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A loud clatter sounded in the kitchen and it jolted me out of a sound sleep. I grimaced inwardly as I stretched and sat up. Sleep was practically non-existent and after a week of insanity in Manhattan, I was briskly escorted to the safety and tranquility of my parents' home located in one of the historic districts of Cambridge, Massachusetts. I thought once I was tucked away that I could catch up on a little rest, but with the prep of Thanksgiving, it looked like sleep would have to wait. I rested back against the headboard, the blankets gathered up my chest, and I reached to grab both the remote and my neglected coffee off of the nightstand, purposely ignoring the stack of work that sat untouched beneath both. I flipped on the television opposite the bed as I took a sip and grimaced. Ice cold.

The joyous sound of mom and dad's voices mingled with Roman's floated up the stairs and I smiled to myself. It was nice to hear him so at home with my family, and I was thrilled my folks finally got to show off their masterpiece of a renovation. After they retired to join me on the campaign trail, they somehow managed to buy their dream house and have the place completely overhauled. It was a gorgeous, historic property directly across the way from Harvard's main campus. It was also way too big for empty-nesters. I was now running the world in Washington while Jasper was breaking hearts in his personal life and healing the sick and wounded at his hospital in New York. Still, my parents bought the mini-mansion with the extra bedrooms in the hopes they'd see in-laws and grand babies sooner rather than later. Bless them.

I channel surfed past all the news and political commentary shows, the parade, and settled in when I found March of the Wooden Soldiers. I hadn't seen it in forever, but it was a guarantee that both Jasper and I could still quote every word. Growing up, it was a tradition for us to watch it every year, and right now, it was just what I needed.

While Laurel and Hardy ran around Toyland generally causing chaos, I reflected on what transpired the last few days. As predicted, Grant continued his spiteful rhetoric and he was particularly having a field day now that Roman and I had gone public to an extent. I hadn't made a statement yet but since we made no effort to hide our relationship while we moved between events and interviews, Grant was acting like a kid at Christmas. Roman, of course, was worried that his base would take the information and run somewhere crazy with it and I'd wind up hurt in the process, but knowing I had my man at my back eliminated all of my own concerns. I felt at peace knowing how fiercely he felt about me and therefore, my safety. Instead, I wanted to focus on maintaining my reputation.

Washington was full of piranhas who were anxiously anticipating a moment to cut me down. I wouldn't let that happen. I spent my entire life working for the good of others and now that America had elected me to be their representative and voice, I couldn't let slander demean my good name and even better policies. I knew that this would be an uphill battle. For me, it had always been, and now that I was in the spotlight every single day, the gossip and rumors had shifted into full speed. Rather than focus on my message of change or the work I was already putting in, Grant's new approach was causing a media frenzy from liberal Hollywood's take on my hair, wardrobe, style, and dating approach to the conservative realm of the spectrum who were raking me over the coals for living in sin with Roman. The White House would be getting a harlot-in-chief with no morals, no family values, no love of Christ. This was nothing new from the campaign trail, but it had certainly become the focus instantly now that there was a significant man in my life. I wanted to scream. I wanted to inform them that as long as the leader of the free world was satisfied on a regular basis, and went to bed happy with the country running smoothly, what harm was that to anyone? As much as I wanted to say "my love life and my sex life are my business", I knew that they weren't. I'd concede that much to the public. I had put myself on the world's stage, and I knew every action would be examined and judged. That was fair, but what connection Roman and I felt, and the things we did together behind closed doors is where I would draw a line. God nor his extreme followers, or their failure of a leader in Grant could put words in my mouth and tell others who that made me as a person. I'd handle it all in time. I wasn't going to let it fester, and I wasn't going to lose the faith my public put in me either. I haven't so far and I wouldn't now or moving forward.

What was still swirling around in my brain was what Roman so proudly confessed to me days ago. He didn't even hesitate after taking me into his arms, kissing me in a room full of people, and telling me exactly how he felt.

"I love you".

Three simple words shifted my world on its axis, and I was unprepared with how to handle it. I wasn't scared of Roman, or what we were becoming so rapidly, but I had yet to reciprocate my emotions. I was over-thinking again. I needed to get out of the headspace I normally occupied for work and my daily life and not treat Roman as if he were a business deal.

Why hadn't I said it back? Why hadn't I said anything at all?

I knew he had confidence that I felt something, and that something was strong and unbreakable, even if I wasn't voicing it out loud. I'm sure he also knew I was probably approaching our intense progression from all angles to examine and analyze it to death. I wish he would stop me and make me face us head-on.

When I imagined a future before, I didn't see anything beyond work and reaching the Oval Office. Now, when I thought about what laid ahead, I saw Roman. I envisioned us building a life together in the White House. I saw him standing at my side and serving the people as First Gentleman. I even started to imagine the possibility of us with kids, which I rarely considered before. He was changing the game for me. Once we tasted temptation, we full-on combusted into an inferno, and I couldn't see it going out. Was it love? I think so, but the pragmatist in me wouldn't let me leap from the opulent guest bed and go running to him. Perhaps there was a small part of me that didn't want to wind up hurt. I had spent so long being alone and focusing on my goals, not moving past a rare, casual entanglement. Roman awoke a need in me that I thought was either dormant or dead, and once I said the three most powerful words in the world, we would morph into something more permanent, something more powerful. It both thrilled and petrified me.

"Barnaby clunked you."

The sound of Jasper's voice interrupted the myriad of thoughts racing through my brain. Still, I giggled at my brother quoting his favorite line as he snuck into the room and crawled into the big bed beside me. Wordlessly, he swapped my old coffee with a new, steaming mug, and sat back to watch the movie that I hadn't paid a lick of attention to since I turned it on. I thanked him for my much needed drink and guzzled it to keep from spewing nonsense.

"What's going on Abby? You're completely in your head, and if I know you, I know how crazy of a place that is to be. Talk to me" he nudged me playfully. I smirked and rested my head on his shoulder.

"How much time do you have?" I sighed.

"For you? All the time in the world. You know that" he stated matter-of-factly.

"I know that, Jas, and you don't know how much I appreciate it, really." I kissed his shoulder and we settled into silence once more. For a moment, it felt like we were kids again and all was right and simple with the world once again.

"I won't push you to tell me things you aren't ready to tell me, Abs, but I just want you to know some things. You have so much going on. Thinking about the pressure you're under all the time nauseates me sometimes, but here's the truth. You know who you are. Nothing an opposing party says or does, or media criticism is going to change that. You've always been determined and worked with such a ferocity that you freaked me out. There will always be a critic or a hater to try to knock you down a peg. You've never caved to them before so don't do it now. Stand in your truth, Abs. You have a man downstairs who would probably marry you tomorrow if given the opportunity, and he'll fight in your corner just as much as any of us would."

"That's the part that scares me the most. I'm not worried about the games being played in Washington" I interrupted before I could stop myself. Jasper smirked and slung his arm over my shoulder.

"Well, sis, you better face your fears because he's practically got mom and dad planning the wedding as we speak."

At that admission, I leapt out of bed and raced for the stairs, leaving Jasper laughing maniacally behind me as I went. 

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