Series: Snapshots of the Past
Story: The Anniversary Waltz
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Previously: Lizzie was pleasantly surprised when Abbey stayed true to her promise to attend her recital
Summary: After ten years together, Jed and Abbey reflect on the strength of their love for one another
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Cross over, pass through, make two loops, that's the rule.
Ever since he was a little boy, a simple thing like tying a bowtie had filled Jed with a sense of accomplishment. It all began one evening when, as a ten-year-old, he stood in front of his bedroom mirror and struggled for hours to conform to the image of munchkin in a monkey suit. But every time made an ill-fated effort to complete the look, the loops of his bowtie escaped his grasp. He was frustrated and angry. And more than anything else, he was terrified.
It scared him to his core to think about the look of disappointment he'd get from his father if he dared to show up to his awards banquet without a neatly tied tie. He'd be yelled at and ridiculed in public, in front of his peers, in front of his friends. He had been practicing for days, praying to God to help prevent the humiliation that would result from admitting that every attempt ended in disaster.
Tears trailed from that young boy's crystal blue eyes, dampening his lashes, and staining his rosy cheeks. But that night, his prayers were answered. In a rare moment of relief, his bedroom door swung open and his mother sympathetically approached.
She positioned him in front of the mirror and stood behind him. He stared at their reflection as her fingers crossed the longer end of the fabric over the shorter and pulled it through the resulting loop. He watched closely as she finagled it into a knot with another loop and evened the ends before tightening it around his neck.
"Piece of cake," she said as she used her hands to straighten out his light brown mane of hair. She made everything look so easy.
An otherwise superficial lesson held a coveted spot in his memory bank even after 22 years. It was one of the few childhood memories he cherished.
"Piece of cake," he mumbled to himself with a tug on the ends of his tie.
Memories. That's what tonight was about.
Ten years ago, everything had changed. He left behind his turbulent past and began a new life with Abbey.
He smiled fondly as he remembered that first look of her in her wedding dress. She walked down the aisle on her father's arm, her white crystal-trimmed ball gown flowing alongside and her dark auburn hair lightly brushing against her shoulders.
At that moment, he felt he had never seen anything more beautiful than the woman standing before him. But ten years later, he realized that woman had grown more intelligent, more confident, and more regal with every passing day.
Jarred back to the present, he jumped to his feet at the sound of her voice. She frantically ran to the bedroom, still dressed in scrubs, her hair spilling out of a clip in the back of her head.
"I know I'm late. Don't be mad," she said as she ripped her clothes from her body and grabbed a towel on the way to the shower. "Ten minutes. I promise."
He shook his head and chuckled in response. Ordinarily, he may have been a little irked by her tardiness on such an important night, but fortunately, she caught him right in the middle of one of those moments when his love for her outweighed anything else.
He eventually let himself into the bathroom and wiped the steam off the mirror to apply his Acqua Di Gio cologne. "How was work?"
"Until about an hour ago, it was a quiet day."
"Four-car pileup on 93."
"Good thing we're not leaving on time then," he teased.
When she finished, she pulled on the curtains to reveal only her head peeking through the vinyl. "Can you hand me my towel?"
He turned on her with surprise. "What is this? We're shy all of a sudden?"
"I just know that if I jump out of this shower naked and wet, you're going to start something we don't have time to finish."
Well, that was certainly a possibility, and she made no secret of the fact that she even wanted him to. If only they had the time.
He picked up the towel and extended his hand towards her. "Here."
As her fingers reached for it, he pulled it back out of her grasp. "Jed!"
"I guess you'll have to get out to get it," he replied with a smirk.
"You're going to pay for that," she warned as she climbed out of the tub and jumped to him, practically melding her soaked skin to his dry tuxedo.
"I'd be really pissed about that if you weren't standing here looking as alluring as you do." Naked and wet. Always such a provocative combination.
He surrendered to her hot, steamy kiss, lifting her off the ground and spinning her around.
As her feet touched the floor, she pulled away. "This is going to have to wait until later, Gumdrop. We don't have time."
Strongly aroused, he was shocked when she spun around on him with the blow dryer at full-speed, the hot air aimed at his face first then his dampened tux.
She tucked the cord under her chin and left him standing there with that confused, yet handsome face that was as much Jed Bartlet as his witty humor and sarcasm. More handsome today, she thought, than when she met him all those years ago, before he was a professor and a politician, before he was a husband and a father, before he was the man he was today.
