thought she had a kid and well I never would have thought she had your kid and not tell anyone,” said Douglas and T.J. sat down. He remembered his brother’s outburst this summer when they had gone to visit Jubal Jacobs. I wanted her to win so bad. I did everything I could, spat Douglas. He wanted to fix everything and when he couldn’t it ate at him.

“You do you that you’re only one person right?” asked T.J. and Douglas shrugged. “I’m the one who got her knocked up and should have checked on. She was my friend,” said T.J. and Douglas looked at him seriously.

“She was my friend too you know and I should have been there for her. She was there for all our shit,” said Douglas. “From dad screwing intern number 73 to Grandpa Hammond’s death she was there for it. Mom was right...we are kind of selfish shitheads,” said Douglas.

“You two would have been perfect for each other,” said T.J. and Douglas shook his head.

“She never looked at me the way she looked at you. Anytime you walked in a room she just lit up and I knew she was gone for you,” said Douglas and T.J. felt something twist in stomach all of sudden. Had he really been that stupid and blind? He had always teased Douglas about how perfect he and Kristen would have been for other and Douglas had always shrugged it off.

“Did you...you liked her didn’t you?” asked T.J. and Douglas sighed.

“I did, but she liked you and it would have made things weird between her and I if it didn’t work out. I thought about asking her out after you two broke up, but it seemed shitty to throw Lauren over, Kristen moved and well after seeing her nearly almost giving you a blow job it kind of killed things for me. Lauren and I took a break that summer so I hooked up with Mallory and got Kristen out of my head. Three years later I met Anne and the rest is history,” said Douglas and T.J. shook his head.

“If I had known you liked her, I wouldn’t have gone out with her,” said T.J. and Douglas gave him a look.

“She liked you. It really didn’t matter if I told her or not. She was gone for you and well you were kind of gone for her,” said Douglas. T.J. rolled his eyes and Douglas shrugged. “You always had the stupidest grin on your face when she was around. She mattered to you and she still does. I’ll try harder to not be a total asshole around her. I’m really not mad at her as much as I’m mad at myself,” said Douglas.  

“Thanks bro,” said T.J.. T.J. turned to head upstairs and looked back at his brother and it pulled at him. Dougie and Kristen would have been good together, but maybe things would have soured between them and they wouldn’t have been able to come back. T.J. shook his head and went upstairs to try to sleep.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

“You still look like shit,” said Bud looking at John and John simply rolled his eyes.

“I had a heart attack and a bypass. Just wait till it’s your turn. Maybe you can get your girlfriend who played the nurse to come back and help you out,” said John. Bud sat down in the chair and sighed.

“You know I remember the day Krissy was born. Elaine had just had the boys and they were barely a month old. Honestly I was a little jealous that you had a girl and you let me hold her and I had never seen you look so damn happy,” said Bud and John looked at him.

“You know there were days after Virginia died that it took everything I had to get up and try to function. That I had a loaded revolver in a case under my bed and it was an effort of will to not take it out and end it. I loved my wife and no one has even come close to matching her. I couldn’t do it though because of Kristen. She already found one parent dead and I couldn’t have finding another one. She’s my life Bud. Everything I’ve built and done has been for her,” said John and he looked out the window.

“I know that. I know you would do anything for. It’s why you sent her away and never told us how she really was,” said Bud and John rolled his eyes.

“The first rule of the media is tell the people what they want to hear. You wanted hear that she was alright and so it’s what I told you. It’s been the truth for awhile now. I was with her for a few months after she had Hannah. I didn’t realize how alone she really was until after she had that baby. You know she never had one of those...those baby parties ladies throw for each other. Not until after Hannah was born and the people on staff found out no one had one for her. They threw her a nice party and she was in tears when I drove her home. She was in her twenties and it hit me how utterly alone she was. It was another effort of will to not drag your son out and beat the snot out of him. It’s partly my fault too. I shouldn’t have sent her to the second school with T.J.. That was when she really went downhill. Maybe if I sent her somewhere else they would have grown apart and it would have been the best thing for her,” said John and Bud scoffed.

“She was a wreck in New York and you knew she was and how much she hated it there. You kept her there because you thought it was the best thing for her. You pushed that girl harder than anyone else on your staff and you let them treat her like crap the whole time,” said Bud and John glared at him.

“At least I pushed her into doing something with her life,” spat John and Bud had to grip the arms of the chair to keep himself from punching someone he considered a friend. Bud pushed himself out the chair.

“We were in the wrong to not check on her, but I thought we were friends and regardless of how it happened our children have a child together so now we’re stuck together,” said Bud. He turned to leave when John spoke up.

“Your son almost got my daughter killed and you have no idea what it was like to live with that. To know the best thing in her life came from the worse thing that happened to her. I know she’s going to let him back in. She’s like Elaine...she cares far too much for him and he doesn’t give a damn about her. Clearly he’s your son,” said John. Bud walked out of the room and Sam was right behind him. They got into the car and Sam started driving.

“He does care about her,” said Sam and Bud looked at and Sam grinned. “You all seem to forget that I was the one who had the joy of following them around all the time. They were kids and kids do stupid things. He did care about her though. She made him happy,” said Sam and Bud nodded and looked out the window. God let him be a better daddy than I was, thought Bud.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

“So you heard the prodigal daughter came home?” asked one of the other reporters and Susan fought the urge to roll her eyes.

“Well her father did have a heart attack and it would be a reason to come home,” said Susan pouring herself a cup of coffee.

Georgia came in and Susan had to fight the urge to dump her coffee over the younger reporter’s head. Nearly six months later and Alex had been allowed to come back, but in a demoted post. While Susan hadn’t been happy about him sleeping with the airhead, her going after Alex had been nothing but spite on her part. Susan could never forgive her and flat out refused to work with her at all.

“It’s more what she came home with that makes you wanna dig,” said the reporter. Susan rolled her eyes. Someone had spotted Kristen coming to and from the hospital with a kid in tow and there was no mistaking that it was her kid and Georgia grinned.

“You know it was a huge deal when she quit working at LBD. I was interning there and one day Kristen is next in line to become Editor in Chief and the next day she’s gone for ‘personal reasons’. A lot people said she couldn’t hack it,” said Georgia.

“Yes the woman who is now running a publishing company couldn’t handle a fashion rag. Have a great day,” said Susan going to her office and shutting the door. Russ came in and looked at Susan.

“You do know that they think that T.J. Hammond was the donor,” said Russ and Susan rolled her eyes.

“Even if he was it’s not news we should be covering. They do know she’s next in line if and when her father passes so maybe they should be showing her a little respect since she has a stake in our jobs. I like having a job Russ and I intend to keep it that way,” said Susan. Russ nodded and he went off to do some research when Georgia popped her head in.

“You have a minute?” asked Georgia.

“Not for you,” said Susan. Georgia still came in and closed the door.

“You aren’t the least bit curious why no one knew Kristen Dupree had a kid?” asked Georgia and Susan rolled her eyes.

“It’s 2012. I don’t care what she did or who she did it with. I care that her father recovers so we can keep the Globe running the way it always has been,” said Susan pulling up her e-mails. Georgia left her office slamming the door and Susan sighed. She had been one the people who had watched the very young T.J. Hammond and Kristen Dupree fall in love and had watched the young girl pick herself up after T.J. had come out. Susan had watched from afar as Kristen had graduated at the top of her class with degrees in Business and Art. The Art degree was a little amusing, but she remembered seeing her drawings in one of the editor’s offices. The girl had a great deal of talent and everything at her fingertips.

Susan thought the young girl had dodged a bullet seeing how T.J.’s father treated women. However for a time she and T.J. had seemed inseparable and Susan had wondered what had finally caused the split. Kristen had been in the Hammond camp during both of Bud’s elections and had been there when Elaine ran for governor the first time. She had disappeared during Elaine’s run for the White House. Her father had donated money and held fundraisers for Elaine, but why not get a young, twenty something female business owner out on the trail? Susan knew Elaine was running again and that John Dupree had once again donated, but with his health in the state it was in would Kristen step in to fill her father’s shoes. Could she take over and help Elaine Barrish become the first female president? That is what we should be asking, thought Susan.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

“So now we grate the cheese like this,” said T.J. and he showed Hannah how to run the block of cheese across the cheese grater. “Do you want to try?” Asked T.J..

“Be careful,” said Kristen has she stirred a pot of noodles. T.J. figured all kids like mac and cheese so he figured this was a safe bet. He held her hand and helped her push the block of cheese back forth until they had four cups shredded.

“Are you chef?” asked Hannah and T.J. laughed a bit.

“I’m still looking for a job right now, but I do like to cook sometimes,” said T.J. and he showed Hannah how to measure the flour and butter for the sauce. Kristen couldn’t help but smile a little to herself. T.J. was sort of like a big kid himself at times and while seemed a bit unsure of himself with Hannah, she didn’t care what he said or did. Just now admitting that he didn’t have a job didn’t bother her at all the way he was used to it bothering people. She was focused on what they were doing together right now. Kristen strained the noodles while T.J. pulled up a chair so Hannah could watch him make the sauce.

“Mommy why don’t you make mac and cheese like this?” asked Hannah and Kristen sighed.

“Because she didn’t know how and now she’s learning,” said Kristen giving T.J. a look.

“How do you guys make it?” asked T.J. and Hannah giggled.

“The sauce comes in a pouch,” said Hannah and T.J. looked at her shocked.

“Oh my god the chemicals Krissy. What are you thinking?” asked T.J. in mock horror.

“That I want eat,” said Kristen.

“Are you not supposed to eat chemicals?” asked Hannah and T.J. grinned.

“You can I was just teasing your mom. She’s a much better cook than she was before,” said T.J..

“Before?” asked Hannah.

“Before I had you, I lived in New York and I wasn’t a very good cook so T.J. and I would always go out for dinner,” explained Kristen.

“Oh,” said Hannah and she went back to watching T.J. make their dinner. T.J. was watching Kristen to see if he was doing anything right. She hadn’t balled him out yet or gave him that look she did when she pissed off and hiding it. Clearly he wasn’t screwing this up yet or she would have told him so by now. Kristen brought over the pot of noodles and he dumped the sauce in and added extra cheese on top.

“And that is how you make mac and cheese,” said T.J..

“What do say to T.J. for making us dinner?” asked Kristen.

“Thank you,” said Hannah. They had dinner in the kitchen around the counter and T.J. listened has Hannah talked about what she and Kristen had done today and he found he really didn’t have to say much since Hannah just talked. Kristen would chime in once in awhile to clear up something he didn’t understand or to tell Hannah she needed to eat her dinner before it got cold and Hannah would get a few bites in before she started talking again. Kristen gave him a small shrug after the third time she tried to get Hannah to eat her dinner. He didn’t care though how much she talked, he liked that she talked to him and it wasn’t about politics or the same endless boring chatter he had heard at every dinner he had gone too since he was eight. Wow you’re actually enjoying a conversation with a five year old. You might really need to make some new friends, thought T.J.. Or maybe he had needed this level of boring in his life for years and didn’t realize it until now.

“Hey Hannah. I need to talk you about something really important for a minute,” said Kristen after she had finished her dinner. Hannah looked at Kristen and T.J. could see that Kristen was nervous.

“So Grandpa is getting out of the hospital in a few days, but he’s not all the way better yet. So until he is we’re going to stay here and take care of him,” said Kristen and Hannah frowned.

“What about Stitch?” asked Hannah.

“We’re going to go home for a bit and we’ll get Stitch and some other things,” said Kristen.

“Is Julie coming too?” asked Hannah.

“She’s going to stay and make sure the house is alright while we’re gone,” said Kristen and Hannah frowned while it sunk in what Kristen was saying.

“But you’re supposed to be the class mom next,” said Hannah sounding upset.

“I’m going to talk to the other moms and someone is going to take my spot,” said Kristen.

“We’re going to miss Chole’s birthday!” said Hannah and Kristen sighed.

“We can go see Chole when we’re home and you can give her present early and we’ll see about staying in touch while we’re here,” said Kristen. Hannah looked really upset as it really hit home what Kristen was telling her.

“I’ll miss school,” protested Hannah. Holy shit she is her mother’s kid, thought T.J..

“I’m going to see about schools here and I’m sure you’ll make new friends and…” Hannah started crying.

“I don’t want to stay here! I wanna go home! Can’t grandpa come home with us?” asked Hannah. T.J. could see Kristen was struggling with this too and she pulled Hannah on to her lap.

“He’s still really sick and he can’t go very far and he needs my help with work stuff. Once he’s all better we’ll go home,” said Kristen. T.J. could see Hannah was really going to start crying and that Kristen just seemed overwhelmed and tired. Maybe you could step in, thought T.J..

“Hey. I know that moving sucks,” said T,J. and Hannah looked at him as he went on. “I had to move here when I was eight and I didn’t really like it at first. I missed my friends and my old room and a lot of other stuff. I did get to meet your mom though and that made it not so bad after awhile. Your mom was my best friend for a really long time. I wouldn’t have met her unless I had moved here. Maybe you’ll make a friend for someone who misses home too,” said T.J.. Kristen looked sort of stunned before he saw a hint of relief in her eyes.

“Is that true?” asked Hannah looking at Kristen.

“Yep. Our mommies and daddies were friends so when T.J.’s mommy and daddy moved up here T.J. and I became friends,” said Kristen. Hannah looked puzzled for a moment before she let out a sigh.

“How are we going to get Stitch on the plane?” asked Hannah. Kristen shook her head before kissing Hannah on the head.

“We’ll see,” said Kristen. Kristen’s eyes locked on his and he could see that she was grateful for the help. She’s been on her own for years doing this. She hasn’t had my help and well maybe I can help her now, thought T.J..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

They cleaned up dinner together while Hannah sat and asked more questions about what moving here would mean. She still seemed upset, but not on the verge a total teary meltdown. Kristen started telling Hannah all the fun things they could do while they were here..

