Story: On My Honor
Disclaimer: The characters depicted in this story belong to NBC, WB, and Aaron Sorkin. We're just borrowing them for some fun :)
Story Summary: Jed steps up to the plate to strengthen his relationship with Ellie; Abbey's faced with an ethical dilemma when a mysterious new illness puzzles doctors around the world
Author's Note: Thanks to Daphy and Sharon for their guidance in the medical jargon that will show up in later chapters
It was late August 1981 and the Bartlets, along with the rest of the country, were embroiled in a summer of political and cultural changes. An assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan prompted gun control advocates to work on new legislation, Sandra Day O'Connor was sworn in as the first female justice of the United States Supreme Court, and scientists at the Centers for Disease Control were keeping a close eye on a mysterious disease that was quickly spreading and thought to be exclusive to the gay community.
Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark enticed movie-goers like Lizzie, Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie's Endless Love battled Rick Springfield's Jessie's Girl for top honors on the Billboard Charts, and MTV celebrated its first broadcast while CNN proved the critics wrong - and delighted Jed - by surviving its inaugural year as America's first 24-hour news station.
Jed and Abbey hadn't sold their Hanover home, though they now lived on the beautiful multiacre farm just outside of Manchester. Each room in the farmhouse was decorated with its own colors and themes, from the country-style oak and granite kitchen decorated with an island bar and lit by a wall of windows that stretched to the more contemporary formal dining room to the large wood-toned master bathroom upstairs lined with soft lamps and creamy tulip-shaped sconces.
The girls' rooms were designed to their liking - Lizzie's in soft plum and rosy hues, Ellie's in a light blue and lavender, and a calming pink with white trim completed the look of Zoey's nursery. The master bedroom was traditionally set with an elegant four-poster bed guarded by a set of matching nightstands and lamps on either side. Artful accents adorned the sponge-patterned walls and a framed Gainsborough painting of the English countryside hung above the mantle.
Abbey was in her last year of residency at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and had already been accepted to complete her fellowship there as well, one of the final obstacles standing between her and a career in thoracic surgery. Long hours at the hospital and a hectic on-call schedule made for many nights in the Hanover house, which is why they chose to keep it until the end of her residency.
Teenaged Lizzie just returned from two weeks at basketball camp to prepare her for eighth grade tryouts in September and six-year-old Ellie and one-year-old Zoey were spending the last weekend of summer vacation with Abbey's parents in Boston.
These days, it was rare that Jed had a chance to share breakfast with his wife. Even when he wasn't in Concord for the legislative session, his commute to Dartmouth College was considerably longer now and most mornings, if Abbey had driven back to the farm, she slept in after an exhausting night at the hospital. But today, she was wide awake, having been relieved of her shift the night before and enjoying the rare day off. Jed's new semester hadn't started and he hadn't yet resumed his office hours. The two sat across from one another at the round oak table in front of a bank of windows in the corner of the kitchen.
Jed flipped through the Union Leader while sipping his coffee from the navy blue 'Carter For The 80s' mug he refused to relinquish after the November election.
"YES! My night is made!" His eyes lit with passion, he enthusiastically snapped his paper to isolate the item he was reading.
"It's history week on PBS. A marathon of intelligently written, educational films and documentaries. Tonight, they're airing The War of 1812, followed by Russia: Land of the Czars."
Abbey furrowed her brows. "Don't get me wrong, I like history as much as the next guy, but seriously, that sounds just awful."
"It sounds wonderful!" He was hurt by the implication otherwise. "There's also some talk of raising money for a private affiliate to focus exclusively on international history."
"That's my sweet guy. Fun, fun, fun."
"Are you mocking me?"
"I would never mock you, Darling." Abbey sipped her coffee as she turned the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine.
"Hmm, I'm not entirely convinced of that, but I'll let it go." He stared at her for a moment out of the corner of his eye before returning his attention to his paper. "You know why?"
"Because tonight, at 7 p.m., I won't care. It's going to be me, a tub of popcorn, and a night of television viewing! Maybe I'll even get Lizzie to join me."
"Oh, leave her alone."
Jed lowered the newspaper and peeked above the top. "What? She'll have fun."
"She's thirteen. Watching Russia: Land of the Czars on PBS is not fun for a thirteen-year-old."
"I would have enjoyed it."
"Yeah, well, you're unique."
"Damn right, Baby! And so is Lizzie." He pushed out his chair and rose to his feet. "In fact, I'll prove it to you."
He made his way towards the stairs, Abbey trailing just behind. "She's exhausted, Jed! Let her sleep!"
"She's been exhausted since she came home last night. I miss her."
"You spent time with her when she got back."
"Not as much as you. You spent the night in her room."
"You could have joined us." She nudged him as they reached the landing at the top of the stairs.
"Now you tell me," he replied as he turned the corner to Liz's room and knocked on the door. "Elizabeth? Are you up, Sweetheart?"