He was always a good, decent human being, but he had grown into a leader, not afraid of adversity, a patriarch, up to the challenge of raising temperamental daughters, a spouse, accepting and accommodating of his wife's demanding career.
He was her lover, her confidante, and her best friend.
Her mind lost in thought, she dried herself off, released the shower cap from her head, and glided a pair of pantyhose up her silky legs before slipping into her red satin robe.
Another fifteen minutes passed before Jed joined her in the bedroom. She was standing in front of the mirror, dusting her eye lids with shimmering shadow when she smelled his cologne, that familiar scent that always swelled her heart.
With her hands raised above her head as she clipped a few strands of her auburn tresses to the top of her hair, her short robe had slid up her thighs, revealing just a hint of her shapely hips. He approached her quietly, a single finger making contact with her shoulder just as he noticed his reflection right next to hers.
"Hi," he whispered, pulling on her robe to press his lips to her bare shoulder.
She laughed softly. "Hi."
"You look gorgeous."
"I'm almost ready." He watched her remove a sapphire cocktail dress from the garment bag and allow her robe to fall off her shoulders slowly. Methodically. She knew what she was doing. The dress slipped onto her body, instantly hugging her curves. "Zip me up?"
Her back to him, he pulled her zipper up using the same seductive manipulations he had silently accused her of moments earlier. And before she could turn around, he held her steady with one arm draped across her shoulder. She tried to lower her head as she felt a light prick against her skin, but his lips had engaged hers, making it impossible to see what he was doing until he circled around her, allowing her a glimpse at her reflection.
A sterling silver necklace dangled from her neck, three diamond pendants hanging one below the other, the last one dancing just above her cleavage.
"Happy Anniversary," he whispered into her ear as he fastened the clasp in the back.
"Jed, we were going to wait until tonight to exchange gifts."
"This isn't a gift. It's just something to go with your outfit."
She rubbed her fingertips against the stones as she turned back towards the mirror. "It's breathtaking."
His fingers joined hers on the top pendant, the smallest of the three. "This one is a symbol of our past. It's for all those years you put up with me, the years you sacrificed your own ambitions so I could go to school in London, the two wonderful daughters you've given me, and the best ten years of my entire life."
His hand moved a little further down on the necklace. "This middle one here, that's for right now, for being who you are, the brilliant doctor I love more than I ever imagined I could love anyone. You are my world, Abbey."
"You're going to ruin my make-up," she protested as a few tears shined her eyes.
With one thumb positioned to catch stray teardrops, his other thumb grabbed hold of the largest stone. "This is for what's still to come. It's for our future - yours, mine, and the girls - together, as a family. I'm making you a promise right now that I will do everything in my power to make our future just as bright as this diamond."
"I love you so much." She pressed her body against his, thanking him with another kiss, then pushing him onto the bed. "Now, sit down. I have a little something for you too."
"We're doing gifts later."
Echoing his words as she handed him a book, she replied, "It's not a gift. It's just something I picked up because it reminded me of you."
He cautiously rose to his feet. "Oh my God." He flipped it around and ran his fingers over the author's name. "How did you..."
"When we were at the farm last month, I found an old box in the attic."
He had forgotten about that abandoned carton, the carton that held a set of eleven fables by Thornton W. Burgess. At age six, those stories were his escape from the real world, his consolation when he felt alone. He saved his allowance every week until he could buy the fifty-cent books one at a time and each and every time he made another purchase, he hurried home to write his name inside the front cover.
But when Abbey found them, she noticed something peculiar. The set was incomplete. From the series titles on the back cover, she realized Burgess had written twelve books, not eleven.
What she didn't know at the time was that it had taken Jed slightly longer to save his money for that final book and by the time he did, the corner bookstore had sold out of the one and only printing.
"Where did you find it?" he asked.
"At an estate sale last week. You'd be surprised what local book collectors keep stored away. I know it's been a long time and you've probably forgotten..." They both knew that wasn't the case. Jed had never forgotten, even after all these years. "...but your series is now complete."
Visibly touched, he relinquished the hold on his emotions and pulled her into a hug so tight he nearly squeezed her out of her dress. Unable to resist, her hands wandered down the length of his spine to squeeze his rear.
He reluctantly pulled away. "You know, I'm tempted to forget dinner altogether and just celebrate in here every time you do that."
"Are you going to tell me where we're going?"
"No, but I will tell you we're going to be late."
"One coat of mascara and we're out the door." She made her way to her vanity and dabbed a tissue against her eyes to dry any residual wetness.