“You know they have a really nice zoo here and maybe if it warms up we can go,” said Kristen putting the pots in the dishwasher and turning it on.

“Do they have elephants? I like those,” said Hannah and T.J. couldn’t help but grin. They didn’t need a DNA test afterall. The kid hated beans and liked elephants, she was most definitely related.

“A bunch of them,” said T.J. sitting down next to Hannah.

“Can T.J. come with us?” asked Hannah as Kristen sat down. She looked so tired and run down to T,J, but she still gave Hannah a small smile.

“If he wants too,” said Kristen. “Alright it’s almost eight and that means bedtime,” said Kristen.

“Okay,” said Hannah disappointed as Kristen herded her upstairs.

“Give me a few minutes,” said Kristen as she went up to get Hannah ready for bed. T.J. sat there and a few minutes later Kristen came down and grinned.

“She would like you to come up and say good night,” said Kristen and T.J. looked a bit stunned before Kristen rolled her eyes and kept grinning “It’s really simple I promise,” said Kristen. T.J. gave her his own look before he went upstairs.

Hannah was sitting up in the bed and wearing a purple pajama shirt and holding the rabbit he had gotten her.

“I forgot Mimsy at home,” said Hannah and she looked at the rabbit. “I named her Robin.”

“That’s a good name,” said T.J. bending down to her level and she hugged him. T.J. was stunned for a second before he hugged her back. She was so damn tiny and based on how she ate dinner he was stunned she could be alive and eat so little. T.J. blinked hard, he didn’t want to cry and upset her. She was his and he hated that he had missed out on her because he couldn’t get his shit together. I promise I will make it up to you somehow, thought T.J.

“Good night,” said Hannah pulling away and settling in to the bed. T.J ran a hand over her head and grinned.

“Good night Hannah,” said T.J.. He turned off the light and head downstairs. He found Kristen asleep on the sofa. T.J. covered her up with a blanket from the back of the sofa. She had done this for him all the time when they would go and he drank or smoked to much to function. He would wake up with his shoes off and covered with a blanket. A glass of water with some aspirin would be nearby and a small trash can. She was always good at the mom stuff, thought T.J.. He knew she was running herself ragged with everything and his small attempt at helping had meant so much to her.

“Night Krissy,” said T.J. softly before leaving.

Chapter Text

“Mommy where is everyone else?” asked Hannah and T.J. fought back a small grin. They were taking a flight to San Diego with Dougie so Kristen could pack up some of their things.

“It’s a private plane sweetie. So it’s just us,” said Kristen sitting down. T.J. took a seat across from here as Douglas boarded the plane. T.J. noticed Kristen straighten up a bit as Douglas sat down.

“Thank you for the ride,” said Kristen. Douglas shrugged before looking at T.J..

“He said you were having a bit of trouble having trying to line up a flight and well it was easy enough to arrange a layover in San Diego on the way to Japan and back again,” said Douglas. Well it was sort of true. Since her dad had been released from the hospital T.J. hadn’t really been able to see Kristen or Hannah. They had talked on the phone, but she didn’t want her dad to get worked up with him coming over.

“He still hates my guts huh?” asked T.J..

“On a scale of one to ten...I say it’s about a forty five,” said Kristen.

“I guess it’s  be expected for a bit?” asked T.J..

“Just give him time to get settled and I’ll keep talking to him. Besides I have to head home for a bit and collect a rabbit and clothes. Do you know how ridiculous it is to try to fly a rabbit first class? I have to fit it under the seat somehow. So I’m thinking a shoebox with holes in the top and pray it lives during the flight. That is if I can find a freakin flight,” said Kristen.

“Don’t you have company planes anymore?” asked T.J. and Kristen scoffed.

“I voted to get rid of those when the economy was in the shitter instead of cutting staff. God I’m stupid,” said Kristen and T.J. couldn’t help but laugh.

“What if I could get you a really good flight?” asked T.J. and he could almost see the wheels turning in her head and weighing all the pros and cons of letting him help her.

“I don’t want to be a pain in your ass, but I’m desperate and I need to get things settled at home so I can be here. What did you have in mind?” asked Kristen. T.J. had to talk with his mother and Douglas about Kristen and Hannah being on a government owned private flight. Douglas was going to Japan anyway for a conference of some sort for Elaine. Elaine was still trying to help Collier deal with his new role as President.

“We have to list them on the manifest,” said Elaine and she called her office to get Kristen and Hannah added.

“Put me on the list too,” said T.J. and his mother looked surprised before asking to add him to the list.

“It’s just packing. I know how to pack,” said T.J. and his mother eyed him.

“I’ve packed and so did various staff members. You sort of just handed stuff over,” said Elaine and Dougie shrugged.

“He helped,” countered Douglas and T.J. smiled at him.

“Tell Kristen she has a flight home. Thursday at ten a.m.,” said Elaine.

“Thank you,” said T.J.. He went to call Kristen and Douglas looked at his mother.

“Do you think this is what he needed all along?” Elaine sat down and sighed.

“I think a good dose of responsibility can’t hurt him. Your father and I never really pushed him on that until it was too late,” said Elaine trying weigh her thoughts out.  “He’s been sober on his own steam for six months. I don’t want him tying his sobriety to Kristen and Hannah now that they’re in the picture. Kristen means well, but she’ll put Hannah feelings ahead of T.J.’s in a nano second. She’s a parent and Hannah comes first for her in all things. However, for the time being I think having a friend in his life again is a good thing. He needs someone else to trust,” said Elaine.

His mother went to take the dogs for a walk and Douglas could hear T.J. talking to Kristen as he headed for the kitchen.

“It’s fine and besides it might be nice to see California when I’m not on a tour with mom,” said T.J.. Douglas heard the pause before T.J. started laughing. “It’s really no trouble. I’m thirty and unemployed the least I can I do is help you pack,” said T.J.. Douglas got himself a soda and shook his head. He always thought if T.J. had something in his life to focus on other than himself and that he was proud of he would have a reason to stay clean. Now I just want him to be happy, thought Douglas.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

Hannah dozed off somewhere over the midwest and Kristen laid her down on the small sofa and covered her up with a blanket.

“She got sick on the plane coming over so I might have given her a little something that helps with motion sickness. Plus it might help her with jet lag to sleep a bit,” said Kristen.  Douglas watched Kristen tuck some of Hannah’s loose hair behind her ear before taking her seat. It was still a little weird to think of her as a mom, let alone the mother to his niece. They  had all been such good friends once and Douglas knew he owed it to Kristen to try and be the friend he used to be to her.

“T.J. used to motion sick all the time when were kids,” said Douglas with a grin. “He actually got sick on a merry go round one year when we lived in North Carolina,” said Douglas. T.J. rolled his eyes and handed Kristen a cup of coffee.

“Was that the year you nearly started crying and had to be let off the tea cups when we went to Disney World?” asked T.J.. Kristen grinned a little.

“That was when your dad won the first election. We all went together like it was some sort reward for not acting up during Election Night.” said Kristen.

“I think Dougie crashed first before the results came in,” said T.J. and Kristen nodded.

“He wanted my markers to draw on your face. I wouldn’t do it,” said Kristen and T.J. faked being hurt.

“How dare you throw me under the bus for that,” said T.J..

“It does sound like something you would do to me,” said Douglas.

“I might have done it when we in home once from college,” said Kristen sounding guilty while sipping her coffee.

“Yeah I figured as much. It was a very well drawn penis after all,” said Douglas.

“I think she got me too on a few occasions,” said T.J. and Kristen shrugged.

“I couldn’t help it. The canvas of your forehead spoke to me,” said Kristen. It got quiet between them as Kristen looked out the window. T.J. and Douglas could see her thinking something over.

“I really appreciate this. Everything has been sort of nuts and I know this isn’t easy for anyone. I did what I thought was the best thing. I still think it was the best thing for Hannah. It doesn’t mean that mistakes weren’t made,” said Kristen still looking out the window. T.J. reached over and squeezed her arm. Kristen looked at Douglas and sighed.

“I needed out of the light for a bit and shockingly no one paid that much attention to me once I stepped away from you guys and got my head right,” said Kristen. “I needed that privacy for myself as much as I wanted it for Hannah.”

“I did get wrapped up in trying to further mom’s career and my own. I was sort of an asshole to you and I should have checked in sooner. I’ve had my share of fuck ups in the last few years too. I can’t really blame you for wanting an out,” said Douglas.

He had fucked up more than once in just this year alone. He had gone behind his own mother’s back to Susan Berg in an attempt to screw up her second run and then he had slept with Susan on this very plane. The kid was actually asleep mere inches from where it had happened. He had lied to his mother and cheated on Anne and yet somehow he was the good son in the family. Maybe he was a little jealous that Kristen had an out and some peace and quiet in her life.  Would I even know how to take an out if it was handed to me? thought Douglas.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

T.J. could tell Kristen was nervous about Douglas coming with them to her house. Originally his layover was just for an hour. However the weather in Japan delayed his flight for another three hours. Kristen had asked Douglas if he wanted to come to the house and relax there instead of being stuck on the tarmac. T.J. was pretty sure she was stunned when he agreed to come with them. Kristen drove him and Hannah to the house while Douglas followed them in another car.

“Why so twitchy?” asked T.J. and Kristen shrugged. “Well I’m pretty sure your house is clean so it isn’t that,” teased T.J. and Hannah giggled from the backseat.

“Well it’s sort of on the smaller side of houses from what we grew up with. I spent some of my trust getting it so the neighborhood is really nice,” said Kristen and T.J. raised an eyebrow.

“Is that worry about snobbery I’m hearing?” asked T.J. and the flush on her face told him it was. “Hey. It’s cool. You should see my apartment back in D.C.. It’s the total sloppy bachelor pad you see on TV,” said T.J. trying to joke. Kristen didn’t say anything and T.J. touched her arm.

“Seriously. No judgement. It’s your home. Besides I grew up in the White House. Everything is modest after that,”  said T.J. with a grin and Kristen gave him a small smile.

Hannah started telling him about the house and T.J. tried picturing it in his head. It had three levels, but it sounded like the basement was mostly a laundry room and junk room since Hannah told him she wasn’t allowed in the basement alone. The main floor was the living room, dining room and kitchen and a guest room and guest bathroom. The upstairs had three rooms and a bathroom and according to Hannah her room was bigger than Kristen’s.

“I let her have the master bedroom for her and her friends to play in. I took the two other rooms for myself. I have a mini office to work in when I want to work at home,” said Kristen. They turned into a street that was almost out one of those family sitcoms. Trees and sidewalks as far as the eye could see. They pulled into the driveway of a ranch style house. The house was blue with black shutters and garage. There were small flower beds that look to have a few plants and flowers.

“You garden?” asked T.J. and Kristen shrugged.

“A little. We grew our own tomatoes and cucumbers this year,” said Kristen turning off the car. They got out and Douglas pulled up behind and them and took in the house and neighborhood.

“I take it the schools here are pretty good,” said Douglas and Kristen nodded as she let them into the house. Hannah took off upstairs and calling to pet rabbit that she was home. Kristen shook her head and smiled a little.

“So you want the tour?” asked Kristen. She showed them around the first floor and Douglas was struck by how much this reminded him of going over to meet Susan Berg at her sister’s home. Susan’s sister had kids and the feel and look were the same. The toys and books that were in the living room. The drawings tacked up the fridge next to PTA schedules and reminders about play dates. A bright chore chart was pinned to a wall with chores for both Kristen and Hannah with smiley face stickers. It felt lived in to him, which is something he couldn’t say about growing up in the White House. It always felt odd to know it wasn’t really their home.

Douglas watched T.J. taking this in and couldn’t read the look on his twin’s face. T.J. had never expressed any desire to settle down, nevermind kids. However Douglas wondered what would have happened if T.J. hadn’t come out. Would he have married Kristen to keep up a lie? Would they have children beside Hannah? How long before Kristen would have figured out T.J. was gay and hurt her even more? Or would T.J. have become one of those super, repressed gay bashers that screwed Craiglist hookups on the side? So many what if’s and Douglas wondered if that was what was going through T.J.’s mind.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

It was the baby pictures that nearly did T.J. in. The pictures of Hannah that Kristen had on a side table in the living room. There was one picture of Kristen holding Hannah clearly moments after she had been born. Kristen looked tired, but unbelievable happy at the same time. Hannah didn’t look any bigger than a shoebox with a mop of hair. T.J. forced a lump in his throat down as he looked at the pictures, Hannah holding on a coffee table and grinning. Hannah in red dress looking at Santa confused. Kristen holding Hannah has they stood next to Mickey Mouse.

It was one thing to look at Hannah and know he had missed out on her life, it was another to see those moments and know what moments he had missed out on. T.J. was suddenly torn about how mad he should be with Kristen for cutting him out and how mad he should be at himself for not trying harder to get his shit together. If she had told you maybe you would have tried harder. No you needed to want it and face it you can be a real selfish asshole when you want to be.

“Hey,” said Hannah and she grabbed T.J.’s hand. “Come see my rabbit.” T.J. followed her upstairs and the first door on the left was Hannah’s room. It had bright yellow walls with a border of white and purple flowers painted on the wall. The bed had a purple bedspread with bright yellow sheets. The room was a little messy, a small pile of dolls and clothes were near a purple cloth box. Some clothes had missed the hamper and were in a heap on the floor. The dresser was bright shade of purple and had books stacked on it. In a corner was small pen that a gray bunny was hopping around in.