"Mmm hmm." Lizzie sleepily poked her head over her cranberry-colored sheets. Her eyes were barely opened and her face glistened with sweat. She felt clammy and ill.
"Are you okay?" Always the doctor, Abbey sat on her daughter's mattress and pressed the back of her hand to Lizzie's forehead. "You feel kind of warm."
Liz shrugged. "I don't know. I'm cold." She flipped the top hem of the sheets to reveal a small circle of red spots marking her neck.
"Lizzie, what is that?"
"I don't know, but it itches."
Abbey yanked on the covers to remove them completely and lifted her hands so she could examine her. "It's on your arms too."
"What is it?" Jed asked.
"I think..." She raised Liz's pant leg around her calf. "Yep. This one's already blistered. She has chicken pox."
"Yeah. You probably caught it from someone at camp." Liz began scratching her leg until Abbey gently gripped her fingers to stop her. "I know it's hard, but try not to do that."
"How long will it last?"
"At least a week. Maybe longer."
"I start school on Monday! That's just great!" She folded her arms over her chest and plopped her back against the wall behind her.
"Hey, it won't be so bad," Jed assured her. "You might be better by Monday and in the meantime, I'll keep you company. Tonight, there's a wonderful line-up on PBS. How do you feel about Russia: Land of the Czars?"
Lizzie crinkled her forehead and furrowed her brows just as her mother had several minutes earlier. "Really?"
"I'll call your doctor." Abbey laughed as she brushed her daughter's bangs out of her eyes then stood to leave. "Jed, I need you."
"Just give it a chance. You'll love it," Jed promised Lizzie before following his wife out of the room. "What's up?"
Abbey closed Liz's door to give them some privacy. "We have a problem. A person who has chicken pox is contagious 24-hours before the onset of symptoms."
"Thank God Ellie and Zoey were at your mom's last night."
"Jed..." She tilted her head to the side as if ashamed to admit it. "I spent all night with Lizzie."
"Yeah, but if you have it once, you're pretty much immune, right?"
"Not always, but most of the time. The problem is, if you've never had it before..."
"Oh, don't tell me." Jed's eyes widened with the sudden realization. "You've never had chicken pox?"
"No. Have you?"
"Yes!" he quickly answered. "But then again, I'm not a child. How could you have never had chicken pox?"
"I just didn't get it, okay? I have a tough immune system."
"If it's so tough then you won't get it this time."
"I've never been as close to it as I have this time. Plus, I'm older, more susceptible."
"So you're telling me that our daughter may have given you chicken pox?" He leaned back against the door frame, his sigh cut short by a chuckle.
"I don't know. It could take 10 days for symptoms to show up, but at the very least, I've been exposed to it. And what's so funny?"
"I'm sorry. It's just a tad humorous, don't you think?"
"We'll see how humorous you think it is when you have to do everything around here until this thing passes."
He reached for her hand, connecting their palms as he controlled his laughter. "So what do we do?"
"Go to my mom's to pick up Ellie. School starts next week so you're going to have to take her shopping for the last of her supplies and clothes by yourself, all the things we were going to do together. I'll also call Mom to ask if Zoey can stay with her. I don't want to take the chance of her getting it."
"Are you contagious now?"
"Not yet. It's too early, but I'll have to take a few sick days from the hospital at the end of the week and in the meantime, Lizzie and I will stay up here until we're both cleared as long as you can camp out with Ellie downstairs for the next several days."
"Won't Ellie catch it anyway?"
"Hopefully not this close to the first day of school. You know how shy she is even starting with the other kids. Imagine if she was forced to start a week later than the others."
Jed nodded in agreement. "Okay. I'll take care of it," he told her as he leaned in to kiss her cheek.
Abbey smiled warmly as she kissed him back. "One more thing. Ellie has a scout meeting."
She hesitated briefly, then whispered, "tonight. At 7."
"You planned this," he accused, his pointer finger wagging in her face.
"I swear I didn't," she returned, unable to stop the smile that crossed her lips. "I'm sorry you're going to miss your show. Really, I am."
"Yeah, yeah. And you'll make it up to me, right?" He gave her a good-natured squeeze on the arm and swaggered around her to reach the phone. Abbey simply smirked as she walked back into Liz's room.
Jed didn't mind filling in as Mr. Mom for the week. After all, it would give him an opportunity to spend some time with his middle daughter and paint himself as a hero to his wife. But then, something unexpected happened, something that would propel him beyond the call of duty.
When he took Ellie to her scout meeting that night, Miss Shelly assembled the girls around the table and shared some troubling news.
"As you all know," she began as she stood in front of them and pulled on her dress to expose her bulging belly. "I'm going to be having a baby soon. Which means, in a few weeks, I will no longer be able to lead this troop. At least for a while. So I'll be talking to each of your parents about what we want to do."
