TJ couldn't get the echoes of flashbulbs out of his vision. Forty-five cities in thirty days, and every one a fluffy photo op puff piece of the campaign offices around the country. A few pictures of him with the staff, stapling some Elaine Barrish for President signs, and he'd be back on the plane.
"Am I being punished?" he had asked when he saw the layout of his schedule. "I remember longer days, bigger cities. I remember touring with you. Now, you've sent me off to Nebraska. What Democrat goes to Nebraska?"
He wanted to help, but from the look on his mother's face, he was actually being a little brat. "Our supporters in Nebraska need to know we're aware of them, too."
"I'm surprised you remember any of it," Maragaret said over Elaine's well calculated response. "You were so coked out of your head the entire time."
"Thanks, Nana," TJ replied. It didn't even bother him. Not really.
"I'm only saying what she won't."
Elaine smiled, the forced sort of smile she got when her own mother started talking. "Thomas, I didn't want them putting too much on you this time around. The presidency isn't worth your sobriety." She kissed his cheek and he smiled, accepting it.
It was a lie only a career politician could tell: the kind she actually believed.
So, TJ went on his tour. It wasn't all bad. There were boys in the Midwest who thought they'd never get the chance to fuck TJ Hammond. A few did, but even more didn't. Maybe if he managed this tour without falling off the wagon, she'd trust him more after she won the primary. He had to be on his best behavior.
The last stop was Baltimore, so close to home, but still a long drive back to DC, just to arrive at an empty house. TJ hadn't made it out of Elaine's house since he got sober, and on a regular day, he could spend the night listening to Margaret drink, but she was traveling with Elaine to Ohio.
TJ made his speech, a variation of the first fourty-four speeches he'd made. With every one ending up on YouTube, none of them could be exactly the same.
"We, as a political family, could stand up here and make a hundred speeches. A hundred more than we already have. My mother could be here right now instead of me and I'm sure you'd all be happier for it."
A quiet laugh rippled across the crowd.
"But the truth is," TJ continued, "we can't shake every hand in America. It's not possible. But the work you do, you're the handshakes we can't extend. Through you, we can shake the hand of every American, with each pamphlet you extend, or phone call you make. That's why sometimes you get hung up on." Another laugh from the crowd. "But when someone stops and listens, you're doing what we can't. You're connecting to every American on a personal level. And there's no way we could possibly extend our fullest gratitude to all of you. But thank you. Thank you so much, because we could not do this without you."
The crowd broke out in applause.
"You went off script," mumbled his security guard, Willam, who was gorgeous, heterosexual, and surprisingly good for conversation and a laugh once new locations were secured.
"It's the same script as every other," TJ replied. "It's not a big deal."
"There are scripts for a reason."
TJ smiled and went to his line of awaiting constituents, who wanted to shake his hand. He was near the end of the line, the end of thanking and smiling, was a young man in a wheelchair. He had dark, wavy hair, tan skin, and a great smile. TJ had spotted him when he was several people away.
"Thanks for coming out," TJ said as he shook the man's hand.
"Double entendre?" he replied with a raised eyebrow. "When you go to lick envelopes or whatever it is you're going to do, sit next to me. Cute minority in a wheelchair? The press will love it."
TJ grinned. "The press doesn't care when I sit next to the hottest guy in the room. What's your name?"
"So, you live in Baltimore."
"No, I came up here to see you. I'm a graduate student at Georgetown. We have our own campaign office for your mother. It just wasn't on your press tour."
"An unfortunate oversight."
Aarón laughed. "I may have just run out of good lines. I didn't expect this conversation to go on so long. That's why I played the wheelchair card so fast."
TJ smiled. "Did you think I wouldn't notice?"
"You wouldn't believe how many people act like I just enjoy sitting."
TJ sat back on his heels. He glanced over at Willam, who was waiting patiently enough, but was clearly ready to move on to the next portion of their visit. He'd be on the road for a month, too. "Do you need a ride back to DC, Aarón?"
Aarón shook his head. "I have a car. But you can have my number."
"And you said you were out of lines." TJ paused and thought about his empty house. "Or maybe you could give me a lift."
"I'm ready when you are."
TJ sat back in the passenger seat of Aarón's modest, mid-size sedan. "I've never slept with someone in a wheelchair before."
"Who said anything about sleeping with me?" Aarón asked. He glanced over at TJ and grinned. It was infuriatingly cute. He looked back to the road. "It's not that different. I've never slept with anyone who's lived in the White House."
"This is starting to sound like a drinking game."
"You were supposed to say that it's not any different."
TJ chuckled. "I don't think you ever actually run out of lines."
"What I lack in legs, I make up for in wit," Aarón replied. "Which golden gate is it?"
"The one at the end of the street." TJ studied Aarón's face by the streetlights. He looked happy enough,but he didn't seem to be giving anything away. A little mystery was good. "No one's home, if you wanted to come in for a drink or... the night."
Aarón smiled as he pulled the car into the driveway, but didn't say anything. TJ told him the code for the gate, and they drove up to the house. "I don't know if I should go in. I don't usually fuck random guys. Especially not... Hammonds."