“I had two bunnies, but one of them got sick so it went to sleep.  She’s in the backyard and I made a rock so I know where she is,” said Hannah matter of factly. She unlatched the pen door and the bunny hopped over.

“This is Stitch. Lilo is in the backyard,” said Hannah. T.J. watched as Hannah put the bunny gently in her lap and rubbed its ears. The bunny’s back leg twitched and Hannah giggled.

“That means he’s happy. Do you wanna pet him?” asked Hannah.

“Sure,” said T.J. and he stroked the rabbit on his head and listened has Hannah talked about all the chores she had to do with the rabbit.

“He needs water and it has to be clean so he doesn’t get sick. Mommy helps me clean up the whole pen though since this is where he poops and pees and I don’t want to spill the bedding with the poop and pee in it,” said Hannah and T.J. had to fight back the urge to laugh. Her tone was so serious and so much like Kristen and his own mother it was almost too much for him.

“Well he looks like a very healthy bunny and it must be because you take such good care of him,”’ said T.J. and Hannah smiled at him and went back to petting her rabbit and telling it about all the things she had seen and done in D.C.

She was such a happy kid and that lump threatened to come up in his throat again. Would she have been this happy with him in her life while he was trying to get clean?

“Are you okay?” asked Hannah suddenly. She was looking at him super worried and T.J. kicked himself. Don’t freak her out.

“Yeah. Just a little tired since I didn’t nap on the plane,” said T.J. and Hannah put the bunny back in his pen before taking T.J.’s hand.

“You can go to sleep in the room Grandpa uses. It has a big bed with a blanket that heats up,” said Hannah. She was such a good kid and T.J. reached over and hugged her.

“Thanks kid,” said T.J.. Douglas came upstairs and looked around the room and grinned a little.

“Your mom wants to know if you can come down and help her make lunch?” asked Douglas.

“Kay,” said Hannah and she went left the room. Douglas looked around the room and shook his head.

“You alright?” asked Douglas and T.J. shrugged. “You know it was one thing to see Krissy with the kid and know she was a mother. It’s another to see it...I mean all of this,” said Douglas waving his hand around the room.

“Just think once you and Anne have kids this could be your life too,” said T.J. getting off the floor. Douglas scoffed a bit and looked around the room again.

“Seriously are you alright?” asked Douglas and T.J. sighed. Sometimes he wondered if they weren’t twins if Dougie would be able to read him so well.

“It’s just weird being here. Kristen’s made this great life for herself and she did without me. I missed out on being apart of it and it just sucks a bit,” said T.J..  Douglas hugged him and T.J. hugged him back.

“If I do have kids I hope they’re half as cute as the one downstairs,” said Douglas.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

Kristen got up early the next morning and started making waffles while making mental lists of what errands needed to be done, what needed packed, who she needed to call and what could be put off until she was back for good. Maybe another Target run since Hannah will need sweaters and long sleeved shirts. I can order stuff online for myself and just ship it to dad’s. I should see what office stuff I want to take and what I can just buy at Michael's. Need to go to Pet Smart for Stitch. I’ll have to see about podcast recording from dad’s house or maybe find some small office space outside of the house for a few hours. I should see if Lisa and Brandon can take over editing Zombie Blonde while I’m out.

“Can I have eggs with my waffle?” asked Hannah and Kristen wondered how long she had been there. She had been on autopilot has she made the waffles and thankfully nothing had burned yet.

“Sure. Scrambled or over easy?” asked Kristen has Hannah got into her booster chair at the table.

“I want the runny yolk,” said Hannah.

“Over easy it is,” said Kristen getting a pan and the eggs out. “You sleep okay?” Hannah sort of made a noise that sounded like a yes. Sometimes the kid was not a morning person. It was such a T.J. trait. She got Hannah’s breakfast around and sat down with her own breakfast and coffee. Kristen had managed to finish a waffle and gotten half her coffee down before Hannah decided to ask one of those questions Kristen was not ready for.

“Why hasn’t T.J. been here before if he’s your friend?” asked Hannah and Kristen gave herself points for not spilling coffee on herself or choking.

Kristen had been debating how to move from T.J. is a friend to T.J. is your dad for awhile now. She had looked into counseling for her and T.J. to go to, but everything was so damn crazy right now. Maybe in a few weeks they could have a session together. Still tip toeing up to the truth with Hannah was her call and maybe this was the start to that.

“Well it’s sort of complicated sweetie. T.J. and I were very good friends for a long time, but one day we got into a fight. I said some not nice things and he said some not nice things back. Instead of saying we were sorry like we should have we stayed mad at each other. I moved here to work and I had you. T.J. moved to help his mom with her job and we didn’t have anything nice to say so we didn’t talk. But when Grandpa got sick and T.J. came with his dad to visit we talked and T.J. said he was sorry and we decided to try and be friends again,” said Kristen.

“Oh,” said Hannah and she took a few more bits of her breakfast before looking at her. “You guys were mad for a long time.”

“Yeah. I guess we were,” said Kristen suddenly feeling just low and tried. T.J. was being so damn helpful and yet there was that nagging voice way back in mind telling her she needed to protect herself when the act stopped and he showed his true colors again. She hoped her Hannah's sake the voice was wrong and that she could trust T.J.. 

“Why didn’t you say sorry first?” asked Hannah. Damn. She doesn’t even know she’s hitting me in the hard place, thought Kristen.

“Sometimes when you’re a grown up it’s extra hard to do the right thing. Mommy made a bit of a mistake by not trying to do the right thing first. But I know it was a mistake and so does T.J. so we’re going to try and be friends again,” said Kristen. Hannah sipped her juice and looked at her breakfast before looking at her again.

“So you said sorry too,” said Hannah and Kristen was happy that she hadn’t picked her coffee up again or else she would have choked on it. She really hadn’t come out and said she was sorry to T.J. yet.

“Sort of. I’m trying too and it’s still sort of hard for me,” said Kristen. Hannah gave her a look and Kristen braced herself for questions.

“Are you still mad at him? He’s nice,” said Hannah.

“I’m not mad anymore and he is very nice now. Someday when you’re a much bigger girl you’ll understand why it’s hard to do what you should do,” said Kristen.

“When will that be?” asked Hannah.

“Maybe when you’re twenty five,” said Kristen and Hannah looked shocked.

“That’s old,” said Hannah flatly and Kristen grinned.

“Wait till you’re my age and twenty five won’t seem old at all,” said Kristen and Hannah giggled and then she looked behind Kristen and it was that oddly thoughtful look she had only seen a few times on her daughter’s face.

“You can say sorry now,” said Hannah and Kristen could suddenly just feel T.J. behind her. Kristen turned around in her chair and saw T.J. standing there. He looked tired and something else she couldn’t read in his face. There used to be a time when they knew each other so well and she wondered if anyone had or would ever know her as well as he had. Michael knew her, but it was different somehow. Kristen stood up and went over to T.J. and took his hand. She owed him an apology and how could they move forward if she couldn’t say a simple sentence to him. The father of her daughter.

“I’m sorry...”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

“You guys were mad for a long time.” said Hannah. It stopped T.J. where he was and listened to Hannah and Kristen talk. For a kid she was far to smart and insightful. It was clearly a trait she got from Kristen.

“Yeah. I guess we were,” said Kristen sounding a bit tired and not sure what to say next.

“Why didn’t you say sorry first?” asked Hannah. Because I should have said sorry first because I was in the wrong, thought T.J..

“Sometimes when you’re a grown up it’s extra hard to do the right thing. Mommy made a bit of a mistake by not trying to do the right thing first. But I know it was a mistake and so does T.J. so we’re going to try and be friends again,” said Kristen.

T.J. sighed and thought about how long he and Kristen had been friends before that night. How in the span of an afternoon he had pissed away over a decade of friendship. They’re lives were in such different places now, but he missed her and it seemed Kristen had missed him too.

“So you said sorry too,” said Hannah

“Sort of. I’m trying too and it’s still sort of hard for me,” said Kristen.

“Are you still mad at him. He’s nice,” said Hannah. T.J. felt his heart suddenly stick in his chest. He hadn’t seen Kristen lie to Hannah or sugar coat things for her, so he wondered what she was going to say.

“I’m not mad anymore and he is very nice now. Someday when you’re a much bigger girl you’ll understand why it’s hard to do what you should do,” said Kristen. T.J. smiled to himself a bit. He wondered when he had stopped being nice and it was nice to be considered nice by someone again.

“When will that be?” asked Hannah.

“Maybe when you’re twenty five,” said Kristen.

“That’s old,” said Hannah bluntly. God she sounds a little like Nana, thought T.J..

“Wait till you’re my age and twenty five won’t seem old at all,” said Kristen and Hannah giggled. T.J. figured the conversation was over and decided to see about getting some breakfast. Hannah looked over Kristen’s shoulder and she had this look on her face that he had seen on Kristen when she was thinking really hard about something.

“You can say sorry now,” said Hannah. He saw Kristen’s shoulders stiffen before she got up and turned around. There was that look on her face, he had seen it when she told him she needed to think about things when they were fifteen. Kristen took his hand and she looked up at him.

“I’m sorry,” said Kristen. “I’m sorry I was mean to you...it’s not how friends should be. We shouldn’t have been that way with each other. We need each other,” said Kristen. T.J. felt that lump in his throat and he hugged Kristen hard. She hugged him back and for the first time in a long time T.J. was really and truly happy. Maybe I’m not just a punchline...maybe I can be more for a change.  

Chapter Text

“So can I ask what is up with your mom and Susan Berg?” asked Kristen and T.J. handed her a bunch of clothes from Hannah’s dresser for her to sort through. Kristen had taken Hannah over to a friend’s house to spend the night. It reminded T.J. a bit of when he moved to D.C. and the overnight stays to say goodbye to friends. However in a few months Hannah would be coming back to her friends and T.J. was trying to ignore that thought for the time being. Just focus on right now. They had spent most of yesterday was just running errands and Kristen trying to meet with people from work. She had offered to call her nanny to help him out, but T.J. had wanted the time alone with Hannah. He could tell she was a bit nervous to leave them alone. He didn’t think it was because of a lack of trust in him, well not completely.

He had just never been alone with any kid and Kristen was trusting him with a kid she had been solely responsible for almost six years. Kristen had only been gone for about four hours and Hannah had nearly ran him ragged in that time. T.J. could tell how happy she was to be home and nothing seemed to keep her interest for more than thirty minutes. She talked his ear off about her school and her friends. Trips to the beach or Disney she had gone on with John and Kristen. T.J. told himself when they got back to D.C. he was taking Hannah to the zoo. Or maybe the Children’s museum. She would like that. I want her to have good memories of D.C. . Hannah passed out around seven and Kristen grinned at him as she carried Hannah to bed. It was the last thing he remember before crashing himself. He couldn’t remember the last time he was that tired without being wasted.

“So you noticed their budding relationship?” asked T.J. with a smirk. When Kristen had come over with Hannah the other day to meet them to go to the airport Susan had been there to go for a walk with his mother. Kristen had given him a look, but had said nothing. Susan had been polite and had asked about how John was doing and how Kristen’s work was going.  Susan had said hello to Hannah before she gave a quick look between the three of them, but she hadn’t said anything.   

His mom had been going for walks with Susan since this summer and Susan was now invited to all his mother’s functions. T.J. wasn’t sure to think about his mother’s new friendship with the reporter who used to drag their family through the mud. Susan had helped bury the story about his ODing this summer with the Chinese Sub story his mother had leaked. T.J, wouldn’t be surprised if his mother offered Susan a role in her cabinet once she took office at the rate things were going.

“It’s been weird reading her new pieces about your mom. They are surprisingly positive for a change,” said Kristen.

“I know it’s sort of freaky and I really can’t explain it. You don’t plan on making Hannah read the Globe when she turns eleven do you?” asked T.J. and Kristen shook her head.

“Dad had me read the paper since he wanted me to understand all sides of the conversation at dinner parties and fundraisers. I don’t talk politics with Hannah. I had my fill of it growing up in D.C.. I’m sure your parents are going to have kittens when they find out their granddaughter doesn’t know the first thing about government,” said Kristen.

“Give them an hour with her and they’ll have her listing presidents in alphabetical order,” said T.J. and Kristen cringed a bit.

“That’s a scary thought,” said Kristen as she sorted out clothes that were too small and tossing them in a bag for Goodwill. T.J. could sense how not thrilled Kristen was with Hannah and political talk. They had grown up with it their whole lives and considering how their lives had turned out T.J. could understand how Kristen wouldn’t want Hannah pulled into that at any age.

“I could talk to them. Tell them that you made an executive decision to raise your daughter as an Independent,” said T.J. and Kristen put some shirts into a suitcase before turning to him.

“I just don’t want them thinking it’s something against them. Your parents are amazing politicians. Despite your dad’s bad habits he did a lot of good things for people in this country. And your mom...holy shit. I got a little choked up watching her DNC address when Garcetti got the nomination. She’s going to win this time and it’s going to be bonkers. It’s just...they never seemed really happy I guess. You were never happy with it,” said Kristen.

“Can I just say that you calling my dad’s numerous affairs ‘bad habits’ is the understatement of a lifetime,” said T.J. trying to joke as the conversation suddenly turn serious between them. She was right though, he had never been happy during those years in the fishbowl. Everyone in the world looking at him and just waiting for him to fuck up. Taking glee in it when he did fall short and well Sean had said it best.

“Well I am America’s Punchline,” said T.J. and Kristen tossed another stack of shirts in the Goodwill bag before giving him that look she had whenever he put himself down.  Somethings were just too ingrained to be forgotten.

“Only because Garcetti’s kid is too young to mock and Collier’s daughters are too holy and frightening to mock. Jesus T.J. we were kids and all kids do stupid shit. It’s not your fault that they can’t let it go,” said Kristen.