The girls listened attentively, their sad faces clearly visible as they were told the troop was in danger of temporarily disbanding. Ellie lowered her head and rested it on top of her hands which were folded neatly in front of her. Her golden curls fell around her cheeks, blocking Jed's view of her teary eyes.
Her peers absorbed the news similarly and once the deep sighs subsided to a minimum, they stood up to form their usual circle. Each dressed in the customary brown uniform, they faced one another with one hand behind their back and the other raised. Their thumbs and pinkies were folded down and their three middle fingers pointed towards the sky.
"On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times..."
As they recited the oath in unison, Jed's lips moved along with the words. Their stance was different, but their promise reminded him of a similar one he made once upon a time as a giddy Boy Scout, determined to meticulously follow his code of honor. He scoured the happy memories embedded in his mind, saddened by the frowns he now saw on the faces of these eight girls.
Once they all took their seats, he approached Shelly. "Is there anything in the by-laws that prohibit men from serving as assistant leaders, someone willing to take over when the leader isn't able to serve?"
He said it quietly enough so the girls couldn't hear, but Ellie did. A proud smile formed on her face and her blue-green eyes sparkled with happiness. She lifted her hand and curled the tips of her fingers, waving to her father in a subtle, almost secretive way. It was her little stamp of approval.
Later that night, she barged into the house, gleefully skipping towards the stairs. "Mommy! Mommy!"
Jed grabbed her waist as she bounded up the first two steps, pulling her into his arms. "Hey, remember what we talked about in the car?"
"Yeah, but can't I even see her?"
Abbey stood on the top landing, looking down at father and daughter. "Of course you can, Sweetheart. And you know what, it's too soon for me to be contagious so I can even give you a hug."
"Then can I come up with you and see Lizzie too?"
She took Ellie from Jed, grunting slightly before setting her down. "You're getting so big!"
"Can I come up?"
"I'm afraid not. Lizzie's already sick and I have to stay up here to take care of her, but that doesn't mean you can't talk to me whenever you want. Did you have fun at Grandma and Grandpa's?"
"Uh huh! And Zoey's having fun too. I left my doll there for her to play with and Daddy says we're gonna bring her some more stuff tomorrow."
"That's great!" Abbey bent down to kiss the top of Ellie's head.
"And then at Girl Scouts, Daddy said he wanted to be our leader!"
Her focus shifted from her daughter to her husband. "Really?"
Jed shrugged. "Yeah. Miss Shelly's looking for an assistant leader to step in during the final months of the pregnancy."
"And you volunteered?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Do you even know anything about what you're expected to do?"
"I'll learn. It's not like it's totally random, Abbey. I was an Eagle Scout for crying out loud."
She stared at him in disbelief, not because she couldn't imagine him leading Ellie's troop, but because his boundless dedication to pleasing his children always amazed her. Every time she assumed he couldn't surprise her any more, he would take that extra step that melted her heart. "I think you're going to be perfect."
"That's more like it," he teased. "There's a camping trip the weekend after next and I'm going as a parent chaperone. It's one of the steps in my training. We're going to pitch our tents, hunt for food, hike up the mountains."
"Jed." She paused for a second, reluctant to deflate his excitement with the cold, hard truth. "It isn't like that."
"They don't do that. They're going to Camp Marden. The tents are already up. They're on little plateaus. They don't hunt for food. They take canned Chef Boyardee and Miss Shelly usually starts a fire with matches."
"What kind of wussy camping trip is that?"
"One designed for six to eight-year-old girls."
"Yeah, well as a Boy Scout, we did much more." He nodded. "Okay, I guess there's still some stuff I have to learn."
"I'll help you learn, Daddy! We'll have fun!"
And that was his primary motivation. He couldn't wait to bond with Ellie. "Yes, we certainly will!" He returned the sweet expression that dominated her features. "Go get ready for your bath."
"But my pajamas are upstairs."
"Not anymore," Abbey replied. "I moved everything downstairs into the family room, including your clothes, shoes, two sleeping bags, several pillows, and some extra blankets."
"Do I have to stay down here all week?"
"At least until Lizzie's blisters go away. Think of it as a pre-camping experience!"
Jed pulled on her shoulders as he directed her down the final few steps. "Go get ready and we'll read together before bed."
"Okay!" Excitement back in her voice, the six-year-old did as she was told.
"And after she's in bed..." Abbey tossed Jed a beta tape.
"The first part of your PBS marathon. I'm taping the second part on the machine downstairs." She winked at him as Jed took another step up.
"Thank you," he said, tugging on her wrist just hard enough to make her fall down from her perch and into his arms.
"Hey, be gentle," she warned as she snuggled up to him. "I'm sick."
"Not yet, you're not." He nibbled on her ear and left a trail of kisses along her neck until she flipped her head back. "Besides, I've already had the chicken pox."