Author's Note: I've been working on this story on and off for weeks and I finally had time to finish it, and I'm so happy. I hope you guys like it!
The Next Chapter
"You know, this is the first milestone we've had in a long time where I don't have to stuff myself into a formal gown," Abbey noted as she put on some very minimal makeup, just enough for her to feel like herself.
Jed looked over to her as he put on his jeans. "Yeah, but I do like you in those dresses."
She glared at him. "Never again. Besides, I know you prefer taking me out of those dresses."
He grinned. "Mmmm, yeah, you're right." He kissed the top of her head as he walked by. "Too bad we don't have any more events for me to wear white tie to," he teased.
Abbey groaned, "God, I do like the white tie and tails. But I get a lot more opportunities to have you in a polo shirt, so I guess it's an even trade."
Jed laughed. "I will never understand why a polo shirt is such a turn on for you."
"You just…you just wear them really well, babe," Abbey replied, a hungry glint in her eyes.
"I'm an old man, Dr. Bartlet. I already serviced you once today, so how about you cool it until the family leaves, alright?"
Abbey just smiled at him in the mirror, almost blushing as her mind drifted back to the memory of their morning together.
"You finish getting ready, honey. I'm gonna go find some wine to open with dinner."
Jed left his wife to whatever primping she had to do and went downstairs. Before he even got to the bottom of the stairs, he heard a car pull up our front. With a glance out the front window, he recognized Vic's green station wagon. Jed went straight to the front door.
"Where's my favorite girl?" he called out.
Ellie got out of the car and hugged her father. "Nice to know I'm the favorite now."
Jed kissed his daughter's cheek. "No, Eleanor, not you."
She sighed good-naturedly. They both turned to watch Vic take the carrier out of the backseat.
"She just woke up. Grandpa, why don't you take her inside while Ellie and I get the rest of her stuff?" Vic suggested.
"Sounds good to me." Jed took the baby out of her carrier and cooed softly to her, "Hello, Miss Hannah Louise, you beautiful little genius."
Ellie turned to her husband. "That's what he called all of us when we were little. Me and Liz and Zoey and Annie. He always made sure we knew we were pretty and we were smart and that he loved us."
Vic smiled. "Well, they do say that strong women are born from strong mothers and good fathers, so looks like you guys proved that right."
Ellie kissed him with a big smile before grabbing Hannah's diaper bag from the trunk of the car.
Abbey came downstairs just as Jed came in with the baby. "Oh my goodness, you give that angel to me right now!" she exclaimed.
"No way. You wait your turn," he replied, pressing a kiss to his granddaughter's cheek. Hannah's blue eyes crinkled as she laughed. Jed and Abbey just stared at her with unabashed adoration.
The front door opened to Vic carrying far too many things in his arms. "Charlie and Zoey just got here. Ellie's out there with them."
Right on cue, Ellie and Zoey walked into the house they'd both called home all their lives, talking together just like they'd done as teenagers. Abbey felt a pang of emotion in her heart. She blinked and swallowed to bring herself back to the present.
Charlie walked in behind the girls and immediately greeted Abbey. "Hello, Mrs. Bartlet. Happy anniversary."
Abbey gave him a big hug. "Thank you, Charlie. You know, you're the first person to wish me happy anniversary today."
"I said it to you this morning!" Jed interjected.
"Yes, but you're married to me. It's your anniversary, too. So you don't count."
Jed smirked. "Girls, your mother is feeling neglected."
Ellie and Zoey shared a look and a nod and immediately crushed their mother in a sandwiched hug.
"Oh god!" Abbey groaned as she got the wind knocked out of her.
"Hey, be careful. She's old. She could break!"
Vic had a look on his face of pure terror. Like any good, obedient husband, he feared the retribution of a wife who had been called old and fragile to her face.
But Abbey just rolled her eyes as her husband chuckled. "Zo, Ellie, you know I hate it when you do that."
"We just love you, Mom," Zoey replied with a falsely sweet smile.
"Could you love me a little less violently?"
Jed went from laughing to grimacing. "Uh oh." He handed the baby over to Ellie, who had given up on crushing her mother. "I'm Grandpa. I don't have to change diapers."
Abbey laughed. "Charlie, aren't you glad we didn't have babies around when you worked for him? He would have made you change them."
"Hey, after three kids, I did my share of diaper duty. I met my quota."
"Whatever." Abbey turned back to her children and their men. "Let's go sit down. We don't need to keep standing in the entryway."
Jed mumbled, "I notice Liz isn't here."
