We’re in a suite at The Jefferson Hotel where Benton Carlisle, the campaign manager, is smoking his second pack of Camels by the open window. Exactly eight-tenths of a mile from here, the White House stands all lit up for the evening.
All of the televisions inside the suite are set on different news channels, where the anchors continue reporting on the ballot-counting progress of this year’s presidential election. The names of the candidates are being tossed around in speculation—three names, to be exact. The Republican candidate, the Democratic candidate, and the first truly strong independent candidate in U.S. history—the son of an ex-president and at barely thirty-five, the youngest contender in history.
My feet are killing me. I’ve been wearing the same clothes since I left my apartment this morning, headed to the polling station, and cast in my vote. The entire team that has been campaigning for the past year together met here at noon—at this suite.
We’ve been here for over twelve hours.
The air is thick with tension, especially when he walks into the living room after taking a break and heading into one of the bedrooms to talk to his grandfather, who’s been calling from New York.
His tall, wide-shouldered frame looms in the doorway.
The men in the room stand, the women straighten.
There’s just something about him that draws the eye—his height, his strong but unnervingly warm gaze, the polished ruggedness that only makes him look more male in a business suit, and his infectious smile, so real and engaging you can’t help but smile back.
His eyes pause on me, visually measuring the distance between us. I left for an errand and just came back, and of course he notices.
I try to stay composed. “I brought you something for the wait.” I speak as smoothly as I can and head into one of the bedrooms with a tightly closed brown bag meant to appear to be food. He follows me.
He doesn’t close the door—I notice that—but he pushes it back so that only an inch remains open, giving us as much privacy as possible.
I pull out a crisp men’s black jacket and pass it to him.
“You forgot your jacket,” I say.
He glances down at his jacket, then the most beautiful dark-espresso eyes raise to mine.
One glance. One brush of fingers. One second of recognition.
His voice is low, almost intimate. “That would’ve been difficult to explain.”
Our eyes hold.
I almost can’t let go of his jacket and he almost doesn’t want to take it.
He reaches out and takes it, his smile soft and rueful and his gaze perceptive. I know exactly why that smile is rueful, why it is soft with tenderness. Because I’m barely hanging in there tonight and there is no way that this man—that this man who knows it all—doesn’t know.
Possible future President of the United States.
He sets his jacket aside and makes no move to leave the room, and I glance out the window as I try not to stare at his every move.
Through the open window, a breeze that smells of recent rain and Carlisle’s cigarettes flits into the room. D.C. seems quieter tonight than usual, the city so still it seems to be holding its breath along with the rest of the country—along with me.
Quietly we head into the living room to join the others. I’m careful to take a spot in the room that’s nearly opposite his—instinct. Self-preservation maybe.
“Yeah?” Matt asks, quirking a brow, then he glances around the room, whistles for Jack, his shiny black German Shepherd Lab mix, to come. The dog darts across the room and leaps onto the couch, setting himself on Matt’s lap and letting him stroke the top of his head.
“… that’s right, Roger, the Matt Hamilton campaign pulled off an impressive feat this year until, well, that incident …” the anchors discuss. Matt grabs the remote and turns it off. He glances at me briefly.
One more connection, one more silent look.
The room falls silent.
In my experience, guys love talking about themselves and their accomplishments. Matt, on the contrary, avoids it. As if he’s sick of rehashing the tragedy of his life’s story. The story that has been the center of the media’s attention since his campaign began.
You can note varying degrees of respect in a person’s voice when they talk about a particular U.S. president. For some presidents, the degree is nonexistent, the tone more like contempt. For others, the name is turned into something magical and inspiring, filling you with the same feeling you’re supposed to get when you look at a red, white, and blue American flag: pride and hope. Such was the case with the Lawrence Hamilton presidency—the administration started by Matt’s father several terms ago.