So It Goes
Spoilers: Minor up to "Night Five".
Disclaimer: I do not own Jed and Abbey. Which is just as well, because I really don't have room to house them. Let alone the Secret Service agents.
Author's Note: This story is set in America in the late 1960s. I was born in Essex, England, in late 1982. If I get through this whole thing without any blatantly obvious anachronisms, I will be considerably more surprised than you are. But just remember, if I make any screw-ups with the geography, they're not 'mistakes' - they're 'parallel universe discrepancies'.
Title springs from a line in the 1961 Elvis song "Can't Help Falling in Love".
He was shaken awake by a rough hand on his shoulder that it took him a moment to realise couldn't be his brother Jonathan. "Jed, come on, you're late!"
He flopped onto the floor with a groan. Yet again, his roommates had decided to invite half of South Bend to stay over, and yet again, he'd somehow been voted the one to sleep on the couch. Never mind the fact that he actually lived here; apparently, being too tall to sleep comfortably trumped minor things like paying rent.
Well, he hadn't slept comfortably either, and if Jed Bartlet was too tall to sleep comfortably, then sleeping comfortably wasn't an option.
Jed was beginning to suspect that he didn't have much in common with his roommates; even the ones who actually lived here. They only wanted to drink - which he didn't do - plays sports - which he wasn't big enough or co-ordinated enough to do - and talk about girls. Which was definitely off the menu.
And, they never understood why he got knotted up about things like missing classes or being late for work.
His father hadn't approved of his decision to get a part-time job, which was, if he was honest, his biggest motivation in sticking to it. The Bartlets certainly didn't need what little money he could earn, but Jed liked the feeling working for his money gave him. For a start, it made him feel less like he was indebted to his father - and if there was one person in the world he didn't want to be indebted to, it was John Bartlet Senior.
Of course, that only held true for as long as he could actually keep the job... He could only imagine his father's reaction to Jed getting fired for persistent lateness. Equal parts anger, contempt, and worse, a kind of smug satisfaction that Jed had never been able to understand.
Why did his own father always take some kind of twisted pleasure in seeing his son humbled or defeated?
It was the vision of that all-too-familiar reaction that powered him as he biked through the sunny streets at speed. For all that it was early fall, the weather was still surprisingly warm - or maybe that was just his New Hampshire roots showing.
He coasted downhill to the bookstore, and chained his bike up out the back. His friend Ben gave him a nod as he walked in. "Little late?" he observed fairly neutrally.
"Nobody woke me up," he explained.
Ben snorted. "You're really gonna have to do something about that before it comes to doing morning Mass, you know that?"
"That's why I'm only a trainee priest," he said dryly.
"Ah. Take the cash register?"
The store was fairly slow this early on a Saturday morning. Jed allowed himself the luxury of sneaking off to the chess books and pulling down a volume to get involved in while he sat behind the counter. He didn't actually have anybody to play against out here, but that didn't mean he couldn't teach himself.
He was in the middle of committing a fairly complex sequence to memory when a feminine cough finally penetrated his consciousness.
"Uh, hello? A little service, maybe?"
"Oh, sorry." He quickly hid the book away behind the counter and looked up to see a pretty girl with her arms folded impatiently. "What can I do?" he asked.
"I need to get one of the medical texts from the top shelf and-" she took him in as he stood up- "and now I'm thinking I should probably have asked somebody, you know, tall."
"Hey! I have skills," he shrugged defensively.
She smirked, but in a way that made him want to smile back. "I'm sure you do," she agreed dryly.
"Which book?" he asked, walking with her over to the medical section. She was right, the relatively small height advantage he had on her wasn't going to help him much. But he wasn't about to admit that.
"The medical dictionary." Well, it had to be the biggest, heaviest book on the shelf, didn't it? "But don't worry about it, I'll get-"
"I can get it," he insisted quickly.
Jed cautiously tested his weight bracing a foot against the bottom shelf, and stretched up to the reach the book. He could just about grasp- ah, there, that was- oops.
"Whoa! Careful there, skilful." The dictionary came crashing to the floor, and he bit back a most un-priestly curse as it landed on his foot. "Bet that hurt," she observed wryly.
"It's fine," he lied.
"Are you sure?" she asked, sounding more concerned. "I'm gonna be going to medical school soon, so-"
"Well, good, 'cause I'm glad I got that book down for a reason." He smiled at her. "Want me to ring this up for you?"