“So what’s my excuse now for when I do stupid shit?” asked T.J. and Kristen sighed.

“You mean other than no one leaving you alone to be happy for five seconds?” asked Kristen. “I know your parents loved you, but they either ignored you or rode your ass about everything,” said Kristen.  T.J. shrugged and pulled some clothes out of the closet for Kristen to sort through.

“I just...I can’t explain it Krissy. Nothing never sits right for long with me. I just can’t get things to work right and even when I think I’m doing the right thing it still goes to shit,” said T.J.. I was sober and trying to find a job when Sean dumped me.

“I wish I had a good answer for you. I had to leave the East Coast, change my professional name, and have my dad lie to cover my ass before the chips fell right. It’s still really hard at times though and sometimes it feels lonely. It’s been almost six years and sometimes I still really miss speed. I miss feeling like I could do anything and everything all at once. I’ve been doing online NA meeting since I’ve had Hannah just to talk stuff out. I know you’ve tried and it’s all you can do is keep trying. Some people are just assholes who enjoy watching others fail,” said Kristen and she added more clothes to the suitcase.

“So basically I should see about entering the Witness Protection Program or fake my death,” said T.J. and even Kristen gave him a small grin.

“You would have to go blonde and maybe leave the country for that to work,” said Kristen. “I had the perk of just being a rich man’s daughter so going into hiding was a little easier. Thankfully I had the good sense to never let anyone film me during sex or else hiding would have been tricky,” said Kristen. They finished packing up Hannah’s things before going across the hall to Kristen’s office.  

“So this is the messy room,” said Kristen opening the door. It was messy, but it sort an organized mess. It was sort of dark in this room even with the light on since there were blackout curtains over the window.  Two book shelves that were overflowing were on one side and the other side was just a massive desk that was covered in paper, pencils and pens. There was a laptop and scanner along with a microphone and headphones in the one place that didn’t look to be taken over by drawings. A wastepaper basket needed to be emptied, but T.J. could see discarded drawings and couldn’t figure out why they had been rejected since they looked alright to him.  The wall above the desk had three corkboards, clearly she had been storyboarding several things. One read Up All Night, another read This Went Wrong and another just read Upcoming Casts.

“I don’t think I can take the boards with me, but the laptop is a must. I was in such a hurry when I got the call I barely remembered my phone,” said Kristen picking up the laptop and digging it’s case out of a drawer.

“Can I ask what they are?” asked T.J. pointing to the boards.

“One of the side projects I’ve been doing is podcasting. You know talk radio online,” said Kristen and T.J. nodded and she went on. “The Up All Night podcast is one I do with some of the other moms I know and we just talk about parenting stuff or sometimes I record by myself about how a comic came to be or what was going on when I wrote a strip. This Went Wrong is one I do on and off with my friend Melissa and her husband Rico. It’s a movie podcast and it’s just bad movie talk. I record here and they Skype me in. Some of the other writers and artists I work with want to start their own shows so they’ll record them at home and I’ll do the editing. We’re thinking about trying to do our own network, almost like what Kevin Smith has with Smodcast. I pitched it to dad a few weeks ago and we talked about setting it up and tying it to Lifo, the online radio site,” said Kristen and T.J. shook his head.
“Are you really not on anything? I don’t know how you find time for all of this,” said T.J. and Kristen shook her head.

“I do the podcast when Hannah is asleep and on weekends if I can get Jules to take her out for a bit. Sometimes I can record two or three during a weekend and I just sit on them to dole out later if I’m too busy to record. I’ve doing it for about a year, but we’re still building a base,” said Kristen.

“Any other side projects?” asked T.J.

“Well sometimes I write comedy bits for my friends to film on their YouTube channels.  I’ve done some punch up work and I’ve written a few episodes for some shows. I think I might have enough credits to join the Writer’s Guild this summer,” said Kristen.

“Are you going to keep writing and drawing once you take over for your dad?” asked T.J.. Kristen put the microphone and headphones into a bag before sitting down.

“I’m not taking over,” said Kristen and T.J. almost felt his jaw drop.

“I thought that was the plan since before you were born,” said T.J.. It had been the plan as far as back as T.J. had known her. The company was her’s in the event John died or stepped down. It was one of the main sources of pressure in her life since childhood. It was always tossed about so causally how she was to going to take over once the time came. T.J. had seen how tense she would get when this was tossed out at parties and dinners. It was one of the reason she took to hiding during events. She told him once when they were both amazingly drunk that was the sole heir since there was no spare to take the keys to the kingdom that she had never wanted.

“It was, but after I had Hannah I found a way to put my foot down. I like what I have here and what I’ve done for the studio. My dad may have bought it, but I brought it back...I’ve made it work.  It’s not the greatest money maker, but I’m comfortable and no one’s been fired since I took over. I didn’t build what he has and I never felt right taking it. I’m taking the studio when I step away. My shares in the company are paying for it so I don’t think anyone is losing out when I leave,” said Kristen.

“He’s making you buy it with your shares? Sounds like your dad,” joked T.J. picking up notebooks.

“Can I ask you a question?” asked Kristen sounding serious as she sat in her chair. T.J. felt the hair on his neck stand up as she looked at him.

“Um I guess,” said T.J. and Kristen toyed with her bracelet.

“Can I ask what happened last year to make you call me?” asked Kristen and T.J. felt numb suddenly.

He couldn’t remember what he had said to her, but he imagined it wasn’t anything good if she had called his mother. He remembered being so damn mad at her for calling his mother to let her know he wasn’t alright. He remembered just hating everyone and everything. Listening to Sean talk about how he needed to get home to his family after saying he wanted to spend Christmas with him. If felt like being stabbed over and over. Maybe if he wasn’t a Hammond, he could have been someone that Sean would have given up his life and career for. It just all pressed down on him until he couldn’t take it anymore.

“If you don’t want to go into it right now that’s fine. I shouldn’t have asked since we’re still trying to get to know each other again. Sorry,” said Kristen quickly. She went to grab a stack of notebooks when T.J. grabbed her arm.

“I’ll tell you...just not today. It’s long and messy and that’s not even half of it I’m not mad that you asked though. Everyone else has asked, but you might be one of the people that actually gives a shit,” said T.J.. Kristen nodded and gave his hand a squeeze.

“You wanna ask me anything that might be awkward?” asked Kristen trying to joke.

“Seeing anybody?” asked T.J. and Kristen laughed.

“I have a five year and I own my own business. I hardly have time for casual sex, let alone a serious relationship,” said Kristen. She wasn’t sure if her relationship with Michael would count as a ‘serious’ relationship, even though it was currently her longest running. After all he was married and it was purely work with some fun thrown in when he came out this way. Kristen hadn’t really had time for Michael since her father’s heart attack. They had dinner, but sex had been the last thing on her mind and she went home. Michael had offered to come and  help her with moving, but he got pulled into a case for another client. She had been touched that he offered, but it was for best that she did this with T.J.. They had things to work out and she felt better trying to get to know him again on her field with no one on top of them.

“So you are seeing someone just for sex? I’m almost proud of you for finally seeing you don’t have to be serious to get in someone’s pants,” said T.J. and Kristen rolled her eyes.

“I’m a woman and it’s was beaten into my brain that only guys can be causal with the sex. Honestly I like the no strings attached part of it. We have our own lives and the sex doesn’t interfere with everything else in our lives,” said Kristen.

“That is some guy logic if I ever heard it,” said T.J. and he wondered if Kristen had considered what would happen if one of her flings got serious. After all Sean was just supposed to be fling and it turned into six months. What they had was supposed to be a fling and to say the end result was serious was another understatement of a lifetime.

“Just be careful,” said T.J. and Kristen gave him a look. “You’re a hell of a lady and someone might end up falling for you,” said T.J..

“That will be the day,” said Kristen. She went to get a box and T.J. wondered if she was still unaware of how amazing she was. Someone would be lucky to have you.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

They packed until dinner time, four large suitcases, a box that was to be shipped to her father’s a box of rabbit supplies sat in the corner. Douglas was coming back the day after tomorrow and they had managed to get the packing done. Kristen had ordered a pizza and was pouring a glass of wine and than looked worried.

“I’m sorry. I should have asked first,” said Kristen and she dumped her glass.

“Why?  I was the booze hound on top of everything else. That bottle is at least a year old and not even half empty,” said T.J. and Kristen raised an eyebrow. “I might have looked in your fridge yesterday and that is the only bottle of booze in this house and it’s old based on the label. If you want a glass it’s fine by me. I’m only a little jealous,” said T.J. and she put the bottle back and grabbed them sodas.

“No. It’s rude and I didn’t think. I normally only have a glass when I finish a huge project,” said Kristen sitting down and grabbing a slice from the box and nearly eating half of it in one bite.

“This might sound weird, but it’s nice to see eat,” said T.J.. It was another bad habit from the past that they shared, not eating. It was worst for her when they were dating since the feelings of a teenage old girl didn’t matter to tabloids. New York had been even harder on her since she worked with nothing but models and wanna be models.

“Oh...yeah. Once I stopped taking speed and the morning sickness was done all I wanted to do was eat. I had a weakness for strawberries and peanut butter the whole time I was pregnant,” said Kristen grabbing another slice. She noticed that T.J. had gone quiet and was half toying with his dinner.

“What’s wrong?” asked Kristen wondering if she had said something wrong without thinking.

“It’s just, I’ve put some weight back on since giving up coke and the remarks I’ve heard and seen haven’t been the greatest,” said T.J. sounding almost ashamed.

“Oh they can all go fuck themselves,” said Kristen harshly. “Geez you look fine. I don’t think anyone is going to kick you out of bed for eating crackers,” said Kristen taking his hand.

“I know it’s stupid that I care, but I do...old habits,” said T.J. and Kristen squeezed his hand.

“Come on. Let’s go for a walk,” said Kristen. She grabbed her car keys and purse. T.J. just looked at her. “We’ve been stuck here all day and I would be a terrible friend if I didn’t take you to walk on the beach once while you’re out here,” said Kristen. T.J. grabbed his hoodie and followed her out the car. They drove for about twenty minutes and then another ten minutes trying to find a spot to park. They got out and she casually took his hand as they walked. It was surprising busy despite being December as tourists and locals walked the beach and built bonfires.  

“After I got out of rehab I was four, maybe five months pregnant. After work I would just come here and walk. I just needed to think and tell myself I was doing the right thing. There are a part of me that wanted to tell you, but I was scared you wouldn’t believe me if I told you it was yours and everything I would have to go through to prove it would be fodder for everyone. Part of me didn’t tell anyone because I wanted Hannah to be left alone and I was little selfish. I didn’t want people judging me anymore. Don’t let the bastards judge you anymore. I know it’s easy to say from where I am, but it’s going to wear you down if you keep giving them power,” said Kristen.

“You did the right thing by going away and not telling anyone about Hannah. She’s happy and if we’re lucky she’s not going to be judge on the level we were our whole lives. I would have been shitty to you. I would have driven you to the nearest clinic and waited and then we never would have talked about it. You’re a good mom and it’s still weird to think she ours. I know letting me back in isn’t easy. I’ve screwed up a lot and even I’m scared I might do it again. I don’t want to hurt you or her. I haven’t been this happy or scared in a long time. I just wish I would have been better to you sooner. I wish I could have been there for you,” said T.J. wiping his eyes.

Kristen moved to stand in front of him and she put his hand low on her abdomen.  Something about it felt oddly intimate to him. Other than his family he hadn’t touched anyone in six months. Hell he had even given up hooking up since they might want to do drugs. T.J. swallowed hard as she rubbed his arm.

“She was early and I was in labor for almost seventeen hours. I threw a thing of ice chips and then started crying and apologizing to the nurse for throwing the ice chips. They wanted me to get on my hands and knees to push and I muttered that was how people get into this mess and the doctor nearly died laughing. Thank god dad wasn’t in the room at the time or that would have been an odd conversation,” said Kristen.

T.J. snorted with laughter and they stood there talking for hours about what the pregnancy had been like for her. All the things that he had thought about asking and chickened out about. She kept his hand on her abdomen the whole time she talked to him.

“She would always kick me right about here,” said Kristen pressing his hand into her midsection and T.J. grinned a little.

“Mom said all Dougie and I did was kick her until she had us. You think that would have been a sign of things to come,” said T.J..

“You were worth it to her though. It was worth everything in the end,” said Kristen letting go of his hand. He let his hand linger there a second before pulling it away. She took his hand again and they went back to her place.

 

Chapter Text

“So Dr. Muller told me a little bit about your situation and how you two would like to work on trying to be co-parents is that correct?” asked Dr. Beth Kramer.

“I guess that’s a starting pointing,” said Kristen and T.J. nodded.

“We’re also working up to telling Hannah that I’m her father. Which is sort of even more complicated since I’m like ninety percent gay,” said T.J. and Kristen fought back at smile. They finally had time to set up the appointment with the therapist Dr. Muller had recommended to him. Kristen was sort of settled at her dad’s and wanted to do this as well. They had been getting along, but even T.J. could see they were avoiding a lot of the hard stuff in an effort to not rock the boat.

“Well I’m walking into the middle of whatever you two have going on. Maybe we can go back to when this started. You dated when you were teenagers,” said Kramer.

“Everyone knows that,” said T.J. trying to stay positive about this and Kramer nodded.

“Everyone knows the fairytale of your youth. I want to know what happened behind the scenes. Who asked who out?” asked Kramer.

“I asked her out,” said T.J. and Kristen started toying with bracelet.

“I didn’t think it was a serious date until he handed me flowers,” said Kristen.

“Why didn’t you think it was a serious date?” asked Kramer.

