My eyes scan the crowd, taking in the masses as they cheer and hold signs supporting my run for Congress.
Five years ago, when I was honorably discharged from the Marines, I never would’ve dreamed this would be my future.
All the signs carry the same slogan: Trust in Titan. Knowing the constituents in my home state of Illinois feel this way makes me proud. I spent ten years fighting in wars to defend our great nation and preserve her freedoms. When I was given the Medal of Honor after staving off the enemy to save my fellow Marines, I thought my life had been made.
Where else could I go from there? It’s the highest military decoration. I didn’t think I’d ever run for office.
I wave my hands to quiet the crowd assembled in the ballroom at the Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago. When their voices are only a whisper, I speak. “I’m here today to officially announce my run for Congress.”
The crowd comes back to life, louder than before. I don’t stop them, letting them cheer and scream my name because… well, I deserve this moment.
“Titan. Titan,” the people cheer, and my chest swells with pride. Only in this great nation could a man with such a humble beginning rise to this level.
“Thank you,” I say into the microphone, gripping the sides of the podium to steady my hands as the people begin to quiet. “I’ve never been involved in politics, and in today’s climate, I feel there’s a need for an outsider like me to enter the race. For too many years, the lifelong politicians have been making the decisions that affect people like you. They enjoy their fat bank accounts without a care about how their choices touch your lives. I’m here to put a stop to Washington as usual. I promise tonight, to each of you, that I will do everything in my power to make your lives better. Today, I’m officially announcing my candidacy for United States Senate.”
Balloons rain down from the ceiling, filling the ballroom with more red, white, and blue. I step in front of the podium and wave to the crowd, before stooping down to shake a few hands. “Thank you for your support and service,” I tell the vet standing in the front row wearing a POW-MIA baseball cap.
“Thank you for running,” he replies and covers our hands with his left. His wrinkled skin is riddled with age spots. “I know you’ll do right by us veterans.”
I swallow down my emotions from shaking his hand, knowing we lived through much of the same trauma. “I’ll make it my job.” The smile on my face is sincere when he nods and releases my hand.
“Jude. Oh my God, Jude Titan.” A woman screams so loud my ears ring. “You’re even sexier in person.” Her large, round eyes roam over my body before finally resting on my face. “Day-um,” she says before whistling.
“Do I know you?” I ask, trying to keep my face impartial as I search my memory bank for a one-night stand I had forgotten about in a drunken haze.
She places her hand against my forearm. “You can,” she says with a smirk and runs her fingers across my tattoo.
“Mr. Titan,” my campaign manager says from behind me. “You have an interview to get to, sir.”
“Can I count on your vote?” I ask the woman when I begin to stand and break contact with her.
Her stare creeps me out, but I keep a smile plastered on my face. “There’s no one else I have my sights set on.”
“Sorry, ma’am, I need Mr. Titan,” Carl says, pulling me backward to safety.
“Jesus Christ,” I mutter and blow out a breath. “Thanks for the save.”
“I’m sure it won’t be the last, Jude. Just be careful. You’re a candidate now, and things can easily get out of control or be misconstrued.”
I’m pushing up my sleeves, and my nose wrinkles as his words hit me. “Misconstrued? I did nothing wrong. I didn’t flirt with her.”
“What you did and what she says you did are two different things. It’s very easy to ruin a campaign before it’s ever even started.”
“Carl, I realize it’s your job to get me elected, but don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot. Should I have been rude to the woman?”
He shakes his head and his jaw ticks. “No,” he says through gritted teeth, his shoulders rising as his nostrils flare. “But don’t put yourself in the situation in the first place, and we won’t have an issue.”
I stop walking and cross my arms in front of my chest. “So I should just avoid all women?” My head tilts, and I can’t help but sneer.
He pinches the bridge of his nose and mutters something under his breath about God. “No, Jude,” he says in a condescending tone. “Just don’t put yourself in another situation like that.”
My finger taps against my lips, and I try to control my frustration. “I’ll make a mental note to avoid situations like that,” I say, using air quotes before I brush by him and head toward the small group of reporters gathered near the back of the stage.
I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. If I can’t handle a woman in a crowd, I’m not sure how I made it out of war in one piece.
“Ah, hello, Ms. Campbell,” Carl says to a woman approaching us with a notebook and pen in hand.
“Mr. Schultz. Thank you for allowing us here for what’s looking to be the start of a very interesting election season.” Her eyes dart to mine, and I hold her gaze, unfazed by her comment.
“I’m looking forward to a tough fight,” I say to her and hold out my hand, disregarding Carl’s presence. “I’m Jude Titan.”
“It’s wonderful to finally meet the man behind the name.” Her face flushes and she averts her eyes. “What would you say to your opponent, Representative Preston?”
“Well.” I pause for a moment and choose my words very carefully. “I’d tell her that, even though I’m not part of a long-standing political family like she is, I know how to win a battle, and I plan to defeat her this November.”
Carl steps forward and clears his throat. “He’s looking forward to showing Representative Preston that he’s a worthy adversary.”
When my eyes cut to his, he looks everywhere but at me.
“He may not be steeped in government, but he’s served his country with valor and honor and will do everything in his power to earn the respect of voters all over Illinois.”