He tried not to limp too noticeably on his way back to the cash register. He checked the price. "Okay, that'll be-"
Jed was cut off as he looked up in time to see a tall, broad-shouldered football-player type come up behind the girl and slip his arms around her waist. "A little light reading?" he asked, as she leaned back comfortably against his chest.
"Hey, one of us had to be the brain here," she said playfully. Jed thought that any girl on her way to medical school had more than a slight edge on her jock boyfriend, and then told himself off for the uncharitable thought. He didn't even know this guy. It was just the lingering flavour of public embarrassment making him poorly disposed towards this guy who could've lifted a stupid book off the top shelf without making a complete idiot of himself.
And it was probably the same thing that made his teeth grate when the possible-jock-boyfriend smirked down at his girlfriend. "Oh, admit it, you just like playing doctor."
"In your dreams, honey," she said, dry but still vaguely flirtatious. Jed decided he'd witnessed quite enough of that, and cleared his throat pointedly.
"Oh yeah, thanks, kid." The boyfriend took the bagged dictionary and passed across a few bills without even looking at him. The girl wrinkled her brow at him.
"You're buying me books now?"
"I'll buy you anything you like, baby. After all, you're the one who's gonna be keeping me when you're a big high-flying doctor."
It was like he didn't even exist in the room anymore. Jed passed across the boy's change and scowled to himself as the young couple left the store, arm in arm. Huh. Romance. All these people were so shallow and self-obsessed. He was willing to bet jock-boy there had never entertained thoughts of dedicating his life to serving God.
And where did he get off with calling him 'kid', anyway? He couldn't possibly have been eighteen months older than Jed, tops. Just because a guy was a little on the short side and had better things to do than drool over the nearest pretty girl all the time...
A paperback book bounced off the back of his head.
"Hey, Father J!" Ben called good-naturedly. "Quit watching the girls go by and get back to work."
Jed shook his head, and returned to his chess book.
Jed frowned over his textbook, and rubbed his forehead. Theology was a fascinating subject, but there were times when he ached for something that didn't feel quite so much like he was pouring his whole soul into it. It always seemed like the more he studied, the more he realised that he couldn't begin to learn, and that was a heady, almost frightening feeling. He'd always lived for knowledge, soaked it up like a sponge, and here he was throwing himself into the middle of a pool of it that was far too vast for him to ever completely absorb.
He wanted to dedicate his life to God. That decision was easy, so easy that his thoughts slid over it now without catching on the edges, no longer seeing it as anything but the only possible future. But sometimes, sometimes he wondered if he didn't think too much to be a priest. And wasn't that a terrible thought, a sinfully proud and terrible thought? But no, not quite like that, just...
Just... what if you had the kind of mind that always kept seeing the bigger picture? Always kept stretching, pushing at the edges, couldn't stay boxed up like other people wanted, like his father had always wanted. What if you had that kind of mind, and you used it to keep thinking about things like God and souls and good and evil and humanity, things that you couldn't quite fit inside your head but you had to keep trying...
He wanted to be a priest. He wanted to help people. It was all he'd ever wanted. But sometimes, Jed couldn't help thinking that maybe he'd sleep a little better if he spent his time on the kind of questions where you could just come to an answer and then stop.
The sound of the door announced the arrival of his roommates, and the end to any chance at quiet study. Jason and Andrew appeared on the scene with a flood of raucous laughter and a jangle of keys.
"Jed!" Jason thumped him on the shoulder cheerfully. "Man, still haven't figured out the meaning of the universe yet?"
"I would, but people keep interrupting me," he said dryly. They both laughed.
"Coming to the party tonight?" Andy asked him.
"What party?" he frowned, more for conversation than out of curiosity.
"Up at Terry's place. Come on, it'll be fun," Jason urged.
Jed sat back, rubbing his eyes from too long spent on studying. "I don't-"
"You need to party, man! You are in serious need of some relaxation. Come on, what's the worst that could happen?"
"I spend several hours crammed in a room with people I don't know, listening to music I don't like, and then one of you gets drunk and pukes on me?"
"See? Where's the harm in that?" Andy demanded cheerfully.
"I'm... not a big fan of puking, I have to say," he pointed out dryly.
"Well, that's what we have bathrooms for!" Jason yanked him to his feet. "Oh, come on, man, you've been hitting those books for like fifteen hours straight. You need a break."
"I guess," he admitted, although his own idea of a break was something a whole lot quieter than a student party.
"Yeah, see? We're your buddies, we'll look out for you. We'll make sure you have a great time."
"Suddenly, I'm very scared," he noted, as they steered him inexorably towards the door.