“I didn’t think he thought of me like that. We had always just been friends,” said Kristen. T.J. remember how damn nervous he had been to ask to a movie. Granted it had been one in the Screening Room, but he had gotten her a thing of flowers and Kristen had turned three shades of red when she realized it was just them and what he had meant.

“That’s why it seemed so oblivious to ask her out. I knew we got along and she was...you still are pretty,” said T.J. and even Kramer grinned a little.

“Did you realize after you started dating or before you started dating that you were attracted to the same sex?” asked Kramer and T.J. shrugged.

“I sort of liked guys before I asked Kristen out, but you know it wasn’t really okay to be out when we were growing up and I thought something just wasn’t right with me. I liked her and figured maybe it was just a thing I needed to get over. It sort of worked...I liked her and it was awesome. Until I met Eric and it was just ‘boom’,” said T.J.

“Can we go into more detail about Eric?” asked Kramer taking notes. “Did you know about Eric?” asked Kramer looking at Kristen.

“I knew that he was an upperclassmen that was supposed to tutor T.J.. I thought he was an idiot since T.J. was still failing his classes. When T.J. started spending more time with Eric, I thought it was for more utoring. It didn’t dawn on me till later that...well you know,” said Kristen trying to keep her hands still. It was an old nervous habit that T.J. knew and he flushed a little.

“We only made out once and then there was that kiss that someone took a picture of which meant everything had to come out,” said T.J.. “Mostly we just talked, got stoned...I didn’t know anyone else that liked guys too. I felt different and it’s hard to explain. I didn’t want to hurt Kristen and most of the time I really liked being with her. I just couldn’t stop feeling something wasn’t right and when he kissed me it clicked and I didn’t know what to do,” said T.J.. Yep, the hard stuff. The things we’ve both been avoiding for over a decade, thought T.J. watching Kristen’s hands.

“What was your first thought when T.J. came out to you?” asked Kramer.

“I thought he was joking at first. We had been going out for almost a year and things had gotten physical between us. It never crossed my mind that he didn’t feel right with me. I had known other gay guys through some of my dad’s businesses so I was alright with it before my time,” said Kristen with sad little smile. “If had told me he needed someone to keep it private for him, I would have done since we were friends. I felt...used. Yeah...I felt used mostly,” said Kristen softly. T.J. got up to start pacing and Kristen knew that was his nervous habit and wondered what this series of questions was meant to do for them.

“Why do we have to dig around this? We talked about when we were fifteen and I know how I made her feel. It was shitty, but I scared. We both got screwed,” said T.J..

“I’m trying to understand how you both got here. What happened in your past is key to that. I understand this might be unpleasant for both you since you’ve both have tried burying your feelings for years through various and sometimes harmful methods,” said Kramer. T.J. sat down and looked at Kristen and she sighed deeply.

“I wasn’t a really good friend when it came to the partying. He just seemed happier when he was high so I didn’t put my foot down even when it got us in trouble. I guess I also was scared he wouldn’t want to be friends anymore if I didn’t party so I went with it,” said Kristen. “Plus I had my own addiction that I don’t think I would have stopped even if he asked me too,” said Kristen looking at the floor before she locked eyes with him.

“I got you started though and that is something I wish I could take back,” said T.J.



1997

 

They had already called his mother and someone had already brought Kristen her glasses and something to clean her contacts. She was waiting by the door when Sam dropped them off. Elaine took one look at Kristen and she looked ready to cry.

“Will it come out?” asked Kristen and Elaine sighed.

“We’ll find someone to fix it. Come on, you can use the Master Bathroom to clean up,” said Elaine taking Kristen by the arm and holding her close despite Kristen being sticky and smelling like fruit punch. His father came downstairs and shook his head.

“Are you alright?” asked Bud and T.J. shrugged and held up the tiara.

“I won Spring Queen. It wasn’t Sam’s fault so be cool,” said T.J.. He liked Sam the best out of all the Secret Service staff they had.

“I’ll try to keep the ass chewing to a dull roar,” said Bud,

“I’m gonna see if Luis is up to making burgers and milkshakes. I promised Krissy dinner,” said T.J. and Bud patted his shoulder,

“I’m sure he would kill a cow if you asked him too,” said Bud and T.J. smiled a bit before heading off to the kitchen.  Luis had fries in the deep fryer, buns toasting, and burgers on the grill by the time Kristen came down. She was wearing a pair of sweats and a long tee shirt. Her hair was still a bit damp, but she didn’t smell like fruit punch anymore. Luis sat a milkshake in front of Kristen and patted her hand.

“A real woman looks better when she’s at ease. You look much prettier this way than all done up,” said Luis turning back to the grill to make sure the burgers were medium well.

“Your mom is already on the phone with some designer in New York asking how to get the stains out. My dad called and he said he wasn’t mad about the dress,” said Kristen toying with her shake.

“It wasn’t your fault. People are assholes,” said T.J. and Kristen nodded.

“I found it a few months ago in the basement. I was looking for a place to hide a gift for Nina and I found my mom’s dresses. He kept all her stuff. Not surprising since he won’t even go into her office, Nina cleans it once a week and sometimes when he’s away I like to go in there and draw.  I didn’t think I would even fit in it. She looked so pretty in it. I remember watching her get ready and hoping someday I would be that pretty. I felt pretty tonight. It felt like she was here,” said Kristen trying not to cry again. T.J. leaned over and hugged her.

“I’ve always thought you were cute. I like it when you wear your glasses,” said T.J. and Kristen nearly snorted.

“My glasses?” asked Kristen mocking.

“Yeah. I don’t know, they just seemed to fit you more,” said T.J.. Luis put plates in front of them and Kristen grinned.

“Well since I’m not your girlfriend anymore the diet is over. Carbs for us all,” said Kristen biting into her burger and sighing happily. He found his found food stuck in his throat. She didn’t diet for him, she did it for the cameras. Truthfully, he had liked her figure, despite being attracted to guys he liked how she filled out a top.  Breasts are totally awesome. I wonder if all gay guys think that, thought T.J.. They ate in silence, Kristen had even asked for seconds which Luis was happy to give her. T.J. put the crown on her head and grinned.

“Looks better on you,” said T.J. and she shrugged.

“They voted for you. Nerd girl can’t even be Spring Queen. Pathetic,” said Kristen. T.J. took her hand.

“We didn’t get to dance and as your Queen you have to dance with me,” said T.J.. Kristen laughed a bit when he pulled off the stool and pulled her close to him. Kristen sighed and let her head rest against him as they swayed in the silent kitchen. Kristen yawned and T.J.laughed.

“Gee it’s not even ten and you’re yawning like an old lady,” teased T.J..

“I’ve been trying to cram for finals and dad has some interviews lined up for me at some summer college camps and I’ve been prepping for those. I run on coffee and maybe four hours of sleep a night. I am magical,” said Kristen.

“You know I might have something to help with that,” said T.J.. He took her upstairs to his room and pulled a bottle out of his drawer. Eric had given it to him to help him stay up and study. T.J. hadn’t really cared for them and had only taken two of them. “I think you only take one every eight hours. The crash is sort of hard so make sure you schedule time for that,” said T.J.. Kristen eyed the bottle of pills with no label.

“Well the term is almost over, but every little bit helps,” said Kristen and she put the bottle in her pocket.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

2012

 

“I was an overachiever. I would have found my way to uppers sooner or later to keep that edge up. It wasn’t your fault,” said Kristen taking his hand.

“Well everyone was so focused on my failing they didn’t see you needed help until it got bad,” said T.J. and Kristen sighed.

“What finally tipped them off that you needed help?” asked Kramer.

“I passed out during a debate competition my Senior year. The doctor noticed my blood pressure was super high and had a ran a drug test. I spent the summer before college in rehab. We partied, but I didn’t start taking the uppers until after college and I sort of had it under control. Well I just hid it better,” said Kristen.

“I knew she was using, but so was I and I couldn’t call her bullshit without calling my own and well...I didn’t think it was anyone business how we coped with everything heaped on us,” said T.J..

“It’s not an excuse for how we acted because of the stress. It just made things easier to deal with at the time,” said Kristen.  Kramer took notes for what felt like forever before looking at them.

“I’m going to be honest with you both and I don’t want you to take it the wrong way since your relationship is complicated based on your family dynamics You have both enabled each other in some very self destructive behavior. It only reached a breaking point when Kristen nearly lost her life and she moved away. However the enabling continued when she didn’t share the responsibility of raising Hannah or telling others what happened that night. I can understand the fear she had of letting you in  during Hannah’s early months and maybe it was safer for Hannah and better for her well being to go without. Still T.J. could have been made aware that the actions of that night had a lasting result,” said Kramer. Kristen twisted her bracelet and T.J. wondered if he would have accepted any responsibility in raising Hannah before this recent run with sobriety.

“However you both are very aware of wanting to do what is best for Hannah and that’s a very good sign towards co-parenting. I still feel that we have a lot to work through yet and we’re going to talk more about your past and it might be unpleasant. I want you both to keep in mind what is said here might be hard to hear and that if you want to be upset with each other it needs to stay in this room for your daughter’s sake,” said Kramer.

“Of course,” said Kristen and T.J. nodded. He wondered how upset Kristen would get with him and well he wondered how pissed off he really was with her.

“ I want to give you an assignment that we’ll go over in our next session. I know it’s getting close to a month since you’ve introduced Hannah to T.J. but has he spent any time alone with her?” asked Kramer.

“A few hours when we were in California,” said Kristen.

“We’ve done some stuff together, All three of us” said T.J.. They had dinner with Dougie and Anne last night and taken Hannah to see a movie. It had been nice and no one came up and bothered him and that somehow made the evening even better.

“It’s good that you’re doing things together, but for you to see what parenting is like and for Kristen to see you can be trusted with Hannah you need to spend a whole day with her, Alone” said Kramer.

T.J. felt panic crawl into his chest and Kristen looked a bit nervous herself. He couldn’t blame her. This was their daughter and he had lost the class pet when they were in fourth grade together.

“You both look like you’re about to throw up. Any reason?” asked Kramer.

“I really don’t know what to do with her. I mean it was easy when we were in California. Well sort of easy...the kid wore me out and we didn’t even go anywhere. I’m scared I’ll screw up something,” said T.J..

“I’m not sure really why I feel so nervous. I mean I’ve left Hannah with a nanny and she just started doing sleepovers with her friends. But for the most part it’s just been me and her. I know he won’t screw up on purpose, but shit happens. I was making pasta for dinner one night and when I went to drain it I nearly tripped over Hannah in her walker. I forgot to shut the baby gate and she just got into the kitchen. I nearly dumped boiling water on her and I never would have forgiven myself,” said Kristen.

“Mistakes are normally forgiven over the course of one’s life, however it’s not the same when your child is involved. I think you’re both putting unfair pressure on yourselves to be perfect. If a whole day is too much, maybe a half day,” said Kramer.

“I could do half a day,” said T.J. and Kristen nodded.

“You could take her Friday. I could drop her off in the morning and get her in the afternoon.” said Kristen.

“Good. I’ll want to know how the day went in our next session,” said Kramer. They left her office and Kristen started driving him home. At least he was trusted to go to this therapy without Agent Clark.

“So what do you want do with her?” asked Kristen.

“Not sure. A lot of the stuff I had thought about doing was supposed to be all three of us,” said T.J..

Kristen sort of felt a flutter in her chest and she smiled slightly. He was really making an effort and she was really proud of him. T.J. had been one the one to set up the appointment this afternoon. She was finally settled in with her dad and had been looking into schools for Hannah while working for home and just hadn’t found the time to set up a meeting. Honestly T.J. taking Hannah even for a few hours would be a nice breather. Maybe she could get some writing done or hell maybe just sit and read a book or watch a movie.

“Maybe I could take her to Tyson Center for a bit. They have that ice skating rink and I need to get something for my mom for Christmas,” said T.J.. Anything would be better than being cooped up in the house. He had spent months cooped up in his mom’s house trying to stay clean and not have people looking at him. Maybe with Christmas around the corner no one would notice him. Kristen grinned.

“You weren’t bad at ice skating when we were kids. I however had my dreams of being a figure skater crushed. God I was so bad at it,” said Kristen and T.J. laughed.

“I had a mad crush on Brian Boitiano and wanted him to notice me,” said T.J.. Kristen parked outside the house and parked.

“So I’ll drop her off around nine and pick her up around two. How does that sound?” asked Kristen.

“Sounds good,” said T.J..

“I’ll see you then,” said Kristen. T.J. got out of the car and went inside. Kristen sighed and picked up her phone.

“Hey. I know it’s short notice, but could we meet at your place Friday afternoon?” asked Kristen.

“I can be free. Just park down the street,” said Michael. She hung up and started driving home. I’ve earned a few free hours to do whatever and whomever I want.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

“You okay back there?” asked T.J. looking back at Hannah. She was oddly quiet and was looking out the window as the scenery went by.

“Just looking,” said Hannah. Kristen had told him she was excited and really hadn’t eaten breakfast so she was going to chow down at lunch. He hoped it was just nerves for her too. She looked worried when he told her they were going ice skating. It had snowed again and T.J. imagined for Hannah looking at the snowy landscape was worth all her attention.

“So not a lot of snow back home?” asked T.J. and he felt so lame. Really weather talk.

“Just the fake stuff. Mom said I shouldn’t eat the snow here since it’s mixed with icky stuff. It doesn’t look icky,” said Hannah.

“Well you should listen to your mom. She’s like really smart,” said T.J. Hannah went back to staring out the window and T.J. parked the car and got Hannah out of the car. She took his hand tightly as they made their way to the rink. There was a lot of people and there was something about watching her take everything in that made T.J. hold her hand a little tighter. She started chatting again when he was helping her put on her skates.

“Do you know how they make the ice?” asked Hannah.