"No one's going to care how dark your lashes are. The way you cry, you'll just have black tracks down your cheeks by the end of the night anyway." The serious glare mirrored in her reflection caused his smile to fade immediately. "I'll just wait here quietly," he added as he took a seat on the bed.
The two-hour drive to Boston seemed shorter that night. Jed drove with one hand on the wheel, another hand entangled in Abbey's. But there weren't many words exchanged between them. It was a silent ride, one inundated with random thoughts about the all-too-rapid passage of time.
As they neared their destination, the element of surprise had pretty much vanished. They curved the ellipse and approached the valet. Abbey sat back, grinning from ear to ear.
The Red Room.
It was a posh black-tie restaurant nestled in the heart of the theater district. A place Abbey had developed quite a fondness for when they lived in Boston, a place that Jed avoided at all costs because of the haunting dancefloor and the strong implications it presented to a klutz like himself.
But this was going to be different. This was a night eight months in the making. He had planned everything - from the guest list to the song list performed by live musicians.
Spontaneity wasn't a virtue. Not tonight.
He helped her out of the car, looping his arm around hers as they walked towards the decorative pillars that supported the red-tinted triangular building, shooting it up into the sky. An elevator whisked them to the top floor where a crowd of familiar faces greeted them with congratulatory screams.
"You told me the girls were spending the weekend with my parents," Abbey admonished as she hugged her daughters, both dressed in elegant children's formal wear.
"They are. I just didn't say they were bringing them here first," Jed replied.
James and Mary embraced their daughter. "Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart."
A quick scan of the room and Abbey realized that Jed had rented out the entire restaurant. He had flown in Kate and her fiancé and Leo and Jenny, he invited his academic colleagues, her hospital colleagues, including Dr. Robert Nolan, a cardiologist with whom Abbey had developed a tight bond, and, of course, all of their friends, including a soon-to-be-divorced Millie, who swallowed her own problems to sincerely pass on her congratulations.
It was big. It was extravagant. It was one-hundred percent Jed Bartlet.
"This must have cost a fortune. It's too much."
"Nothing's too much for you."
He nodded at the band, giving them their cue, then extended his hand as an invitation to dance to the instrumental version of The Anniversary Waltz. Their hands connected, they began the rotary steps from one end of the dance floor to the other, flawlessly.
"Is this your first time in public since you began taking lessons?"
"Yeah," he answered enthusiastically. He wasn't nervous. He was just happy. He took the classes for her, but he never expected to actually enjoy dancing. Maybe it wasn't the dancing. Maybe it was just his partner that made him squirm with a rush of adrenaline. "And, actually, I'm a bit surprised you're as good as you are. I don't remember you being this good on our wedding day."
"I had a good teacher."
Their hands still joined, he separated their bodies in amazement. "What?"
He pulled her back to him with a laugh. "It's a conspiracy."
"I wasn't about to let you show me up. I made her teach me everything you taught her."
A few of the guests joined them as they continued the dance, swiftly whirling around from one corner to the other as if floating across the floor until the music grew deliberately softer, leading into the next selection.
Abbey dropped her hand from Jed's and pushed herself further into his arms then rested her chin on his shoulder.
He gently tightened his hold. "I take it you like this one?" he asked jokingly.
It was the song they had chosen to play at their reception for their first dance as husband and wife.
"I never imagined I'd love anyone as much as I love you either," she said softly, only loud enough for him to hear. "You're my world too."
He released his grip and lifted her head off his shoulder to look her in the eye. "Well, that's not fair - throwing my own words back at me. Get your own material," he sarcastically criticized.
Her nose wrinkled slightly when she returned his smile, a look of adoration dominating her features. "My own material? Okay, how's this. I'm not the only one who made sacrifices. You've made plenty of your own ever since I began medical school. And I'm not sure I've ever said thank you."
"We had a deal. When we went to London, we made a deal."
"And I sometimes think you've gone far beyond the call of duty. I thank God every day for a lot of things, but I what I thank him for more than anything else is for blessing my two little girls with the best father I could have ever imagined, and for letting me find him - the man of my dreams," she concluded with another embrace.
"A fortune spent on dance lessons and all she wants to do is snuggle and sway," he said in an attempt to superficially lighten the mood.
She looked up and cupped his chin to turn his head towards her. "Just wait until I get you home tonight. That's when the real celebration begins."
As their lips met, he realized he had been wrong. Tonight wasn't just about sharing memories. It was about making new ones.
To be continued in Say You Love Me Too