Zoey heard him and gave him a knowing smile. "I bet it's Doug's fault."
"And even if it's not, we can blame him anyway."
The youngest Bartlet laughed and put her arm around her father as they joined the rest of the family.
"Alright," Jed announced, "we're going to go around the room and everyone is going to talk about what they're doing at work, so we don't all have to say the same thing to every person over the course of the evening. I know Liz and Ellie aren't in the room, but neither of them is working right now. So Vic, you go first. How are the fruit flies?"
Abbey subtly elbowed him in the stomach.
Vic fumbled slightly, taken aback at being put on the spot. "I…I've been on paternity leave to be with Ellie and Hannah."
Jed frowned slightly. "They do that now? Okay. That's good." He turned to Abbey. "Do all research hospitals do that?"
"Some. Probably not all. I think it's a wonderful program. It strengthens families. We do call it 'family leave' for a reason," she replied. The look on her face and the tone of her voice dared him to say something annoying about it.
Jed considered a moment before nodding. "Yeah, it is a good idea. Alright, well, good for you, Vic. Let's move on to Zoey. How's work, pumpkin?"
Zoey glared at her father. "Stop calling me that."
"I'm not going to do that."
She growled slightly but decided to not press the issue. "Work is going fine. They're giving me more responsibility now. I actually get to talk in meetings instead of just being used for my name."
"Oh you know, I accompany someone to a meeting with a lobbying firm or some congressional staff and they say 'And this is our new associate, Zoey Bartlet' and then I'm ignored for the rest of the meeting."
"That's ridiculous! You're brilliant and very capable. Being my daughter means you've got a great brain, not just that you're the President's kid!"
Ellie walked back into the room with Hannah and added, "It's always been like this, Dad. Zoey and I both experienced it when you were governor, too. I can't tell you how many labs tried to recruit me because they thought it would mean better federal funding."
Jed was taken aback. "Why didn't you ever tell me this before?"
Ellie just shrugged. "You were busy."
He went quiet. He appreciated Abbey's hand on his arm.
"Speaking of which, how's post-White House life?" Charlie asked.
"Well, Charlie, I've slept eight hours a night for six months and I milk a cow every day."
"And he doesn't need to milk the cows. I have no idea why he does it," Abbey added, the expression on her face making her exasperation with the situation quite evident.
"Manual labor feels good. I've had five good months without any MS symptoms, so I'm going to keep doing things while I have the chance," Jed replied matter-of-factly.
Abbey smiled somewhat sadly. She and Ellie made eye contact. Unbeknownst to anyone else, Ellie had decided to make a change once she returned to work. She was going to finish the study she'd been conducting for the last year, and then she'd be taking a job with a pharmaceutical company to help develop a drug for MS. She'd told her mother that she wanted to get into that research, but she hadn't told anyone yet that she'd accepted a position with a lab, starting the following year.
The front door opened and Elizabeth Bartlet Westin's voice sounded through the house. "Hi! Sorry we're late!"
Jed and Abbey got up to greet their eldest daughter and her family.
Annie walked in first wearing a very pretty blue dress that, in Jed's mind, was far too short. "Hi, Grandpa. Happy anniversary!"
"You couldn't wear pants to the farm?" he asked, his eyebrows raised with concern.
"If I had, I wouldn't get this fun lecture about my clothes," Annie fired back.
"Annie, watch your mouth," Liz scolded.
"Jed, leave her alone. I wore dresses much shorter than that when I was her age, and you liked them just fine. Besides, she's in college. She's an adult," Abbey argued.
Jed could see he was entering dangerous territory. He couldn't help but think he should know better than to question the choices of the women in his family. It seemed he was on the wrong side of everything today.
Gus interrupted by running full-speed at Jed and leaping into his arms. Jed lifted his grandson up with a slight groan of effort that turned into a happy laugh.
"Gus! You're going to hurt your grandfather!" Liz exclaimed with worry.
Abbey narrowed her eyes at her husband but stayed silent. She knew he knew his limits, and her nagging wouldn't help anything. She turned her attention back to Annie and let Liz take this one.
"Elizabeth, I am not too old to lift up my grandson, and he's clearly not too old to be picked up, are you?" he replied, smiling proudly to the eight-year-old.
"No one ever picks me up anymore," Gus pouted.
"Well, that's too bad for everyone else. You just like being up where the action is, don't you?"
Gus nodded. "Grandpa, can I ride the horses today?"
"What, all of them?" Jed teased.
"Gus, we talked about this," Liz said in a low tone.