“Not really,” admitted T.J..

“What to do with it when it gets warm again?” asked Hannah as T.J. finished tying her skates and getting his own on.

“I think they turn it into a roller skating. Have you done that?” asked T.J. and Hannah shook her head no.

“Okay. Now take my hand again,” said T.J.and Hannah gripped his hand tightly. “You alright?”

“I don’t wanna fall,” admitted Hannah and T.J. smiled.

“I’m going to be right here,” said T.J. and he helped her onto the ice and she almost fell and took him with her. Hannah looked annoyed. T.J. took her other hand and put her in front of him.

“Alright. Lift your foot up. Good. Now the other one. Bend your knees and lift your feet up one at time,” said T.J. and he slowly moved so they were by the wall. Other parents gave him knowing smiles as they tried to get their kids to let go of their hands are try to go it alone. One kid was sobbing on the ice so hard T.J. wondered what the hell his parents were trying to do. Hannah looked at the crying kid worried and T.J. bent down to her level.

“It’s alright if you fall,” said T.J. “It might hurt a bit, but I’ll help you back up,” said T.J.

“Promise?” asked Hannah looking at the crying boy who was trying to get up on his own while his father talked to him.

“I promise,” said T.J.. She let go and fell on her butt a second later and he helped her up and they tried again.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

Kristen had told her dad she was going to get her nails done and then enjoy some alone time at a bookstore. He nodded and went back to reading the Globe. He wasn’t too happy with her right now and it was an effort of will to not snap at him. Hannah was her daughter and she was trying her best. After she had dropped Hannah off she did go and get her nails done. Michael really hadn’t noticed her nails has he took upstairs to a bedroom. Kristen knew she had been stressed out and the second that door was firmly shut she used that tension on Michael. Now he was watching her get dressed with a sort of grinned.

“Though she is little she is mighty,” teased Michael brushing back his blond hair. I thought for sure you were gonna break me near the end,” he said and Kristen grinned and pulled her sweater back on.

“I heard it can be done, but that would be awkward for everyone,” said Kristen. She sat down on the bed to put her socks on and Michael looked at seriously.

“You sure you’re okay. It’s been a bit crazy the last few weeks,” said Michael and Kristen shrugged.

“Dad is being stubborn about his diet and going to aftercare. He’s not really thrilled that I’m in therapy with T.J. or that I let him have Hannah for part of the day,” said Kristen.

“Be honest. He’s not thrilled you have any dealings with T.J. Hammond,” said Michael and Kristen raised an eyebrow as Michael started getting dressed. “He loves Hannah, but he’s not too impressed with the donor you picked to have her,” said Michael. Kristen felt her good mood slip a bit. The last thing she wanted to hear was how she had screwed up back then.

“Well I’m sure he wouldn’t be impressed with my donor choices now since they’re married,” said Kristen. Michael gave her a dry smile.

“I don’t care who you had a kid with. It’s a non issue with me. Come on, I got sushi and I wanna show you something,” said Michael. He kissed her forehead and left the room. Kristen followed him to the kitchen and Michael pulled a plate out with sushi. He handed Kristen the soy sauce which she dumped on sushi. She was three pieces in when Michael sat a huge business plan in front of her.

“What’s this?” asked Kristen as she skimmed the pages. It looked to be a club or restaurant of some sort. It was a beautiful space, hardwood floors, exposed brick and a great view of the city. It was called The Dome and it tickled something in the back of her mind, but she couldn’t recall it.

“Me and a few folks are thinking of buying it up since it’s about to go under. I thought of you since you know folks that might be able to fill it. We could get live acts in, turn into more of comedy club and live music space instead of a dance club,” said Michael.

Kristen toyed with her sushi as she looked over the space. She did know comedians that could fill it. Maybe even a few podcasts looking for live show space. The musicians they could get through LoFi, mostly indie acts, but she could see about getting bigger names if stuff took off. It could be risky though and she was very careful with the money she did have, She had enough set aside to buy the studio and she still had a nice chunk of change set aside from her trust. At least her drug of choice has been rather cheap compared to T.J. coke habit. Still it might be nice space for live shows and to find new comics and writers to bring into her circle. She would be leaving in a few months, but she could always find someone to record shows and see if the talent was worth anything   Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

“What’s the asking price,” asked Kristen.

“The guys are in the hole for about $300,000. I have two kicking in, plus myself. Think you can kick in $75,000?” asked Michael.

“I’m finding the folks to fill it. $70,000,” said Kristen eating a piece of sushi.

“You don’t have anything set yet. $73,000,” countered Michael.

“Let’s go next month and look at the space before I hand over $72,500,” said Kristen. Michael smirked.

“I never thought I would be turned on by throwing out prices for real estate,” said Michael. He leaned over and kissed her again. The sushi and the business plan were forgotten as he took her back upstairs.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

They skated for about two hours. Hannah clung to his arm while slowly moving her feet on the ice. She fell a couple of times when she did try to go it alone, but she seemed to be having a little bit of fun. Maybe she just wasn’t an outside winter kid and T.J. couldn’t blame her. She had grown up in sunshine her whole life. She didn’t whine though and demand they stop, she did want to learn how to skate.

“My tummy hurts,” said Hannah tugging on his arm.

“We’ll get you some lunch,” said T.J. and he got them off the ice. He helped Hannah take her skates off and they headed inside.

“Do they have puppies here? I wanna see the puppies before we have lunch,” said Hannah.

“I think they might have a pet store around here. Maybe it’s on this floor,” said T.J.. He went over to a map and was trying to see what floor the pet shop was on when he heard someone call his name. Shit, thought T.J. and he turned around to see Omar coming up to him with another guy T.J. used to get wasted with. Stay cool.

“Hey,” said T.J. and Omar shook his hand before ducking down and getting eye level with Hannah.

“What’s your name cutie pie?” asked Omar.

“Hannah.”

“She’s cute,” said the guy and T.J. couldn’t not remember his name. He wanted to crawl out of his skin though and he didn’t want Hannah anywhere near Omar. Hell, he didn’t wanna be near Omar.

“It’s nice to see you up and around again. You had a bad summer,” said Omar. He sounded annoyed which wasn’t good. T.J. had damn near died on Omar’s stuff and he wondered if there had been trouble for Omar after the fact.

“I wanna see the puppies,” said Hannah and she tugged on his arm.

“Just a second,” said T.J. “Yeah I got carried away. Wasn’t my best night,” said T.J. Hannah tugged on his arm again and T.J. squeezed her hand.

“No. It was not. You’ve been out the game for bit and if you decided to come back in I’m going to be lite with you,” said Omar. Hannah tugged on his arm again and huffed annoyed.

“I’m going to go see the puppies.”

“No. I think I’m gonna stay out for a bit longer. But thanks for the offer,” said T.J. and Omar laughed.

“They all say that man. They all do. Have a good Christmas,” said Omar and he and his friend walked away and T.J. nearly doubled over from relief. The last thing he needed was getting back in Omar’s circle.

“So what do you want…” The relief faded and panic floored him. Hannah wasn’t next to him. “Hannah!” Shit. Shit! SHIT! “Hannah!” yelled T.J. Damn it. Oh damn it. He was supposed to be watching her and damn it all to hell. Wait. The pet store. Oh god let her have gone there. T.J. nearly knocked people over in his mad dash to get to the store. What if she’s not there? Where else would she have gone. A toy store. They have like three here. A bathroom. Maybe she needed to pee. If I lost her Kristen is going to skin me alive. You were supposed to be watching her. Stupid.

T.J. found Hannah outside the pet shop looking at some rescue dogs in their pens. Relief came back along with frustration and anger . She shouldn’t have wandered off like. Didn’t Kristen teach her not to walk away like that?

“What are you doing?” asked T.J. barely keeping his voice steady while he grabbed Hannah’s arm. She looked at him confused.

“I told you I was going to see the puppies,” said Hannah pointing at the dogs.

“You scared me. You can’t just wander off like that,” said T.J.feeling the panic creep in. What if she hadn’t come here. Where would have looked than? His tone was harsh and Hannah’s blue eyes filled with tears and she looked mad herself.

“I told you I was going here and you didn’t listen,” she said. His grip got a bit tighter on her arm.

“I told you just a second and you didn’t you listen,” said T.J..

“Sorry,” said Hannah looking at the ground and quickly trying to wipe her eyes.

“Don’t ever do that again,” snapped T.J..

“I said I was sorry,’ said Hannah and the tears were going hard now. Shit, thought T,J..

“Is everything alright?” asked an older woman and she looked worried.

“She scared me is all. I thought I lost her,” said T.J. quickly. The older woman nodded and patted Hannah on her head.

“You gave your daddy a fright is all. Here,” said the older woman handing her a tissue.

“He’s not my daddy. He’s my mom’s friend. I wanna go home now,” said Hannah coldly. Damn it, thought T.J..

He got Hannah in her car seat and started driving her back to his mother’s Kristen wasn’t supposed to get Hannah till two and he still had two more hours with her. T.J. sighed and looked at Hannah in the backseat. She was looking out the window again and her face was set and tear streaked. T.J. was calming down now and he realized that had scared her too. She only sort of knew him and he had never yelled at her before. He heard himself in her voice. I said I was sorry. God how many times have I said that when I screwed up? She might have really meant it though.

It was another knife in his side to hear Hannah say he wasn’t her father. She didn’t know any better and well he really wasn’t her father. He just showed up barely a month ago. How would she really feel to find out he was her dad?

“I don’t feel good,” said Hannah from the backseat.

“We’re almost back and..” Hannah threw up on herself and started crying again.

“Shit,” muttered T.J. “It’s alright...just shit.”

“I’m sorry,” cried Hannah.

“I’m not mad...just hold on we’re almost back,” said T.J.. He sped back to his mom’s and tried to not focus on the smell of the puke. Hannah was sniffling in the backseat and he hoped she didn’t throw up again.

He pulled into the garage and carefully got her out of the backseat. There was vomit on the backseat and T.J. fought back a groan. Yeah the car was going to have to go in. He managed to get Hannah’s coat off somehow and tossed it on the floor. She had gotten sick on her jeans and hair. Her face looked flushed and her nose was running.

“You need a bath, kid,” said T.J.. Hannah sniffled and followed T.J. into the house. Of course his mom and Nana were right in the dining room.

“Oh someone looks like they had a long day,” said Margaret.

“Her coat is in garage,” said T.J. and his mother nodded.

“I’ll throw it and her clothes in the washer. I think I have a sweater she can wear until Kristen comes over,” said Elaine. She put a hand on Hannah’s forehead and frowned.

“She’s a little warm. You not feeling good sweetie?” asked Elaine and Hannah nodded. “You go get cleaned up and we’ll call your mommy.”

“Kay,” said Hannah. T.J. got her in the bathroom and started running a bath. Hannah got sick in the toilet again and T.J. winced. Kristen said the kid hadn’t really eaten breakfast, what the hell was she throwing up now? He got her in the tub and started washing her hair.

“You feel any better?” asked T.J. and she shook her head no. He didn’t know what to say to her and maybe it was best he stopped talking. Elaine brought in an oversized sweater and gave Hannah a smile.

“Your mom is on her way over. She said give her about forty minutes so she can get you some clothes. Do you want any soup or some crackers?” asked Elaine.

“No thank you. My tummy really hurts,” said Hannah softly.

“Alright,” said Elaine. She left the room and T.J. got Hannah out of the bath and she winced a bit. She was so damn tiny and he got her dressed and dried her hair carefully. His mom was right, she felt really warm and her eyes were puffy from crying.

“You feel like throwing up again?” asked T.J. and Hannah shook her head no. “You scared me. I didn’t mean to yell at you. I’m sorry,” said T.J. and he ran a hand through her hair.

“I’m sorry I scared you,” said Hannah. T.J. picked her up carefully and carried her to the living room. She curled up next to him and she seemed near tears.

“It really hurts,” whined Hannah and T.J. rubbed her back and hated not knowing what to do for her. Kristen finally came and she looked worried and apologetic.

“I should have known when she didn’t want to eat that she was getting sick. I got her a flu shot, but clearly she caught something from the coast to coast travel,” said Kristen. She patted Hannah’s head and kissed her forehead. “I got your jammies and Nina is gonna make you some soup,” said Kristen. She gotten Hannah dressed and picked her up carefully.

“You got a bag in case she gets sick on the way home?” asked Kristen. T.J. got her a plastic bag from the kitchen. Hannah waved goodbye and Kristen told him she would call him tomorrow and let him know how Hannah was doing. “It’s probably just the twenty four hour bug. All the kids get it around this time of year,” said Kristen giving him a small smile. She was trying to let him know this wasn’t his fault. “Here’s hoping you don’t get it.”

“That’s comforting,” said T.J.. Kristen waved goodbye and left with Hannah. T.J. fell back on the sofa and groaned.

“How’s parenthood working out for you?” asked Margaret sitting down next to him.

“It was okay for about two hours and then it went really downhill,” admitted T.J. and he told her how he had lost track of Hannah, yelled at her and than felt like a useless sack when she had gotten sick. Margaret patted his hand.

“Welcome to club. It fucking sucks,” said Margaret. “Everyone screws up. Ask your mother about my screw ups. Hell look at your own parents,” said Margaret.

“Well at least we’ll be able to avoid talking about affairs. Or why the Secret Service is crawling behind us at all times,” said T.J.. Margaret hugged him.

“This is good for you sweetheart and I’m glad you’re trying,” said Margaret.