"Look, Aarón, did you go all the way to Baltimore to hear me speak, or to see me naked?" TJ asked. "Because I'm pretty sure you wanted to see me naked."
"I wasn't the only one," Aarón said. "And I didn't really think I'd be the guy you'd want."
TJ leaned across the console and kissed him. "It wasn't a line when I said you were the hottest guy in the room," he murmured. "Now, come inside."
Aarón smiled. "There aren't stairs, are there?"
TJ paled. "Shit. Yes. But I can fix that."
"Going to remodel your house?"
"There's a downstairs bedroom I can fix up." TJ touched his thumb to Aarón's lower lip. "I'll make it right."
"I'm not shitting on you because your house has stairs, TJ." Aarón hesitated. "Do I call you that? TJ?"
"I think you're the first person who has ever asked," TJ replied. "And that's my name."
In the house, TJ set Aarón up with a glass of wine while he stocked the downstairs bedroom, where ambassadors and dignitaries had slept, with condoms, lube, and a particularly fluffy pillow from upstairs.
"We're ready," TJ announced as he walked back into the living room, where he'd left Aarón. "Unless you want to finish that wine."
"I do," Aarón replied. He set down his glass and picked up a framed photo of Elaine with the French Prime Minister. "I... didn't realize this was your mom's house. I didn't realize you lived with your mother. I'm going to have sex in Elaine Barrish's house."
"Yes, with Elaine Barrish's son," TJ said. He leaned over and kissed Aarón's cheek, just shy of the corner of his mouth. "You don't have a problem with that."
Aarón placed the picture back onto the end table. He wrapped his hands around TJ's collar and pulled him closer. "I like you."
Their mouths met and it wasn't really clear who kissed first, but as Aarón's hands drifted lower down TJ's body, the details faded away.
"I don't know how to get you to the bedroom faster," TJ mumbled.
"You go, I'll follow," Aarón replied, and apparently, all thoughts of wine were forgotten.
TJ kissed him again and grinned as he pulled away. "This way."
Aarón had been right, that sex wasn't all that different, though it was different, just not in the ways TJ would have expected. But if Aarón lacked anything (and TJ was pretty sure he didn't), he made up for it in passion.
Sweaty and breathless, TJ fell back against the pillows. "How are you not exhausted? That was a work out."
"You were doing all the work," Aarón replied with a laugh. "And I'm an athlete. I have stamina for days."
TJ grinned. "I bet you do. What do you play?"
"I'm a swimmer, actually. I used to be a competitive diver. That's a bit rough these days." Aarón turned onto his side and propped his head up with his hand. "Now, tell me, why did you bring me to your house? We could have gone to my place, which would have been less private because of my roommates, or a hotel. It seems weird that you brought me to your house when you don't know me at all. Considering who you are, who your mother is..."
"Well, unless you're a reporter or a terrorist, I don't really care," TJ said. He stretched his arms up over his head and looked at Aarón out of the corner of his eye. "You aren't a reporter, are you? Or a blogger?"
"I have a Twitter account."
"Me too, you should follow me."
Aarón laughed. "I already do." His smile faded, and he studied TJ's face carefully. "Should I go? I don't want to outstay my welcome."
TJ shrugged. "You're already here. You might as well stay the night. No one's going to be home until tomorrow night." He paused and touched his hand to Aarón's cheek. "And I like you, too."
"And you said I've got all the lines."
TJ opened his eyes and turned on his side. It had been a long time since he woke up next to someone and remembered exactly how they got there. He carefully touched Aarón's hair while he slept. Shit, he really was gorgeous.
The one thing TJ never could figure out, even before the drugs (and certainly not while on drugs) was how to be the president's son and date. How do you find someone with no ulterior motives, and who you actually like? Dougie got lucky with Anne, and TJ wasn't very good at trusting his instincts. His instinct was typically to do a line and think about the consequences later.
He knew there was no way Willam let him leave with a stranger without checking the car and probably doing a quickie background check on Aarón. But that didn't mean Aarón wasn't after something.
TJ started. There was a noise from upstairs, like someone walking around. They had a household staff, but with everyone out of town, no one should have been there until the next week.
He looked around the room for his pants, and spotted them flung over the arm of Aarón's wheelchair. Just as he was climbing out of bed, the door flung open and Elaine stood in the doorway.
"TJ, why are you--"
"Jesus Christ, Mom!" TJ pulled the nearest bit of blanket over his lap. Next to him, Aarón awoke. He looked at TJ, and then at Elaine.
Elaine took a deep breath. "Get dressed." She closed the door.
"Fuck," Aarón said, still wide eyed, and staring at the place where Elaine had been moments ago. "I thought you said she wasn't going to be back until tonight."
"That's what I thought, too," TJ replied. "Look, there's a bathroom through that door, take a shower or anything you need. I'll deal with her."
Aarón nodded, but he didn't appear very relieved. "I didn't think I was going to meet the next President today. This is a terrible story about how I met the next President."