Jed put Gus back on the ground. And not a moment too soon. His back was starting to feel the strain. "Give me a second with your mom." Once Gus had followed Annie and Abbey to the living room to greet the rest of the family, he turned back to Liz. "What's the problem? He's been riding with me plenty of times."
"He wants to ride by himself. But Dad, you know how scared he gets with things like this. Today is a celebration for you and Mom, and having Gus freak out isn't going to be fun for anyone."
"I appreciate your consideration, Lizzie, but if Gus wants to be brave, we should all support him. When we stop trying, nothing is gained and everything is lost," Jed told her.
Liz raised her eyebrows. "Did you steal that from Toby, Mr. President?"
Jed huffed in disagreement. "You know, I have been known to have an original thought or two of my own."
"If you say so," Liz replied with a teasing smirk.
"I'll ask Gus in a little while about the horses, and he can come out to the barn with Zoey and me if he wants to." Jed put his arm around her shoulders and kissed her temple. "Hey, where's Doug?" he asked, realizing for the first time that Elizabeth's husband hadn't greeted him yet.
"Doug couldn't come. I didn't think you'd be too disappointed." There was a subtle hint of ire in her tone.
Jed just shrugged. He didn't let Liz see his wide smile.
Everyone greeted each other, cooed over the baby, and grilled Annie about her summer off from Yale. Once they'd gotten all that out of the way, Jed asked if anyone wanted to join him for a ride. Zoey was eager to see her horses, and Gus was still excited to ride.
On their way out, Jed saw that worried look on his wife's face. He gave her a reassuring smile. Abbey wasn't too convinced that he wasn't trying to do too much, but she let him go. Zoey would keep him from being too stupid. She turned her attention back to the rest of her family.
"Charlie, how's Deanna doing in school?" she asked.
"She's doing really well. She'll be graduating with a double degree and high honors next semester. I think she might be on track to be valedictorian, but she won't tell me. I know she doesn't want me to get my hopes up, because basketball takes up so much of her time still. But she's great," Charlie said proudly.
Abbey smiled. "You've done a great job with her, Charlie. You should bring her up here sometime. I bet Jed would love to pretend like he could play one-on-one against her."
"Remember when Dad wanted me to play basketball?" Liz interjected. "I was tall as a kid, so obviously I'd be great."
Abbey laughed. "You never were much of a basketball player. Field hockey, on the other hand, was definitely your strong suit."
"I remember watching you play! You were brutal, Liz!" Ellie laughed, remembering sitting on the side of the field as a little girl, cheering on her big sister with her parents on an early Saturday morning.
"Mom, I didn't know you played sports!" Annie exclaimed, shocked at this revelation.
Liz nodded. "I played softball and volleyball and field hockey when I was in junior high. Only field hockey made it to my high school years. You were never really interested in team sports, so it never really came up."
"Swimming is a team sport," Annie contradicted.
"But is it really, though?" Charlie replied skeptically. His retort removed any tension that had been building between the Westin women.
Annie then began to engage Charlie in a discussion about the merits of a swim team. Vic and Ellie joined in, with Vic agreeing with Annie and Ellie taking Charlie's side.
Seeing that everyone was busy, Liz got Abbey's attention. "Hey Mom? I was looking for an old album of mine and it wasn't at my house. Can you help me look for it here?" She stood up and started to make her way to the stairs.
Abbey narrowed her eyes. "Sure." She followed her eldest upstairs. Once they were out of earshot of everyone else, she asked, "Liz, what's up? If you were looking for something, you would have called me about it."
Liz took a deep breath and leaned back against the hallway that led to her childhood bedroom. "It's Doug."
"Yeah, I noticed that he isn't here. What's going on?"
"He moved out on Tuesday."
"Oh my god, Elizabeth! What happened?"
Liz shrugged, keeping her eyes fixed on the teal carpet runner below her feet. "It was a long time coming. He's been cheating on me for years. But with the kids so young and with Dad and everything…"
"Whose decision was this?" Abbey asked carefully. She wasn't quite sure yet if Elizabeth was looking for comfort after getting left by her husband or support after kicking the scumbag out.
"Mine. I've wanted to do this for a long time. That's part of why we haven't been around a lot recently. It was just too hard to be all together, pretending everything was okay. But obviously I wasn't going to leave my husband while my parents live in the White House. When he lost that congressional race, I can't tell you how relieved I was that I wouldn't be stuck as his political wife."
Abbey didn't think twice about gathering her daughter into her arms. "I'm proud of you, baby doll. You stood up for yourself and for what's best for your family."