“Thanks Nana,” said T.J.. He got up to make himself lunch and looked at the calendar. It was December 20th and he felt like a kick in the gut. A year ago today he had tried to kill himself for someone who didn’t seem to care about him at all. He had called Kristen and had balled her out for how Sean had dumped him. If she hadn’t of called his mother he might be dead right now. It sent a chill up his spine. You could be dead right now and no one would ever have known you had a kid. It would have hurt them all  if I had gone through with it. Geez you can be an asshole, thought T,J.. He made himself lunch and then went out to clean up the car. At least it’s something easy to clean up.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

T.J. couldn’t remember the last time he got a call after midnight. Normally they were just for booty calls and he hadn’t gotten one in months. He staggered out of sleep and grabbed the phone.

“Hello?” asked T.J. barely awake.

“T,J. it’s me,” said Kristen and she sounded panicked. “Did Hannah eat anything when she was with you? Anything at all?”

“No. Why?” asked T.J. and he heard Kristen shushing Hannah. Hannah was crying again and it woke him up quickly.

“She’s been throwing up more than she should and her fever is really high. I...I don’t like it. This isn’t normal for her,” said Kristen.

“Mommy...it really hurts,” said Hannah.

“I thought it could be food poisoning...I’m taking her to the hospital. GW is the closest,” said Kristen.

“Let me pick you up,” said T.J. getting out of bed and grabbing a pair of pants.

“It’s...Hannah sweetie...shush...we’re gonna go see the doctor...god...just get here soon,” said Kristen. She hung up on him and T.J. could feel his own panic starting to sink in. He got dressed quickly and left the house without anyone waking up. Kristen was out the front door before he even got the car in park. She got in the back seat with Hannah and held her in her lap. They both looked pale, Hannah was crying softly and Kristen looked near tears herself.

“Shush. It’s alright. Shush. It’s gonna be okay,” said Kristen and T.J. wasn’t sure who was talking too. T.J. pulled up to the front of the E.R.

“Hey. Ask for Dr. Parse. Dad plays poker with him,” said T.J. before Kristen got out the car. He parked and went back into the ER. Kristen was filling out forms and was talking to nurse.

“She hasn’t kept anything down in over eight hours and she keeps saying her stomach hurts. Um a friend said asked for Dr. Parse,” said Kristen. The nurse gave her a smile.

“I don’t think a urologist isn’t our best bet. We’ll get you in quick though,” said the nurse and she took the forms from Kristen. She carefully adjusted Hannah who whimpered in pain and looked at him.

“Really?” asked Kristen.

“I thought a doctor was a doctor,” admitted T.J.. They sat down with Hannah again and she threw up on the floor and T.J. cringed. It looked like there was blood in it. The nurse quickly took them back when as Hannah started crying loudly about how it hurt. Kristen looked so pale T.J. wasn’t sure she had any color left in her face.

The next hour went by in blur as an older woman name Dr. Nic saw them. She ordered scans and blood work and asked questions about Hannah’s history. Kristen was trying so hard to stay calm and T.J could see the worry in her eyes. He held Hannah’s hand, brushed her damp hair back and talked softly to her.

“I’m scarred,” whispered Hannah.

“We’re gonna be right here with you. It’s gonna be okay,” said T.J trying to hid his own panic. What the hell was wrong with her? Had he or Dougie ever gotten this sick? They had their fair share of broken bones and run of the mill colds.  He had his tonsils out when he was eight. Nothing like this though. The doctor went to touch Hannah’s stomach and the scream that came out of her was chilling.

“Let’s get her a blood test and than we’ll get an x-ray just be sure. I think she might have appendicitis, but I wanna be sure before we operate,” said Dr. Nic. Kristen looked ready to faint and T.J. was freaked out. Operate. They need to operate. Hannah was crying softly and Kristen took her daughter’s other hand and kissed her forehead.

“They’re gonna take some blood and than Dr. Nic is going to take some pictures of your belly to find out what’s wrong,” said Kristen.

“I just want it to stop hurting mommy,” said Hannah. Kristen kissed her again and she looked so ready to cry it hurt him. Thankfully the blood tests were quick and the tech was so good Hannah didn’t feel it. T.J. was asked to wait outside while they took Hannah back to have her X-ray.

“It’s family only,” said the tech and Kristen gave him a pitying look before going back with Hannah. Now was not the time to go into that. He just wanted to find out what was wrong with Hannah.

He was allowed to go upstairs with them to Pediatrics while they waited for results. Hannah was so tired, but she couldn’t sleep through the pain. T.J. sat next them while Kristen held Hannah in her lap and sang Disney songs softly to her. Around 2 they told them Hannah needed to have her appendix taken out and that they needed to get her prepped for the OR.

“We have a waiting room down the hall,” said Dr. Nic giving him a look.

“I’ll see you when you in a little bit,’ said T.J. giving Hannah a kiss on her check. He went into the super bright and cheerful waiting room and paced from one side to the other. Fifty steps each way. Kristen came to join him about thirty minutes later.

“She’s in surgery right now. They said it shouldn’t take that long. They wanna keep her for a few days. Her white blood count was high so she has an infection...umm...it’s a simple operation. You know we really don’t need an appendix anymore. It’s just a useless thing taking up space and,” Kristen started crying. “Really it’s a stupid organ that no one needs.” T.J. came over and hugged tightly.

“Will you stay with me?” asked Kristen.

“Yeah,” said T.J.. He took her hand and they waited for what felt like forever until Dr. Nic came and told them that Hannah was resting and would be out for a bit.

“We’ll have her out of here by Christmas Eve. She’s going to be fine,” said Dr. Nic.

“Thank you,” said Kristen. The relief was in her voice and T.J. felt it in his chest. They went back down the hall and Kristen was given a bracelet that listed her as Hannah’s mother so no one else could take her out.

Hannah was sound asleep with an IV in her arm. They had put her in a pale pink nightgown and she was covered up with a soft blue blanket. The bed was huge around her. Kristen pushed Hannah’s hair back and she looked ready to cry again. T.J. came up and wrapped his arms around Kristen.

“She’s gonna be alright. I wanna stay here with you. I wanna be here when she wakes up,” said T.J.. He felt Kristen sag against him and she hugged him back.

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

There was a phone ringing somewhere and T.J. groaned and tried to find it with his eyes shut. God who is calling so early, thought T.J..

“Turn the alarm off,” muttered Hannah. T.J. opened his eyes a bit to see that Kristen wasn’t in the room and that Hannah was sort of waking up. The phone had fallen on the floor and T.J. picked it up and answered without checking the ID.

“Hello,” said T.J. and there was a sigh of relief on the other end.

“Thank god. Everyone has been freaking out,” said Douglas.

“And good morning to you too,” said T.J.. Hannah looked to be nodding back off and T.J. found a note from Kristen saying she was just going downstairs for coffee. T.J. took the phone into the bathroom so he could talk and not wake Hannah up.

“Where are you? You took off in the middle of the night and didn’t tell anyone,” said Douglas.

“I’m at GW with Kristen and Hannah. Kristen called me last night because Hannah was sick. They ended up taking her appendix out around two this morning,” said T.J.. There was a pause has Douglas relayed the message and then his father was on the phone.

“Where is Krissy?” asked Bud and T.J. held his temper with both hands. You could be sober for the rest of your life and they’ll still think you’re using.

“She went downstairs to get coffee. Do you want me to send a picture of the kid in the hospital bed?” asked T.J..

“I wanted to see if she needed anyone to check on her daddy,” said Bud and T.J. could hear the bite in his father’s voice. He’s just worried is all. They just worry about you.

“Sorry it’s just been a really long night. They want to keep her a few days to make sure Hannah is going to be okay,” said T.J.. He heard someone coming into the room and then he heard Kristen softly talking.

“Kristen’s back if you wanna talk to her,” said T.J..

“Tell her I’ll look in on her daddy and if she needs anything to let me know,” said Bud.

“Thanks dad,” said T.J. and he let out a deep sigh of relief before hanging up and going back in the main room. Kristen was on her phone and she had her back to him. She stood rigid and her free hand was balled up in a fist.

“Because he offered to help me and you can’t right now,” whispered Kristen. There was a rather long pause before she spoke again. “Because I needed help. I freaked out and asked him help me and he helped me. Do you even know how hard that was for me? How scared I was for her?” hissed Kristen. There was another long pause and her whole body sagged.

“This is already hard enough for us. I’m begging you to not make it any harder. We’re both trying...I think...this could be really good for all of us if we just give it a chance,” said Kristen. She sounded like a child herself and T.J. wasn’t sure what he was supposed to feel. Clearly her father was giving her a ton of shit she did not need right now and it probably wasn’t good for John to be stressed out right now. T.J. was well aware of how he could stress people out and maybe it would be for the best if he eased off for now. Maybe they could find another way to make this work without their families butting in. Yeah if you three decided to live on an island in the middle of the moon, thought T.J..

“We’ll talk about this later. The doctor should be here to check on Hannah soon,” said Kristen and she hung up the phone and sat at the edge of Hannah’s bed. She was so wrapped up in what her father had said and in Hannah she hadn’t noticed him behind her. T.J. came up and put a hand on Kristen’s shoulder. She jumped a little and looked back at him. Her face was pale and the circles under her eyes were heavy and dark looking. She looked worried, mad and upset all at once, though some of it faded when she saw it was him.

“I got you a coffee,” said Kristen and she tried to smile and gave up quickly. T.J. bent down and hugged her tightly. Kristen hugged him back and she just shook her head.

“I know he means well and that he cares about me and Hannah, but sometimes I just…”

“Wish he would just let you be you,” finished T.J. and she nodded .  

“I have friends back home. Good friends that I know would help if I ask, but at the end of the day I’m responsible for her. She means everything to me. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her. Everything I’ve done has been for her,” said Kristen.

T.J. knew how much Kristen loved Hannah and wished he could have been there for her sooner Now she trying to balance letting him back into her life and asking for his help while trying to keep peace with her only parent. He had always been a screw up so after a while T.J. was sure that his parents would have been happy if he could just handle walking and talking at a party. Kristen on the other hand had been the perfect daughter. He wonder how much shit she did get for having his baby and if John was now holding her past mistakes with him over her head. How hard is he hitting you with those right now?

“Mommy?” asked Hannah sounding beyond tried. Kristen eased away from him and moved closer to Hannah. All the worry was quickly shoved down and Kristen smiled at Hannah and brushed some hair off her forehead.

“Hi sweetie. How’s your tummy?” asked Kristen.

“Doesn’t hurt so much now. My throat is icky. Can I have some water?” asked Hannah.

“In a little bit. We need to see if the doctor says it’s okay,” said Kristen and she kept toying with Hannah’s hair. T.J. went and sat on the other side of Hannah and took her hand in his.

“I’m glad you feel better,” said T.J.. Hannah yawned and gave his hand a little squeeze.

“Can we go home soon?” asked Hannah and Kristen sighed.

“We have to stay here a few days to make sure you get better. The doctor had to take your appendix out since it was making you sick. In a few days we’ll go back to grandpa’s and have Christmas with him. Maybe we can see about going over to T.J.’s and you can play with Jack again,” said Kristen sounding more cheerful than he thought was possible.

“Can we come over?” asked Hannah sounding a little more like herself.

“I’m sure that would make Jack a very happy dog,” said T.J. with a smile that Hannah returned. I love her. I love this kid more than anything in my life. I’m going to try so hard to be the parent I wanted mine to be, thought T.J..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

Bud knocked on John’s door and was greeted by Nina. She gave him a look before letting him in.

“He’s in the office reading,” said Nina. She walked back to the kitchen and Bud walked upstairs and found John sitting in an armchair dressed in pj’s and a dark green robe with a newspaper on his lap. He looked up at Bud before going back his newspaper.

“You know if it wasn’t for this heart attack, I would be relaxing by a pool while Kristen and Hannah went swimming. I wouldn’t have to deal with your son worming his way back into my daughter’s life,” said John. “I like you,  I like Elaine and I like the politics we share...your family though. Surprised you haven’t keeled over from them yet,” said John.

“I think it’s the spite keeping me here. Came to see how you were doing while Kristen is out,” said Bud sitting down. John rolled his eyes and sat his paper down.

“I’m trying to figure out all the what if’s. The last six years have been good for Kristen. Good for me too and the company. No more Page Six pictures, no more trips to rehab, no whispers about how she was struggling to make something of herself. Maybe I did push her too hard or maybe it wasn’t enough. Maybe I should have remarried just so she had someone other than Nina running herd on her while I was working. Maybe I shouldn’t have worked so hard. I would have seen her struggling sooner. Maybe I just ignored it since she was achieving what I wanted. I was about ready to promote her to another magazine when I got a call from St. John’s that she had overdosed and had nearly died. Maybe I should have told you then, but she wanted it kept quiet. I nearly fell over when she told me your boy had gotten her knocked up and that she intended to keep it. Only decent thing to come out of that whole mess was Hannah,” said John.

“I know you don’t like my son and while I love the little asshole, sometimes he reminds too much of Elaine’s daddy. I still love him though and want him to be happy. He’s been happy the last few weeks. I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve seen him this happy. I really think he wants to do right by her this time. Maybe he has more sense than I gave him credit for,” said Bud. John fought back to urge to roll his eyes.

“I’m not going to hold my breath. He’s your son after all,” said John.

“I know who he is and I would like to think I know who your daughter is. Now like I said before, our children had a child together so now we’re stuck with each other no matter how we feel about it. Now we can either both act like assholes and make them miserable and drive them away or we can try to be adults and help them out the way we should have in the past,” said Bud. John sighed and took a sip of his tea.

“I’m only agreeing to this so that way when this falls to shit I can make sure Kristen and Hannah aren’t hurt. I’m warning you though. If he hurts my daughter this time I will make sure Elaine never sees the White House and after that I will make sure Douglas can’t get elected as a dog catcher and if the spite keeps me alive I’ll see that your legitimate grandkids never see an elected position. Do we understand each other?” asked John.