TJ leaned over and kissed Aarón's cheek. "Hey. Don't worry about it. And, by the way, I'm going to tell them you're my boyfriend."
Aarón's eyes widened, but then he seemed to put the pieces together. "You really shouldn't have brought a guy you just met to your mother's house."
"Don't worry about it," TJ repeated. He got out of bed and put on his pants. He looked for his shirt, but only found Aarón's jeans. He tossed them up on the bed. He pushed the wheelchair closer to the bed. "Hey, what's your last name?"
"Hernandez. Aarón Ramos Hernandez." He grabbed his jeans and pulled them closer. "And, TJ, You sure know how to show a guy a good time."
"You too," TJ replied. He didn't bother looking for his shirt, and slipped out of the bedroom.
Elaine and Margaret were both sitting around the kitchen table, and the coffee smelled strong. TJ went ahead and got himself a cup. He might as well be awake for this. "I can explain," he said as he slipped into the seat across from his mother.
"TJ, you can't just bring strange men into this house," Elaine said. "Once you're ready to move back to your apartment, you can do whatever you'd like, but not here, and certainly not right now. You have no idea how terrified we were when we saw a strange car in the drive."
"Aren't you glad he's not a drug dealer?" TJ asked, and at least Margaret laughed, even as Elaine remained stone-faced. "And he's not strange, he's my boyfriend."
"You've been out of town for a month, when did you find a boyfriend?" Elaine asked.
"I met him before I left, but not too long before that, which is why I didn't say anything," TJ replied. "His name is Aarón Hernandez. He's a grad student at Georgetown. I met him at your campaign office."
"See, it's not like he's banging a Republican," Margaret said.
TJ cringed. The lies were easy, a side effect of growing up in politics, but the truth, now, that hurt. "Mom, I didn't think anyone was going to be home until tonight, or I wouldn't have brought him here. Neither of you were supposed to be home until tonight."
"Your speech in Baltimore," Elaine said.
"You came back early because of my speech?" TJ asked.
"Technically no, but since we're here. You went off script and somehow managed to imply that I can't connect to the American people on a personal level," she replied. "You have speech writers who go over every single detail."
TJ threw his hands in the air. "Are you kidding me? I said that you couldn't personally shake the hand of every single American. I was there to praise the work of campaign workers, and I did. It wasn't even about you, it was about them."
Margaret snorted into her coffee. "Don't you know? It's always about her."
Elaine didn't laugh, and neither did TJ.
The bedroom door opened and a fully dressed Aarón rolled out. "Good morning." He moved next to TJ and picked up the coffee in front of him. "Is this for me?"
"It is now, I guess." TJ smiled. "Aarón, this is my mother, Elaine, and my grandmother, Margaret."
"It's an honor to meet you both," Aarón said. "I wish it were under less awkward circumstances."
TJ leaned over to him. "If you need to know anything about my family, it's that everything is my fault."
Elaine forced a smile at TJ, but it became more genuine when she turned to Aarón. "It's wonderful to meet you, Aarón. I wish my son had told me about you earlier. Then this wouldn't be such a surprise."
"We've only been seeing each other a short time," Aarón replied smoothly. "With everything going for you, I'm sure it didn't seem important. Not until we were more serious. Or until you were President, whichever came first."
"Are you in politics, Aarón?" Margaret asked.
"No, ma'am, I'm getting my MBA."
She smiled. "Well, you're in politics now."
"Oh goooood," TJ moaned once he and Aarón were outside, and he'd found an old t-shirt to wear. "I'm sorry about that. I fucked up yesterday and they came home early. I can't believe I got Mother herself. Usually, when I mess up, I get Dougie yelling at me instead."
"It wasn't all bad," Aarón said. "I did get to meet her. I didn't want to be naked when it happened, but that's life. I should go. You can tell them we broke up. I might have just been too embarrassed."
TJ took a step toward Aarón and brushed his fingers against the back of his neck. "Or you could be my boyfriend."
"Your fake boyfriend?"
"My real boyfriend."
Aarón raised an eyebrow. "You don't know me and the sex couldn't have been that good."
"It was pretty good, but..." TJ crouched down in front of Aarón and took his hand. "I like you, you're gorgeous, and you're not weird around me. You're not weird around my mother. And we've just met. That's more than most people."
"So, you just have a good feeling about me?" Aarón asked. "You trust your instincts that much?"
TJ shook his head. "No, I really don't. For all I know, you're going to fuck me up. You could be out for the money, or the press, and I'm going to get hurt because I can't tell if you're actually a good person or if this is just another kind of high." He dropped his head so low, it was nearly in Aarón's lap. "I'm living with my mom because I can't stay sober on my own. That's why I got the fluff tour. If you've heard a shitty rumor about me, it's probably true."
Aarón considered him for a long moment. "It's not fair that I get to hear shitty rumors about you, but you know anything about me."
"Is there something you want to tell me?" TJ lifted his chin.
Aarón placed his hands on either side of TJ's face. "I like you."
TJ grinned. "That's a good place to start."