"You're not upset? That I couldn't make it work? That I'm going to give up on my marriage?"
"Oh, Lizzie, I know this wasn't a rash decision. I know you've tried. And you should know that I'd much rather you be a good, happy person and a bad Catholic than a miserable good Catholic. I told that to your father after I took his virginity, but it's just as applicable here."
Liz pulled away. "Mom, oh my god!"
"I'm being supportive, but it is still my anniversary, and there's a reason I ended up with three children," Abbey said matter-of-factly.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and went back in for another hug. "I'm going to see a divorce lawyer on Monday." Her voice was slightly muffled in her mother's shoulder.
"We're here for anything you need," Abbey assured her. She paused a moment before asking, "How are the kids taking it?"
"Annie completely understands. She loves her dad, as she should—he's a really good dad to them—but she isn't blind. She's old enough to know what's been going on. Gus…well, I think Annie's helping him with it. I think it's helpful that she's home from college for the next couple months."
"Good." Abbey quietly held her daughter for another few moments. "When are you going to tell Dad?"
"Not today. He doesn't have to deal with this today. It's your anniversary."
Abbey couldn't help but realize the irony. Jed had been the last to know that Liz and Doug were going to get married, and now he'd be the last to know they were getting divorced. Though this news probably wouldn't surprise him, nor would it upset him as the marriage had.
The back door opened and slammed closed, the telltale sign that Zoey had come back inside. Abbey patted Liz on the back and ended their embrace. "Come on, let's go back down. They're going to notice we're not there."
Jed and Gus came back into the house, both grinning wildly. They both had the same joyful smile, something everyone in the family had noticed. "Bartlets, Faisons, Westins, and Young, I am proud to announce that our young Gus has successfully ridden a horse all by himself!"
The whole family applauded as Gus went into a detailed explanation of everything that happened when he took Falstaff, the big brown Arabian horse, out on his own.
Jed, who had just experienced it for himself, went down the hall to finally choose a bottle of wine, as he'd planned to do earlier. Charlie followed and closed the door behind them.
"Charlie, I'm not going to get on your case about it, but you're really going to have to call me 'Jed' eventually. You know, assuming you plan on sticking around."
"That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about."
Jed stopped what he was doing and gave Charlie his full attention. "Oh?"
"I wanna ask Zoey to marry me. We won't do anything until after I get done with school, but I love her more than anything in the world, and I want to commit the rest of my life to her as soon as possible."
"Charlie, you know I love you, and I know you treat my daughter well. I would love for the two of you to get married. But can you do something for me?"
Jed nearly rolled his eyes at being called 'sir' again, but refrained. "Can you please make sure you two are married before you get her pregnant? As a man who very nearly became a priest, I'd like to walk one of my daughters down the aisle without my grandchild coming along for the ride."
Charlie grinned. "Yes, sir."
"You have my blessing and my sincerest congratulations, assuming she says yes. I think she will, and I certainly hope she does. You know, Charlie, you'll be the first son-in-law I actually want."
"Well, Vic's not so bad. But he's got nothing on you."
Charlie felt his heart swell. This moment had somehow surpassed the time President Bartlet had given him the carving knife his family had been gifted from Paul Revere. Now, he finally felt like he truly deserved that Bartlet family heirloom. He would officially be part of the family now.
Later that evening, Abbey had left the dinner table to get more butter from the kitchen. Jed caught her by the refrigerator and took her in his arms without a word.
"Jed, I'm holding a stick of butter," she protested, awkwardly holding it away from his clothing.
"I don't care. I've been married to you for forty years. A little butter isn't going to ruin our relationship," he replied. But he shifted his grasp around her after a moment.
They stood in the doorway with their arms around each other, watching their big family all eating dinner together.
"Liz is getting divorced," Abbey told him quietly.
He processed this information, not entirely unhappy about it. "Charlie is going to propose to Zoey," he told her in response.
Abbey grinned. "And now that Ellie and Vic have a baby and we've mostly retired, it looks like everyone's turned a page."
Jed nodded. "It's a new chapter for our family, that's sure. But just look at them all."
"And all because we said 'I do' forty years ago, today."
Abbey rested her head on his shoulder. "I knew it as I walked down the aisle that day, and I was right. Marrying you was the most significant thing I ever did in my entire life. Everything I am and everything I have is because of our marriage."
"I never would have accomplished anything close to what I've done if I hadn't married you," Jed agreed.
Only a handful of times in her life had Abbey ever thought to herself, And they all lived happily ever after, but this was certainly one of those times.