“You always were a cold son of bitch John and that’s why I always liked you. We’re having Christmas dinner at three. Hopefully Hannah is feeling better and we’ll see you all there,” said Bud. John nodded and he went back to his paper. Bud shook head and headed out. He hoped that he was right about this and that it would be a new leaf for all of them this time.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

“Can we get another bunny?” asked Hannah. Kristen sighed and looked up at the TV where Fluttershy was talking with Angel Bunny. She was laying next to Hannah in the hospital bed and Hannah was resting her head on her side. Kristen ran her fingers through Hannah’s curls and grinned a little.

“Do you wanna name it Angel Bunny?” asked Kristen.

“No. He’s very mean to Fluttershy. You can’t name a bunny until you look at it,”  said Hannah seriously. She was starting to perk up a bit compared to yesterday. The doctor said they could be out by Christmas Eve. She was still running a bit of fever, but she was keeping the oatmeal,  hard boiled egg and water down. Hannah said her side still hurt a bit and they were waiting to see if she could keep another meal down before giving her anything else for the pain.

“We’ll see about getting another bunny when we go back to California,” said Kristen.

“Is T.J. gonna be back soon?” asked Hannah. He had left about an hour ago and Kristen nearly had to shove him out the door. He looked exhausted, ragged and unsure what to do. She had told him to go home, take a shower and to take a nap. He agreed to it although he seemed unsure about leaving and he offered to go get Kristen some clothes and Hannah some of her things. She told him she would text Nina so she could get the stuff ready and it would be at door when he got there. He gave her a quick hug and said he would be back before dinner.

“In a few hours sweetie. He was here with us all night and he needed to go home and take care of some stuff. He’s also gonna bring you your bear so you can sleep better tonight,” said Kristen. Hannah played with bracelet on Kristen’s wrist and looked thoughtful.

“Is T.J. your boyfriend now?” asked Hannah. Well at least I’m not driving, thought Kristen.

“No sweetie and it’s not going to be like that between us,” said Kristen.

“How come? You like him and he’s nice. I think he likes you too,” said Hannah looking puzzled.

“He is nice and I do like him, but we don’t like each other that way. T.J. likes others boys. You know like Alexa’s daddies or Sasha and David’s mommies,” said Kristen. They had talked before about same sex couples when she had started preschool and they had met everyone in the class. She had seemed curious about how they had babies, but she took it as just another type of family.

“Oh. Okay,” said Hannah sounding a bit disappointed. Now I’ll have to explain that T.J. liked girls long enough to sleep with me and have her, thought Kristen.

“You sound sad. Wanna share?” asked Kristen and she hoped that she had a response to whatever Hannah said next.

“Not sad...I just…” There was a quick little knock at the door and there was a nurse poking her head in.

“Sorry to bother you. We’re a little short on room and it’s only till tomorrow morning,” said the nurse. Kristen almost thanked god out loud for the delay.

“That’s fine. Thanks for the heads up,” said Kristen. The nurse gave her a smile before leaving the room. A few minutes later a slightly stressed out blonde woman came in with two boys. One was in the bed with his leg in a cast that went up over his knee he looked to be around ten and the other one, looked to be about Hannah’s age was holding her hand and looking worried. They set his bed up and made sure he was comfortable before giving the mom a reassuring pat on her arm and leaving the room. The poor woman look frazzled and Kristen could understand the feeling.

“Hi. I’m Kristen. This is Hannah.” Kristen held out her hand and the other woman sighed and looked slightly relieved to have another mother to talk too.

“I’m Cindy.” She took Kristen’s hand and shook it. She sat on the edge of the boy’s bed and ruffled his head. “This is Timothy and this is Will,” she said picking up the other boy and sitting him in her lap.

“So what are you in for?” asked Kristen giving her a small smile. The woman sighed and looked at the boy in the cast.

“Someone had the bright idea to see if he could skateboard down the stairs and misjudged the steepness of the stairs,” said Cindy grinning and speaking in a fake cheery voice. The boy ducked his head.

“I’m sorry mom,” said Timothy and she sighed again.

“I know sweetie, but you really scared me,” said Cindy sounding tried.

“Is dad gonna be mad at me?” asked Timothy quickly wiping his eyes.

“I think he’s going to be worried and a little upset, but he still loves you,” said Cindy and she kissed his head. She looked over at Kristen and gave her a small smile.

“We’re sorry to take over your room like this. It looks like you had a rough night too,” said Cindy. Kristen took in her wrinkled shirt and unwashed hair. Typical mom look, thought Kristen.

“You know no one really needs an appendix and someone’s decided to give notice last night. It was very rude if you ask me. I would have appreciated two weeks notice,” said Kristen and she ran a hand through Hannah’s hair. Hannah gave Kristen a little grin and looked at the Timothy’s cast.

“My mommy can draw on your cast and make it cool. She’s an artist,” said Hannah with a hint of pride that made Kristen smile on the inside. Timothy looked at the fresh white cast and up to his mother.

“Can I have a drawing on my cast mom?” asked Timothy. Cindy looked at Kristen and Kristen grinned and shrugged.

“I don’t have the best markers with me. I take requests though,” said Kristen. She fished a sharpie out of her bag and sat down on Timothy’s bed.

“Can you draw the Bat Signal?” asked Timothy.

“It would be a pleasure,” said Kristen. She carefully drew the outline and the boys watched impressed.

“Oh mine never look that cool,” whined Timothy.

“It takes lots of practice,” said Kristen smiling. Will asked for the marker and he signed his name on Timothy’s cast. Cindy signed the cast and drew a little heart over her I and Timothy groaned about how embarrassing that was.  

“Wait till your father gets here and I’ll make sure he writes something equally embarrassing,” said Cindy handing the sharpie back to Kristen. Hannah giggled and Timothy sighed.

“Do you think dad will come soon?” asked Timothy sounding hopeful and it tugged at something in Kristen. Poor kid wants his dad.

“It depends sweetie. Sometimes those meetings can get really long and boring. Remember last year when he barely made it home for Christmas?” asked Cindy.

“Yeah,” sighed Timothy. Cindy looked worried and Kristen knew how overwhelmed and stressed out she was.

“You know I think one of the channels was going to show Harry Potter movies. Hannah do we want to share the TV with our new friends for a bit?” asked Kristen. The boys perked up as Hannah gave Kristen the remote to change the channel. The kids settled in to watch the second Harry Potter movie and Cindy gave Kristen another tired smile.

“So you’re an artist?” asked Cindy.

“I like to think so. It sounds glamorous,” said Kristen as she explained she drew comic books. She was proud of her work, but she had just met this lady and Kristen still liked her privacy.

“I used to work has a lawyer until I had Will,” said Cindy. Will was dozing next to his brother and Timothy looked ready to doze. Hannah was already sleeping again. Kristen pulled the blankets around Hannah while Cindy checked her messages and sighed before quickly sending a series of texts. She looked annoyed and while Kristen didn’t want to pry it would make her an asshole to not notice how worried the other woman looked.

“So is their dad a lawyer too?’ asked Kristen and Cindy smiled.

“Used to be. Then he decided to run for Congress and now here we all are,” said Cindy with a mix of pride and exhaustion in her voice. “I thought it would be a nice surprise if we came down here for Christmas, but...well...have you seen the news?” asked Cindy.

“Actually I’ve been so wrapped up trying to get settled here I haven’t turned on the news at all this week,” admitted Kristen with a small laugh. It was true. She hadn’t picked up a paper, turned on NPR or watched any news. She had been seeing about where Hannah could go to school,  starting counseling with T.J., polishing up some scripts and editing some podcasts she hadn’t consumed any news. I’m a terrible media mogul daughter, thought Kristen.

Cindy brought her up to speed on a budget fight between the two parties and how it was just headache for her on a personal level.

“I mean we got here two nights ago and made this huge dinner and he spends the night in his office. On the plus side the leftovers are delicious and way better than the junk I threw out of his fridge. I’m not sure how long that fried rice was in there, but I’m sure it would be its own lifeform if given a few more days,” said Cindy.

“I’m pretty sure I might be guilty of leaving food in the fridge too long. It just happens. You totally mean to put in your lunch box and you just forget and then three weeks have gone by and suddenly you find green noodles behind the milk and you aren’t sure how you missed that smell,” said Kristen. Cindy laughed and patted Timothy’s arm.

“So do you just move here? You said you were settling in,” said Cindy.

“My dad had a heart attack before Thanksgiving. It’s been a little nuts moving across the country to help him out,” said Kristen. She hadn’t given her last name and well there were probably lots of parents who had heart attacks around Thanksgiving.  Kristen found herself liking Cindy, but it was an old habit to guard herself when meeting new people. You never know what they really want, thought Kristen.

“Did your husband come with you?” asked Cindy. Clearly she hadn’t noticed Kristen bare left hand. Well she might has well rip that band aid off and see where the conversation went.

“No husband...no boyfriend either. Just Team Us,” said Kristen looking over at Hannah who was sound asleep again.

“Divorce?” asked Cindy and Kristen shook her head.

“He wasn’t really ready for parenthood,” said Kristen. Not a lie, he wasn’t ready for her, thought Kristen. Kristen saw a brief flicker of something in Cindy’s eyes and Kristen had a feeling that she might not like Cindy much longer. It was the Pity look. Oh how hard she must have it has a single mother. How irresponsible was she in this day and age to have unprotected sex? Well I just happened to be in that slim failure margin that people read about, thought Kristen.

“Sometimes I feel like a single parent with the boys. I mean...well….”stammer Cindy.

“Times like this?” asked Kristen. This woman clearly meant well and just wanted someone to talk too. Kristen understood that all too well. They ended up talking for hours about their children, best child friendly places in the city, places they had gone before parenting had taken over their lives. Kristen found herself really liking the woman. Maybe I’ll see about adding her to a few of the mom groups I know, thought Kristen. Cindy’s phone chimed after they had gotten the kids to eat a late lunch. She quickly grabbed it and looked relieved.

“Finally. He’s on his way,” said Cindy. She kissed her sons and smiled. “I don’t know if we can all stay the night here so I’ll see if daddy will stay with you will I’ll go back to daddy’s place with Will,” said Cindy. Timothy gave her a small smile.

“I can be okay with that,” said Timothy. Kristen hoped Cindy’s husband was just as pleasant as she had been. It was tight quarters after all, might as well try and make the best of things. It was another twenty minutes before Cindy’s husband showed up. At first Kristen couldn’t place him and after he introduced himself she had to work to not turn red. Afterall she had written jokes about Sean Reeves for her friends web shows. The GOP’s Great White Hope...Jesus’s homeboy...oh god I have written so many bits where he was the set up for a killer punchline.

“It’s nice to meet you,” said Kristen. He shook her hand and Kristen wondered if she should tell him there wasn’t a camera around so the PR handshake wasn’t necessary.

“Thank you for letting us take over the room like this,” said Sean. Kristen shrugged.

“No biggie,” said Kristen. “I’ll let you all have some family time.” She pulled the blue curtain that separated the room and went to check her phone. She had a missed text from T.J. and  from Michael. T.J. had texted her that he was on his way back to the hospital and that Nina had almost thrown an overnight bag at him before he had a chance to knock. Clearly she doesn’t want to risk a run in with the old man. See you soon.

Thanks for getting us some things. Nina is just doing what the doctors told her and that was to make sure the old man has little to no stress. She’s cool with what we’re doing. Oh and we have lots of guests now. Just wait till you get here.  Kristen hit send on the text and went to see what Michael wanted.

Hey are you alright? I came over to drop off some of paperwork for that club and your dad said Hannah got sick in the middle of the night and you would be staying in the hospital for a few days. I would have asked your dad for more details, but he might have thought it was weird or none of my business. How is she and how are you? Do you need anything before I leave tomorrow? Kristen texted him back that they were alright and what had happened with Hannah.

I might wanna push back that meeting to look at the club till after the New Year. With everything going on I won’t have enough time to read through the business plan by next week. Thanks for the offer though, but T.J. is on his way with stuff for me and Hannah. Have a good Christmas with Steph and your family. About a minute later her phone chimed and Kristen saw that it was Michael.

Pushing the meeting back won’t be any problem. In fact making them wait might make them more willing to our terms. You’re sure you don’t need anything? I could see about going down a day later in case anything happens and T.J. backs out.

Kristen frowned at her phone and wondered what the hell that was supposed to mean. Even if she didn’t have T.J. helping her she was sure she would be alright now that Hannah was recovering. Plus if  it got really bad she did have Nina here and well she had the rest of the Hammond family too. It did piss her off a little to have him think that T.J. was going to screw her over and that he would have to step in. Even if T.J. did decided to piss this chance away I can handle taking care of my daughter.

No we’re good here. Enjoy the airport and bring me back something nice. See you when you get back. There was a knock at door and Kristen looked up to see T.J.. He held up a duffle bag and Hannah’s favorite stuffed animal.

“I think he was looking for you,” said T.J. giving Hannah her bear. She gave him a huge smile and thanked him. “You feeling any better?” asked T.J. and he looked worried.

“I got to have soup for lunch and it didn’t have any taste. Mom says I can’t have too much salt and that’s why the soup has no taste. When I go home will you make me soup with salt in it?” asked Hannah. He smiled and ruffled her hair.

“I will make you any soup you want,” said T.J.. He was about to say something else when the curtain pulled back.

“We were gonna get some frozen yogurt would you like some?” asked Cindy. T.J. looked over at the woman and he looked stunned and hurt before he pulled it back. Sean was sitting on Timothy’s bed facing them. Cindy had her back to Sean, but she saw that he looked stunned and for a split second pissed off. Oh this is not good and I can only imagine how not good it was between them, thought Kristen.